The George Ayoub fonds – a passion for ships

By Kelly Anne Griffin

Many people enjoy birdwatching, trainspotting or stargazing, but George Ayoub loved observing ships. Ship watching and nautical history fascinate many Canadians. This is no wonder, since our country has over 200,000 kilometres of coastline and almost 800,000 kilometres of freshwater shores.

George Ayoub was born in 1916 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. In 1930, he became a sailor at age 14, with a lifelong passion for ships and maritime history. His collection, held at Library and Archives Canada, gives us a glimpse into the nautical past and the waterways that helped shape our nation and build our economy. The fonds includes over 20,000 of his photographs taken between 1940 and 1990 at various locations along our seaways, most notably the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes, the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal. The vast collection of images provides fascinating insight into the history of shipping as well as the use of leisure craft. The fonds also includes textual material that complements the photographs and that records not only the history of the shipping industry but also individual ships that sailed the waters.

St. Lawrence Seaway

The St. Lawrence Seaway, opened in 1959, transformed the shipping industry by opening the Great Lakes to ocean-going traffic. When the seaway opened, George Ayoub started to compile an important collection of records on the backgrounds of the different vessels that came to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway during the 20th century. He also photographed many of these himself. Today, the St. Lawrence Seaway is one of the great ship canals of the world, carrying freight between the heart of North America and the rest of the world. The George Ayoub fonds contains numerous images that reflect the variety of vessels that travelled the seaway.

A black-and-white photograph of a moored tugboat. The crew is on the deck.

Jean-T on the St. Lawrence Seaway, Iroquois, Ontario, September 28, 1975. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213397. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub

A black-and-white photograph of a large ship passing through the canal.

Kingdoc on the St. Lawrence Seaway, Iroquois, Ontario, September 5, 1965. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213399. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub.

Rideau Canal and Ottawa River

Officially opened in 1832, the Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. The War of 1812 made clear the need to have a navigable waterway connecting Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River, because traffic on the St. Lawrence River was vulnerable to attack. The huge undertaking provided a secure supply route from Montréal to Kingston that avoided the St. Lawrence.

The Rideau Canal locks provide wonderful boat-watching opportunities. Around many locks, onlookers often watch in fascination as the locks move the vessels along. The George Ayoub fonds includes many excellent photos, taken over the years, of boats passing through the locks.

A black-and-white photograph of a moored leisure vessel on a canal beside a large building.

Korab in front of the National Arts Centre, Rideau Canal, Ottawa, June 14, 1971. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213400. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub

A black-and-white photograph of a small moored fire boat in a wooded stretch of waterway

St. John’s Fire Boat (Gatineau Boom Company) at a dock near Hull, Quebec, November 19, 1967. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213403. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub.

A black-and-white photograph of a tugboat towing a sailboat across the water.

Sailing yacht Wild Harp pulled by tugboat TANAC V-222, September 10, 1972. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213404. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub.

A black-and-white photograph of a medium-sized boat in the process of crossing a system of locks.

Templeton in the Rideau Locks, Ottawa, April 17, 1964. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213405. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub.

Canada’s affinity with water is shaped by our vast and beautiful shorelines. Ship watching continues to be a major tourist attraction for many communities along waterways. From busy shipping routes to quiet, peaceful lakes, Canadian waterways truly help us live up to our motto, “a mari usque ad mare”: “from sea to sea.”

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Kelly Anne Griffin is an archival assistant in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

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