With three "Line" steamers and five trips a day, the route kept on steadily developing, the service being attractive, and the line kept well before the public, but the season's traffic produced nothing of particular notice.
During 1896 came a set-back, and unfortunate loss, by Cibola taking fire one night when lying alongside the dock at Lewiston. The Upper works were entirely burned off and the hull, having been set adrift, floated down the river as far as Youngstown, where it was secured and brought to the dock. Cibola during her career had proved herself an efficient steamer, fast, economical, and satisfactory in all weathers.
The steamer was successfully launched at the yards at the foot of Bathurst street, on the 25th May, 1896, the sponsors being Miss Mildred Cumberland, daughter of the Vice-President, and Miss Clara Foy, daughter of the General Manager.
The season of 1897 with three steamers all making double trips brought the introduction of the six trips a day, a service which fully provided for the new connection then opened, and for the increases which gradually came in several subsequent years.
The Niagara Falls Park Electric Railway, then already in operation on the Canadian side between the Falls and Queenston running on the upper level follows the river banks of the Gorge, overlooking it from these heights and adding views of the far vistas of the surrounding country and up and down the river.
The new Electric Railway, on the American side, put into full working operation in this year, and known as the Gorge Line, was constructed far down in the Gorge, just a little above the waters edge, following the curvings of the river, beneath the cliffs, and giving opportunity for coming into immediate proximity with the tossing rapids on this lower part of its torrents.
The construction of this railway from the Falls to Lewiston was the work of Messrs. Brinker & Brinker & Smith, of Buffalo, and in boldness of conception, and overcoming of intense difficulties in construction, is a record of great determination and ability.
The process by which this has been done can be clearly seen by noticing on the sides of the cliffs that the several layers of limestone strata lie flat above one another, with large softer layers and deposits between each. The waters of the river at the upper level pour over the edge of the topmost rock ledge, and the reverberations and spray then wash out the intervening sand and softer layers, so that the rock strata becoming unsupported break off, and fall down into the gulf. In this way the chasm has year after year been bitten back.
When leaving the dock on the Niagara River Line steamers at Lewiston, or coming up the river from Niagara-on-the-Lake, it is enthralling to look up at these great cliffs, and in imagination casting the mind back into the centuries, see the mighty river as it once poured its torrents direct in one concentrated mass from the edge of these heights into the open river lying at their feet.
What a stupendous spectacle it must have been; yet, though wondrous, not more beautiful than the distant glimpses now gleaming through the shadowed portal between the cliff-sides clad with verdure and cedar, dominated by the shaft of the monument to the heroes of the Queenston Heights.
The acquiring of landing terminals on the Niagara River was further expanded in 1899, by the purchase from the Duncan Milloy Estate or the docks at Niagara-on-the-Lake. In addition to the wharves this property includes the shipyard of the old-time Niagara Dock Company. whose launching slips for the many steamers which they constructed are still in evidence. On the doors of the large warehouse alongside the wharf, there were then still to be traced the faint remains of the names of some of the vessels, which of old time used to ply to the port. The ground floor of the building appears to have been divided into sections, in which space for the freightage or equipment of each of the several vessels was allotted. Over the door of each section were the names for the occupants. as originally painted.
These names were now carefully restored. The steamers which ran regularly on the Niagara route have already been mentioned, these others used the port as convenient for laying up for the winter, with the advantage of the proximity of the dockyard for repairs. The Cobourg built at Gananoque in 1833, ran between Toronto and Kingston, with Lieutenant Elmsley, R.N. in command. The St. George was built in Kingston in 1834, and was mainly occupied between lake ports on the North Shore Route.
These doorways and the names now easily read above them bring us into immediate contact with the early enterprises on the river and form connecting links between the navigation interests under the opening conditions and those of the present time. The route has the charm of a constant unravelling of history.
Another wraith there is in connection with this Niagara dock which cannot be omitted. For many years a passenger on the incoming steamers would see a man in conductor's uniform standing on the dock watching the arrival. This was Mr. Miles, conductor of the Mail Express train, which ran on the Erie and Niagara branch between Buffalo and Niagara-on-the-Lake twice each day; on which with never failing regularity he made his double round trip each day for almost twenty years. Through three changes of ownership and several passenger agents "Paddy" Miles, as he was generally called, held his position and so dominated conditions that the train came to be known as "Paddy Miles' train," and the Branch as "Miles' Railway." He was superintendent, train dispatcher, and general passenger agent, in his own opinion, all moulded into one, and acted accordingly. As he stood on the dock with hands thrust deep into his breeches pockets and a scowl upon his forehead, he seemed to consider it was rank treason for anyone to pass up the river and not get off and use his train. Yet this was only on the surface, for Paddy was at heart a good soul, who took a very personal interest in the earnings of his Branch.
