Samuel Weatherhead was born in the parish of St. Philip, Barbados in 1756.
At an early age, he ran away from home and took passage on a merchant ship sailing for England. En route, pirates seized the ship. However, Samuel and all on board escaped certain death when, by a small majority, the captors voted to spare their lives.
The pirates and prisoners were then divided equally between the two ships, and the merchantman was tethered to the pirate ship. A few days later, a fierce storm severed the tow line between the two ships and the merchantman, presumably sunk, was never heard from again. Samuel, fortunately, was on the pirate ship.
While several of the prisoners opted to join the pirate crew, most of them, including Samuel, refused and were marooned with provisions on a small island. Luck continued in their favour, however, and they were shortly rescued by a ship in the lumber trade bound for Quebec.
Samuel decided to stay in Canada and eventually took up land near Maitland, on the St Lawrence River, where he established himself as a merchant and raised a family. However, danger and adventure stayed close to the Weatherheads. During the War of 1812, a band of Americans plundered their store, but Samuel’s son John retaliated by leading successful skirmishes against the Americans during the Battle of Crysler’s Farm.
When his daughter, Margaret, married Richard Arnold, son of General Benedict Arnold of American Revolutionary War fame, the Weatherheads became agents of the Arnold family and responsible for many of the Arnold holdings in the Canadas. They eventually received 18,000 acres from the Arnold family for services rendered, including the land around Fishing Falls on the Tay River.
The Weatherheads placed themselves in direct competition with the Tay Navigation Company. They refused the company access to or permission to build wharves, quays and landing places on their land, despite the fact the Tay Navigation Company had rights of way spelled out in their Act of Incorporation. Twice, they incited villagers to tear down a company warehouse built on Weatherhead land, before the Tay Navigation Company retreated to Stonehouse Point.
The Weatherheads then built a more conveniently located warehouse alongside Lock No. 1, effectively taking control of trade on the Tay Canal.
In 1836, the Weatherheads built a steamer, The Tay, which could tow saw logs from their mill at Lock No. 3 and ply the Tay, as well as the Lachine and Grenville Canals, which were also small.
This must have caused further embarrassment to the directors of the Tay Navigation Company and their flagship, the Enterprise. The Enterprise started out with high hopes and well wishes from many in the town of Perth.
The Reverend Bell had been persuaded by his sons to invest in the steamer, which he later regretted when he learned that it served spirits, and was among the guests on board during its official launch, 2nd May 1834:
“(We) resolved to go with it (Enterprise) to Jebb’s Creek as we had never seen the lock there. The boat was to start at 8am, but it was 10am before it moved off. Going with the stream it did not steer well, and we had some difficulty in getting through the first bridge. Here it took a barge, loaded with staves . . . in tow. Next we were detained at least one hour by the choaking (sic) of a pipe belonging to an engine, first opposite to the spot where poor Lyon was killed, in the duel with John Wilson. But this was not all. Our promenade deck being too high in the air, came in contact with the over hanging branches of trees, by which the railing was damaged, the flag staff broken, and the stove pipes knocked down, besides a number of our passengers floored on the deck. At last we got to the first lock, where we landed, and as soon as the boat left it, we returned through the woods and had a pleasant walk home.”
This inauspicious beginning, unfortunately, set the tone for the Enterprise’s short, but ill-fated, life. After two seasons carrying sundry goods – including whisky, fruit trees, potash, household furnishings, tea, ploughs, molasses and furs – and occasionally leaving passengers stranded as it fell victim to mechanical failure, it got stuck in the ice at Black Rapids, forcing it to winter there. The spring freshets smashed the steamer beyond repair.
Although the Tay Canal’s torturous channel, fluctuating water levels, many obstacles and numerous curves turned away most steamships travelling the Rideau, it remained a profitable and practical option for many years for barge traffic. Oxen towed these sturdy flat-bottomed craft, like the Enterprise, Jolly Brewer, Harriet, The Old Countryman, Victoria, Pride of Perth, Waterwitch and Perseverence, along a path between Weatherheads’ depot and the warehouses that lined the Perth Basin.
The Tay Canal still exists today, forming part of the Rideau Trail. It eventually fell into disrepair, due to the Tay Navigation Company’s ongoing financial and political problems, and by the mid nineteenth century was practically abandoned. In the 1880s, the Honourable John Haggart, Perth mill owner, member of parliament for Lanark South and a member of Sir John A. Macdonald’s cabinet, convinced Public Works to purchase the assets of the Tay Navigation Company and reconstruct the Tay Canal to conform to Rideau Canal standards. This Second Tay Canal bypassed the village of Port Elmsley and reduced the number of locks from five to two by digging a cut that connected the river to Beveridge’s Bay on the Lower Rideau.