DURING this decade the Niagara River was more increasingly traversed by many steamers, and became the main line of travel between the Western and Centre States by steamer to Buffalo, and thence, via the Niagara River to Boston and New York via Ogdensburg and Albany, or by Montreal and Lake Champlain to the Hudson.
Lewiston had become a place of much importance, being the transhipping point for a great through freighting business. Until the opening of the Erie Canal all the salt used in the Western States and Canada was brought here by water from Oswego, in thousands of barrels, from the Onandaga Salt Wells. Business in the opposite direction was greatly active, report being made of the passing of a consignment of 900 barrels of "Mississippi sugar," and 200 hogsheads of molasses for Eastern points in the United States and Canada.
A new era was opened in 1847 by the introduction with great eclat and enterprise of the first iron steamers. The "Passport" commanded first by Captain H. Twohey and afterwards by Captain Thomas Harbottle, was constructed for the Hon. John Hamilton, the iron plates being moulded on the Clyde and put together at the Niagara shipyard by James and Neil Currie. The plates for the "Magnet" were similarly brought out from England and put together for J. W. Gunn, of Hamilton, the principal stockholder, with Captain J. Sutherland her captain. Both these steamers in their long service proved the reliability of metal vessels in our fresh water. Both formed part of the Royal Mail Line leaving Toronto on the arrival of the river steamers.
In the early "fifties" the "American Express Line," running from Lewiston to Toronto,Rochester,Oswego and Ogdensburg consisted of the fine upper cabin steamers "Cataract,""Bay State,""Ontario," and "Northerner."
The "New Through Line," a Canadian organization, was comprised of six steamers: the "Maple Leaf,""Arabian,""New Era,""Champion,""Highlander,""Mayflower." The route they followed was: "Leave Hamilton 7 a.m.; leave Lewiston and Queenston about half past 8 p.m., calling at all north shore Ontario ports between Darlington and Prescott to Ogdensburgh and Montreal without transhipment. Returning via the north shore to Toronto and Hamilton direct." The through time down to Montreal was stated in the advertisement to be "from Hamilton 33 hours, from the Niagara River 25 hours."
A good instance of the frequency of the entrances of the steamers into the harbours is afforded by an amusing suggestion which was in 1851, made by Captain Hugh Richardson, who had become Harbour Master at Toronto.
The steamers running into the port seem to have called sometimes at one dock first, sometimes at another, according, probably, to the freight which may have been on board to be delivered. Much trouble was thus caused to cabmen and citizens running up and down the water front from one dock to another.
The captain, whose views with respect to the flying, and the distinctive meanings, of flags, we have already seen, proposed that all vessels when entering the harbour should designate the dock at which they intended to stop by the Following signals:-
It is to be remembered that in those days the "Western" was the only entrance to the harbour and Front Street without any buildings on its south side, followed the line of the high bank above the water so that the signals on the steamer; could be easily seen by all. The proposal was publicly endorsed by the Mayor, Mr. J. G. Bowes, but there is no record of its having been adopted.
In 1853 there was built at Niagara for Mr. Oliver T. Macklem the steamer "Zimmerman," certainly the finest and reputed to be the fastest steamer which up to that time sailed the river. She was named after Mr. Samuel Zimmerman, the railway magnate, and ran in connection with the Erie and Ontario Railway from Fort Erie to Niagara, which he had promoted, and was sailed by Captain D. Milloy.
In this same year there was sailed regularly from Niagara another iron steamer, the "Peerless," owned by Captain Dick and Andrew Heron, of Niagara. This steamer was first put together at Dunbarton, Scotland, then taken apart, and the pieces (said to be five thousand in number) sent out to Canada, and put together again at the Niagara dockyard. These two steamers thereafter divided the services in competition on the Niagara Route to Toronto.
These years were the zenith period for steamboating on Lake Ontario and the Niagara River, a constant succession of steamers passing to and fro between the ports. Progress in the Western States and in Upper Canada had been unexampled. Expansion in every line of business was active, population fast coming in, and the construction of railways, which was then being begun, creating large expenditures and distribution of money. The steamers on the water were then the only method for speedy travel, so their accommodation was in fullest use, and their earnings at the largest.
