A History of the Canadian Coast Guard and Marine Services
by Thomas E. Appleton

Warning This information has been archived because it is outdated and no longer relevant.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats by contacting us.

The Lady Laurier

The Lady Laurier was ordered by the Department of Marine and Fisheries to replace their steamer Newfield which had become a total loss after stranding near Digby Neck, N.S. in September 1900, an event which was followed by an enquiry and the subsequent suspension of the certificates of the master and both his deck officers.

The plans and specifications, prepared in Ottawa by the Department, called for a lighthouse and buoy tender with cable laying and pick-up gear suitable for maintaining the telegraph cable between Halifax and the Magdalen Islands. Tenders were invited in March 1901 which resulted in eleven bids, two from  Canada and nine from Britain. Of these, Fleming and Ferguson was the lowest at $184,983 and the contract was signed in June 1901. The vessel was to be built to Lloyds classification 100 A1, delivery to be not later than June 15, 1902.

As it turned out, some setbacks would delay the start of a notable career. Alterations and additions, then as now an extra to fixed price contracts, increased the price to $192,465.91, a figure which would seem to reflect arithmetical accuracy rather than meticulous cost accounting, and it was not until December 1902 that the new ship left her mud berth under the sheer legs of the Phoenix Works in Paisley. With a Marine Department crew and Captain P. C. Johnson in command she eventually cleared from the Tail of the Bank at Greenock on December 23.

In 1902, and indeed for many years thereafter, Christmas Day in industrial Scotland was a day like any other when the shipyard men worked their normal hours from six in the morning till five at night, the great national festival of introversive rejoicing being reserved for the New Year. For most seamen Christmas and New Year at sea was a usual occurrence and, as the Lady Laurier struggled to gain an offing from the coast of Ireland in heavy weather, there was more salt water than plum duff for the crew. After suffering damage she was forced to return to Greenock on the 29th. By Hogmanay she was back in the shipyard and doubtless the Canadians joined in the fun of a Scots New Year. Repairs and improvements were carried out in January to the satisfaction of Mr. R. W. Hooper, the chief engineer, and the Lady Laurier finally left Scotland to arrive at Halifax, after an arduous passage, on February 22, 1903.

Some forty feet longer than the Quadra with her yacht-like bowsprit, the Lady Laurier was a handsome and sea-kindly vessel in the style of the period. It was a time when the best looking steamers tended to follow the sailing ship tradition of moderate freeboard and raking masts and, as designers of utilitarian freighters had not then learned that functional design, owing nothing to outmoded ideas, can combine efficiency and aesthetic appeal, they tended to let themselves go on the more aristocratic types such as lighthouse steamers. Down below, a pair of powerful triple expansion engines, with cast-iron columns and integral condensers, were coupled to twin screws, steam being supplied from two cylindrical marine boilers at the usual pressure of 180 pounds per sq. inch, with no superheat. It was a comfortable and well-tried arrangement and, designed to steam easily up to 12 knots with natural draft, the Lady Laurier could work up to 14 knots by the use of the forced draft fans.

Photo: CGS Lady Laurier

CGS Lady Laurier.


No sooner had the new steamer berthed at Halifax than she was put to work in hauling stores and coal to the lights of Nova Scotia and Sable Island, with an occasional spell on fisheries protection duty by way of a change. It was a routine which would be continued, with outstanding success, for an operational life of 58 years. This record is hitherto unsurpassed in the history of the Marine Service of Canada although it is possible that the Pacific coast counterpart, CCGS Estevan, may eventually provide competition.

In the course of these years, the Lady Laurier helped numerous ships in time of trouble, one of the more unusual incidents taking place in 1911. At that time the new Navy of Canada had commissioned its first ship, HMCS Niobe, a large and heavily armed cruiser. In July of that year, after a miserable winter at Halifax in which she had lain alongside as recruiting and accommodation ship, the Niobe was nearly lost when on a training cruise from Yarmouth to Shelburne.

