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

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The Paisley Period

Following the first phase of iron steamship construction, when the Department went to Scotland for ships which could not then be built in Canada, Britain was to supply a constant stream of lighthouse tenders and icebreakers until the yards of the St. Lawrence and the Lakes began to build in steel. As we have seen, the Clyde, Dundee and Barrow all made contributions and, typical of the smaller firms at a time when riveted ships with steam reciprocating machinery and well finished woodwork required a concentration of skilled workmen, the yard of Fleming and Ferguson had specialized in the Canadian market and was often the lowest bidder in a highly competitive business.

Paisley is the county town of Renfrewshire, originally a weaving town, then comprising a jumble of busy streets and grey stone tenements surrounding the pre-reformation abbey which is the parish Kirk. The town was brought to the shipbuilding business when all the world came to the Clyde and the constant rattle of riveting hammers was background music, not only to the Clyde itself, but to unlikely sites where men could earn a living from the smaller vessels overlooked by the builders of ocean liners. Paisley was an unlikely site; it stands on the River Cart, then a narrow and odoriferous stream, some three or four miles from its junction with the main River at Clydebank. Here, in the shadow of a great sheer legs for hoisting main engines and boilers, the frames and plates of Canadian special service ships would arise in a forest of timber scaffolding surrounded by the workshops of a dozen trades. Paisley workmen were not without Canadian connection for many of their forbears had emigrated to this country in the lean and hungry years of the early nineteenth century. Many Canadian ships were built at Paisley, not only for Marine and Fisheries but also for the Newfoundland passenger service. Typical of lighthouse and buoy tenders of the period were the Quadra and the Aberdeen.

When Captain Walbran and Mr. Grant, chief engineer of the Sir James Douglas, went to Paisley to commission the Quadra in 1891, they found the vessel in:

". . . a good and efficient state, fit to carry dry and perishable cargoes, classed and entered in the Registry Book . . ."

Tradition in British Columbia today asserts that the Quadra had been laid down originally as a yacht for the Czar of Russia; this aristocratic origin cannot be confirmed as Marine reports state quite clearly that the vessel was built to Canadian Government specification, and that Fleming & Ferguson was the lowest bidder at a price of fifteen thousand pounds sterling. With her fiddle bow, well rounded counter, steam launch and generally smart appearance, the Quadra was somewhat yacht-like, but this profile was not then unusual in lighthouse tenders, which were generally considered to be a cut above the ordinary ships of trade and were maintained accordingly, as they are to this day.

Photo: Raising the Quadra after sinking in a collision at Nanaimo in 1917

Raising the Quadra after sinking in a collision at Nanaimo in 1917.

The captains accommodation on the Quadra was aft under the poop, in the old sailing ship style, but there was nothing out of date about her machinery which was:

". . . quadruple expansion of improved type, designed to maintain a speed of ten knots at sea."

The engines and boilers of the Quadra were guaranteed for six months from date of delivery and a guarantee engineer came out with the ship. Under Captain Walbran the vessel was exceptionally well maintained and she became known and admired all over the West coast. Walbran was a cultivated man who combined the attributes of a first class professional seaman with a deep interest in all that concerned the marine activities of British Columbia. His book, British Columbia Place Names 1592-1906 is delight-fully written and, as well as evidence of the authors scholarship and knowledge of history, it shows also the natural qualities of one who was greatly admired by all who knew him. In the Maritime Museum of British Columbia there is a watercolour which Captain Walbran had done for the autograph book of a little girl; quite small and eminently Victorian, the sketch shows the Quadra, with her blue ensign at the peak, steaming along with the wind aft and her canvas set. It speaks volumes for the originator.

Captain Walbran died in 1913, but the Quadra carried on the good work until she was sunk in collision in 1917. On February 11 that year, she sailed from Victoria to supply the Gulf stations, erected a beacon at Drew Harbour and another on Clarke Rocks; returning from thence, to pick up supplies at Nanaimo, the Quadra was rammed by the C.P.R. steamer Charmer and had to be beached to prevent foundering in deep water.

