Connecting to Stories of the Past

Connecting to Stories of the Past:

C.H.J. Snider, Schooner Days, and the Port of Toronto

Nicole DePooter

Toronto - 2023

It is said that one of the greatest legacies to leave behind is that of your story and the impact you left on others. The legacy left behind by Charles Henry Jeremiah (C.H.J.) Snider would serve as a testimony to the man he was and the contributions he made in preserving the stories of the past. Snider's dedication as a maritime researcher of the Great Lakes provides invaluable resources and stories that shape our understanding of the events that occurred during the nineteenth and twentieth century.

To begin, Snider was born on May 26, 1879, in York Ontario, and would fall in love with the vessels that sailed the Great Lakes.1 His sailing experience from a young age allowed Snider to become familiar with the crew aboard these ships.2 Snider journaled, illustrated, and painted the schooner's he encountered with a passionate and knowledgeable expression. Earning a position at the Toronto Evening Telegram in 1897, Snider rose through the ranks and became the youngest city editor at the age of twenty-four.3 He authored a series of books, articles, and illustrations that would describe the ships on the Great Lakes, the men who sailed them, as well as the development of Ontario during the nineteenth and twentieth century. Over 1300 Schooner Days articles were written by Snider that brought to life the stories that have long been forgotten.4

Originally published in the Toronto Evening Telegram between 1931 and 1956, these articles have recently been made accessible to the public thanks to the efforts of many volunteers.5 The dedication of maritime historians Walter Lewis and Richard Palmer has been integral in transcribing Sniders articles, which have been published on the Maritime History of Great Lakes website.6 This has enabled the majority of Sniders' Schooner Days collection to be available in an accessible format to "ensure that the days of schooner travel on the Great lakes will be preserved forever."7 The stories told by Snider about the ordinary and heroic events that occurred on the Great Lakes preserves history and makes it relevant to each one of us. C.H.J Snider can be argued as one of the most influential maritime researchers and has contributed to the preservation of the Port of Toronto's maritime history. This claim can be articulated through his artistic recreations of the vessels that once sailed the waters, due to the significant contribution he made to marine heritage, and through his 1303 Schooner Days articles.

Firstly, Snider has made significant contributions to the Port of Toronto's maritime history through his artistic recreations. The first born of Jacob Henry Snider and Mary Lavina Rankin, Charles was a fifth generation Canadian with a lineage that stretched back to a palatine family who left Germany in 1742.8 Sniders parents moved to Toronto in 1890, where they were integral in constructing the Helping Hand Mission, a prisoners' aid organization.9 From the age of five, Sniders parents were influential in shaping his artistic ability as they would draw pictures of the vessels that occupied the lakes for his inquisitive mind.10 Eventually turning to books for a more realistic idea of how these vessels looked, Snider began illustrating his own images learning about the form and function of each vessel.11 After passing the high school entrance examination with honors, Snider attended the Auditorium of Art for one semester which served to deepen his artistic skills.12

Continuing in his school career, while a junior at Toronto Collegiate Institute, Snider voyaged at the helm of the schooner Barque Swallow, which would become a pivotal moment in his life.13 Inspired by his journey, Snider illustrated a pen-and ink sketch of the Barque Swallow that he would sell to John Ross Robertson, the founder of the Toronto Evening Telegram.14 Robertson purchased the sketch for fifty cents, illustrating the artistic talent he saw in the young Snider, and marked the beginning of a working relationship between the two.15 Sniders work as a marine artist would become influential in inspiring the book Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto. Many of Snider's illustrations about the schooners in the Toronto Harbour were used in the second edition of this book written by John Robertson. 16 The illustrations provided by Snider serve to capture a moment in time and give the readers a glimpse of the ships that would have been seen at the Port of Toronto during the late nineteenth through the mid twentieth century.

Additionally, as an avid sailor, Snider spent much of his time aboard the ships that traversed the Great Lakes, and at twelve years old earned the title of mate aboard the schooner Stuart H. Dunn.17 Great Lakes historians have determined that the transition from sail to steam, as the superior technology on the lakes, occurred between 1868 and 1885.18 In the midst of this transition, many vessels at the Toronto Harbour were stripped of their sail in favour of the steam engine. It was not until 1910 that the Dunn was removed from her "tophamper" and was sentenced to towing in the wake of a steam barge.19 In an attempt to preserve a memory filled with masts and sails, Snider provided many illustrations of the beauty of these vessels in his Schooner Days column.

Figure 1: Snider's Sketch of the Schooner Alembic.

