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Friday, June 29, 2012

100 Year old St. Marys Cement owns 106 year old Ship

On June 23rd the S.S. KEEWATIN returned to her former home Port McNichol near Midland, Ontario. It was a great day for Great Lakes historians and ship buffs alike. The Venerable vessel is in good shape, but will undergo a two million dollar restoration before opening as a museum next year.

The KEEWATIN was built in 1907 but she is not the oldest ship on the Great Lakes. The ST. MARYS CHALLENGER, owned by St. Marys Cement, is the oldest vessel having been built in 1906 and she is still operational! Although she no longer has her original engine she is still steam powered with a Skinner Uniflow engine. She currently operates on Lake Michigan. The only other Skinner Uniflow steam engines still operating on the Lakes are the two in the Car Ferry Badger which also still operates on Lake Michigan.

St. Marys Cement is celebrating their centennial this year. In 1912 Alfred Rogers and John Lind founded the company in St. Marys, Ontario. They have grown to four plants strategically located in Canada and the United States around the Great Lakes Region and are the cornerstone of North American operations of Votorantim Cimentos, a company based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Their cement has been used in such projects as Maple Leaf Gardens, Roy Thompson Hall and the CN Tower.

St. Marys Cement was looking for a plant east of Toronto and in 1963 became interested in Bowmanville when their researchers found that this location had suitable quantities of accessible limestone. Plant construction began in 1967 and became operational early in 1969. It has been expanded many times since then and is today the largest cement plant in Canada.

St. Marys is a major employer in the region and their cement plant has become a familiar landmark to travellers on the 401. Congratulations on your 100th anniversary.

Photo shows Charles Taws on MV Georgian Queen as she accompanies the S.S. Keewatin to her home port of Port McNichol.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Heat Wave first sign of a long hot summer

It’s cool today but the heat wave we experienced a week ago broke records across the Province.  Unlike our forefathers, who had to endure the heat, most of us can escape to air conditioned comfort whenever the temperature begins to rise.  Can you even still buy a car today without air conditioning?  My first new car was a bright red 1994 Eagle Summit.  It had no air conditioning and during one summer road trip it received the nick-name “Red Inferno”.

In the old days people did all kinds of things to keep the heat from bothering them.  Hats and parasols were very common.  They kept the sun off also it was considered more fashionable for ladies to have a white face rather than a tanned one.  Kids would follow the ice delivery wagon with the hopes of getting a chunk of ice to suck on.  There was no extra money for a popsicle.  A trip on Lake Ontario on a steamboat would offer cooling breezes and lots of fun.

In the 1930’s the prairies became so hot and dry they turned into a dust bowl.  Ontario did not escape the heat either.  Older folks remember it was so hot the tar on the road melted.  The tar would melt to a liquid and trickle to the edge where it would run along the curb.  Sometimes the rubber on the car tires would melt too!

In the Bowmanville Museum we have an old style air-conditioner that dates back to the 1930’s or 1940’s.  It was made by Dominion Electrohome Industries Ltd. of Kitchener, Ontario.  It is made of wood and rectangular in shape.  It is made to sit in the middle of the room.  On one side is an electric fan.  In front of the fan is a rectangular metal container that would hold a large block of ice.  The fan would blow the air past the ice and cool air would come out the other end.  Since it just has a fan motor it would use a lot less electricity than a modern air conditioner.  Also, the top part could be used as a bench or shelf.  Maybe they should bring this style back to decrease demand on the electrical grid during the summer.

Friday, June 22, 2012

S.S. Keewatin Returns!

“The Blizzard of the North” Makes Her Return This June

The S.S. KEEWATIN is five years older than the TITANIC and hasn’t sailed under its own power since 1965, but she is the last Edwardian passenger liner afloat.  Slated to be scrapped she was saved by a Michigan businessman who bought her as an attraction in Douglas, Michigan.  This Grand Old Lady of the Lakes is being repatriated this month.  On June the 23rd she is being towed back to her home port of Port McNichol, Ontario (next door to Midland).  There she will be restored as a museum, restaurant and the centrepiece to a multi-million dollar condo project. 

