Barley Days

An examination of of some historical aspects of the period 1860-1890 in Prince Edward County[*]


Page 3 - Shipping and Shipbuilding in Prince Edward County

schooner

Fore and after Schooner.

 

The barley industry could not have survived without a mode of transport to take the barley from Prince Edward County to the U.S.A. The barley days created a niche for building schooners needed to freight barley from Picton Bay across Lake Ontario to Port Oswego, New York. To be perfectly accurate, Schooner Days began long before the Barley Days. Boat building in Prince Edward County commenced in 1798, when the Prince Edward was built in Glenora. Shipbuilding in Picton began in the 1830s. David Tait, the father of John Tait, opened his own shipyard on Amherst Island and his first vessel (the schooner Caroline) is registered as being built in 1847, though many believe it was built earlier. David Tait was a shipbuilder of good repute, but his son John would quickly outstrip him in fame and fortune to become the pre-eminent shipbuilder of the Barley Days.

John Tait's fantastic career began when he was only 18. John signed a contract to build a schooner for what appeared to be a very low price. He took the contract home for his father and brother David Jr. to look at, but they would have nothing the do with the project because they did not believe the agreed price would be enough to turn a profit. John took on the project without the crucial support of his family and still managed to receive a decent profit for his work. The rest of John's career would follow in the footsteps of his first successful solo project. Tait was known for his "untiring energy". Legend has it he was capable of producing three quality jobs at once. The rumours of his productivity are likely true, judging by the number of schooners attributed to his handiwork.

John Tait

John Tait.

Tait built around 100 schooners during his official career. John Tait's standard model schooner had two masts, but he could adapt his building style to suit his customer's demands. In fact, John would build a ship wherever he was needed, though many of his ships were built in Milford. He built ships all over Prince Edward County and the surrounding area; Picton, Wellington, West Point, Lakeport, Roblins' Mills etc. John was well rewarded for his work, too. Tait could earn $200-250 for just one day of draughting work. His usual wage for supervisory services was $9/hour, compared to the $1/day that deck hand sailors or field labourers would receive. Keep in mind that $9/hour is still more than Ontario minimum wage in the 21st Century and John's work occurred pre-inflation in the 19th Century.


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* [back] - This project was developed by Isabel Slone (one of the Society's 2007 "summer students") and was in part funded with a grant from Young Canada Works, in part with a grant from the Municipality of the County of Prince Edward, and in part with this Society's research funds.