CANAL CAMP BALLADS No. 3: The Port of Call By Jimmie Loftus

loftus canal 3

loftus canal 3
Welland Ship Canal Construction of a Lock in Thorold, June, 1928. Photo Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

(Sequel to The Drifting Legion)

Heading Northward, heading Northward
‡‡‡‡‡‡To the cooler Canadian clime,
Is the rear-guard of the Legion,
‡‡‡‡‡‡The Men who’ve Forgotten Time.
Never hurrying, never falt’ring,
‡‡‡‡‡‡But steadily on the go,
Following in the wake of summer
‡‡‡‡‡‡From the torrid strands below.

Highways beckon, lure them onward;  They must answer to the Call,
And midway in their pilgrimage is the Welland Ship Canal.

Was watching Jimmy Slattery work
‡‡‡‡‡‡In a “gym” in Buffalo,
When I met Miama Murphy
‡‡‡‡‡‡Moving through to Toronto.
“Say, Kid,” he asks. “how’re things up North?
‡‡‡‡‡‡How is work along the Ditch?
I figure sluggin’ for a spell,
‡‡‡‡‡‡For I’ll need a stake to switch.”

Peach trees blooming;  work a plenty;  Irish Jimmy, Joe and All
Are back again along the banks of the Welland Ship Canal.

“Crude Oil” Mickey Gannon hails me
‡‡‡‡‡‡On the street in Ol-e-an
“Just come up from Oklahoma,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Me and Kansas Kid McCann;
Across the line at Bridgeburg,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Then the lights of old St. Kitts,
A stretch of work in the Welland camps,
‡‡‡‡‡‡And money to play the Ritz.”

He moves along with a cheery grin, and a “See you in the Fall.”
And hops a freight in the “Pen” yards for the Welland Ship Canal.

Comes booming up from Mexico,
‡‡‡‡‡‡On a tanker to Baltimore,
Louie the Scar of Tenth Street fame,
‡‡‡‡‡‡The savant of hobo lore.
“The Canal?  Why, Yes.  You c’n bet
‡‡‡‡‡‡Before a week I’ll be there.
Tampico sure is dead in June,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Even lurid Union Square.”

Between the Great Lakes and the Gulf, there is one sure Port of Call
Louie the Scar will never miss―That’s the Welland Ship Canal.

In a sleepy, backwoods village
‡‡‡‡‡‡Near the Virginia coast,
I greets the veteran, Pegleg Ike,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Stayed along to hear him boast:
“Married a widow here last fall,
‡‡‡‡‡‡She got right smart property;
Lots to eat and nawthin’ to do.
‡‡‡‡‡‡Some soft for a guy like me.”

But wistful eye and restless Mien tells the story all too well,
I’m thinking he’ll be with you yet on the Welland Ship Canal.

Gee, I wish I was heading north―
‡‡‡‡‡‡Then again I’m not so sure;
For my Open Road this summer
‡‡‡‡‡‡Lies over the Great Azure.
My Port of Call may be Hong Kong,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Or it may be Tripoli,
Or maybe Capetown, Sydney, Rio,
‡‡‡‡‡‡Liverpool or Waikiki.

Still, I’d like to spend an evening with Jimmie and Joe and All,
A visit’n’ on the ragged banks of the Welland Ship Canal.

Off the Virginia Coast, 1925.

Source: Courtesy Dennis Gannon.

Originally published in The St. Catharines Standard, Tuesday July 21, 1925 p7

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