Some few years ago, we featured in these pages an article entitled "Steamboat to Hamilton". In it, we recounted the history of the Hamilton Steamboat Company Ltd. and the Turbine Steamship Company Ltd., the two major operators of passenger services between Toronto and Hamilton. In view of the passage of time since that history appeared in "Scanner", and the availability of certain additional information, we felt that the time was right for us to feature the life of one of the most famous passenger vessels ever to sail the waters of Lake Ontario. What follows is the result, and we hope that our readers will enjoy the narrative.
The Hamilton Steamboat Company Ltd. was formed in 1887 at Hamilton, its purpose being to operate passenger services on the bay which forms Hamilton Harbour. The principals in the formation of the company were members of the Tuckett and Griffith families, with whom Philip J. Peer was also associated. The first president of the company was T.B. Griffith, who served in this capacity until his death in 1893. He was succeeded by M. Leggatt, who was president for many years. The original managing director was J.B. Griffith, and G.T. Tuckett served as secretary and treasurer.
The first vessel owned by the H.S.B.Co. was the wooden 101-foot double-deck propellor MAZEPPA, which had been built at Toronto in 1884 by Melancthon Simpson for the Toronto Island ferry service. MAZEPPA was severely damaged by fire in Toronto's Esplanade Conflagration of August 3, 1885, but she was later rebuilt and, in 1887, was purchased by the Hamilton Steamboat Company for use as a ferry between Hamilton and Burlington Beach, the strand which separates the bay from Lake Ontario. Today, Burlington Beach is primarily a residential area, but at one time it was a noted bathing and amusement area to which Hamiltonians fled during the hot days of summer. The Hamilton Bay ferry service was of longer duration than might have been expected, for it continued into the 1950s despite the availability of access by roadway.
The new steamer was 155.0 feet in length, 24.1 feet in the beam, and 16.3 feet in depth, her tonnage (and we will comment more on this later) being 574 Gross, 459 Net. Her twin screws were driven by two triple-expansion engines, built by Kemp of Glasgow, with cylinders of 11, 18 and 29 inches and a stroke of 22 inches, steam being provided by one coal-fired Scotch boiler, 12.6 feet by 10.9 feet. She ran her trials on the Clyde and, in due course, was accepted by H.S.B.Co. Registered at Hamilton and enrolled as C.93932, she was christened MACASSA. This was to become a very famous name on Lake Ontario in the following years, but we have absolutely no idea why the name was chosen for the steamer nor what its significance may have been. It may have had some particular meaning for the Griffiths and the Tucketts or, perhaps, it may simply have been chosen for its resemblance to the name of the company's other boat; the name MAZEPPA, of course, was not of the company's choosing but came with her when she was acquired. As it developed, the only three ships H.S.B.Co. ever owned all bore names beginning with the letter 'M' and ending with 'A'.
In any event, MACASSA sailed from Glasgow and crossed the Atlantic under her own power. She was commanded for the trip by Captain Charles B. Hardy, who brought her into Hamilton on the morning of June 7, 1888. He was to remain in MACASSA for her first year of service and, thereafter, the ship was commanded by a succession of famous Lake Ontario skippers, among them being Captains John Irving, Crawford, Maddicks, Robert Cooney, Henderson, Goodwin, Staunton, William Zealand, Parkinson and, of course, Captain George J. Corson who was in her for many years and stayed until her Lake Ontario service came to an end.
MACASSA proved to be a very suitable ship for her route, and a good-looking one in the bargain. She had very fine lines and a pleasing sheer, her hull being remarkably slender and boasting a graceful counter stern. Her main deck was entirely enclosed but the promenade deck was almost completely open, there being only a small cabin which provided little shelter. The pilothouse, a quaint but beautiful structure with angled sides and large round-topped windows, was carried forward on the boat deck, but there were originally no quarters for the officers in this area. Her one tall mast, which emerged from the promenade deck forward of the pilothouse, was well raked, as was the tall and slender smokestack. In those days, of course, it was virtually unknown for a ship to carry a liner inside the stack and it was not uncommon for the heat of the funnel to set fire to the upper decks. A gentleman, who served in MACASSA during her early years, later recalled that he was frequently set to work playing a stream of water from a hose onto the stack in order to prevent the ignition of the surrounding woodwork.