Thereafter she had a chequered career; the war was at its height, tonnage of any kind was scarce, and the wreck of the Quadra was sold for a few thousand dollars. Repaired and put to work as an ore carrier, she ran between Britannia Beach and Tacoma with copper concentrates and apparently earned more than her keep. By 1925, prohibition had come to the United States and, somehow or other, the old Quadra had fallen on evil days and was run running out of Vancouver. But a worse fate was to befall the virtuous Quadra, upholder of the law. She was caught. On October 24 that year she was seized by the United States Coast Guard cutter Shawnee and taken to San Francisco. Ship and cargo, valued at a million dollars, were confiscated, the master was fined and sentenced to two years in prison, and twelve other crew members were also given jail terms. Those were unsettled days, however, and all jumped bail and returned to Canada. Litigation over the vessel and cargo lasted for years; eventually the Quadra was put up to auction by the United States Marshall and was purchased for scrap for the sum of $1,625.

Photo: CGS Aberdeen running acceptance trials in the Clyde, 1894

CGS Aberdeen running acceptance trials in the Clyde, 1894. She was the last Marine and Fisheries steamer to be fitted with standing gaffs.

But the spirit of the Quadra lives on, and she gave her name to the Quadra Rocks, Houston Channel, which she discovered the hard way when on a voyage to the Bering Sea to regulate sealing in May 1902.

Another of the Paisley ships, selected as one of many, was the Aberdeen, long remembered on the Atlantic coast. When tenders were invited by the Department in 1893 for a vessel:

". . . for conveying lighthouse supplies and lifting and placing heavy automatic buoys and, when required, to be used in the Fisheries protection service . . ."

the intention was to produce something faster than the Quadra. With commendable economy, but some lack of realism, the original enquiry had envisaged use of the boilers and machinery recently salved from the wreck of the Napoleon. This old compound, it will be remembered, already second hand when placed in the Napoleon, was by now out of date and the Aberdeen was built with water-tube boilers and a quadruple expansion engine of the latest type. The Aberdeen was fitted with good subdivision and double bottoms and was up to date for the period, having electric light, steam steering gear and ash hoists. Nor was the accommodation below the high standards which had by then become traditional in Canadian Government ships. It is recorded that:

". . . the after cabin is handsomely fitted in birds eye maple and mahogany . . ."

Captain McElhinney, who later was to survey the old Druid, was sent to Scotland to take delivery of the new ship, accompanied by a staff of mates and engineers. The Aberdeen achieved her contract speed of thirteen knots, and a photograph of the time shows her belting along in fine style, the ship dressed overall with signal flags; as with all hand fired coal burners, smoke was a fact of life and the ensign at the peak is blotted out with gritty black clouds as she fires up to enter the Skelmorlie measured mile at maximum speed. Like all single screw ships of the period she was fitted with fore and aft canvas for emergency use, a style of rigging which was discarded in the opening years of the present century. The canvas gear looked smart, in an old fashioned sort of way, and great care was expended on having a neat stow but it was difficult to protect the sails from damage caused by red hot cinders.

The Aberdeen commenced her service on the Atlantic coast but was later transferred to the Quebec agency where, under Captain Belanger, she served the light stations and buoys of the Gulf. In 1904 it was decided to fit her with Thorneycroft-Marshall boilers and she started for Toronto where the work was to be carried out during the winter months. Caught in the ice at Soulanges, she was forced to winter there before undergoing refit the following spring.

The Aberdeen then returned to the Atlantic coast where, like so many of our earlier ships, she came to an untimely end; on October 13, 1923 the Aberdeen stranded on Seal Island, N.S. and became a total loss.

The Paisley ships had a style of their own and many of them, such as the Lady Laurier, Champlain, Montcalm and the second Druid, became firm favourites, remembered to this day. The Lady Laurier was the last of the Paisley ships to have a clipper style bow, in her case necessitated by the need for cable sheaves. Today, with the advent of the John Cabot, that attractive profile is again in evidence in a modern ship.