Figure 1 depicts Snider's sketch of the schooner Alembic, one of the last square topsail schooners to visit the Port of Toronto.20 As the sailing era would come to an end at Toronto Harbour, the memory of these beautiful ships was far from lost. Preserved within his columns, the stories of these vessels and the illustrations served as a reminder of the ships that once called the Great Lakes home. Snider's collection of illustrations is an invaluable contribution to the Port of Toronto's maritime history, as they remind us of the events these ships took part in, the people who sailed them, and the culture they created.

Secondly, Snider has contributed to the preservation of the Port of Toronto's maritime history through the significant contributions he made to marine heritage. In the year 1897 Snider received a position at the Toronto Evening Telegram.21 Climbing through the ranks of the Telegram holding various positions, Snider found his true passion in covering marine events and yacht races on the side.22 Snider was motivated to provide up to date information to citizens regarding marine events in hopes they would grow to appreciate the beauty that the Port of Toronto had to offer. To celebrate the yachting race "America's Cup," Snider hosted street shows in downtown Toronto where interested city-goers could follow the race by watching models of the participating yachts move on wires across Bay Street.23 In an interview Snider recalled, "Bay Street used to be packed with people and there was tremendous excitement."24 As an early public historian Snider wanted the coverage of marine events to be accessible to everyone. This served to shape his legacy as his work creates a storybook that allows historians and the public to recreate the events he witnessed.

During his time at the Toronto Telegram, Snider wed Mary Adelaide Dawson in 1908, who was the first female telegraph operator of the Toronto Telegram, and one of the original members as well as the president of the Toronto Women's Press Club.25 Complementing his wife's achievements, Sniders' work as a marine expert often resulted in him being called upon by the government as a consultant in identifying historic vessels.26 His most notable contribution to the preservation of marine history of the Great Lakes was through the discovery of the HMS Nancy. On July 1, 1911, after extensive research, Snider entered the Nottawasaga river and located the remains.27 He began a twenty-one-part series in 1933 that documented the raising of the Nancy, in addition to building a model of the ship.28 His perseverance resulted in the completion of the model on August 14, 1928 which was set on display at the National Exhibition Grounds at Toronto.29 The model served as a reminder of the historic events that occurred on the Great Lakes during the War of 1812. Snider believed the models appearance at the exhibition was beneficial as he stated the model "did more to popularize history than a regiment of professors."30

In addition to the successes, Snider faced opposition in his pursuits to preserve marine heritage. When the Lyman M. Davis, the last surviving veteran of the sailing fleet was slated to burn at Sunnyside, Snider dedicated several articles in protest.31 Inspiring his readers, Snider received letters in response to his column with a correspondent by the name of Wm. Buck writing:

Sir -- I heartily agree with your suggestion about the burning, or rather not burning, the Lyman M. Davis, which is now the oldest schooner on fresh water, having sailed the Great Lakes for sixty years. I think it would be a perfect shame to burn her. It would be good to preserve her at the Exhibition Grounds as a relic so that the million people coming annually from all parts of Canada to visit the great fair can see the sort of craft that sailed the lakes so many years ago.32

Despite Sniders' protests, and the petition that was signed by countless individuals, the Lyman M. Davis was burned in a public spectacle ending the last working schooner at the Port of Toronto. This example highlights Sniders attempts to preserve history and showcases the challenges and the losses that he faced along this journey.

Sniders work in maritime preservation served to achieve the goal of popularizing history to become relevant in people's lives. His love of telling stories allowed his audience to obtain a strong understanding of the events that occurred through descriptive accounts and visualizations. Providing viewers, the opportunity to place themselves into the moments that have been lost over the passage of time.

Lastly, Snider has contributed to the preservation of the Port of Toronto's maritime history through his Schooner Days articles. Between the years 1931 to 1956 Snider wrote 1303 installments in his column Schooner Days appearing every Saturday evening in the Toronto Telegram.33 This column would grow to become much loved, and as a result Snider received thousands of letters known as "Passing Hails" in response to his articles.34 For instance, Snider received a letter from Gordon Hill Grahame who commented; "I find these articles most interesting and am saving each as it appears. I am sure I am one of the many thousands who, look forward with keen expectation to each issue of The Tely in which your interesting and instructive articles appear."35

Figure 2: C.H.J Snider Pictured on the Right-Hand Side of the Door, 1904.

Snider is pictured on the right-hand side of the door at the Toronto Telegram reporting office photographed in 1904 (Figure 2).36 In the course of his work, Snider told the story of the first schooner to have sailed into the Port of Toronto. In his article "First into Port" Snider describes the beginning of the Toronto Harbour and explains how it dates to 1749 as an old French port.37 In this article Snider provides information about the first commercial cargo arriving aboard the schooner Hazult, which emphasizes his ability in conducting historical research as he was able to uncover details about Toronto's early shipping practices.38

Additionally, Snider detailed the story of the three-masted schooner Sligo in his column "The Pickled Prince."39 In this article Snider explained that like many of the tall schooners, the Sligo was turned into a tow barge. She was stripped of her main and mizzen masts because it was cheaper to buy coal than it was to pay sailors.40 Seeing the Sligo in her later years, Snider described her movements writing, "she wriggled in a seaway like a rattlesnake with colic."41 This description speaks volumes to Sniders love of the sailing vessels, and his heartbreak when they were stripped of their sails. His description showcases his skill in writing as he was able to anthropomorphize the lake ships and express the love and emotions he felt for these ships through his writing.

