The First Argyle

Lake of the Woods Museum Newsletter
Vol. 26 No. 2 – Spring 2016

by Rat Portage Miner


The July 6, 1900 edition of the Rat Portage Miner had this to report:


Capt. Lewis has placed his new ferry boat on the lake between Keewatin and Rat Portage. The name of the boat is
Argyle. She is fast, commodious and very steady and is perfectly arranged for the purpose for which she is intended. The promenade deck has an awning over, and a seat extends full length each side of the boat, so that it will be a cool place to ride in.

Captain Frank Brydges has recovered from his recent illness and is now the proud master of the vessel. The boat is equipped with a fine boiler and independent condensing compound cylinder valve engine of the latest type which will keep the Argyle in the procession not far to the rear of the best on the lake. In fact the Argyle is hard to beat in more ways than one. Capt. Lewis deserves credit for building such a boat to cater to the summer traffic, but his enterprise will undoubtedly be rewarded by the increased patronage. The Argyle marks a step ahead for Rat Portage. 

The Argyle provided ferry service between Keewatin, Norman, Coney Island and Rat Portage/Kenora. In addition special charter trips and excursions could be booked aboard her.

Her service was not without its mishaps. In the September 30, 1902 edition of the Rat Portage Miner, this bow-on collision with another steamboat was reported:


A great deal of excitement was caused on Saturday night when the news reached here that the steamer
Clipper, Captain Henderson, and the ferry steamer Argyle, Capt. Lewis, had met in collision in the narrows near the west ward wharf.

The ferry was making her 7:30 trip here and was just rounding Atwell’s point when the Clipper hove in sight bound for the west ward. The boats did not discover each other until they were within thirty feet, when Capt. Henderson blew his signal for the captain of the ferry to hold his course. Some misunderstanding arose during the excitement and the boats crashed into each other. Engineer Johnson of the ferry steamer looked out of the engine room port hole when he heard the Clipper’s whistle and seeing that a collision was inevitable reversed the engine. Captain Henderson also gave the order to reverse so that the collision was not so bad as it might have been had not the officers of the two vessels acted promptly and with coolness. Two men jumped overboard from the ferry during the excitement but they were afterwards rescued. The Clipper struck the Argyle square on the port bow fender, and disconnected a steam pipe which filled the cabins with hot steam. Someone had the presence of mind to smash the cabin windows, so that no one was scalded or suffered in any way from this cause. The Clipper strangely enough suffered the most, the forward bulkhead being shifted some feet, and three blades of her propeller being torn off, presumably by the sudden reversion. The damage to the Argyle was repaired on Monday morning but the Clipper had to be drydocked. Neither of the boats was injured below the water line.

Captain Clifford Lewis operated the boat for five summers and then offered it up for sale.

The August 15, 1905 edition of the Kenora Miner and News officially announced the change of ownership:

Captain C.W. Lewis, of the steamer Argyle, has sold that vessel to Mr. James Fraser, contractor and government bridge inspector at Keewatin for the sum of $10,000 or close in that neighborhood.

Yesterday Mr. Fraser took over the boat with his new staff consisting of Frank Brydges, captain; Alfred Fraser, purser; and James Eldridge, engineer, and will run her according to the present timetable until likely the end of August, when a new one will be gotten out. The deal has been under consideration for some time and an option was given some forty days ago.

We, while congratulating the new owner on his enterprize and wishing him the best of luck, shall be indeed sorry to lose our good-natured captain, whose familiar greeting and hearty laugh are known, in all probability, to everybody in town. However, the loss is ours and the gain the cap’s.

Captain Lewis has not yet decided what he will do in the future but is talking of building in Keewatin as he has great faith in the prospects of that little town and whatever he does decide to do, will be done there.

Under the ownership of Captain Fraser, the Argyle underwent improvements and in the spring of 1909, the local newspaper announced that the steamer was to open the season on May 12:

The ferry Argyle will start running for the season this afternoon. The steamer was taken from her winter quarters on the Rat Portage Lumber Company’s slip on Monday and yesterday morning her machinery was tested by G.P. Phillips, steamboat inspector. During the past winter she has been thoroughly overhauled and newly painted both inside and out. Instead of using wood for fuel as formerly, an innovation will be made this season by the substitution of coal. On account of this the stop of three-quarters of an hour for laying in wood which had formerly to be made at Norman will not be required in the future. The same timetable will be in force this season as last. In getting through to Keewatin it is expected that about ten inches of ice will be met with past St. Joseph’s hospital point, and extending for about a quarter of a mile. Once past that the rest of  the way will be open water. The staff of the steamer at present numbers three, namely J.H. MacDonald, captain; Alfred Fraser, first mate; A. Barton, chief engineer. Further additions will be made later. The boat is over three weeks behind her first run of last year, the date of the latter having been April 20th.

As an aside, Ed Sweet, in his book Keewatin Reflections, recalls that cordwood for the steamboat was stacked where Beatty Park is now located. In Norman there was a stack of wood just west of Norman Beach and the Argyle would occasionally refuel there as well. Once the conversion of the steamer was made to coal, refuelling took place at a coal dock that was located at the south end of the Keewatin bridge (likely the Portage Bay Bridge).

Three members of the Fraser family worked on the boat at various times – Stanley, Alfred and Esther. Esther was notably the Argyle’s first and only female purser.

In 1912 James Fraser and Robert Stanley Fraser became joint owners of the steamboat. Once again extensive alterations were done to the boat. The boat was lengthened from 59.5 feet to 79 feet; its draft increased from 5 to 5.5 feet and its gross and registered tonnage increased as a result.

The boat continued to offer ferry service between the communities for another 24 years but after being in service so long she was showing her age. The hull was rotting in places, too many repairs had to be made and the decision was made to remove it from service in 1936. The engine was removed and sold and the vessel was broken up.

The Argyle was replaced by the Argyle II which was built by the Cosseys of Keewatin. The new vessel took on the route formerly serviced by its predecessor.

Did you know?

There is archaeological evidence of people living on the Lake of the Woods for thousands of years.  Radiocarbon dating places humans at the north end of the lake as early as 200 B.C.