of the Kyle
By William Chafe
The CBC Land and Sea program recording the lifetime
of the SS Kyle brought back a lot of memories about that ship to me.
There was a couple of episodes that were not featured
in the program that I would like to mention for the record.
In the early months of 1922 the ship was diverted to
St. John’s from her regular run to the Gulf because of the closure of
the railway over the Gaff Topsails section. The afternoon before it
sailed on its return journey to North Sydney, Captain Stevenson came to
the train dispatching office of the railway and noticed the weather
glass ( a fixture of that office since it was rescued from the S.S. Fife
before it was lost in the Straits of Bell [ sic] Isle) was very low. He
remarked that it was a bad glass and not at all like his. In fact, he
stated “I would not go to sea with a glass like that.”
The Kyle sailed 10 a.m. the next day and ran into a
tremendous gale of northwest winds which lasted for several days and
gave the ship a bad time of it. A couple of days after the Kyle was
being buffeted by the storm the Chief Mate, a Mr. Carter of Port aux
Basques, was washed overboard and drowned.
Capt. Stevenson reported to the railway every four
hours by Wireless via Signal Hill and Postal Telegraphs- we had a direct
line between postal and dispatching office. The last message I remember
copying was, “we are running South to try and get some of the ice off
The Kyle, in charge of Captain Ben Tavenor [sic] who
lost his life when the Caribou was torpedoed, played a prominent part in
the search for the plane “Old Glory” which was lost in an attempt to fly
the Atlantic Ocean. The late Sol Courage was Chief Steward on the Kyle
at the time told me the story.
Several hours before they located the wing of the Old
Glory, Captain [sic] Tavenor said to Courage, “If we don’t find the
plane before 4 p.m. today we won’t find it at all. But right at that
hour they sighted the wing. Courage attributed Capt. Tavernor’s
reckoning due to the fact that he had been reading a series of books
about lost planes.
In October 1925 when the Kyle was making practically
her last trip on the Gulf Service, I happened to be a passenger. It was
so rough the ship stood up straight at times and I spent the greater
part of the night trying to rescue my suitcase which got loose and every
time the ship rolled it went from side to side.
The “Caribou” made her maiden voyage on the Gulf a
couple of days after.
Another memory I have of the Kyle is when it was sent
to Corner Brook to take care of the extra freight for port [s] to Battle
Harbour. The ship was a coal burner and for the refueling I had to beg
the coal dealers of Corner Brook to sell the railway enough coal for
this- and then I had to hire trucks to deliver it to Bowaters Wharf
where it was dumped after which I negotiated with Bowaters for a crane
to load it to the ships bunkers.
My old friend Billy Ryan was purser on the Kyle for
years ( especially on the Gulf service), and was a very courteous
gentleman and made acquaintance of hundreds of people during that time.
His brother J.V.R was assistant manager of the railway and organized the
Railway Employees Welfare Association (REWA) and was responsible for the
erection of the railway houses on Craigmiller Avenue and Avalon Terrace,
The Evening Telegram
April 4, 1992