Black Angels of the Ice: The History of Chartered Ice Breaking on the Great Lakes by the Rail Ferries Sainte Marie and Chief Wawatam.
(Under the direction of Dr. Annalies Corbin) Department of History, November 2003.
The objective of this thesis is to examine the first two vessels used as ice breakers on the Great Lakes, the rail ferries Sainte Marie and Chief Wawatam. The important role of these vessels as ice breakers has been overlooked by previous scholarship and needs to be addressed as an important aspect of Great lakes and world maritime history. These ferries were the first vessels to put methods for ice breaking and ship design specifically developed to handle ice together and prove successful.
Prior to and continuing after the introduction of Coast Guard ice breakers, these two commercial ferries were chartered at different times to open spring navigation. During WWII, the ferries became vital to opening navigation and keeping a constant flow of raw materials to the factories supporting the war effort. With the arrival of the heavy ice breaker Mackinaw, in 1944, the role of the ferries and their charters began to diminish. By the early 1960's, all Great Lakes ice breaking was handled by the Coast Guard.
The Sainte Marie and Chief Wawatam were designed specifically for ice breaking duty. In order to accurately cover their operations, each of the periods that one or both of the ferries were used for ice breaking duty are discussed. The histories are pieced together from logbooks, newspapers, ship owner documents, and interviews with individuals familiar with the history of ferries. Underlying the history is the struggle by sailors, ship owners, and other individuals of the Great Lakes region to extend the shipping season as long as possible, for industrial growth, financial gain, and assist the nation during times of crisis.
Previous research was focused on the long sailing history of the Chief Wawatam and the role of the Mackinaw in terms of ice breaking. The author feels that the services provided by the rail ferry Sainte Marie have been ignored by historians and should be documented as well. Any future history done on the history of the Great Lakes ice breaking or the role of the Mackinaw will undoubtedly need to mention the duties preformed by both the Sainte Marie and Chief Wawatam.