One of the most interesting and beautiful artifacts in the Thunder Bay Museum’s collection is this silver-plated water cooler. It was commonly used to provide cool drinking water for ship’s passengers in the days before drinking fountains were invented.

This item was presented by a group of Owen Sound businessmen to the owners of the ship SS Cambria in 1889 in appreciation of the recent refurbishment of the old wooden-hulled sidewheeler. In 1891 the ship became the possession of a group of Port Arthur businessmen including Thomas Marks & Co. and Mr. George Brown who, within two years had become its sole owner. Brown ran the ship on excursions out of Detroit.

In 1897, Brown decided to initiate a week-long trip between Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie for a cost of $15 per passenger, meals included. The ship left on July 27 with 100 passengers aboard. Unfortunately, the weather turned bad and, late at night, the Cambria struck a raft of logs, damaging her paddlewheels. Drifting to the Canadian shore, it beached, and the people aboard were taken off.

The next day, Brown drove out from Windsor in a hired livery and with his son Russell went aboard the ship to assess the damage. It was Russell who then suggested to his father that they take the water cooler with them for safe keeping.

The wreck was too much for Mr. Brown who soon sold out and retired from the business. The cooler became a prominent feature on Russell Brown’s mantle for many years to come, a reminder of his adventure on the Great Lakes and of expectations never realized. Late in his life, Russell Brown donated the silver cooler to the Thunder Bay Museum.