Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Bertram Engine Works: 1892-1905

The Bertram Brothers: George and John
Bertram & Co. was run by two brothers, George and John. Their motto, as declared in a Globe article about an exhibition of machinery at the world's Fair, was "Never follow, but always lead", in making high-class tools.

On September 15, 1892, Bertram & Co. acquired "the entire property and good-will" of the John Doty Engine Co., pledging in the Globe that day to "carry on the business under the firm name of Doty Engine Works Co."

Announcement in The Globe Sept 15, 1892
The financially distressed Doty had sold the works at Front and Bathurst, as well as the shipyard south of Portland -- the Bertrams were major creditors -- and he moved to Goderich; two of his sons would stay on for a while to manage affairs, but by October the next year, they were no longer in the Bertram's employ, having left to join their 'retired' father.
"No effort will be spared to give the utmost satisfaction to all who will entrust the new firm with contracts"
1902 Plan of Toronto by Villiers Sankey, showing the Bertram Engine and Boiler Works as well as the Bertram Shipyard to the south.

George Bertram
George Hope Bertram was one of eleven children. Born in 1847 in Fenton Barns, Scotland, he was apprenticed in the iron and hardware trade. At age 18 he emigrated to Upper Canada, and after a stint in Lindsay running a hardware store with his brother John, he moved to Toronto in 1881, setting up Bertram and Company to retail hardware.

George Hope Bertram, named
after George Hope, noted
Scottish agriculturalist

Announcement in the Globe Nov.1, 1893
As the years passed, the Bertram company expanded in scope, and George Bertram eventually decided to take over the Doty Works in 1892. The Bertram Co. manufactured engines, boilers, steel boats, hulls, and other types of machinery.

During the 1890s John was focused on running the Collins Inlet Lumber Company, and George primarily ran the Bertram Co. and the Engine Works.

Early shareholders of the Engine Works included William Mellis Christie [the namesake of Christie cookies, Christie Street, and Christie Pits), and Sir Edmund Boyd Osler (MP, West Toronto 1896-1917 -- and also one of the original directors of the Toronto Ferry Company, which bought the Doty Ferry assets).

Arendt Angstrom, formerly Chief Engineer of the Cleveland Ship Building Co., was named Manager of the Bertram Engine Works. Angstrom was a laudably capable marine architect, influenced by Frank E. Kirby.

With the expansion of Toronto as a major port, boom times in shipbuilding were occurring. The Bertram Co. was ideally poised to take advantage of it. In total, 46 ships were built under the Bertram Engineering Works name between 1895 and 1906.

The Hiawatha -- built at the Bertram Engine Works, the Hiawatha is still operated by the RCYC. Observe the dress code! Shirts with collars; no jeans or cut-offs.
(photo circa 1968)
Two of the early ships included the Hiawatha, the 'oldest operating passenger vessel on the Great Lakes', for the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, and the much larger Corona, whose launch was attended by hundreds of onlookers.

From the Evening Star, Nov 24, 1897. A sketch of the Corona,
along with a list of ships built to that date at the Bertram Shipyards
-- and their values. 

The Bertram Engine Works were highly prolific; parts built there became widespread, and even made their way out as far as BC, as seen in this footage of the SS Moyie (see below). Steel hulls and machinery that had been pre-fabricated in Toronto by the Bertram Engine Works were sent to the West Kootenay by rail.

A team of riveters assembled the SS Moyie and the carpenters, painters, metalworkers and boilermakers at the Nelson CPR Shipyard completed the task; the ship was launched Oct 22, 1898.

A succession of massive steamer ships, designed by Angstrom, were built for the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Co. by the Bertrams. These ships made the company famous, as they were the largest steamer ships of their kind at the time. The first of the R&O boats was the beautiful passenger steamer Toronto, in 1898:

Invitation to the launch of the Toronto
(other side of Invite to the Toronto launch)

The launch of the Toronto on June 21, 1898. The Bertram Shipyard lies in the background

The 269-foot steamer Toronto, built by the Bertram Works and designed by
Arendt Angstrom. The vessel contract was valued at a quarter of a million dollars.

