Chapter 17 – Tête-du-Pont – Officer’s Mess

“A rough rule of thumb for gauging the timber needed to build a late eighteenth-century warship was an acre of oak forest per cannon.  Tall, knot-free pine for masts and spars had become hard to find in Western Europe, and it was for these that royal shipwrights turned to North America. [A tree knot is where a limb grows. To make an  80-100’ knot-free mast, the tree must be so tall and straight that its first branches start 80-100’ above the ground]. They looked at the New World and saw a navy in the trees.  Up until a hundred and fifty years ago, a forest of straight, sturdy pine was as valuable as an oil field or uranium mine today; it was a critical source of energy (i.e., sail power) without which a nation could not fully realize its commercial or military ambitions.”

p. 54, Vaillant, J. The Golden Spruce. NY: W.W. Norton & Company. 2005.  (from the Battle of Lake Erie (painting) website:


Construction of a first-rate ship required thousands of trees. Oak was used to form the hull, 5,750 trees, according to Wilson, along with pine and spruce trees “to furnish masts and spars. Three huge pine masts — the main, mizzen and fore — thrust up from the deck.” The main mast rose from the keel up through the decks, soaring to approximately 22 metres above the open deck. Heavy canvas sails were hung on the yardarms; kilometres of rope provided the rigging to hold and guide the sails for maximum wind power. The cost to build the impressive ship in 1814? More than a fortune — a hefty $500,000.


Launched on Sept. 10, 1814, HMS St. Lawrence was manned with 837 officers and crew members. The vessel’s first trip was unusual — during the maiden voyage to the Niagara River just over a month later, the vessel was struck by lightning on Oct. 19. St. Lawrence made many trips across the Great Lakes, but did not see action. The only time guns were fired was in salute.

Wilson, W.R., “Sir Isaac Brock – Ship That Never Sailed,” Upper Canada History

from The Kingston Whig-Standard (