THE Frontenac was followed by the Queen Charlotte, built in the same yards at Finkle's Point, by Teabout and Chapman, and launched on 22nd April, 1818, for H. Gildersleeve, the progenitor of that family which bas ever since been foremost in the ranks of steamboating in Canada. He sailed her for twenty years as captain and purser, her first route being a round trip every ten days between Kingston,York and Queenston. The passage rates at this time were from Kingston to York and Niagara £3 ($12.00), from York to Niagara £1 ($4.00).
In 1824 appeared the first "City of Toronto," of 350 tons, built in the harbor of York at the foot of Church Street. Her life was neither long nor successful, she being sold by auction "with all her furniture" in December, 1830, and broken up.
Passenger traffic was now so much increasing that steamers began to follow more quickly. The Lewiston"Sentinel" in 1824, in a paragraph eulogizing their then rising town, says- "Travel is rapidly increasing, regular lines of stages excelled by none, run daily by the Ridge Road to Lockport, and on Fridays weekly to Buffalo. The steamboats are increasing in business and affording every facility to the traveller." The Hon. Robert Hamilton, who for so many years afterwards was dominantly interested in steamboating, launched the "Queenston" in 1825 at Queenston. His fine residence, from which he could watch the movements of his own and other steamers, still stands on the edge of the high bank overlooking the Queenston dock.
In 1826 there was added the "Canada" built at the mouth of the Rouge River by Mr. Joseph Dennis and brought to York to have the engines installed, which had been constructed by Hess and Wards, of Montreal. Under the charge of Captain Hugh Richardson, her captain and managing owner, she had a long and notable career. The contemporary annals describe her as "a fast boat," and as making the trip from York to Niagara "in four hours and some minutes."
On one occasion in 1828, when Sir Peregrine Maitland, the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, and Lady Maitland, had taken passage with him from York to Queenston en route to Stamford, a newspaper item had accused him of undue exclusiveness on the "Canada" to the annoyance of other passengers.
To this the doughty "Captain and Managing Owner" replied by a letter in which he denied the accusation and added: "As long as I command the "Canada" and have a rag of colour to hoist, my proudest day will be when it floats at the masthead indicative of the presence and commands of the representative of my King."
The departure of his steamer from port was announced in an exceptional manner, as stated in the concluding words of his advertisement to the public: "N.B. A gun will be fired and colours hoisted twenty-five minutes before starting."
In another controversy, which arose from the contract for carrying the mails on the Niagara route having been withdrawn from the steamer "Canada" it was developed that while the pay to the steamer was only 1s. 3d. per trip, Government postage between York and Niagara was 7d. on each letter. This charge the captain considered excessive, but as the postmaster at Niagara now refused to receive any letters from his steamer he regretted he had to make public announcement that he was obliged (in future) to decline to accept any more letters to be taken across the lake.
The captain-commander of a lake steamboat in those days was a person of importance and repute. Unquestioned ruler on his "ship," he represented the honour of his Flag and obedience to his Country's laws.
Most of them had been officers of the Royal Navy and had served during the 1812 War, having been trained in the discipline and conventions of His Majesty's service, and similarly on the American boats had served in the United States Navy.
At the present day on our Muskoka and inland lakes, the advent of the daily steamer is a crowning event, bringing all the neighbourhood down to the waterside dock, in curiosity or in welcome. Still more so it was in those early times when the mode of steam progression was novel and a source of wonder, and the days of call so much more infrequent.
The captain was no doubt the bearer of letters to be delivered into the hands of friends, certainly the medium of the latest news (and gossip) from the other ports on the lake, and was sought for tidings from the outside, as well as in welcome to himself. In particular evidence of the confidence reposed in him and in his gallantry, he was the honored Guardian of ladies and children, travelling alone, who were with much empressment confided to his care. Being usually a part owner his attentions were gracious hospitalities, so that a seat at the commander's table was not only a privilege, but an appreciated acknowledgment of social position.
These were the halcyon days of Officers on the lakes, when the increased speed of the new method was enjoyed and appreciated, but the congenialities of a pleasant passage, were not lost in impatient haste for its earlier termination.
