Legal Humour Blog


June 2014

Mutiny on the Sidney McNish

Jun 8, 2014 6:33 PM
Marcel Strigberger

    Tully Goldfarb had decided to get away. He had been practicing law for several years and now he was about to start an indefinite sabbatical. Today he was going to fulfil his childhood fantasy and start a new job as a deckhand aboard the Sidney McNish, a sturdy ferry boat doing a shuttle from the Metro docks to Centre Island, several hundred yards out in the lake. (He didn't care to get away too far).

    Lake Ontario was majestic; it beckoned Tully.  He could not smell the salt in the air. That didn't matter.  
    Tully would have signed up with the navy or the merchant marine but he never like committing himself for trips longer than 15 minutes.  Anyways, he had never been out to Centre Island, which boasts a famous amusement park and zoo.
    July 17, aye, a lovely day for a lovely ride on a lovely boat where a lovely mutiny was to take place, unbeknownst to Tully or for that matter to that miserable grouch of a captain, Nathaniel Fligh.  We could talk about Captain Fligh at length but we're going to talk about the Sidney McNish instead.

    Built in 1934, it had seen active service during World War II, 1939-1945, when it was used in Quebec City as a floating restaurant and destroyer.  It achieved a reputation as the latter as a result of the work of Hank Moldaver, a cook.  We won't talk about Hank Moldaver either.  Suffice it to say that German U-boats, which routinely made it up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City, used to dock nearby and send a crew to the Sidney McNish for some supper and spying.  After a hearty meal aboard the Sidney McNish, the men would often return to their submarines with the worst case of runs imaginable.  It was so bad that the Fatherland would promptly send them for recovery and recuperation to Mexico.

    Department of National Defence officials however, deny to this day that any German U-boats ever made it to Quebec City.
    Getting back to Tully, it's 2013, and the crowds have boarded the good ship Sidney McNish on that faithful Sunday morning.  Tully, a fourth class porthole mechanic, signaled to the dockhands that the boat was full and they rapidly lifted the gangplank, leaving an 80-year old lady swinging in mid-air, vociferously threatening to sue.  Tully in the course of his practice had several times come across octogenarian-ladies-caught-in gangplank cases.  In response to the lady's protests, the dockhand Fred Percy,left her swinging there another two minutes. Percy incidentally was a former bus driver with the Toronto Transit Commission. He indicated that he would have lowered the gangplank sooner but he didn't like her attitude.  

    The ship's whistle blew and off she steamed towards the Island.  
    The crew, "Seething with rebellion" as the papers would later put it, had nothing against Captain Fligh personally; they just thought that the boat could use a good mutiny. Oh sure, the captain was as mean as captains of ships about to have mutinies are. He would often boast about how he would have every man flogged, but for the fact that their trip was much too short and he needed at least 20 minutes one way for a good flogging. He would say how sorry he was that there were no sharks in the lake to which he could occasionally throw his crew. And indeed he did once throw a ship hand overboard to the perch.

    The boat was half way across. The mutiny had been fermenting for about five minutes.  The first mate, Fletcher, had spent about two hours a day with would be mutineers the past week rehearsing the mutiny. The had asked Captain Fligh if they could use the Sidney McNish at night for "personal reasons".  The captain had denied the request, thereby increasing the men's resolve to mutiny.  After all, they had to spend all their evenings the previous week rehearsing in the basement of Fletcher's suburban bungalow. It just wasn't the same and they were forced to improvise.

    They also had to explain to the neighbours what two row boats with six manikins aboard were doing on their front lawn.  At least they didn't have to worry about the weather.  And the crew did appreciate the lemonade and cookies prepared by Fletcher's wife Myrna (no relations to Hank Moldaver). Rumour has it,however,that she actually purchased the cookies at Silverberg's bakery.  
    Getting back to the fermenting mutiny, Tully was busy writing his memoirs about the lake. "The lake", he wrote, when suddenly three shots rang out and Fletcher shouted, "OK Fligh. This is a mutiny."  
    To this day no one knows where the shots came from. The captain, somewhat astonished, shouted back, "You'll hang for this Fletcher."

