Under virile management the business on the route kept fast increasing and it became evident that more accommodation should be supplied even before it might become absolutely necessary. It was therefore determined to build another steamer, which in speed and size would be a still further step forward and would be ready for any adverse competitors should any happen to arise. Mr. Folger visited Great Britain to make inquiries and on his return
Mr. Angstrom was again engaged to prepare the designs for the new steamer. Contracts were let to the Canadian Ship Building Co., of Toronto, for a steamer 377 feet long, 36 feet beam, 4,300 horse-power to carry 2,500 passengers.
It is also the name of an old and flourishing town in Ontario, near the shores of Lake Erie, adjacent to the land reserved for the Mohawks under Brant, and still occupied by their descendants. A very interesting annal was at that time exhumed, being the record kept by the first Postmaster of this town, of Cayuga, of the spellings of the name of his post office as actually written upon letters received there by him during a period of some twenty-five years.* The list is curious. It seems strange that there could have been such diversity of spelling, but it is to be remembered that in the "thirties" there were not many schools, and by applying a phonetic pronunciation to the names in this list, and particularly by giving a K sound to the C and splitting the word into six syllables and pronouncing each by itself, some appreciation may be acquired of a similarity in sound, although the spelling is so exceedingly varied. The adherents of spelling reform will perhaps be heartened by the result of everyone spelling as they please.
After the completion of the steamer, the speed trials which were of a most interesting and important character, were engaged in. The contract was that the steamer, under the usual conditions for regular service, should make the run between Toronto and Charlotte, and return, a distance of ninety-four miles each way, at an average speed of 21 ½ miles per hour. A further condition was to make a thirty-mile run, being the distance, between Toronto and Niagara, at a maintained speed of 22 ½ miles per hour. Both conditions were exceeded, greatly to the credit of the designer and of the contractors.
A competition which had been anticipated now developed itself, and the fast and able steamer Turbinia was in 1908 placed by her owners upon the Lewiston-Toronto route, making two trips per day. She put up a gallant fight, but, against a company making six sailings at each end of the route per day, there was no room left into which she could squeeze without finding a competitor alongside. It was found, too, that although her speed was greater than that of any of the other steamers on the lake. she was exceeded in speed by the Cayuga. Her attack upon the route was met, as the Niagara Navigation Company intended it should be, by frequency of sailings and strict fulfillment of service, leaving no room for any competitor to find an opening, and by the high average speed maintained by all its steamers and particularly the new one. After keeping up a gallant struggle until the end of the mid-summer season, the Turbinia retired to her previous route between Toronto and Hamilton.
Another addition to our dock properties was now effected. We had for many years been lessees of the dock at Lewiston, but now, in 1908, became its full owners by purchasing the whole frontage from Mr. Cornell, our lessor, with whom we had for so many years been in cordial working. The dock had fallen somewhat out of repair and very considerable improvements were requisite for the convenience of the increasing numbers of our passengers and for their comfort. Fortunately the larger part of these improvements were postponed to the next season, for during the winter 1908-09, which was exceptionally severe, an extraordinary freshet and piling up of ice on the river occurred.
This latest ice jam of 1908-09, was according to past records, and the traditions of the oldest inhabitants, the worst that had ever been experienced. The winter had been severe and much ice had formed in Lake Erie and on the upper river. This was brought down in successive rushes in the spring during alternating frosts and thaws, so that, the river between Lewiston and the mouth had become jammed from bank to bank with huge floes of ice, heaving and heaping up on one another, and binding together with serracs, and crevasses much like the ice river of an Avalanche. As the successive ice runs came down they were driven under the floes until at length the masses grounded on the shallows at the mouths below Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The river being now blocked up, the waters gradually rose fully twenty feet higher than usual bringing the ice floes with them. With the exception of a few places where small sections of water could be seen, the whole Rapids from the Whirlpool to the outlet of the Gorge at Lewiston was packed with ice and the rapids eliminated, a condition never previously known. As the spring thaws came, the ice mounds, being unable to get exit below, mounted still higher with mighty heavings and struggles, rounding up in the centre of the river, as had been noticed to some extent in 1883, and pushing and piling up on the banks but not making any progress down the river, until it became evident that Nature was unable to break the barrier and immense injury was likely to occur.
At that juncture the Engineer Corps of the United States Regular Army, at Buffalo, initiated a series of explosions of dynamite, by electric mines, in the main blockade down near the river mouth opposite Fort Niagara. After several days of very difficult and dangerous work, as much as 4,000 lbs. of dynamite being exploded at one time, the blockade was broken, the seven miles of ice began to move in alternate rashes and haltings, until at length the river was clear.
The situation had been at times alarming. At Lewiston the docks were completely engulfed under 60 feet of ice, the ice pinnacles sweeping up high above the level of the swollen water and carrying away a portion of the gallery of the hotel. On the Queenston side a mark has been placed about thirty feet above the usual water level showing the height to which the ice hummocks rose. At Niagara-on-the-Lake the ice mounted high above the level of the dock, but by happy fortune a good sized iceberg had grounded in the channel at the end of the dock leading into the inner basin. Here it held out as a buffer outside the line of the "piling" along the bank, withstanding all the attacks from above, and thrusting the floes out into the stream, thus preserving the dock, lighthouse and buildings from destruction.
