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.
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.
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.
On 2009 November, we once again visited the William M at the Algonquin Park Logging Museum.
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.
- 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.
- 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).
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
Wikipedia article: Alligator boat