SS Monarch


Package/Passenger Freighter
John Dyble
John Dyble
240 feet
2,017 tons
Triple Expansion Steam Engine
Beatty Line
Northern Navigation Company, Ltd.
Teddy Robertson
Flour, Wheat, Oats, Passengers
Northern Navigation Company, Ltd.
Northern Navigation Company, Ltd.
Canadian 96843
Palisades area on the north side of Blake Point
Minimum 10 feet; maximum 80 feet


ONARCH was built in 1890 by John Dyble, formerly of Parry and Dyble. The combined firm had, in 1882-83, built UNITED EMPIRE, MONARCH'S running mate. The new ship was built for the Northwest Transportation Company of Sarnia, Ontario on the southern tip of Lake Huron and launched June 27, 1890 (Chicago Inter Ocean June 27, 1890). The company, owned by the two Beatty brothers, was known as the "Beatty Line." James H. and John Beatty had built the Northwest Transportation Co. from a partnership they formed in 1865, which became the Lake Superior Line in 1870.

The demand for their transportation services on the upper Lakes grew, and the two brothers incorporated their enterprise in 1882 to form the Northwest Transportation Co. This firm continued to grow into the largest company transporting package freight and passengers under the Canadian flag on the upper Lakes. It was locally called the "Blackline."

In early 1899, the Beattys merged with the Great Northern Transit Company of Collingwood. The latter company, known as the White Line, operated steamers on Georgian Bay and the North Channel. This merger formed the Northern Navigation Company and evolved into the Northern Navigation Co. Ltd., which dominated upper Lakes transportation of freight and passengers for many years. This company was, in 1915, to become a part of the Canada Steamship Lines Limited, which still carries the original Beatty Line funnel design, red with a white band and black top, maintained throughout the series of mergers.

MONARCH was built in Sarnia, Ontario on the St. Clair River for a cost between $150,000 and $200,000 (Chicago Inter Ocean June 27, 1890; Duluth Evening Herald June 28, 1890). The vessel was built for extended season service on Lake Superior and was strongly reinforced with iron. The hull was of white oak. The vessel was 259.0 feet long overall with a beam of 34.8 feet and 14.8 feet depth, with a waterline length of 245 feet. The registered tonnage was 2,017 gross tons and 1,372 net. The hull was originally painted white to the main deck rail; the cabins were also white.

One of the best descriptions of MONARCH appeared in the Duluth Evening Herald (Oct. 22, 1890):

A Beautiful Ship: The magnificent New Monarch of the Beatty Line. Far the Finest Running to Duluth, Destined to be the Popular Passenger Ship of the Upper Lakes ....

On her first trip, which was enjoyed by about thirty passengers, she made an average speed of thirteen miles and hour. She was built, however for a speed of fourteen miles an hour and that rate can easily be attained .... This will make her the fastest passenger boat running into Duluth harbor.

The smoking room and washroom for the gentleman as well as the offices for the captain and purser are on the main deck.

The cabin is finished in white and gold, and will be lighted by electricity. There are sixty-two staterooms and a bathroom. Doors between each alternate stateroom can be thrown open .... Each stateroom has a double lower and single upper berth for nearly 200 passengers.

In the center of the cabin is the pantry and steam tables, the kitchen being on the main deck below. Forward of the pantry is the dining room, there being twelve tables with room for ten people at each. The ice box is a model one and is large enough to hold several tons .... There are five separate holds, the hoisting machinery being operated by pony engines...

The stack of the Monarch is a trifle smaller than that of the Empire, and is a little further astern. The low steel sustaining arch visible amidships on the upper deck of the Empire is in the Monarch clear out of the way below decks thus entirely obliterating one objectionable feature.

The engine of MONARCH was a three cylinder, triple-expansion, inverted, vertical steam engine. The engine required 160 pounds of steam from the two Scotch marine boilers. These boilers were 11 feet 4 inches long and 16 feet in diameter, and were built by the Lake Erie Boiler Works of Buffalo, New York and installed there in July, 1890 (Chicago Inter Ocean June 27, 1890).

