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THEN AND NOW: Tug boat photo a snapshot of Collingwood history

The photo of the Hugh S. helps connect the dots to a local family's fish business
The Collingwood-built tugboat Hugh S. pictured on April 17, 1907 at an unknown location. The tug was owned by the Stalker family of Collingwood.

This ongoing series showcases historic photos in the Collingwood Museum collection, with research and writing by Melissa Shaw, the museum supervisor. 

This small photograph of the Collingwood-built tug Hugh S. could easily be discounted or overlooked in the many stories of Collingwood’s past. The photograph is in fair condition, having faded over time, with noticeable sections of the photograph having flaked or been scratched off.

Collingwood’s first museum, the Huron Institute, found reason to preserve this small postcard photograph, and thank goodness they did for it has brought a little of the Stalker’s family history and local fishing industry to light.

The Hugh S. was constructed in Collingwood in approximately 1898. The identity of its builder is presently unknown by Collingwood Museum staff. In 1906, the tugboat was registered to Hannah Maria Stalker (nee Ward) of Peel Street. Hannah’s husband, George, is recorded to have been a fish dealer in the 1912-1913 Vernon’s Directory of Collingwood.

George and Hannah lived on the east side of Peel Street, just south of today’s Moberly Street. In the early 1900s, the small section of Moberly Street that runs east and west was part of the now non-existent Park Street.

George and Hannah’s only surviving child, Hugh, was born on September 4, 1881. Their second son, George Wesley, died at the age of nine in 1894. At the time of the tugboat’s construction, Hugh would have been approximately 17 years of age. Hugh shared the same name as his paternal grandfather so it’s possible the Stalker’s tugboat was a tribute to a father, son, or to both.

Today’s featured photograph depicts the Hugh S. on April 17, 1907. The tugboat appears alongside a much larger vessel in an unknown location. Sections of the boat are draped with tarps and numerous wooden crates appear along the deck. It’s possible the Stalker family was getting ready for a busy season of fishing on Georgian Bay.

The Hugh S. had a relatively short working life and was dismantled in Collingwood in 1911. In the same year, the Stalker family commissioned a second tugboat, the Hugh Stalker.

Fish dealing became a multi-generational tradition in the Stalker family as Hugh was also listed as a fish merchant at the time of his death in 1946. The 1923 Vernon’s Directory of Collingwood records that Hugh lived on the east side of Napier Street between Erie and St. Vincent Streets, just one block away from his parent’s home.

Thanks to the Huron Institute’s dedicated curator, David Williams, the ship’s identity and the photograph’s date have been preserved for future generations. Williams’ penmanship, as well as the appearance of a one to four-digit number recorded in the same hand, are tell-tale signs that the photograph was part of Collingwood’s earliest museum.

Between 1904 and 1963, the Huron Institute operated in the basement of Collingwood’s original public library. Following the devastating fire that struck the Carnegie Library in 1963, many items in the early museum’s collections were distributed within the community for safe keeping. Many of the museum’s collections were returned and cared for by the Collingwood Museum; however, it’s still common for items from the Huron Institute’s collection to be offered as present-day donations to the Collingwood Museum.

The Hugh S. photograph remained with the Huron Institute’s photograph collection following the fire and was documented and numbered by dedicated museum volunteers in the 1970s. At some point, the photograph must have been loaned to a community organization as it was surprisingly returned in 2016.

If you think you may have a photograph from the Huron Institute’s collection, staff would love to hear from you. Also, if you have any information about the tugs Hugh S. and Hugh Stalker, or the Stalker family, please contact museum staff.