On April 19, 1922, the Canadian Government ship (CGS) Lambton was the scene of a disaster. The ship was intended to respond to specific weather conditions on Lake Superior at Parry Sound, Ontario. On July 15, a memorial plaque was unveiled in memory of those who perished in this tragic event. UCTE would like to take the time to tell its story.
It all began at Caribou Lighthouse, located some 150 miles from Sault Ste. Marie, almost halfway between the American and Canadian sides of the lake. It is well known that the weather on the Great Lakes, especially during the winter, is difficult to overcome. Before the CGS was sent on the Lake Superior mission, J. George Penfold, a lighthouse keeper from Port Arthur, became the new keeper of the Caribou Lighthouse. He was to take on this mission by ‘small boat’ but objected to this request, writing letters to officials in Ottawa. They had decided to remove lightkeepers from government steamers. It was then that CGS Lambton was sent out from Parry Sound. J. George Penfold, who knew the lake well, wrote in his report that the Lambton was unfit to make the trip; the removal of the lightkeepers should be done from Lake Superior in December.
Western Lake Superior
The dangerous conditions were a source of great concern to travellers. Many people at the time claimed that the Lambton was unstable and did not sail well in any type of sea. Although J. George Penfold tried to publicize the situation, giving the conditions on the Lake, the government of the day ignored his warnings. Some time later, the CGS Lambton sailed to Sault Ste. Marie to pick up three lightkeepers and two assistants to deliver them to their respective lighthouses: Parisienne Island; Caribou Island and Michipicoten Island. The departure was to be 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 18. There were several reports of high winds on the lake and heavy snowfall in some areas.
The storm hit on April 19. Calls were sent out to recall all ships to the Port of Parry Sound. The Glenfinnan reported seeing the Lambton at 2:00 p.m. that day, about 40 miles from Whitefish Point towards Caribou Lighthouse. On the 23rd, a radio communication was transmitted from Sault Ste. Marie to Parry Sound stating that there had been a communication error and that the vessel sighted was not the Lambton, but a pilot house covered in white and red paint, mistaken for the ship.
Superintendent, Foghorns & Shipping Agent, Parry Sound, on board the CGS Lambton
A search plan was immediately put in place to locate the Lambton amid ice fields, thick fog and numerous other weather events making the search for the vessel very difficult. After an hour and a half, they arrived at the place where they thought they would find the Lambton, but … no sign of her! They subsequently searched Montreal Island, Lizard Island, Leach Island, and along the main shore to Gargantua … still nothing. On April 29, the search was still active. On the 30th, the search team concluded that there was little hope for the survival of the crew and passengers. The Lambton was predicted to have sunk at about 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19, 1922 in the vicinity of Caribou Island, taking the lives of 27 men, 22 crew members, three lightkeepers and two helpers. No bodies were ever recovered from the icy depths of Lake Superior. With the sinking of the ship, eight women were widowed, 28 children were left fatherless, parents lost sons, and siblings lost brothers.
One hundred years later, on July 15, the CCG base in Parry Sound unveiled the first plaque commemorating this event. The health and safety of today’s workers is the culmination of stories such as this one. It is important to remember those who died in similar accidents. This accident could probably have been avoided if the federal government had taken the time to consider J. George Penfold’s report. We must listen to people like him, and continue to work to improve workplace safety.
Memorial plaque at the CCG base in Parry Sound, ON
To see the original historic report from 100 years ago of the CGS Lambton from the Superintendant:
List of men aboard the Lambton, which sank in Lake Superior on April 19, 1922:
Alexander Brown, Captain, formerly of Owen Sound, ON
Jeremy M. Mitchell, First Officer, formerly of Orillia, ON
James Manley Brechin, First Engineer, formerly of Midland, ON
Napolean B. Columbus, Second Engineer, formerly of Toronto, ON
Andrew Valyear, steward, formerly of Parry Sound, ON
Sydney Mumford, oiler, formerly of Amherstburg, ON
Arthur Brunet, wheelsman, formerly of Plantagent, ON
Leonard Lines, wheelsman, formerly of Barrie, ON
Andrew Christenson, seaman, formerly of Parry Sound, ON
Harold Christenson, seaman, formerly of Parry Sound, ON
Lavergne Kaebisch, seaman, formerly of Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Fred Hayes, fireman, formerly of Parry Sound, ON
Walter England, fireman
Frank Sims, fireman, formerly of Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Fred Cole, cook’s helper, formerly of London, England
Charles Virgo, waiter, formerly of Parry Sound, ON
Stanley M. Liddle, chore boy, formerly of Sault Ste. Marie, ON
George Penfold, Caribou Island, formerly of Appleton, ON.
John W. Douglas, Parisienne Island, formerly of Sault Ste. Marie, ON
W.D. Reid, Michipicoten Island, formerly of St. Catharines, ON
Assistants to Lighthouse Keepers
John Kay, Parisienne Island, formerly of Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Malcolm Easton, Caribou Island, formerly of Lanark, ON