For well over one hundred years there have been carferries operating across the Detroit River between Windsor and Detroit, and a large portion of this period, 87 years in fact, could well be called "The Lansdowne Era." For exactly this long, a major item on the Detroit River scene has been the paddle-driven railway ferry, LANSDOWNE.
This veteran, 294 feet in length, was completed in 1884 by the Detroit Dry Dock Co. at Wyandotte, where her iron hull was known as Hull 66. Her horizontal, low-pressure engines were built in 1872 by E.E. Gilbert & Sons at Montreal for the wooden carferry MICHIGAN (I) and they were placed in LANSDOWNE at the time of her completion. Originally equipped with four stacks and two pilothouses, the ferry now carries but two stacks and one bridge and looks somewhat gaudy in the Canadian National Railway's new livery. Nevertheless, she is the last sidewheeler operating on the Great Lakes and holds a great charm known to anyone who has observed her or made a crossing in her.
But as in all other areas of marine transportation, progress is coming to the Detroit River. Already the Norfolk & Western Railway has cut its three steam carferries DETROIT, MANITOWOC and WINDSOR down to barges and operates them with the pusher tugs, ST. JOSEPH and S.P.REYNOLDS, and work is currently progressing on the cutting down of the Lake Michigan ferry CITY OF FLINT 32 to another river barge. Not only are the tugs able to separate from the barges and go about other duties, but a considerable saving is made in that the crew per unit is decreased from eleven to four. This fall, the Canadian National started to experiment with pushing their 1875-built iron propeller HURON with the McQueen tug AMHERSTBURG and the project seems likely to continue. At present, the only two river carferries operating under steam are LANSDOWNE and PERE MARQUETTE 10, the latter serving on the Chesapeake & Ohio crossing between Port Huron and Sarnia on the St. Clair River.
Now C. N. has called for tenders on the building of ferry docks at Point Edward and Port Huron and it seems that the new route will be operated by the ST. CLAIR (the former PERE MARQUETTE 12 cut down to a barge and pushed by a tug) as well as possibly the SCOTIA II, now lying idle at Windsor and possibly a candidate for the barge conversion. The railway has also let it be known that the Detroit-Windsor service will also be operated with barges by September 1970. Not only will HURON be made a full barge, but LANSDOWNE will shortly be treated similarly. An 87-year old steamer with 98-year old engines doesn't have much of a future. It is not yet known whether she will be stripped of her cabins and the upper portions of her machinery, but this seems likely in view of the restricted clearance on deck.
Suffice it to say that our old friend will no longer hold the same attraction for so many people when she is reduced to a flat scow shunted about by a diesel tug. The decision of the company is to be regretted but it is to be hoped that all friends of the LANSDOWNE will make it back for one last look before she is retired. She has now become a living legend in her time and will make her exit just when her popularity is reaching its zenith.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.