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 Detroit River, May 2005.

Mike Nicholls   

-- Algoma Transfer --
(Canadian Transfer 1998 - 2011
Fore Section: J.H. Hillman Jr, 1943 - 1974; Crispin Oglebay (2) 1974 - 1995; Hamilton Transfer 1995 - 1998
Stern Section: Cabot (1) 1965 - 1983; Canadian Explorer 1983 - 1998)

by George Wharton

The unique Great Lakes self unloading bulk carrier Canadian Transfer was rebuilt in 1998 by Port Weller Dry Docks, St. Catharines, ON for ULS Corporation (division of Upper Lakes Group, Inc.), Toronto, ON. The multi-million dollar contract combined two owned vessels into one: the stern consisting of the engine room and aft accommodations of the bulk carrier Canadian Explorer, a 24 foot (7.315m) yard built hull transition section, and the forward wheelhouse, cargo holds, and self unloading system of the Hamilton Transfer. The vessel was recommissioned August 4th, 1998 at a ceremony taking place at Port Weller Dry Docks including the attendance of several government officials as guests. The naming of the Canadian Transfer follows the pattern of many Upper Lakes vessels’ names beginning with the prefix “Canadian” and “Transfer” referring back to Hamilton Transfer’s previous function as a cargo transfer barge at Hamilton, ON.

Capable of speeds up to 18.4 m.p.h., the Canadian Transfer is powered by a Sulzer type 5RND68 two stroke cycle, single acting 6,100 b.h.p. (4,487 kW) five cylinder diesel engine built in 1965 by Sulzer Brothers Ltd., Winterthur, Switzerland.  The engine burns intermediate grade 180 fuel; the power being fed to a single controllable pitch propeller. The vessel is equipped with an 800 h.p. (588 kW) bow thruster. Sixteen hatches feed into 4 holds where the vessel is capable of carrying 16,235 tons (16,496 mt) at the vessel’s normal mid summer draft of 26’01” (7.95m). Other capacities include 341 tons  (346 mt) of fuel oil, 140 tons (142 mt) of diesel oil, 80 tons (81 mt) of potable water, and 7,388 tons (7,507 mt) of water ballast. The carrier’s self unloading equipment consists of a twin belt gravity fed system with roller track-type unloading gates and plastic linings throughout feeding a single bucket elevator to a forward mounted 250’ (76.2m) unloading boom that can swing 90 degrees to port or starboard and discharge at a rate of up to 3,543 tons (3,600 mt) per hour.

Tracing the “roots” of the Canadian Transfer could be looked at in the form of a sophisticated time line dating back to 1943 entwining the histories of 5 other vessels of various types and origins. The forward section follows a relatively straight line leading to the construction of the Canadian Transfer whereas the line for the stern section follows a more diverse route.

The origin of the forward section dates back to 1943 with the delivery to Great Lakes Steamship Co., Cleveland, OH on September 27th, 1943 of the J. H. Hillman, Jr.; the 14th of 16 “Maritimers” built for the U.S. Maritime Commission for the World War II effort. The J. H. Hillman, Jr. was built by Great Lakes Engineering Works, Ashtabula, OH as hull #524 and was christened in honor of Mr. John Hartwell Hillman, Jr. who was chairman of the board in 1943 of Pittsburgh Coke & Chemical Co.; the majority shareholder of Great Lakes Steamship Co. The carrier was powered by a yard built 2,500 h.p. triple expansion steam engine with 2 Babcock & Wilcox boilers and had the overall dimensions of 620’ 06” (189.13m) loa x 60’ 00” (18.29m) beam x 35’ 00” (10.57m) depth and a capacity of 16,000 tons (16,257 mt). The J. H. Hillman, Jr. remained active in the Great Lakes Steamship fleet until 1957 when the vessel was sold to Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. with Wilson Marine Transit Co., Cleveland, OH as managers. The vessel sailed under Wilson colors (though various registered owners) until 1973; with the exception of the period from March 1960 to 1965 when the carrier was bare boat chartered to Columbia Transportation Co. (Oglebay Norton Co.), Cleveland, OH. Kinsman Marine acquired the J. H. Hillman, Jr. in 1973 after the vessel had been laid up at Lorain, OH since 1972. Kinsman immediately resold the carrier to Columbia Transportation who had the vessel converted to a self unloader at American Ship Building, Toledo, OH during the 1973/74 winter lay up and renamed Crispin Oglebay (2). The Crispin Oglebay remained in active service until August 22nd, 1981 when the vessel was laid up at Toledo, OH due to an economic slowdown that forced many hulls into premature lay ups and eventual scrapings. The vessel remained in lay up until June 1989, only to return to lay up status again at Toledo in May, 1991.

