Friday, January 21, 2022

Sixty Years On - Part 3, Vibert - Updated

 The port of Baie-Comeau, QC was developed around the presence of abundant timber and hydroelectric power which lead to building a paper mill, then an aluminum smelter. Foundation Maritime provided tug services with some small tugs, then with the Point Victor (1956) and Point Valour (1958) when they became available. But they were based in Sept-Iles - some distance away. Federal Commerce and Navigation also had a small tug that also worked in Port Cartier. 

Cargill, the Chicago-based grain merchants, built a grain storage and export facility in Baie-Comeau to take advantage of Great Lakes ships heading to Sept-Iles, QC to load iron ore. With the opening of the St.Lawence Seaway in 1959 large "Lakers" could bring grain down to Montreal, Trois-Rivières or Quebec City, en route to the iron ore port, but all those ports were closed to shipping in the winter in those days. Cargill's big Quebec City elevators could only export seasonally. A facility in Baie-Comeau could export year round. I believe Cargill wanted a tug full time in Baie-Comeau and therefore opted to build their own. It would also be made available to ships calling for Reynolds Aluminum and the Quebec North Shore Paper Company.

It would be interesting to learn why Cargill decided to go to England for the design and construction of the tug**. It is possible that Canadian shipyards were busy, but it is also likely that the Canadian dollar went much farther in the UK in those days. In any event the British naval architects Burnett-Corliss Partners were engaged to design the tug using their patented "hydroconic" hard chine hull design. But the superstructure design followed that of the Foundation Victor and Foundation Valour's triple decker configuration. 

Foundation Maritime was engaged to manage the operation of the tug.

I am also assuming that experience with the single screw Victor and Valour in Baie-Comeau determined that a twin screw tug was better for working in the much tighter quarters in Baie-Comeau. The tug was also reinforced to work in ice.

The P.K.Harris shipyard in Appledore, North Devon, England delivered the Foundation Vibert in 1961. It was powered by two 4 cylinder Fairbanks Morse engines (which were built in the US and shipped to England for installation) giving a total of 1280 bhp* and 20 tonnes bollard pull. The tug was managed from Halifax with crews hired from Halifax, but living in Baie-Comeau. The tug was named after Vibert G. Young a recently deceased Foundation Company of Canada executive and director, and was sponsored by his widow at the launch.


Foundation Maritime used the profile of the Foundation Victor for the Foundation Valour and Foundation Vibert in their corporate brochure even though each tug was noticeably different in appearance.

A rare photo of the Foundation Vibert in Halifax (left background) with the two former Great Lakes Towing Ltd tugs Banstar (ex Sandusky) (left) and Bansun (ex Waukegan) (right) both  built in 1912 and converted to 400 bhp diesels by Foundation after World War II. They also received new wheelhouses built on top of the deckhouse.

The Foundation Vibert did come to Halifax from time to time (it was called a harbour and coastal tug) for maintenance and a Halifax or Sept-Iles tug would be sent to cover for it, but otherwise it served Baie-Comeau, with occasional assignments in the general area to assist Foundation's salvage busines. It responded to the collision of the Leecliffe Hall and Appolonia in 1964 off St-Joseph-de-la-Rive. Despite best efforts, the Leecliffe Hall sank with the loss of three lives.  

 Point Vibert with the Smit and Cory shackle and diamond funnel mark, working with a towline and quick release tow hook December 21, 1980.

With the transition from Foundation Maritime to MILTug and Eastern Canada Towing Ltd [ECTUG], the tug was renamed Point Vibert in 1973, but its ownership remained with Cargill and its assignment to Baie-Comeau remained the same. 

 Point Vibert breaking a skim of ice in Bedford Basin February 20, 1993.

Point Vibert at Fairview Cove breaking over night ice which formed around the ConRo Atlantic Concert February 1, 1986.

In 1977 Cargill commissioned a new tug, the Voith-Schneider Pointe-Comeau, and when it was delivered the Point Vibert was transferred to Halifax where it became one of the primary harbour tugs for close to ten years under Eastern Canada Towing Ltd ownership. It changed funnel markings as ECTUG changed from Smit and Cory to 100% Cory ownership, eventually losing, then later regaining distinctive gold band at the deck line.

 Point Vibert in ECTUG (Cory) colours.


Altough difficult to maintain because of the tire fenders, the gold hull stripe was an attractive feature.

In the mid 1980s ships had become larger and larger and there was demand for more powerful tugs.

 ECTUG responded with 4,000 bhp+ ASD tugs and over time the smaller tugs were sold or reassigned. Point Vibert was sent to Point Tupper for a time, but ended up back in Halifax where it remained as a spare tug. When Svitzer Canada took over ECTUG from Svitzer Wijsmuller the tug was offered for sale.