MONARCH was appointed with luxury fittings and was unsurpassed for elegance of furnishings until the company built the 321-foot steel steamer HURONIC in 1902. MONARCH'S cabins were finished in white enamel trimmed with gold moldings and carefully crafted.

SS Monarch: Patrie Collection, ISRO Archives.

On the first trip the boat was loaded to capacity, and the working of the new vessel in a heavy sea wedged the stateroom doors shut. When the vessel returned to Sarnia, this was corrected (London, Ontario, Free Press Dec. 1, 1956). The original appearance of MONARCH was completely white; later, its hull was painted black. The pilot house was later raised, and the Texas deck lengthened some 30 feet. Examinations of photographs taken before and after the alteration reveal that there were also port holes installed in the aft crew quarters.

Operational History

The normal route for MONARCH and running mate UNITED EMPIRE was from Sarnia, Ontario on Lake Huron, through Sault Ste. Marie to Fort William in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and to Duluth, Minnesota. Passengers and package freight were carried both ways. The ship had a relatively uneventful career, except for these few known incidents.

In the first incident, the vessel ran its bow aground at the river's mouth at Port Arthur in August 1892. MONARCH was released after its cargo was lightered (Detroit Free Press Aug. 8, 1892).

A second incident, which took place on Thanksgiving Day 1896, was considerably more exciting. MONARCH was downbound from Port Arthur to Duluth with cargo and passengers aboard; there was some speculation in Duluth as to whether Capt. Robertson would leave Port Arthur because there was a storm approaching. The storm became a gale and continued to build in force until it became one of the worst in the recent memory of those reporting the event.

Capt. Robertson and crew left Port Arthur at 1:30 a.m. expecting a wind shift from easterly to westerly. Instead of a shift came sleet, snow, and gale force winds that whipped waves up to a height level with the ship's rail. Several times the sea came over the stern of the vessel, which sometimes occurs when Lakes ships run before a gale. The full force of the gale struck when MONARCH was about 70 miles out of Port Arthur. The weather was too fierce to turn back.

MONARCH after alterations that included the addition of cabins aft of the pilot house. The vessel had this configuration when lost. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Canal Park Marine Museum Collection.

By 4:00 p.m. it was already getting dark as the ship passed Two Harbors. The captain had trouble picking up the range lights to align the vessel with the Duluth Ship Canal, and came close enough to the south shore to hear the breakers. When the ship was not more than 1,000 feet from the piers, the wheel was put hard to port. MONARCH responded to the helm splendidly for a vessel laboring in such a heavy sea. The captain finally made out the ranges and struck for the entrance under a full head of steam. A large wave threw MONARCH against the south pier, damaging the hull slightly. The heavy current threw the ship toward the north pier, but because Capt. Robertson had ordered full steam, the ship avoided a serious collision and sped safely through the narrow waterway. The spectators who had gone to the piers to see the huge breakers were witness to an additional performance of masterful seamanship that Thanksgiving night (Duluth Tribune Nov. 27, 1896; Duluth Evening Herald, Nov. 27, 1896).

MONARCH was involved in minor collision with the steamer MAHONING October 4, 1898. MONARCH was lying at the outer end of the St. Paul and Duluth slip, and MAHONING was entering the channel. Apparently, there was a problem with MAHONING'S steering, and it collided with MONARCH, causing some damage to its stern hull planks (Duluth Evening Herald Oct. 4, 1898).

Wreck Event

Bow of MONARCH on the rocks at Isle Royale after the wreck. This photo may have been taken the following spring. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Canal Park Marine Museum Collection.

The final voyage of MONARCH would have been its last trip of the 1906 season. It was not unusual for a Great Lakes vessel of this period to be lost on the last trip of the season. November and December are busy months on the Lakes as vessel operators attempt to make as many trips as possible before the close of the season. Freight rates are at the highest of the year, and pressure is great to make one more passage.

