Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Shipping slowdown

The turmoil that's been battering the world economy lately has been finding its way onto the Great Lakes, too. This week's Leelenau News reports that fewer lake freighters have been seen on Lake Michigan's waters over the past few months.

Part of this is due to a drastically reduced market for steel, a longtime staple of the Great Lakes shipping trade, as the piece points out. But over the longer term, the freighter fleet has simply not been renewing itself. Not since 1980, in fact, has a large new freighter been built for Great Lakes use.

The piece doesn't really explain why this is, but the reasons can be easily surmised. The rise of road transportation has no doubt been one factor, as have fluctuating commodity prices over the years.

What's interesting is how so many of the iron boats that were built during the first half of the twentieth century have somehow managed to stay in service. The piece mentions the St. Marys Challenger, which began life way back in 1906 as the William P. Snyder, and is now a cement carrier on Lake Michigan. The Challenger, in fact, is currently the oldest active lake freighter.

A good example of a blend of two old boats is the Canadian Ranger, which was moored here in Toronto for some time a couple of years ago. The Ranger is actually a meld of two boats. One, the Hilda Marjanne, was an ocean freighter built during the 1940s. The other, the Chimo, was a laker first launched in 1967. The Chimo makes up the stern section of the modern-day Ranger.

For the full Leelenau News piece, click here.

For more on the St. Marys Challenger, click here.

For more on the Canadian Ranger, click here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Renewing the Old Town

Interesting reading in yesterday's Toronto Star regarding the latest efforts to increase awareness of the city's Old Town. This is the part that was originally settled when Upper Canada's first lieutenant governor, John Graves Simcoe, landed here in 1793 and declared what was then a patch of forest the new capital of the colony.

I've been spending some time investigating Toronto's early days for the Lake Ontario manuscript. Living in today's metropolis, it's hard to imagine what it must have been like back then. Simcoe actually set up a tent near the waterfront, and, with a group of soldiers, literally began carving the settlement out of the wilderness. Soon, a line of modest wooden houses sprang up along the shore, though the town grew slowly from there, and boasted only about 400 residents by 1800.

The colony's politicians, when they finally realized that Simcoe was serious about moving the capital to York, as it was then called, finally abandoned their residences in Niagara-on-the-Lake and arrived a few years after the lieutenant governor's initial landing.

There is certainly a disconnect between modern-day Toronto residents and their city's distant past. The Star article explores the reasons behind some of these. You can read it here.