1885: A Memorable
Summer Job

1885: A memorable summer job for Owen Sound teenage boys on the Great Lakes would have historic importance, not mention a possible exciting career opportunity.


subscribe free or become a member

The Great Lakes Raconteur

Every summer, high school and college students work hard to find a summer job that not only pays well but is also interesting. 

Even the most exciting summer job today probably pales when it is compared to the summer job that 20 Owen Sound-area schoolboys landed in the summer of 1885. 

In the 1880s Owen Sound was a busy Great Lakes port. Ships sailed in and out of the harbour at all hours of the day during sailing season. On most days a visitor to the harbour would see several ships being loaded and unloaded. Among those individuals who came to the docks, I am sure, there were many young boys who dreamed of sailing to far off ports and experiencing a sailor's life. For 20 young schoolboys that dream became a reality with their 1885 summer job. 

These schoolboys were hired to serve meals aboard the CPR vessels, Alberta, Athabasca, and Algoma. The passengers they were serving were a special group with stories to tell that would exceed the wildest dreams of the young men seeking a sea-going adventure. 

The Alberta made its first voyage with the teenage waiters on board in July 1885. The trip from Owen Sound to Prince Arthur's Landing (now Thunder Bay) at the head of Lake Superior was an uneventful trip with the usual passenger list of prospective settlers, businessmen and tourists. 

But on the return trip the Alberta, their 1885 summer job was to prove to be anything but normal. For years the Canadian government had been fighting a rebellion in western Canada. The uprising led by the Metis leader Louis Riel had proved difficult to quell. 

Just when the government forces thought that they had made some headway in stopping the insurrection, fighting broke out elsewhere in the territories. In the summer of 1885, the Alberta and her sister ships, the Athabasca and the Algoma, were bringing home the volunteers who had fought against Riel in the Saskatchewan campaign.

There were so many men aboard the ships that they could only be served two meals a day. The crowded ships could not provide normal accommodations for the soldiers. Instead, cots were placed on the ship's freight deck to provide sleeping quarters for the hundreds of men who were returning home. 

During the times when they were not required to work, the young boys eagerly listened to the soldiers' tales about fighting the wily Riel and other adventures that they had faced during their time on Canada's western frontier. 

When the ships arrived in Owen Sound, the soldiers received a hero's welcome. The town leaders declared the day a civic holiday and the ladies of the town served the soldiers a banquet in their honour. 

I wonder how many of these young summer employees aboard the CPR vessels went on to become sailors after they completed school?

A version of this article,"1885: A Memorable Summer Job," originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on July 13, 2001.

   Get The Great Lakes Raconteur  -->   

Share this page:

Georgian Bay Shipping

List of Lighthouses on the Great Lakes: If you have names and/or pictures of Great Lakes Lighthouses please submit them along with details of their location.

Georgian Bay Ships: A List of all the ships that sailed on Georgian Bay until the 1960s. This list is not complete. If you know of a ship that sailed the waters of Georgian Bay please contact me with information about that vessel, and, if you have a picture that I could post with it, that would be much appreciated.

1885: A Memorable Summer Job for Owen Sound teenage boys on the Great Lakes would have historic importance, not mention a possible exciting career opportunity.

Hindman Transportation Company was a well-known Great Lakes shipping company for many years. Here you will find pictures of many of the Hindman ships

Owen Sound Harbour – A Photographic History, by Robert A. Cotton is a book that interests my historiographical curiosity.

Commercial Great Lakes Fishing  It is probably safe to suggest that the commercial fishing industry was an important part of the early growth of this region.

A Georgian Bay fishing vacation has long been a popular attraction in the Bruce Peninsula region. During fishing derbies, the regional waterways are dotted with fishing boats of all shapes and sizes. 

The Georgian Bay Mackinaw, designed by William Watts of Collingwood is an example of a Georgian Bay innovator creating a vessel to service the needs local mariners.

Great Lakes fishing is an asset that is protected and developed, not only for its economic potential but also for those who just enjoy spending a day by the side of a river or in small fishing boats trying to catch “the big one”!  

Great Lakes Fishing History is not without its controversy. The impact of the fishing industry was such that it played an important role in the development of communities along the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron shoreline.

Georgian Bay Travel Before the Winter Freeze-Up could be a dangerous time for mariners in the early years in this region.

A Harbinger of Spring on the Great Lakes in pioneer times, was the eagerly awaited news that a lighthouse had been lit and shipping traffic could begin sailing from port to port.

Lumber Hookers  Lumber hookers and tugs were an important innovation to improve the transportation of lumber on Georgian Bay. 

Mapmakers on Georgian Bay were also explorers. They mapped the Georgina Bay shoreline noting safe harbours, dangerous reefs and other guides for sailors and pioneer settlers looking for a place to call home.

Paddling Georgian Bay & Pondering: traversing parts of this great waterway in a canoe leads one to wonder about the ships of a bygone era battling the rough seas they encountered.

Parry Sound Shipping History: The Parry Sound area has always been connected to the southern regions of the Province of Ontario by a system of good roads. Or has it?

Parry Sound’s shipping history 2 is more than the tragic sinking of the Waubuno or the later catastrophe surrounding the sinking of the Asia. 

Sailing Season Closing: A Frantic Time on Peninsula as ships raced from port to port delivering and picking up passengers and produce before the waterways froze.

Ship Captain Andrew Port was not only a dynamic and brave Georgian Bay mariner, he was a personal favourite historical character of mine.

Ships Stuck in Ice: The Oak Glen was icebound in 1996 but this sailing hazard has been impacting vessels on Georgian Bay since the beginning of time.

Lake Huron shipwrecks, the Hibou often occurred in the Georgian Bay region of that Great Lake due to the often violent waters that could strike unsuspecting vessels like the Hibou.

Shipwrecks: The "Asia" wrecked off the eastern coast of Georgian Bay taking all but two of the more than 100 passengers to a watery grave.

Masters, Mates, and Pilots Association created its first Canadian chapter on Georgian Bay, providing maritime safety education, and other seafaring issues to better inform its membership.

Pioneer Travel Aboard the Fly  Tells the story of a sailing vessel as the tenuous link between survival and death in a pioneer settlement in the 1840's in Upper Canada.

Sailing Stories: the Captain Who Smelled his way into Port The Captain Who Smelled his Way into Port details how pioneer seamen on Georgian Bay safely sailed the rough waters without the aid of the modern technological tools so readily used by today's mariners.

Sailing Story: The Voyage of the Prince Alfred the incredible voyage of the Prince Alfred, fraught with danger for both vessel and the crew in the winter of 1880.

Shipbuilding As the southern Georgian Bay region became more populated shipping traffic increased to meet the needs of an expanding market place.

The Summer of 1844 was No Picnic for the early settlers in the pioneer area near what would become Owen Sound on Georgian Bay.

The CPR Grain Elevator Fire of 1911 spelled the end of Owen Sound's role as the eastern terminus of the CPR Great Lakes Fleet.

Georgian Bay shipping occurred long before the first Europeans paddled these waters. But the fur and timber trades opened Georgian Bay to shipping in a big way!