According to the Marine Protest, MONARCH had run into heavy weather on the upbound trip from Sarnia. The vessel suffered some water damage to the cargo in the Number 3 and Number 4 holds (Marine Protest: MONARCH 12-11-06, Canadian Archives).

On Thursday, December 6, 1906, MONARCH was loaded at Port Arthur with a cargo listed as "grain and general merchandise" (Marine Protest, re: MONARCH). The Toronto Daily Star Dec. 10, 1906 and the Toronto World Dec. 11, 1906, both list the cargo as "35,000 bushels [which would be about 1,050 tons weight] No. 1 Northern wheat; one car oats for Thessalon; one car oats for Gore Bay, four cars for the Soo; one car of flour for George Gardner, Sarnia; one car of salmon for Montreal; one car of salmon for London; 200 tons of flour for the GTR, Sarnia." (A car of grain was equal to 350 bushels.) Unfortunately, little mention has been made of any additional "general merchandise." The ship was downbound through the Soo Locks to Sarnia.

At 5:25 in the afternoon, with loading completed, MONARCH departed its berth and started out into Thunder Bay, arriving at Thunder Cape at 6:48 p.m. Here the course was changed to a heading toward Passage Light, off the northeast tip of Isle Royale. The Marine Protest (December 11, 1906) states the wind was from the northwest, with snow, fog, and a heavy sea running; the temperature was below zero degrees Fahrenheit. The normal running time for MONARCH from Thunder Cape to Passage Light would have been 2 hours and 20 minutes. Near the end of the normal running time the second mate went aft to check the log, only to find it frozen and registering 10 of the 26 miles between the Cape and Passage Light. Passage Light had been glimpsed twice during the voyage. At the normal time, the captain set the course for Whitefish Point (recorded in the Protest as southeast by east 1/4 east, or about 120 degrees). Six minutes later the captain adjusted the course "to allow for leeway," to east by 3/4 south, or about 110 degrees. The wind was blowing fresh from the North-Northwest. The time must have been about 8:54 p.m. About 9:30, MONARCH ran into the solid rock wall known as the The Palisades, about 900 yards west of Blake Point, the northeastern tip of Isle Royale.

The wreck of MONARCH, a loss of $100,000 for the vessel and $60,000 for the cargo, was the largest single loss of the 1906 season (Henry and Conger 1907:5-6). The single largest cargo loss from the MONARCH disaster was probably sustained by Parish and Lindsay of Winnipeg, who had 35,000 bushels of wheat on board (Duluth News Tribune Dec. 11, 1906).

Bow of the SS Monarch, Palisades, 1907: Historic Photograph Collection, ISRO Archives.

MONARCH hit the rock face of Isle Royale Thursday, December 6, a little after 9:00 p.m., on the coldest day of the year; a heavy snow had been falling, driven by gale force winds. Visibility had been reduced to less than 50 feet, a distance little further than the bow from the bridge. Captain Robertson had gone outside and "with his face to the full brunt of the storm [he] endeavored to regain his course" when the "vessel veered to the right and there was a scraping, grinding sound, and then a crash; the MONARCH had struck" (Fort William Daily Times Journal Dec. 11, 1906).

Capt. Robertson reported (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 11, 1906) that he caught a glimpse of Passage Light twice before the ship struck, but could not hear the fog whistle. He also said to the newspaper reporters he assumed his compass must have been at fault. The ship had been proceeding at the "usual speed" when it struck, and immediately the order for full speed astern was signalled to the engine room. The engineer (Samuel Beatty) realizing the ship was on the rocks, disobeyed the order and kept the engines in gear and moving forward to hold the damaged ship on the rocks. A great hole was torn in the bow (Port Arthur Daily New Dec. 11, 1906).

