Ship Captain Andrew Port: Georgian Bay Mariner

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

There are many interesting and dynamic characters in the history of the Grey and Bruce region. Because I enjoy researching and writing about the history of the Great Lakes, a personal favourite of mine is ship captain Andrew Port. He was one of the many courageous men who captained the vessels which provided transportation and communication links between the various communities located on Georgian Bay in the late 1800s. 

Operating from his home harbour of Wiarton, Captain Port and his vessel, the Prince Alfred, sailed between Owen Sound and Tobermory, with the occasional trip to Manitoulin Island. In 1880 the land routes on the peninsula were little more than forest trails. Consequently, Port kept his vessel sailing as long as he could find a path through the ice and often set sail before the ice had melted from the bay.

One of my favourite stories about Port occurred in the late winter of 1880. Although ice still covered most of Georgian Bay the determined ship captain set out for Tobermory. The trip to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula was without incident, however, once into port, the Prince Alfred found itself barricaded by ice and unable to continue its return voyage.

However, this fact did not dampen the spirit of Port. He took advantage of the ice which imprisoned his vessel, crew and cargo. Twenty men were hired to cut ice and Port stored this harvest with an eye to sailing at a later date and selling the results of this harvest in the American mid-west.

Finally, friendly winds blew the ice jam which blocked the harbour out into the bay and Port set out for Manitoulin Island. On April 5, 1880 they began their return journey to Wiarton.  However, off Cabot Head the vessel became surrounded by a large ice field. Undeterred, Port continued. By the time they neared Lion’s Head, the Prince Alfred was completely locked in the ice again. Entry to Lion’s Head’s harbour was impossible and the situation was further complicated by a broken rudder which made the vessel susceptible to the whims of its icy master.

To conserve what was left of the fuel, the engines were shut down and the crew maintained a 24 hour vigil trying to keep the ship and themselves from an icy coffin. After a treacherous voyage which took the vessel to within 40 miles of the north shore of Georgian Bay a wind arose which blew the ice and its captives to the mouth of Colpoys Bay.

Still trapped in the ice, the ship's captain looked to shore, perhaps somewhat wistfully. The warmth and safety of home seemed so near, yet so far. Port worried about those who awaited their arrival. To dispel their fears he braved the treacherous ice to walk to shore at Big Bay where he telegraphed Wiarton to give the news of their safety

Finally, Port was able to bring the Prince Alfred to shore near the entrance to Colpoys Bay were he took on more fuel and fashioned a make-shift rudder. Finally, the vessel limped into port and the Wiarton Echo on April 16, 1880 reported that the gallant little craft had made it into Wiarton 8:00 AM Thursday morning.

This odyssey, perhaps, prompted Port to forsake the Prince Alfred and purchase a larger vessel, the Jane Miller. He hoped that the Miller would be less susceptible to the whims of winds and ice of Georgian Bay. Unfortunately, and not without a certain amount of irony, this action would have fatal results for the ship Captain Andrew Port. In November 1881 the Jane Miller sank in Colpoys Bay and the icy waters of Georgian Bay claimed one of its most courageous competitors, Captain Andrew Port.         

A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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.

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.

Sailing stories: Owen Sound Shipbuilding Sailing stories date from the earliest time of settlement in the Bruce Peninsula region. Busy shipyards dotted the Owen Sound bay where shipbuilding took place, sometimes at a feverish pace. They are interesting adventures often providing enlightening views of the nature of the human race.

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! 

  1. History Articles
  2. Georgian Bay Shipping
  3. Ship Captain Andrew Port