MACASSA was so successful that, in 1889, the company took delivery of yet another Glasgow-built steamer, the somewhat larger MODJESKA. If the order had gone to William Hamilton and Company, the H.S.B.Co. might have found itself with a ship as suitable as MACASSA. Instead, however, the contract was let to another shipbuilder. While MACASSA was a flyer, known for her fast passages, MODJESKA was slow and lumbering, a boat that stumbled from accident to accident throughout her Lake Ontario years. Heavy, box-like, and anything but a graceful or pretty ship, MODJESKA had almost no sheer and continually rode with a pronounced list.
As mismatched as the two boats were, they ran together between Toronto and Hamilton for many years. At first, MACASSA and MODJESKA called at Lorne Park, Oakville, and Burlington Beach en route, but these stops were later dropped from the schedule. The steamers were readily recognizable by their colours, their hulls being black to the level of the main deck, cabins white, and stacks white with a black smokeband. There were minor variations in these colours, but they remained basically the same until corporate changes began to take effect in the new century.
Things changed for the Hamilton Steamboat Company in 1904, for that was the year that the newly-formed Turbine Steamship Company Ltd. placed in service its big turbine-powered dayboat TURBINIA. The two lines were soon locked in a desperate battle for the patronage of potential passengers and, as a result, it was decided to make MACASSA more of a match for the modern TURBINIA. In 1905, MACASSA was lengthened to 178.4 feet at Collingwood by the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company Ltd., the new piece being inserted in the vessel between the pilothouse and the stack, forward of the machinery. Increased cabin space was provided on the promenade deck and officers' quarters were constructed on the boat deck behind the pilothouse. A new mainmast was added aft, and the foremast was relocated between the pilothouse and the stack, a much more modern arrangement.
After the lengthening, both the Canadian List of Shipping and Lloyds Register showed her tonnage as 529 Gross and 234 Net. We have no idea how MACASSA's tonnage could have decreased when she was lengthened by 23 feet, but these statistics serve only to show that "official" records can often confuse the historian. We suspect that the original tonnage measurements are not correct, for although the American Bureau of Shipping (1900) indicated her Gross Tonnage to be 574, the 1892 Lloyds reported it as 363 "New Tons".
MACASSA's lengthening may have increased her carrying capacity and given her a more impressive appearance, but it did nothing to improve her qualities as a sea boat. She had never been blessed with an overabundance of beam and now her ratio of width to length was considerably reduced. As a result, MACASSA developed the nasty habit of rolling heavily in even a moderate sea, a characteristic which did not endear her to passengers over the following years. Indeed, her tendency to roll may well have been a factor in the ultimate loss of the steamer twenty-three years later.
The H.S.B.Co. held its own in the cut-throat competition with TURBINIA until January 15, 1909, at which time control of the company passed to the Eaton family interests. The Eatons were, and still are, the proprietors of one of Toronto's largest and most distinguished department stores and, interestingly enough, also controlled the Turbine Steamship Company. Despite the common ownership, the Eatons made no attempt to amalgamate the operations of the two steamship companies.
In 1911, the H.S.B.Co. and the T.S.S.Co. were both swallowed up by the Niagara Navigation Company Ltd. which operated passenger services between Toronto and the Niagara River ports. MODJESKA, MACASSA and TURBINIA all continued to operate as before, however, the new management making no changes in the Hamilton service. During 1912, Niagara Navigation itself was merged into the larger Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. and, on June 11, 1913, the R & O, together will all of its divisions, was merged into the newly-formed Canada Transportation Company Ltd., Montreal. The name of the new company was soon changed to Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. All three of the Hamilton boats stayed on their original routes but adopted the now-familiar C.S.L. colours.
The only change in operation for MACASSA during this period was that, late in the summer of 1912, she ran a special service from Cobourg, Port Hope, Bowmanville, and Oshawa to Toronto in order to ferry passengers to and from Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition. Then, when C. S.L. acquired the picnic park at Grimsby, a town located on the south shore of Lake Ontario between Hamilton and Port Dalhousie, MACASSA was the regular boat running to Grimsby from Toronto. When C.S.L. eventually disposed of MACASSA, the Toronto-Hamilton-Grimsby service was totally abandoned. Incidentally, Grimsby always provided a source of cargo revenue, even during the years before the formation of C.S.L. The town lies right in the middle of the Niagara fruit-growing district, and MACASSA frequently called there to pick up shipments of the produce of the Niagara orchards and vineyards.
