Kingston, Ontario Shipbuilding – The Barque Garden Island


Through most of the 19th century Garden Island received timber from all of the Great Lakes for export to Europe.

Through most of the 19th century Garden Island received timber from all of the Great Lakes for export to Europe. The timber rafts were constructed in the back bay of the island and then sent down the St. Lawrence River, through the rapids to Quebec City.


Contemporary sail plan. In the early 1870s there was a economic depression. As a result the export timber business was in the doldrums so the Calvin’s decided to diversify their business by building an ocean going ship. The keel was laid in 1875



“May 8, 1878 A Fine Vessel – A Pleasing Ceremony What has for a long time been pleasantly anticipated by the public on the one hand, and with anxiety by the owners on the other, came off yesterday at Garden Island – the launch of the ocean vessel. We have seen many launches, but none which called forth such admiration from an admiring crowd”. The Garden Island sailed under Calvin ownership until 1884.


Human muscle, block and tackles and a horse whim were the labour saving devices available.

Block and tackles and a horse whim were the labour saving devices available to lift heavy gear needed on deck during construction. .


The Calvin Collection is located in the archives of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes (MMGLK) and at the Queen’s University Archives. both in Kingston, Ontario. Hard to find but well worth the search is Great Britain’s Woodyard: British America and the Timber Trade, 1763-1867  by Arthur R. M. Lower; McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal and London, 1973.

Photography: Calvin Collection, MMGLK

The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes has extensive artefact, bibliographic and archival collections. Go to and follow the Research Link

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The Clipper Ship Cutty Sark

On the floor of the dry dock we look forward to the bow. In the distance the superb figurehead collection. And yes - refreshments in the foreground.

We are on the bottom of the dry dock in the coffee shop at the stern of the Cutty Sark – an unobstructed view of the underwater lines of a clipper ship. Authors collection. 

In mid-October of 2012 I boarded my favourite London bus at Russell Square – the 188; a kind of Harry Potter experience if you travel on the upper deck. It takes you across the Thames River, passes by the South Bank arts centre and Waterloo Station then east on the south side of the river toward my objective, the station, Greenwich-Cutty Sark. Here you will find the National Maritime Museum (the world’s largest), the Royal Observatory, a verdant climb through a Royal park; the Great Painted Hall in the old Naval College and the prize, at least for this visit, the towering three-masted clipper ship, Cutty Sark. She has always attracted attention – for her speed in carrying tea from China and when finally retired from commerce in 1920 – by her lovers who saw in her a thing of beauty, a kind of supreme creation who in the hands of good captains and crew managed to extract every ounce of energy from the wind.

In 1954 she was preserved in an especially built dry dock. Exposed to the damp of London fogs and wind-blown rain she survived until the 21st century when like any ship she needed more than what some shipbuilders call a five year, “shave and a haircut”. Her strong hull was subject to creeping structural distortions and the various metals that held her together were corroding. A renovation campaign was started, money began to flow. The masts were removed and sent downriver to Chatham and soon a crew had been assembled who saw what they were doing as something more than a job.
The fire occurred on May 21st, 2007. A piece of equipment had been lift on overnight overheating the electrical connections. It took a while, but not as long as you might think to shake off the shock. The governors and administration and the public refused to admit defeat. Private and corporate money flowed in and government grants were won in public competition. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was instrumental in saving Cutty Sark in in the early 1950s. On 25th of April, 2012, his wife, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 11, opened the ship to the public.

But not everyone was happy. The Cutty Sark and her towering rig of canvas has been portrayed by the best artists; her “lines”, the shape of her hull below the water has been a source of admiration through the 19th, 20th and now into the 21st century and her sheer line, that sweep of the deck from stern to bow is much more than a functional response to an engineering requirement. For some she is an aesthetic delight. The architects’ response to meeting the first requirement, preserving her in the long term, was to build a canopy of steel and glass around her hull and this created a fury of responses from a very engaged public and from scribes who knew diddly-squat about ships. And you now have to pay to see the magnificent view of her hull.

For me the compromise is well worth it. So when you are next in England travel to Greenwich to visit the Cutty Sark. The full length of her hull is suspended above the floor of the dry dock, is this magic realism? The storyline and context is well presented and the digital tools are there to explore. You can still pace the decks exposed to the weather and admire her masts and yards above.

For more on this ship go to:,, and

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John Kinnear d’Esterre 1925 – 2012

John was a practical philosopher. He believed with a passion that “things get done by doing”. There are many precepts a person can follow but this is one of the best. He was a ‘can do’ the ‘glass is half full’ kind of man. He was irksome to those who muttered, “you can’t do that”. Yet, those he swept up in his never ending drive to get it accomplished looked back and said that was a good job, we got something done. There was shared pride. Only is wife, Meg could slow him down, but just, and that was not for long. His dedication to finishing the job was constant, almost to the moment before he died, late in the morning on February 8th, 2012. Thankfully, many of his family were with him at the Kingston General Hospital in Kingston, Ontario.

Imagine this. It is 2008 and the 210 foot museum ship called the Alexander Henry, the largest artifact in the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes collection is at rest. She sits in the Kingston Drydock but her paintwork is peeling, leaving a bad impression all around. The Board has just received a quote of $350,000.00 to repaint the ship and they are in shock. Naturally a debate follows, interminable, until John says, “while you guys are talking I will be painting”. He raised the money, ordered the special paint, borrowed a barge from a contractor friend, Doornekamp and found volunteers aplenty. So there they were, solid working guys, retired executives, lady consultants, academics all bending to John’s direction. The job got finished and it was returned to its’ pride of place at the Museum, as one Kingston’s most favourite photographic subjects. It reclaims its’ position as an enduring symbol at the Museum, a testament to John’s hard work and perseverance.
John was one of those people who can be considered a founder of the Marine Museum.

