GENERAL ARTICLES

A Port Is Resurrected

Says this writer: “The Dominions prompt rebuilding of the port of Saint John has done more to strengthen the bonds of goodwill with the Maritimes than any incident in years"

CHARLES WHITNEY GILCHRIST June 1 1932
GENERAL ARTICLES

A Port Is Resurrected

Says this writer: “The Dominions prompt rebuilding of the port of Saint John has done more to strengthen the bonds of goodwill with the Maritimes than any incident in years"

CHARLES WHITNEY GILCHRIST June 1 1932

A Port Is Resurrected

CHARLES WHITNEY GILCHRIST

Says this writer: “The Dominions prompt rebuilding of the port of Saint John has done more to strengthen the bonds of goodwill with the Maritimes than any incident in years"

WARD CHIPMAN was a man of vision. But how was he to realize that his ejaculation as he sailed into Saint John harbor in the van of the brave Loyalist transport fleet one bright May morning 149 years ago, was to ring down through the years of rich history of the grey old Fundy port?

Standing at the prow of his bark, straining to catch a glimpse of the strange land that was to mean home to a harried people. Chipman, who ultimately became a chief justice of New Brunswick, was touched by the sturdy little settlement of pioneers on the rocky shore. He was a learned man and in his mind flashed a portion of Virgil’s Aeneid,

0 fortunati quorum iam moenia sur gunt!

“O fortunate people whose city walls are already rising.”

As he repeated that phrase with fervor, could lie have foreseen its significance in later years? It became the young city’s motto, and twice in the last fifty-five years it has been exemplified, buoying the people’s courage when their hopes were levelled into the city’s ashes before the fire-demon’s onslaught.

Back in 1877 the world applauded when Saint John arose gamely from the chaos of a holocaust that left almost the entire city a smoldering ruin. Years passed before it recovered fully from that staggering blow. Last June 22, Saint John stood helpless, horror-stricken, and watched its very lifeblood flow as its port facilities were devoured in less than five hours by roaring flames, and ten-million-dollar smoke clouds shrouded the city as in a pall of despair.

Speedy Reconstruction

TT WAS a speedy operation that saved the city’s life, a transfusion from the Federal treasury at a time when Governmental purse strings were drawn tight on other national enterprises. Even while the red column of fire swept down the waterfront, wiping out sheds, docks, grain elevator, freight cars and an entire residential street, the wires between Saint John and Ottawa hummed. Led by President H. C. Schofield, sleep and rest were unknown to the harbor commis-

sioners and staff until definite assurance was forthcoming from Ottawa that reconstruction would be proceeded with. Within a week an appropriation of $5,000,000 was granted and the official order given.

While far down the harbor front where the last wooden shed had been levelled the ruins blazed anew with every whiff of wind, gangs of men descended on the upper end where the fire had started, armed with wrecking tools, to clear away the debris.

The place resembled an ant hill after some careless foot had disrupted the placidity of the insects’ home life. Giant modem construction machines appeared on the spot as if by magic. Concerns entrusted with the replacement contracts massed their men for a battle against time.

The first docks must be completed for the opening of the winter shipping season. December 1.

Separate crews toiled and sweated through the summer days, the long evening hours and the sultry nights, one picking up the threads where the other had left off. The very air was electrified with activity, never relaxing, rather intensifying with each swift passing week. And the port was ready on time.

When the sleek Canadian Pacific cargo-carrier Beaver hill was warped into her new berth on the west side of the harbor on November 30, to be followed next day by the passenger liner C. P. S. Mont dare, a cheer went up that was re-echoed across the Dominion. Canadian builders had established a new record.

It was a sporty first officer of a transatlantic freighter who re-echoed the sentiments of Ward Chipman in personal paraphrase. Leaning over the bridge as his ship entered the harbor a couple of days after the conflagration to dock at one of the fewr remaining piers, those on the east side of the harbor, he was drawn into conversation by the chief engineer.

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“That.” observed the latter, pointing his pipe toward the desolate waste out of which the smoke-blackened cement elevator of the C. P. R. arose like a gaunt spectre, “that means the end of Saint John as a seaport,

I reckon. Canada hasn’t the money to spend on rebuilding now. Tough for this place the fire had to come at a critical time. Besides, every other port on the Atlantic seaboard will probably try to kick the old girl in the face while she s down.

“Maybe,” replied the first officer, “but somehow I think you’re astray. Remember Halifax when she was wiped out during the war? She came back with a bang. We’ll admit that times were different then. But they’ll surely make a start at reconstruction here. Bet you a box of cigars and a bottle of brandy against anything you say we’ll be docking on the west side again within a year or so.”

The bet was on, and the chief slipped below to assist in docking.

