July- August 2019

Unless otherwise credited, all photographs are © David Ritchie and may not be used without my permission.

August 31 Lake Erie has a rich history, local history here. It means so much more when the locale is familiar. I posted a piece about Long Point shipwrecks and Abigail Becker in a January rant. Becker was a true heroine, a ‘sheero’ in newspeak. Screenwriters should seriously look at that story, a true adventure epic.

But there is more to Erie history than shipwrecks and naval battles, there are the stories of the families and communities that depended on Lake Erie to provide a living- fishing being the most common, plus the spin-off shore-based services that grow with marine demand.

Lake Erie is one of the largest freshwater fisheries in the world. In fact, in the 1920s Erie was the largest fishery with fish shipped all over the world. Prosperity continued until the dark decades when the Great Lakes were treated as sewers for industry and cities. Sanity finally reared up and the fish stock rebounded through good management.

The Great Lakes waters are quite different from those of the oceans. The frequency of the waves is shorter and often more violent, the weather can change rapidly and Erie is particularly susceptible to sudden and drastic changes due to its shallow depth. Nasty storms whip up quickly. Consequently, the boats must be of different designs than ocean-going vessels.

Those iconic Great Lake freighters would break in half in a large Atlantic blow. The waves are further apart with long valleys between them. A fishing boat used in Atlantic waters would not work well in Lake Erie’s hard choppy waters. It might wallow, pitch and possibly rollover in a typical too-fast-to-believe-it-happened storm on Lake Erie.

The waters dictate the design needed to make a good working fish boat.

Ralph Hurley 1911-1987,  boat builder of renown was from Port Burwell, Ontario. Hurley knew the fish boat design needed for the lakes and he could build it too. His formal education ended after the eighth grade but a working education and intelligence proved to be more useful.

HurleyYoungMan.jpg            Ralph Hurley

The first boat from his Port Burwell shop was the George H. (1947) now the A.R. Getty, followed by many more boats that are still in service today.

Hurley-built boats are low riders, broad of beam with a hull designed to glide through waters that craft with differing designs might struggle through. Tough boats built to work.

And work they still do, after decades of service. Some in their sixth decade are still fishing the Great Lakes. How many working machines can that be said of? Certainly not any trucks, planes, train engines or rolling stock that I can name.

Last week John Hurley  (Ralph’s son) and I visited Port Dover on a fine day for motorcycling, a good ride to remember. We parked the bikes and walked the docks where the fishing boats tie off.

We hear a vessel coming in, a low rumble of marine diesel, authoritative and full of torque. Into view comes the James D, built in 1957.

EnterHarbour2.jpg         James D returns to Port Dover, 2019

Owner/captain Eric Ryerse said that James D has something that sets it apart from other boats especially running into heavy waters.

Fishing out of Lake Superior in the ’70s,  the James D was the only vessel willing to brave fierce weather to search for the lost Edmund Fitzgerald in the great blizzard of 1975. That’s a tough boat.

Capt2 copy.jpg                       Eric Ryerse




Another Hurley classic, the Omsteader, came into Dover later on. She’s a larger version of the James D, another beauty built in 1981 by Ralph Hurley at Port Burwell. The same recognisable classic Hurley design. Seventy-five feet of Erie trawler, still working hard.

Omsteader.jpgThe Omsteader returns to Port Dover, 2019

The Hurley boats and most other fish tugs may appear to be flat, wide and ungainly in the water but a look at the hull design tells a story that cannot be read above water. Here are some photos from the Hurley archive showing the hull of The Last Time during construction.






Last TimeLaunch.jpgPhotos courtesy John Hurley

The Last Time was constructed after Ralph Hurley had retired. He was persuaded to make one last boat, a larger craft than the boat works building, it had to be built outside. It was between 75 and 80 feet long (I don’t have the exact numbers). The Omsteader (4 pics up) is the same size and design.


JamesD&LastTime.jpg      Photo by Shawn Olds  The Last Time (1981) with James D (1957) in Mamainse Harbour, north shore of Lake Superior.

Note: I have learned that the George H. (1947), later named the A.R. Getty, was cut up for scrap at Cape Croker in 2012 or 2013. What a shame.

August 20  Need a good laugh? If the constant bad news of world events is getting you down, head over to one of my favourite sites The Oatmeal. This bit on dogs walking humans hit close to home and is Wilson approved.

