Pioneers of the Harbour

By Peter G. Budnick

With the decline of cargo traffic in Toronto Harbour, an extensive array of tour and party boats began to crowd the dockage space, along the waterfront. A pioneer of this new marine industry is a remarkable, “bigger than life”, marine architect, affectionately known to his friends as “Captain Nasty Norm” Rogers. Working Toronto harbour, in marine taxi and salvage operations, the Rogers family had a dramatic change in direction, when Norm, noticed a “derelict hull”, about to be broken up as scrap, in Hamilton harbour. His imagination turned this rusty steel hull, into the “Dream”. He borrowed ten thousand dollars and purchased this floating pile of scrap metal, moved it to Toronto, and…

In 1950, She was sold to the Great Lakes Paper Company, of Thunder Bay, towing logs and barges on Lake Superior. After twenty years of such service her steam boilers became too expensive to maintain, and she was relegated to the scrap dealer in Hamilton harbour.

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It took over five years for “The Dream” to rise up from a rusty hull into the magnificent three mast schooner, the “Empire Sandy”, is today. On completion of her transformation, new challenges confronted the Rogers family. Licensing and regulatory bodies, had to be accommodated, to permit this novelty to work Toronto’s harbour. The diesels are essential to permit leaving dockage, before sails could be unfurled to the winds of the lake. Approval of her diesels was delayed by “Nasty Norm’s” disputes with the authorities, as to whether the Empire Sandy was a sailing vessel or a diesel ship.

Norm entered into the fray with characteristic zeal and innovation. He immediately purchased a former police boat and made it the “Empire Sandy’s” tug. Naming this tug, “INSANITY”, Nasty Norm would satisfy the requirements of announcing, any ship leaving the harbour, under tow, by dramatically declaring on the ship’s radio, that “In..sa..ni..ty is taking the Empire Sandy out of Toronto harbour.” The dispute over the diesels was soon resolved and the “Dream” embarked on her new glamorous career, on the oceans and lakes of the world.

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Success began to bless the Empire Sandy and permitted the Rogers family to expand their enterprise. Two new ships were acquired, refurbished and put to work as “The Wayward Princess”, and “The River Gambler”. Eric Rogers, a marine engineer, together with his father, established Toronto Dry Dock; the only privately owned dry dock in the region capable of handling vessels such as Island Ferries and Toronto’s Fire Boat.

Eric and his sister Kathie are fully licensed ship’s captains, capable of handling any vessels on water. The adventurous Eric Rogers also has been trained as a proficient deep-water diver. It appears, that all members of the Rogers family are talented, resourceful, very hard working and cheerfully optimistic. They are always ready to be of assistance with advice or muscle, making them a welcomed asset along the waterfront.

Winter weather did not permit the Empire Sandy to fulfill her occupation in Toronto Harbour; so, the Rogers family decided to investigate the Caribbean as an off-season venue for their schooner.

They investigated ports in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and other islands in the region and mysteriously Captain Norm Rogers decided to drop anchor in Nassau.

For a period of years, the Empire Sandy would exit through the St. Lawrence and sail down the East coast of North America, to her dockage in the Bahamas.

A curious historical note comes to mind. In 1718, King George the first of England appointed a Captain Woodes Rogers as the first Royal Governor of Nassau. This is a remarkable occurrence since prior to this appointment; Woodes Rogers was a notorious pirate, doing what pirates do throughout the Caribbean.

It was necessary for the King of England to tempt this pirate with a “pardon” in order to activate his efforts to clean up the mess of pirates in the region of the Bahamas. Woodes Rogers a wealthy man from his looting and pillaging, thought it desirable to obtain his “pardon” and quietly retire to an estate, in England for his remaining years.

He jumped to the task with characteristic zeal. Hanging some of his former shipmates, Captain Woodes Rogers quickly made Nassau a secure part of the British Empire. A problem arose, in Woodes Rogers plan to settle in England; because, though he had the King’s pardon, he also had seventeen wives, all calling themselves Mrs. Rogers. Choosing to stay with all of his wives, the King was thus persuaded to appoint him as the Royal Governor of Nassau.

Is it not a curious coincidence that Captain “Nasty Norm Rogers” and a reformed pirate from the 18-century would both be attracted to Nassau harbour? Why is it, that in his semi-retirement Captain Norm finds the need to spend much of his time in the Caribbean? Could it be possible that the spirit of an old pirate is “in possession” of our dear Captain Norm? You know, some say there are similarities and his friends often find him to be a bit of rascal. Why would he use the moniker of “Nasty Norm”?

Fortunately, the rest of the Rogers family remains untouched by any such possession. All they are possessed of are good looks, good manners and good works.

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