Another one of Ralph’s significant memories is the 1981 sinking of the Captain John, which was a restaurant ship permanently anchored at the foot of Yonge Street in Toronto. Its original name was Normac, a ship that had served with the Detroit Fire Department and as a ferry between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island. After being struck by one of the Metro ferries, the restaurant boat took on water and a crew of workers was able to keep it upright for several days with pumps. Ralph and his colleagues also went in with additional pumps, but the ship was overcome with water and sank. Several of the Toronto Harbour Police divers including Ralph had to dive in a few days later to salvage the pumps.
A big legal battle ensued between the city and the restaurant owner, and in the end a new “Captain John” was created, using the MS Jadran, a former Adriatic cruise ship, which is now permanently anchored at the foot of Yonge Street. The Normac meanwhile was raised and is now used as a floating restaurant in other communities.
The sinking of the Captain John
Ralph himself has been drawn to the water all his life and got his captain’s license. With his masters licence he is able to operate boats up to 60 tons in the Toronto Harbour. Ralph also works part-time as a captain for the Kwasind and the Hiawatha, two of the oldest boats in Toronto that serve as private ferries to shuttle members of Royal Canadian Yacht Club back and forth to their Island Clubhouse.
But Ralph’s talents extend beyond life-saving and captaining. Ralph Noble is a gifted artist and has completed numerous signs for stores and cottages. One of his favourite projects was a sign for a Mississauga park that was going to be dedicated to one of Canada’s most famous hockey players: Johnny Bower. Ralph refers to Johnny as “his hero”, and he handmade a sign saying “Johnny Bower Park” which was put up at the park’s gate to honour his hero. Ralph even had a chance to meet the hockey star himself and invited him to his house. He says it was a thrill to meet his idol.
Ralph’s sign for Johnny Bower Park
Ralph’s artistic pièce-de-résistance, however, and something that will link him to the Beach forever, is the famous “Legend by the Lake” mural at the Balmy Beach Club. For the 100th anniversary of the club’s founding in 2005 Ralph had created a banner which he donated to the club to be used at the Easter Parade. Several magnetic signs were also produced from his design.
Throughout 2005 there were several meetings with the Balmy Beach Club’s administrators because they were planning to revitalize and decorate the wall fronting the Boardwalk. Based on his earlier design, Ralph created a huge mural that stretches more than 140 feet horizontally across the building’s wall. He primed the wall, and did the layout work overnight, using an overhead projector which enlarged and displayed his design against the surface (and attracted every bug in the world). The mural took him about three months of work, and at the end Ralph Noble had created one of the true landmarks in the Beach.
The making of the Balmy Beach Mural
Ralph’s wife joined us and affectionately called him “Sign Santa” for all his charitable design and sign projects. Alluding to his shyness, she also refers to him as a “reluctant smiler”, and discloses that Ralph’s looks often remind people of Pat Quinn, Toronto’s hockey coach, or Bill Clinton.
Ralph Noble is certainly a hero, many times over, and now he has a permanent place in the Beach.