MACASSA was a reliable steamer and became very well known around the western end of the lake. In fact, she was often the first boat out in the spring, frequently vying with DALHOUSIE CITY for the honour of being the first ship to arrive at Toronto, the winner carrying off the Harbourmaster's ceremonial top hat. Two examples of her early arrivals at Toronto were recorded on March 6, 1919 and March 30, 1925, both under the command of Captain Corson. As a matter of interest, we might note that the "interim return fare" in effect for MACASSA's first trip of the 1925 season was the princely sum of fifty cents.
MACASSA and MODJESKA ran together in C.S.L. colours through the 1924 season, but that year was a particularly unfortunate one for the hapless MODJESKA. She suffered two serious accidents and was laid up before the season had reached its mid-point. MODJESKA lay idle until 1926 and was then sold to the Owen Sound Transportation Company Ltd. which ran her as a dayboat on Georgian Bay in 1926 and then converted her to an overnight passenger and freight boat for the service between Owen Sound and Sault Ste. Marie. Her appearance was greatly changed in the rebuild and, renamed MANITOULIN, she managed to cast aside the reputation which she had built for herself on Lake Ontario.
When she emerged from her transformation and headed northwards to take on her new duties, MACASSA was greatly changed. She had been given passenger cabins which extended out to the sides of the ship on the promenade deck and her quaint old pilothouse had disappeared, replaced by a much larger round-fronted structure. She also sported two new masts.
Renamed (b) MANASOO, the forty-year-old steamer commenced her first trip under the colours of the Owen Sound Transportation Company on April 22, 1928. She operated mainly between Owen Sound and Sault Ste. Marie via the "Turkey Trail", the route through the North Channel between the upper shore of Lake Huron and Manitoulin Island. She carried many passengers but she was particularly useful for the carriage of supplies to and from the small ports she visited. As well, her freight deck was usually well filled with the produce of the area farms and one of her principal cargoes was local cattle being shipped to market. Nevertheless, while MANITOULIN was to have a long and distinguished career for her new owner, MANASOO was to have no such luck. In fact, she was to operate for less than five months before her tragic loss.
On September 14, 1928, MANASOO cleared the small port of Manitowaning, on Manitoulin Island, bound for her home port of Owen Sound with a crew of twenty, two passengers, and 116 head of cattle. The tourist season, such as it was back then, was long since over and the passengers were likely local residents rather than sightseers. During the night, a considerable sea developed and, by this time, MANASOO was out of the North Channel and onto open water. At about 2:00 a.m. on September 15th, the steamer began to list to port, apparently because of the movement of the cattle on the freight deck. Although efforts were made to adjust the ship's trim, the list increased and the rest of the cattle and other freight began to shift over to the low port side. Finally, before daybreak, while MANASOO was off Griffiths Island in Georgian Bay, the list became so great that her starboard bilge lifted clear out of the water. MANASOO began to take on water through the freight doors and other openings on the port side, lay over on her beam ends, and finally foundered.
One passenger, together with five of the crew, including the master and the chief engineer, escaped from the sinking MANASOO and took refuge on a life raft. With the exception of the engineer, who died from exposure, all were rescued some thirteen hours later by the C.P.R. steamer MANITOBA which, diverted from her course, steamed back and forth through the wreckage searching for survivors. Others from MANASOO's crew, believed to have left the sinking ship in lifeboats, were lost, victims of the autumn gale and the cold waters.
The loss of MANASOO was the most lamentable disaster of the 1928 navigation season. Seventeen persons lost their lives, 116 good head of cattle perished, much freight was scattered about the surface of Georgian Bay, and a good steamer, in only her fifth month of service for her owner, was lost. The sinking of MANASOO was all the more regrettable in that it was probably due in great part to the heat of the competition between the Hamilton Steamboat Company and the Turbine Steamship Company back in 1904 and 1905. That competition had forced the H.S.B.Co. to lengthen a boat which could not take the extra length on her narrow beam, and which might best have been left as she was when she came from her builder's yard on the River Clyde back in 1888.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.