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Issue 9 - Arollercoasterrideofalife

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 9
July 2003

 

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Arollercoasterrideofalife

HORATIOHAMILTONROSSWASN'TYOURNORMALSORTOFHERO,BUTHEESTABLISHEDAMASSIVELYSUCCESSFULBUSINESS,LEFTATRAILOFMARITIMEDISASTER,ANDWASLOVEDBYHISFRIENDS.ANTHONYDALTONREPORTS

HearrivedinMedicineHat,Alberta,quietlyenoughaboardhisprairielaunch,asmallvesselthathadcarriedHoratioRossfromCalgaryontheBowRiver–adistanceofsome200miles.HehadplannedtocontinueacrossthevastprairiesontheSouthSaskatchewanRivertoWinnipeg,buthelikedthelookofdustyMedicineHat.Ross’splannedone-nightstopturnedintoalongpartyandthebeginningsofanimpressivebusiness.ItalsobegananeraofnauticalmayhemfortheyoungScot.

HoratioHamiltonRosswasbornagentlemanin1869.Hisparents,SirCharlesandLadyRoss,ofRossieCastle,hadnoinklingthatthechubbyinfantwouldmakesuchaspectacularmarkinadistantland.

RossranawaytoseaasaboyandexperiencedtheterriblestormsoftheSouthernOceanroundingCapeHornonasquare-rigger.InboomingSanFrancisco,hewitnessedtheresultsofthefrenzyoftheCaliforniagoldrush:imageswhichstayedwithhim.

Therestlessyoungman,however,couldnotyetbeheldbyanyonetown.HetrekkednorthintotheCanadianRockieswithawagon.Thewide-openspacesapparentlyagreedwithRoss–bythetimehewas25he’dbeenacowboy,lookingaftercattleonhugeranges,andhe’dshownhishorsemanshipplayingpoloinCalgary.

HehadadoptedCanadaashisnewhome.MedicineHat,away-stationfortheKlondikegoldrushof1898,broughtouttheentrepreneurinhim.Asgold-seekersarrivedintown,purchasedsupplies,andcontinuednorth,Rossinvested$30,000inahotelinthecentreofMedicineHat.

Hisgrandopeningpartylastedafulltwoweeks,andafterwardsthehotelwasusuallyfilledwithpayingguests.

Withasuccessfullodgingtomaintainhislifestyle,arestlessRossturnedhisthoughtsbacktotheriver.In1903helaunchedasternwheelpaddle-steamer,theAssiniboia.At70feetoverall,herrolewastobethatofafreightcarrierontheSouthSaskatchewanRiver.

Withlittlecargoavailable,however,shebecameapartyboat–takingCaptainRossandfriendsonleisurelyrivercruises.

Twoyearslater,apartysetofftofollowtheriverandlakestoWinnipeg–avoyageofwellover1,000miles.

TheexpeditionwanderedasfarasCedarLake,whereshallowwaterstrappedthevesselonsandbarsaswinterapproached.

LeavingacoupleofCreeIndianstoguardhisship,Rosstookhispassengerstotheclosestrailwaystationbydogsled.

HethentookofftospendwinterinEgypt.Whilehewasgone,driftingicewreckedhisshipandmuchofitwassweptaway.WhenRossreturned,hefoundthetwoCreestillguardingwhatwasleftoftheAssiniboia.

Undaunted,RosswentbacktoMedicineHatandbeganworkonanewship.

SupervisedbyaScottishboat-builder,asixmancrewcreateda130-footstern-wheelpaddlesteameroverthewinterof1906/07.

ChristenedtheCityofMedicineHat,thesternwheelerwaslaunchedamidgreatfanfare.Herrolewastobethatoffreighter,takingdrillingequipmentandsupplies30milesdownrivertoBowIsland.

Onweekendsshebecamemoreofapartyboat,takingcity-dwellersonriverexcursions,captainedbyRosshimself.

Thoseweekendtripsinthesummerof1907,with100passengersaboard,enlivenedbyanorchestra,alcoholandfinecigars,wereRoss’sfavouriteoutings.

InJune1908,RossandcrewsetoutwithacargoofflourandotherfreightboundforWinnipeg.ButaSaturdaynightinSaskatoonendedwhatshouldhavebeenasuccessfulcommercialvoyage.Sufferingfollowinganightofexcessinriver-frontbarsandbrothels,Rossandcrewfoundthemselvesfacedwitharapidlyrisingriverandaviciouscurrent.Saskatoonboastedafinearrayofbridges,mostofwhich,inviewoftheflooding,weretoolowforthehugesternwheelertoslideunder.

Theshipslammedintothe19thStreetbridgeandbeganaterminalrollwhilethecrewfoughttoclimbtoherdriestparts.Thecrippledwreck’smomentumcausedhertoclimbthebridgeuntilshecametorestatanacuteangle.

Anewspaperdescribeditas“thegreatestmarinedisasterinthehistoryofSaskatoon.”

Unperturbedbythelossofhisflagship,RosspurchasedatugonOntario’sGeorgianBay.Twoyearslater,heboughtanotherfromthesameshipyard.WhenfullcargoloadsforbothvesselsbegantointerferewithRoss’sriverparties,heissaidtohavecomplained:

“O’hell,I’lljusthavetogoandbuyanotherboat.”

Hedidjustthat,andnamedherO’Hell.

Withinacoupleofyears,Rosshadboughttwomoreboats.Theycarriedfreightandtowedothershipsandbarges,towedlogbooms–anythingtomakemoneyforthecompany.Andtherewerestillparties.

TheadventoftheGreatWarsawRossworkingfortheBritishGovernmentinChina,wherehehadbeensenttodeterminethepossibilityofsendingafleetofsternwheelersuptheYangtzeRiver.

ButhemissedCanadaandhurriedbackwellbeforewarended.By1917,RossNavigationcouldclaimtobethemajortransportationforceontheLowerSaskatchewanRiver.

Rosshadanewshiptoo,the90-footsternwheelerNipawan–adouble-decker.Shewasaluxurysteamboat,oneexpertsaid.

Competitionwasclosingin,however.Newsyndicatesviedforspaceontherivers.NewentrepreneurstriedtoemulatetheflamboyantScot’sstyle.

Nonewastrulyassuccessful.Nonecarriedhisindomitableenthusiasm,hissenseofhumour,oroccasion.

Onewinter’sevening,the56-year-oldHoratioHamiltonRoss,whosaidhewasafraidofguns,satcleaningarifleinhisoffice.

Somehowtherifledischarged,andheshothimselfinthestomach.Hediedsoonafter.

HisfriendsandhisacquaintanceshadthisinscribedinChristChurchatThePas:

TothememoryofCaptainHoratioHamiltonRossofRossieCastle,Scotland.DiedinThePasFebruary11th,1925.Atributefromhisfriends.