George Bertram was quite active in public life. A member of the Toronto Board of Trade from 1884 until his death, he was known for supporting municipal reform, and advocating municipal ownership of the street lighting system (this was self-interest -- his Engine Works stood an excellent chance of winning the boiler and generator contract. Bertram claimed that he could light the city for $60 per lamp annually. In 1894 this advocacy would embroil him in a municipal scandal involving alleged city council blackmail and influence-peddling -- he was the one being extorted).

In 1895 Bertram would champion the provision of Sunday streetcars -- much of city council was vehemently opposed, as Toronto had strong sabbatarian roots. Bertram argued it was "a question largely between the company and the employees." [This vigorous debate, and Bertram's role in it, is deftly chronicled in The Revenge of the Methodist Bicycle Company: Sunday Streetcars and Municipal Reform in Toronto, 1888 - 1897 by Christopher Armstrong and H.V. Nelles]

Bertram was also active in the Unitarian Church, and in the St. Andrew's Society.

Laurier's public correspondence
with George Bertram staked out key
 positions on free trade and tariffs. 
Bertram's sphere of influence would grow even larger on the national level. In a well-publicized exchange of correspondence with Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, Bertram discussed government economic policy and the awarding of contracts. Laurier used his open reply to stake out positions on free trade, and a federal tariff.

George H. Bertram was then elected to federal parliament for Toronto Centre in 1897 as a Liberal, with the result that other manufacturers now saw him as a powerful channel, by which to have their concerns heard at the highest political levels.
"The winner in Centre Toronto; the business representative of business interests; the man whose presence in Sir Wilfrid Laurier's following helped so strongly to swing the manufacturers into line for Liberalism at the time of the general elections; Mr. Bertram cannot fail to be the centre of much curious interest in the halls of Parliament."
Toronto Evening Star Feb 2, 1898

In 1899 Bertram attempted to get federal support for a Canadian inland fleet to transport grain and ore, as the trade was dominated by American vessels. Naturally, the Bertram Works were one of a few companies capable of supplying the requisite ships! Unfortunately, the scheme fell through.

From The Daily Star, March 21, 1900

Suffering from cancer the last three years of his life, Bertram passed away in March 1900. George Hope Bertram is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

GH Bertram's grave marker in Mount Pleasant Cemetary

John Bertram
George Bertram's death in 1900 compelled his older brother, John Bertram, to run the Bertram Engine Works and Shipyard.

John Bertram
John Bertram was born in 1837, and emigrated to Canada before George, in 1860, taking root in Peterborough as a hardware dealer. From 1872 to 1878 he was a Liberal MP in the House of Commons for Peterborough West.

John was an authority in all matters concerning natural resources and lumber. As president of the Collins Inlet Lumber Company, he controlled holdings on the north shore of Georgian Bay, Manitoulin Island, Algoma, and the Parry Sound district. Bertram was a strong advocate of prudent harvesting and forest management. He later became the chairman of the Dominion Commission on Transportation, and a member of the Ontario Forestry Commission.

Bertram believed Canada's natural resources could be used as the basis for national advancement. His concern was that the resources be manufactured in Canada prior to their export (the 'manufacturing clause' was a key item in Ontario's economic policy for years as a result).

From The Globe, June 1904. The Bertram businesses were inevitably linked; the Collins Inlet company shared the offices at the Engine Works at Front and Bathurst

1903 Goads Fire Insurance Map showing the Bertram Engine Works
In 1881, John Bertram moved to Toronto and was president of Bertram Engine and Shipbuilding Company, though his attention was mostly devoted to the Collins Inlet business -- until George passed away. John was an adept businessman, even more skilled than his younger brother.