And this one for an informative and funny look at Nikola Tesla, possibly the most brilliant inventor ever. It slams Thomas Edison, possibly the worst scientific invention pirate ever, the PT Barnum of the electric age.

I published the answer to What Is It? puzzle further down this page. Scroll down for the answer.

Speaking of puzzles, I learned another new word that I will probably never use:

cruciverbalist a person who enjoys or is skilled at solving crosswords

I qualify for the enjoys part of the definition, not so much the latter.


August 16  Dogs get the blame. I have been AWOL for a while. I do not like being indoors in the summer. I cannot write outdoors as I only have my desktop computer. I do have an iPad, the first generation which Apple have kindly made obsolete for me- no more OS upgrades, and the current system cannot operate on today’s platforms. Thanks, Apple.

The best excuse for my laziness is the ‘dog days of summer.’ Curious how dogs have been blamed for so many things by way of expressions:

a dog’s breakfast
crooked as a dog’s hind leg
sick as a dog
barking up the wrong tree
bark is worse than his bite
dog eat dog
call off the hounds
every dog has his day
in the dog house
see a man about a dog
top dog
tail wagging the dog
work like a dog
shaggy dog story

There are many more, some involving other animals:

dog and pony show
fight like cats and dogs

Wilson agrees- it’s downright degrading. There must be other ways to express things, but I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’ll shut up now.


August 6 A new photo added to the gallery. This image was requested by a family member. Took a while to find the slide. Here is a preview.

Hawk.jpg      Red-tailed Hawk  1990  Note the hook at the back of the tongue. It is used to prevent captured prey from escaping.

I was fortunate to partake in a hawk capture, banding them, record the weight and length, then release. The Sharp-shinned Hawk, if my memory serves, has a wonderful perfumed odour. Not something I expected when invited to have a sniff- a bird?

I don’t recommend sniffing a Turkey Vulture, although it’s not necessary to get very close to smell carrion eaters. A rider on a motorcycle forum reported hitting one. He stopped to inspect the damage and vomited when he attempted to photograph the corpse. The worst smell he had encountered. I’ll take his word for that.


August 4   Nature’s nasty side. Many images of peaceful, bucolic images include butterflies, but I witnessed another side of their behaviour yesterday. A black swallowtail butterfly was feeding on the nectar in a purple clover patch, flitting from flower to flower. A monarch butterfly came from above like a jet fighter and scored a direct hit on the swallowtail. The attacker drove the enemy up and away from the clover. It then chased it a very long way over the adjacent bean field. Satisfied that the offender was scared off, the monarch returned to claim the prize- solo feeding rights to the clover.

Hummingbirds are also portrayed as gentle birds, but anyone with a feeder will likely have witnessed a hard-fought battle of males. They attack rivals at the feeder, driving them off. It’s quite a sight to see them circle, charge and counter-charge, fighting far up into the sky. Those long bills become daggers and male hummingbirds have been known to kill enemy males.

What next? gangs of marauding doves dropping explosive guano? Don’t be fooled by their gentle cooing, they might be psycho killers. Happy dreams.

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
this ain’t no foolin’ around”

August 2  What is it? No correct answer to the ‘horse head’ yet. Maybe this ‘elephant head’ will help, as they are the same but different. Does that muddy the waters for you?

Hmmm, muddy, waters- now I’ve got to listen to some blues. For your internet listening pleasure, I highly recommend Austin Blues Radio– a good mix of interesting and uncommon tunes. You’re welcome!

Elephanthead                                                  Elephant head?

July 28  I didn’t win the lottery again last night. If you won, how about gifting me?

What is it?  Once again it’s time to guess. This one is easier (I think) than the previous one (scroll down the link). As before, the winner gets 15 minutes of ECW fame and a nod from Wilson. Hint: not a horse head silhouette. You probably can’t see anything else now I said that.

HorseHead042                                                   Horse head?

For answers scroll down

















Heard of the flowerhorn fish? I hadn’t either until I read this and I regret it. Some things are better left undone and radical breeding of new species is disgusting in my view. The flowerhorn “is a man-made carnivore, a hybrid, created around 20 years ago in Southeast Asia. It is notoriously aggressive, even towards potential mates and is, to some eyes, unspeakably ugly. Where climates are tropical, it can be a threat to native cichlid species, not to mention to other, meeker fish.”

