In Wolfe Island’s hour of need for means of transportation to and from the island, the Ontario Provincial Government has come to the rescue by supplying two small landing craft of the LCI type.
Kingston Whig Standard, July 16, 1946
There was absolutely no danger surrounding the shipping of water yesterday by the landing barge now running between Kingston and Wolfe Island, it was stated by J. Macksey, captain of the vessel.
Kingston Whig Standard, July 19, 1946
The instant the ferry boat Wolfe Islander No. 1 – a converted Landing Craft Infantry vessel- cleared the dock, Captain Junis Macksey felt uneasy.
As he raised the ramp from the pilot house in the after end of the small ship, he engaged the engine to full astern, to clear the bow off the muddy bottom. Churning water and silt, the barge wouldn’t move. With a full load of two cars and one truck, this should have been a routine trip.
That last truck seemed to make a difference, however. While loading at the pier on Wolfe Island, engineer Elmer Kane noticed that the covered truck filled with fish seemed heavier than usual; the barge sagged lower in the water after it backed aboard.
The forward end of the steel boat was equipped with solid skids like runners – also made of tempered steel – so it could run up on the shore of almost any type of beach. The loading ramp on Wolfe Island was beside the ferry pier, on the east side, where only a week earlier, the old SS Wolfe Islander had been tied up. The barge would run in until the forward end ran up on the bottom. The huge bow ramp would then be lowered so the vehicles and heavy trucks loaded with freight could drive right off. Vehicles headed for Kingston would then turn around and back themselves aboard.
As Captain Macksey ran the throttle up to full power, the huge Chrysler engine screamed in protest, while the vessel pulled first to one side then the other, setting herself into a rocking motion. Finally, the bow started to back clear from the pier, pulling clumps of mud up from the bottom and creating a dark swirl of currents and eddies around her bow, much like a baker creating a chocolate pudding in a huge bowl. Once clear of the dock, Macksey throttled down and put the engine ahead, swinging the flat, forward end toward Kingston.
Heading out into the bay, the bow started to sink lower and lower as water continued to rise on the car deck, reaching the hubcaps of the loaded truck. Back aft in the pilothouse, both Macksey and Kane could see the buildings in Kingston over the huge ramp as the bow settled lower and lower. “Whoa, Elmer,” stated the captain, throttling down. “Somethin’ just ain’t right.”
“It’s the weight o’ the fish,” said engineer Kane leaning out the door and peering down at the truck. “There’s a lotta water in that truck too. She’s just too heavy.”
“We gotta back her off, then.”
Realizing his ship was in trouble, Captain Macksey swung the barge hard to starboard, back toward Wolfe Island.
Lolling heavily, the overloaded barge listing slightly to port, then to starboard, crept her way back into the muddy trail she had just left. Touching bottom just out from her slip, Macksey gave her full throttle driving the heavy skids up onto the gravelly shore. Once landed, the hapless fish truck would just have to wait for the next trip, water still continuing to pour down its sides. Later, Captain Macksey stated, “There might have been some danger if we had been further out in the channel before it was noticed, but as it was, it was nothing more than an incidental delay.”
Captain Junis Macksey, originally from Midland, Ontario, had replaced Captain Cadeau on the Wolfe Islander earlier that year. Junis Macksey was also no stranger to tragedy at sea.
Lost in thought, Captain Macksey’s mind traveled back to that terrible night in a severe gale on Lake Superior, down bound with a load of grain out of Thunder Bay, just six years previous. He was First Mate on the doomed Canadian freighter SS Arlington under Captain Fred Burke…
The time was 3:30 am, three hours into the mate’s watch and the weather on wide Lake Superior was getting worse. Already the small freighter Arlington with her low freeboard was wallowing in the trough of the seas, taking them heavy over the hatches with each roll. A sailor for more than thirty two years, Junis Macksey knew when a ship was getting into trouble. The long, slow recovery from each roll of the steep, climbing waves told him there was water in the cargo hold. Lots of water.
Making his way down to the deck, Macksey had found No. 5 hatch had burst open, allowing the water to pour in at will. “We’re sinking”, he said to himself and ran to pull the whistle cord, blowing five short blasts to arouse the crew.
Getting his crew back aft, mate Macksey had his hands full. A badly listing ship, tremendous seas and a smashed up port lifeboat. And a missing captain! Just then a huge wave ripped the port boat away and Macksey ordered the crew into the remaining boat. “Lower away, smart now!” he yelled, into the wind.
Once afloat, the crew looked in vain for Captain Burke, somewhere on the Arlington’s bridge deck. Slowly, her stern rising to a huge following wave, the Arlington rolled over to port taking herself and Captain Burke to the bottom of Lake Superior.
