Skip Gillham Vineland, Ontario, Canada

Nisbet Grammer

Photo: Nisbet Grammer credit collection of Alfred Sagon-King

To this date, the bulk carrier Nisbet Grammer has been the largest steel ship to be lost in Lake Ontario. The 261 ft long freighter sank following a collision on May 31, 1926. The final location of the wreck was not known for 88 years. The remains were discovered last August using a grid search pattern and a sonar detector. The wreck hunters criss-crossed a general area when the outline of a freighter resting on the bottom was detected. A remote camera was sent to the location and confirmed that this was indeed the remains of the long sought Nisbet Grammer. The vessel was discovered between 7 and 8 miles off Somerset, NY and about 40 miles west of Rochester. It rests on the bottom in about 500 ft of water.

The three-year old Nisbet Grammer sank following a collision, in fog, with the Canadian steamer Dalwarnic. The former was on a voyage with grain from Port Colborne, ON, at the southern end of the Welland Canal, to Montreal, Quebec. Dalwarnic struck the soon to be doomed vessel at #6 hatch and it plunged to the bottom in fifteen minutes. Thankfully, all of the crew on board Nisbet Grammer were rescued.


Photo: Dalwarnic in wartime gray Canadian Forces Photo

The sunken ship had been built at Birkenhead, England, and launched on April 14, 1923. It was ordered by an American firm, the Eastern Steamship Co. and designed to carry grain, and occasionally coal, from the Great Lakes ports to the St. Lawrence. It crossed the Atlantic with a cargo of Welsh coal for Great Lakes delivery and then settled in on its planned route. The ship's size was determined by the size of the locks of the Third Welland Canal and those of the St. Lawrence canal system. Small ships such as Nisbet Grammer were numerous in that era and were employed to bring western grain to the St. Lawrence and hence access to larger ships and the markets of the world.

The Eastern Steamship Co. had built a number of similar ships for this work and more were added in 1926. But, with the economic impact of the Depression, many of their vessels were tied up at Port Dalhousie, ON for long periods of time.

Finally, in 1936, these ships were sold to the newly developed Upper Lakes & St. Lawrence Transportation Co. and entered service in their fleet. Most continued until the opening of the Seaway in 1959 so had it not been for the accident of 89 years ago this fall, the Nisbet Grammer might have had a much longer career.

Its Lake Ontario foe of many years ago was a Canadian owned steamer. It had been built at Port Arthur, ON, now part of Thunder Bay, in 1921, and first sailed as Canadian Harvest. It was sold and renamed Dalwarnic just prior to the May 31, 1926, accident and was later converted to a package freight carrier. Dalwarnic was requisitioned for saltwater service in 1940 and was used to carry supplies from St. Lawrence ports to Newfoundland as well as some coal along the east coast. It was resold in 1948 becoming the Selcuk and sailed first under the flag of Panama and finally as a Turkish vessel. Following a sale for scrap, the ship arrived at Istanbul, Turkey, on March 23, 1967, and was broken up.

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