I mentioned in a recent blog the stories about the river and sea my grandfather used to tell me. I had a totally unexpected experience about ten years ago, when my grandfather accompanied me in my dreams, all night long, every night, for an entire week. Unexpected because he died in 1974. He revealed many family secrets to me during that week, and also told me that five of his beloved seven coastal ships were still around (which he had owned and/or managed from the mid-1930s to the late 1960s). All I had to do was look hard for them.
My search for the lost ships took me to L’Anse Pleureuse on the Gaspé coast, where I saw two of the ships (see the feature image at the top of this blog) which had run aground there during a ferocious winter storm in early 2014. On the left in this photo is the ACD (I.V. No. 9) covered with ice and snow, and on the right the GTD (I.V. No. 10). The two vessels were being towed at the time, and the couplers must have broken, as per this illustration from an official Department of Transport report (the ships were ultimately scrapped due to environmental concerns):
My grandfather owned both of these vessels through the company he founded, Davie Transportation Ltd. In the early 1970s, they were sold to a firm run by Irénée Verreault in Les Méchins, and subsequently auctioned off in 2012 to the Groupe Océan in Quebec City.
I remember my grandfather offering my brothers and me a special treat when we were little. We travelled on the ACD for an entire day along the Richelieu River. The cook served us roast chicken, green peas and mashed potatoes.
After seeing the wrecks of the ACD and GTD on the Gaspé coast, my searches then took me to the McNally Yard at Sorel, and subsequently to Lotbinière on the South Shore of the Saint Lawrence River, where I saw the former Kermic, which my grandfather had managed but not owned.
Finally, Groupe Océan allowed my wife and me to visit two remaining coastal ships at their yard in Cap-de-la-Madeleine.
First, the former Donpaco low in the water, another vessel my grandfather had managed:
Then, we went onboard the Donpaco and saw how vandals had trashed the wheelhouse:
This was a far cry from the heyday of the Donpaco, in the mid-1930s, when my grandfather operated her on behalf of the Donnacona Paper Company:
Then we saw what was left of the former Newscarrier (I.V. No. 13) which seemed in the process of being broken up.
I must have had the unexpected dream about these ships because I was so busy working on the bits and pieces of the Amundsen story for my film The Blinding Sea. After all, I visited the sunken wreck of his polar ship the Maud, in Cambridge Bay, before she was hauled out of the water and transported back to Norway. In 1918-1920, Amundsen had taken the Maud through the Northeast Passage along the coast of Siberia, between Norway and Alaska. The ship had then departed on a scientific cruise in the Arctic Ocean, and was eventually auctioned off to the Hudson’s Bay Company, which operated her for a few years as the Baymaud before abandoning her in Cambridge Bay. The Maud was slightly smaller than my grandfather’s ships although (obviously) much more famous!