Veteran Skipper Died on Saturday

Captain Robert William Thompson July 29, 1950

by Bill Warnick

My wife Carole passed away on December 1, 2020 and I found myself in a depression that I did not expect. You see Carole and I had always talked about our end and how the survivor would take care of the one who went first. We had our funeral paid for, our grave and tomb stone paid and installed at the Port Maitland Cemetery. Paul Dermody my Funeral Director and lifelong friend knew what his role would be. Everything was set and ready to go. All but how hard it would hit me. So why am I telling you this when the title of my story has nothing to do with me? After Carole’s death it took me a good year before I could spend more than a minute on my computer at one time. Don’t know why! Recently, I decided to get my act together and go through over fifty years of boxes binders and more recently emails. This matter included old letters, photographs and tons of scribbled notes made in dusty old registry offices or basements of town halls from back in the day when you had to hunt for information. Now you just go to the computer. One of the items I dusted off was a letter from Lourine (Renie) Hollingshead dated May 2, 2004. It included a photocopied photo of her grandfather Bill Thompson, along with two similar articles about the well-known fishing captain and Port Maitland.

Before I tell you his story, I am going to tell you mine. It includes his family as my grandfather Wm. J. Warnick purchased the old farmhouse of the Captain’s father. It is a house that has been used for a cottage at east Port Maitland since 1915. My grandfather worked all his life for the TH&B Railway and in 1915 the railway purchased most if not all the homes at east Port Maitland. They quickly sold the old house to my grandfather who shipped my grandmother to it to make a cottage out of it. When she arrived with a number of little ones in hand she found an old farmhouse with dirt floors and few properly fitted windows. Yes and more mice than any hungry cat could possibly eat.

As mentioned this house belonged to a fellow known locally as Wellington Thompson. My other hobby other than history is genealogy and his genealogy seemed interesting. By the time I began doing Wellington’s genealogy computers and appropriate software existed. One has to be careful and diligent when using anything from the World Wide Web. My research has found reasonably credible evidence that he had the following wife’s: Sophia Carlotta Caroline Ross, Sarah Shelly Swanson, Henrietta Ross and Sophia Thompson – I suspect Sophia had a different maiden name. She may even have been the Sophia Ross mentioned above. There is credible evidence he married two Ross girls. Something tells me that this story will create a number of emails from Wellington’s descendents setting me straight on this matter. At least I hope so!

One article starts out:

Port Maitland, acknowledge to be the finest port on the north shore of Lake Erie has a history that dates back more than a century and a half. . . Although not generally known Port Maitland is also said to be the second-largest freshwater fishing port in the world, with approximately 24 boats engaged in this industry daily. It is also a great vacation centre. . . First white men to set foot on the site of Port Maitland were two Jesuits priest who came down the Grand River in the 17th century. . .”  

The following statement is incorrect.

It was shortly before 1812 that the port began to assume importance as a naval base and during the War of that year a fleet of considerable proportions was stationed there.

It continues with more or less than correct information.

“In recent years municipalities along the Grand River have tried to secure a ferry service between Port Maitland and Dunkirk, New York. Their plans have been stalled to date by inability to obtain a boat for the run. However, if the service is ever lined up, it will be tied in with the scenic Grand River Valley highway route, and the resulting tourist traffic should prove beneficial to every municipality along the route. The T.H.&B Railway maintains a large coal dock at Port Maitland where large lake carriers tie up to unload their cargoes, which is then transported to various points in Ontario by rail

The coal dock was owned by Canada Coal Corp., not the T.H.&B.

The other article is about Robert’s passing.

Dunnville, August 1 – (Special) Robert William (Bill) Thompson of Port Maitland, one of the most prominent captains of the Great Lakes fishing fleet, passed away suddenly in the Hamilton General hospital on Saturday, July 29th. Dean of the Port Maitland fishing boat skippers, Mr. Thompson was in his 57th year. . . Mr. Thompson was well-known to Lake Erie fishermen, having been captain of the “Earleejune”; largest steam-powered fishing vessel working out of Port Maitland for many years. Prior to that he was master of the “Twin” and “Oriana” of Dunnville. He supervised the building of the steam fishing tug “Twin” in Port Stanley for the Maple Leaf Fish Company, and was well-known in that vicinity. . . He was a son of the late Mr. and W. G. (Bill)”(Wellington) “Thompson, and survived by his wife, the former Sarah Jane McIntee; four daughters, Mrs.Ernest Trelford (Bessie), Port Maitland; Mrs. Fred Moore (Jessie), New Toronto; Mrs. Sherman Hyatt(Ruth), Farnborough Quebec; and Mrs. Len Goldie (Coralie) Lakeview Ont. One son, WilliamThompson, Long Branch, and one sister Mrs. Nettie White of Dunnville, all survive Mr. Thompson. . .” 

