The Giant Tugboat
Originally baptised Vigilant, she was launched at Port Huron, Michigan
in 1896. She was latter renamed the Muscallonge while transporting crude
oil between Montreal and Toronto. In 1936 the Muskie caught fire while
approching Brockville. Captain Ahearn drove the buring tug to shore
and was able to save the crew. But attempts to save the ship failed
as the fire pumpers were too late. The fuel tanks finally exploded,
and she collapsed into the water. Visiting the wreck on the river bottom,
evidence of fire is clear. However the boiler, engine, and abundance
of aquatic life remain quite impressive. Read the blow by blow account
of this incredible fire.
August 15, 1936
SPECTACULAR MARINE FIRE DESTROYS TUG MUSCALLONGE EAST OF TOWN EARLY
VESSEL IGNITES FROM UNKNOWN CAUSE SHORTLY AFTER MIDNIGHT - CREW OF
CAPTAIN AND 10 MEN SAVED
Burned Craft Had Fuel Cargo of 9,000 Gallons of Crude Oil - Hundreds
Viewed Intense Blaze Which Continued for Hours After Valuable Boat Was
Beached - Explosion at 5:30 This Morning Spread Flames Along Shore for
Approximately 1,000 Feet.
The St. Lawrence river in the immediate vicinity of Brockville had its
first marine fire, involving a vessel of importance in the lake trade,
in more than a quarter of a century when the tug "Muscallonge",
out of Montreal Friday morning destined for Port Credit and towing the
small tug "Ajax" and the barge "Bruce Hudson", loaded
with crude oil, was consumed on the beach of the Canadian shore about
one and half miles east of the town this morning.
The Captain and crew of 10 men were saved from the burning craft which
ignited from an unknown cause in midstream almost opposite the Ontario
Captain S. Ahearn, of Port Dalhousie, swung the boat eastward after
cutting away from the other tug and barge with the engine running full
speed ahead drove the burning vessel head-on into the shallow rock bottom
of the river at a point directly opposite the property of J.D. Wetherell,
one and a half miles east of the town, at present occupied by H.W. Pollock
and family, of Dorval, Que. The boat came to a stop with its prow approximately
20 feet distant form the rocky shore- line and in the interval between
the discovery of the fire and the beaching of the boat, all of the crew,
with the exception of the captain and chief engineer, Dorman Arbour,
of Waubaushene, Ont., clambered to safety aboard the "Ajax"
which followed the "Muscallonge" to shore with its bow tight
against the stern of the burning boat at the starboard side.
One Jumped to Safety.
One member of the crew jumped overboard and was picked up by Cleon Price
and Bob Wygant, Brockville, who had rushed to the scene with other residents
of the summer colony in that vicinity when the signals of distress and
cries for help were heard from the river and launched a rowboat from
Could Give No Aid.
The Brockville fire department was notified by telephone of the outbreak
aboard the boat and the platoon on duty at the time responded with apparatus,
followed by Fire Chief John Hattley and members of the police department.
Owing to the topographical nature of the surroundings the heavy fire-fighting
equipment could not be taken sufficiently close to the burning boat
to be of any assistance. Mayor Comstock was at the scene shortly after
the alarm sounded and endeavored to secure assistance from Morristown,
his plan being to enlist the service of the ferry boat on which the
LaFrance pumper might have been carried to the scene. Unfortunately
Morristown could not be reached by telephone at that hour and nothing
could be done to save the craft.
After assisting in the rescue of the crew from the Muscallonge, the
Ajax and Bruce Hudson stood by until nearly daylight, while some of
the rescued crew were brought to Brockville in a motorboat. An American
patrol boat cruised about the scene for a short time after the fire
The vivid reflection sent up by the flames from the boat, which was
143 feet in length and one of the largest tugs plying the Great Lakes,
was sween on Barriefield Hill, just east of Kingston, about 12:30 a.m.
by a motoring party who were traveling eastward and who broke their
journey for hours to watch the flames consume the craft.
Hundreds of others, including people from Brockville, Maitland, Prescott,
North Augusta and many summer campers were attracted to the scene and
a considerable number remained until after dawn watching the spectacular
Members of the Crew.
In addition to Captain Ahearn and Chief Engineer Arbour, the crew of
the Muscallonge consisted of T. Bell, Midland, second engineer; Gideon
Deschamps, Beauharnais, mate; Sid Smith, Toronto, wheelsman; Jerry Henry,
Toronto, oiler; Stanley Wilson, Goderich, fireman; C. Brodeau, Waubaushene,
fireman; Hugh Lawson, Toronto, cook; C. Hartley, Port Dalhousie, deckhand.
