THE INCREDIBLE SAGA OF THE STEAMBOAT
by Robert J. Miller, Armour Township
The steamboat Armour
was named after Supreme Court Judge
Armour and built in the winter of 1905/06 on the Burk's
Falls dock by a crew of local men led by George Stickland.
The Armour burned at the dock in Burk's Falls but its wrought
iron Scottish frame and other remains were purchased by Percy
Siddall and taken by rail to Port Maitland on Lake Erie where
it was rebuilt and operated as a fishing boat for 40 years
under the name "Earlee June". The original steam
engine, valves, steam throttles, and propellor shaft were
built in 1906 in Toronto by Poulson
Iron Works. In 1990 these parts were brought back to Burk's
Falls by Ed Finucan, Doug Boyes, Wilbert Stickland, Gerald
Culbert and Ab Culbert (below) who has them in his possession.
They were donated by Earl Siddall of Port Maitland. Also in
1990, Ab Culbert built a scale model of the S.S.Armour and
launched it at the Burk's Falls docks to commemorate Canada's
The Armour was the largest passenger steamboat
to ever ply the Magnetawan River, at 191 tons, 87.5 feet in
length, and licensed in Toronto to carry 230 people. Financed
by Robert J. Watson, constructed by George Stickland on the
Burk’s Falls docks, and owned by A. A. Agar as part
of his Magnetawan River and Lakes Steamboat Company fleet,
the Armour was a completely local initiative and creation.
She was built with a state of the art “composite
hull” which used wrought iron ribbing with wood planking
bolted to the ribs and caulked water-tight. This was the same
construction technique used in the Scottish shipyards at that
time and employed in the most modern ships of the day including
the famous Canadian schooner Cutty
Sark. The Northern Railway was open as far as Burk’s
Falls by 1885 but soon absorbed by the Grand Trunk in 1888.
In 1901, twelve local investors incorporated the Magnetawan
River Railway Company for the sole purpose of building a spur
line from the Grand Trunk, located one mile east out of town,
down to the docks at Burk’s Falls. With that spur line
in place, it is most probable that Armour’s wrought
iron frame and hull ribbing was imported from Clydebank Scotland
to Canada and then transported to the Burk's Falls dock by
The Armour proved to be very popular and
carried passengers and supplies on a daily return basis for
over twenty years from Burk’s Falls to Ahmic Harbour
and back, a distance of 56 kilometres each way. A Purser's
Ticket from 1928 shows that the steamboat Armour stopped
at 55 settlements along her route which would have been almost
inaccessible without her. The ticket cost was $1.70 for a
return trip from Burk's Falls to a place called "Hemlock
Cabin" on Ahmic Lake below the Village of Magnetawan.
The first captain was Joe Mortimer who was
succeeded in 1912 by George A. Follows. But, as often happened
to steamboats, calamity struck early in September 1928 when
she caught fire at the wharves in Burk’s Falls and before
the fire could be suppressed, her wheel house and decks had
been burned off.
Faced with a new era of the family automobile,
A. A. Agar decided to not rebuild the Armour but to dismantle
and sell her carcass as salvage. Her outer hull planking was
untouched by the fire and was therefore removed in wagon loads
by the buyer, Jim Bushey, who had also carried out repairs
to the vessel throughout much of her life. The wrought iron
hull frame was in perfect condition as was the fore and aft
compound steam engine and boiler by Polson Iron Works of Toronto.
This part of the Armour was purchased around 1930 by Percy
Siddall and shipped by rail to Port Maitland at the mouth
of the Grand River on Lake Erie.
Hamiltonians, William A. Warnick, Brent
B. Ellis and Earlene (Siddall) Corey, grand-daughter of Percy
Siddall, have filled in the history of how Percy Siddall bought
the boiler, engine, propeller, and wrought iron ribbing of
the Armour and shipped it all to Port Maitland. A contract
was signed with the Canadian Mead-Morrison Company of Welland
to rebuild the Armour as a fishtug called the “Earlee
June” named after Percy Siddall’s children Earl,
Leo and June.
