Pilot boat captain saved the crew of sinking steamer

Olive Campbell stands at the ‘bow’ of what was once the Sidney E. Smith steam ship, now a dock on Sarnia’s harbourfront. Glenn Ogilvie

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia’s Ollie Campbell is grateful the city is publicly recognizing her late husband for the dozens of lives he saved many years ago.

A colourful storyboard describing the heroics of Capt. Robert Campbell on the night of June 5, 1972, when the Sidney E. Smith steamer went down in the St. Clair River, has been erected on the harbourfront.

The plaque not only describes the shipping incident that sunk the Sidney Smith, it tells the story of the salvaging operation and how the hull now forms the wharf at the end of Seaway Road near Sarnia Bay Marina.

“I’m very proud of this and really happy about it all,” Campbell said at last week’s unveiling.

“Many times I’ve come to this dock and asked people if they realize they are fishing off of a freighter. Most of them are very surprised about that,” she said.

Rev. Gord Simmons was on hand for the unveiling and said it was a fitting gesture for Bob Campbell, who put his own life at risk the night the ship sunk.

The Sidney Smith collided with the Parker Evans near the Blue Water Bridge, causing her to take on water and sink in less than 20 minutes.

Cpt. Campbell, master of the pilot boat in Point Edward, rushed to the scene with his deckhand Bill Chadwick and took the Smith’ crew aboard.

Ollie Campbell met her husband after the incident and she never heard him speak of it. It wasn’t until he died and she went through his things that she learned of his heroism.

“He was a very modest man, but I am sure he’d appreciate having the story told,” she said.

The storyboard came about as a result of a discussion related to the salvaged hull and how it came to be part of the seawall, said Mayor Mike Bradley.

“The storyboard will remind generations to come of our history and of someone who devoted his life to duty and to his community.”