Port Maitland "On the Grand" Historical Association

Port Maitland, Ontario, Canada

Car Carrier Maitland No. 1 is Catalyst, creating Beckley Beach - Part 2

By William A. Warnick

Published May 10, 2000
in The Dunnville Chronicle

In part one "April 12, 2000," I wrote about the Maitland No 1's maiden voyage on a very stormy night in October, 1916.

In this part I tell you what effect this ship had on the creation of a cottage resort at the mouth of the Grand River, called Beckley Beach.Coming on June 14th is a story that got its start from an article in the Chronicle in January this year when Gord Mcleod found the remains of a ship just off his marina.- "Is it the Belladonna or is it the Elmira"

Part Two of Maitland No One

Not Everyone was Amused

Not everyone was amused by this great ship entering their "pond. She would run at least ten months of the year and all year weather permitting. In a recent letter, Mary Mullner, the daughter of Dolly Gray -former owner of Dolly Gray Hotel at Port Maitland,- reminisces with Betty Phillips, (Mrs. Gordon Phillips of Byng) about skating on the smooth ice of the Grand River before the arrival of the car ferry. Until the arrival of the Maitland No. 1, the river had long been used by the children on both banks as their private skating pond.

Maitland No. 1, runs aground

On December 23, 1919, the ship was grounded for five days on Lowes Point. Her sister ship, the Marquette-Bessemer No. 2, pulled her safely off the reef after she shed her load of thirty railway cars of coal, wire and one of oil, into Lake Erie. There were plans to recover them the following spring. The issue as to the existence of the wire and oil cars remains in dispute as those who remember, and should know, say there were no wire or oil cars on board. Some newspaper accounts immediately following the incident however, state these cars were on board and dumped into the lake. Isn't history fun? I have searched newspaper articles following this accident and have found other newspaper accounts mentioning only coal cars. Further research has not found indication of the cars being recovered. You may recall an article in the August 19, 1998 Chronicle titled AMysteries lurk in Lake Erie's depths. In this article Angus Scott reported on the work that a local diver by the name of Gerald MacDonald was doing to find the lost rail cars from a ferry. The cars that Gerald was looking for were those from the Maitland No. 1.

On March 25, 1927, she ran aground on Tecumseh Shoal damaging her hull. Maitland McKeown, a wheel man on board, recalls volunteering to go ashore for provisions with a number of other crewmen. They walked to shore on the ice and returned pulling sleighs loaded with provisions. Mishaps were common on the lakes in those days. It was only the year before that the Maitland No. 1, had been involved in a thrilling rescue of sixteen men from the sand sucker, Howard S. Gerkin, that sank during an August storm in 1926, with the loss of four crew members.

The Maitland No. 1 is important to mention, not only for her capacity as an early twentieth century freighter, but for how she altered the course of Port Maitland. Only a handful of the current cottagers recall seeing this ship. The Maitland No. 1, was small by today's standards.

Most current summer residences who recall any ship entering Port Maitland, remember the much larger coal carriers, such as the Midland Prince and the R.O. Petman, formerly known as the E.B. Osler. Other ships though not so large, to visit Port Maitland were the Valley Camp, Charles Wilson, Coalhaven, and Collier.

Had the TH&B not operated the ferry service from Ashtabula to Port Maitland it is unlikely the facility at Port Maitland would have developed. Other railways had looked at running rail lines through of near Port Maitland but none ever did. The TH&B was concerned about this and wanted to reduce the competition. It has been suggested that the land on the east side of the Grand River from Dunnville to Port Maitland was purchased by the railway as a means of blocking access to the Grand River by its competitors. If the railway had not determined one full week could be cut from the delivery time of rail cars to cities in Ohio and Pennsylvania by shipping them via Port Maitland, there would have been no need to build the tracks to Port Maitland. Had there not been tracks and a station at Port Maitland, William J. Warnick, a young executive with the railway in 1916, would not have had any reason to choose this location to spend his summers.

