Memories from the Goderich Waterfront: “Big” Bill Forrest & Bill Bermingham

Big Forrest and Bill Bermingham

Big Forrest and Bill Bermingham

“Big” Bill Forrest used to own Ship Island, the former four-acre island at the back of Goderich Harbour―that is, until Ontario took it away from him following an infamous lawsuit in 1932–33. He may have had an ill-informed lawyer and a judge,perhaps on the other side of the political fence! Lawyers know that under British Colonial law―in force at that time―no province could own any land within the bounds of a federally owned harbour. Ah politics! Little has changed today. Just ask Keith Homan or Dick Peever.

Tug W.L. Forrest and Dredge

Tug W.L. Forrest and Dredge

Brawny “Big” Bill, (L) and his brainy buddy Bill Bermingham (R) collaborated in a hauling, dredging and harbour works company that operated on Ship Island in the days after the collapse of the Marlton ship-building era (another story!) The two Bills successfully completed the 1908 construction of the outer North Breakwall after several failed attempts by a first-favoured contractor. In 1911, the southerly barrier was successfully completed too. Those originals are being re-built only today, 2013!

Bermingham went on to establish the Hamilton-based Bermingham Marine Construction Company, now the large, multi-national “Berminghammer” conglomerate. Bill stuck it out and got booted off his home in the Harbour and essentially sent back to his Seaforth area friends. In Bill’s obituary, Professor James

Scott wrote

“…a legend in himself. He, being of the race of giants, was a trailbreaker, a man who loved to pit his great strength of muscle, mind and heart against the forces of primitive nature. He wasn’t afraid of anything…[yet when] he wanted to say something important, he would quote poetry to you to make sure you got the point.”