One day in the early 1980s we toured two very refined Museum Assistance Programme (MAP) bureaucrats from Ottawa. Barry Lord, (now a big time consultant) and his now retired assistant George Zielinski who had to make a fateful recommendation. Will the museum get the money or not? So John, in the destitute, run-down Kingston Shipyard industrial buildings took his shovel and cleared a path through the bird droppings. Were they wearing Gucci shoes? Probably not, but we imagined all Ottawa civil servants did. They were taken sailing, in sloppy weather – yes one of them got seasick. Not a good sign. But John did not stop there. Garden Island, across Kingston Harbour is a haven for the literati, academics and generally very interesting people. Among them was Arnold Edinborough a prominent writer for the Financial Post among others.

He wrote a column at the urging of John in full support of this daring urban regeneration project, among the first on an industrialized Kingston waterfront, just a few weeks before the Trustees of the Museum Assistance Programme met. So there was John, a lobbyist on behalf of the museum.

The MAP board voted, yes! – $300,000.00 a good start that eventually leveraged even more financial support by a fine team of Trustees. John was always there over the succeeding thirty-two years; saying the right thing, interceding at just the right moment and never stopping. Only a few days before the end, John was at the Marine Museum, no doubt, exhibiting his usual courtesy and encouragement.

John was a boatbuilder in aluminum and steel, a teacher, a morale builder, a source of inspiration to all who knew him.

I am not saying good-by to John. He is still with me and he will remain so.

Maurice D Smith
Curator Emeritus
Kingston, Ontario.

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C&C Yachts Reunion and Conference: “Design, Production, Performance and Legacy”

Where: Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, Hamilton ON
When: Saturday, April 14th & Sunday, April 15th

The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston is organizing a C&C Yachts Reunion and Conference at the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club.

The two day event is not only a chance to celebrate the history of a successful Canadian yachting story, but is also a fundraiser to help support the preservation of C&C Collection at the Marine Museum and an opportunity to gather critical information from principle participants to further enrich the Collection. All past C&C employees are encouraged to bring old photographs and memorabilia of the company for scanning, photographing or donation to add to the C&C Collection at the Museum. The names of all past C&C employees will be also added to the Museum archives.

The Reunion on Saturday evening will be open to only past C&C employees and those dealers, sail makers, and industry people most closely associated with the company from its original founding in 1969 to its loss of public status in 1981.

The C&C Conference on Sunday will feature panel discussions by members of the C&C Design Group, C&C Production, Sales and Marketing, and a group of yachting industry professionals discussing the Legacy of C&C Yachts. Attendance to the Conference is open to everyone interested in the history and legacy of C&C Yachts. The Conference will be moderated by Maurice Smith, Curator Emeritus of the Marine Museum. Questions will be welcome from the audience. Attendance is limited to 225 people.

The C&C Collection consists of George Cuthbertson’s personal and corporate papers and the design drawings of Cuthbertson and Cassian and C&C Yachts to 1973, as well as all the drawings and a large number of files of C&C Yachts from 1973 to well into the ‘90s, when the assets of the company were acquired by Fairport Marine, builders of Tartan Yachts. Tim Jackett, formally of Fairport and Novis Marine, donated the later drawings.

The fee for the Conference includes a continental breakfast, coffee breaks and lunch, plus a one year membership to the Marine Museum. Attendees will be encouraged to make additional donations to go towards preserving and making available this vast collection of over 25 years of Canadian yachting history and legacy.

For more information, please contact Doug Cowie, manager of the Marine Museum (, or C&C Alumnus Rob Mazza  ( ), who is helping to organize the event. To register to attend either the Reunion, Conference, or both, go to the Marine Museum website ( or RHYC website (

For information about the C&C Collection, and perhaps donating to it, please contact Maurice Smith ( or

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Bristol Docks – 2009



Bristol has a floating harbour, the depth of water is maintained by allowing ships to enter and leave through a lock and only around high water. Among the delights of Bristol is the steamship Great Britain preserved in the very dock where she was built in 1843.

At the sea lock giving entrance to the Bristol floating harbour in England our narrow boat crew witnessed the end of a technological process that started with the great engineer Brunel. The Bristol harbour team were ending their working days with a little maintenance on the pistons and chain used to control the lock gates. In the background an engineering firm from Holland were making these men redundant with changes to the lock controls.


We are looking down the River Avon from the Bristol Lock. In the distance the Clifton Suspension Bridge designed by Isambard Brunel (and the Great Britain). The Avon flows down to the Bristol Channel where the range of tide is among the highest in the world.


The chain and piston being repaired and soon to be replaced by modern Dutch engineering.

For more information about the Great Britain go to

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Why a Blog?

Maurice at Sea

In the Atlantic heading south – the early 1970s Photograph courtesy of James McConnell

What to expect? I remain curious about all aspects of maritime history. My experience is mostly on the Great Lakes but with time served aboard sailing vessels on the eastern seaboard of Canada and United States, the West Indies, and European waters.

There is a book, published papers and professional study tours visiting museums in Europe, United States and across Canada. And yes, I am a Curator Emeritus after working  at the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, Kingston, Ontario for almost twenty-five years.

At this stage I am learning WordPress. As I get better I will expand the reach of this blog.

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