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.
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.
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.”
- Canals and inland waterways – The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Historic canals and waterways – Parks Canada
Kelly Anne Griffin is an archival assistant in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.
Cruises are trips taken on ships or boats for leisure and may include stops along the way for vacation activities.The first passenger cruise services began in Europe during the 1840s. Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) initially offered a few stops in the Mediterranean Sea and the United Kingdom. P&O underwent rapid expansion during the second half of the 19th century and into the early 20th century, and featured more and more destinations around the world. The company was the predecessor for today’s modern cruise lines, which cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and travel the East and West coasts of Canada and the rest of North America. Canadians have access not only to ocean destinations, but also to an abundance of lake and river cruises. Visit the Flickr album now!
By Catherine Butler
The lost expedition
The story of the lost Franklin expedition is well known to many Canadians. Led by Sir John Franklin, the expedition comprised 24 officers and 110 men and set sail from Greenhithe, England, in May 1845 in search of the Northwest Passage. On board the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, the voyage initially progressed relatively smoothly.
The crew made it to the Whale Fish Islands off the coast of Greenland to stock up on supplies, and arrived in Baffin Bay in July 1845. There, the captains of two whaling ships, the Prince of Wales and the Enterprise, saw the crew while waiting for favourable conditions to cross Lancaster Sound. This was the last time they were ever seen.
What happened next is as horrifying as it is legendary. The crews of the Erebus and Terror spent the winter of 1845–1846 on Beechey Island, where three crew members died and were buried. Things would only get worse from there. In September 1846, the ships got stuck in ice off the coast of King William Island, where they remained for the winter and spring of 1847. By June 1847, Sir John Franklin was dead. The remaining crew, now captained by Francis Crozier, spent the rest of 1847 stuck in the ice, unable to continue their voyage.
By April 1848, the Erebus and the Terror were abandoned and the remaining crew set off on foot for the mainland. All the men perished along the way, and it would be years before anyone would learn of their fate.
Unlocking the mystery
In the years immediately following the expedition, when no word from the crew was received, the British government made efforts to locate the men, offering rewards for information about their whereabouts or their discovery. The first mission dispatched to search for the Franklin expedition set off in 1848. The mission failed. No sign of the lost men emerged until 1850, with the discovery of their winter camp at Cape Riley and the graves of the men who died during the first winter on Beechey Island.
During an 1854 expedition sponsored by the Hudson’s Bay Company, John Rae arrived in the Boothia Peninsula, where he met an Inuit man who told him of a group of white men who had starved to death a few years earlier at the mouth of a large river. After speaking with a number of other Inuit people from the area, Rae was able to identify the Back River as the likely site of the sighting. During this voyage, Rae acquired a number of relics belonging to the lost expedition, including inscribed silverware.
Throughout the years, numerous expeditions sought to locate the lost ships and recover the bodies of the crew. RCMP patrols, intrepid travellers and archeologists attempted to uncover the fate of the men and to locate the abandoned ships. Graves, skulls and countless artifacts were located, but the ships remained hidden. Crews would search for ships, but it would take nearly 170 years for them be found.
Uncovered at last
In 2008, the Canadian government launched a renewed effort to locate the wreckage of the Franklin expedition’s lost ships. Working more closely with Inuit historians and local communities, these efforts would soon pay off. In September 2014, the HMS Erebus was discovered near King William Island in the Queen Maud Gulf. Locating this ship, which had eluded so many experts for so many years, was made possible largely because of the oral histories known to historian Louie Kamookak.
Almost exactly two years later, the wreckage of the HMS Terror was located, thanks in large part to Sammy Kogvik, an Inuit hunter and Canadian ranger who joined the crew of the Arctic Research Foundation that lead search and recovery efforts. Without the assistance and knowledge of local Inuit communities, it is quite possible that the abandoned ships might never have been located.
Find out more
Library and Archives Canada holds a number of archival records relating to the search for the lost expedition, including journals kept by Francis McClintock during his four Arctic expeditions in search of Sir John Franklin between 1848 and 1859.
For more information on the importance of oral histories and Inuit knowledge, David Woodman’s Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony is an excellent source (AMICUS 43188964).
For an interactive experience about the plight of the crewmen and the role that Inuit communities played in the discovery of the wreckages, visit the Museum of History’s exhibition, Death in the Ice—The Mystery of the Franklin Expedition, on until September 30, 2018.
Catherine Butler is a Reference Archivist in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.
From the establishment of Montreal as a city in 1642, until the arrival of steam-powered ships in the early part of the 19th century, the Port of Montreal was mostly used by trappers throughout the fur trade and then by French and English sailing vessels bringing supplies to their colony. However, with the appearance of steam-powered ships and the resulting opening of many new and international trading routes, the Port of Montreal would leave behind its humble beginnings and enter into a new period of growth and expansion.
Throughout the mid to late 1800s, the Port of Montreal saw countless changes and improvements, starting in 1830 with the establishment of the first Harbour Commission. By 1832, almost three-quarters of a mile of docks had been constructed, and by 1854, the navigation channel between Montreal and Quebec City had been successfully dredged to a depth of 16 feet. Other improvements during this time frame include the movement of goods from the port by train, the installation of electric lights, a further dredging of the channel to 25 feet, as well as the introduction of regular steamship service between the Port of Montreal and Liverpool.
The Port was further enhanced during the early part of the 20th century. The construction of grain elevators began in 1902 and transit sheds in 1908. And by 1910, the deepening of the channel between Montreal and Quebec City to 35 feet was well under way.
Because of the harsh Canadian winter, the Port of Montreal was open only seven months of the year up until the early 1960s. However, in 1962, the National Harbours Board (which had become responsible for the Port of Montreal after the demise of the Harbour Commission) introduced icebreakers to the waterway between Montreal and Quebec City. By 1964, the Port of Montreal was open all year long.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has many items that chronicle the evolution of the Port of Montreal. The earliest item is a photograph taken in 1870 by Alexander Henderson depicting the steamship S.S. Quebec docked at Montreal harbour with horse-drawn carts on the shore in the foreground. There are also photographs of the Port by William Topley, Henry Joseph Woodside and Hayward Studios. LAC also has a beautiful oil painting completed in 1847 by Andrew Morris depicting the harbour and waterfront of Montreal from the unusual vantage point of Montreal’s shore across from St. Helen’s Island.
The Outaouais region is steeped in history. Library and Archives Canada collections reflect this history, and remind us of the enduring importance of the people who have lived here, their economic and commercial enterprises, and the natural beauty of the region.Visit the Flickr album now!