Once the hull was complete, the Earlee June
was towed from Welland to Port Maitland to have the original
Armour boiler and engine reinstalled. She was then towed back
to Welland and fitted with decks, bulwarks and a new pilothouse
made of one-quarter inch steel, much heavier than most other
fishtugs. The hull was also sheathed with steel plating riveted
to the original wrought iron ribbing, once the frame of the
The fishtug Earlee June was eventually sold
to T. A. Ivey Greenhouses of Port Dover who removed her bulwarks
and converted her into a tow tug. She was renamed the “IVEYROSE”
and used to tow a barge named the “T. A. Ivey”,
across Lake Erie from Pennsylvania loaded with coal to heat
their greenhouses in Port Dover. She continued as a tug for
Ivey Greenhouses for a number of years before she was purchased
by the Harry Gamble Shipyards also of Port Dover. She was
renamed the “Dover” and used among other things,
for icebreaking in the St. Lawrence River between Kingston
and Wolfe Island.
The Dover was then sold to Eddie Siddall,
a cousin of Percy Siddall, who ran a marine business in the
Port of Goderich. Finally in 1997 Captain Ian MacAdam of MacDonald
Marine in Goderich purchased her to compliment a fleet of
other tugs used primarily for guiding lake freighters into
their berths in the small harbour at Goderich.
Still a vibrant vessel, she won within her
class at the 1998 and 2006 tugboat races at the “International
Freedom Festival” on the Detroit River at Windsor Ontario.
The Dover is powered today by an 800 hp diesel engine - a
far cry from the 16.6 hp compound Polson steam engine that
originally powered the steamboat Armour.
Personal Reminiscences by William
Warnick of Hamilton
Bill Warnick knew Earl Siddall very well.
These notes are clipped/annotated by permission from The
Grand Dispatch, Vol. 3 No. 2, June 2000 - a free distribution
by Bill Warnick to the Beckley Beach Corporation at Port Maitland.
"In 1907, many Port Maitland residents,
including John and Henrietta Siddall, owned boarding houses.
There were a variety of hotels to choose from on both sides
of the river. Bill Warnick estimates that between the hotels
and boarding houses there were more than one hundred and twenty
rooms available to tourists who came primarily from Buffalo
NY and Erie PA. Port Maitland was the summer home for some
very well-known American artists, serious sports fishermen,
and many wealthy members of the Buffalo Yacht Club.
Operating a motor launch at the beginning
of the twentieth century was a lucrative and fascinating business.
John Percy Siddall owned a beautiful river launch named the
in which he carried passengers up and down the river for the
purpose of tourism as well as transportation. In 1907, his
cousin, George Little also had a launch and catered to the
same crowd. These early days of sailing the Grand River would
steer the cousins to a fishing alliance which would lead them
to ownership of a number of fish-tugs they owned jointly,
as well as individually. At age fifteen, Percy established
the Percy Siddall Fisheries with only a few gill-nets and
a row boat. Some of the boats that they owned over the years
were named Saida, Kaiser, Caldera, Our Colleen, J. P. Siddall,
and of course Earlee June.
In 1931, the Port Maitland Fish Company,
which was located on the north side of the historic Welland
Feeder Canal, was owned by a consortium of fishing partnerships.
They were Percy Siddall & George Little, John McKee &
Steve McKeown, and Charles Crumb & John Crawford. By this
time Percy also owned the Earlee June. There is some confusion
about when the Earlee June was built. We know from records
of gill-net licenses issued, that Percy Siddall had a license
for both her and the Caldera in 1925. Yet Carroll Kenney,
who worked for the Canada Coal Company when it came to Port
Maitland in 1927, says it was the Canada Coal crane that removed
her from a railway car at Port Maitland. We know from the
Bluebook, a record of ownership and registration of commercial
craft, that the Earlee June was registered as new in 1931.