There were in 1826 five steamers running on the Niagara River Route. The "Niagara" and "Queenston" from Prescott;"Frontenac" from Kingston;"Martha Ogden," an American steamer from the south shore ports and Ogdensburg, and the "Canada" to York and "head of the lake," presumably near Burlington, and return.
On this "Martha Ogden," built at Sackett's Harbour, in 1824, Captain Van Cleve, of Lewiston, served for many years as clerk, and afterwards as captain. In a manuscript left by him many interesting events in her history are narrated. In 1826 she ran under the command of Captain Andrew Estes between Youngstown and York.Youngstown was then a port of much importance. It was the shipping place of a very considerable hardwood timbering business the trees being brought in from the surrounding country. Its docks, situated close to the lake on an eddy separated from the rapid flow of the river, formed an easily accessible centre for the batteaux and sailing craft which communicated with the Eastern ports on Lake Ontario.
A considerable quantity of grain was also at that time raised in the district, providing material for the stone flour mill built in 1840. This mill, grinding two hundred barrels per day, was in those days considered a marvel of enterprise. Though many years ago disused for such purpose it is still to be seen just a little above the Niagara Navigation Company'sYoungstown dock.
In the way of the nomenclature of steamers, that of the "Alciope," built at Niagara in 1828 for Mr. Robert Hamilton, and first commanded by Captain McKenzie, late of the "Frontenac," is unusual. This name in appearance would appear to be that of some ancient goddess, but is understood to be taken from a technical term in abstract zoology. Possibly it may at the time have attracted attention, but was evidently not considered satisfactory as it was changed in 1832 to the more suitable one of "United Kingdom."
The route of the "Martha Ogden" had reverted back to the lake trip between Lewiston and Ogdensburgh. It was her ill luck to run ashore in 1830 and having sought repairs in the British Government naval establishment at Kingston,Captain Van Cleve mentions, with much satisfaction the cordial reception given to the American crew by Commodore Barrie, and the efficient work done for the ship in the Royal Dockyard. The "Martha Ogden" closed her days in 1832 by being lost off Stoney Point,Lake Ontario.
The sailing times of the through boats from the river at this time are given as "the steamer Great Britain leaves Niagara every five days, the Alciope, every Saturday evening, the Niagara every Monday evening at 6 o'clock, and the Queenston every Tuesday morning at 9 o'clock for Kingston,Brockville and Prescott (board included) $8.00.
Shipbuilding on the lake began now to take a more definite and established position. The "Niagara Dock Company" was formed in 1835. Robert Gilkison, a Canadian, of Queenston, who had been educated in shipbuilding at "Port Glasgow,Scotland," returned to Canada and was appointed designer and superintendent of the works at Niagara.
A number of ships were built under his charge. The first steamer was the "Traveller," 145 feet long, 23.6 beam, with speed of 11 to 12 miles followed by the "Transit,""Gore" and the "Queen Victoria," 130 feet long, 23.6 beam, with 50 horse power, a stated speed of 12 miles, and described as having been "fitted in elegant style." This steamer, launched in April, 1838, and commanded by Captain Thomas Dick, introduces a family which for many years was connected with steamboating on the Niagara River route.
In her first season Robert Gilkinson, her builder, noted in his diary, June 29th: "On the celebration of Her Majesty's Coronation the Victoria, with a party of sixty ladies and gentlemen, made her first trip to Toronto, making the distance from Niagara to Toronto in 3 hours and minutes, a rate scarcely met by any other boat."
"July 2. Commenced trips leaving Niagara 7 a.m., Toronto 11 a.m., and Hamilton 4 p.m., arrived here (Niagara) 8 p.m. Accomplished the 121 miles in ten and a half hours, a rate not exceeded by any boat on the lake."
"Passengers will on Monday and Thursday arrive at Toronto in time for the "William IV" steamer for Kingston and Prescott. Returning. On arrival at Lewiston, railroad cars will leave for the Falls. On arrival at Queenston stages will leave for the Falls, whence the passengers can leave next day by the steamer "Red Jacket" from Chippawa to Buffalo, or by the railroad cars for Manchester."
