Its name blacked out, its forward progress dependent on the tug towing it, a once-powerful Great Lakes freighter that frequented the Twin Ports in years past glided through Ontario’s Welland Canal earlier this month, on its way to end its career in a scrapyard.

The 690-foot, 62-year-old American Fortitude - formerly the Courtney Burton, and before that the Ernest T. Weir - once carried taconite, grain and other cargo across the lakes. For a time, it was the flagship of Oglebay Norton’s Columbia Transportation fleet, replacing the Edmund Fitzgerald after that vessel’s tragic sinking in a Lake Superior storm in 1975.

And on April 8, 1980, the ship - then sailing under the name Courtney Burton - had a memorable mishap while trying to enter the ice-choked Duluth ship canal.

“The captain and crew of the Courtney Burton and about 300 Canal Park spectators spent an anxious hour Tuesday afternoon as the 690-foot ore carrier was pushed broadside by waves and wind to within 150 yards of the Duluth ship canal breakwater,” the next day’s News Tribune reported.

The ship canal was filled with ice chunks from pier to pier, with the jumbled ice estimated at 10 to 20 feet thick in places and northeast winds blowing at 10 to 20 mph. The captain of the Burton, Sam Ring, later told the Duluth Herald that he had made a run at the ice pack at about 6-8 mph and utilized all of its 7,000 horsepower in an effort to power through the ice and get into the harbor.

When that failed, the Burton tried backing out - but ice and waves pushed it perpendicular to the piers. Ring called for two tugs to help him break free, but they couldn’t make it through the ice.

“It was a very, very serious situation,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Douglas Lundberg, captain of the buoy tender Mesquite, later told the News Tribune.

Eventually Ring was able to work his ship free, following a path along the Park Point shore and back out to open water.

“Oh, yes, we’ve had conditions like this before,” a jokingly nonchalant Ring told the Herald the next day in a ship-to-shore phone call.

Ship history

The freighter was built in Lorain, Ohio, and launched in 1953 as the Ernest T. Weir, honoring the founder of the ship’s owner, National Steel Corp. According to a history of the vessel on the website, the Weir sailed to Superior to pick up a load of iron ore on its maiden voyage.

The ship was on Lake Superior in the same storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald on Nov. 10, 1975, the history reported. In 1978, the Weir was acquired by Oglebay Norton to serve as the flagship of its Columbia Transportation fleet, replacing the Fitzgerald.

The Weir eventually was renamed the Courtney Burton to honor a longtime chairman of Oglebay Norton who also was the grandson of company co-founder Earl Oglebay.

In 2006, Oglebay Norton sold the Burton and five other freighters to the American Steamship Co., and it was renamed the American Fortitude. It sailed for a few seasons longer until it went into layup in Toledo, Ohio, in late 2008, the Port Colborne (Ontario) Leader reported.

In December, the ship left Toledo under tow and passed through the Welland Canal from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. It spent the winter docked in Oswego, N.Y.

Zelko Kirincich, executive director of the Port of Oswego Authority, told the Syracuse Post-Standard earlier this year that the American Fortitude had been sold to a Texas holding company to either be sold overseas, or scrapped.

On May 11, the ship left Oswego under tow. On May 14, it arrived at the International Marine Salvage scrapyard in Port Colborne to be dismantled.