Little more than a month later, when the ocean liner again nosed into Saint John, the mate’s blue eyes opened wide in amazement. He called the engineer to deck in a hurry.

“Lucky is me, my boy,” quoth he. “They’ve got steel up already!”

A Tremendous Undertaking

COMING as it did in the midst of depression, Saint John’s port fire was a blessing in disguise. Not only is the city forever free from the menace of a similar disaster, because the modern replacement berths and sheds of concrete and steel are immune to fire; but to thousands of workmen who even in those warm days of early summer felt the chill of dread as they looked ahead to another winter of unemployment and privation, it meant literal salvation. Hundreds of tradesmen and shopkeepers benefitted when accounts of months’, even years’ standing, were squared. The wheels of Saint John’s industries hummed, turning out materials for west side work. The semimonthly pay cheques at the height of reconstruction progress ran into five figures regularly. One pay day saw $100,000 distributed.

The two main contracts were awarded on July 15 to the Foundation Company of Canada, Limited, The Northern Construction Company and J. W. Stewart, Limited; and on the same day work was begun under the eye of J. J. McDonald, chief engineer of the harbor of Halifax, who had been brought to Saint John to supervise the reconstruction.

In the meantime, Hugh Beaver, aide to Sir Alexander Gibb, noted British port authority, on his way to Canada to conduct a survey of her harbors, had visited Saint John, and because of the emergency, arrangements were made to have Sir Alexander’s itinerary changed to begin his probe in the East.

It was the Foundation Company which tackled the most difficult job. Their contract comprised berths Nos. 5, 6 and 7, which had suffered most severely from the

flames. The tide in Saint John harbor rises twenty-five to thirty feet, but it was at its ebb when the fire broke out in this section, known as Sand Point, so the docks were burned down to the low water line.

The first vessels scheduled for the Saint John route were Canadian Pacific liners which for years had docked at Sand Point. So when the contract was let, it allowed four and a half months to resurrect Sand Point from its ashes fitly to accommodate a queen of the Atlantic. In this time concrete foundations must be laid, steel sheds and grain galleries erected, stevedores’ quarters built, and water, heating, etc.,, installed. Many of these projects must be carried on simultaneously. Because the C. P. R. decided to debark Canada-bound passengers at Halifax, no move was made to replace the immigration sheds, inspection offices and other facilities that' had been so important a part of bustling Sand Point. Only accommodations of a temporary nature were provided for outward-bound passengers.

A Creator of Good Will

THE start appeared slow. Only a few hours could be spent each day in the work of placing foundations—when the tide was out. But meanwhile the docks were being constructed on paper. Detailed schedules were being worked out for various departments, bringing about the driving of the last rivet a day before the first ship was to be greeted.

Clearing away the debris was an immense task in itself. All the marine equipment available in the vicinity was enlisted in the service. But one piece of necessary machinery was lacking. A large derrick boat was needed, so the Foundation Masson was brought around from Montreal and short work was made of clearing up the fire-warped steel, burned railway cars, timber and big chunks of cement. The twisted metal and concrete were towed away in scows to be dumped. The scorched and scarred wood was to have suffered a like fate when a city commissioner bent upon economy had an idea, and there came into being the “civic woodpile.” Unemployed were given the job of sawing the salvaged timbers into suitable lengths, and on a vacant lot near the scene of reconstruction there rose a woodpile as high as a three-story building. As a result, fires blazed in many cracked old stoves that might otherwise have been cold and black when last winter’s snows swirled round thin walls.

With the foundations well laid, superstructure work was unretarded. Bosses kept eagle eyes on schedules, and all along the line the work proceeded ahead of the programme. A small slip might have meant many dollars loss to either of the contracting companies—although the Northern Construction Company and J. W. Stewart. Ltd., working farther down the line at berths 14, 15, 16 and 17, had a little more time at their disposal —so particular attention was paid to minor details. The Foundation Company,

I in order that no loss of time should be ! experienced in the delivery of materials,

I organized a special traffic staff which each ! day reported their location.

A brilliant system of lighting that flooded ! the whole reconstruction area with almost daylight radiance was inaugurated when the three-shift plan went into effect. So bright did it make the surrounding section that it was no uncommon sight to see some old salt propped against an abutment in the night as he perused a discarded newspaper by the light of the flood lamps across the harbor.

It was a day for national satisfaction and congratulation when, on December 1. Federal, Provincial and Civic Governmental ! officials, as well as railway and steamship executives and many others outstanding in i the country’s business life, gathered for luncheon on the Montclare. Saint John,

; which a few months previously had been : practically erased from the world shipping map as far as ocean tonnage was concerned.

! was restored to her status as a great national (x>rt, ready to greet the greyhounds of the sea and offer safer berthing and seedier loading facilities than heretofore.

