It has been said that the mining and shipping of gypsum rock or plaster began at Windsor about the year 1832.1
It is known that E. Churchill and Sons built a tug boat called the “Chester” at Hantsport in 1890. It was steam powered.
Also in the years 1890-1892 the D.S. Howard shipyard at Parrsboro built four large schooners for the gypsum trade, namely the “Gypsum Queen”, “Gypsum Princess”, “Gypsum Emperor” and the “Gypsum King”.
J.B. North built the “Gypsum Prince” at Hantsport and the “Gypsum Empress” at Horton.
All six schooners were of four masts. The tugboat “J A Mumford” was built at Spencer’s Island in 1903 for the Gypsum trade. The “Mumford” was of 115 gross tons and had a forty horsepower steam engine. The “Mumford” was still in use by the Gypsum Company in 1947. Later that year she was taken to the drydock at Saint John, New Brunswick where her engine and boiler were dismantled and placed in a dredge.
This work, as a note of interest to all native Hantsportonians, was carried out under the supervision of George Burns, then superintendent of the drydock. When he retired Mr. Burns returned to Hantsport, his birthplace.
Also known to many, the ships “Hamburg”, “Wildwood”, “Plymouth” and “Ontario”, all built at Hantsport by E. Churchill and Sons, with the exception of the “Wildwood”, were in later years converted to barges by the J.B. King Company to carry gypsum to American Ports.
Between 1921–1923, these barges, now of little use, were taken to Hobart’s Wharf at Summerville, across the Avon River from Hantsport, as their final resting place. Some pieces of these ships can still be seen there.
In 1921 the first “Otis Wack” was launched at Parrsboro from the Huntley Shipyard.2 Built for the expressed purpose of towing two thousand ton barges of gypsum rock from Windsor (Wentworth to be exact) to the J.B. King plant at New Brighton on Staten Island in New York harbour.
The first “Otis Wack” was named in honour of the manager4 of the transportation and gypsum operations in Nova Scotia and under whose direction she was built.
To quote further, “when the Nova Scotia and Staten Island properties [were merged] – together with the transportation facilities of the J.B. King Company, the towing of barges by tug boats was replaced by the Company’s first fleet of rock carrying steamships, and the “Otis Wack” was assigned to harbour duty, docking and undocking the large ships at loading docks at Windsor, Deep Brook and later after World War two, at Hantsport.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the gypsum company’s fleet of ships were taken over by the British Government for war service.5
After the War the “Otis Wack” returned again to towing barges of gypsum to the eastern coastal plants in the United States, mainly Boston and New York.
This first “Otis Wack” now twenty-eight years of age was decommissioned in late 1949 and laid to rest at Avonport beach. She was of 226 gross tons, one hundred and five feet in length, her steam engine turned out sixty-six horsepower. (We should all note, there is a difference between steam horsepower and diesel horsepower ratings.)
The first “Otis Wack” and her captains are now part of our history of Hantsport.
A new era began on December 9, 1950 at eleven hundred hours when the new “Otis Wack” docked at Hantsport. Her Captain was John Ferguson. Built by the Davie Shipbuilding and Repairing Company Limited at Lauzon, Quebec. She was launched there on November 7, 1950.6
The new “Otis Wack” had her trial runs on Friday December first and left for Hantsport on December fifth. She is equipped with a twelve hundred horsepower diesel engine, is ninety one feet in length and of 238 gross tons.4
Over these nearly forty four years of service of docking and undocking large ships here at Hantsport, the “Wack” has had as Captains; John Ferguson, Gerald Clayton, Ray Riley and her current skipper, Lloyd McLellan.
Many local residents wonder about the name Otis Wack because both the 1921 and the 1950 Gypsum Company tugs were named after the American citizen.
Prior to the arrival of the new Wack, Mr. Otis Wack in 1949 was still in the employ of the now named United States Gypsum Company as the Vice President of Engineering.
Well known at Windsor where he resided for many years, Mr. Wack of the Gypsum Company and Mr. R.A. Jodrey of the Avon River Power Company and Minas Basin Pulp and Power Company, were good friends.
Mr Jodrey tells of two interesting encounters with Mr Wack.
The first story goes something like this – One of Mr Wack’s three children was born at Windsor. Very proud of his American Citizenship and when the time came to have this child christened, Mr. Wack insisted that the minister hold some American soil in his hand while the christening ceremony took place. Mr. Wack had arranged for the soil to come from his hometown to ensure that the child would be truly christened on American soil.
The second story has a familiar ring. When the Minas Basin Pulp & Power Company was building hydro dams on the St. Croix River, which flowed by the gypsum loading dock at Wentworth, Mr. Wack became very concerned that the flow of the St. Croix would be curtailed and in doing so would lessen the depth of water at the dock because of the buildup of silt.
Well, the Gypsum Company after World War two build their new loading docks here at Hantsport to accommodate much larger ships than those which sailed up the St. Croix River for many years guided by the “Mumford” and the “Otis Wack”.
However, this story does leave us with a nagging suspicion about the causeway at Windsor and its effect on our harbour.
In any event we have come here tonight to talk and remember with fond memories of the red tugboat know to us all for forty-four years as the “Otis Wack”.
The “cobra” funnel
As of October 31, 1994 the Wack made ten thousand and four trips up and down the Avon River and docked and undocked six thousand, one hundred and four ships.
We feel sad that the Wack has to be retired.7
However, we eagerly await her successor.
Hantsport and Area Historical Society
November 23, 1994
Regular Monthly Meeting
- “A Salute to the Tugboat Otis Wack“, manuscript by Garnet McDade, 1994.
