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FALLEN WORKERS: Sudden capsize claims young man’s life

Riley Friedlein, special to Postmedia News

A dredge, scow and tugboat work together to deepen the channel of the Welland Canal. (Brock University, Special Collections – Sykes Welland Canal Collection)

A dredge, scow and tugboat work together to deepen the channel of the Welland Canal. (Brock University, Special Collections – Sykes Welland Canal Collection)

As the tugboat was pulling the scow to its destination, everything was going smoothly, or so it seemed.

The scow was carrying rock removed during canal work north of Humberstone at Ramey’s Bend. Suddenly, without warning or any sign that something was wrong, the scow began to sink. A scream was heard coming from the deck of the vessel just before it “turned turtle” and went under.

It would be the last time that anybody ever heard from William Stanbury.

William John Stanbury was born to John Stanbury and Beatrice Mary Lovell. John and Beatrice Stanbury were both born and raised in England. It was while they were still living in England that they met and got married in 1901 at Exeter in Devonshire. That same year Beatrice gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Florence. Shortly after Florence was born, John set out for Exeter, Ont. He arrived in Quebec on Sept. 12, 1903, aboard the S.S. Pretorian. Beatrice and Florence followed in 1905 aboard the S.S. Lake Manitoba.

Soon after their reunion, another child was added to the family — William, born in Palmerston in 1906. He grew up in Palmerston, until he eventually left to find work. He came to Port Colborne where he accepted a position on a scow as part of dredging operations during construction of the Welland Ship Canal.

On the fateful April 1929 night when the scow capsized, Capt. Ralph Marigold and the crew of the tugboat Grant were doing their duty to ensure that everything was safe. They were heading for the dumping ground in Lake Erie off Second Point, about two miles east of Port Colborne. Stanbury was stationed on the scow to ensure that everything went smoothly on board. Omer Neff, an inspector on the tug, was quoted in the Welland Evening Tribune that, “. . . a minute before it happened I could see him [Stanbury] in the light of the lanterns on the scow’s prow.”

Without any warning Stanbury gave a scream that the scow was sinking. The crew of the Grant responded quickly, trying to get to Stanbury who was trapped on the scow. Suddenly, the rock-laden vessel gave a lurch and went down, quickly disappearing from sight. Two other tugs arrived soon after to begin search and rescue (or recovery) operations. These efforts continued until 2 a.m.

Despite the exertions of the crews, Stanbury was not found. It was believed at the time that he was trapped underneath the boat or some rocks. Preparations were made for one of the tugs to carry out dragging operations in the hope that enough material could be moved on the lake bottom so that the body would come to the surface. Despite their best efforts, the body remained missing.

Upon hearing that their son had gone missing, John and Beatrice Stanbury arrived with daughter Florence, hoping that someone would be able to update them on the situation. Sadly there was no good news awaiting them.

Four weeks after the incident, Stanbury’s body was finally recovered at Shisler Point near Sherkston, about 9.7 kilometres east of Port Colborne.

Dr. A.A. Thompson immediately began an inquest into the drowning. There was no new evidence about the death and so it was declared an accidental death by drowning.

Stanbury is buried in Palmerston Cemetery in Palmerston.

— This article is part of a series remembering the men whose lives were lost in the construction of the Welland Ship Canal. The Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial will be unveiled during a special ceremony at Lock 3 on Sunday at 2 p.m. The public is invited to attend. To learn more or to make a donation for the memorial, visit www.stcatharines.ca/donate.

Profile No. 115

William John Stanbury, 22

Born: July 24, 1906 (Palmerston, Minto Township, Wellington County, Ont.)

Died: April 26, 1929 (Second Point, Lake Erie, two miles east of Port Colborne, body recovered May 24, 1929)

Cause of death: drowned

Occupation: labourer, Canadian Dredging Co., Ltd.

Burial: Palmerston Cemetery, Palmerston, Ont. (Block M, Lot 15) 



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