Port Maitland "On the Grand" Historical Association

Port Maitland, Ontario, Canada

Piers at Port Maitland Part 2

By William A. Warnick

Published June 26, 2009
in The Dunnville Chronicle

From various sources I learnt that on May 2, 1831, the Directors of the Welland Canal Company proposed the building of a pier at Port Maitland. This eventually did happen but only on the west side, thus allowing shallow-draught vessels access to the river most of the shipping season.

Yet again I find information in John Docker’s book that shows us all is not known about the piers which we might wish to know. Quoting once again from his book we read: “A 1837 map of the mouth of the Grand River shows only one pier, on the west side of the river, however a second pier must have been built around that time for a petition dated 7 December, 1839 signed by Col. John Johnson, William Imlach, and “exactly” on hundred “freeholder and other inhabitants of the County of Haldimand,” requested Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Arthur “in his legislative capacity” to erect new piers and a light house at Port Maitland. The petition “Humbly sheweth” That the Piers erected at the mouth of the River Ouse or Grand River by the Welland Canal Company are now in a dilapidated condition; that a Bar has again formed at the entrance of the River into Lake Erie which they were originally intended to prevent and effectually did so for a time.

That the remains of one of these Piers are now only a few feet under water and has been the occasion of several accidents during the present summer and greatly increases the risk of entering a now shallow and contracted harbour.

That an important trade in Sawed Lumber and in wheat has grown up between the mills on the different improvements on the River and the Ports of the United States on Lake Erie and Michigan which is now seriously interfered with and liable to be entirely stopped by the increasing danger of the only harbour through which it can be carried on.

That the vessels belonging to the Royal Navy have also suffered inconvenience and met with accidents and the Officers are doubtful how long they can continue to use this harbour as their principal station should no steps be taken to improve the harbour.

That a moderate outlay of money in the erection of sufficient Piers and a Light House at its mouth would render the Grand River a safe harbour in all weathers with sufficient water and room for any number of vessels to ride in safety.

Your Petitioners therefore pray that Your Excellency would take this into your early consideration and make such an appropriation of money for this specific purpose as would secure the erection of a sufficient harbour and Light House to be continued under the management of the Government or of the Welland Canal Company, . . .”

As you can see, there is considerable confusion about when, where and if one pier, two piers, or no Piers were built, or conversely when one pier, or two piers, and a lighthouse were built.

Let us get past all this and move to a time when we know what was what. What we do know for sure, is if we make it, you can bet the lake will break it! Sometimes she will be patient, while other times show no mercy. In records found at the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa is a note dated June 10, 1869 reporting the sinking of a portion of the East Pier. It tells us the pier is two of three feet below the water surface. Repairs are recommended and it is estimated it will cost four thousand dollars. In May of 1881, five hundred thousand feet of very fine pine timber was towed down the Grand River to be used for the new piers at Port Maitland. Then, from another source I learnt the tug Humming Bird was “contracted to a stone scow” (presumably to fill the cribs) to be used in the construction of the pier during the summer of 1881. Unfortunately it is the wording which creates confusion for someone who wants definitive answers. Were the former piers repaired or totally replaced.

Within five years a storm carried away the covering of the new West Pier. Also, lost was the catwalk leading to the lighthouse. The cribs must have sustained considerable damage as large quantities of stone were also carried out by the heavy sea. The planking and stringers were scattered along the beach for two miles. The lighthouse keeper at the time was Fergus Scholfield who estimated that the damage was in the area of eight thousand dollars.

In the Dunnville Gazette of July 27, 1888, I found the following tale. “Port Maitland, as this is the season for fishing stories, the latest comes from Port Maitland. It appears that one day last week Mr. John Taylor, a resident of that place, while working on the pier, noticed something floating on the water. He got a boat and proceeded to the spot, but just as he arrived at the place where the object had been noticed, it was discovered to be a sturgeon. Mr. Taylor cautiously approached it, and caught it by the tail, but in his anxiety did not succeed in getting it. His fellow workmen on the pier gave him the laugh.

However, Mr. Taylor did not despair, for in a few moments the finny monster again came to the surface, when a second attempt was made by Mr. T. who caught the fish in his arms and landed it in the boat. This is another illustration of what may be accomplished by patience and perseverance. Mr. Taylor returned to his work on the pier, with the laugh all on his side of the house.” I am not aware of what construction was taking place in the summer of 1888, but apparently there was work being done on one of the piers.

The summer of 1904, saw considerable construction performed on both piers. In an article from the Reform Press, I find mention of eight cribs being sunk to form the East Pier. (The paper does not categorically state this was Port Maitland, but one can only assume this to mean P.M.) The story tells us a ninth crib which would not form any part of the pier was first sunk, presumably some distance from shore. The crib would be used only as marker to line up the other eight cribs.

I have a number of postcards, some showing the West Pier with a catwalk while others did not show it. After considering the dates of these cards I was befuddled to say the least! It was there, and then it wasn’t! The answer comes in part from a 1904 Reform Press article. It reads: The tug Eleanor of Port Maitland ran to Port Colborne the other day and took aboard the upright irons that had been used on the elevated walk leading along the pier to the old light house. The elevated walk is not needed since the construction of the breakwater. This explains why the catwalk is missing from some postcards. What it does not do is tell me when and why it was replaced.

West Pier reconstruction c1909

West Pier reconstruction c1909

West Pier reconstruction c1909

West Pier reconstruction c1909

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