Point Vibert in Svitzer Canada livery.

In 2006 McKeil Marine of Hamilton, ON purchased the tug and renamed it Florence M. They added a towing winch and the tug was used all over eastern Canada, towing barges. 

Florence M (right) with another former Foundation / ECTUG tug the Molly M 1 (ex Point Vigour and Foundation Vigour) at Sorel, QC.

After the loss of the barge Sault au Cochon off Pictou, NS in 2010 while in tow of the Florence M, the tug was placed in semi-retirement in Hamilton, ON. In 2019 Lakehead Tugboats of Thunder Bay, ON  bought the tug in non-operating condition and it was towed from Hamilton, ON to Thunder Bay, ironically, by McKeil's Molly M 1. The former Foundation Vigour and Point Vigour was once the other primary Halifax berthing tug with the Point Vibert.

 McKeil fitted the tug with a towing winch, but the tug was underpowered for big barges.

As of December 2021 Lakehead Tugboats were rebuilding the Florence M for a return to service. Once more the fresh waters of Lake Superior will ensure that another former Foundation tug will see many more years of service. It should be quite suitable for shipberthing work at Thunder Bay.


* Horsepower numbers are approximate at best. Tug operators often used "installed horsepower" and "indicated horsepower" which sounded more powerful than "brake horsepower", but rarely distinguished between them. Due to power losses in clutches and reduction gears, the actual power generated by the engine was reduced by the time it reached the prop. Bollard pull should be a more reliable description of the tug's potential effort if the number is based on recent tests. Bollard pull can "erode" over the years as engines and drive trains lose efficiency however, so even that rating can be inaccurate.


** Update

In 1958 Cargill Grain hired the Foundation Company of Canada and some other contractors to built its grain terminal in Baie-Comeau. Numerous separate contracts were awarded for various aspects of the work, including the construction of a grain storage shed and loading / unloading towers.  On August 19, 1960 during the arrival of the first grain cargo, the marine tower collapsed and the storage building caved in. Lawsuits ensued and went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. It turns out that Davie Shipbuilding was the contractor hired to build the marine tower, which was essentially a welded steel framework. Foundation,  as the general contractor, counter sued adding complexity to the case.

With all the legal issues unsettled it is perhaps little wonder that Cargill did not wish to enter into any new contracts wirth Davie, but was still bound to Foundation with other contracts, such as provision of a tug, which was likely signed before the collapse.

For the record the Cargill / Foundation suit was finally resolved in Foundation's favour when it was found that Cargill's expert engineer had miscalculated the forces that grain would impose on the walls of the storage building. The Foundation Company had built the building following Cargill's engineering, despite expressed reservations about the design. The Supreme Court of Canada finally ruled that Cargill was responsible for the design error and the Foundation Company was not liable for damages.

By coincidence the Supreme Court ruling came in 1977 - the same year that Cargill contracted for a new tug with Eastern Canada Towing Ltd to replace the Foundation Vibert / Point Vibert. The Foundation Company was long out of the picture by then, so there is likely no connection between the two events.


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Sixty years on - Part 2 Victor and Valour

 The first two new post World War II tugs built for Foundation Maritime, Foundation Victor of 1956 and Foundation Valour of 1958 are still operating. The latter is running in the fresh water of Lake Superior and so may be expected to last "forever". The former is still in salt water but seems equally indestructable. Both are powered by the durable Fairbanks Morse engines, which, although costly to maintain, are ultimately reliable. 

The two tugs replaced low power steam tugs and were quite successful because they were big and heavy. Their 1280 bhp single screw configuration was typical for the time and was  quite adequate for the ships calling in Baie-Comeau and Sept-Iles. 

The opening of the St.Lawrence Seaway in 1959 was foreseen and larger ships were built to run to and from the Great Lakes. It was chiefly to handle these, but also large foreign flag ships at the two St.Lawrence ports, that the two tugs were built.


This ca. 1958 winter view of the tug dock shows Foundation Victor on the north side (left of photo) of the dock with a small low power tug, and possibly a US tug. On the south (right) side is the seagoing Foundation Frances blowing down its boilers, and the steamer Banscot ahead of it. At the salvage dock, Foundation Josephine II awaits an assignment.

In the 1950s and 1960s Halifax was a winter port. Ships were diverted from the St.Lawrence for the winter months due to ice and these two tugs were quite capable of handling the typical general cargo ships and tankers of the time, and more than adequately displaced the steamers and low powered Ban tugs. It was not until the mid to late 1960s that winter navigation on the St.Lawrence became possible.

Foundation Victor was the pride of the fleet when it was built.

In the early 1960s Foundation Maritime again sought to upgrade its fleet, and that will be the subject of later posts in this series.

