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The End of the Ferry Crisis…

This story first appeared in the Kingston Whig-Standard as: “1946: End of the ferry crises” on November 17, 2006. The trilogy helped celebrate the former ferry Wolfe Islander 60th anniversary, held at the Community Hall on Wolfe Island. The event, hosted by the Wolfe Island Historical Society, also honoured long serving Captain RF Fawcett and the late Captain Elwyn ‘Buck’ Mullin. Captain Fawcett remarked that “...there are more folks in here tonight than 60 years ago, at the formal dinner and dance at the original christening!” This is the last story in a trilogy called: the Wolfe Island Ferry Crises of 1946

It is understood the vessels are about 150 feet long with a thirty foot beam. The vessel would have to be widened to about 40 feet to permit motor cars and other freight to be carried.

Whig Standard, August 1, 1946

“I assure you that I accept this boat with a great deal of pleasure. During the past two years it has been difficult to provide a ferry service with the use of the old ferry steamer and landing craft.”

Wolfe Island Reeve Craig Russell, November 18, 1946; on accepting the new ferry at Clarence Street pier, Kingston Ontario.

Whig Standard, November 19, 1946

Sixty-five years ago, in Collingwood Ontario, four small, brand new coastal freighters awaited delivery for their part in a final assault in the Far East for the war effort. These vessels were to be small cargo ships hauling supplies to allied forces into difficult, shallow and enemy infested Pacific ports.

The Canadian contingent plan was to have thirty five of these “Ottawa” class ships constructed at different shipyards on both coasts as well as the Great Lakes. The shipyard at Collingwood completed three: hull 132, Ottawa Mayhill; hull 133, Ottawa Mayrock; hull 134, Ottawa Maytor and one not quite complete, hull 135, Ottawa Maybrook. But the war ended. As a result, the surplus vessels were turned over to the War Assets Corporation whose headquarters were in Montreal. For the community of Wolfe Island the timing was perfect. A new, partially finished ship was finally found.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Crossing to Kingston on the Landing Craft Infantry barge Wolfe Islander No. 1, Wolfe Island reeve Craig Russell sat in his car and pondered the future of Wolfe Island and the ferry crises. Horne’s boat, the Jacques Cartier certainly was the solution but she had long been sold away down river, from where she came. Too big for the privately owned ferry operation from Wolfe Island to Cape Vincent, N.Y. on the south side. And seemingly, too big for the Kingston side as well, the township council of the time had said. Now here they were, considering something even bigger. Well, here it was, midsummer, and the boats were operating at capacity. Both of the car ferries, the LCI landing barges were continuously busy as well as the water taxis, especially the Mullin’s sleek new cruiser, Rebola.

The reeve was meeting up with Charles Crozier, the president of the Kingston Progressive Conservative Association and former Kingston Mayor Dr, Harry Stewart who was now the Member of the Legislative Assembly for the province. They were headed to Toronto, in hopes of persuading the Minister of Highways, the Hon. George Doucette, their need for financial assistance in obtaining the partially finished Ottawa Maybrook, the former ‘China coaster’.

Russell rolled up his window to shut out the noise of the LCI’s engine. The high bulwarks of the landing craft didn’t let in much of a breeze anyway. Even in this moderate swell they were rolling heavily with spray breaking over the front ramp. This was probably the ugliest and most uncomfortable ship ever designed by man, he thought. An assault ship, originally built for one voyage and one purpose only; landing troops on a hostile beach. The two motorized barges were hardly an answer to the ferry problem but they were a quick solution in a time of need. Reeve Russell’s thoughts now centered on the new boat sitting half finished in Collingwood. With a bit of modification, this Ottawa Maybrook may be the answer. The island is changing with many residents working over in town. But is she too big? What if we never fill her with cars? So many questions.

Dr. H.A. Stewart MLA was advised yesterday by Hon. George Doucette, Ontario Minister of Highways, that the new ferry steamer will be completed and ready for operation on the Kingston – Wolfe Island ferry service by the end of October.

Whig-Standard, September 20, 1946

The meeting was a success. By mid October, Captain George Bates and Chief Engineer Sylvester Murray seemed satisfied with the new ship. She had responded well in her trial runs out on Georgian Bay with a moderate sea running. The steering wheel was mounted on the after bulkhead in the wheelhouse and Captain Bates felt that eventually this should change, for she was a ferry now, not a long voyage coaster. Arriving in Collingwood just a week earlier, Captain Bates noted with pride the new name painted in bold, white capital letters high up over her gleaming black flared bow: Wolfe Islander. She belonged to them now. No longer hull 135 or even Ottawa Maybrook. Bates looked her over as any shipmaster would. His eyes kept returning to her name and it gave him a strange feeling for the Wolfe Islander was his ship for several seasons; the former wooden paddlewheel steamer from a now bygone era. How many trips did he make in record time in her? Beating the stork to the mainland? Compared to this beautiful, new, all steel vessel, with her huge, open automobile deck, the smaller ol’ Wolfe Islander would pass quietly into history, tied to a dock on the south shore of Wolfe Island.


The wheelhouse and accommodation decks of the new ship remained aft following the original plan but the forward heavy mast was removed. Her huge bow flared outward just aft of the foc’sle because of the added sponsons to her hull. The wide car deck now measured forty three feet and was covered with a smooth layer of asphalt. The original high bulwarks along the sides were now gone and two vehicle ramps were added just forward of the midship line with two smaller passenger ramps located further aft by the passenger decks. The crew accommodation was located aft on the main deck while one deck above, a large passenger salon was added with gleaming, varnished wooden benches around the inside perimeter. Outside, on the open air deck were more benches, again, highly polished surrounding the round after end, facing forward. Inside, mounted on the bulkheads by the windows were gimballed brass lanterns.

