Alligators of Algonquin Park

Alligators were steam-powered warping tugs that were used to move log booms across lakes. They were constructed mostly of wood, with steel-plated hulls, iron-shod runners, and powerful winches by which they could warp log booms across a lake and haul themselves overland when necessary (hence the name 'alligator'). These boats were invented and built by West and Peachy of Simcoe, Ontario. Starting in 1889, West and Peachy manufactured around 200 of these craft. The earlier models were side-wheelers, while some of the later ones were propeller-driven. But by 1930, the steam warping tugs were giving way to gasoline-powered warping tugs built by Russel Brothers, originally in Fort Frances, Ontario, but more recently, in Owen Sound Ontario.

In addition to a restored alligator at the Algonquin Park Logging Museum, remains of two others may be found on Catfish Lake and on Burntroot Lake. There may be more.

Our first encounter with an Algonquin Park alligator was at Barnet Depot on Burntroot Lake in May 1976 (Trip Log - Canoe Lake to Brent and Return). We visited Barnet Depot as a side trip on our day's travel from Big Trout Lake to an island campsite near the north end of Burntroot Lake. Our overriding memory of that visit was of being impressed by the alligator, but also of being cold and wet. It was a rainy day, and we were able to take shelter inside the alligator for a while, before continuing on to our campsite.

Alligator at Barnet Depot on Burntroot Lake in Algonquin park in May 1976

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The remains of an alligator at Barnet Depot on Burntroot Lake in Algonquin park (1976 May 16). This boat, "The Algonquin", was built in 1904 and was owned by McLachlin Brothers of Arnprior.

Alligator at Barnet Depot on Burntroot Lake in Algonquin park in May 1976

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Our friend Herman is lurking in the shadows behind the cable drum.

Alligator at Barnet Depot on Burntroot Lake in Algonquin park in May 1976

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The one-cylinder steam engine.

Alligator at Barnet Depot on Burntroot Lake in Algonquin park in May 1976

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Some gearing

Wishing to learn more, we did some reading and then visited the Algonquin Park Logging Museum in the fall of 1977. There the rebuilt William M was on display. This boat was built in 1905 and was originally named Max. It was rebuilt in 1923 and renamed the William M. It was subsequently purchased by Gillies Brothers of Braeside. The William M hauled itself out of Cedar Lake at Brent for the last time in 1946. In 1959 it was moved to the logging museum, and was rebuilt for display purposes during the winter of 1972-73.

Alligator at Logging Museum in Algonquin Park in 1977

(photographed: 2009-04-09 - explore

The "William M" at the Algonquin Park Logging Museum in 1977. Note that the "William M" has since been moved to a different location in the Logging Museum grounds.

Alligator at Logging Museum in Algonquin Park in 1977

(photographed: 2009-04-28 - explore

The cable guide and level wind mechanism hiding in the leaves.

On several occasions we had searched for the alligator remains on Catfish Lake but without success. It turns out that the location had been incorrectly shown on the early "Canoe Routes" map and that this error was not corrected until the early 1980s. However, in 1978 May, we did a loop out of Brent through Catfish, Hogan and Burntroot Lakes. On the last night we were back on Catfish Lake and chose to camp on a small island in the north end of the Lake. Lo and behold, there were the remains of the alligator.

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 1978

(photographed: 2007-03-23) 

From the small island campsite in the north end of Catfish Lake. The remains of the alligator are on this island. This island is not currently an official campsite, which is a pity because we think it is one of the nicer sites on the lake.

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 1978

(photographed: 2007-03-23) 

Diana with the alligator remains on Catfish Lake (1978 May 22).

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 1978

(photographed: 2007-03-23) 

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 1978

(photographed: 2007-03-23) 

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 1978

(photographed: 2007-03-23) 

It is interesting that at Catfish Lake, only the machinery remains; There is no signs of the wooden hull and superstructure. Also, the cable drum is empty; the cable has been salvaged

As far as we can determine, there is no readily obtainable information as to the identity of this alligator. One clue to its identity might be that it has a flared smokestack. The smokestack is visible in the picture above running horizontally in the background. The flared end, the top, is towards the boiler. The smokestack is also visible in the previous photo, on the right behind what is left of the paddlewheel.

