Friday, January 23, 2009

Ghost Beneath The Waves (Part 2 of 2)


She was as dead as any ship could be.

Destroyed in 1915 by a summer gale that crushed her against the shores of the Scarborough Bluffs and ripped her to pieces, her remains were scattered along ten kilometers of shoreline. Her boiler and walkway were all that protruded above the surface of the lake and had become the plaything of local children.

Lindsay and I stood on the edge of the bluffs and looked down at the remnants of her boiler appearing and disappearing between the waves. The Alexandria's days as one of the most graceful steamers on the Great Lakes were over.

And yet.

Strangely, the death of Alexandria was to save the life of a fellow ship in the C.S.L. line. Another of the retired C.S.L. steamers, the Belleville was an iron-hulled passenger and freight vessel which had been built back in 1865 as Spartan.

At the time of the Alexandria's loss the Belleville had been stripped in preparation for dismantling. But with the loss of Alexandria her life was saved and she was refitted and brought back into service for the Montreal-Toronto run where she plied the waters of the lake for another eight years.

For seven of those years the Alexandria lay in her watery grave, undisturbed save for the cries of young children and the odd seagull. Then in 1922 the Western Reserve Navigation Company was refitting the old sidewheeler Colonial for their cross-Lake Erie service. However, her great sidewheels were beyond repair and her owners set out to search for a pair of feathering wheels which might be suitable.

They found them, still in tact, under the cold waters of Lake Ontario off the Scarborough Bluffs. An expedition under the leadership of Capt. Frank Hamilton was dispatched to Toronto. For the first time in nearly a decade the Alexandria's wheels were brought to the surface and found to be in wonderful shape despite the ship's savage beating. After reconditioning, they were placed aboard Colonial where they churned the waters of Lake Erie until September 1st, 1926 when the 41-year-old vessel was destroyed by fire off Barcelona, New York.

Forty-nine years was a fine long life for a fire prone wooden steamer like Alexandria, but the old lady must have set some kind of a record by giving life to another vessel seven years after her own demise.

I called Linday away from the bluffs and we walked back to the car, our lonely visit to the Alexander was over. We left her alone in her watery grave.