This feature of our newsletter usually deals only with the history of one particular vessel, but this month, as a sort of Christmas Special, we have the story of a famous set of marine engines and the two distinguished ships in which they served to carry thousands of Torontonians to the Niagara River and back.
In 1887, an order was placed with the firm of Rankin, Blackmore & Company, Greenock, Scotland, for the engines to power a new Lake Ontario excursion steamer. The job of designing the machinery was given to 21 year old Archie Rankin and he turned out a magnificent set of inclined compound engines with high and low pressure cylinders of 45 and 84 inches, and a stroke of 66 inches. They developed 2000 horsepower on steam supplied by six coal-fired boilers, each measuring 8'9" by 17'. Upon completion, the engines were taken down and shipped to the town of Deseronto on the Bay of Quinte where they were readied for installation.
The year 1886 saw the Niagara Navigation Co. doing a land-office business in the excursion trade from Toronto to Niagara with their steamer CHICORA. As good a ship as the former blockade runner was, she just could not handle all the traffic and so the company placed an order with E. W. Rathbun and Co., Deseronto, for a new steamer. The vessel was designed by Robert Morton, a noted Glasgow designer of Clyde steamers, and her hull was very similar to the Clyde Sidewheeler OZONE. The hull of the new vessel was built at the Rathbun shipyard by W. C. White of Montreal using Dalzell steel shipped over from Scotland.
Construction started on May 24, 1887, and on November 1st of the same year, the hull took to the waters of the Bay of Quinte. Miss Constance Cumberland, daughter of the Niagara Navigation Company's Vice-President, Barlow Cumberland, christened the steamer CIBOLA, an Indian name meaning "the Buffalo." Into the hull were placed Archie Rankin's engines, and Rathbun's foreman carpenter, J. Whalen, began work on the upperworks. The interior mahogany trim and various decorations were done by the William Wright Co. of Detroit. The Edison Co. of New York supplied what was then a touch of great luxury, electric lighting.
The overall length of CIBOLA was 260 feet. Her beam was 28'6" (52 feet over the guards) and she had a draft of 6'6" with a depth of hold of 11'6". She was assigned official number 92732. Her hull was divided into five watertight compartments and her deck was made of 3 1/2" pine. On her trials she managed a speed of 20 m.p.h. and more than satisfied her builders and owners.
It had been arranged that her first revenue trip would be on June 10th, 1888, when she was scheduled to take a load of troops to summer camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake. As it happened, her upperworks were not completed when it came time to leave the builder's yard at Deseronto and so the carpenters stayed aboard and finished the cabins while the steamer was en route to Toronto.
CIBOLA entered service as scheduled and proved a great success on the popular excursion run. Her first commander was Capt. J. McCorquodale, who was succeeded, at the time of his death in 1891, by Capt. J. McGiffin. He in turn left to take over as Master of the flagship CHIPPEWA upon her completion in 1893. CIBOLA's third Master was Capt. W. H. Solmes who commanded her for the rest of her active life.
Unhappily, CIBOLA was not to serve the Niagara Route for long. While tied up for the night at Lewiston, New York, on July 15, 1895, the steamer caught fire and burned to the main deck with the loss of one life. Third Engineer William Hammond was trapped below and was unable to escape through a porthole into which he had attempted to crawl. Meanwhile, the burning ship had floated free of the Lewiston dock and was carried downstream by the current. She was finally captured and towed to a wharf at Youngstown, New York, at the mouth of the river, but not before she was beyond any hope of being saved from complete gutting. When the wreck had finally cooled and the remains had been inspected, the hull was towed to Toronto where Archie Rankin's engines and boilers were removed and taken to the Bertram Engine Works. The hull itself lay forgotten for nearly thirty years and, although it has never been verified by the finding of the remains, it is believed that she was simply covered over with fill during the reshaping of the Toronto waterfront in the early 1920's.
During the period of CIBOLA's operation, the N.N.Co. fleet had been expanded by the addition of the mighty beam-engined CHIPPEWA which made her first run on July 26,1893. Still, the company had felt that they might possibly require, at some future time, another vessel, and plans had accordingly been drawn up. Upon the demise of CIBOLA, these plans were immediately implemented and an order for the new ship was placed with the Bertram Engine & Shipbuilding Co., Toronto.
