Starting in October and continuing each month since, we have attempted to present the complete history of the passenger steamer COLUMBIAN, (b) BROCKVILLE, (c) RAPIDS QUEEN, (d) C.D. 110, which was built in 1892. We bit off rather more than we could chew with this one, but only through asking provocative questions about the unknown can we hope eventually to produce a history sufficiently complete to serve as a source of information for researchers who may follow in our steps in the years to come.
We are grateful to the many members who wrote with information on this vessel. In particular, we are indebted to Gerald T. Girvin of Rochester for his assistance. Gerry is an incorrigible collector of data about Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River passenger boats and his records have shed much light on the early years of COLUMBIAN. He had a few surprises for us, too!
It seems that COLUMBIAN was probably not built for R & O at all, nor was she built "on speculation" either. In fact, according to this source, she was built for the Joy Line of New York, which had hitherto operated boats in that area but which, rather ambitiously, had decided to place an entry on the route from Chicago to the grounds of the Columbian Exposition which would be held in 1893 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World. The Joy Line, apparently, was unaware of the number of steamers which had already been committed to run to the Fair, including the whaleback CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS which was built in 1892 especially for the event.
In any event, COLUMBIAN set out up the east coast after her completion in the spring of 1892. She encountered bad weather during the trip and put in at Montreal in July with considerable damage. By the time repairs were completed, the Joy Line was getting cold feet about the Fair service and decided to sell the steamer. It was at this time that she was purchased by Richelieu and Ontario. Unfortunately, we have no way of correlating this version of the circumstances with the registering of the boat to Morgan Iron Works in 1892, nor do we know why Lloyd's of 1892 shows her owned by R & O of Philadelphia. Neither do we know how Shea of St. John's became involved, although he may possibly have been a mortgagee as was the Montreal Safe Deposit Company later. To be quite honest, we should also like to know what the Joy Line intended to do with COLUMBIAN in the lakes in 1892, for the Chicago Fair was not due to open until May 1st, 1893.
R & O bought COLUMBIAN over the objections of some of its senior operating personnel who argued that the ship was "cranky" and that her poor centre of gravity caused her to lunge forward when she pitched. They also said that she was a bit too deep for the rapids service for which R & O intended her. Nevertheless, the line acquired her and sheathed her hull with rock elm in order to pacify her critics. She was placed in service, not on the through line from Toronto to Montreal, but rather on the shorter route from Kingston to Montreal, her running mate being the older BOHEMIAN. COLUMBIAN kept her old name, as even though R & O had no connection with the Fair whose name she bore, it fitted in with other R & O names (ALGERIAN, CASPIAN, etc.).
Whether COLUMBIAN strayed frequently from the Kingston-Montreal route, we do not know. She did, however, leave it in 1897 to run between Buffalo and Chippawa with connections for the electric gorge railway and the Niagara Navigation Company boats for Toronto. R & O schedules for 1898 and 1899 do not show COLUMBIAN as being back on Lake Ontario or the River, but it seems that she did return if the date on the "1898" Notman photo is credible.
COLUMBIAN was definitely on Lake Ontario and the River in 1900 when she ran most of the summer under charter to Gildersleeve's Lake Ontario and Bay of Quinte Steamboat Company. She and NORTH KING operated from Port Hope to Rockport via Cobourg, Charlotte, Bay of Quinte and Kingston, while HERO ran the local service from Brighton to Gananoque. The terms of the charter gave COLUMBIAN back to R & O on Mondays, June 9 through August 27, for the Kingston-Montreal route. An advertisement appearing on August 31,1900, in the Rochester Union-Advertiser, indicated that COLUMBIAN and NORTH KING would sail for the "Toronto Fair" on August 30 and 31 and on September 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7, departure from Charlotte at 10:30 p.m. The fare was $1.00 and Rochester residents could make the boat via the 9:40 p.m. Charlotte train.
In our original feature on this steamer, Ye Ed. went out on a limb and suggested that the ship had been lengthened during the 1901 rebuild at Sorel and not in 1909 as the official records would have us believe. The more we compare photos of COLUMBIAN and BROCKVILLE, especially the views which appeared in our October issue, the more we are convinced that our suspicions are correct. Other historians who have seen the photos tend to agree. It is entirely possible that a change in the measurements of the ship was not recorded at the time of the 1901 rebuild and that this error was not corrected until she was surveyed subsequent to the 1909 reconstruction.
We also have new information concerning RAPIDS QUEEN's sojourn at Morrisburg, during which time she housed patients of Doctor Locke's Clinic. We had mentioned that she went to Morrisburg in 1936, remained there in 1937, and was back in lay-up at Kingston in 1938. We have, however, run across an article in the Canadian Railway and Marine World which indicates that, having been purchased by John E. Russell, Ontario attorney and vice-president of Sin-Mac Lines Ltd., RAPIDS QUEEN left Sorel on September 14, 1929 bound for Port Arthur. She was placed in 1930 on a route between Fort William, Port Arthur, Silver Islet and Isle Royale but, as we already knew, the service was anything but a success and RAPIDS QUEEN was withdrawn and taken back to Portsmouth where she was laid up. It should be noted, however, that it was in 1930 that RAPIDS QUEEN ran to Silver Islet, not in 1933.
Now then, the piece in C.R.&M.W. indicates that, on September 9, 1932, RAPIDS QUEEN, presumably idle since 1930, was towed from Portsmouth to Morrisburg by the Sin-Mac tug CONQUEROR. She was moored at the outside pier, just beyond the town limits, for use as a floating hotel because there was insufficient accommodation at Morrisburg for persons attending the Clinic at Williamsburg. We now know that RAPIDS QUEEN was at Morrisburg in 1933 and likely in 1934 as well, although we are not certain. In 1935, of course, she was on the Ontario and Quebec Lines service between Toronto and Montreal. We had earlier thought that she went to Morrisburg in 1936 but it seems improbable that she went back there after her brief reactivation. We assume that she remained idle at Portsmouth from the autumn of 1935 until late in 1938 when she went to Kingston for conversion to a fuel barge for C.D.&D.
We only wish that all this information had been at our fingertips when we wrote the original article, for then we would not have had to spread the data over four issues. We doubt that we'll learn much more about COLUMBIAN or RAPIDS QUEEN, but if we do, we shall be back like a dirty shirt from the laundry to keep our readers up to date.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.