In 1864, three years before Canadian Confederation, the "Royal Mail Line", as it was then called, was the primary company engaged in the Montreal to Toronto passenger and package freight trade. True, since 1857 the line had not carried Her Majesty's Royal Mail, but the Canadian Navigation Company kept using the old name until 1875. Trade was on the upswing and the company ordered a new vessel from the Gilbert Shipbuilding firm of Montreal.
SPARTAN arrived in Toronto for the first time on May 24, 1865, under the command of one Capt. Howard. The event was recorded the next day by the Toronto "Globe" -- "The splendid new steamer SPARTAN was in our harbour today and yesterday and was visited by a large number of our citizens. She is really a most beautiful vessel fitted up in cabin and saloon in the most gorgeous manner, with all the elegant finish of the tasteful artisan. Her machinery is of the most powerful and perfect kind, without the appendage of the ugly walking beam so frequent on our lakes....". On the reporter's assessment of the qualities of the beam engine we will make no comment!
In entering service, SPARTAN joined GRECIAN, KINGSTON, PASSPORT, CHAMPION, MAGNET and BANSHEE, the other steamers on the company's run. Unfortunately, it was not long before SPARTAN was involved in a rather serious accident. On August 27, 1865, she was running the Lachine Rapids when a steering failure caused her to ground in the Caughnawaga area. Fortunately, the passengers were all removed by canoes and chaloupes without loss of life, but it was only after strenuous salvage efforts that the steamer was hauled to safety. She was later repaired, damage having been light.
The next few years were relatively uneventful for SPARTAN. In 1870, she was commanded by Capt. Kelly and continued in the service for which she had been built, which then saw a steamer leave Toronto daily at 10:30 a.m. for Montreal via Charlotte, Oswego, Kingston, Clayton, Alexandria Bay, Prescott and Cornwall. Connections were made at Montreal with the "Richelieu Company's" steamers for Quebec. Over the winter of 1870-71, SPARTAN, along with her running mate CORINTHIAN of 1865, was refitted at Cantin's Drydock in Montreal. In line with her owner's efforts to reduce damage caused by strandings in the St. Lawrence River, both vessels had their iron hulls sheathed with wood. Interior renovations were also made.
In 1875 there came a major change, namely the amalgamation of the Canadian Navigation Co. and its fleet of eight steamers with the Richelieu Navigation Co. whose chairman was the famous Sir Hugh Allan. The new firm became known as the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Co. Ltd., Montreal, and it continued to operate the Toronto to Montreal service, albeit on a less than successful basis primarily due to the fact that the small steamers were unable to handle the business that developed during the summer months. The R&O carried very little freight. SPARTAN continued on as always and, during the mid 1870's, was commanded by a Capt. Dunlop, her First Officer being a gentleman named Mr. Bush.
In the early 1880's, the Owen Sound Steamship Co. was formed to operate from Georgian Bay ports to Lake Superior in conjunction with the building of the C.P.R. transcontinental rail line. SPARTAN was chartered by the firm and served on the upper lakes until the fall of 1885 when she was wrecked on Caribou Island, Lake Superior. Salvaged, the steamer was taken to Detroit where she was rebuilt, and in 1886 she returned to her old Toronto-Montreal route. Her engines were evidently "compounded" in 1891.
SPARTAN maintained her old service until the new TORONTO and KINGSTON superseded the older vessels at the turn of the century. Thereafter, she served various routes operated by the R&O. The year 1905 saw SPARTAN taken to Kingston where she was lengthened to 200.2 feet. With her tonnage now shown as 1223 Gross and 607 Net, she re-entered service under the name BELLEVILLE. Five years later, she was the victim of another accident when, on November 12, 1910, she went ashore near Grafton, Ontario east of Cobourg. She was later salvaged and repaired at Kingston.
In 1913, BELLEVILLE went through the second corporate merger of her career, when Richelieu and Ontario was enlarged in the making of what became Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. By the following year, the little ship was beginning to show evidence of her fifty years. She was laid up and apparently partially stripped preparatory to being dismantled. However, on August 3, 1915, the venerable beam-engined ALEXANDRIA, then on the line's Montreal-Toronto-Hamilton package freight service, stranded in a storm on Toronto's Scarborough Bluffs and became a total loss. BELLEVILLE was reactivated to take her place and operated in a freight-only capacity.
During 1920, BELLEVILLE was once again rebuilt, this time having her passenger cabins removed entirely. Her tonnage was thus reduced to 639 Gross, 255 Net. Looking quite odd with her deck stripped bare except for the pilothouse and a small texas cabin, and still equipped with her 'tween decks, the veteran paddler plodded on until 1923. She was finally dismantled at Kingston in 1924, exactly sixty years from the time of her birth at Montreal.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.