The stage routes around the shores of the lakes in those days were tedious and trying in summer, and in winter accompanied by privations. The services of the steamers in the winter were greatly appreciated and maintained with the utmost vigour every year, particularly for the carriage of mails between Toronto,Niagara,Queenston and Lewiston, for which the steamer received in winter £3 for each actual running day, and between Toronto and Hamilton, for which the recompense was £2 for service per day performed.
In 1851 the Chief Justice Robinson is recorded (Gordon's Letter Books) as having run on the Niagara River during 71 months of the year. The remaining portion, while she was refitting, was filled by the second City of Toronto.
In 1852-53 the services were performed by the same steamers. In 1854 the Peerless made two trips daily during ten months, the Chief Justice Robinson taking the balance of this service and also filling in during the other months, with the second City of Toronto on the Hamilton Route.
The winter service to the Niagara River for 1855 was commenced by the Chief Justice Robinson on 1st January, the steamer crossing the lake on 22 days in that month. February was somewhat interrupted by ice, but the full service between the shores was performed on 23 days in file month of March.
So soon as the inner water in the harbour of Toronto was frozen up all these services here performed from the outer extremity of the Queen's Wharf, and in the mid-winter months mostly from the edges of the ice further out, the sleighs driving out alongside with their passengers and freight. It seems difficult for us, in these days of luxury in travel, to comprehend the difficulties under which the early travellers laboured and thrived.
The "Niagara Falls and Ontario Railway" was opened as far as Lewiston in 1854 and by its connection at the Falls with the New York Central Railway brought during its first winter of 1854-55 great activity to the Niagara steamers.
The Crimean War was in progress and food products for the armies in the field were being eagerly sought from all places of world-supply and from America. Shipments were accordingly sought from Upper Canada. In summer the route would be by the Erie Canal to Albany or by the St. Lawrence and Montreal, but both routes were closed in winter.
The New York Central had been connected as a complete rail route as far as Albany, where, as there was no bridge across the Hudson, transportation was made by a ferry to the Hudson River Railroad, on the opposite shore for New York, or to the Western Railroad for Boston.
In January, 1855, large shipments of flour made from Upper Canada mills along the north shore of Lake Ontario began to be collected. The enterprising agent of the Peerless (Mr. L. B. Gordon) wrote to the Central that he hoped to "make the consignment up to 10,000 barrels before the canal and river opens." This being a reference to the competing all-water route via the Erie Canal and Hudson River.
The through races of freight, as recorded in Mr. Gordon's books, are in these modern days of low rates, remarkable. Not the less interesting are the proportions accepted by each of the carriers concerned for their portion of the service, which were as follows:
The shipments were largely from the products of the mills at the Credit, Oakville,Brampton,Esquesing, and Georgetown, being teamed to the docks at Oakville and Port Credit, from where they were brought by the steamers Queen City and Chief Justice Robinson at 5c per bbl. to the Queen's Wharf,Toronto, and from there taken across the lake by the Chief Justice Robinson and the Peerless.
The propeller St. Nicholas took a direct load of 3,000 barrels from Port Credit to Lewiston on Feb. 2nd. Shipments were also sent to Boston at $1.24 ½ per bbl., on which the proportion of the "New York Central" was 68c, and the "Western Railroad" received 35c per bbl. as their share.
Another novel route was also opened. Consignments of flour for local use were sent to Montreal during this winter by the New York Central, Lewiston to Albany, and thence by the "AlbanyNorthern Railroad" to the south side of the St. Lawrence River, whence they were most probably teamed across the ice to the main city.
Northbound shipments were also worked up and received at Lewiston for Toronto - principally teas and tobaccos - consignments of "English Bonded Goods" were rated at "second-class, same as domestic sheetings" and carried at 63c per 100 pounds from New York to Lewiston.
Immediately upon the opening of the Great Western Railway from Niagara Falls to Hamilton in 1855 and to Toronto in 1856, and of the Grand Trunk Railway from Montreal in 1856, the steamboating interests suffered still further and great decay. In the financial crisis of 1857 many steamers were laid up. In 1858 all the American Line steamers were in bankruptcy, and in 1860 the Zimmerman abandoned the Niagara River to the Peerless, the one steamer being sufficient.
The "Peerless" was purchased by the American Government in 1861 and left for New York under command of Captain Robert Kerr, and by 1863 all the American Line steamers had been sold in the same direction and gone down the rapids to Montreal, and thence to the Atlantic. A general clearance had been affected.
