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St. Clair River, Point Edward, ON, Aug.16, 2008.

George Wharton

-- James Norris --

by George Wharton

After World War II, Gordon C. Leitch and James Norris owners of Toronto's Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence Transportation Co., saw the need to embark on a new shipbuilding program in order to keep up with a rapidly changing industry.  With the projected opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway built to allow larger oceangoing vessels direct access to the middle of the North American continent scheduled for 1959, the need for Upper Lakes and other Great Lakes shipping companies to come up with larger vessels and other innovative ideas was paramount.  As a result, the Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence Transportation Co. contracted with the Midland Shipbuilding Co., Midland, ON for the building of 2 new, larger bulk carriers even though the dimensional restrictions for the new Seaway had not been determined at that time.  These new straight-deck bulk carriers would be the first vessels built new for the fleet with all of the Upper Lakes fleet to date having been purchased second hand. The first newbuild for the Upper Lakes fleet would be Midland Shipbuilding's hull # 35 (second sequence of hull numbers) built in 1951 and launched as the James Norris on a cold and windy December 11, 1951.  The beautiful new straight-decker, the largest vessel in the Upper Lakes fleet, was named after the Upper Lakes chairman and controlling shareholder at the time as a tribute to Mr. Norris whose foresight and financial backing of Mr. Gordon Leitch's ideas in forming the company back in the Great Depression of the 1930's were the foundation of the company's success.  Mr. Norris attended his namesake's launch but was in poor health and died later in 1952.  The second new vessel for the Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence Transportation Co. fleet and sister-ship to the James Norris was Midland Shipbuilding's hull # 36 launched August 28, 1952 as the Gordon C. Leitch.

The James Norris is powered by a Canadian built Vickers Skinner Marine Uniflow 5-cylinder steam engine rated at 4,000 i.h.p. (2,942 KW) with 2 heavy fuel oil-fired Foster-Wheeler water tube boilers.  The power is fed to a single fixed pitch propeller giving her a rated service speed of 16.1 m.p.h.  The vessel is equipped with a 1,000 h.p. (746 KW) bow thruster.  Prior to her 1981 conversion to a self-unloader, the vessel's 19 hatches serviced 6 holds where she was capable of carrying 18,750 tons (19,051 mt) at a mid-summer draft of 25' 07" (7.79m). The first 2 hatches of hold # 1 were utilized in the self unloader conversion leaving that hold with just the 1 hatch.  After the conversion, the bulker's capacity was reduced slightly to 18,396 tons (18,690 mt) at the same mid-summer draft mark.  The self-unloading equipment consists of a single belt gravity system feeding forward to a loop belt elevator raising the cargo to a 249' 04" (76.00m) discharge boom that can be swung 90 to port or starboard and unload at a rate of up to 2,953 tons (3,000 mt) per hour.  The holds are plastic lined with vibrators throughout.

After completion in early 1952 and being registered with Lloyds on April 10, 1952, the James Norris entered service on May 14, 1952 proceeding to Fort William, ON (now Thunder Bay) for a cargo of grain.  Her early years as a straight-decker were spent on the upper lakes in the coal, grain, and iron ore trades. The vessel entered the Seaway trades in 1959 with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway hauling grain products from the upper lakes to St. Lawrence River ports and iron ore from ports on the Gulf of St. Lawrence back to the Great Lakes.  By this time, however, the James Norris was soon to be out-sized by the new "730-footers" built to Seaway's opening dimensional restrictions of 730' (222.50m) length and 75' (22.86m) width.

The first noted incident involving the James Norris occurred on April 23, 1971 when the vessel suffered rudder damage while backing away from the Maple Leaf Elevator at Port Colborne, ON.  The damage was substantial enough to necessitate a tow the next day by tugs Herbert A. and G.W. Rogers to Port Weller Dry Docks for repairs.  In early April, 1974, the bulker received ice damage to her hull consisting of 2 puncture holes below the water line and 1 above while entering Thunder Bay, ON.  On October 29, 1975, the James Norris was credited with picking up the surviving crew of the fish tug Jim Loder on Lake Erie after a propane gas explosion sank the tug with 2 casualties.  The bulker grounded near the entrance of the Kingston, ON harbor on June 27, 1978 requiring the assistance of McAllister Towing tugs to free her from her strand.  Sustaining bottom damage, the vessel was dry docked at Port Weller Dry Docks, St. Catharines, ON on July 9, 1978 for repairs.