In thick weather and a strong tide, she struck the Southwest Ledge off Cape Sable at midnight on July 30 and, pounding heavily in the swell, distress messages were sent out by wireless which, it will be recalled, had been fitted to the Lady Laurier as early as 1905. Meanwhile, with the starboard engine room flooded and the rudder and port propeller damaged, the Niobe had somehow managed to struggle free. With her steering gear out of action, and the bulkheads straining under pressure of water, she limped into Clarks Harbour in a succession of faltering moves, between which she would anchor until headed in the right direction.

Next morning, the Lady Laurier, Stanley and Aberdeen arrived on the scene but, as none of them were sufficiently powerful to tow an armoured cruiser to Halifax without grave risk, the Lady Laurier was ordered to stand by until the arrival of a British warship, HMS Cornwall, a few days later. Unfortunately, while creeping in to pick up her damaged consort, the Cornwall herself struck an uncharted rock in dense fog from whence she was released by the combined efforts of the Lady Laurier and a small steamer out of Halifax called the Bridgewater.

After this episode, as it was obviously unsafe for the deep draft British cruiser to again risk closing with the Niobe, the Lady Laurier passed a wire and towed her out to deep water, not without parting at least once. When they were clear of all dangers the Cornwall took HMCS Niobe in tow with the Lady Laurier acting as stern tug to assist in steering. Thus encumbered, the flotilla reached Halifax safely. At a subsequent court martial the navigator of the Niobe was severely reprimanded and dismissed his ship, which was rather sad for him because the Navy only had one other ship, and that on the Pacific coast. The officer of the watch was reprimanded.

In 1934, the Lady Laurier was again involved with an uncharted rock. Under the command of Captain J. C. MacDonald, the ship was backing away from a buoy in Musquodoboit Harbour when she struck heavily, suffering severe damage which caused her to be laid off for several months. A hydrographic ship was sent to find the rock which the captain of the Lady Laurier had reported but, finding none, it was concluded that the ship had been off position and struck elsewhere. As a result of an enquiry Captain MacDonald was suspended from his employment by the Department. Confident of his navigation, Captain MacDonald thereupon engaged a survey boat and divers at his own expense; they found a hitherto uncharted pinnacle of rock with the broken shaft and propeller of the Lady Laurier lying neatly at the base. Captain MacDonald was reinstated and the Department reimbursed him in full for his unjustified expenses.

During her lengthy career, the Lady Laurier was in the charge of sixteen masters and four chief engineers, of whom the last were Captain M. C. Lever and Mr. R. B. Collings. The ship herself had changed somewhat over the years, she was re-boilered about 1935, but the original engines remained to the last. The cable sheaves forward, which had neatly terminated the sweep of her stem, were removed quite early in her career which detracted from the appearance somewhat.

When the time came for her to go, the impending doom of the Lady Laurier raised many protests from her admirers, including one gentleman who wrote no fewer than ten impassioned letters to successive Ministers, the Hon. George Hees and the Hon. Leon Balcer. Efforts were made to establish whether some way could not be found to employ her profitably, but the remorseless effects of time were apparent, and she had to go.

Photo: Building the Arctic

Building the Arctic

The Arctic was built in 1901 by Howaldtswerke, Kiel, as the exploration ship Gauss for the German Antarctic Expedition of 1901. The upper illustration shows the felling of magnificent oak trees for the main framing. Note the diameter of the tree compared to the woodsman. In the lower photograph the Gauss is being launched to the accompaniment of a brass band, while the official party name the ship.

(Howaldtswerke, Kiel)

Photo: CGS Arctic

As befits the situation, this was done with dignity, On March 31, 1960 a message was sent to the district marine agent at Halifax from the Director of Marine Operations, Captain E. S. Brand:

"Regret CMS Lady Laurier to be decommissioned and prepared for disposal."

Even then, there were requests for delay, but it was not to be. She was a good ship.