Why do humans do such things? Money, that’s why- some are reputed to sell for thousands of dollars. The same motivation that brought Asian Carp to the rivers of central USA and is now threatening the Great Lakes.

Pure folly. Not to mention hideous.


July 26  A lazy post on a lazy summer day. As usual, I’ve been reading quite a lot lately. Currently, I’m reading “Dead Writers in Rehab” by Paul Bassett Davies, an inventive and funny novel. Allow me to share a paragraph with you.

“…and the best chance I’ve got of finding out is going to the ‘communal meeting’. And I know what that means. It means the dreary, balls-aching orgy of solipsistic navel-gazing, petulant resentment, impotent rage, whimpering guilt, denial, and lachrymose self-pity that is the wonderful healing miracle of group fucking therapy.”

Despite having to turn to the Oxford dictionary for the meaning of ‘solipsistic’ (self-centred, the theory that the self is all that’s known to exist) and  ‘lachrymose’ (tearful, given to weeping), a wonderfully descriptive and funny bit. What else to expect from a Brit writer? Plus I don’t mind learning some new words, it’s never too late in life for knowledge.

Have a good Faxe Friday, sports fans.

Speaking of sports, I’m beginning to learn what it must feel like to be  Toronto Maple Leafs fan. The Blue Jays are halfway through a disastrous season, the worst ever. I fully expect that Mark Shapiro will continue to destroy the heart of the team, trading Marcus Stroman along with some other highly talented, experienced players. He will leave a team of mostly rookie players with no on-field and locker room leadership, a critical ingredient for success.

The man is a menace to the team. I would not be surprised if he sold Vlad Guerrero too. How can he be tolerated as the replacement for Paul Beeston? Perhaps because Rogers, owner of the jays and the SKYDOME (I refuse to call it Rogers Centre) are complicit in the quest for short-term profits. Greed, in another word.


July 15 Last week was a fine time spent on motorcycle and foot. The motorcycle rides through the Grey Highlands and Grey/Bruce counties were uplifting. We based in Owen Sound, a city that I’ve wanted to explore since passing through a number of years ago. I’ve added three new signs to the Signs & Grafitti gallery.

Owen Sound is a prime example of old Ontario brick architecture, a port city with the Sydenham River (noted for trout and salmon) running through the downtown. There are numerous walking paths and serious hiking trails. The downtown homes are well kept, many with flower gardens to the sidewalk. We found row housing as it should be- intricate brickwork features and inset doorways- a beautiful building.

A half-day walking tour of buildings, stores, a damn and fish ladder (excellent descriptive information provided) plus art galleries and, of course, a good coffee.

The Tom Thomson gallery was on the top of my list. Around two dozen oil on panel studies painted on location, with some serving as studies for later oil on canvas studio paintings were displayed. Also included were early paintings, commercial art and his studio palette with earthy and natural colours in abundance.

Panel1.jpgTom Thomson A personal favourite image, please excuse the lack of title and poor quality phone image.

The main gallery featured Earth Etchings, a showing of Richard Watts unique life-size latex and gauze mouldings from nature. The back-lit frames glow with texture and form. See the link.

Trains, Planes and Automobiles, in a third gallery, is a self-explanatory exhibition featuring many well-known Canadian artists and photographers.

The lower gallery has By the Light of the Silvery Moon with some evocative nocturnal paintings. All four galleries are worth a visit.

On 2nd Ave East (main street) we found the Owen Sound Artists Co-op in a large old store with hardwood floors and a pressed tin ceiling (ex grocery store?). They have a vast array of paintings, drawings, sculpture, jewellery etc. and have been around for 25 years- a huge success in art market terms. They are following a proven path- help them keep it going, pay them a visit.

Strictly by chance (historic plaques), we found Tom Thomson’s grave in his home town of Leith near Owen Sound. A quiet, pretty rural hamlet. As friend Larry said, it must have been a culture shock for Thomson attending art college in Toronto.

Momentoes left on his stone attest to the respect Thomson commands 102 years after his death. How many of us will be remembered 100 years from now? David who?

ThompsonGrave.jpgInteresting description: ‘Landscape Painter’




July 7 This next week will be spent on a motorcycle tour of Grey and Bruce counties. Riding with friend Larry, we will be based in Owen Sound- I want to see the Tom Thompson art gallery and other sights the small port city offers. I hope to find some new signs to photograph and other weird things that I seem to find. See you next week.

FrontRight.jpg          Kawasaki Versys 650