Receiving a new lease on life, in January of 1980, Upper Lakes announced the awarding of a contract with Port Weller Dry Docks for the conversion of the James Norris to a self-unloader worth approximately $4 million.  With the conversion came an initial 10-year contract for the carriage of limestone for the St. Lawrence Cement Co. from Colborne, ON to Clarkson, ON.  After unloading her last cargo as a straight-decker, the bulker laid up at Toronto, ON on July 5, 1980 and arrived at Port Weller Dry Docks September 1, 1980 towed by tug James E. McGrath from Toronto.  Just prior to her arrival at the dry dock, the vessel received some bow damage from an allision with the wall below Lock 1.  Officially known as Port Weller Dry Docks' hull # 69, the conversion took place over the winter of 1980/81.  On April 2, 1981, the James Norris sailed on her maiden voyage as a self-unloader to Colborne, ON for her first of many loads of limestone for Clarkson, ON.

Unlike the James Norris, her sister-ship Gordon C. Leitch was not converted to a self-unloader and laid up for a final time at Toronto on December 22, 1981.  After remaining inactive for almost 4 years, the Gordon C. Leitch was sold for scrap in 1985.  The retired bulker departed on July 15 and after clearing the Seaway, was paired up with her retired fleetmate R. Bruce Angus for the tow overseas by the tug Irving Cedar, the pair being delivered to the ship breaker's yard at Setubal, Portugal on August 20, 1985.

Perhaps the most serious incident occurred on November 11, 1995 with the sinking of the James Norris while berthed at Colborne, ON.  The previous day, the James Norris had proceeded in ballast from Clarkson, ON to Colborne and anchored out in Lake Ontario to monitor weather conditions.  Gale warnings had been issued.  The St. Lawrence Cement berth at Ogden Point, Colborne, ON, a dolphin docking arrangement, was exposed to the weather and open sea conditions of Lake Ontario, especially broadside waves with winds from a southwest to southeast direction.  When the serious weather conditions did not materialize, the vessel docked portside early in the morning of November 11 and commenced loading.  Shortly after noon, in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, loading was stopped, the hatches and self-unloading rigging were secured so the vessel could leave the dock.  Several attempts using different strategic methods to break away from her berth were unsuccessful due to the increasing southeast winds and resulting heavy seas.  The continuous pounding against the dolphins of the wharf resulted in perforations of the portside shell plating below the waterline in way of the engine room resulted in extensive flooding that could not be controlled by the pumps.  The master, chief engineer and crew tried different ideas to minimize the damage but little could be done in the still building seas to stop the pounding.  By late afternoon, the crew was ordered off the ship.  As the storm intensity continued to rise, the James Norris continued to be pounded along the whole of her port side and by 1800, the stern had settled in approximately 31' (9.5m) of water about 26' 03" (8.0m) from the dock and the bow shoulder rubbing and pounding against the easternmost dolphin.  During the evening, the abandon vessel was at the mercy of 75 knot winds and 13' to over 16' (4m to 5m) waves.

The severe weather conditions that befell the James Norris were not and could not have been forecast, the gale force winds being underestimated in the Colborne area.  The weather phenomena as such had not been experienced in the area in nearly 20 years, the weather experience itself being considered an "anomaly".

Although the portside damage to the James Norris was severe both above and below the waterline, her self-unloading gear was intact and undamaged.  As part of her salvage operation, her equipment was used to lighter the cargo into the holds of her fleet mate Canadian Progress.  The Canadian Progress also assisted in the securing of the James Norris as temporary repairs were made by divers.  The onsite salvaging operation was completed by November 18, 1995 after which the James Norris was towed to Port Weller Dry Docks for dry-docking and permanent repairs.  The James Norris' original hull construction was riveted.  The astute observer will notice the riveted starboard hull and the lack of rivets on her portside due to the welded repair work resulting from this incident.  The vessel remained at Port Weller for her 1995-96 winter lay-up receiving an extensive refit as well as the repairs and returned to service in the spring of 1996.