The "Railroad Cars" were those of the "Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad" opened in 1836, then running two trains a day each way between Buffalo and the Falls, leaving Buffalo at nine in the morning and five in the afternoon. Manchester was the name of the town laid out in the neighborhood of the Falls, where, from the abundance of water power it was expected a great manufacturing centre would be established.
An advertisement in a later year (1844) mentions the steamer "Emerald" to "leave Buffalo at 9 a.m. for Chippawa, arrive by cars at Queenston for steamer for Toronto,Oswego,Rochester,Kingston and Montreal."
The "cars" at Queenston were those of a horse railroad which had been constructed along the main road from Chippawa to Queenston, of which some traces still remain. The rails were long wooden sleepers faced with strap iron.
During one season the "Queen Victoria" was chartered as a gunboat for Lake Ontario, being manned by officers and men from the Royal Navy. She presented a fine appearance and was received with great acceptance at the lake ports as she visited them.
A more direct route from this distributing point at the foot of the rapids on the Niagara River direct to the head of Lake Ontario and the country beyond, instead of crossing first to Toronto, was evidently sought. In 1840 the steamer "Burlington" - Captain Robert Kerr - is advertised to "Leave Lewiston 7 a.m., Niagara 7.30 a.m., landing (weather permitting) at Port Dalhousie (near St. Catharines, from which place a carriage will meet the boat regularly); Grimsby, and arrive at Hamilton about noon. Returning will leave at 3 p.m., and making the same calls, weather permitting, arrive at Lewiston in the evening."
The 30th July, 1841, was a memorable day in steamboating on the Niagara River. A great public meeting was held that day on Queenston Heights to arrange for the building of a new monument in memory of General Brock to replace the one which had been blown up by some dastard on 17th April, 1840.
Four steamers left Toronto together about 7:30 in the morning. The "Traveller"-Captain Sandom, R.N., with His Excellency the Governor-General, Lord Sydenham, on board; "Transit" - Captain Hugh Richardson;"Queen Victoria" - Captain Richardson, Jr.; "Gore"Captain Thomas Dick. At the month of the Niagara River these were joined by the "Burlington" - Captain Robert Kerr, and "Britannia" from Hamilton and the head of the lake, and by the "Gildersleeve" and "Cobourg" from the Eastern ports and Kingston.
Judge Benson, of Port Hope, says that his father, Capt. Benson, of the 3rd Incorporated Militia, was then occupying the "Lang House" in Niagara, overlooking the river, and that he and his brother were lifted up to the window to see the flotilla pass by, a reminiscence of loyal fervor which has been vividly retained through a long life. Is it not a sufficient justification and an actual value resulting from special meetings and pageants that they not only serve to revivify the enthusiasm of the elders in annals of past days, but yet more to bring to the minds of youth actual and abiding touch with the historic events which are being celebrated?
Much rivalry existed between the steamers as to which would open the season first, as the boat which got into Niagara first before 1st March was free of port dues for the season. In this the "Transit" excelled and sometimes landed her passengers on the ice.
This steamer, largely owned by Captain Heron and the Richardsons, was specially designed to continue during the winter the daily connection by water to Toronto, and so avoid the long stage journey around the head of the lake. For this purpose, her prow at and below the water line was projected forward like a double furrowed plough, to cut through the ice and throw it outwards on each side.
This winter service she maintained for ten seasons with commendable regularity between the outer end of the Queen's Wharf at Toronto (where she had sometimes to land passengers on the ice) and Niagara. On one occasion, in a snowstorm she went ashore just outside the harbour at Toronto, and was also occasionally frozen in at both ends of the route, but each time managed to extricate herself. After refitting in the spring she divided the daily Lewiston-Toronto Route after 1850 with the second City of Toronto," a steamer with two separate engines, with two walking beans built at Toronto in 1840, which had been running in the Royal Mail Line, but in 1850 passed into the complete ownership of Captain Thomas Dick.
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This volume is copyright The Estate of Ivan S. Brookes and is published with permission of the Estate. The originals are deposited in the Special Collections of the Hamilton Public Library.