As of circa 1961 this was the FM harbour tug and crane fleet.
Foundation Vibert was built for Baie-Comeau and will be the subject of a future post. The Banscot and the two small tugs on the lower line worked in Halifax. The three "Bans"on the middle line also served in Port Alfred . 
The Foundation Beechwood was used in marine contruction work and is named for the Beechwood dam on the upper Saint John River where it worked.

When Foundation Maritime sold off its marine operations to Marine Industries Ltd of Sorel, QC, forming MIL Tug in 1968, new tugs were already planned for the port of Sept-Iles. By the time the MIL Tug operation was re-sold to Smit snd Cory in 1971, the new tugs were under construction. Pointe aux Basques and Pointe Margurite were twin screw, 4,000 bhp, icebreaking tugs that completely outclassed the Valour and Victor.

Marine Industries Ltd had stripped many of the useful assets from Foundation to support the dredging operations (J.P.Porter and Dragage Richelieu Dredging).  MILTug however was kept as a free standing operation and most of the tugs that remained with MILTug went to Smit and Cory. (The salvage tug Foundation Vigilant was sold off.)

Foundation Vigilant, at the salvage dock, was not wanted by Smith and Cory, so was sold off. The salvage dock and shed lasted, although unused, until 2020 when they were demolished. Bluenose II, on the right at the Oland's pier, has also found a new berth and the entire area has been filled in for a new development. That is either Point Victor or Point Valour peeking out of the left side of the photo.

Foundation Victor and Foundation Valour were transferred to Halifax for year round operation, and in 1973 renamed Point Victor and Point Valour by Eastern Canada Towing Ltd (ECTUG) which had been formed by Smit and Cory. By this time Halifax already had sufficient tugs to handle port operations so Victor and Valour were actually surplus to needs. (ECTUG was really only interested in terminal operations, so did not actively seek salvage or general towing work for its tugs.) The tugs were also a bit too large and ungainly to work within the confines of the finger piers. 


By 1977 ECTUG decided to sell the Point Victor and C.A. Pitts Engineering Ltd of Toronto acquired the tug. The company had marine construction projects, and like Foundation before it, decided it needed its own tug. Renamed Kay Cole it worked all around eastern Canada.



In 1995 Pitts was merging with other companies and a tug was not in the cards. McKeil Workboats of Hamilton, ON was a willing buyer.

They soon renamed the tug Jerry Newberry and put it to use in ways never foreseen by Foundation including barge towing to the US East Coast.

Fitted with some added bow fendering (in place of large truck tires) the Jerry Newberry tried its hand at ship berthing in Montreal for a time.

McKeil in turn sold the tug on to McNally Construction of Hamilton, ON and the tug kept its name.

They put the tug to some extreme use including trips to Labrador and Ungava Bay but by 2013 they were not finding enough use for it. New owners, from Newfoundland, named Sealand Shipping Services Ltd of Baie Verte, bought the tug and renamed it R.J.Ballott. They also added a towing winch I believe.

As of 2021 the tug was in regular use including a tow to Montreal. The tug often works in Labrador and the north shore of the Gulf of St.Lawrence, so is well out of the spotlight, but continues to provide service.

See more photos in my post from November 28, 2013

Point Valour
lasted a bit longer with ECTUG, but was also sold on. It is easily identifiable because of its slightly larger wheelhouse. I believe the large house was needed to accommodate the radar set which HAD become mandatory. There was no real need for a walkway ahead of the wheelhouse, except to clean windows, so the wheelhouse was enlarged forward by a foot or two.

As modern tugs came into service, shiphandling using a tow line became obsolete, and so did tugs like the Point Valour as they only had power ahead. They could not pull back with any power like the ASD tugs could.

 ECTUG finally sold the Point Valour to Thunder Bay Tug Services Ltd and it went into operation at the Lakehead.
Huge amounts of power are not needed in Thunder Bay as ships are limited to St.Lawrence Seaway size (the US flag 1,000 footers do not serve Thunder Bay, ON). Point Valour is still a big tug and its weight is still useful. (Thunder Bay is home to several tugs built in the 1940s, some of which are former Foundation boats. The Glenada in the photo above was built originally in 1944.)


Sunday, January 9, 2022

Sixty years on - Part One

 In my previous post I made note of the six sister tugs built for Foundation Maritime in 1962. Remarkably, three are still operating, and are likely to put in several more years of service.

Since this year marks their 60th anniversary I will expand a bit upon the careers of each of the six tugs. My plan is to stretch the story over several months. Although the tugs were built in December of 1962 and a larger follow-on tug in June 1963, I will be extending this series to "before" and "after" - going back to the 1950s, and extending to a few years later.


