Built for the thriving package freight business on the Great Lakes in the 1960’s and 1970’s by Davie Shipbuilding & Repair Ltd. of Lauzon, QC (Davie hull #652); this vessel was
launched as the package freighter Fort William for Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) of Montreal, QC on April 24, 1965 with delivery to CSL on May 21. The Fort William was the last package
freighter designed for Great Lakes trading. She was also the last package freighter built for Canada Steamship Lines and the largest in the "Fort Class" of Great Lakes freighters. The
christening of the Fort William after the city of Fort William, ON followed a Canada Steamship Lines pattern of naming these package freighters after various forts of significance in
the development of Canada. On January 1, 1970; the city of Fort William joined its sister city of Port Arthur, ON to become the city of Thunder Bay, ON. Fleet mates of the Fort
William in CSL’s package freight fleet included the Fort Chambly, Fort Henry, Fort St. Louis, Fort York, English River, and the French River.
As originally constructed, the Fort William was capable of carrying 7,400 tons (7,519 mt) of packaged and/or palletized freight at her mid summer draft of 21’ 06" (6.55m); the
cargo being contained in one hold accessed by four side ports on either port or starboard side. The vessel is powered by two Fairbanks Morse 10 cylinder horizontally opposed
10-38D8-1/8 diesel engines producing 3,330 b.h.p. (2,450 kW) and 2 Fairbanks Morse 8 cylinder horizontally opposed 8-38-D8-1/8 diesel engines producing 2,664 b.h.p. (1,960 kW) for a
total of 5,994 b.h.p. (4,410 kW). These engines are Canadian built and burn marine diesel oil. The power is fed through a single reduction gear box feeding a single KaMeWa controllable
pitch propeller giving the ship a speed of up to 18.4 m.p.h. As originally constructed, engine numbers 1 and 2 were designated as lead engines necessitating that at least one of the
two be operating in line with any combination of the others. This meant that these two engines would have almost double the hours of service as compared to the other two. Today, new
technology gives the ability for any one of the four engines to be designated as the lead engine thus allowing for the equalization of running hours for each engine. This, in turn,
allows for increased fuel savings as well as reduced maintenance levels.
Shortly after entering service; early on September 14, 1965, the Fort William capsized and exploded while unloading at the company’s dock in Montreal killing 5 sailors with 16
escaping. The capsizing occurred as cargo was being moved to the upper deck at the same time as ballast was being pumped making the vessel unstable. The explosion following the roll
over was the result of 300 tons of powdered calcium chloride cargo mixing with the water forming an explosive gas. A salvage contract was awarded to Foundation Maritime Co. on
September 30. The freighter was refloated on November 22, 1965 and taken to Davie Shipbuilding for repairs, returning to service in May of 1966.
On August 10, 1967; the Fort William was in a head-on collision with Kinsman’s Paul L. Tietjen in lower Lake Huron near the Port Huron Lightship. The latter was holed in the bow
with the Fort William receiving only slight damage. Other incidents followed. On December 17, 1977; the vessel went aground in Maumee Bay at Toledo, OH in fog. She was freed with the
assistance of local tugs. Also in fog, the freighter hit the Detroit River Light while downbound early on October 1, 1979. Her bow was pushed in by the stone base but not holed. She
proceeded to the Port Arthur Shipyards at Thunder Bay for repair. The Detroit River Light, however, sustained an estimated $100,000 in damages.
Cargoes for the package fleet could include lumber, steel, paper products, vehicles, and manufactured or canned goods. With improved road transportation and more specifically,
direct railroad competition; the package freight division of CSL could not compete and terminated their service resulting in the Fort William laying up in Hamilton, ON in December of
Her lay up was short as the Fort William was acquired by Lake Ontario Cement Co. (now Essroc Canada Inc.) in 1982. The retired freighter was to be converted to a self unloading
cement carrier by the Collingwood Shipyards of Collingwood, ON. She departed Hamilton November 28, 1982 under tow of tugs Salvage Monarch and Helen M. McAllister to Windsor, ON; then
the William M. Cohen on to Collingwood, arriving December 4, 1982. With the conversion completed as Collingwood’s hull #229, the "new" cement carrier departed Collingwood on June 30,
1983 as the Stephen B. Roman; named after Mr. Stephen Boleslav Roman who was born in Slovakia in 1921 and was the chairman and chief executive officer of Denison Mines Ltd. (which
owned 54% of Lake Ontario Cement Co. at the time of the carrier’s christening). Mr. Roman died in 1988. After this conversion, the vessel is now capable of carrying 7,600 tons (7,722
mt) of cement products in three holds at a mid summer draft of 22’ 06" (6.86m).
The Stephen B. Roman primarily sails in Lake Ontario between the ports of Picton and Toronto, ON and Oswego and Rochester, NY. The cement carrier also often transits the Welland
Canal to visit ports such as Cleveland, OH and Windsor, ON. She sailed under the management of Canada Steamship Lines until December 31, 1998 at which time Upper Lakes Group of
Toronto, ON took over management of the vessel. Seaway Marine Transport of St. Catharines, ON assumed management of the vessel in 2004. There have been no serious recordable incidents
for the Stephen B. Roman since her conversion to a cement carrier.
Since 1984 and with the exception of 1993, the Master of the Stephen B. Roman has received the Harbourmaster’s Top Hat award every year for opening the navigation season at the
port of Toronto, ON, opening the port for the 2007 navigation season on March 19, 2007. The cement carrier was the first vessel to break out of Toronto, leaving her lay-up berth late
on March 16 going to Picton for this first Toronto bound load of bulk cement. She was, in fact, the first Canadian lake boat to begin her 2007 season on the Great Lakes. The Stephen
B. Roman remains the last of CSL’s original "Fort Class" of Great Lakes package freighters still in service today.
Beginning in 2017, management of this vessel was taken over from the Algoma Central Corp. by McKeil Marine Ltd.
Written by George Wharton.