Figure 3: Map Illustrating the Location of where the Sligo Foundered.

Figure 3 provides a reference for where the Sligo foundered, as Snider described her going down off Sunnyside carrying a load of stone in 1918, and where she can still be found today.42 The stories he told about the vessels that sailed the Great Lakes, as well as the ships that visited the Port of Toronto serve to illustrate his passion for the days of sail. These stories preserve the memory of the giant sailing ships at Toronto Harbour in a world where their memory has been nearly forgotten in the unrelentless race for greater efficiency and speed.

An article was published reviewing his column, illustrating Sniders skills as a writer. On November 22, 1913, an unnamed author reviewed Sniders article, "In the wake of the Eighteen-Twelvers."43 The reviewer comments: "The stories are, according to the author's preface, based on old records, logs, diaries, etc., they possess in large degree the qualities of exact history. At any rate they make the scenes they represent live again with a vividness that has not been equaled by any previous writer on this subject."44 The reviewer suggests that by reading Sniders articles we are able to "read of the real incidents participated in by ordinary human beings. For this human-interest point of view and this candid treatment of heroes and heroic deeds Canadian readers who would see much of our history rewritten will heartily thank Mr. Snider."45 Through his sailing experience, knowledge of the vessels, and the ports to which they journeyed, Snider was able to become familiar with the crew aboard these ships, which enabled him to recreate their stories. In his column "Ferryman of Many Years, Many Ships, Many Rescues," Snider tells the story of captain Jim Quinn who had saved numerous lives at the Toronto Harbour.46 Similarly, Snider performed many heroic deeds that illustrate the kind of man he was. A newspaper article was published on June 2, 1909, rewarding the bravery of Snider and his life-saving team.47 He gained recognition in rescuing the crew of the schooner St. Louis which consisted of six men and a cook when it became stranded off the west shore of the island during a severe snowstorm.48 The challenges, heroism, and adaptability of Snider and the men he wrote about, showcase how their contributions to the lakes trade shaped the region.

Article 1303 named "Sunrise on Schooner Days" was the last Schooner Days installment published in the Toronto Telegram. In his farewell article Snider revisited the event that sparked his journey at the Telegram and thanked his audience for coming along with him on this journey.49 Snider was the recipient of many awards for his community involvement, such as the medal of service for his contribution to the City of Toronto.50 Throughout his life Snider had an incredible ability to capture the hearts and minds of the people he strived to reach, which illustrates his legacy not only as an historian, but also as a man. Snider passed away at the age of ninety-two on December 12, 1971, leaving behind a legacy that continues to capture the full attention of his audience, and brings to life the stories he told.51

In conclusion, C.H.J. Snider can be seen as one of the most influential maritime researchers and made significant contributions to the preservation of the Port of Toronto's maritime history. His artistic abilities captured a moment in time that preserves the memory of sail and brings to life the beauty of the sailing ships in the mind of the reader. Sniders work as a marine expert allowed him to popularize history and create, within his audience, an understanding of the events that occurred at the Port of Toronto and throughout the Great Lakes. Additionally, his Schooner Days articles preserve the memory of the tall ships that once resided at Toronto Harbour, and keeps the stories of their captains, crews, and the events they participated in alive. Through his accomplishments, it can be claimed that Snider has recorded the growth and development of the Great Lake's region and the Port of Toronto through his first-hand knowledge and experience more than any other Canadian historian. His sailing experience, sharp intellect, and love of telling stories, allowed Snider to become a unique and accurate maritime historian. Despite the challenges faced by early twentieth century researchers with the lack of records and digitization, Snider had an ability to piece together stories with limited inaccuracies. He had the profound ability to create in such a way that captured the hearts and minds of Toronto and other Great Lakes port communities and continues to inspire his readers to this day.

  1. Robert B. Townsend, Tales from the Great Lakes: Based on C.H.J. Snider’s “Schooner Days”, Ed. Robert B. Townsend, Dundurn Press (1995), 13-21. 

  2. “C.H.J Snider, Part of the Collection,” Naval Marine Archive-The Canadian Collection, Naval Marine Archive the Canadian Collection,,in%20Europe%20as%20war%20correspondent 

  3. "News Veteran Scans 50 Years of Progress," The Globe and Mail (1936-), Feb 18, 1947, 10. 