The new steamer came from the drawing board of one Arendt Angstrom, a noted marine architect who was to become General Manager of the Canadian Shipbuilding Co., the successor to the Bertram firm. He had been responsible for CHIPPEWA and was later to produce such masterpieces as the last Niagara steamer, CAYUGA, and the magnificent nightboat, KINGSTON. In the excellence of his design, he ranks along with the great Frank E. Kirby as one of the leading designers of lake passenger vessels.
Work on the new steel-hulled sidewheeler progressed rapidly and on May 25, 1896, the hull was launched into Toronto Bay at Bertram's yard at the foot of Bathurst Street, The vessel was sponsored by Miss Mildred Cumberland, another daughter of the N.N.Co. Vice-President, and by Miss Clara Foy, daughter of the company's General Manager, John Foy. She was named CORONA, a name chosen by Lady Smith, wife of N.N.Co. President, Sir Frank Smith. The word "corona" refers to the bright rays seen around the sun during a total eclipse, and it was implied that the new steamer was succeeding the "eclipsed" CIBOLA.
During the building of the hull, Bertrams had been refurbishing the Rankin engines and they were now placed into CORONA, apparently none the worse for their trial by fire. The upperworks of the ship were completed by the builders after the launching and CORONA was ready for service at the opening of the 1897 season. She had a length of 270'3", a beam (hull) of 32'4 and a depth of 12'5". Her gross tonnage was 1274 and net, 649. She was given official number 103673.
CORONA proved a successful addition to the N.N.Co. fleet and brought the line back to full strength. On October 10th, 1901, she had the distinction of serving as a royal yacht when the Duke and Duchess of York, later to become King George V and Queen Mary, visited Niagara. CORONA carried the royal party from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queenston and return,
CORONA was commanded by a number of notable men, among them being Captains William Malcolm, C, J. Smith, B. A.Bongard, and Henry King. The latter sailed the ship in 1911 and was on the bridge when, on the stormy day of June 8, as she was inbound at the Toronto Eastern Gap, CORONA was struck by a series of waves and pounded against the west pier-head. She suffered serious damage to her port wheel and had to be taken to the Polson Iron Works for repairs after the wreckage of the paddle-box had been cleared enough to permit the operation of the engines. Capt. King had previously commanded CHICORA and later became an Examiner of Masters and Mates. It is said that he was the first N.N.Co, Captain to attempt the dangerous turn in the river at Queenston by night. Your Editor well remembers this gentleman as he was a long-time resident of Ward's Island. He died at Toronto in 1968 at the age of 101.
In June, 1913, the Niagara Navigation Co. was purchased by the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Co. and became a division of the larger fleet. The following year, R & O itself was swallowed up by the newly-formed Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal, and CORONA served this latter firm for the rest of her years. CORONA, of course, spent most of her life on the Toronto-Niagara run, but for a short time during the early 1920's she was placed on the Toronto to Hamilton route. After a period of inactivity spent in the eastern regions of Toronto Harbour, she was refitted about 1927 and re-entered the Niagara service as third boat to CAYUGA and CHIPPEWA.
CORONA remained on her old run until 1933. when the effects of the Depression were making themselves felt on the local passenger operations. She was laid up in the Toronto Ship Channel and from time to time was joined by CAPE TRINITY and CAPE ETERNITY and, in 1936, by the great CHIPPEWA herself. CORONA never ran again. By 1937, her wooden cabins had deteriorated badly and the automobile had made such inroads into the excursion trade that there was no justification for reactivating her. Towards the end, she was stripped of much of her equipment, and, fortunately, her triple chime whistle was acquired by the Toronto Dry Dock Co. Ltd. It now serves to welcome visitors to the Marine Museum of Upper Canada.
CORONA was sold in September of 1937 to Frankel Brothers Ltd. , a. local scrap dealer, and in the fall of the year was towed to Buffalo by the tug R.C.C. NO. 2. There, she was broken up, and with her went Archie Rankin's engines, the spirit of two fine excursion steamers, and memories by the bushelful of the days before the era of the automobile, when the passenger boats reigned supreme.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.