We were still solving the problems of the Niagara River so our first business operation was in another direction, and it is somewhat interesting that this first trip was to Hamilton, being introduced by the following advertisement:
The results were highly satisfactory, the public being anxious to see the steamer and interested in its progress. Another charter which was declined may be mentioned as being the establishing of a principle which was not departed from. A new Roman Catholic Church had been erected at Oakville, which was to be consecrated and opened with much eclat on a Sunday. At that time there were no trains run on Sundays on the Hamilton and Toronto Branch of the Great Western Railway, and the only way by which any very large contingent from Toronto could be expected to join in the ceremonies would be by making arrangements for an excursion by water. There would have been no legal objection to this, as the rigidity of Sunday legislation had not then been introduced. The Oakville authorities wade application to charter the Chicora, and as the President of the company was a Roman Catholic, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto strongly supported the application, they felt assured of compliance. A goodly offer was made for a trip on the Sunday afternoon from Toronto to Oakville and back. The matter was considered by the Board and it was unanimously resolved that the Chicora would not be run on Sundays. One will not say that this decision was entirely due to religious considerations, although these, no doubt, were not without weight, but it was also settled upon plain business principles.
The steamer was entering a considerable contest and would need every care. In a competition with two steamers we needed to have our men and the boat keyed up to the highest efficiency. This could not be done if we ran the steamer across the lake on every day of the week. The maintenance of the regularity of the steamers and the reputation of the Niagara River Line has without doubt been considerably gained by confining the running to "week days only." The increasing requirements for through connections, particularly from the American Railways on the south shore, where Sunday trains have greatly increased, may some day bring about a change.
On Saturday, 1st June, Chicora left Toronto dock at 2.30 p.m. for a first regular afternoon excursion to Niagara, and on Monday, June 3rd, began her regular double trip service leaving at 7:05 a.m. and 2:05 p.m.
As matters on the Niagara River were still in process of organization we did not at first run beyond Niagara except on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, when the full trip up the river to Lewiston was made.
It was very early found that the trip up the river is the main attraction to the route, giving, as it does, scenery unusual and without compare, a respite from the open lake and allowing a stroll on shore, either at Niagara or Lewiston, while awaiting the return journey.
From the very beginning the competition was a whirlwind. Mr. Lunt was an adept at steamboat competition and it was our business to go him one better, and also to have our steamer and facilities made as widely known as possible to the travelling public.
At Toronto the entrances to the two docks, alongside one another on the Esplanade, were trimmed with "speilers," who finally expanded up Yonge Street to Front, and even to King Street. One thing insisted on, so far as our men were concerned, was that there should be no decrying of the character or condition of the rival boats.
Our tickets were put into the hands of every Ticket Office, Broker, Insurance or Real Estate Agent in Toronto, whether up-town or down-town, who would take them in, provided one thing only, that he had an office opening on the street. Every hotel porter, with his sisters, his cousins, and his aunts, was created a friend, and the itinerant cab was just as welcome as the official bus. We were out to get business from every quarter.
The City in previous years had issued a ticket at $10 to members of one family for ten round trips on any afternoon. We put a general rate on of $1.00 without any restrictions, and by gradual reductions it reached 50 cents on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. This was a round trip rate which had been introduced by the Southern Belle in 1877 for the afternoons of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday on her route from York Street (Tinning's Wharf) to Niagara and return. We now extended it to Lewiston and return, giving a view of the really splendid scenery of the river which had never previously been opened at reduced rates. The public quickly took in the idea and gave us business. In addition to general business, we energetically worked up the Society and Church excursions, becoming an unpleasant thorn in the sides of those who had so summarily thrown us over and whom we were now obliged to attack. It was in this season that the Caledonian Society made their first excursion with us, a connection and comradeship which in all the thirty-four years has never once been interrupted.
Matters on the other side of the lake were somewhat different. We had no railway connections to issue tickets over us or direct passengers to our boat. We had to provide for this entirely of ourselves, having thus to promote business on both sides of the route. Printer's ink was extensively used by newspaper advertisements, descriptive folders, dodgers and timetables. A large and excellent framed colored lithograph of the Steamer was issued with the lettering:
These being largely distributed to the hotels and ticket offices introduced the steamer in her new conditions. There was no use running the boat unless we fully advised the public of herself and movements, but all this advertising, and introduction, cost much expense in money and energy.
The ticketing arrangements on the south shore were somewhat difficult. Passenger business thirty years ago was conducted under very different conditions from such as exist at present. There were no official regulations, no State or Inter-State, Authorized Tariffs, no Railway Commissioners. Each railway and each passenger department was a law unto itself to be guided and regulated by whatever conditions or rates might at the tune be considered most desirable for the promotion of its own business by the officers in charge.