More recent incidents in the career of the James Norris on the Great Lakes include the following notations.  On September 10, 1999, she ran over her port anchor while manoeuvring towards the unloading berth at St. Lawrence Cement's Clarkson, ON facility.  Although holed in numbers 3 and 4 tanks, damage was minor and temporary repairs were quickly made.  Then on October 15, 1999, the vessel grounded while arriving at Ludington, MI holing the number 1 starboard double bottom tank.  She proceeded to Pascol Engineering, Thunder Bay, ON arriving on October 19 for repairs, returning to service on November 1.  On August 22, 2002, the James Norris grounded while leaving Colborne, ON holing her number 6 double bottom tank.  After inspection, temporary repairs were quickly made.  Almost a year later, on August 15, 2003, the self unloader grounded on a sand bank in the St. Clair River north of buoy 42 near Marine City, MI.  After pumping ballast, the vessel was able to refloat herself with no sustained damage and proceeded on her passage to Fairport, OH.  November 9, 2005 saw the James Norris again pinned against the dolphins at Colborne, ON by high winds while attempting to leave the St. Lawrence Cement facility.  Both the vessel and dock received some minor damage.  The self-unloader backed over a buoy while docking at Bruce Mines, ON on November 15, 2006 damaging 3 propeller blades.  The James Norris struck the St. Lawrence Cement dock at Clarkson, ON while backing away from the dock causing some shell plate damage.

The James Norris remains an active carrier in the Upper Lakes Shipping fleet now sailing under the operation and management of Seaway Marine Transport, St. Catharines, ON.  Back in 1993, the James Norris with her self-unloading fleetmates commenced operating under the banner of the newly formed Seaway Self Unloaders, St. Catharines, ON, a pooling arrangement combining the self unloading fleets of Algoma Central Corporation and ULS Corporation (Upper Lakes Shipping).  This arrangement was modified in January, 2000 when the bulkers of the two fleets (sailing under the Seaway Bulk Carriers banner) were merged combining all the vessels of both fleets into one operational partnership known as Seaway Marine Transport, St. Catharines, ON.  The partnership was further modified in 2004 when Seaway Marine Transport took over the complete operation and management of the Algoma and Upper Lakes domestic self unloading and bulker fleets.

The James Norris' activity however, remains focused on the Lake Ontario limestone trade from Colborne, ON to Clarkson, ON for St. Lawrence Cement with the occasional venture into the upper lakes in the aggregate trades.  She is the oldest vessel in the Upper Lakes fleet and with over 57 years of service, is the longest serving member of the fleet and is third only to Lower Lakes Towing's Cuyahoga and Mississagi as the oldest Canadian registered lakeboat on the Great Lakes.  With the Cuyahoga being repowered to diesel during the winter of 1999/2000, the James Norris is now the oldest Canadian registered steam powered lakeboat still in service.  The classic steamer is also the last remaining Midland-built lakeboat still working the Great Lakes.

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 James Norris would retain her current name.

The James Norris continued to actively trade through the 2011 navigation season.  However, on December 6, 2011, she arrived at Port Colborne, ON and docked at the Welland Canal's wharf 17 to end her season and formally be retired.  Shortly thereafter, on December 9, she was moved the short distance to International Marine Salvage's wharf 56 to await scrapping, being rafted to the Maumee.  The James Norris' final cargo was salt loaded at Goderich, ON on December 3, 2011 and delivered to Bowmanville, ON on December 5 after which the Great Lakes veteran transited the Welland Canal for a final time prior to her docking at Port Colborne.


