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As a straight-decker in the Welland Canal

Marc Vander Meulen

Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature -- M.A.C. Gagne

By George Wharton

Ordered by Canada Steamship Lines of Montreal, QC in 1963; this vessel was originally constructed as a Great Lakes straight deck bulk carrier and was one of many similar vessels (known as “730-footers”) built for Canadian owners in the early 1960’s as a result of the opening of the new St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959. Built as hull #647 by the Davie Shipbuilding Ltd. of Lauzon, QC, the new laker was launched as the Saguenay (2) on June 18th, 1964. Being the 2nd ship to bear the Saguenay name in the Canada Steamship Lines fleet; the new vessel was named to honor Saguenay County, Quebec. Throughout the Saguenay’s career on the Great Lakes, the laker set several cargo records as well as established a couple of innovative “firsts” for the Canadian Great Lakes shipping industry.

The Saguenay was the first “730-footer” Canadian bulker to be diesel powered instead of the tradition steam turbine power. The use of diesel power saved valuable space due to the smaller engine room and combined with the use of alloys and plastic piping reducing weight, allowed for increased cargo weight and cubic capacity. The bulker was powered by 4 Fairbanks Morse 2,000 b.h.p. 12 cylinder opposed piston diesel engines built by the Canadian Locomotive Co., Kingston, ON plus 2 auxiliary V-12 cylinder Caterpillar diesels for a combined 9,400 b.h.p. These engines were coupled via clutches to a final drive gear box with the power being fed to a single controllable pitch propeller. Fueled by marine diesel oil, the bulker’s rated service speed was 17.25 m.p.h. The Saguenay could be said to have pioneered this engine arrangement as several Canadian lake boats built after were similarly equipped. Examples would include the Manitoulin, Canadian Miner, Algocen, Agawa Canyon and others. Six holds were serviced by 17 hatches where the Saguenay could carry up to 26,850 tons at her assigned mid summer draft. As originally built, the Saguenay’s overall dimensions were 730’00” loa x 75’02” beam x 39’08” depth, 18,058 gross tonnage, and 13,009 net tonnage.

After sailing in ballast from Lauzon, QC to Sept Isles, QC; the Saguenay set a Welland Ship Canal iron ore record on her maiden voyage carrying 25,469 tons of Labrador ore from Sept Isles to Cleveland, OH having passed upbound through the Canal on Aug. 17th, 1964. On her 2nd laden voyage, the Saguenay carried a record 28,252 net tons of coal from Ashtabula, OH to Hamilton, ON. Other records followed shortly after including 945,597 bushels of grain downbound from the Lakehead and 1,361,643 bushels of oats. On June 16th, 1966; the Saguenay carried a record 25,279 tons of ore from Picton, ON to Lackawanna, NY only to be followed on Sept. 25th, 1966 with a new Seaway iron ore record of 25,910 tons.

The Saguenay was converted to a self unloader by Port Arthur Shipbuilding Co. during the 1971/72 winter lay up at Thunder Bay, ON. Included during the conversion was the lifting of the top deck thus increasing the molded depth by 5 feet. The self unloader consisted of a belt conveyor system feeding the cargo to a forward mounted 250’ discharge boom that could swing 105 degrees to port or starboard and discharge iron ore at a rate of up to 6,500 tons per hour or coal at a rate of up to 5,200 tons per hour. The Saguenay could now carry 30,500 tons at mid summer draft of 30’09” and 23,900 tons at the old Seaway draft of 26’00”. The Saguenay had the cubic capacity to carry 28,000 net tons of coal. The “new” self unloader’s overall dimensions became 730’00” loa x 75’02” beam x 44’08” depth, 20,148 gross tonnage, and 14,947 net tonnage. The Saguenay returned to service Aug. 9th, 1972 departing Thunder Bay with 24,070 tons of iron ore for Hamilton, ON. The remainder of the 1972 season saw the self unloader manage 41 cargoes of which 36 were coal.

The Saguenay was noted on April 24th, 1975 to have collided with the saltie Festivity while crossing Lake St. Clair, the laker sustaining only minor damage. On March 26th, 1976; a smoldering fire was noted in numbers 2 and 6 holds while at Montreal, QC.

In the mid 1970’s, Canada Steamship Lines was called upon to move coal from Sydney, NS (on Cape Breton Island) back into the Great Lakes. As it stood at the time, Great Lakes vessels were only strengthened enough to allow them to operate from Lake Superior to Anticosti Island (located at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River). Lake boats were not strengthened enough to allow for the wave-bending stresses imposed on similar sized vessels sailing on the North Atlantic. One solution was being negotiated with Lloyd’s and the Canadian Coast Guard to allow lake boats to take an indirect “Gulf Corridor” route to Sydney through sheltered waters including passing between Prince Edward Island and the Canadian mainland. CSL did not see this as a viable solution both economically and on a transit time basis. Ships designed for unrestricted ocean service were built with a strength factor of 100 whereas lake vessels, due to their restricted service limits, were built with a strength factor of 50. After many discussions and analysis, an agreement was reached between CSL, Lloyd’s, and the Canadian Coast Guard that a strength factor of 80 would be sufficient to allow for the sailing from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River directly across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Sydney, NS; thusly the origin of the “Nova Scotia” class of ship in the Canadian fleet.