Funeral service took place at Christ Church Port Maitland with interment in the adjoining cemetery. A clipping that Lourine stapled to a newspaper photograph associated with the above article reads;

On page 12 of the supplement a picture appears of Captain William Thompson, oldest fisherman operating out of Port Maitland. Since the page was made up, Captain Thompson passed away, his death occurring in hospital at Hamilton on Saturday last. He was confined to bed a month ago and until that time had been active in the fishing pursuit for 55 years.

Before writing this article I called Renie just to update me a bit and to see if she remembered sending the articles to me. We exchanged emails and I sent her what family genealogy of her family I had and a poem called “Paddy Dougher’s Ball” It is these items she call “Very interesting”.

Hi Bill; thank you so much for this. Very interesting. I have copied it for my records to be passed down to my kids in the event they want to know more about Mom`s side of the family. I believe I told you that Mom and Dad owned Trelfords Grocery In Port Maitland for some years so I lived there when I was about 8 to 15, went to the one room school in Port and then first year of high school in Dunnville. DeMont restaurant and the old hotel, McKees store and the fish house were there, all of them gone now. Good memories. I remember coming to the airport with my husband when you had your display. He passed away 8 years ago; we had been married 58 years. I can relate to you losing your wife, it sure is not easy! Thanks again. Lourine (Renie) Hollingshead.

Barry Fraser 1940-2021

Barry Fraser was Vice President of the Port Maitland On The Grand Historical Association. Link to Barry’s obit.

(June 7, 1940 – April 22, 2021) It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of John Barry Fraser who left us peacefully in his home surrounded by his family and a few close friends early Thursday afternoon. Barry was predeceased by his beloved wife Margaret Fraser and daughter Lauri Rossetti (Ralph). Survived by his daughters Wanda Summerfield (Allan) and Leanne Fraser. Grandchildren Sarah, Melissa (Eric), Lindsay (Steven), Alexis, Jonathan (Starr), and Jordan. Great-grandfather to Alyssia, Matthew, Niko, Lukas, Jessika, Avery, Jordan and Jaxon. Beloved brother of Terry Fraser. Predeceased by his sisters Deanna, Noreen, Patricia and brother Michael. He will be deeply missed by his long-time friends Royce Arnold, Sam Hammond and Aldo Casen. Barry was a true Hamiltonian spending most of his life in the Bartonville area.

In his later years he fell in love with the history and tranquility of Port Maitland where it became his home away from home. He put many years of work into both the home and the community and served on the Port Maitland Historical Society. Barry was involved in social justice and the Trade Union movement his entire working life. He held many positions including Job Steward, Business Manager of Local 105, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, President of the Hamilton Building Trades Council, President of the Ontario Provincial Building Trades Council and Staff Representative of the Canadian Labour Congress. He was well known across Canada and always identified with the militant and most progressive forces fighting for social justice, peace, and socialism. Barry served many years as President of the Royal Harbour Resort in Thornbury after working tirelessly to restructure it from a failing business to a sound and successful enterprise.

Barry’s accomplishments and contributions are far too many to list. But one can be assured there were many. Barry had an infectious smile and a way with words. He loved to tell stories and educate people. He was always available to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed him. Cremation has already taken place. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions there will be no service at this time. In lieu of flowers please consider donating to the Juravinski Cancer Centre or to the Mesothelioma Research Society. The family would also like to thank the Hamilton Palliative Care program and VON for their assistance the past several months while Barry was being cared for in his home. Any condolences to be shared with the family can be emailed to “The loss is immeasurable but so is the love left behind. Forever in our hearts you will remain.”

Scroll Memorializes 39 Soldiers Buried at Port Maitland

On a clear yet dark morning of May 7, 1850, a ship had only moments before it left Port Maitland with soldiers from the Reserve Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers (23rd Foot) as it headed out onto Lake Erie.

Shortly after 12:10 a.m. their ship, the Commerce was struck by a steamer ship, the Despatch. This resulted in the deaths of at least thirty-nine soldiers, and family members. It is unknown how many in total perished, nor is it known how many were buried in Christ Church Cemetery at Port Maitland. We do know that the bulk of them were interred there.

On Sunday April 29th, 2018 at 11 a.m. a communion service was held at Christ Church where a scroll with the names of the thirty-nine known souls was presented to the church by Port Maitland, “On the Grand” Historical Association.

Photo L-R: Bill Strong, Suzanne Austin, Wendy Strong, Dan Rykse, Bill Warnick, Fr. Duncan Lyon, John Swayze hiding behind Janet deVos, Barry Fraser