Reader’s Comment – A Mind at Sea

To the author of A Mind at Sea:   You have done a wonderful job in taking the reader  back to the days of the glorious era of the construction of sailing ships in Quebec.  I had no idea of this history.
I know Quebec well enough to follow your narrative as you describe the different areas of the port city: the Plains of Abraham, Dufferin Terrace, the Monument to Wolfe and Montcalm, the harbour, Dufferin Terrace, and the family home on the Terrace.  
I enjoyed reading about the ships that Henry bought and built.  I also found interesting what you write about Cacouna and the Lower St. Lawrence, the individuals who lived there and the houses they built and occupied.  I’m a director of a charity that owns the Sir John A. MacDonald House at St. Patrick, which is mentioned in A Mind at Sea

I learned  a lot from the book about the seamen and the unions. I would not otherwise have known about shipping  violations, such as crimping and deck loading. I was also fascinated by the closeness of the shipbuilding industry in Quebec to the mother country, and the fact that Henry had to make the trip almost every year overseas to England, to sell the cargo, and sometimes even the ship transporting the cargo.   

A Mind at Sea is  an important contribution to the history of Canada. It should be required reading in all our schools.   — William Stavert, Montreal. 



On Sunday afternoon, December 8th, 2013, the Literary & Historical Society in Quebec’s Morrin Centre hosted a talk by author John Fry about the curious history of the celebrated Cosmo, one of the last of the great square-rigged wooden sailing ships built in the port of Quebec in the 19th Century. Lloyd’s of London called it the finest ship ever built in the port of Quebec.

A large model of the Cosmo has been displayed for many years in the Society’s Library. A small model, owned by the Duke of Edinburgh, is in Buckingham Palace. A similar model is in the collection of Quebec’s Gaston Déry.

The Cosmo was built in 1877 by Henry Fry, who was President of the Dominion Board of Trade, and was at one time Treasurer of the Literary & Historical Society.

Fry signed copies of his book A Mind at Sea – Henry Fry and the Glorious Era of Quebec’s Sailing Ships, published by Dundurn Press. In an illustrated talk, he told how, after fifty years as chief editor of magazines in New York, he came to write a book rooted in his Quebec heritage. Henry Fry was his great grandfather.

The doyenne of Quebec shipbuilding history, author Eileen Marcil, was on hand. Her research has been used extensively in the writing of A Mind at Sea, the biography of an influential merchant at the peak of wooden shipbuilding in Quebec between 1854 and 1877. Henry Fry was a dynamic reformer who fought against criminality of crimping and the overloading of cargos that caused hundreds of seamen to lose their lives.

Founded in 1824, the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec was the first learned society in Canada. Its history is linked to the intellectual development of the nation.

The Morrin Centre, at 44 Chaussée des Écossais, is Quebec City’s flagship English-language cultural centre.  The Centre draws on the resources of the Literary and Historical Society’s unbroken history of intellectual endeavor, its priceless historical collections, and the historic building that houses them. It strives to foster English-speaking culture in Quebec City, share it with the rest of the population, and encourage cultural exchanges in French and English.


Morrin Centre, Quebec, etait la scene d’une lecture et une séance de signature le dimanche 8 décembre, 2013, à la bibliothèque de la Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, au Morrin Centre. L’auteur John Fry a raconté (en anglais) comment, après cinquante ans comme rédacteur-en-chef de magazines à New York, il est venu à écrire une biographie ancrée dans son patrimoine québécois.

Fry a parlé de la curieuse histoire du navire Cosmo, un des derniers grands voiliers construits dans le port de Québec durant le 19e siècle. Un modèle, d’une longueur de huit pieds, est exposé dans la bibliothèque de la Société depuis plusieurs années. Un modèle, d’une longueur de dix-huit pouces, que possède le Prince Philip, Duc d’Edinburgh, peut-être vu aujourd’hui dans le Palais de Buckingham à Londres.

Décrit par l’autorité Lloyd’s of London comme étant le meilleur navire à avoir été construit à Québec, le Cosmo a été commissionné et financé en 1877 par Henry Fry qui fut le président du Dominion Board of Trade du Canada, ainsi que le sujet d’une biographie « A Mind at Sea – Henry Fry and the Glorious Era of Quebec’s Sailing Ships » (Dundurn Press, Toronto).  L’auteur du livre, John Fry, est un Montréalais qui habite New York depuis 1957.

Henry Fry, qui à une époque était le trésorier de la Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, est l’arrière-grand-père de l’auteur.

La doyenne de l’histoire de la construction navale à Québec, l’auteure Eileen Marcil, dont la recherche fut amplement utilisée pour l’écriture de A Mind at Sea ,  ainsi que Gaston Déry, propriétaire d’un des modèles du Cosmo et de l’extraordinaire collection Lecouvies-Déry de navires miniatures en ivoire, étaient présents à l’événement.