Ticket "scalping" abounded, being looked upon by the public as a protection against the uncontrolled ratings by the railways, and a promoter of competition where combination might otherwise be effectual. There were several Associations of "Ticket Scalpers," some of much power and reliability, but all were equally denounced by the railways. Yet there were in fact not a few instances where the regular issues of some of the (for the time-favoured) railway companies might be found in an under drawer of some of these unauthorized servants of the public. These energetic workers were our opportunity. All the principal Scalping Offices between Cleveland,Pittsburgh,New York,Albany,Rochester, and Lewiston, were stocked with books of tickets reading over our steamer, or to Toronto and return. The rates were, of course, such that they could obtain both profit and business. There was no use mincing matters, we were in the fight to win out. Through these sources we managed to get quite a business, being represented in each town by from two to four scalp offices, in large cities even more, and, tell it not in Gath, with very friendly arrangements in some of the regular offices as well.
The amount of personal travelling and introduction was laborious, but was pleasant, in renewing acquaintanceships and connections formed as General Passenger Agent of the Northern Railway when working up the new Couchiching and Muskoka tourist business introduced in the several preceding years.
It was in this season of 1878 that the converging railways in the districts spreading from the south and southwest towards Buffalo, began a system of huge excursions for three days to Niagara Falls and return, on special trains both ways, and at rates for the round trip not far from, and often less, than single fare. Most of these separate railways have since been merged into some one or other of the main Trunk Lines, but their they were independent and each sending in its quota on its own account to make up a "Through Special." The most successful excursions of these were the series which came every week from the then Wabash District, from Indiana and the southwest, and were known as the "Friendly Hand" excursions. The name arose from a special trade mark which appeared in all the Wabash folders and announcements, of an outstretched hand with the thumb and fingers spread, on each of which was shown the line and principal stations of each one of the contributing railways that fed their excursions into the main stem. The excursionists were energetic, and although the "Falls" was the focus of their route, we induced large numbers of them to cross over to Toronto. A prevailing slogan was:
When the long special excursion train slowly came down the curve from the town station at Niagara to the dock to join the steamers, it was gall and wormwood to the City or the Rothesay, lying in waiting, to see the crowd of linen duster tourists as they poured out of the train make straight for the Chicora, "The boat with the two red funnels." We got them all, for we had many and right good friends.
In those early days, before the "Park Commissioners" on both sides of the river had taken public possession of the surroundings, there were few places at the Falls from which either the river or the rapids could be seen without paying a fee. The proprietors of these places issued tickets in little books, containing coupons for admittance to all, or to a selection, of these "points of interest," and put them all in the hands of the managers of the excursions. The advertisement "dodgers" announced:
A good round commission on these sales was a helpful "find" or side cut" to the energetic young railway men who personally accompanied these excursions, through their trains, on the way to the Palls, carrying large satchels with their selections of "Points of Interest" and other tickets, amt answering the multitude of enquiries made by their tourist patrons. An extension ticket to "Toronto and Return" was a pleasant addition to their wares, and a satisfactory introduction to us. Some of these travelling passenger men, by their energy and successful handling of these excursions, brought themselves into notice, and afterwards rose to be heads of Passenger Departments, and even into Presidents of Railways! As a reminder of their trip each tourist was given by us a souvenir of Toronto, and even if excursionists struck a rough day and rendered up their tributes to Lake Ontario, it was of novel interest to many who had never before seen a lake wide enough to have been "out of sight of land," and sailing over waves big enough to make a large steamer rock.
In this way began what has since been so greatly developed, the Reduced Rate Excursions to Toronto, via the Niagara River, and the making known of the features of the City as a Summer Resort by this advocacy, and the thousands of dollars which the Niagara Navigation Company has devoted to its advertising in all parts of the United States.
At Lewiston we took everyone on board that wanted to come; in fact, our "runners" strenuously invited them. The moment the dusty two-horse "stages" from the New York Central station unloaded their still more dusty travellers in front of Cornell's Hotel at the top of the bank at the staircase, they were appealed to by the rival touts of the competing steamers, either to take the "black funnel" steamer at the foot of the staircase, or the Chicora, with the red funnels" further down the dock. It was a little bit of pandemonium.
If the traveller had no ticket, we collected fare from him at full tariff; if he had a ticket over the other boats we accepted it and graciously carried him across free; if he had one of our own tickets we almost embraced him. What difference did it make to us whether the tickets reading over the other boats were cashed to us or not, we had the more ample space and better accommodation on ours. Perhaps the passenger might esteem the compliment and be a paying traveller over us on some other day. Besides, people like following the crowd, and the larger number helps to make a show. Times have been known in competitions on the Upper Lakes where the central cabins prevent both sides of the steamer being seen at once, when in addition to the available passengers, every one possible of waiters and crew have been spread out on the passing side of the upper cabin, when meeting a rival boat. It gives an appearance of prosperity and suggests the approval of the public.