As mentioned, Percy Siddall purchased
the Earlee June [Armour] and shipped the boiler, engine, propeller,
and iron ribs to Port Maitland by train. The parts were removed
from the freight car and placed across the tracks from the
Port Maitland fish-house. After much hemming and hawing he
decided what should be done and signed a contract with Canadian
Mead-Morrison Company in Welland to rebuild the tug. He loaded
the ribs on some trucks and shipped them to Welland. Once
the hull was complete, it was towed to Port Maitland to have
the original boiler and engine put in it. With the engine
and boiler installed, she was towed back to Welland to be
fitted, decked, and have her bulwarks and pilothouse built.
The bulwarks and pilothouse made of one-quarter inch steel
were much heavier than most tugs which would be built using
no more than one-eighth inch steel. This would in the end
cause some problems as it made her top heavy and susceptible
to rolling and pitching. To reduce some of this, it was necessary
to lower the boiler and set it directly on the boat’s
frame. There had been a drip pan installed under the boiler
creating a high centre of gravity due to the height of the
boiler. With the boiler lowered, this reduced the rolling
and pitching, but still the Earlee June was a bit of a bouncy
Another boat joined the Percy Siddall
fleet - the Our Colleen. Wally Clark operated the Our Colleen
for a number of years before she was purchased by Eddie Siddall
of Goderich who fished with her for some time. Eddie eventually
sold Our Colleen and I have been told that she is renamed,
rebuilt, and is presently a tour boat on Georgian Bay. If
anyone knows anything more about her, I would appreciate hearing
In March 1940, the Percy Siddall Fisheries
became the Earlee June Fisheries. By 1946 it was time to modernize
the fleet, so Percy decided to have Northern Marine of Bronte
build him a new boat. Only a year before, another of his cousins,
Maitland McKeown, had a boat built by the same builder. Percy
liked the new and sleek James B. and decided to contract Northern
Marine to build his newest boat. She would be named the J.
P. Siddall, after himself.
memories of the Earlee June Fisheries take me back only to
the J. P. Siddall and the Our Colleen. Though I never sailed
on her, it is the J. P. Siddall I remember most fondly. She
was powered by a General Motors diesel engine, which tended
to be noisy, and Earl did not like a noisy boat. He had a
special muffler built for her (which by the way is still in
her today) rendering her almost silent. I recently wrote in
my column in the Dunnville Chronicle that I could tell by
the sound of its engine which boat was entering the harbour
long before it arrived at the river’s mouth. Not so,
with the J. P. Siddall. It was not uncommon to have her enter
the harbour, pull up to the dock and I would not have heard
a sound. It was always spotless and seemingly painted the
whitest white of all the tugs in Port.
Years passed and with only the J. P.
Siddall left, Earl disbanded the Earlee June Fisheries in
March 1980. After being sold and resold again she is now owned
by Steve Vary of Kingsville and can often be seen in either
Kingsville or Port Stanley.
Siddall died at McMaster University Medical Centre in Hamilton
on the evening of May 17, 2000. Earl was a good friend and
he supplied much of the information you read in The Dispatch.
He was always there to answer any question I had and to set
me straight when he knew I was heading in the wrong direction.
It is for these qualities and many unsaid that I dedicate
this issue of The Grand Dispatch to my friend Earl Milford
My mother's family from Hamilton vacationed
in Port Maitland in the 1930's and stayed with "The Siddall's"
in one of their big Victorian boarding houses along the dunes
near the beach. The photograph below, supplied by my cousin
Brent Ellis of Hamilton, shows my mother, Isabel Barclay (the
young girl of 13 second from the left) in front of the wheelhouse
of the new fishtug Earlee June. To my mother's left is her
older sister Daisy Barclay and to her right is Bathia Linton
who emigrated from Scotland with my grandparents. On the deck,
in front of the unidentified boys is a partial view of the
shaft and one fluke of the original anchor from the steamboat