From the Daily Star, April 18, 1903

The Bertram Engine Works and Shipyard thrived under John. The contracts from Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Co. -- which had come to be the major operator of passenger vessels in the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River areas -- continued to roll in, for ever larger vessels, including the Kingston, and the Montreal.

The Kingston leaving Toronto on her last trip on Sept 17, 1949.
Photo by JH Bascom. Allegedly, Thousand Island salad dressing
was invented in the Kingston's galley! 
The Kingston was intended as a running mate to the Toronto. 288 feet in length, 36.2 in the beam, 13.3 feet in depth, she was "powered by a direct-acting, inclined, triple-expansion engine with cylinders of 28, 44 and 74 inches and a stroke of 72 inches. Steam was supplied by four coal-fired Scotch marine boilers measuring 11 by 11.5 feet, the boilers and engine having been built for the ship by Bertram's."

The Ottawa was again 'the largest steamer ever built on Lake Ontario', this time for the Canada Atlantic Transit Co. From the May 23, 1900 Daily Star

Other major orders for the Bertram Works included the Tadousac for J. Waldie & Co, and the Tadenac, for the St. Lawrence & Chicago Steam Navigation Company.
John Bertram's confidence was very high

The launch of the Montreal in 1902 was the pinnacle of the Bertram Works' shipbuilding glory. The vessel was deemed a "floating palace", and was a monster, with a gross tonnage of 4,282 tons, a length of 340 feet and a width of 43 feet. The engine, no doubt the most powerful ever constructed at the Works, was estimated at 3,000 horsepower.

She featured 260 staterooms, including 20 parlour rooms. The interior was luxurious and opulent. The decorations were declared "of unusual beauty," done in the Louis XV style.

Postcard of the Montreal
Montreal saloon interior
Montreal interior - companionway

The launch of the huge ship was observed with fanfare by thousands of cheering onlookers, and was extensively covered in the Star and Globe. The Montreal was christened with a bottle of champagne by Mrs. HM Pellatt, the wife of Lt.-Col. Pellatt. (Henry Pellatt was a Richelieu director, and is commonly known for building Casa Loma).

Coverage of the Montreal's launch in: the Globe and the Star.

"A Public Calamity"
The death of John Bertram was front page news in the Globe on Nov 29, 1904. The paper proclaimed "Death Removes a Great Canadian", and described him as "one of the leading lumbermen of Canada, a man identified with various industries, and one whose services to the public leave behind a debt of gratitude."

The Globe's coverage of John Bertram's death (p1)
The Globe's coverage of John Bertram's death (p2)

The Globe also devoted its full editorial that day to the subject of Bertram:
The Globe editorial on John Bertram's contributions: "A public calamity"
The Star was rather more grudging, conceding only that "The Province suffers a severe loss".
Bertram had been ill for about six months, and he passed away in his house on Walmer.

The Bertrams were a tough act to follow. Even with the shipyard busy, the Bertram Co. was still challenged to find enough orders for engine-building; it was these orders that kept men at the Works employed between contracts.

The Victorian Age had passed along with its great Queen. The 20th Century ushered in a new set of owners for the building on the corner of Front and Bathurst....

Read the next section:

You're reading: Farewell to Rock Oasis, the secret history of my home climbing gym.   

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Secret Bonus materials:
An arch erected in 1901 by the Bertram Engine Works on Queens Park Crescent n. of College, to celebrate the visit of King George V. Now that's a serious arch! Printed Inscription on VSO of mount: The Bertram Engine Works Co. Photo via Toronto Public Library, Slide MTL 1268, Public Domain  
A look at the interior design of the Toronto and Montreal ships (via Construction magazine)
Coverage of the Toronto's launch in the Globe
Coverage of the Corona's launch in the Evening Star
George Bertram's 'Challenge to Mr. Howland' in the Evening Star
The Star's obituary for John Bertram