As the war years followed, with the tumult and destruction on the North Atlantic and eastern seaboard, the Arlington disaster soon faded
into memory for all but those who actually lived through it. It was just so for Captain Macksey who would continue in his trade for the remainder of his life.
Shortly after replacing Captain Cadeau and reporting for his appointment to the SS Wolfe Islander, Captain Junis Macksey’s ship was condemned from service and tied up. No ship. No job.
Preparing to leave and seek another appointment on a lake boat, Captain Macksey agreed to stay and help the Township of Wolfe Island in a brand new venture. Could he operate an army type landing barge? The kind that could land troops on a hostile beach? Junis Macksey was intrigued. This would certainly be different than any appointment he had ever had. In the Wolfe Island Township Hall, all members of council looked toward him with an almost pleading in their eyes.
Captain Junis Macksey agreed to the appointment.
The next day Macksey accompanied Wolfe Island Reeve Craig Russell to Toronto to check out two brand new LCI Landing Barges. These sturdy steel constructed craft were fast becoming cargo lighters, able to land where dock facilities were not available. They would also greatly relieve the Wolfe Island ferry crises if not only on a temporary basis. Captain Lyall Dougan of Kingston accompanied both men to assist bringing the barges down Lake Ontario to Kingston.
Once underway under a clear blue sky with a slight, steady roll from the southwest, the small ships set out on an easterly course down Lake Ontario to their new home. Saving time, they turned in toward Presquile Point and traveled through the Murray Canal which joins Lake Ontario with the Bay of Quinte. Landing in Picton overnight, Captain Dougan’s vessel broke a pin in her clutch causing a little damage to the pier when she wouldn’t go into reverse.
They arrived in Kingston on July 16, 1946.
Meantime the motorboat water taxi brigade continued back and forth from the island to Kingston, ferrying passengers only while LCI ferry Wolfe Islander No. 1 with Captain Junis Macksey and engineer Elmer Kane met LCI ferry Wolfe Islander No. 2 piloted by islanders Captain Richard ‘RF’ Fawcett with engineer Norman Greenwood somewhere in the middle of the busy channel about halfway across. Fawcett, who had been sailing on the Great lakes, was home on his family’s farm to assist with haying after the recent death of his father, Francis.
While not a permanent solution for ferry service. The LCI landing barges were a welcome relief for the people of Wolfe Island.
“Since her inaugural trip across on Wednesday morning (July 17, 1946) we have found she stands up well, handles easily and can certainly carry a load,” reported Reeve Craig Russell. “It will be much better when we can get the second one ferrying too, though, for it really keeps one hopping to try and keep up with the demand for transportation.”
The boats themselves were 51 feet long and 19 feet wide. The crew is composed of only two men, one, being the captain, sits in a small wheelhouse elevated at the stern above two Chrysler engines which are looked after by the engineer. Both men look after loading the vehicles.
“Boy those engines were loud,” recalled islander Don MacDonald. “Those engines would just about take your ears off when she got up to full revs. They were quick, though. It seemed like you were flying once they got going.”
. . . . . . . . . .
The old ferry SS Wolfe Islander tugged gently on her mooring lines at her new wharf on the south shore of Wolfe Island. Topside, behind her wheelhouse, there was no thin trickle of steam or even black smoke from her slightly raked funnel.
Purchased by Oscar McCready for $400.00, she left under her own steam for the far side of the island. McCready intended to remove her engine and convert the old steamer into a summer residence for tourists.
Now beached near the McCready residence on the south shore of the island opposite Cape Vincent, she is doomed to end her days as a summer residence for tourists, countless numbers of whom have walked her decks in bygone days of service.
Kingston Whig Standard, July 27, 1946
As the summer wore on, the search for a permanent ferry solution for Wolfe Island continued. Reeve Russell heard that there were several steamers under the control of War Assets which, with a few changes, would be suitable for the ferry service. These vessels were tied up at a New Brunswick port used by the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II and were recently turned over to War Assets Corporation.
“I expect to return to the city, Thursday night or Friday morning and will then be in a position to make a further announcement,” said Reeve Russell.
By Captain Brian Johnson
This is the second part in a three part series titled: The Wolfe Island Crises of 1946. These are, in part, excerpts from Brian Johnson's upcoming book titled ‘Ferry Tales from Wolfe Island’. He wrote a similar story titled ‘When Ferry Fears Gripped the Island’ which appeared in the Kingston Whig Standard on June 29, 2006, commemorating the former ferry’s 60th anniversary five years ago.
Part III to follow in August when a new boat is found; a partially finished Ottawa Class freighter in Collingwood, Ontario. Designed to run along the coast and inlets of China, these small cargo vessels were now surplus, as China fell to the Communist regime. One was partially finished. Her name was the Ottawa Maybrook.