On the south side of Lake Ontario, opposite Toronto, is the Niagara Portal, where the mouth of the Niagara River, with high banks on either hand, makes its entrance into the lake, forming the only uninterrupted deep water harbour on that shore.
Here the rapid waters, outfall of all the gatherings of the inland Upper Lakes, pour out in fullest volume, enabling entrance even in winter, when all other harbours are closed in the grasp of ice. It is worthy of its mighty source, the product of the greatest Fresh Water Lakes in all the world.
Over the west bank floats the Union Jack on Fort Missasuaga, and over the east on Fort Niagara, the Stars and Stripes, each the emblem of the British. and United States nationalities, between whose possessions the river forms the boundary line.
The first port of call on the Canadian side at the mouth of the river, now known as Niagara-on-the-Lake, had in olden times an importance and a past, which much belies its present outlook of quiet and placidity. Once it was the principal and most noted place in the Province of Upper Canada, and the centre of legislative power, making its surrounding neighborhood full of reminiscence.
The successive changes in the name of this ancient lakeside town, as also those of the settlement on the opposite shore, are interesting, as in themselves they form footprints in the paths of history.
The French had entered the St. Lawrence in 1534, and, as we have seen, had fully established their first route of connection to the Upper Lakes and the inner fur-trading districts, via the Ottawa and Lake Nipissing. The Niagara River route, via Lake Erie, had been learned of by them in 1669 under Pere Gallinee, and followed by the enterprise of the Griffon in 1678, but then, and for long after, was too fiercely occupied by hostile Indian tribes to be greatly available for commercial use. A first advance from Montreal intending to occupy the route, under Chevalier de la Barre, was intercepted by the Indians at Frontenac (Kingston) and driven back to Montreal.
In 1687 another advance for possession of the river succeeded in creating a foothold and the French erected a wooden fort and palisade upon the projecting point on the east bank of the river at its junction point with the lake. This outpost they named Fort Niagara, the name by which the place has ever since continued to be known.
The little garrison was not long able to keep its foothold. Beset by Indians and cut off by the failure of food supplies expected from their compatriots in the east, they were in dire straits, but yet boldly holding out in hopes that relief might yet arrive. At this juncture, Col. Thomas Dongan, Governor of the English Colony of New York, then loyal subjects of James II, made demand that the French should evacuate the fort, as it was in British territory. The British colonists of New York and New Jersey had recently joined hands with the Colonies of New England, in a British union, for united defence against the French. Upon the English Home Government having indicated to the French authorities its support of the Colonial demand, the Marquis de Denonville, Governor of Canada, ordered the garrison to retire. This they reluctantly did, but before leaving raised in the centre of the fort, under the influence of Pere Millet, their Jesuit Missionary, a great wooden cross 18 feet in height, upon which they cut in large letters:
Jacques Cartier and his explorers had entered the St. Lawrence and endured their first winter at Stadacona (Quebec). Decimated by scurvy and privations, and in extreme danger from the hostility of the Indians, he determined to return to France, taking with him the remnants of his expedition. On 3rd May, 1536, three days before leaving, he raised upon the river bank a cross 35 feet in height, on which was a shield bearing the Lilies of France, and an inscription
As Cartier had returned and established their stronghold at tidewater, near Quebec, so the survivors of the party of Pierre de Troyes at Niagara, in 1688, hoped they, too, might again return and repossess for their nation this centre from which they were so reluctantly retiring. These two events so far separated in time, are striking evidences of the constancy with which these pioneers of France, even when seemingly overcome, showed their hopeful fidelity to King and to their religion.
The position of Fort Niagara, commanding the route to their series of forts on the lines of the Ohio and Mississippi, was considered by the French as second in importance only to that of Quebec, and consequently great store laid upon its possession. Under Jonquiere they added four bastions to the fort and erected a stone storehouse, called "The Castle," which is still to be seen. Further strengthenings were added by Capt. Puchot, of the Battalion of Bearne.
At the conclusion of the War of the Revolution the forts along the northern frontier were, by the Treaty of Paris, 1783, to be transferred to the United States. Fort Niagara, with some others, was held in hostage for the fulfillment of the reparations promised by the Federal Government of the United States to be made by the several States to the United Empire, and other Loyalists who had stood by the King during the Rebellion.