The declaration was made at that meeting that the prompt manner in which the Dominion had come to the aid of stricken Saint John had engendered a feeling of goodwill between the Atlantic province and the rest of Canada of greater value than any incident in many years.

As the matter now stands, seven of the eleven docks destroyed have been replaced. The storms of winter swept over the level waste where berths 1, 2. 3 and 4 once stood, and the snows have melted and trickled away in blackened rivulets through the ashes and no move has been made to replace them. The original Federal vote for rebuilding lias not been used up, according to a statement in the House by Hon. Alfred Duranleau, Minister of Marine. The sum of $5.000.000 was specifically voted for reconstruction last July, and so far exjienditures have amounted to $3.670,000, so $1,330.000 of the sum authorized has not been taken up.

Problem of Summer Idleness

THE Canadian Pacific Railway lost heavily in the dock disaster. Not only was its grain capacity cut from 1,600,000 bushels to 1.000,000 bushels in the destruction of its smaller wtxxlen elevator, hut the steamer Empress, until two years ago on the trans-Fundy run to Digby. was burned to the water’s edge as she lay in dock. A large quantity of rolling stock was also destroyed as it stcxxl in yards near the large concrete elevator. Some of the 255 cars were of ancient vintage, but many were new steel freight cars. They were curled like bits of birch bark by the withering blast of the flames.

The Canadian Pacific tarried but briefly. An appropriation of $400,000 was made, and first of all a cattle shed was erected. The advantage of this move has already been proved as this article is being written. Cattle shipments to Britain are at a peak unattained in many years. Before the close of the winter season more than two thousand head will have been exported. Here is a real cattle hostelry, combined with a cattle hospital, where the animals, after a wearisome journey across the continent, are rested and groomed for their sea voyage and sick animals are made well. Alex. Johnston, when Deputy Minister of Marine, declared that the Saint John cattleshed was the “finest of its kind in the world.”

Since August. 1927. control of Saint

John’s harbor has been in the hands of the Federal Government, administered by a Board of Harbor Commissioners. The Board at the present time is composed of the president, H. C. Schofield, Thomas Nagle and Frank T. Lewis. Alex. Gray, M.I.C.E., is chief engineer and general manager. Prior to 1927, or since 1785, when Royal Charter vested the title of the harbor in the City of Saint John just three years after it had been created a port of entry, the harbor was under the dual control of the city and the Department of Marine.

In its early days, the principal item of export through the port was round timber, spars for the King’s navy. Yellowed documents show that the first year Saint John port entered the realms of world shipping, eleven vessels, registering 144 tons gross, entered the harbor and twelve ships cleared. Winter-port trade was inaugurated soon after the turn of the twentieth century, and business boomed. The Canadian Pacific Railway chose the Fundy port as their winter terminal. The year the Dominion assumed control of the harbor, 2,931 vessels were entered on Customs registers and grain shipments reached a total of 25,855.763 bushels.

T(xlay Saint John is in a better position than ever before to serve the commerce of the world. But she is facing the greatest problem of her history. She needs ships the year around. She is doing her best to stamp out of the shipping world’s consciousness the “winter port” idea, for she affords the same facilities 365 days out of the year. In her harbor ice is unknown. As you read this, | the St. Lawrence will be clear of ice, and ships of the seven seas will be steaming to | Montreal. The Manchester Line, the Canadian National West Indies boats, the Interprovincial Line’s “Lake” ships and a few other coastal craft will be coming to Saint John on regular schedule. But threequarters of Saint John’s new facilities will be standing idle: will probably remain idle until ice-coated liners and tramps slip into Saint John’s calm harbor out of next winter’s storms.

To this matter of securing new business, new world trade for the Dominion, the present Harbor Commissioners are devoting every energy. Good results have been obtained already, and they are confident that when the world lifts itself out of the doldrums, brushes the cobwebs from its brow and prepares to fight to regain lost ground, Saint John will benefit in proportion to its status.

And the Dominion continues to evidence the optimism that has been synonymous with its name during these harrowing years, and continues, too, to show its faith in the future of the Maritimes. Little more than a stone's throw from Sand Point, within a deep depression guarded by one of the world’s largest cofferdams, there is another bustling scene. Donkey engines snort about on the harbor floor, steam shovels grind away at the rock bed, while scores of men who appear like mere pygmies from the rim above, labor pouring concrete. This is not reconstruction work. It is pioneer endeavor - the building of a new system of grain docks which by next fall will be ready to accommcxlate the largest cargo carrier in transoceanic trade.

And above, its newness glistening in the spring sunshine, towers the Harbor Commission’s 1.500,(XX)-bushel elevator, most modern on the Atlantic seaboard, through which in a few months it is hoped will flow the golden cereal of the western plains.

Saint John is building for the future.