Passenger ships were once the most common means of travel yet precious few survive today.  Before the railway came to Clarington in 1856 a sailing ship or steamboat was the best way to travel.  Clarington boasted three active harbours Port Darlington, Port Newcastle and Port Granby.  Royal Mail Line Steamers such as the ALGERIAN and CORSICAN would stop on their daily runs from Toronto to Montreal while smaller steamers such as the GARDEN CITY and ARGYLE would handle the local traffic.  In 1900, twice a week, you could catch the GARDEN CITY at Newcastle at 6:30am.  With stops at Bowmanville, Oshawa and Whitby you would arrive at Toronto at 11:15am.  Sure, it’s not as quick as the 401 (most of the time), but imagine how relaxed you’d be on arrival after sitting in a lounge, strolling the deck or sipping coffee in the dining room for the last 4 hours or so. 

For those who want to know what it was like to ride on one of these old boats there are still a few operating.  Toronto has the 1910 steam ferry TRILLIUM which is the last paddle wheeler still operating on the Great Lakes.  Gravenhurst has the oldest steam-powered vessel in North America.  It is the SEGWUN and she dates back to 1888.  Also, there is a large steamer, called the “STE. CLAIRE (built 1910), being restored in Windsor, Ontario and there is talk of bringing the S.S. NORISLE (built 1946) on Manitoulin Island back into service.  There is still a large coal fired railway car ferry, the BADGER, which operates regularly on Lake Michigan.  The S.S. KEEWATIN will not run again but I’m sure she will become one of the premier historical attractions in Ontario.  

I don’t have a picture of the Keewatin in the museum files but here is a picture of the popular Lake Ontario steamer TORONTO.  She was built in 1899 and ran until 1949.  She didn’t stop at any Clarington Ports but would have passed by regularly on her run between Toronto and the 1000 Islands.  This photo is from a damaged negative dating to about 1915 and has never been published before.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bowmanville’s Hospital reaches the century Mark!

The Bowmanville Memorial Hospital, today’s Lakeridge Health- Bowmanville, is 100 years old this year!  The first hospital started in the large home of Hector Beith.  It was an estate with large grounds and was known as South Park.  Mr. J.W. Alexander, owner of Bowmanville’s Dominion Organ and Piano Company, purchased the property and donated it to the Town for use as a hospital.

Some renovations occurred but it was hard not to notice that this first hospital had once been a house.  The surgery room was in the basement and patients were carried on stretchers by attendants from the second floor bedrooms, down the main grand circular staircase and through the foyer to the operating room..  Also, in the early years, the hospital utilized the extensive grounds and grew their own food.  The original hospital was sold when a more modern structure was built nearby in 1951.  This new hospital still exists and is the single storey section that fronts along Liberty Street just north of the current hospital complex.

The original house was sold to the pharmaceutical company of Powell Chemical.  They had a plant near the 401, and the old house was used for their offices.  In 1964, now no longer useful, the house was sold and demolished to allow the hospital to extend their parking lot. There is still an old house to be seen near the Hospital.  This was the nurses’ residence built in 1926.  From 1916 to 1941 Bowmanville’s hospital was a training school for nurses.

Congratulations to the Bowmanville Memorial Hospital on your one hundredth anniversary.  May you be around for many more!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Can Wallenda Cook an Omelet on The High Wire?

Tonight Nik Wallenda will traverse Niagara Falls on a tight rope thus ending a 128 ban on this type of event.  The last person to perform this feat was 21 year old James Hardy in 1896.

Clifford Calverley, Stephen Peer, Maria Spelterina all crossed the falls in the 1800’s, but the most famous of all was Jean Francois Gravelet who went by the name Blondin.  He first walked out over the falls in 1859.  He later did it blind-folded, pushed a wheelbarrow, carried his manager on his back, rode a bike, and even cooked an omelet- all on the high wire!

Another famous daredevil duplicated many of Blondin’s tricks and even came up with a few of his own. He first crossed the Falls on August 15th 1860.  In a later attempt he carried out a washing machine and washed handkerchiefs.  The visiting Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII) saw him perform.  This man was William Hunt, but he was better known as the Great Farini! 

Today Farini is known as the hero of Port Hope, but he lived in Bowmanville from the mid 1840’s until 1853.  His father, Thomas W. Hunt, was a local merchant with a store on King Street and a councilor in the first Village Council.  He built a beautiful red brick Georgian style cottage which can still be seen today (7 Lover’s Lane).  This is where his son William grew up.  It was during his childhood in Bowmanville that young Bill was introduced to the world of the circus by travelling shows that came to town and this is what led to his remarkable career as a daredevil. 

Nik Wallenda is following in the footsteps of these remarkable performers and we wish him the best of luck!