The Foundation Company of Canada was an offshoot of a large US construction company. A pioneer in the use of pneumatic caissons, they established Canadian headquarters in Montreal but had marine construction projects throughout eastern Canada. Their more or less accidental entrance into marine towing and salvage in the 1930s is most amusingly recounted by Farley Mowat in Grey Seas Under - required reading for any tug entusiast.

The exploits of the salvage tug Foundation Franklin make exciting reading in Mowat's book Grey Seas Under. A following book The Serpent's Coil tells of the salvage tug Foundation Josephine and its rescue of the cargo ship Leicester


The company's success in salvage work was only one part of their business. In order to provide a year round marine base, the Foundation Company purchased the Halifax Towboat operation and renamed it Maritime Towing + Salvage. It expanded to provide harbour tug services in Halifax, Sept-Iles, Baie Comeau and Port Alfred, as well as general towing. As Mowat relates, the company had to make do with a rag tag collection of old boats during war time. Following the conflict they were able to upgrade a couple of the boats to diesel and to buy some war-built tugs, but some of these were also inefficent steamers - built cheaply and "for the duration", and with a hodgepodge of power plants and machinery.

The Bansun (foreground) had been a non-condensing steam tug from the Geat Lakes, acquired during World War II and converted to diesel post-war. As a steam tug it had to return to the dock frequently to replenish its fresh water supply since briny harbour water filled the boiler tubes with scale. The tugs "chugged" like steam locomotives. Its coal burning sister tug Banstar (background) had yet to be converted when the above photo was taken.

Several small war built "Glen" class tugs were acquired,but were low powered and not up to the job of docking large ships. It took up to six tugs to berth the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary for example.


 In the mid 1950s with the iron ore port of Sept-Iles and the grain, aluminum and paper port of Baie Comeau demanding bigger and more powerful tugs Foundation turned to the pre-eminent Canadian shipyard Davie Shipbuilding + Repairing Ltd in Lauzon, QC (then owned by Canada Steamship Lines). CSL / Davie also operated the tugs in Quebec City and had already begun to upgrade its fleet with new diesel tugs. They had both operating experience and excellent in house design capabilities. Incidentally, Foundation operated its salvage tug from Lauzon seasonally, so knew the Quebec tugs from close observation and co-operation.

In the 1950s and 1960s the Foundation Vigilant was based in Lauzon in the summer and moved to Bermuda in the winter, but ranged far and wide as needed.

Foundation first contracted for two big ice stengthened harbour tugs for use in Sept-Iles but with the ability to cover Baie Comeau. Foundation Victor was built in 1956 and Foundation Valour in 1958. They were single screw tugs of 1280 bhp, and worked most of the year in Sept-Iles but returned to Halifax during the dead of winter as there was generally no winter navigation in the Gulf or river between late December and the end of April, and Halifax was a busy "winter port" handling shipping diverted from the St.Lawrence.


Foundation Victor's high wheelhouse provided good visibility for ship berthing work.

The tugs were "triple deckers", built with a wheelhouse elevated above the officers' cabins to permit easier all round viewing and of the decks of large ships. This pattern was an improved version of the unheated but enclosed flying bridge of the earlier pre-war and war built steam tugs. The feature was continued with later tugs all the way to 2005, so obviously it was a succesful design feature.

The Scottish built Banscot was among the tugs acquired by Foundation Maritime when they bought the Halifax harbour tug business. It had an open fly bridge with a crude weather enclosure.

The war built Foundation Vera orginally had an open "monkey island" flying bridge, which Foundation enclosed to make weather tight. Tug skippers preferred the elevated position for its better visibility.

In the 1970s the Foundation Company sold the tug business to Marine Industries Ltd of Sorel, QC which formed MIL Tug. However that company was soon resold to a joint venture between the Dutch Smit International and the British company Cory Towage, forming Eastern Canada Towing [ECTUG]. Over time Cory gained full ownership then resold to Wijsmuller which was soon taken over by Svitzer. Both Ectug and Svitzer built new tugs and they sold off the older tugs. All the new tugs built for the successor companies continued to follow the triple decker design up until the most recent tug, Svitzer Bedford dating from 2005. Even a series of British built tugs for the Smit-Cory era were triple deckers.

Six triple deckers alongside the old ECTUG dock Halifax in 1977.

The first of the new Davie built tugs were named Foundation Victor and Foundation Valour (the Second World War was still fresh in most minds in the 1950s)  and were delivered in 1956 and 1958 respectively.

Remarkably both of these 1950s era tugs are still operating in Canadian waters in 2022. The former Foundation Victor, later carrying the names 1973: Point Victor, 1977: Kay Cole, 1995: Jerry Newberry, 2013: R.J.Ballott is now based in Newfoundland but travels widely, towing as far as Montreal in 2021.

Foundation Valour, renamed Point Valour in 1973 has been serving as a harbour tug in Thunder Bay, ON for many years.


to be continued...