Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres - E.B. "Skip" Gillham, The Ships of Collingwood

Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres

E.B. "Skip" Gillham, The Ships of Collingwood

M. Stephen Salmon
National Archives of Canada
Gillham, E. B. "Skip." The Ships of Collingwood, St. Catharines: Riverbank Traders, 1992. hi + 192 pp., 229 photographs, (available from Riverbank Traders, 57 Main Street, St. Catiiarines, Ontario, L2N 4T8).

1 Skip Gillham is perhaps the most prolific popular historian of Canadian Great Lakes ships. The Ships of Collingwood is a complete listing of the 208 ships built by Collingwood Shipyards and its immediate predecessors. The author begins with the Huronic of 1901 and concludes with the last ship built at Collingwood, the laker, Paterson, in 1985. All that is now left of shipbuilding activity at Collingwood is a historic plaque. This popular history is not meant for an academic audience. Its market is the wide constituency of Great Lakes ship buffs.

2 The volume begins with a historical overview of shipbuilding at Collingwood, followed by the main body of the book — a complete listing of the 208 vessels built at the shipyard plus the 15 ships cancelled and the 8 conversions to which hull numbers were assigned. All types of vessels are inventoried from lakers to scows. Each listing gives a brief history of the ship in question, including the original owner, the vessel's service and, where known, its fate. Perhaps the most significant part of each entry is the vessel's photograph. Here the author has provided photographs for almost all of the hulls completed or converted at the shipyard. Only photographs for the majority of the scows and some of the World War I trawlers are missing. For the most part the photographs are standard ship portraits. But for this reviewer the more interesting illustrations are the vessels under construction or, as in the case of the tug Hiram Robinson (p. 17), being assembled from prefabricated parts at Sand Point, Ontario, on the Ottawa River, for the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company in 1910.

3 Collingwood built ships for a surprisingly few number of owners. Canada Steamship Lines ordered twenty-three new ships, Algoma Central Marine fifteen ships and Imperial Oil thirteen tankers. However, orders from the Canadian, Ontario, British and French governments totalled seventy-one vessels or thirty-four per cent of all orders. These ships varied from World War II corvettes to standard wartime merchant ships, and coastguard vessels. Specialty craft included such curiosities as the gatelifters built for use on the Welland Canal.

4 A formal bibliography is not provided; rather, the author has given the reader a list of "references," including all the familiar secondary sources that a Great Lakes ship enthusiast could expect to have access to. Detailed documentation from primary sources is not furnished. Given the author's intended audience this is not surprising. But The Ships of Collingwood should not be dismissed out of hand by museum professionals or academic historians. The author serves an important function by reaching out to a wider public. In fact, in terms of sales, the academics find a niche market while it is Gillham and his compatriots who meet the demands of the larger consumer market.

5 The author is not merely a popularizer of more serious work — there are virtually no academic studies for him to draw on. In this and earlier publications Gillham has been in advance of historical scholarship. Perhaps little could be added to this catalogue of Collingwood's production, except a few more detailed photographs of vessels under construction so readers would have an idea of how the ships were actually built. What needs to be done, however, is work by museum professionals and academics on virtually all aspects of twentieth-century Canadian Great Lakes shipping. Critical scholarship is notable by its absence. Aside from a few studies in labour history, some work on the Canadian canal at Sault Ste Marie, and a brief volume on the fishery, the field is deserted. Yet, there are ample resources available for more detailed interpretations of Canadian Great Lakes history and ethnology.

6 The author cannot be blamed for not providing an academic tome when his purpose was entirely different — an enjoyable photographic portrait of Collingwood built ships. It is up to the professional historians and curators to explore the subject in greater detail.