The Crispin Oglebay was reflagged Canadian after being sold to Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd., Toronto, ON in 1995. The hull was towed dead-ship to Port Weller Dry Docks, St. Catharines, ON for conversion to a self unloading transfer barge including the installation of a moving deck crane with a clam shell bucket for unloading iron ore from straight deckers. The vessel was appropriately renamed Hamilton Transfer to reflect her new role as cargo transfer barge at Dofasco’s dock in Hamilton, ON. The Hamilton Transfer was towed to Hamilton to assume her new activities in 1996. On March 3rd, 1998; Upper Lakes Group announced that the Hamilton Transfer would be towed in April of that year to Port Weller Dry Docks who had been contracted to mate the forward section of the Hamilton Transfer with the stern of the Canadian Explorer to create a “new” diesel powered self unloader to be named the Canadian Transfer. The stern of the Hamilton Transfer was scrapped.

The history of the stern portion of the Canadian Transfer is more complicated. It had its physical beginnings with the construction of the Cabot (1). The coastal package freighter Cabot was built in 1965 at an approximate cost of $8 million as hull # 649 by the Davie Shipbuilding Ltd., Lauzon, QC for Gulf Ports Steamship Co. Ltd., Montreal, QC (managed by Clarke Steamship Co., Montreal) and operated by Newfoundland Steamships Ltd., Montreal. The vessel was launched May 12th, 1965 and had the overall dimensions of: 470’ 11” (143.54m) loa x 56’ 00” (17.07) beam x 32’ 00” (9.75m) depth, with a carrying capacity of 7,800 tons (7,925 mt). Power came from the Sulzer 5RND68 diesel engine that now powers the Canadian Transfer.

Of particular note, on December 16th, 1966; the Cabot rolled over onto its starboard side in 27’ (8.23m) of water while at its berth in Montreal and in the process of being loaded for its weekly run to Newfoundland. Two people were killed and 9 others injured in this mishap. January 16th, 1967 saw the vessel righted and, with the water pumped out, was towed to Sorel, QC for repair. The Cabot returned to service on June 19th, 1967.

During the 1980 season, Newfoundland Steamships and their rival Chimo Lines began integrating their operations as the package freight business became containerized. Newfoundland Steamships signed a 10 year charter for the Cabot in 1981 but had to lay the vessel up in Montreal in the summer of 1982 as the Cabot had become obsolete and replaced by more modern containerized vessels. On January 26th, 1983; the Cabot was sold to 12883 Canada Inc. (managed by Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd., Toronto, ON). The vessel was then towed to Hamilton, ON arriving April 27th, 1983; from there being towed to Port Weller Dry Docks, St. Catharines, ON arriving May 31st, 1983; where the stern just ahead of the pilot house was removed and attached to the forward section of the Northern Venture, becoming the new diesel powered Upper Lakes Shipping bulk carrier Canadian Explorer.