On 2009 November, we once again visited the William M at the Algonquin Park Logging Museum.

AlligatorWilliam M at Logging Museum in Algonquin Park in 2009

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The "William M" is now located on the shores of Mud Creek.

AlligatorWilliam M at Logging Museum in Algonquin Park in 2009

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The "West and Peachy" nameplate on the one cylinder steam engine.

AlligatorWilliam M at Logging Museum in Algonquin Park in 2009

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Note the levelling screw on the boiler. The boiler was pivoted to allow it to be levelled as the alligator hauled itself overland.

AlligatorWilliam M at Logging Museum in Algonquin Park in 2009

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AlligatorWilliam M at Logging Museum in Algonquin Park in 2009

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We think there need to be some cables or chains or something attached to that wheel for it to have much effect.

AlligatorWilliam M at Logging Museum in Algonquin Park in 2009

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On 2010 August 29, Bob once again visited the alligator remains on Catfish Lake (Trip Log: Brent to Catfish Lake). The main change over 30 years is that the site is more overgrown, with trees having fallen across the site quite recently.

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 2010

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

The alligator remains on Catfish Lake -- "behind the alders".

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 2010

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

A little more overgrown, a few trees down.

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 2010

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

That paddlewheel has seen better days.

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 2010

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

The single-cylinder engine and flywheel.

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 2010

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 2010

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

Cable guide

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 2010

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

Double helical gear for moving the cable guide back and forth to ensure level winding of the cable on the drum.

The remains of an alligator are on a small island in the northern Bay of Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

Cylinder to the left. Level wind system in the middle, with the drive wheel in front, the double helical gear in the middle, and the cable guide in the back. Empty cable drum to the right.

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 2010

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

Alligator remains at Catfish Lake in Algonquin Park in 2010

(photographed: 2010-08-29 - map - explore

The view out of the "front porch" of the island campsite is just as appealing as it was 32 years ago.

Notes

  1. We don't know what the relationship between McLachlin Bros. and the Barnet Lumber Co. was. Possibly Barnet was bought out by McLachlin, but we don't know that for sure.
  2. We speculate that the remains on Catfish Lake might be of the North River, though this is based on the rather flimsy evidence:
    • The North River was owned by the McLachlin Bros.
    • The McLachlin Bros. had timber limits up the Petawawa River from Cedar Lake.
    • The book Alligators of the North suggests that the North River was stationed, at least for a while, in Algonquin Park.
    • The North River seems to have a flared smokestack, although the photo is somewhat ambiguous.
    • The North River was a much older boat than the Algonquin or the William M and thus the wooden parts have had longer to decay (or be burned for firewood on a small island campsite).

Sources

Ottelyn Addison (1974), Early Days in Algonquin Park, McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Harry B. Barrett & Clarence F. Coons (2010), Alligators of the North, The Story of the West & Peachey Steam Warping Tugs, Natural Heritage Books, A member of the Dundurn Group, Toronto.

Robert Legget (1975), Ottawa Waterway, Gateway to a Continent, University of Toronto Press.

Donald L. Lloyd (2000); Canoeing Algonquin Park, Published by D.L. Lloyd. Distributed by Hushion House Publishing Ltd. Toronto.

Donald MacKay (1978), The Lumberjacks, McGraw-Hill Ryerson (latest edition is 3rd 2007).

Dan Strickland (2003), Algonquin Logging Museum, Logging History in Algonquin Provincial Park, The Friends of Algonquin Park.

Ron Tozer & Dan Strickland (1995), A Pictorial History of Algonquin Park, The Friends of Algonquin Park.

By far, the most comprehensive source for this page is the book: Alligators of the North

Web links

Wikipedia article: Alligator boat

The W.D. Stalker is the last operational West and Peachey Alligator (although, not a side wheeler). Here are a couple of youtube videos: Alligator Tug, Steam Alligator.

The West and Peachey steam alligator was subsequently displaced by gasoline powered tugs. Lots of good stuff on the Russel Brothers web site and some good videos here.