    Fletcher apparently wasn't moved by the Captain's eloquence.  "Who sails with me," he announced over a blowhorn, "Step over this line."
    The five hundred and fifty or so passengers weren't going to be heroes. They all charged across the deck over to Fletcher's side, together with most of the crew, causing the good ship to list terribly.  
    Tully immediately put his memoir writing into abeyance and asked Fletcher and Fligh if they couldn't work things out. Drawing on his experience as a family law and civil litigation practitioner, he offered to mediate.  Both Fletcher and Fligh told Tully where to go and Fligh repeated his "You'll hang for this" threat. The captain was kidding, Tully believed.  But, being a lawyer, he wasn't about to take chances and so elected to stay with Fligh. Anyways, management was paying his salary and he was thinking of his outstanding bank loan.

    "You can't pay too many bills on a mutineer"s pay," he mumbled to himself.  

    Meanwhile, Mrs. Fletcher was busy handing out lemonade and cookies to the mutineers and the passengers.  She was mad as hell because she was assured at the rehearsals that there would only be about twenty to thirty and not over five hundred participants in the mutiny.

    Fletcher took Tully, Fligh and Rene St. Marie, put them into one of the ship's lifeboats and cast them adrift. St. Marie was a summer exchange student from Montreal who came to Toronto to get some maritime experience and to learn how to speak English. His counterpart, Crawford MacKenzie, was spending the summer in Montreal working on the Champlain Bridge. They didn't tell him in advance that there were no ferry boats, only lots and lots of bridges in Montreal. On the plus side, MacKenzie was still learning French.  And the risk of mutiny was somewhat less than for Rene St. Marie.  There are only so many places you can commandeer a bridge to.

    St. Marie was still busy flipping through his Larousse English/French Dictionary as they lowered him into the lifeboat.

    The Sidney McNish sailed off, leaving the trio in the lifeboat with nothing but a keg of fresh water, three tins of sardines and a compass, all in accordance with the Zurich Convention on Mutinies. Tully hated fish.

    Fligh studied the compass carefully, trying to pinpoint their exact location. St. Marie quickly gobbled up the cookie Mrs. Fletcher had inadvertently given him.  He'd read about shipwrecks and mutinies before and there was no way anyone was going to talk him into rationing.  

    The sun was scorching. The men were starting to get concerned.  Suddenly Tully looked around and shouted, “Land ho!”

    Centre Island was clearly visible about 150 meters starboard.

    At the command of the Captain, Tully and St. Marie started rowing towards the island.  They soon noticed four long boats heading out from shore each carrying about five island natives rowing to meet the lifeboat.

    "The women aboard the boats are not topless", Tully noted in his memoirs disappointedly.

    When they got to the island, the Captain explained their predicament to the natives who in turn pulled out all the stops in providing hospitality to the trio. They were taken directly to the amusement park where the natives treated them to free rides aboard the swan boats.  Tully refused to ride on the swan boat, insisting that he must know a bit more about the background of any of the other characters before embarking on any water craft again.

    The natives prepared a banquet, feeding the men local delicacies including caramel popcorn and candy floss.  Tully noted in his memoirs, “I don't know how these people can gorge themselves on this pink stuff. I ate some only to be polite to the natives”.

    About one half hour later, a second ferry boat arrived at the docks. She was the good ship Lady Henrietta More, sister ship to the Sidney McNish.  Lady Henrietta's captain asked Fligh what had happened to the Sidney McNish.  Fligh vividly recounted the horrors that had befallen Lady Henrietta Mores brother, concluding with the words, "They'll all hang for this".  

    The three castaways thanked the natives for their cordial reception and went aboard.  

    Captain Fligh returned to Toronto uncertain as to his future on the giant ferries.  He decided to bide his time until the day he would meet Fletcher again.

    As for Tully, he had had quite a day.  He now realized that he didn't care for the excitement of life out on the Great Lakes. He decided to abandon his sabbatical and perhaps teach a course or two. His memoirs of life out at lake would be rather short,but what could he do?  Perhaps he would write a labour law book.  

    Tully and Fligh waved to the natives as the Lady Henrietta More steamed away, leaving Centre Island in the distance, but never quite out of sight.

    Meanwhile, Rene St. Marie was busy thumbing through his Larousse with his steady fingers trying to find the French word for candy floss.


     Well, at least unlike what we often see these days on cruise ships, nobody came down with norwlak virus.  Please visit my legal practice website, No I do not do maritime law.

Marcel's Musings, Judicial Nonsense  


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The Midwest Book Review has referred to Marcel Strigberger as "an irrepressible humorist with a story teller’s flair for spinning a yarn with true (and hysterically funny) insights into the basics of human nature".

Midwest Book Review

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