The Northern Venture was, in fact, the product of being combined with the stern of another vessel. This other vessel was the 1944 “T2-SE-A1” class tanker a) Verendrye built for the U. S. Maritime Commission. (Classification definition T2: tanker, length 500’ - 599’; SE: steam turbine engine; A1: particular class identification) The Verendrye was built as hull #80 by Kaiser Co. Inc., Portland, OR (Swan Island yard) at an approximate cost of $3 million and was one of 147 such tankers constructed at this yard and one of 481 of this type of tanker built at different yards across America for the World War II effort. Launched July 15, 1944, the vessel’s overall dimensions were: 523’ 06” (159.56m) loa x 68’ 02” (20.78m) beam x 39’ 02” (11.94m ) depth, with a carrying capacity of 16,600 tons (16.87m). Power was provided by a 7,240 s.h.p General Electric steam turbine driving an electric generator/motor with 6,000 s.h.p. output to a single screw propeller with the steam provided by 2 oil fired Combustion Engineering water tube boilers. After launch, the Verendrye was operated by Los Angeles Tanker Operators Inc., Los Angeles, CA and was chartered to the Canadian government for war service. In 1946, the vessel was chartered to American Pacific Steamship Co., Portland, OR. The year 1947 saw the tanker being sold to Eden Tankers Inc. (managed by Hunting & Sons Ltd.), Newcastle, England and renamed b) Edenfield.

The Edenfield sold to Leitch Transport Ltd. (managed by Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd.), Toronto, ON in 1960 and was renamed c) Northern Venture. This tanker was 1 of 3 “T2’s” purchased by Upper Lakes Shipping; the others being renamed c) Red Wing and c) Hilda Marjanne. The Northern Venture along with the Hilda Marjanne was towed to the Schlieker-Werft Shipyards, Hamburg, West Germany who had been contracted by Upper Lakes Shipping to convert the tankers to bulk carriers for Great Lakes service. Though not usual for a contract such as this being awarded to an overseas company, with the new St. Lawrence Seaway opening in 1959, all of the Canadian shipyards were already engaged in the building of new tonnage to take advantage of the much larger vessel dimensions now permitted to access the Seaway. The Northern Venture’s new keel was laid January 16th, 1961 while her tanker hull forward of the engine room was removed and scrapped. The new hull was of traditional Great Lakes straight deck design with the forward wheelhouse and included 6 holds with 20 hatches. The Northern Venture’s new overall dimensions were: 730’ 05” (222.63m) loa x 75’ 00” (22.86m) beam x 39’ 03” (11.96m) depth, with a carrying capacity of 24,825 tons (25,224 mt).

On July 3rd, 1961; the Northern Venture arrived at Port Weller Dry Docks for a refit for Great Lakes service following crossing the Atlantic under her own power (following hull strengthening and the sealing of its hatches for the crossing). This crossing marked the first time that a vessel of this size built for Great Lakes and Seaway service had made the trans-Atlantic crossing under its own power. The Northern Venture sailed on its maiden voyage July 16th, 1961 light to the Canadian lake head to load grain. The vessel’s ownership had been transferred to Northern Shipping Ltd. (subsidiary of Upper Lakes Shipping) with managers being Island Shipping Ltd., Nassau, Bahamas. The odd registration was due to labor tensions being experienced by Upper Lakes Shipping in the 1960’s. Ownership was transferred back to Upper Lakes Shipping in 1975.

The Northern Venture continued in regular service with Upper Lakes Shipping until being laid up in mid season of 1982 in Hamilton, ON. By early 1983, the forward cabins had been removed and the hull forward of the engine room bulkhead cut off with the stern being scrapped late in 1983 at Port Maitland, ON. On June 25th, 1983; the forward section arrived at Port Weller Dry Docks to be joined with the stern of the Cabot. On October 29th, 1983; the new diesel powered bulk carrier was christened Canadian Explorer with the formal Canadian registration on the Northern Venture being closed November 9th, 1983.

The Canadian Explorer’s overall dimensions were: 729’ 07” (222.38m) loa (including a 25’ [7.62m]yard built transition hull to accommodate the 19’ [5.79m] difference in beam between the Cabot and the Northern Venture) x 75’ 00” (22.86m) beam x 39’ 03” (11.96m) depth, with a carrying capacity of 26,499 tons (26,925 mt). The Canadian Explorer completed its sea trials on October 31st, 1983 and departed November 2nd, 1983 on its maiden voyage in ballast to Duluth, MN where 851,000 bushels of corn were loaded on board bound for Port Cartier, QC. The vessel was chartered to ULS International Inc. (subsidiary of Upper Lakes Group) after the ownership was transferred to Ranex Shipping (managed by Upper Lakes Shipping). In 1993, the vessel was chartered to Seaway Bulk Carriers, Winnipeg, MB (partnership of Upper Lakes Group and Algoma Central). The Canadian Explorer remained active in the grain and iron ore trades until December 18th, 1997; when it was in collision with the “salty” Island Skipper at the Beauharnois Locks with resulting damage to some vents, lights, bent ribs, and a destroyed gangway. Though the damage appeared minor, the vessel was towed to Hamilton and laid up. In April, 1998; the Canadian Explorer was towed to Port Weller Dry Docks where the stern section was removed to be mated with the forward section of the Hamilton Transfer resulting in the “new” diesel powered self unloader Canadian Transfer.