When the waters subsided the shores of the river for twenty to thirty feet above the usual level were found to have been swept clear of every bush and tree from the rapids to the lake, a condition from which they have scarcely yet recovered. It was not until the end of May that the river was entirely free from ice. In reconstructing the dock we were able to introduce new improvements which would not have been previously possible.
1909 brought no further changes in the steamers, but a gradual increase in the travelling due to increased energy in the cultivation of new business and careful attention to the convenience and comfort of passengers by the management and efficient staff.
For many years, from time to time, the company has been endeavoring to purchase the Toronto docks which were the Northern terminal of their system. Four times we had been turned out of its occupation and obliged to find landing berths elsewhere. The necessity of holding their Toronto terminal was constantly before the Company and was the only and complete sequence of the holding of the several terminals at the ports upon the Niagara River. At last, in 1910, the opportunity of purchase arose and was immediately availed of. With this purchase the Company completed the policy which had been initiated from its very beginning. This Yonge Street dock property, extending from Yonge Street to Scott Street, has ever been the steamshipping centre of the city, for traffic to all ports on the lake. Its facilities can be still more expanded so that, for the convenience of the public, all the lake passenger lines can be concentrated at its wharves to the mutual advantage of all, a policy which the Niagara Company desired to promote and which has been contributed to by the purchase and concentration of the steamers of the Hamilton Line. This, effected in 1911, concentrates into one management and important passenger business and brings direct connection, as of old, between Hamilton, the Head of the Lake, and the Niagara River. These, together with the opening of a new route to the south shore by service between Toronto and Olcott, in connection with the International Electric Railway, will open a new era of contributing traffic.
Beginning with one steamer, the "Mother of the Fleet," the Line from one trip a day has, in its 35 years of endeavour, grown to be nothing short of "The Niagara Ferry," served by swift steamers, of increasing size, making six trips from each side, leaving every two hours during the day, and by persistent advertising and increasingly reputable service, the Company has made the "Niagara River Line" known throughout the travelling world, and created a business and carrying capacity which has risen on heavy excursion davs to no less than 20,000 to 26,000 passengers moved on one day. What the "Kyles of Bude" route is to the tourist public of Great Britain and Europe, the Niagara River Line is to the tourist public of America. Toronto has trebled its population and in great industrial enterprises is forging ahead of all other cities in Ontario. Niagara Falls, with its wonderfully increasing factories created by the concentration of the electric power in its midst, has grown from being solely a summer hotel town to a great manufacturing community. Buffalo, with a population at present of 500,000, is expanding marvelously. The Richelieu & Ontario Company, for which the Niagara Company collects the passenger business of the south shore through the gateway of the Niagara and places it for them in Toronto, has exceedingly increased their accommodation and made known their service as a contributor to the route from the St. Lawrence to the ocean.
It will be remembered that in the early days the steamers for Montreal sailed direct from the Niagara River and that the guiding minds of the Royal Mail Line were at Queenston in 1817 and for subsequent decades.
In the slump of steamboat traffic and the decadence of the river business the Montreal steamers had shortened their route, and had made Hamilton, for some time, and afterwards Toronto, the starting point for their steamers for Montreal.
The introduction of the Niagara Navigation Company had produced a change of conditions on the river, and by energy and bold investment, had created an effective local organization, as has been detailed in this narrative.
Gradually passenger business had been attracted and centralized until Niagara Falls had been created in their Annual Rates Meetings by the Railway Companies as the starting point of all "Summer Rates Excursions," and "The Niagara Portal" as the nucleus basing route for all summer tours.
At the same time the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Co., which succeeded to the Royal Mail Line, has grown in scope and equipment to be the premier steamboat organization of Canada, the controller of the passenger lines of the St. Lawrence system of river, lakes and rapids, and operating the longest continuous route of any Inland Navigation Company in the world. In all, this interval of years its old advertising heading of "Niagara to the Sea" had been continuously maintained, it was not unreasonable therefore that there should be a desire to make the old caption a present fact and by acquiring the local organization restore the old-time conditions.
Negotiations had for some time been in progress and at length in June, 1913, at a Board meeting, presided over (in the absence of the President, Sir Edmund Osler in England) by Vice-President Cumberland, the originator of the company, and its continuous Vice-President during all its existence, the Niagara Navigation Co. was formally transferred as a working enterprise in full operation to the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Co. The directors of the company at this time and for several years previously were: President, Sir Edmund Osler; Vice-President, Barlow Cumberland; Directors -Hon. J. J. Foy, K.C.; Hon. J. S. Hendrie, C.V.O.; W. D. Matthews,F. Gordon Osler,J. Bruce Macdonald. These in succession transferred their seats to the nominees of the new owners and Sir Henry Pellatt, C.V.O., became President of the company.
The two systems were thus joined into one. The Company operating the St. Lawrence system came back to its old starting point at the head of navigation on the Niagara River. With this is completed the century and this story of the early days of passenger movement on the river, and or the origin, rise and establishment of the Niagara Navigation Company in its contribution to the records of sail and steam on the Niagara River.
Another cycle of steamboat navigation has passed, another era has closed and a new one has begun, and once again there is one Company and one Management under the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Company for the Niagara River and the St. Lawrence Route, from Niagara to the Sea.
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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.