Algoma Montrealais, The end of Candian Steam. Part 1

May 17, 2015

As winter’s strangle hold on the Great Lakes ends, the many ships sailing on them start to leave layup, including the dwindling number of steam powered vessels. As the diesels that slumbered and the boilers breathe fire again, after needed maintenance and rest, the boilers of the Algoma Montrealais are still cold, but unlike the rest of the vessels leaving layup, hers will never see the fires of life again. Her turbines will never again come to life and propel the ship into action hauling iron ore, grain, cement or other bulk cargoes on the lakes she has served faithfully for decades. The Algoma Montrealais, her boilers cold, cargo holds emptied, cabins deserted and lights out sits tied to the pier where she steamed after her final unload. Her last crew departed, she sits empty now, waiting, hoping for another reprieve which will not come. Her time is over, her retirement finalized.


Her name now painted out to the partial wording of “MONT” she prepares for her final journey. Completing a short phase where her owners remove any useful materials and spare parts that can be spread among her fleet mates to keep them in service, things like air compressors, tools, navigation equipment, computers, motors, valves and even things as simple as pens and paper. While many enthusiasts and boat watchers grow attached to the vessels they watch, many may consider this akin to stripping a dead body of anything of value, or desecrating a fine lady who served faithfully for decades. The simple fact is, her time has come and what she offers to her fleet mates is anything she has that will serve a purpose, be useful and help repair broken equipment on her former fleet mates. Though most of her machinery will end up in the salvage yards of Turkey due to her being a steamship in which nearly every piece of equipment is steam operated, or the electricity for it is provided by a steam generator.


The number of steamships still active on the Great Lakes just 10 years ago was still significant, now a mere decade later, Canada is about to retire their final steamship, closing out an era that began nearly 150 years earlier. Gone before her in recent years are names like James Norris, and Canadian Leader, and her younger sister Quebecois. While there are still a handful of steam powered vessels in service on the US side of the lakes, their numbers recently still comfortably in the double digits, now number less than 10. Though on the United States side of the lakes, more steamships are being repowered using modern diesel technology versus being retired and scrapped outright, so the vessels will remain in service decades longer, they will no longer enjoy the moniker SS or Steamer, or Steamship, being simply Motor Vessel.


The era of steam now even closer we celebrate the history of this wonderful lady, the Algoma Montrealais began life on the drawing boards of the draftsman and naval architects of Canadian Vickers, a renowned Canadian manufacturing company that was known for its aircraft, shipbuilding and industrial manufacturing for decades, now too sadly gone. She was designed and built for the Papachristidis fleet as Montrealer, which was changed to Montrealais, before her launch.  Though she was designed by Canadian Vickers, she was built in two parts, her stern was built at the Vickers yard in Montreal, and her bow was built in Lauzon. The two halves eventually being joined to form the vessel we know today. She sailed for Papachristidis for several years, wearing a light blue stack and a “pi” emblem for a corporate logo, until in 1972, she and her remaining fleet mates were sold to Upper Lakes Ltd and her colors only slightly changed to a red and black stack with a white diamond which she wore proudly until 2011, and a little later into 2012 when at the commencement of the 2011 shipping season the entire Upper Lakes fleet was sold to Algoma Central Marine.


During the 2012 season her latest and final name and color scheme were applied, the prefix Algoma was added to her name, and the familiar red and white bands and Algoma Central logo were placed on her stack. With her 5 year dry docking due in 2012 she received an extension to sail for the 2013 season in what was widely believed to be her last, and indeed was touted as such. However with the fleets new vessels slow arrive from china, they received a special one time, 6 month extension again on her load line certification. Much to the delight of boat watchers and history buffs alike she set sail in June of 2014 to haul cargo from the head of the lakes to the seaway, doing so until picking up her final cargo of grain from Thunder Bay, Ontario and leaving port for the final time Christmas Eve, headed for Montreal.