  4. “C.H.J Snider, Part of the Collection.” 

  5. “C.H.J Snider, Part of the Collection.” 

  6. Richard Palmer, “Recording History - Schooner Days and the ‘Picton’ by C.H.J Snider,” Thousand Islands Life Magazine, Thousand Islands Life Magazine, July 16, 2021. 

  7. Palmer, “Recording History.” 

  8. “C.H.J Snider, 1879-1971,” Naval Marine Archive-The Canadian Collection, Naval Marine Archive the Canadian Collection, 

  9. “C.H.J Snider, 1879-1971.” 

  10. “News Veteran Scans 50 years of Progress.” 

  11. “C.H.J Snider, 1879-1971.” 

  12. Townsend, “Tales from the Great Lakes,” 17. 

  13. C.H.J. Snider, “Sunrise on Schooner Days,” Schooner Days, Toronto Telegram, January 5, 1957, 

  14. “C.H.J Snider, 1879-1971.” 

  15. “News Veteran Scans 50 years of Progress.” 

  16. J. Ross Robertson, “Yachts of a Century,” in Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, ed. John Robertson, 1-8, 1908, 

  17. “C.H.J Snider, 1879-1971.” 

  18. Walter Lewis, “Transition from Sail to Steam on the Great Lakes in the Nineteenth Century,” The Northern Mariner, Canadian Nautical Research Society, October 2015, 

  19. Snider, “Square Topsails.” 

  20. Figure 1: C.H.J. Snider, “Now and Then,” Schooner Days, Toronto Telegram, July 25, 1936,; Snider, “Now and Then.” 

  21. “News Veteran Scans 50 years of Progress.” 

  22. “News Veteran Scans 50 years of Progress.” 

  23. “News Veteran Scans 50 years of Progress.” 

  24. “News Veteran Scans 50 years of Progress.” 

  25. “Mrs. C.H.J Snider Dies at Her Home: Was Original Member and Twice President of Press Club Had Travelled Widely,” The Globe (1844-1936), September 06, 1936, 10. 

  26. “C.H.J Snider, 1879-1971.” 

  27. “HMS Nancy,” The Friends of Nancy Island and Wasaga Beach Park, 

  28. Kevin Plummer, “C.H.J. Snider Was Behind the Making of Our Model of the Nancy,” The Fife and Drum, October 3, 2009, 

  29. “C.H.J Snider, 1879-1971.” 

  30. Plummer, “Model of the Nancy,” 1. 

  31. C.H.J. Snider, “Save? Or Burn?” Schooner Days, Toronto Telegram, September 16, 1933, 

  32. C.H.J. Snider, “To the Rescue of the Schooner,” Schooner Days, Toronto Telegram, September 9, 1933, 

  33. Townsend, “Tales from the Great Lakes,” 20. 

  34. C.H.J. Snider, “Ocean-Crossing Laker Just Such Another as Fire-Fated ‘L.M. Davis’,” Schooner Days, Toronto Telegram, February 3, 1934, 

  35. Snider, “Ocean-Crossing Laker.” 

  36. Figure 2: C.H.J. Snider Pictured on the Right-Hand Side of the Door. Jane Fairburn, “C.H.J. Snider: Why Stories Matter,” (February 2, 2013),; Fairburn, “C.H.J. Snider.” 

  37. C.H.J. Snider, “First into Port,” Schooner Days, Toronto Telegram, September 1, 1934, 

  38. Snider, “First into Port.” 

  39. C.H.J. Snider, “The Pickled Prince,” Schooner Days, Toronto Telegram, December 30, 1944, 

  40. Snider, “The Pickled Prince.” 

  41. Snider, “The Pickled Prince.” 

  42. Figure 3: Map Illustrating the Location of where the Sligo Foundered. “Humber Bay/Toronto,” Deans Diving, Deans Sport and Dive. 

  43. "Reviews: History in Story Form," The Globe (1844-1936), Nov 22, 1913, 18. 

  44. “Reviews: History in Story Form.” 

  45. “Reviews: History in Story Form.” 

  46. C.H.J. Snider, “Ferryman of Many Years, Many Ships, Many Rescues,” Schooner Days, Toronto Telegram, April 6, 1935, 

  47. "Bravery Rewarded," The Globe (1844-1936), Jun 02, 1909, 5. 

  48. “Bravery Rewarded.” 

  49. Snider, “Sunrise on Schooner Days.” 

  50. “C.H.J Snider, 1879-1971.” 

  51. “C.H.J. Snider: Newspaperman was Historian on Great Lakes,” The Globe and Mail (1936-), December 13,1971, 3.