Tuesday, 29 July 2014


From the Fort William newspaper, 1965


Written by Jack Snider


“March 17 we said a reader was seeking information about three sailing schooners be believed once plied Lake Nipigon called the Peewabic, Nipigon and Ombabika.  We found something out about all – especially the Peewabic and the later alone is an intriguing tale told us by one of the men who hacked her out of the ice on rocks of Shakespeare Island where she was wrecked late in 1913.”


“Grand old-timer we visited to get this story at first hand is J. H. Cookman, now past 80 and who came to Fort William in 1906.  Our inquiring reader, LAC L. M. Unwin of the RCAF station at Armstrong has hereby got himself a dandy story.”


“ Mr. Cookman went into the country north of Lake Nipigon in 1910 on construction work of the transcontinental railway, now the main line of the CNR.  He continued working in construction and bush camps in Northwestern Ontario until going overseas with World War troops in 1914.”


“ To begin with he says, none of these vessels were sailing schooners.  All were steam-powered, the Nipigon and Peewabic being tugs while Ombabika was a decked freight and passenger boat.”

“ In the fall of 1913 he worked at Ombabika Bay for the contracting firm  of Brien, McDougall and O’Gorman who had an interest in the tug Peewabic.”

“ At that time a French-Canadian fellow named Tremblay was using it to tow rafts of cedar telegraph poles he was cutting for railway construction.  One day as winter approached he appeared, crestfallen, at the camp on Ombabika Bay to report, “ the Peewabic, she’s on the rocks.  I tink he back, she’s broke!”

“About Feb. 24-25, 1914, Mr. Cookman left Ombabika for  Fort William.  His route and method of approach was 162 miles on snowshoes to Superior Junction near Sioux Lookout, then by train into the city.  A week or so later he got word to report to Nipigon.  The firm clung to the hope the Peewabic might be refloated and repaired for further service.”

“ With that aim a small group under assistant superintendent Jim Parker met at Nipigon where they hired a dog team from a character known in those regions as Joe the Ghost and accompanied by him they headed for Shakespeare Island.”

“ On the theory that if the crippled tug was freed of ice she might refloat, they did exactly that by chopping her loose with bush axes.  But the French-Canadian , Tremblay, had been right – her back, she was broke.  The Peewabic was beyond hope while in the meantime scroungers of the bush-lands had stripped her of all worthy fixtures.”

“ Her bones were left to bleach on the rocks of Shakespeare Island where for all we know they may be yet.”

“Mr. Cookman is not aware of what fate befell the tug Nipigon and passenger vessel, Ombabika.”

“ He does know that in those days the latter was owned by the fur-trading firm of Revillon Freres, which had a post on Lake Nipigon headed by a factor named Thorpe.  ---“

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