- Built at Parrsboro N.S. by W.R. Huntly & Sons. Launched 9th, April 1921. Built as an ocean going tow boat for the Gypsum Packet Company of Windsor N.S. to tow barges to Staten Island, New York. Her port of registry was Windsor, N.S. The hull was towed by the tug J.A. Mumford to Yarmouth, N.S., docked at the wharf of the new Burrell-Johnson Iron Company to have her engine, boiler, and other related machinery installed. The first towing job for the new boat, the barge Hamburg had arrived from New York on October 15th, 1921. Docked at Wentworth, on the 17th, the Otis Wack towed the Hamburg to Spencer’s Island to await a tow by the Gypsum King to New York. The Wack left Spencer’s Island April 14th, 1922, for New York with barge Charles W. Baird in tow on her first voyage as an ocean going tow boat. Source: “Gypsum Royal Fleet”, St. Clair H. Patterson, 2010.
- Work on the tugboat Otis Wack was under way at the new Burrell Johnson Iron Company, Yarmouth where Albert Muise was employed as a helper to four boilermakers, George MacDonald, Andrew Norman, John Thibodeau and Fred Maynard. Albert was working on the inside of the large boiler recently put aboard the tug. A paraffin vapour torch on the end of a hose which led from the tank for heating the plates was being used. Albert was in the lower part of the boiler and under one of the furnaces that had been installed. The other four men were above the furnace. Suddenly the torch was blown from the hose and the interior of the boiler was filled with flames. The four above the furnace managed to escape. Albert received the full force of the explosion and the fire and burning oil descended upon him. Despite his condition, he managed to climb to a manhole and his burning body was pulled from the burning boiler. The fire was extinguished and he was administered first aid until an ambulance arrived and he was taken to hospital. His injuries were severe, the left side of his forehead, face, his shoulders and arm, together with both his legs and feet were so badly burned that survival was impossible. He survived for thirty-six hours, dying on Monday, May 16, 1921. His funeral was held at St Ambrose Roman Catholic Church at 7:00 am, Thursday, May, with Rev. Hamilton officiating at the largely attended service. He is buried in Our Lady Of Calvary Roman Catholic Cemetery, Yarmouth, NS. Source: Wartime Heritage Association
- The company’s ships were piloted in and out of Hantsport by the Otis Wack, a wooden-hulled tug boat named after another U.S. Gypsum employee. Wack graduated from Lafayette College, Easton, Pa., in 1906. Of medium stature by today’s standards, this young civil engineer had been an outstanding baseball and football player during college. Upon graduation, he worked as a “sandhog” under the East River of New York City and as a field surveyor during the construction of Grand Central Station. In 1913, he went to Nova Scotia to manage one of the gypsum quarries owned by J.B. King. A couple of years later, he was named manager of the Gypsum Packet Company, Ltd., which ran the barges and tugs between Nova Scotia and New York. When U.S. Gypsum took over the Nova Scotia properties, Wack continued as works manager of the Windsor operation. Although it had been 20 years since he had starred at Lafayette, he kept himself in shape by wrestling the local dynamite salesman, who, it seems, had to endure a best-of-three-falls match to win the company’s order. Wack later served as vice president of engineering from 1946 until his death in 1950. The steel-hulled Otis Wack II was named for him in 1950. Source:
“United States Gypsum : a company history, 1902-1994” by Thomas W Foley; David Middleton Publisher: Chicago, Ill. : USG Corp., ©1995.
- Finding willing firms proved difficult, for Britain paid a lower rate than did some other countries despite the considerable risks involved in sailing to its shores. Not surprisingly, as an official with the Ministry of Shipping observed in March 1940, “Operators of neutral ships not only fail to show an interest in our priority cargo, but are inclined more than ever to avoid our ports.” Even more vexing than neutral ships were foreign-owned ships registered in British ports. One such case was the SS Gypsum Queen, owned by the Chicago businessman Otis Wack. When the Ministry of Shipping ordered him to carry a load of steel to the United Kingdom in 1940, he “rebelled violently.” Wack’s obstinacy led one British official in New York to denounce him as “a very tough customer indeed. . . . Mr. Wack, although he has enjoyed for many years the privileges that go with the British flag on his steamers, adopted a purely Chicago attitude that somebody else’s war had no right to interfere with his business.” Wack eventually gave in to this pressure; on 11 September 1941, a German submarine, U-82, sank the Gypsum Queen off Greenland while it was en route to Liverpool with 5,500 tons of sulphur. Ten crew members lost their lives. Source: “Waste into weapons: recycling in Britain during the Second World War”, by Peter Thorsheim, 2016.
- Built in 1950 at Davie Shipbuilding & Repair Co Ltd in Lauzon, QC, to a design by Robert W. Morrell of New York, the tug was built especially for service at Hantsport, NS. When not working it tied up at a little pier next to the government wharf and dried out at low tide each day. Its hull was designed to take this constant stress, and to deal with a bit of ice from time to time too. Most unusual for a Canadian tug of the era (they were invariably powered by Fairbanks-Morse) it was powered by a V-12 GM- the American standard. It developed 1200 bhp, on a single screw, which was enough for the small bulk carriers that loaded gypsum and the other small freighters that docked at Hantsport, Windsor, and other nearby ports. Source: Tugfax
- The tug was based in Hantsport for many years, until 1995 when she was sold to McKeil Marine Limited of Hamilton, ON. In 1997, she was renamed Wyatt McKeil. The tug was busy for McKeil until retiring in the mid-2000s. She was then acquired by Heddle Marine Services, who kept the tug in lay-up. In 2012, she was scrapped in Hamilton at Heddle’s yard. Source: Great Lakes Tugs & Workboats