Goodbye to Wes Harkins

At the age of 96, Wes Harkins died peacefully last night (May 26, 2017), the last of the big three ‘old guys’ in Duluth. Dick Bibby and “Gil” Porter left Wes to us a few years ago).
Wes was a wonderful help to me as I tried to catch up to the shipping business in Duluth; Wes was always there for me. Above left, he was a frequent visitor to my office (left). In March, 2000 as the finishing touches were applied to the nearly rebuilt Aerial Lift Bridge, we held an informational meeting about the bridge. We had a raffle at the end of the meeting; Wes won the beautiful replica he had in his hands. We were happy for Wes but he should not have been allowed to participate in the raffle. In his house, he had many many pieces, some quite big, given to him by many people over the years. He didn’t need this.
Wes retired in the early 80’s, but 30 years later, he still knew people all over the Great Lakes. And he was listened to; people wanted to know what he thought about things. Above, he attended the rechristening of the Hon. James R. Oberstar in May, 2011 in Duluth. Many from Interlake were here; it was their party. Wes was sought out by many old friends including the two above. Paul C. LaMarre III,  now director of the Monroe (Mich) Port Authority, is on Wes’ right.
It was not hard for USS Freedom executive officer Commander Kris Doyle (at left above), to impress four Duluth old timers with her brand new ship after it arrived in Duluth in October, 2008. After answering their questions, she nicely updated the old hands with a tour of one of the Navy’s most advanced ships.

While winding up the tour on the deck of the ship (below), Wes Harkins, at left, retired, Fraser Shipyard, showed Doyle a picture of the USS Paducah, a ship Wes left Duluth on in 1940. To Doyle’s left, Dick Bibby, retired, M.A. Hanna Co. and World War 2 merchant marine, Commander “Gil” Porter, retired US Coast Guard and former Great Lakes pilot and at right, Davis Helberg, former Duluth Seaway Port Authority director all agreed it was a new Navy. I don’t want to go into detail but there was some concern about hearing about the ship from a ‘woman.’ Those concerns were quickly dashed as Commander Doyle gave them a seminar on ships in the new Navy. (Commander Doyle later took command of the ship.)

Late in 1999, Lower Lakes Towing purchased the John J. Boland, a boat that had been sitting in Fraser Shipyards for some years. In October, 2009, Captain John Wellington (above, center) was hired to bring the tug Roger Stahl to Duluth to tow the newly purchased boat, to be called the Saginaw, to Sarnia. Wellington arrived on October 24, 1999. Wellington has a long history with Duluth so it was no surprise that Wes Harkins (left) and Dick Bibby (right) were down to greet him in the Roger Stahl pilot house.  Below, Wes worked the lines as we pulled away from the Port Authority dock to go over to Fraser.
Authors Bill Beck and C. Patrick Labadie published  the Pride of the Inland Seas: An Illustrated History of the Port of Duluth-Superior in collaboration with the Duluth Seaway Port Authority in July 2004. Wes and Gil were a large part of that history; they were there (above) to get their copy. Just below, Fred Cummings is making sure everyone is behaving as they lined up to get their books signed,
from the Winter 2008-09 Duluth Seaway Port Authority magazine, North Star Port.
At 1:15 p.m. on May 3, 1959, a young marine writer/photographer from Skillings Mining Review magazine who was perched atop the Aerial Lift Bridge caught on film the arrival of the Ramon de Larrinaga, the first deep-draft ocean ship to sail the new St. Lawrence Seaway system to the Port of Duluth-Superior. When Wesley “Wes” Harkins shot that picture, he captured an image that would stand the test of time. Harkins snapped thousands of photos during his notable career at the magazine and as public and industrial relations director for Fraser Shipyards. This year’s Port Authority calendar features his photo of the Larrinaga in a tribute to the Seaway’s 50th anniversary.
FINAL-Proof-2009-Calendar-10032274sm FINAL-Proof-2009-Calendar-10032274justpic
More about Wes on Duluth Shipping News.
Wes took this shot of Cason J. Callaway and his family coming down from his boat in July, 1958
He took this shot during winter layup at Fraser Shipyards in 1964-65


  1. Cedric Woodard says:

    We will miss you Wes❤️

  2. Paul C. LaMarre III says:

    The finest color film photographer in Great Lakes history. A legend. A humble steward of lore. Our friend whose legacy will live forever through every freshwater memory he captured.

    God Bless as you ride the big steamboat in the sky….

    Paul C. LaMarre III

  3. Phil Milroy says:

    When I went down to Fraser Shipyards in 1977 as the President, it was very comforting to have a guy like Wes Harkins around. He. Was a s
    Wes was not only a great sounding board but a mentor. He made my transition much smoother. Wes was a gentlemen and
    ended up being a good friend. His passing is a great loss for the Duluth-Superior maritime community.

  4. JERRY LAWSON says:

    Wes was a quiet man who did his job and never wanted much to be said about it or about him. He was the single greatest photographer in the history of the Great Lakes. A quiet man of great stature and impeccable character, who will be deeply missed by many people. God bless you dear friend and thank you for the many fond memories.

  5. Chris Winters says:

    God speed, Big Shooter. I never met you but I know most of your pictures by heart.

  6. Thom Holden says:

    Excellent farewell for Wes Harkins. He was one of a kind and one of three of a kind with Dick Bibby and Gil Porter. Kind, generous, informative, a boatnerd before there were such folks. An absolute treasure trove of Twin Port maritime history. He sailed aboard the USS Paducah from the Twin Ports at the beginning of WWII. He was a former board member of the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center. Many of his excellent photographs are in the Lake Superior Maritime Collection at the University of Wisconsin in Superior. I knew him best at the “PR man” for Fraser Shipyards when I came here in the 1970s. He had also been a maritime reporter, the kind that dragged around a 4×5 view camera to capture events for Skilling’s Mining Review where he also was a contributing writer.
    He will be missed by all whose lives he touched and all who missed the opportunity.
    Thom and Cindi Holden
    With Richard and Rachael Holden-Kaufman

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