The forward section of the Canadian Explorer was not scrapped, however. It was towed back to Hamilton and laid up at the Eastport docks. The fall of 1999 saw the conversion of this hull into a 498’ (151.79m) grain storage barge for Les Elevateurs des Trois Rivieres (a subsidiary of Upper Lakes Group). This conversion was completed by Hamilton Marine and included the shortening of the hull by 100’ (30.48m) to fit the slip at Trois-Rivieres, QC with the aft end being enclosed with a new transom style stern including a shallow notch for a tug. The new barge now had 5 holds capable of storing up to 19,684 tons (20,000 mt) of grain. It retained much of its original equipment including the anchor windlass, winches, deck crane, and bow thruster. A new ballast system was built into the stern section, the hull now being of complete double hulled construction with a new alternator driven off the diesel bow thruster providing electrical power. On November 3,rd 2000; the barge departed Hamilton under tow of the tug Duga bound for Prescott, ON to pick up a cargo of storage grain for Trois Rivieres. On December 28th, 2001; the new barge was officially registered with the name Barge Laviolette for owners Services Maritimes Laviolette Inc., Trois Rivieres, QC (also a subsidiary of Upper Lakes Group).

Returning to the Canadian Transfer; the newly recommissioned vessel successfully completed sea trials on August 18th, 1998 and entered service under the management of Seaway Self Unloaders, St. Catharines, ON (partnership of Upper Lakes Group and Algoma Central). On August 20th, 1998, the Canadian Transfer delivered its first cargo; that being a load of Ontario grain from Hamilton to Buffalo, unloading directly into the hull of the Kinsman Enterprise. The vessel experienced steering failure at Saginaw, MI on September 2nd, 1998. Purvis Marine tug Avenger IV towed the crippled Canadian Transfer to Pascol Engineering, Thunder Bay, ON arriving on September 10th, 1998 for steering gear replacement. Pascol’s was the closest available dry dock facility at the time! The vessel returned to service November 9th, 1998 departing Thunder Bay for Marquette, MI to load iron ore for Algoma Steel at Sault Ste. Marie, ON. The Canadian Transfer damaged its rudder again December 24th, 1998 when it struck the Short Cut Bridge in the Rouge River. Repairs were completed at Port Weller Dry Docks.

The beginning of the 2000 navigation season saw the Canadian Transfer sailing under the management of Seaway Marine Transport, St. Catharines, ON (partnership of Upper Lakes and Algoma Central). This newly formed partnership combined all of the self unloaders and bulkers sailing for Seaway Self Unloaders and Seaway Bulk Transport respectively into one fleet. During the 2000 season, the Canadian Transfer completed 114 trips carrying approximately 1.5 million tons of iron ore from Marquette, MI to Algoma Steel at Sault Ste. Marie, ON. (Much of this activity is now handled by rail.) Common cargoes for the Canadian Transfer include potash, stone, salt, grain, and iron ore.

On November 27th, 2000; the vessel grounded off of Algoma Steel suffering a hole or crack in the hull plating on the port side about 10’ (3.05m) from the bottom. Temporary repairs were completed at the Algoma Steel dock with permanent repairs completed at Pascol Engineering, Thunder Bay.  After receiving her 5-year survey at Pascol Engineering in Thunder Bay, ON in March of 2003; a crack was discovered in her deck stretching from side to side in front of the aft winches caused by hull stress due to the extremely cold temperatures and the ship being in a de-ballasted state.  The vessel returned to the dry dock for repair before returning to service for the new season.