Overall Dimensions & Stats (metric)
 Length  663' 06" (202.25m)
 Beam  67' 00" (20.42m)
 Depth  35' 00" (7.79m)
 Capacity - mid summer  18,396 tons (18,690 mt)
at draft of 25' 07" (7.79m)
              - fuel oil  758 tons (770 mt)
              - diesel oil  82 tons (83 mt)
              - potable water  54 tons (55 mt)
              - feed water  70 tons (71 mt)
              - water ballast  9,381 tons (9,532 mt)
 Displacement - lightweight  7,400 tons (7,518 mt)
 Power - steam  4,000 i.h.p. (2,942 KW)
 IMO / MMSI #'s  5169124 / 316001702


Lake Ontario approaching the Burlington piers,
Sept. 28, 2008. John McCreery

At Hamilton's Pier 10, Nov. 29, 2008.
John McCreery
1-Norris-4-12-09-bb-a.jpg (102460 bytes)
Winter layup at Port Colborne, ON,
Apr. 12, 2009. Bill Bird

Another view from Lake Ontario.
John McCreery

Stern view. John McCreery

Another view. John McCreery

Into Hamilton Harbour. John McCreery

Approaching Welland Canal's Lock 1,
Sept. 28, 2008. John McCreery

Below Lock 1 bound for Lake Ontario,
Sept. 28, 2008. John McCreery

Inbound the Saginaw River at the Essexville Ranges,
Sept. 23, 2008. Todd Shorkey

Another view. Todd Shorkey

Stern view at Dow Chemical. Todd Shorkey

Downbound lower Lake Huron meeting the tall ship Highlander Sea, Sept. 20, 2008. John McCreery

Coming off of Lake Huron. John McCreery

St. Clair River at Port Huron, Sept. 16, 2008.
Marc Dease

Inbound the Rouge River with salt from Windsor, ON,
Sept. 14, 2008. Jeff Mast

Landing crew heading for shore. Jeff Mast

About to unload at Morton Salt. Jeff Mast

Backing under the coal rig at Toledo, OH,
Aug. 18, 2008. Bob Vincent

Bow view. Bob Vincent

Downbound the Maumee River bound for
Hamilton, ON. Bob Vincent

Downbound lower Lake Huron approaching the Huron Cut buoys 1 & 2, Aug. 16, 2008. George Wharton

Into the turn. George Wharton

Completing the turn and entering the St. Clair River.
George Wharton

Passing under the Bluewater Bridges, Aug. 16, 2008.
George Wharton

Upbound the St. Clair River at Sarnia, ON,
Aug. 14, 2008. Marc Dease

Unloading salt at Marinette, WI, Aug. 11, 2008.
Dick Lund

Close up, Aug. 11, 2008. Dick Lund

Backing out of the inner harbor. Dick Lund

Passing under the Ambassador Bridge as seen from the mailboat J.W. Westcott II, July 15, 2008.
Blake Kishler
1-Norris-7-25-08-AM.jpg (92354 bytes)
Lake St. Clair, July 24, 2008.
Alex & Max Mager

Upbound the St. Clair River from Vantage Point,
Port Huron, MI, Aug. 8, 2008. Marc Dease
Norris-3-2-8-wb.jpg (80170 bytes)
Winter lay-up at Hamilton's Wharf 10,
Mar. 2, 2008. Wayne Brown

Inbound the Fox River, Green Bay, WI,
Aug. 5, 2007. Dick Lund

Ready to turn into the Fox River Dock.
Dick Lund

Making the turn assisted by tug Indiana.
Dick Lund

Arriving at Sifto Salt, Goderich, ON, Aug. 3, 2007 to load salt for Green Bay, WI. Wayne Brown

