From the Wheelhouse -
'a love of the Great Lakes'
by Sandy Lindsay
February 16, 2017
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(L) Mother Marjorie, Chuck, Father (Cpt.) Horace and sister, Joan
How does a young boy, raised on a farm in Bruce County, come to have a love for the Great Lakes and water?
For (Rev.) Chuck Beaton, it began with his father Horace L. Beaton and his tales of sailing the Great Lakes.
"Our family has deep roots in Bruce County," said Chuck Beaton, who spoke to a capacity audience at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre on Monday, February 13th, hosted by the Bruce County Genealogy Society.
The Beaton family moved to Tara, Bruce County, as Empire Loyalists in the 1800s and where, in 1903, Horace Beaton was born.
Beaton's grandfather, John, with the 'first snowblower' in Tara ... a goat
From Tara to Chesley, the Beaton siblings lived and worked in Bruce County, from Tara to Chesley, until Horace Loudon Beaton, who at the age of 16, began a career that would last a lifetime ... on the Great Lakes.
It was a time when communities throughout the Great Lakes depended on shipping for goods and as a means of travel and, it was also a time of economic depression for many, when work was scarce. Such was the case for Horace Beaton, when he decided to try to find employment aboard ships.
Chuck Beaton with 'From the Wheelhouse' ... a book he and his father co-authored ... tales of sailing the Great Lakes
"My father went to Midland, where he was hired on the Lambton, the precursor to the Coast Guard," said Beaton. "He then left the Lambton to travel out west to Saskatchewan where he work with a farm implements company." It was to be a fortuitous decision as the Lambton got caught during the winter in the ice of the North Channel and disappeared with all hands.
Beaton eventually returned from the west however, and once again, turned to the Great Lakes becoming a wheelsman on a freighter. After gaining some shipboard experience, he went to the Marine College in Toronto where he qualified as a 2nd mate and signed on with Owen Sound steamships. "He sailed on the route from Owen Sound to Sault Ste. Marie on what was known as the 'Turkey Run', as the ships carried fresh fowl and cattle."
Beaton's talk was filled with humour throughout as he told family anecdotes of growing up with a father who was, more often than not, aboard ship. His parents were married in Tara in 1933.
"When I looked back over growing up," said Beaton, "I came to realize the strength of my mother, as she was predominantly left to raise her children on her own. We had moved to Sarnie/Windsor area to be closer to the ships when my father had leave. He would sail out in March or April and return home at Christmas, with short shore leaves in between."
"It was also difficult when you consider that, as a Captain, he had full control when aboard ship, but that didn't apply when he was home and it often took time for him to ... adjust to, for example, no 'shipboard' language at home!"
Having worked his way up to Captain, Horace Beaton, fulfilled a lifelong dream. "He worked in almost all positions, from wheelsman to 2nd mate and 1st mate to Captain with the Canada Steamship Line (CSL) but, when he became a captain, it was a lifelong goal."
As a Captain, the family was also able to travel with him for two weeks during the summer. "My mother especially loved those times. The ships were like the cruise ships of today and people traveled the Great Lakes with dining and orchestras. My mother, as the Captain's wife, was treated royally and always looked forward to those two weeks and my sister and I grew up loving the Great Lakes," explained Beaton.
Chuck Beaton at seven aboard ship
Beaton was Captain of the SS Hamonic, built in Collingwood, but it was to be ill-fated, when it caught fire at the dock at Point Edward and was completely destroyed.
Beaton explains the SS Hamonic fire
"The incident happened happened at the dock in Point Edward on July 17, 1945," explained Beaton. "The ship, that often carried flour, was tied up when the shed on the docks caught fire. The cargo was loaded and unloaded with small tractors that ran on gasoline. Unfortunately, one of the tractors wouldn't start and, when it caught fire, the fire quickly spread due to the combustible flour. The shed blew up and flaming pieces fell on the ship which quickly spread. My father, asleep at the time of the routine unloading, ran to the wheelhouse in his pajama bottoms and bare feet. As Captain, my father had to make a split decision .... and he backed the ship out into the St. Clair River away from the dock and then drove it onto shore so that passengers could flee using a coal bucket on a crane boom, ropes and some simply jumping into the water where they were picked up. There was no loss of life thanks to his quick action."
Beaton said that, as the ship burned and not knowing where his father was, he, his mother and sister, stood watching as the fire burned. "It was a terrible time, but dad survived although burned and had to recover at home. It created deep seated feelings however, that he carried with him always."
While most captains would not be allowed to take on another ship, CSL, again offered a position to Beaton because there had been no loss of life due to his quick thinking, and he went aboard the SS Nuronic as 2nd Captain, becoming Captain in 1948.
As passenger travel declined, shipping turned to freight and, Beaton captained ships, such as the Fort York, that carried cars and flat steel out of Hamilton.
Marjorie Beaton had earlier made a decision to buy a cottage on the Bruce Peninsula at Cameron Lake and, when Horace Beaton retired in 1967, the family moved back to Bruce County in Port Elgin. "Mother bought the cottage so that family, and in particular our father, would have a place to go in the summer."
Hearing their grandfather's tales over the years, it was Chuck Beaton's children, Horace's grandchildren, who were instrumental in the decision to create a book.
"They kept asking him over and over to repeat their favourite stories of his times on the Lakes and it made me realize that these stories should be written down before they were lost," he said. "It took a lot of convincing but, when my father became ill, the decision was made. I told him he had to get better so that this book could be written and he did and it was."
Taking the draft to a publisher, Beaton was told that it was "... a little gem of stories as it was told by someone who had experienced life on the Great Lakes" and 'From the Wheelhouse' was born and published in 1979.
From his father, Beaton inherited his love of he water and, upon retiring to Southampton on Lake Huron, he purchased and restored a Chesapeake Trawler, the Malmeo, which he only recently sold.
Friend Doug Johnston (L) brought his Canada Steamship
Lines flag to the talk
To read more of Memories of a Great Lakes Captain ... Part One
Captain Horace Loudon and Marjorie Beaton are home again in Tara ... where they both rest at Hillcrest Cemetery.
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Thursday, February 16, 2017