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The Coal Dock

Photo: Narrows at Bridge Looking westward from its narrowest point, you see the Little Current passage. The town docks are along the southern side, and the "coal dock" on the north. This point is the closest approach to the island and is the site of the swing bridge.

Photo: Bridge Crane The "coal dock" is so named because at one time, freighters delivered coal there, intended for use in the smelters at INCO's mines and processing plants in Sudbury, about 100 miles to the northeast, or for the railroad. The channel was dredged (or blasted) to provide 22 feet of depth. This permitted rather large commercial ships to load and unload.

Ironically, in c.1973, shortly after the dredging was completed, INCO stopped using the coal dock. More frequently these days, it is used by transient yachts who can't approach the town dock due to lack of space, excessive draft like the Mega-Yacht Astral, or insufficient funds!

Lawson Browne described a visit there in a recent edition (Volume XLIV, Number 2) of the Telescope, published by the Great Lakes Maritime Institute. This excerpt reveals both the beauty of Huron's northern shore and the irony of the name "Little Current."

That same year (1944), the Kopmeier made a few trips to Georgian Bay. There were many Great Lakes sailors who had never been into Georgian Bay. What a beautiful place. Seemingly desolate and pristine.

Loading coal at a new (at that time) dock in South Chicago at the foot of 100th Street. The Kopmeier would travel up to the Wisconsin slip to turn around and return to the dock to load port side to. The trip up the lakes was an ordinary journey, but once entering Georgian Bay, most of the crew had a new experience. Capt. John Montgomery, who was the Fleet Captain, was aboard on the first trip, apparently to see the operation. He was enjoying the trip, what with telling sea stories, and visiting Capt. Ray Laughlin, his long time friend.

The cargo was destined for a railroad fueling station and was put on the dock at Little Current, and transferred from there. Little Current was a mild name for a place where the current can be so strong and change so quickly.

There was no radio communication with the coal dock. There was a large bridge crane used to unload straight-decked ships. When the current changed and started running west to east, the prearranged signal was to place a large white board in the window of the crane. This could be easily seen from the anchorage area where ships waited.

The common procedure was to go in against the current, unload, and if and when the current was still, or again, running from west to east, leave and go out the North Channel.

Once while departing, the Kopmeier's stern was springing out when the current suddenly changed. There was plenty of room, so the current turned her and she went out the way she came in. Yes, Little Current trips were very interesting.


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This article first appeared in 1996.
Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 by James W. Hebert. All rights reserved.
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Author: James W. Hebert