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Three Sisters of The Inland Seas

Photo courtesy of flickr

By Rev. C.J. Barry Kentner

I am extremely vague on the details of what is likely the most tragic shipping disaster of the Inland Seas. That is what the Great Lakes were called at one time. The Noronic was one of three cruise ships that toured the Great Lakes Ports during the first half of the twentieth century. Her sister ships were the Hamonic and the Huronic.

The last and largest of the Canadian Steamship sisters, the Noronic, hit the water on June 2, 1913. She was built by the Western Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company of Port Arthur. Her name was derived by combining “No” for Northern Navigation and “Ron” for Richelieu & Ontario, the two companies who merged to form Canadian Steamship Lines.

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362-feet long, she had five decks. They held six hundred passengers and two hundred crew. She was nicknamed “The Queen of the Lakes.”

From 1914 to 1949, Noronic ran from Detroit Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, to the “Lakehead”—the Twin Cities of Port Arthur and Fort William, which we know as Thunder Bay, today; as well as to the U.S. ports of Duluth and Superior.

On September 14, 1949, with Captain William Taylor at the helm, the Noronic embarked on a seven-day pleasure cruise of Lake Ontario. Leaving from Detroit, Michigan, she picked up additional passengers in Cleveland. She was scheduled to travel to Prescott, Ontario and the Thousand Islands before returning via Toronto and Detroit to Sarnia, where she would have remained over the winter. There are several various reports but the most accurate indicates She was carrying 504 American passengers and 20 who were believed to be Canadians. There also were 171 crew members — all Canadian.

The Noronic docked for the night at Pier 9 in Toronto Harbour at 7 pm on Friday, September 16th. The disastrous fire which took at least 122 lives, was discovered 7 and a half hours later, by passenger Don Church. He followed the smell of smoke to a locked linen closet.

When a bell boy unlocked the door and opened it, the fire just exploded, fueled by the oil that was used to polish the walls of the corridors. Within ten minutes half of the ship’s decks were on fire.

As I said, my memory is extremely vague but I recall my father ushering Mom, my two brothers and I into the car and driving from our home in Scarborough to the scene. We huddled on the South side of a bridge at the foot of Carlaw Avenue and watched the firefighters. Police kept everyone so far away from the scene that you could only see the ship…and the billowing smoke and flames.

The Noronic was the second of the “three sisters” to burn. Four years earlier, July 17th,1945 the Hamonic went to a fiery grave in Sarnia,
Ontario.

Elegantly appointed, she made her first regular cruise on June 23, 1909. The seven-day loop left from Detroit to Sarnia, up Lake Huron to the St. Marys River, through the Soo Locks, and across Lake Superior to Port Arthur/Fort William and lastly to Duluth Minnesota, and then back to Detroit in comfort and style. Hamonic had docked at Point Edward around 5 a.m. that July morning and most of the passengers were still asleep at 8:30 a.m. when a truck making a delivery to the freight sheds caught fire.

The fire spread quickly to the tinder-dry sheds and soon embers were raining down over the Hamonic. Within minutes the ship was ablaze. Unable to use the lifeboats, passengers and crew jumped over the side to avoid the flames. Captain Horace Beaton rushed to steer the ship away from the burning sheds and ran her hard aground. Then ropes were lowered for people to slide down.

Luckily, Elmer Kleinsmith, a crane operator for the Century Coal Co., saw the blaze, fired-up his steam-operated crane and used the bucket to move passengers and crew to safety. Miraculously, all 350 people aboard survived the ordeal, but Hamonic burned to a total loss.

What of the surviving sister, the Huronic? Her maiden voyage took place in May 1902.

During the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, she ran aground on Whitefish Point, Michigan. That storm was called the “White Hurricane”. Its hurricane-force winds blew from November 7th. until November 10th. It was likely similar to the storm that took the Edmund Fitzgerald.

In 1928 The Huronic beached on Lucille Island, southeast of Lake Superior’s Pigeon Point. Late in the 1930s, her cabins were removed from the upper deck, and passenger service ended. She was scrapped in Hamilton, Ontario in 1950.

Barry credits Wikipedia as the source for information found in this article.

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Barry was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1935 and schooled to Grade 10, but continued educational pursuits until age 65 when he graduated from Open Word Bible College. He started working for Spitzer and Mills advertising in 1952, then moved to the Broadcast arena where for 62 years he was News Director and Talk Show Host at several Canadian Radio Stations. He was one of 5 consultants who managed to lobby for Christian Radio in Canada, and in the last five years before retirement, he was News Director of Canadian Altar.Net News, a network of 25 Christian Radio Stations across Canada from Charlottetown PEI to Campbell River BC.
Barry Kentner is a semi-retired pastor.

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