On February 25, 2011, a formal statement was issued announcing the sale of the privately owned Upper Lakes Shipping fleet and their associated interest in Seaway Marine Transport to Algoma Central Corporation.  Former Upper Lakes Chairman of the Board, company spokesman and owner John D. ("Jack") Leitch stated "It is with some regret and sadness that I tell you that we have decided to sell the vessels of Upper Lakes Shipping and our interest in Seaway Marine Transport to Algoma Central Corporation. A definitive agreement has been signed and the deal is anticipated to close in about a month. By the end of this season the proud logo on the funnels of Upper Lakes vessels will no longer be seen on the Great Lakes or along the St. Lawrence River."  Jack further states "For 80 years we have been a part of the Canadian landscape and of the fabric of the Canadian economy."  The Upper Lakes Shipping fleet will takes its place in modern Canadian Great Lakes history as having been a prominent player in the economic development of the regions served by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway system.  On April 15, 2011, Algoma announced that the Canadian Transfer will be renamed Algoma Transfer.

Overall Dimensions (metric)
 Length  650' 06" (198.32m)
 Beam  60' 00" (18.29m)
 Depth  35' 00" (10.67m)
 Capacity (mid-summer
                    & Seaway)
 15,719 tons (15,971 mt)
 at a draft of 26' 0.75" (7.94m)
 Power (diesel)  6,100 b.h.p. (4,487 kW)


Under tow in the St. Marys River 1998. Roger LeLievre

Saginaw River. Stephen Hause

Detroit River. Todd Davidson


Detroit River loaded, Sept 15, 2001.
Mike Nicholls

Toledo. Jim Hoffman

Stern view in Cleveland, May 10, 2001. TZ

Engine room



Close up. Clayton Sharrad

Barge Laviolette

Hull under tow Rene Beauchamp

Bow view in Dry Dock during conversion.

Joining the two hulls

View forward

Another view

Fitout Wall 1998

Ready to depart.

Winter lay-up, Thorold, 2005.
Rob Bennett

Lake Huron, Nov. 2004.
George Wharton

Unloading Windsor, Sept. 2005.
Mike Nicholls

Loading at Windsor, June 2005.
Mike Nicholls

Detroit River, July 2005.
Mike Nicholls

Stern view, July 2005.
Mike Nicholls

Bow view, Nov. 2004.
George Wharton

St. Clair River, May 2005.
John Meyland

Detroit River, Sept. 2004.
Mike Nicholls
For more pictures of the conversion please visit "A Tale of Two Ships - The making of the Canadian Transfer"

Northern Venture. Jim Hoffman
1-NORTHERN-VENTURE-08-72-AM.jpg (53285 bytes)
Northern Venture inbound the Port Weller Piers,
Welland Canal, Aug. 1972. Capt. A. Gindroz

J. H. Hillman, Jr.  Luke Collection

Crispin Oglebay at Toledo. Jim Hoffman

Loading coal at Toledo, OH.
Jim Hoffman

St. Clair River, Dec. 1973.
Terry McCullough

Crispin Oglebay unloading at Detroit, 1989.
Skip Meier

On Lake St. Clair, Aug. 22, 1991.
Skip Meier

Canadian Explorer. Roger LeLievre

As the Hamilton Transfer. Todd Davidson

At Port Weller for conversion. Rod Burdick

Outbound Toledo. Jim Hoffman

Upbound St. Clair River. Clayton Sharrad

Aerial view. Don Coles

Upbound Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Loading in Marquette. Rod Burdick

Saginaw River. Todd Shorkey

In Toledo. Jim Hoffman

Thunder Bay. Gene

Another Saginaw view. Todd Shorkey

Stern view. Todd Shorkey

Docked. Rod Burdick

Preparing to unload slag in Ontonagon, MI. R. Burdick

Port Huron. Steve Vanden Bosch

Unloading in Detroit

View forward

Close up of boom


Deck view

Passing the E.M. Ford in Saginaw. Todd Shorkey

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