On Wednesday, November 6, Senior ferry Captain Jim Haylock of the Department of Highways Ferry Service rang the polished brass engine room telegraph for ‘Half Astern’ as the new ship backed out of her slip in Collingwood. Swinging the handle to ‘Full Ahead’ the Wolfe Islander departed for Kingston. Making the trip were Captain George Bates who acted as first mate for the trip with Collingwood Captain James Darling as pilot. Acting Chief Engineer Charles Reid also from Collingwood was assisted by engineer Sylvester Murray. Other crew members were Elmer Kane and young Richard F. Fawcett, both from Wolfe Island.

During a stopover in Goderich, Ontario on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, the Wolfe Islander tied up in the sheltered harbour for weather. Crew member Elmer Kane went for a walk ashore into the town. “Well, when he was walking down the hill he looked out and saw us heading out of the harbour,” remembered Captain RF Fawcett just recently. “Not having any money on him, Elmer ran into a bank and had money from home wired up to him. He took a cab to Sarnia and caught us there. We didn’t even know he was missing ‘till we saw him standing out on the dock.” Other stops on the voyage included Pelee Island, Port Stanley, Port Colborne, Cobourg, the Murray Canal, Belleville and Picton. On Sunday, November 17, 1946 the Wolfe Islander sailed into Kingston landing at the Clarence Street wharf.

The new ferry steamer Wolfe Islander, built at the Collingwood Shipyards, which arrived in the city yesterday afternoon, was christened and dedicated at a ceremony this afternoon at three o’clock. Mrs. Stewart, wife of Dr. H. A. Stewart, MLA, performed the christening ceremony while Rev. Dr. George A. Brown minister of Chalmers United Church, conducted the service of dedication... Wolfe Island township residents served afternoon tea in the spacious salon which is air conditioned... hundreds of citizens inspected the ship yesterday afternoon and evening.

Whig-Standard, November 18, 1946

At 11:00 am the next morning, the new Motor Ship Wolfe Islander, with signal pennants flying fore and aft, departed Kingston for her first trip to Wolfe Island. Backing from her wharf under the capable hands of Captain George Bates, she swung north of the Martello tower in the harbour and headed for her new home. The new vessel had another ceremony waiting...

Yesterday the Wolfe Islander received a second christening for good luck, islanders said, this time performed on the island by island residents. Sponsor of the ship was Mrs. Craig Russell, wife of the island’s reeve, who provided the only untoward incident of the occasion when she failed to crack the christening bottle in five tries. The sixth attempt was successful.

Whig-Standard, November 21, 1946

The ferry crises of ’46 was finally over.

By Brian Johnson, Wolfe Islander III captain

This is the third part in a three part series titled: The Wolfe Island Crises of 1946. These are, in part, excerpts from Brian Johnson's upcoming book titled ‘Ferry Tales from Wolfe Island’. He wrote a similar story which appeared in the Kingston Whig Standard on November 17, 2006.  These stories commemorate the former ferry’s 60th anniversary.  Part II of the trilogy is The Army Landing Barges ‘Wolfe Islander 1’ and ‘Wolfe Islander,  2’.  and Part I is The End for the “SS Wolfe Islander”

When Captain Johnson is not at the helm of the Wolfe Islander III, he can be found pouring over history books, manuscripts and documents relating to the history of Wolfe Island and its people.   He is former president of the Wolfe Island Historical Society and continues to contribute to the Kingston Whig Standard and has written  20 articles  for Thousand Islands Life Magazine.

Posted in: History, Places
Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Bob Graham
Comment by: Bob Graham ( )
Left at: 8:35 AM Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I rode the Wolfe Islander a number of times in the '70s, and was drawn to her "shippiness." Once, Capt. "Buck" Mullin invited me to spend a round-trip in the wheelhouse with him. While the current Wolfe Islander III far exceeds her in utility, I was saddened when I learned that later, nobody had wanted the old ferry, and that she had been scuttled for use as a dive site.

Again, thanks, Brian. And thanks, Susie Smith for this wonderful monthly internet journal.

Joan Russell, PhD
Comment by: Joan Russell, PhD ( )
Left at: 8:58 AM Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Thank you Brian & Susie for making this background information about the Wolfe Island ferry available via the internet. In the 1950's I arrived one Christmas to visit my grandparents - Craig and Sadie Russell - and experienced sliding down the ramp, and proceeding to shore by way of an open-platform sleigh, pulled by a horse (one or two?). Dad warned me not to tuck my feet under the sleigh lest it go through the ice. Later in that day on the return trip to Kingston the sleigh did go through the ice, but all passengers were saved. Although I never lived on Wolfe Island and only visited 2 or 3 times each year until my teens, my memory of adults' conversations reminiscing about events, exchanging gossip, tracing family connections and the contributions of their ancestors to the development of the Island community continue to shape my identity, and my connection to this unique part of Canada. Your research & publications help keep this in our consciousness.
Irene Montgomery
Comment by: Irene Montgomery
Left at: 3:29 PM Tuesday, August 30, 2016
A friend of mine who was on a tour with Captain Brian Johnson is very interested in purchasing his book, "Ferry Tales from Wolfe Island" but was not able to get it through any bookstore here.

Would anyone be able to tell me where it can be purchased?

Thank you

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