The "Zimmerman" returned from the Hamilton Route to the Niagara River, which had been left vacant by the removal of the "Peerless," but, taking fire alongside the dock at Niagara in 1863, became a total loss. During the winter the third "City of Toronto" was built by Captain Duncan Milloy, of Niagara, and began her service on the river in 1864 and thereafter had the route to herself. In 1866 the "Rothsay Castle" brought up by Captain Thomas Leach from Halifax, ran for one season in competition, but the business was not sufficient for two steamers so she was returned to the Atlantic. The "City" then had the route alone until 1877, when the "Southern Belle," being the reconstructed "Rothsay Castle" reentered upon the scene and again ran from Tinnings Wharf in connection with the Canada Southern Railway to Niagara.
Such had been the courses of navigation and steamboating on the Niagara River from its earliest days - the rise to the zenith of prosperity and then the immeasurable fall due to the encircling of the lakes by the increasing railways. The old time passenger business had been diverted from the water, the docks had fallen into decay, only one steamer remained on the Niagara River Route, but it was fair to consider that with more vigor and improved equipment a new era might be begun.
If ever there was a steamer which deserved the name of "Pathfinder," it was this steamer "Algoma." It was said that all the officers, pilots and captains of later days had been trained on her, and that she had found out for them every shoal along her route by actual contact. Being a staunchly built wooden boat with double "walking beam" engines, working independently, one on each wheel, she always got herself off with little trouble or damage. One trip is personally remembered. Coming out from Bruce Mines the Algoma went over a boulder on a shoal in such way as to open up a plank in the bottom, just in front of the boilers. Looking down the forward hatch the water could be watched as it boiled up into the fire-hold, but as long as the wheels were kept turning the pumps could keep the in-rush from gaining, so the steamer after backing off was continued on her journey.
When calling at docks the engines were never stopped, one going ahead the other reversed, until after Sault Ste. Marie had been reached and the balance of the cargo unloaded, when the steamer, with the men in the firehold working up to their ankles in water, set off on her run of 400 miles to Detroit, where was then the only dry clock into which she could be put.
This transference of Captain Dick's interests to the Upper Lakes was, strangely enough, the precursor to the events which led to the creation of another era in navigation on the Niagara River. This "North Shore" route, although for long centuries occupied by the outposts of the Hudson Bay and North West fur companies, was so far as immigration and mercantile interests were concerned, an undeveloped territory. Along its shores was the traditional canoe and batteaux route from French River to Fort William on the Kaministiquia River for trade with the great prairies by the interlacing waterways to Lake Manitoba and the Red River. At intervals, such as at Spanish River,Mississagi,Garden River,Michipicoten and Nipigon River, were the outlets for the canoe and portage routes, north to the Hudson Bay and great interior fur preserves. This ancient rival to the Niagara River route had remained little varied from the era of canoe and sail. The secrets of its natural products, other than fur, being as well kept as were those of the fertility of the soil of the "great Lone Land," under the perennial control of the same adventurers of Charles II.
The creation of the "Dominion of Canada" and of the "Province of Ontario" under Confederation in 1867 and its establishment as the "District of Algoma" brought it political representation in the Provincial Legislature and a development of its unoccupied possibilities.
The size of the constituency was phenomenal. Its first representative in the Legislature of Ontario used quizzically to describe it: "Where is my constituency? Sir, Algoma, is the greatest constituency on earth, and larger than many an Empire in Europe. On the east it is bounded by the French River, on the south by all the waters of Lake Huron and Lake Superior, on the west by Manitoba, with an undecided boundary, and on the north by the North Pole, and the Lord knows where."
Its permanent voters were few and sparsely spread along a line of nigh 500 miles. By the Act of Confederation, Algoma was given a special qualification for its voters being for every male British subject of 21 or over, being a householder. Thus it has sometimes been averred that during hotly contested elections the migratory Indians for a while ceased to wander, that "shack towns" suddenly arose in the neighborhood of the saw mills, composed of small "slab" sided dwellings in which dusky voters lived until election day was over. It may be from these early seedlings that the several constituencies which have since been carved out from their great progenitor, have not been unremarkable for eccentricities in methods of ballot and in varieties of voters.
Further diversion of vessel interests from the Niagara Route to the Upper Lakes, and the circumstances which, within personal knowledge, accompanied it, are a part of the history, and a prelude to the return to the river.
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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.