The Upper Ottawa Improvement Company - still flourishing - was founded about 100 years ago to deliver logs by water from the camps upstream to the mills of Ottawa and Hull. By the early 1900's the Company owned a small fleet of steamboats made up of everything of consequence on the river apart from private canoes, skiffs and tiny sailing craft. Old timers still remember with affection the sidewheeler G. B. Green which took passengers from Britannia Pier by way of Aylmer and intermediate landings to Quyon and the smaller Albert which paddled her way up river with local freight to return with a boom of logs in tow.
One observer of this scene, Tom Fuller - who is something of a Huckleberry Finn at heart - noticed a small and insignificant tug, the G. B. Pattee II, which was overlooked by all except small boys and river rats. The Pattee first came to his attention in the 1920's when camping with the Boy Scouts at Aylmer. Watching her passing, young Tom was astonished to see red-hot sparks from her funnel raining down to cause a small fire on the barge being towed astern. At the time he didn't think much of the Pattee and he would see many more ships, in far distant waters, before the years altered his perspective. By the time that the Second World War broke out, Tom Fuller had built and sailed many boats of his own at Britannia. With this background he fitted nicely into the RCNVR, popularly known as the "Wavy Navy", which flourished under the stimulus of war and earned an undying place in naval history.
After a spell on the Atlantic in armed merchant cruisers of the Royal Navy, he joined Coastal Forces, a branch of the service with a very plain name, which comprised motor torpedo boats and other high-speed craft which were constantly in action, at first in the English Channel and later in the Mediterranean. In April 1944, when Tito and his partisans were fighting for their lives in the mountains of Yugoslavia, a small German supply ship was sneaking along the Dalmatian coast on a dark night with supplies for the enemy garrisons.
Straining their eyes and nerves to seaward, and with all guns at the ready, the lookouts failed to sweep their glasses through the shadows of the hills inshore. Suddenly there was a roar from powerful engines, a bouncing crash alongside, and shouts in unfamiliar but understandable English "Don't open fire or we'll cut your throats!" This was the 61st Motor Gunboat Flotilla with British commando, under Lieutenant Commander T. G. Fuller as senior officer, which had been lying in wait for whatever might turn up.
It could have come from the pages of Hornblower - swift and spirited action with deadly intent - and inside nine minutes the boarders were in control, prisoners secured, and the entire group under way with the White Ensign of the Royal Navy aloft. Surprise had been complete and no casualties occurred on either side. When daylight came, Fuller had a chance to look around his prize. She turned out to be a lovely little brigantine which, although heavily armed and under power when captured, had been built at Trieste as the sail training ship Libeccio for the Italian Navy.
Returning to Ottawa after the war, with the Distinguished Service Cross and two bars, Tom Fuller settled down once more to sail at Britannia. One day in 1951 when cruising up the Ottawa River to Quyon, Fuller noticed a sad looking steel hull, obviously abandoned, leaning against a tree. It was the old Pattee from which engine and boiler had been removed together with much of the deck. Scuttering through damp leaves in the hold, possibilities were considered. It might just do for a houseboat, possibly with a mast, perhaps even with a sail. Then suddenly a vision of the pretty little Libeccio flashed back. Was it possible, could it be done?
The Upper Ottawa Improvement Company had no further use for the hull and Fuller bought it at scrap value and towed it home to Britannia. The certificate of registry showed that the G. B. Pattee II had been built at Quyon in 1904 to replace a previous tug of the same name (without numeral) which dated from 1882 and was named for one of the founding directors. So far, so good. But how did they build a steel hull, of conventional form, with round bilges and curved plates, at Quyon?
Obviously they could have done almost anything in wood but the furnacing of ship plates would have needed outside help and plant. Years later the riddle was solved. Although registered as built in Quyon, the vessel was assembled there from plates and angles prefabricated in Scotland. Not all Clydeside shipyards launched ocean liners. Many specialized in much smaller types and some, which never actually launched a ship, sent mail-order vessels, ranging from Nile passenger steamers to small barges, to all parts of the world. Once the plates and angles were erected in the yard, the whole thing was taken to pieces, painted red and green for port and starboard, numbered from forward to aft, and shipped to the buyer in boxes with bags of rivets and bolts.
Such a firm was Alley & Maclellan Ltd of Glasgow (long since defunct) which was situated amidst structural engineering plants more than a mile from the River Clyde. Their catalog shows tugs for service in Canada, strengthened for ice. One is clearly the embryo Pattee II. The first step in the conversion of Tom Fuller's derelict was to research the technicalities of masting and rigging. Following this preliminary and with the help of enthusiastic friends, the chrysalis of the tug was transformed into a brigantine yacht with clipper bow, a figurehead (female, undraped, and a story in itself) painted gun ports, and the elegant masts and yards of a square-rigger. The space formerly occupied by the original single cylinder steam engine and wood burning boiler (unlike the hull these were made in Montreal) became the saloon, and a hefty diesel engine was tucked away at the foot of the companionway. The name, suitably piratical to fit the legend, became Black Jack.
The Black Jack proved to be successful as a yacht which has given immense pleasure to the owner, his wife Jeanne and family, and to countless friends on the Ottawa River. This graceful brigantine is traditionally part of the summer scene on Lake Deschenes. Now a sail training vessel for kids aged 12 - 14, Black Jack still plies the upper Ottawa between Britannia Bay and Fitzroy Harbour, teaching leadership, teamwork, and sailing to Ottawa's youth.