Henry Fry and the Glorious

Era of Quebec’s Sailing Ships

by John Fry

ISBN 978-1-4597-1929-3

240 PAGES, 62 B&W illustrations

Paperback – Large Format

Dundurn Press, 2013


A Mind at Sea is an intimate window into a vanished time when Canada was among the world’s great maritime countries. Between 1856 and 1877, Henry Fry was the Lloyd’s agent for the St. Lawrence River, east of Montreal. The harbour coves around his home in Quebec were crammed with immense rafts of cut wood, the river’s shoreline sprawled with yards where giant square-rigged ships, many owned by Fry, were built.

As the president of Canada’s Dominion Board of Trade, Fry was at the epicentre of wealth and influence. His home city of Quebec served as the capital of the province of Canada, while its port was often the scene of a raw criminality. He fought vigorously against the crimping – kidnapping of sailors – and the dangerous practices of deck-loading. He also fought against and overcame his personal demon – mental depression, going on to write many ship histories and essays on U.S.-Canada relations.

Henry Fry was a colourful figure and reformer who interacted with the famous figures of the day, including Lord and Lady Dufferin, Sir John A MacDonald, Wilfrid Laurier, and Sir Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau, Quebec’s lieutenant-governor.

John Fry worked for more that 40 years as a magazine editor at the Times Mirror Company and at the New York Times Company, retiring in 1999.  Fry has published many articles on travel, skiing, health, and religion. He is a citizen of Canada as well as the United States, and lives in Katonah, New York.

BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Historical, Canadian Studies, Sailing Ships

Published by Dundurn Press, Toronto [World Rights]


  • ISBN 978-1-4597-1929-3 Large paperback $24.99 CAD
  • ISBN 978-1-4597-1930-9 E-book, PDF, $24.99 CAD
  • ISBN 978-1-4597-1931-6 E-book, EPUB, $11.99 CAD

Available from your favourite booksellers



Sailing ship – Mary Fry 1862
Sailing ship - Mary Fry 1862
Model of Cosmo in Buckingham Palace
Model of Cosmo in Buckingham Palace copy
Ship configurations
Ship configurations



Reader’s Comment – To the author:
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. 5 March, 2014

Yale Professor’s Note
The man Henry Fry is truly great, not only for what he accomplished, but also for the remarkable humility with which he accepted what he could not do during his paralyzing depression, and then his readiness to take up the pen, making up the time he lost in sickness by turning an avocation into a brilliant second career. While reading A Mind at Sea, I had the impression that
the author has been inspired by his subject, both in his own humanity and in his marvelous control of language. I have never read an author with a greater command of the nautical language, combined with such a sensitivity about the subject. Congratulations on a definitive biography! — Louis Dupré, author, Yale University Press. 2014/09/21

Good read with a history lesson as well
This is a really interesting and very enjoyable book about the life of Henry Fry, a ship owner in Quebec City in the 1900’s. It is also a history lesson of the times, both the political as well as social side. As well as showing his attributes, i.e. his concern for the men working in the docks and on the ships, it also shows his difficulties dealing with his severe depression. John Fry’s descriptions of Quebec city and the docks and ship building yards are wonderful. A really good read. — By “reader” posted on Amazon, Jan. 26 2014

A Brilliant Man and His Era Brought to Life
I just finished reading the book this morning. I loved it. I grew up in Quebec City and I’ve been fascinated by the city’s history for a long time. Your book added yet more detail to my understanding of the city and how it grew, and of the people who built it. Your great-grandfather was an incredibly talented person. It was so wonderful to hear of how he cared for the seamen
and their families, and for people in general. I was really taken with their little girl, Mame, and was saddened to read of her fate. I was also very pleased that your great-grandfather’s last years were happy, as he well deserved to be, although your great-grandmother’s latter years must have been very trying. It was so interesting to read of the Wolfe-Montcalm monument, of
the house beside the American consulate, of the coves, now gone, of the Prince of Wales’s visit – so much of what was in the book has some meaning to me. Many congratulations on a well – told tale of a superb person and his age. — By “Sheryl” [Posted on Amazon, Jan. 26 2014]

Fascinating and vivid
This is a fascinating & vivid account of one man’s role in the Quebec City shipping industry community at the time of Confederation. Part history, part family biography, it is generously illustrated with Henry Fry’s drawings & period photographs. A great read for anyone interested in Canadian history! … offering new perspectives on a period of transition in Canadian shipping, trade & commerce. — Retired Canadian Librarian, posted on 1 Dec 2013

Review of A Mind at Sea: Henry Fry and the Glorious Era of Quebec’s Sailing Ships
(Kindle Edition)
One mark of an outstanding nonfiction book is when you suddenly find yourself fascinated by topics that had never been of particular interest before. The “glorious era” of wooden shipbuilding and maritime commerce, the culture and society of Quebec City in the mid-1800s, the way in which mental illness was diagnosed and treated during that time — author John Fry
explores all of these topics in examining the interesting life of his ancestor, Henry Fry. With meticulous research and vividly, accurately reconstructed accounts and anecdotes, Fry brings this story to life. You can picture the docks and coves, the grand ships at anchor, the broad sweep of the St. Lawrence … And you feel you know and understand his complicated, brilliant
main character. I highly recommend this book! — Kathleen James, Manchester Center, Vermont. [As posted on Amazon]


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