The Stars and Stripes then remained in possession until the War of 1812, when in retaliation for the burning of Newark, the fort was assaulted and taken by storm by the British under Col. Murray on the night of 18th December, 1813, and the Union Jack was once more raised above it.
Matters remained in this position until in February, 1814, under the Treaty of Ghent,Fort Niagara was once more gracefully given over and again, and in peace, the Stars and Stripes look the place of the Red Cross Jack.
The name Niagara appears during the opening period of the British occupation to have been used generally for all parts of the neighborhood, but applied particularly to the old village on the east bank close under the walls of the old French fort.
Population now began to cross the river to the western side, and Abner Gilbert reports in 1761, the beginning of a village called Butlersberg, on the west shore, named after Colonel Butler, the Commander of the celebrated "Butler's Rangers" of the Revolutionary War, and which was afterwards largely settled by United Empire Loyalists.
At the advent of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe, in 1791, and presumably at his instance, a new name Newark, after a town in Nottinghamshire, England, was given to this town on the west bank, and in 1792, by royal proclamation, the name Niagara was officially transferred from the town to the surrounding township.
Newark then became the seat of Government, and Capital of the Province of Upper Canada, and the place of residence of the Lieutenant-Governor. This distinction and advantage it enjoyed unrestrictedly until 1793, when Governor Simcoe removed his personal headquarters to the north side of the lake at Toronto, where he again indulged his fancy for changing names, by changing the then original name of Toronto, to that of York, in honor of a recent victory of H.R.H. the Duke of York in Flanders. Although Governor Simcoe had himself removed his residence to York, he received and entertained the Duc de Liancourt in 1790, at Newark. The Parliaments of Upper Canada continued to hold their sessions at Newark, and the town to be the official centre of the Province, until 1796, when Governor Russell, the successor of Governor Simcoe, finally removed the Provincial headquarters to York.
The loss of its prestige and official importance so incensed the inhabitants that they refused to continue the new name imposed upon them by Governor Simcoe and reverted at once to the name of West Niagara. The official Niagara Gazette, which had hitherto been dated from Newark, changed its heading to West Niagara, and so continued until October, 1799, when it was first published from York. Finally in 1 798 an Act of Parliament was obtained by the municipality restoring to the town its old name of Niagara.
Old names die hard, so we find John Maude, in 1800, mentioning the name of West Niagara, late Newark. Common usage seems to have generally retained the name of Newark, at all events as used by strangers. John Mellish, writing in 1811, says "I came down the opposite side of the river, the wind was blowing so hard that I could not cross to Newark.
On the 10th December, 1813, when every house in the town, except one, was burned by the American troops, who had obtained possession in the previous spring, but were now retreating from it in consequence of the advance of the British troops under Col. Murray; the American General writing on the spot to the United States Secretary of War at Washington and describing in his official report of the position of affairs writes: "The village of Newark is now in flames." This destruction and the infliction of great privations upon the inhabitants and children, in the midst of a severe winter may have been justified under the plea of military exigency, but has always been considered inhuman. General McLure and his forces, however, retired so precipitately across the river to the United States side that they left the whole 200 tents of their encampment at Fort George standing, and the new barracks which they had just completed untouched, so that we may hope that some of the women and children were not without temporary shelter.
In after times, as the towns and villages in this Niagara district increased in number, not a few difficulties were occasioned by a similarity of names, such as Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls Centre, Niagara South, Niagara, etc. In 1900 the name of Niagara-on-the-Lake was introduced as being a geographical and distinctive name, appropriate to the lakeside position. This, while not at first accepted by some of the older citizens, yet having been authorized by the Post Office Department, is now the correct address. The name is certainly one expressing the individuality of the town and its unexampled position as an interesting place of resort, and perhaps is better than that of Old Niagara, which some people still use in speaking of it.