The Saguenay was brought to Collingwood Shipyards, Collingwood, ON for the required strengthening and, in April of 1977, became the first Nova Scotia class vessel in the Canadian fleet. Following the successful operation of the Saguenay on the Sydney coal run, vessels built to the Nova Scotia strength standard were permitted to operate within the North American continental shelf of the eastern seaboard thus allowing for operations as far south as the northern part of South America. The Saguenay managed 48 trips bringing coal from Sydney back to Great Lakes over the years.

Into the 1980’s, the Saguenay continued to achieve or set standards for the industry. On June 23rd, 1981; a record port coal cargo of approximately 26,000 tons was loaded at Erie, PA. Following the completion of a new dry bulk storage and distribution facility at Toledo, OH; the Saguenay delivered the facility’s first load, a 14,051 ton shipment of potash from Thunder Bay.

On November 21st, 1992; the Saguenay loaded 23,499 metric tonnes of stone at Meldrum Bay, ON for Port Cartier, QC. After completing the unloading, the self unloader departed Port Cartier November 27th arriving in Toronto, ON November 30th for lay up. The Saguenay never sailed under her own power again.

As a self unloader, the Saguenay managed a total of 954 cargoes. Coal, the most common, accounted for 530 loads while iron ore accounted for 246 trips. The most significant of the remainder of the shipments were those of wheat, stone, salt, and corn. Other loads included those of coke, sand, quartzite, gypsum, slag, potash, bentonite, and sand.

In 1997, the Saguenay was sold to Pierre Gagne Contracting, Thunder Bay, ON for use as a storage barge in a dredging project to clean up contaminated sediment from the Thunder Bay harbor. The retired self unloader departed Toronto on September 28th, 1997 under tow of Purvis tug Avenger IV arriving in Thunder Bay early on October 8th being moored at the old CN Rail ore dock. The Saguenay was renamed M.A.C. Gagne in 1998. The old laker was a part of a project involving CN Rail, Northern Wood Preservers, with the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments. Creosote, a black petroleum derivative used in the preservation of wood including rail ties had leaked over the years into Thunder Bay harbor. The harbor sediment containing the creosote was dredged from the harbor and deposited into the holds of the old self unloader separate from the water where certain microbes were applied to the drained sediment in the holds. These microbes gradually ate away at the creosote leaving a relatively clean product that was disposed of in a landfill. During the old laker’s time here, the pilothouse, some of the forward accommodations, the self unloading boom, propeller, rudder, and engines had been removed.

By 2004, the M.A.C. Gagne had outlived her usefulness and was sold for scrap. Late on May 20th, 2004; the M.A.C. Gagne left Thunder Bay harbor under tow of McKeil Marine’s 2,150 b.h.p. tug Doug McKeil. The tow would meet up with the Netherlands registered 8,200 b.h.p. ocean tug Simoon at Montreal, QC. The Simoon will take the M.A.C. Gagne, once the pride of the Canada Steamship Lines fleet, to Bangladesh to meet her fate with the scrappers’ torches.

Overall dimensions
Length 730’00”
Beam 75’02”
Depth 44’08”
Capacity (tons) 30,500

Downbound at Grassy Island, Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Mike Nicholls

Mike Nicholls

Passing Belle Isle, Detroit River. Justin Kreimes and Nathan Nietering

Justin Kreimes and Nathan Nietering

Below, the M.A.C. Gagne tow proceeding from Lock 3 of the Welland Ship Canal. by David Bull

Looking forward along the deck from the observation platform at Lock 3.

Passing the tanker Jade Star below Lock 3.

Tug Vigilant on the bow approaching the Homer Bridge.

Close-up of Vigilant.

Full length view.  The hull shows her good looking classic laker lines.

Two Boatnerds watch the stern come through the Homer Bridge.

Starting under the Garden City Skyway.  Aside from surface rust the hull looks to be outwardly in good condition.

Stern view.  Tug Vac on left, Seahound on right.

Saguenay on July 13, 1980 Marc Vander Meulen

Undated stern view Marc Vander Meulen

Port Huron. Rod Burdick.

1990 view. Rene Beauchamp

1975 CSL Information Card. G. Kingsford Collection

At the old ore dock in Thunder Bay.  April 19, 1998. Rob Farrow

Pilothouse is removed. Mac Gagne dock, November, 2000. Rob Farrow

In Thunder Bay, April, 2001. Rob Farrow.

Another view. Her pilothouse can be seen on the left. April, 2001. Rob Farrow

Final shot at Gagne's dock on the Kam River. May, 2004. Rob Farrow

M.A.C. Gagne name above barely visible Saguenay name. Rob Farrow

Tow on Mission River just after leaving the Gagne dock. Rob Farrow

Tow passing in the darkness. Rob Farrow

M.A.C Gagne tow stopped at Algoma Export dock in the Soo.  John Chomniak

Entering the Detroit River. Paul Hoffmeyer

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