It has finally happened! After two long decades, the steam sidewheel ferry TRILLIUM has returned to active service on the waters of Toronto Bay, bringing joy to the hearts of those who had watched her deteriorate into a rotting, sunken mess in the backwaters of Lighthouse Pond behind Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island.
The steamer was then sold to the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto and it was intended that she be cut down for use in hauling to the Islands the fill which was to be used in the raising of the level of the islands as the then-existing residences were razed and the land converted to full use as parkland. BLUEBELL, retired in 1954 and stripped during the winter of 1955-56, had already been so converted but was not much of a success at her new vocation. She sank on several occasions and finally was laid to rest in Lighthouse Pond. The Metro Works Department had TRILLIUM towed to the pond as well in 1957 and somehow, despite announcements in the news regarding her future "use" as a scow and who-knows-what-else over the years, she escaped such degradation. Over the next sixteen years she mouldered quietly away, stripped of all her valuable fittings. Trees fell on her and knocked away parts of her superstructure and what was not damaged in this manner simply rotted and collapsed of its own accord. From time to time, suggestions were made that TRILLIUM be returned to service and two superficial examinations of the ship were done, but nothing constructive resulted.
Finally, after much pressure from the Toronto Historical Board and a number of private individuals, Metro Toronto agreed in 1973 to study the possibility of refitting the ship. Preliminary studies indicated that the job was not beyond the realm of possibility and the cost would be far less than that of building a new ferry. On November 13. 1973, the Metro Council approved the expenditure of $950,000 to reactivate the vessel and on December 7, 1973 she was towed from her longtime resting place in Lighthouse Pond to the Metro Marine yard at the foot of Rees Street, just east of Toronto Elevators. Further inspection work was done through the following winter.
In May of 1974 TRILLIUM was towed to the Whitby yard of McNamara Marine where she was put on drydock and all necessary hull reconditioning was done. Surprisingly enough, the steel hull was in very good shape considering the fact that it was 64 years old. At the same time, the rotten wooden superstructure was stripped away, but not before a complete record was made so that parts removed could be duplicated when the ship was rebuilt.
TRILLIUM came back from Whitby with only funnel, paddleboxes and deck stanchions remaining above the main deck. She lingered only a short time in port and was then towed up the Welland Canal to Humberstone where the job of reconstruction was to be undertaken by Herb Fraser and Associates. The hull was placed in the old E. B. Magee drydock in Ramey's Bend and there over the winter of 1974-75 the ship's engines and other innards were cleaned and reconditioned.
In the spring of 1975, work began on the erection of the new aluminum superstructure. A new oil-fired boiler was installed after having been shipped all the way from England. And finally the ship began to look once again like a real, honest-to-goodness steamboat. But as the work progressed, it became apparent that she was not going to look at all the way she did when she came to the end of her earlier operational career under the control of the T.T.C. This latter organization had systematically butchered her over the years as her original woodwork had been in need of replacement. About 1940 they had completely redone her main deck cabin, eliminating the upper window sections and removing the side gangways. The officers' daycabins behind the pilothouses were also removed.
When TRILLIUM was rebuilt in 1975, she was returned as closely as possible to the way she was when completed in 1910, thanks to her original plans which were still available. Government restrictions on the amount of wood that could be used in the rebuilding caused certain alterations from the original design as did current safety requirements, but most of these problems were overcome with no undue effects upon the appearance of the ship.
For instance, radar scanners are mounted on hinged posts and when not required are hidden away inside the roofless daycabins behind each pilothouse. The reconstruction was supervised by marine engineer Gordon Champion, a member of this Society, and to him should go a great deal of credit for the success of the project. Credit should also go to the Toronto Historical Board, and in particular to Alan Howard, for making sure that the rebuilding would return the ship as closely as possible to her original condition.
On the evening of November 6, 1975, TRILLIUM departed Ramey's Bend in tow of the tugs G. W. ROGERS and BAGOTVILLE. In command of TRILLIUM for the trip to Toronto was T.M.H.S. member Capt. Charles Colenutt. TRILLIUM arrived in Toronto the following day without fanfare of any kind, although a few historians and reporters did make it to the Western Gap to see the arrival.
Over the winter, final bits of work were completed and by May of this year the boat was ready to enter service. Unfortunately, municipal budget cutbacks meant that planned daytime harbour cruises had to be abandoned, but after correction of a few problems encountered in trials on the bay in mid-May, the ship was placed in regular charter-party service on the evening of May 19th. Since then, she has been available for charter Tuesdays through Saturdays and on Sundays she normally runs the normal ferry service to Hanlan's Point. The problem is that, with the exception of those at Hanlan's, all docks now in use on the Islands were built since the retirement of TRILLIUM in 1956. At Ward's Island she could side-load, although she could not fit the slip itself, but there is no way that she could dock at the present Centre Island wharf at all. Even at Hanlan's she has a clearance of only about eighteen inches on each side when she is in the north slip.
Plans are underway to rebuild certain island dock facilities to fit TRILLIUM but with current economic conditions we can see that such improvements will not be available in the near future. As far as facilities at the city docks are concerned, she normally docks along the west side of the Yonge Street slip and side-loads, although a new dock has been made for her in the wide slip normally used by the carferry ONGIARA.
Official dedication ceremonies for TRILLIUM were planned for June 18 but had to be rescheduled for June 29. At four o'clock in the afternoon of that day, members of the Metro Council together with persons influential in the rebuilding of the ship and a number of invited guests met on board the ship and watched as the former Miss Phyllis Osler, who christened the ship in 1910, participated in ceremonies to commemorate TRILLIUM's re-entry into service. Then, as the bubbly poured freely, those present enjoyed a special trip across the bay, up Blockhouse Bay to Long Pond at Hanlan's Point (to a spot not far from where TRILLIUM rested for so many years) and then out into the lake towards Ontario Place. Ceremonies continued into the evening as a similar trip was staged by supervising engineer Gordon Champion.
And now TRILLIUM is in service. As ye Ed. is composing this article on Dominion Day, July 1st, he can see TRILLIUM out on the Bay, crossing to Hanlan's Point. He can hear the roar of her steam 'scapes and the shriek of her as-yet-untuned whistle and it is almost as if the clock had been turned back to that hot day in August 1956 when he made his last trip on TRILLIUM in her last week of service.
On behalf of the Toronto Marine Historical Society, we send our very best wishes to TRILLIUM and to her master, Capt. Richard Farley, a member of this Society. We hope that TRILLIUM (not so much a restoration as a replica of her original self) will have a long and safe career on the waters of Toronto Bay and that as many of the people of this city as possible will be able to ride aboard her to recreate the days when a ride on a paddle ferry was an everyday occurrence and not the experience of special occasions.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.