Plight of the Survivors

Shipwrecks often prompt acts of courage; indeed, many people have survived only through heroic acts, their own or those of others. The wreck of MONARCH produced a hero, James (Jack) D. McCallum.

McCallum, a deck hand and brother of the second mate, was working off his passage down the Lakes. It was he who, after the failure of the landing attempt, managed to get a line to shore. Accounts vary as to what actually took place. Some say he tied a rope around his waist and used a ladder to get ashore (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 11, 1906); or was swung pendulum-like until he managed to cling to the rocks and was passed a ladder (Fort William Daily Times Journal Dec. 11, 1906); others say that he gained a foothold on sacks of grain and mattresses thrown over the bow (Particulars of Service rendered in Saving Life, rendered by John D. McCallum to passengers and crew, S.S. MONARCH.) However McCallum did it, he managed to get up the bank to the shore apparently with the aid of a ladder and secured a line. One account said the rope broke and a tow line was thrown to him and he secured it to a tree (Fort Williams Daily Times Journal Dec. 11, 1906). Using this line, the passengers and crew were able to leave the ship and make their way up the rocks. There may have been a boat used to aid the crossing. One passenger (R.M. Lockhead) in his account stated he fell off the line and hit the gunwale of the boat that had been used to pass the life line to the shore (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 11, 1906).

When about half of the ship's company were safe on the rocks, MONARCH'S stern began to sink (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 11, 1906). This shift of the wreck apparently caused some confusion among those remaining on the vessel. In the confusion, the only fatality occurred. Joseph Jacques (reported elsewhere as James Jacques, e.g., Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 11, 1906) an 18-year old watchman aboard MONARCH, drowned (Fort William Daily Times Journal Dec. 18, 1906). Jacques, whose family lived in Point Edward, had been working at the Grand Trunk elevator all summer and had only quit two weeks before deciding to take his ill-fated trip on MONARCH. His mother, Mrs. A. Jacques, had begged him not to go, but young Jacques shipped as a watchman aboard the vessel on the upbound trip. His mother was in shock for some time after hearing the news of her son's death (Fort William Daily Times Journal Dec. 18, 1906).

There are some slight discrepancies regarding this single MONARCH fatality. In the Fort William Daily Times Journal (Dec. 18, 1906), it was reported Jacques was asleep in his bunk when the boat foundered and sank. Accounts that appeared immediately after the wreck state that in the confusion that occurred when the stem section broke off and sank, Jacques by mistake seized a fender rope rather than the shore line and fell into the Lake. His cry could be heard by those on deck, but no assistance could be rendered (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 11, 1906). Other accounts state that Jacques had been subject to temporary blindness (Fort William Daily Times Journal Dec. 11, 1906). No trace of Jacques was ever recovered. In this latter article, it is reported that Jacques was trying to lower himself into the row boat and had slid down what he thought was a fender rope, but was actually a short line that reached only half way down the vessel.

Soon after the impact the passengers and crew rushed up on deck, but the brief confusion was soon put in order (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 11, 1906). The electric lights went out leaving the ship in darkness. Quickly, a lifeboat was lowered and manned by by fireman Walter Houghton and three sailors: Edwin Brealin, Jacob Smith and Robert Berry. The boat was evidently lowered on the starboard side, the side closest to the rocks, but floating wreckage and the force of the waves prevented the men from rowing to the closest rock, a scant 25 feet away (Fort William Daily Times Journal Dec. 11, 1906).

The exhausted survivors huddled together in the bitter cold. The rocky shoreline was covered with ice. At least one passenger had fallen into the water during the crossing, and his clothes had become frozen solid. W.H. Lockhead was spared serious frostbite by a fire that was started with the few dry matches found among the other passengers (Duluth News Tribune Dec. 11, 1906; Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 11, 1906). Along with the fire, a crude windbreak was constructed of branches. The only blanket was given to the one woman aboard, the stewardess: Rachel McCormick. Before morning, a second fire was started on high ground to attract the attention of the lighthouse keeper on Passage Island, or of passing vessels (Fort William Daily Times Journal Dec. 11, 1906). Later, a tent was constructed of sails recovered from the wreck (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 11, 1906).