Just here let me bear testimony to the ability and fidelity of Purser Aleck Leach, who had been purser with me on the Cumberland, and had now been transferred to the Chicora. Kindly and courteous, yet firm, he never dissatisfied a passenger. Untiring, accurate, faithful, he never divulged anything of the company's business, and won and enjoyed the confidence and good-will of every member of the Board and Staff. A condition which was only severed by his death. At no time were these abilities more displayed than in this first strenuous year on this route.
The competition grew hotter as the season progressed. The odds were greatly in favour of two boats with an established connection against a single boat without any, yet Chicora was gaining, and every point in the passenger ticketing game was being played against them by her management.
When coming into the river Chicora had to be driven sharp across from the point at the Fort, on the United States side, to the dock on the Niagara side, to be brought up, all standing, with her bow only a few feet below the Rothesay's stern. Often it looked as though she must run into the other before the way could be stopped, and that a collision must take place.
Coming down the river it was a less dangerous, but a more difficult manoeuvre. The steamers always move swiftly in the quick current which sweeps past Fort George to the docks. As on or each day, both the other steamers lay at the same time in front of their dock, their hulls extended far out into the stream, and Chicora coming down had to make a double curve, like an S, to get her place at the lower dock. It was a pretty thing to see, but Harbottle always managed it by just skimming, but not touching the other boats' side. The harmony between him on the bridge and Monroe in the engine room apparently being complete, and besides, Chicora steers like a yacht.
In order to avoid all possibility of touching the steamer ahead when he was leaving Lewiston dock, Captain Harbottle, instead of going up-stream and afterwards turning down-stream, always sprung the stern of his steamer out from the dock and backed over towards Vroomen's Bay on the opposite side of the river.
On the open lake Chicora by degrees won her way. Being much the faster boat she could hold or pass the City of Toronto at any time or in any weather - with Rothesay it was different. On a fine smooth day there was little between them; on a hot, sultry day, without any wind to assist a draught for the fires, the Rothesay could beat the Chicora by one, to one and a half minutes Toronto to Niagara, but if there was even the slightest motion, Chicora could walk by her, and on a rough day Rothesay couldn't run at all. She was a very light tamarac hull, built purely for enclosed river service in perfectly smooth water, and therefore in no way fitted for outside wave action. We set out by starting behind the time of the other steamers. When running a competition, it is not a bad thing to let the other boat get away first. It makes the fellow in front uneasy. He doesn't know when the boat behind may be going to have a dash at him, it makes him fretful and it is hard to tell how fast he is going. Both engineers and firemen feel the strain.
Boats often run better on some days than they do on others; it may be the character of the coal, the direction of the wind, or the disposition of the firemen, thus the boat behind can choose her own day for a spin. Watches are sometimes different, yet from all one hears the fastest trips of boats are generally made when there is no other boat near. We had determined, and had given instruction, that there was to be no racing done by Chicora. We were aiming at regularity of service. One presumes the rule as to speed was kept, but the public generally fancies a race whether there is one on or not.
One breathless Saturday afternoon trip is remembered. Instead of, as on most days, giving us a wide berth, on this one being such as suited her, the Rothesay came over close alongside. For some time it was neck and neck between the boats but gradually the Rothesay began gaining an inch or two and, and after see-sawing back and forwards for a while growing to a foot or more. Sitting in the after deck among the passengers, listening to Marcicano's orchestra, one could not help noting the relative positions, as marked by the lines of the stanchions. Just then a little knot of men came over and one of them bringing out a roll of bank bills said : "Mr. Cumberland, we know there is no racing, but if you're keeping down the speed for sake of the price of coal, we'd like to pay for an extra ton or two." Of course the kindly offer was declined with thanks, but with much appreciation. Whether they were more successful on the lower deck where the firemen cool off, or whether it was a little riffle that sprang up, that made the difference, I do not know, one cannot say, but the Chicora that afternoon entered the river first.
So the season waxed and waned. Chicora did her work well and winning, it might almost be said, the affection of the travelling public. Her appointments so far exceeded those of any other steamer at that time as to make her a specialty, but it was through her sea-going qualities which won their favor.
The regular "pat-pat" of her feathered paddles almost framed themselves into rhythmic melody with the full mellowed tone of her whistle whose clear resonance carried its sound for miles through the city every evening, with such regularity as almost to be accepted in the homes as the signal for the children's bedtime.
Every one concerned in the competitive boats, no doubt, glad when the season's contest was over. It had been, for us, one of intense activity, and never ending labor and anxiety. A whole system, both within the steamer, and for outside solicitation, and ticketing arrangements, had been devised and installed, as well as the sufficient work of the daily running duties.
A new company had to be introduced on an old route. Wa had fairly succeeded in getting into it, but it had been at a pretty expense. The Chicora was laid up at the Northern Railway docks, and accounts for the year were made up. What the competition had cost the others one does not know, but Chicora was a long way on the wrong side as the result of the season. This was a very serious thing for one of the undertakers, for instalments had to be paid up on the investment and at the same time the losses met.
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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.