Negotiations for the running arrangements had been continued during the winter months. The Chicora having been brought to Lake Ontario, and accepted as satisfactory for the Canadian Southern Railway, a term of years contract for the performance of the service in its combined rail and water route between Buffalo,Niagara and Toronto was negotiated, and after much debate and consideration had been drafted and settled with the officers and engrossed for final execution. An arrangement was also made by Hon. Frank Smith with the representatives of the Milloy estate, the owners of the City of Toronto, that the two steamers, the City and the Chicora should run in concert, dividing the business between them and avoiding competition.
The writer resigned his position as General Freight and Passenger Agent of the Northern Railway of Canada, and received appointment (28th April, 1878), as Manager of the Niagara Navigation Company. In the preceding year Mr. Robert Kerr had been promoted from the charge of the through grain traffic to be Assistant General Freight and Passenger Agent of the Northern, and now succeeded to the full office, a position which he held with increasing satisfaction until 1884, when he transferred and entered into the service of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
A ticket office was opened by Mr. Cumberland for the Niagara route and the Upper Lakes, with Captain Thomas Wyatt of the Inman Line, and C. W. Irwin, Customs Broker, at 35 Yonge street, under the then American Hotel on the north-east corner of Front and Yonge streets, now covered by the building of the Toronto Board of Trade. The agencies of all the ocean and inland steamship companies were at that time located either on Front or on Yonge streets, in this neighborhood. Donald Milloy, the agent of the Richelieu and Royal Mail Lines and the City of Toronto was on the Front street side of the American Hotel, while this for Upper Lakes and the Chicora was on the Yonge street front.
In the beginning of May came a bolt from the blue. The opportunities for another steamer in the Niagara River route lead evidently attracted the attention of other people as well as ourselves. There had been rumors that Mr. R. G. Lunt, of Fredericton, New Brunswick, might bring his fast river steamer the Rothesay up to Lake Ontario, or the St. Lawrence River. His route on the St. John River between Fredericton and St. John had been spoiled by recent railway construction; he was thus open for a new route. Mr. Donald Macdonald of Toronto was his brother-in-law, so that he was not without local advice and influence. The announcement was now made that an arrangement had been come to between the City of Toronto and the Rothesay to run together on the Niagara route. The Hon. Frank Smith at once sent for Mr. Donald Milloy and was surprised to be told that the undertaking which had been made to run the City of Toronto in connection with the Chicora, would not be fulfilled and that it was not binding on the owners of the steamer. Needless to say Mr. Smith was enraged, and bringing his hand down with a decisive smash declared that he would see them through various places for their perfidy.
Mr. Donald Milloy was then leaseholder from the Freeland Bros. of the Yonge street dock,Toronto, and refused to allow us to have a berth in it. The Milloy Estate owned the dock at Niagara, and at first would not let us in but satisfactory arrangements were made.
Arrangements for our connection at Lewiston were next sought. The only dock was owned by Mr. George Cornell. This was the connecting point with the New York Central Railway whose station was in the Upper town about a mile distant from the landing; the passengers and baggage being transferred in the bus line run by Mr. Cornell. The City had the exclusive rights of this dock at its upper end, close to the staircase, up and down which connection was made between the busses on the upper level and the steamers.
Cornell was not disinclined to favour the increased business which the new steamer would no doubt bring to his hotel and busses. We were thus enabled to lease the lower end of the dock, which was at once repaired and replenished, it not having been in use for many years --in fact, not since 1864-65,when all the large lake steamers were withdrawn and run down the rapids to be employed in service during the American Civil War.
At TorontoMr. Donald Milloy still refused to allow us to run from his Yonge Street dock in connection with the other steamers, although we would have been very glad to do so. This dock is in many ways a much superior boating point than any other, but as the next best place we secured entry at the west side of Yonge Street at "Mowat's Dock," afterwards called "Geddes' Dock," and now the "City Dock," our berth being along the face fronting the bay.
Another bolt was now to come. All the details of our contract with the Canada Southern had been settled early in the spring, the documents drawn and requiring only the signature of the President. Unfortunately at this juncture a change of control came and the Canada Southern passed into the hands of the Michigan Central, and under another President, who, on being interviewed at Cleveland, was quite pleasant, sent for the contract, read it over, but said decisively that it had not been signed and there would be no contract! In his opinion it was not desirable to make a term of years contract, tying his company to any one boat, but under the special circumstances, agreed to give us a connection. I pointed out that we had gone to all the risk and expense and had brought the Chicora down on the faith of that contract, but as he said he wouldn't adopt it, he was at once assured that we would work just its hard for expansion of the traffic and could earn and win his company's support, so we parted on friendly terms.