On Friday, food was obtained from the wreck. Either that morning (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 11, 1906), or in the evening (Fort William Daily Times Journal Dec. 11, 1906), a case of salmon was found on shore, or a bag of flour and a box of salmon washed ashore. A sailor was lowered by rope to retrieve them (Fort William Daily Times Journal Dec. 11, 1906). Sometime Friday the wreck was boarded, and a quantity of damaged bacon, bread and pie was secured and served. These meager supplies did not last long. The remainder of the time the survivors ate salmon and flour. The flour was made into flapjacks by Rachel McCormick and cooked in the ashes. The flapjacks "resembled a piece of frozen asphalt block" blackened, no doubt, by the ashes in which they were cooked. The survivors had divided into three camps on Friday. Each camp maintained a fire for warmth, and together they chopped wood for the beacon fires on the point (Port Arthur Daily News, Dec. 11, 1906).

The beacon fires were kept burning all day Saturday (December 8) in an effort to attract the attention of the Passage Island lighthouse keeper. Saturday passed without a response. Although the keeper had seen the light of the fire during the night, heavy seas prevented an attempt to reach the island. Sunday the waves subsided enough to allow Lightkeeper Shaw (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 10, 1906) to row the 4 miles distance to the wreck site. Waves were still heavy enough to prevent Shaw from landing the rowboat, but he was able to take off one person, purser Reginald Beaumont. Beaumont waded and swam out to the boat (Duluth News Tribune Dec. 11, 1906; Fort William Daily Times Journal Dec. 11, 1906). That evening Beaumont and Shaw signalled the steamer EDMONTON downbound with a load of grain. Beaumont was picked up and EDMONTON immediately headed back to Port Arthur after finding she could not get near the wreck (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 10, 1906).

EDMONTON arrived in Port Arthur Sunday about 2:00 a.m., bearing the news of the wrecking of MONARCH. Immediately, Agent Bell of the Northern Navigation Company began to organize the rescue of the survivors. By 6:00 a.m. the owners, crew and masters of the tugs JAMES WHALEN and LAURA GRACE had been roused and dispatched to the wreck site (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 10, 1906).

The rescue party aboard JAMES WHALEN and LAURA GRACE was led by Capt. Campbell of MONARCH'S running mate, SARONIC (earlier UNITED EMPIRE), which had just arrived in Port Arthur. Several of SARONIC's boats were taken on the rescue trip to aid in removing the survivors from Isle Royale. Doctors McCougall and E. McEwen were taken to provide medical aid to the survivors feared to be in bad shape after their ordeal. The relief party left at 6:00 a.m. on what was expected to be a 6 or 8 hour round trip (Port Arthur Daily News Dec. 10, 1906).

WHALEN and GRACE approached the wreck, but could not launch their boats for the pickup. The tugs signalled and went around to the south side of the point into Tobin Harbor. The survivors had to walk across the island, the second such trip of the day for the four-man party that had just returned. The survivors were taken aboard the rescue tugs, and their injuries attended.

Shipwreck Site Map

Large sections of wooden wreckage scattered on the bottom. Noted for heavy construction. Buoy on a sinker in 65 feet.

SS Monarch Site Map


SS Monarch Site Map, Submerged Cultural Resource Unit, J.L. Livingston, January 1987, ISRO Archives.


  1. Isle Royale Shipwrecks. December 15, 1965. Isle Royale National Park Archives, Resource Management Records: Branch Chief Era, CRM History (ACC#ISRO-00614, Box 117), Houghton, MI.

  2. Lenihan, Daniel. Submerged Cultural Resources Study. Santa Fe, N.M: Submerged Cultural Resources Unit, National Park Service, 1987. Print.