It was through the efforts of W J Warnick that Mr. Beckley first consented to rent tenting lots. Eventually these lots were used for many of the cottages which exist there today. WJ Warnick's son Joe, says the railway was not very interested in the cottages, nor in anything on the south side of the feeder. Their only interest was that Athe car ferry carry her freight back and forth across Lake Erie on schedule. He suggested, "It might have been a dream of his father's to make Beckley Beach a nice resort place on Lake Erie.

When we look at the list of early Beckley Beach cottagers we find; Edward J. McNally, Edward F. Boyle, Manny Hurst, James Grieghtmire, Michael Hayes, Jack Kelly, Joe Kelly, Hank Martin, William McPherson, Steve Jones, Dr. James McGowan, Dr. Wm. Downes, Father James A. Ford and Monsignor George Cassidy, to name only a few. If we dig a bit further we will find their connection to the TH&B as employees, or through a friendship with WJ Warnick. I hear stories from old-timers that if you wanted to put up a tent (later a cottage) at Beckley Beach and you did not know WJ Warnick personally, you asked a friend to vouch for you. It would seem that my grandfather decided who could come and who could not!

Another interesting event that took place with the arrival of the Maitland No. 1 was the purchase of land south of the feeder canal which is where Beckley Beach is located. In June 1915, individual homesteads owned by many of the old Port Maitland pioneers were purchased by John N. Beckley for $1.00 each, totaling $14.00. Then within a day or two the combined package was sold to the TH&B for a dollar. Remember, Mr. Beckley was the President of the TH&B! One would wonder how he would have survived in to-days real-estate market! Within two days he lost $13.00 on his $14.00 transaction. There is clearly another story here, but it will have to wait for another day.

Once the TH&B had a station and a station agent, who by the way was Thomas J. Kenney they began running a summer passenger service to Port Maitland. They even ran advertisements in various city newspapers expounding on the virtues of Port Maitland as a summer resort. Rates at some of the local establishments were included in railway ads. In a 1923 advertisement in the Hamilton Spectator, the railway promotes local fishing. AGood Fishing at Port Maitland; Good catches are brought in by parties spending the day at the port. Take TH&B trains. Leaving at 9:02 a.m. and 2:13 p.m. Returning leaves Port Maitland 6 p.m. Service commences June 23.

The railway even promoted the YWCA and Boy Scout camps where the Big Brothers also camped. WJ Warnick was also involved with the Big Brothers being the President of the Hamilton chapter, the first in Canada. WJ Warnick was very active in getting the children from the Big Brothers organization to Port Maitland and seeing to the religious needs of the Roman Catholic children at both the YWCA camp and Scout camp.

If ever there was one event that changed the course of time at Port Maitland, it was the Maitland No. 1, introducing railway management and workers to the sand and water of Beckley Beach.

Due to a number of factors such as the opening of the enlarged Welland Canal in 1932, the depression and other markets for coal the need for the Maitland No. 1, decreased until it was no longer feasible to operate. She made her last voyage on June 28, 1932, to Ashtabula Ohio, as her service to Port Maitland ended. She remained out of service until 1935, when she was leased to the Nicholson Universal Steamship Company and put into service carrying automobiles across Lake Michigan between Muskegon Michigan and Milwaukee Wisconsin. Legal arguments over ownership took her from service in 1937. With war looming she was requisitioned by the American government who used her engines and sold her hull. She was now reduced to a pulpwood barge.

The purpose of this article was not to tell the story of the Maitland No. 1. It was to give an understanding of what took place thus setting the stage for the development of the cottage area on the east side of the Grand River known as Beckley Beach. But what the heck! She was an interesting ship and for many years a constant at Port Maitland. Oh, and just to finish the story, the Maitland No. 1, continued a rather rag tag existence until she foundered in a January storm in 1981. She had only days before been assigned Honduran registration and renamed Trio Trado. She was under tow and heading for a Mexican port, when off Yarmouth Nova Scotia she rolled over and sank.

Ship Coalfax


Ship Collier


Ship R O Petman

R O Petman

If you have items you wish written about or pictures you would be willing to loan, please drop me a note. Let me know how you feel about these articles.

William (Bill) Arthur Warnick