The burned vessel, as well as the other tug and barge, belonged to
the Lloyds Refinery Company, Port Credit, and the three left Montreal
about six o'clock Friday morning, heading for Port Credit. All went
well and the boats were running with a stiff easterly wind up the river
when the fire was discovered shortly after midnight today. The blaze
started, it is believed, in the boiler room and spread rapidly the length
and breadth of the boat, which was entirely of wood construction.
Its steam boiler was fitted to burn fuel oil and 9,000 gallons of the
crude substance were contained in its tanks amidships. The fire spread
with such rapidity that it was impossible for the crew to reach the
lifeboats and the Ajax immediately went to the rescue. Captain Ahearn
was the last to leave the vessel and was given much deserved credit
for successfully beaching the boat after it had ignited in midstream.
When the distress signals were sounded by the boat's whistle and cries
of the crew for assistance were heard ashore, cottagers along the waterfront
turned on electric and flashlights and lent what aid they could. Captain
Ahearn and Engineer Arbour were landed ashore and talked briefly with
Mayor Comstock and Fire Chief Hartley before being given coffee and
a lunch at a cottage nearby.
To a representative of the Recorder and Times at the scene Captain
Ahearn stated that all of the crew had been accounted for but none of
the personal effects of the men had been saved so quickly did the disastrous
Oil Ignites in Hull.
Less than an hour after the outbreak the superstructure of the craft
had been consumed and 20 minutes later, at 1:35 o'clock, the first roar
of the igniting oil contained in the tug's tanks was noted. It was not
of an explosive nature, but rocked the craft and sent the hundreds of
spectators scurrying for safety in either direction along the high shore.
Cottagers endeavored to protect their property as much as possible from
the myriad of sparks which floated high in the air westward.
At 2:40 o'clock there was a strong roar as the gas emanating from the
oil in the tanks through vent pipes rising above the forward deck of
the craft which was enveloped in flames ignited apparently under strong
Rain commenced to fall heavily at 2:50 o'clock and continued for several
minutes thus reducing the hazard of the fire spreading to property along
the shore, particularly to a cottage boathouse on the Wetherell property
not 30 feet distant from the tug.
The anchor fell out of the Muscallonge at 3:10 o'clock into the river
and shortly afterward the fire reached its greatest intensity. All of
the superstructure had been consumed while above the flames and through
the billowing smoke could plainly be seen the aluminum and black funnel
and the exposed boiler and machinery.
The smoke rapidly grew in density and assumed a coal-black hue as the
oil in the tanks was consumed. At intervals there were explosions of
a mild nature within the boat's hull which was being gradually reduced
Against the intense clouds of black smoke over the burning ship, which
floated westward in a north westerly direction across the town, the
metal funnel of the boat gradually assumed a bright red colour. Flames
gushed from its top and at times the spouts of fire were as bright as
vivid lightning. At 4:47 o'clock the funnel collapsed and fell into
the river to the east of the boat with a hissing roar. The flames continued
to soar skyward and the Muscallonge was reduced to nothing but a skeleton,
its gaping sides feeding the fire right down to the waterline.
At 5:30 o' clock the four tanks within the hull exploded almost simultaneously
sending flames 80 feet into the air and scattering fire into the grass
and brush along the shore for a distance of approximately 1,000 feet
westward. The shock practically obliterated the remains of the vessel.
The fire department was again summoned to the scene and prevented any
The Muscallonge was formerly owned by the Sim-Mac Line and had plied
the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes for years. It was a powerful vessel,
housing a wealth of machinery, and the loss will mount to many thousands
of dollars. It is understood the vessel was insured.
Captain Ahearn is well known in Brockville having formerly been stationed
here while in command of the tug "Chatson", owned by the J.P.
Porter Company, St. Catharines, engaged in widening and deepening the
channel in the Brockville Narrows. The tug "Ajax" is commanded
by William Miner, of Burlington, and the barge "Bruce Hudson"
by Captain Clarence McKellar of Sarnia.
The Department of Marine and Fisheries registry of Canadian
steam vessels states that the Muscallonge was built at Port Huron, Mich.
In 1896. Its port of registry was Montreal and it measured 128 feet
in length by 24 feet and five inches in breadth. Its gross tonnage was
360 and registered tonnage 245.