The Kingston Dry Dock Part 1

Part 1 – A Research Aid – The Kingston Dry Dock

The Kingston Dry Dock
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
A National Historic Site

The Dry Dock was restored
by the Canadian Government in 2010/2011

Research by Earl Moorhead, Archivist

A copy of an ink on linen drawing prepared by Public Works showing the general layout of the to be constructed Kingston Dry Dock.

A copy of an ink on linen drawing prepared by Public Works showing the general layout of the to be constructed Kingston Dry Dock.

The Company Established

In 1839 a group of high profile Kingston entrepreneurs and political figures consisting of: Mayor Thomas Kirkpatrick, John Counter, Henry Gildersleeve, Mrs. Thomas Cassady, John Cartwright, James Frazer, John Strange and David Smith formed a real estate syndicate, buying up local properties designated for future purchase and fortification by the British military establishment. Thomas Kirkpatrick was the local solicitor acting for the Board of Ordnance and was privy to ‘insider’ information. This syndicate proceeded to make a deal with the military acquiring Lots 28 and 29 in return for Murney Point

Of this group John Counter, Henry Gildersleeve, David Smith, Thomas Kirkpatrick, John Cartwright, joined by John Mowat and John Watkins had leased the reserve from the Board of Ordnance in 1836 for a period of three years. They later incorporated the Marine Railway Company (in 1838) with the power to erect a dry dock and marine railway, harbour, wharves and other appurtenances needful. Official title to the land was obtained in 1841 although they had been in operation on site for four years (to the great consternation of Lt. Colonel Sir Richard Bonnycastle).

Marine Railway and Graving Dock

The works constructed in 1836-37 were primitive consisting of a rough and ready marine railway track and capstan powered by horse. In 1838-39 a stone engine house and additional two-storey building had been erected. The existence of a rudimentary dry dock cum building slip is mentioned by Lt. Colonel Bonnycastle in 1838 during the abortive ‘Patriot Invasion’ and the occupation of the Marine Railway property by British troops]. A Royal Engineers plan dating to 23 April 1838 shows the Marine Railway Company property in detail: the steam powered marine railway with engine house is located running along the property line and parallel to Lower Union Street, with a stone Engine House at its landside end. Part of the battery rampart to the north, had been removed and a shipbuilding slip had been excavated in the midst of the old battery with a dry dock forming part of the slip; this does not seem to be a full graving dock in the modern sense but simply a trench to facilitate shipbuilding; two ships are depicted on the railway and one under construction in the slip. A second plan (at smaller scale) dating to 1939 shows the marine railway, an extensive wharf to the immediate south, a foundry (the Ontario Foundry) and aslip or dry dock to the north, cutting through the old battery rampart as before but drawn as open to the water. The company launched its first ship the steamer Gildersleeve in that year, and later in 1839 built three gunboats for the Royal Navy.

The Marine Railway Company as originally constituted continued in operation from 1836 to 1862. Its heyday would seem to have been the 1840s and early 1850s with many vessels repaired and built under the supervision of shipwright Henry Thurston. In 1853, in an effort to raise capital, the company mortgaged its property by Deed Trust to local lawyer (later Senator) Sir Alexander Campbell. The national depression of 1857 broke the back of the company, it defaulted on its mortgage and in chancery court Campbell gained control of the property and assets. In 1862 the Marine Railway Company became defunct. Campbell sold the property in 1863 to local shipbuilder John Carruthers for $50,000. The records show that Carruthers, in conjunction with C.W. Jenkins, built four vessels in 1868 and 1869 Annandale, Rose, Shamrock, and Thistle – these presumably at the old Marine Railway shipyard

In 1872 Carruthers sold the shipyard and marine railway to William Power. He operated profitably for thirteen years; between 1872 and 1878 building many of Kingston’s best known vessels:Africa, A.G. Ryan, Bangalore, Bedford, Ceres, China, Cuba, Elm, F.A. Folger, Hyderabad, Maid of Erin, Marquis of Lorne, Ox, Pierrepont, Portsmouth, Rideau, Singapore, and Where Now.William Power was the first to attempt constructing a proper graving dock onsite, and although according to engineer Henry Perley it was never operational and had to be razed, it is depicted on a plan drawn up by Canada Public Works draughtsman Eugene LaFleur in 1881.

Sold Back to the Government

By 1885 William Power was aging [64 yrs], he was losing repair business to Oswego shipyard and no doubt the attempted renovation and expansion of the shipyard facilities had drained his capital resources; he quit-claimed the yard back to John Carruthers, who had evidently been financing him. In 1888 Carruthers sold the property back to the Crown for $19,500. As early as 1880 the issue of the need for a graving dock on the Great Lakes was raised due to the fact that marine railways were incapable with dealing with the most recent large vessels and their repairs had to be done at graving docks in the United States with a consequent loss of revenue to Canadian business. In 1889 the federal government decided to make use of its newly acquired waterfront by building a state of the art dry dock. At the time there were only three dry docks in existence in the country: Halifax, Quebec City, and Esquimalt – there were no Canadian graving docks serving the Great Lakes.