To January, 1901, Sir Frank Smith died, being the second of the original Board to pass away. His judgment, forceful determination, and large capital, had been mainsprings in the creation and establishment of the line of steamers whose beginnings he had promoted. Mr. J. J. Foy was elected President in his place.
It was during this year, (1901) that their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York (now King George V. and Queen Mary) made their remarkable tour through the overseas part of the British Empire. One portion of their visit to Canada included the Niagara district, and a rest of several days in privacy and quiet at Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Queen's Royal" being specially set apart for their use. On October 10th, they visited the Queenston Heights, Brock's Monument, and the Niagara Falls, by special cars of the Niagara Falls Park Electric Railway. The Corona was used by the Royal visitors as a private yacht from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queenston and return
It is a fact worthy of noting that both here and during the whole of their nine months of travel around the world, their Royal Highnesses never placed foot on any other than British ship or British soil.
On hearing our request, Mr. Tarte called in his Chief, asked if it could be done, being assured that it could added "Can you go to Kingston to-night and arrange for it?" The next morning work was begun in the dock so that the steamer could be taken in. Vessel men who had been accustomed to the slow and deliberate methods which had previously existed, greatly appreciated the changes which for the improvement of our local business from the City of Toronto.
It has often been noted that a Saturday half holiday is almost universally taken by the citizens of Toronto. In fact not a few of the travelling men from the United States have said that there is no use coming to Toronto to do business on Saturday, as every one is closing up for their afternoon trip. In the attaining of this condition the Niagara Navigation Company has had much to do, as the result of persistent advocacy.
With the increasing steamers we had abundant deck room which we desired to fill, particularly for the afternoon trip. This might be effected by getting the employers of some of the specific lines of business to close their establishments at 1 o'clock on Saturdays.
An "Early closing movement" was quietly inaugurated, groups engaging in the same business were canvassed and agreements arranged for simultaneous closing. The retail music stores were the first to put up the notices, and were followed by other lines of trade, as the public took gladly to the idea, until in four or five years the practice became well nigh universal and a "Saturday afternoon for Recreation, Sunday for rest" had been obtained. That it has been a boon to many is without doubt., and the City is the better for the many outings which are now available for the Saturday afternoon holiday.
Mr. John Foy was appointed President in February, 1902, and Mr. B. W. Folger, who had done splendid service in the steamboating interests in the Thousand Islands and St. Lawrence River was appointed General Manager. With him began a whole series of improvements and of expansion, which has continued with increasingly good results.
The regularity with which the steamers of the Niagara Line have made their passages has always been proverbial, contributed to by the seaworthiness of the vessels and the seamanship of their officers. From earliest days, but since somewhat modified, we had adopted the principle learned from the Kingston and Holyhead mail steamers whose route was somewhat analogous to ours, a quick run across open water with a narrow entrance at each end, that it was best to run the steamer at a regular gait and even in fog except, in the vicinity of other vessels to hold her course, and when of the port to stop until certain.
Sometimes there have been longish passages. One Saturday morning in August, 1903, the Chippewa left Toronto at 7 a.m. during a strong gale with a heavy sea from the east. A thick fog was found enveloping the south shore extending some five miles out. On gaining the Bell Buoy off Niagara and not being able to see anything, Captain McGiffin, rather than run any risk, determined to keep close to the buoy ready to run in should the fog lift. Here during all day and evening he remained within sound of the bell, coming up to and dropping away again under the heavy sea, until at last the lights on the land could be seen and Chippewa came alongside the dock at 11.50 p.m., 16 hours from Toronto! No other steamer was on the Lake that day. McGiffin kept his passengers well fed and for his carefulness and judgment was advanced to position of "Commodore."
A similar episode of carefulness had taken place in 1886, on the Cibola under Captain McCorquodale, when he similarly held his place off the port in a fog from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Both considered it was better to be sure than to be sorry.
In those early days the engines of the Michigan Central, would in emergency be placed with their head lights facing out on the river, and their whistles blown to guide the steamers in but since then the large range lights have been installed by the Government, and made entrance easier.
It was under the leadership of such men as these that the officers of the company were trained up, its rules and traditions formed, and stability of service encouraged. There are not a few officers and men who have been from ten to twenty years in the service, earnest in their profession, careful of the public and loyal to the company, which from the time of its inception has endeavored to treat them as members of a family gathering.
On the death of Mr. John Foy in December, 1904, he was succeeded in the Presidency by Mr. E. B. Osler (knighted 1913), who ever since he had entered the company, had always taken a very active interest in its progress and hereafter took a still, more intimate share in directing its policy and development.
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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.