There was nothing else for it. We might just as well take it pleasantly for it was good to have even half a connection with one of the railways on the river. It certainly felt a disappointment not to have contract control of that section of the traffic, but one is disposed to think that it was for the best, and indeed has so proved. We have built our way up by providing, at the instance of the railways, all the requirements that that water traffic needs. It is better to deserve a route and hold it by efficient service for mutual advantage, trusting to just and amicable endeavor on both sides, rather than to the rigid terms of a formal contract.
The importance of the ownership of landing places had been so impressed by the recent events that I availed of an opportunity, which offered to purchase the dock and water lot at Queenston, although the traffic at that point was then so light that it could scarcely be considered a port of call.
This British port at the head of Lake Ontario navigation at this upper end of "Queen's-ton" was the loyally named co-relative and partner of "King's Ton" at the lower end. Its glory had been great, but had long departed, leaving little but the noted "Queenston Spring," whose pure and running waters still pour perennially from the side of the bank alongside the dock.
The purchase did not at that time receive much approval by some, but fully justified itself later on, and was the first step in that policy of acquiring the wharf properties at all points on our route, which has ever since been consistently followed by the company.
As we had expected that our intended partner would provide us with railway connections on the river and with ticketing arrangements for foreign business, we had not done much except in local preparations. The "City" refused to present us to the railway companies and tendered the "Rothesay" as her partner, as the railway companies loyally stood by their old connection, we were left out to do the best we could on our own account.
We had now to prepare all these matters for ourselves, a pretty considerable work of organization, but with energy and much overtime it was at length pushed through. The main difficulty was in the railway connection via Lewiston, and beyond Buffalo, where the railways would neither accept tickets for us, nor issue tickets over us. The New York Central authorities determined to stand by their old connections with the "City," and would not have any dealings with us. The Hon. Frank Smith interviewed Mr. Tillinghart, who was Superintendent and in charge of the Central interests in this district, placing before him the position which had been anticipated but had been disrupted, with the "City," but to no avail. It was a serious position and seemed well night unsurmountable. Some would have quailed and laid down.
The Rothesay arrived. She proved to be quite an impressive looking boat, about 180 feet in length, good beam, very roomy decks and central cabin; a more commodious boat than the City. She was particularly well arranged as a "day" boat and was reputed to have a high rate of speed, as she soon proved she had. The Chicora shortly afterwards moved down the bay from the Northern docks to her station. The contrast between the two steamers was most noticeable, the Rothesay with high walking beam engine and broad skimming dish appearance, with the sea-going ability, and double red funnels of the Chicora. It was evident that the main contest would be between these two boats.
The City of Toronto, as had for many years been used, a custom coming down from the time when there were no railways around the head of the lake, opened the season on April 18th, leaving Toronto at 7 a.m., making only the one morning trip.
We had made our appointments in March, Captain Thomas Harbottle, the leading favorite of the Royal Mail Line, was placed in command. A ruddy-faced, jovial personage, with flowing Dundreary whiskers, inclining to grey, cordial manners, a good seaman, who held with ever-increasing respect and confidence the good-will of the Royal Mail Company and of the travelling public. Mr. J. Ellis, who had a good connection in Toronto and held full marine certificates, as captain on both Atlantic and Inland lakes, was appointed First Officer, and George Moore Chief Engineer. Alex. Leach continued as Purser.
The bookstand and lunch counter on the steamer were leased to a young man then in the employ of Chisholm Brothers, the proprietors of the similar privileges on the Richelieu & Ontario, and River St. Lawrence steamers.
As steamers were added by us, T. P. Phelan grew with the line. Subsequently he was entrusted with all the catering for the company. From this he advanced to similar business at all the refreshment stations of the Grand Trunk and Grand Trunk Pacific Railways, so that now the Canada Railway News Co. (which is T. P. Phelan) is the largest news and catering company in Canada.
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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.