William Power’s failed attempt to privately undertake the construction of an expensive graving dock may have intrigued some politicians in Ottawa – political intrigue on the part of the Conservative Minister of Public Works, Hector Langevin, certainly was a factor in its construction. The site was no doubt chosen partly because it was in the Prime Minister’s, Sir John A. Macdonald’s constituency, but as well many of the largest shipping and forwarding concerns on the Canadian Great Lakes were located there – Richardson Grain Forwarders and Montreal Transportation Company. Another factor was the proximity of the prosperous Oswego dry dock had a monopoly on lower lakes repairs at the time.

The Dry-dock

The first ship in the Dry Dock was the passenger ship St. Lawrence. The stone building is now part of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes.

The first ship in the Dry Dock was the passenger ship St. Lawrence. The stone building is now part of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes.

Civil engineer Henry Perley drew up the plans and specifications and the contract for construction was awarded to the Connolly Brothers. The contractors heavily subsidized the Conservative party election in 1890 and although the 15th highest bidder out of 19 tenders, got the contract to build the dry dock. They won the contract under suspicious circumstances and their bid of $260,000 was one of the highest. With extras, including the revised widening of the whole dock from 48 to 55 feet their bill eventually rose to $344,276.

Perley’s article published in the Transactions of the Civil Engineers of Canada 1896 gives the best overview of the dry dock’s original design and construction: details of the pumping plant and engine house fell to others. The basic dimensions of the dry dock were based upon the breadth and depth of the Welland Canal which connected the upper and lower lakes – 79 feet wide at grade or coping level, 48 feet wide at the water line (later revised to 55 ft to accommodate the then largest steamer) and sloping inward to 47 feet in width at the bed, 280 ft long and with an operational depth of 15 ft 6in or 22 feet from the top of the coping. An entrance apron extending 20 feet beyond the caisson or iron gate was constructed and upon which the caisson could be situated, thus allowing the dry dock to accommodate a vessel of 310 ft in length.

The bulk of the material used for the dock bed and sidewalls was limestone quarried in Belleville Ontario; this was worked into ashlar stones 2 ft 8 in high by four ft long, each stone averaging 3 tons in weight. The central 6 feet of the bed carried the cast iron keel blocks at 5 foot intervals. A rudder well 24 feet long was located at the lake end of the dock to facilitate replacement of rudders and propellers – common repair work. The quoins or corner stones of the dock were of granite. Underneath the foundation of the dock bed was a system of arterial drains to carry off leakage in from the lake via the auxiliary pump.

The dock was closed by an iron caisson or gate which moved on rollers, powered into position by a yoke connected to the auxiliary pump engine. The dock was emptied by 22 inch discharge pipes connected to two 18 inch centrifugal pumps, they in turn powered by two high pressure vertical steam engines located within the engine house approximately 13 feet below ground level. Within the engine room a three tone gantry crane ran overhead. The engines were served by four 14 foot cylindrical boilers located in the adjacent boiler room, identified by the imposing 90 foot chimney. Perley concludes his description with a performance rating. The dock held 2,100,000 gallons of water which could be discharged in 75 minutes. Upon opening a valve to a inlet culvert the dock could be filled (to gently re-float a repaired vessel) in 55 minutes.

Perley remarked that a large portion of the dry dock property in 1892 was manmade, using earth and stone from the excavation of the graving dock. His costing of the project was broken down thus: property $20,000; graving dock $365,000; pumps and engines $26,000; stone engine house $26,000; gate $18,000; and engineering and extras $42,000, for a total of $497,000.

Between 1891 and 1908 the dry dock was owned and administered by the Department of Public Works but details of its operation remain open to question. A dynamo room and coal sheds had been added to the premises in 1892 but few if any other repair shops or facilities appear to have been erected. The Kingston City Directory 1906 lists merely the Canada Dry Dock Office onsite. However between December 1891 and April 1894, 93 vessels entered the dock for repair, they included a mixture of sail and steamships, but it is of note that all were wooden hulls. Whether the government hired private jobbers on a single contract basis; whether the dry dock was leased for a set period to a ship repair company; or whether the ship owners were responsible for the repairs themselves is still an open question.

The Dry-dock Leased

In 1908 a more stable arrangement was established whereby the newly formed Kingston Shipbuilding Company (a subsidiary of Collingwood Shipyards) leased the dry dock, engine house and administration building on a ‘bare boat’ basis whereby the company provided all tools, materials, and manpower. The company erected much needed additional facilities on the lease land and surrounding property, allowing it to deal with iron hulls and to effectively build as well as repair vessels (first new build was the Polana in 1911). Over time the site became de facto the Kingston Shipbuilding Company shipyard and the government’s jurisdiction and interest in the property lapsed into that of a mere landlord.

During the Great Depression the yard was bought up by R.M. Wolvin becoming part of his shipbuilding conglomerate Canadian Shipbuilding and Engineering. In 1929 efforts were underway to extend the dry dock. An as-built plan dating to June 1930 shows the lengthening to the landside end of the structure. The addition was of reinforced concrete, 92 feet long 67 wide at ground level, with other dimensions matching existing. The new overall length being approximately 372 ft. This extension served well during the Depression when repair work kept the shipyard alive and most vessels were tugs and 250
ft canalers.

Part 2 will continue with the post war years and a selection of research sources.

About curiouslakescurator

Sailed professionally for thirteen years then went ashore to become a marine museum curator.
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