Loading under way. Wayne Brown

Bow view. Wayne Brown

Saginaw River near the Essexville Range Lights,
Oct. 11, 2007. Todd Shorkey

Another view. Todd Shorkey

Stern view. Todd Shorkey

At Stoneport, MI ready to load, Aug. 2007.
Ben & Chanda McClain

Evening loading. Ben & Chanda McClain

Another view. Ben & Chanda McClain

Departing Hamilton, ON from winter layup,
Mar. 30, 2007. John McCreery

St. Clair River at Port Huron, MI, Aug. 2, 2007.
Wayne Brown

Downbound below Lock 1 of the Welland Canal,
Aug. 18, 2007. Eric Holmes

Essroc dock on the Saginaw River, Nov. 1, 2006.
Todd Shorkey

Another view. Todd Shorkey

Upbound the Welland Canal, Oct. 30, 2006.
Dan Sweeley

Passing under the Allanburg Bridge, Oct. 30, 2006.
Dan Sweeley

Past Port Robinson. Dan Sweeley

Outbound the Saginaw River passing the E.M. Ford,
July 28, 2006. Stephen Hause

Another view followed by tug Robin Lynn,
July 28, 2006. Stephen Hause

Passing under the I-75 bridge. Stephen Hause

Unloading along the Saginaw River, July 24, 2006.
Dave Wobser

Loading salt at Fairport, OH, June 18, 2006.
Bob Hunter

Night loading. Bob Hunter

Saginaw River at Zilwaukee, MI, July 24, 2006.
Gordy Garris

Anchored in Hamilton Harbour, Nov. 2005.
Peter Stevens

Downbound the Welland Canal at Port Robinson,
Nov. 2005. Bill Bird

Downbound the Welland Canal at Port Colborne,
June, 2006. Dan Syrcher

Upbound the St. Clair River at Port Huron, MI,
Sept. 19, 2005. Frank Frisk

Outbound the Saginaw River, Nov. 2, 2005.
Stephen Hause

Stern view. Stephen Hause
Interior views photo gallery by Neil Walsh.
Fleetmates at winter lay-up with the James Norris at Toronto Feb. 3, 1985; all now scrapped.  John McCreery

R. Bruce Angus

Gordon C. Leitch (1)

Red Wing & Canadian Hunter
(with the Outarde, not part of the ULS fleet)


James Norris with Gordon C. Leitch under construction at Midland Shipbuilding Co., Midland, ON, 1952.
Huronia Museum, Midland, ON
courtesy of C. Dunn

St. Marys River, 1960.
Tom Manse, Roger LeLievre collection

St. Marys River color view, 1960.
Tom Manse, Roger LeLievre collection
Norris.jpg (41885 bytes)
At Toronto, ON. Al Davies

Post card at Duluth, MN.
Roger LeLievre collection

St. Marys River. Roger LeLievre

At the Soo in the 1970's.
Roger LeLievre

On the St. Clair River, May 1973.
Terry McCullough
1-Norris-1979-rch.jpg (50158 bytes)
Lower Lake Huron, 1979.
Ray Hillary

Maumee River at Toledo, OH.
Jim Hoffman

Winter lay up at Toronto, ON, Feb. 3, 1985.
John McCreery

Winter layup, Toronto, Feb. 22, 1986 with fleet mates Red Wing and Wheat King.
John McCreery

With tug Glenside below Lock 1, headed for 5yr inspection at PWDD, Apr. 7,1994.
John McCreery

Into Lock 1. John McCreery

Winter lay-up at Sarnia, ON, 1994 - 95.
Rod Burdick

Muskegon, MI, July 1996. Mark Peabody

At the entrance to Lock 2, Welland Canal opening day Mar. 24 1998. John McCreery

Below Lock 2. John McCreery

Port Huron. Rod Burdick

Goderich. Chris Wilson

Unloading. Todd Davis

Lake Ontario, Apr. 11, 2000. Peter Carter

Turning in Marquette's upper harbor, June 2000.
Rod Burdick

Loading at Marquette with the Elton Hoyt II and
Lee A. Tregurtha in the background, June 2000.
Rod Burdick

Another view. Rod Burdick

Stack view at Marquette, MI, June 2000
showing steam whistles now removed.
Rod Burdick

Under way, 2001.

Winter lay-up, Hamilton, ON, Dec. 27, 2001.
Mike Nicholls

Hamilton, another view. Mike Nicholls

Hamilton, Apr. 4, 2002. R. Aitchison

St. Lawrence River at Brockville, ON,
May 14, 2002. Peter Carter

Winter lay-up, Hamilton, Feb. 20, 2003.
Mike Nicholls

Another view. Mike Nicholls

Unloading at Clarkson, ON, July 6, 2003.
Neil Walsh

Another view from Clarkson, ON.
Neil Walsh

Close up. Neil Walsh

Milwaukee, Aug. 8, 2003. Andy LaBorde

Port of Milwaukee welcoming committee,
Aug. 8, 2003. Andy LaBorde

Saginaw River, Nov. 28, 2003.
Todd Shorkey

Stern view. Todd Shorkey

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