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Grain Carrier Ontario Lost In November Storm

By James Donahue

The wooden hulled bulk freighter Ontario was a Canadian built and Canadian-owned vessel that foundered in a Lake Superior gale on November 15, 1909 off Passage Island at the Northeast tip of Isle Royal.

The nine-year-old steamer was laden with wheat, probably making what was to have been its final trip of the season from Fort William (now Thunder Bay) to Depot Harbour, once a busy Canadian railroad hub on the northern side of Georgian Bay.

When off Isle Royal, steaming toward Sault Ste. Marie, the cargo shifted in the storm and the vessel began taking on water. The crew abandoned ship before it sank stern first. The men rowed for 16 miles through the storm before reaching safety.

The 256-foot-long freighter was built in 1900 in Toronto. It was one of a fleet of grain vessels owned by the Canada Atlantic transit Co. of Ottawa at the time it was lost. Canada Atlantic also owned and operated the Canada Atlantic Railway Company, which was temporarily a key railroad link between Georgian Bay and Ottawa. For a short time it handled about 40 percent of the grain traffic from the Canadian west through to the St. Lawrence River valley.

The company, created by lumbar baron John Rudolphus Booth, prospered from 1890 to 1905. Its operations declined after Booth sold to the Grand Trunk Railway. Depot Harbour, which once served as a hub for Booth’s enterprise, once boasted a population of about 1,600 people. The town served the docks, the railway station and two large grain elevators. It is a ghost town today.