Today a considerable quantity of general merchandise (package freight, in lake parlance) from overseas comes to the Toronto-Hamilton area via ocean carriers without transshipment or in containers delivered by rail from East Coast terminals. However, we cannot overlook the contribution made to the development of the Golden Horseshoe area by the Montreal to Lake Ontario package freight service. The route is still active, having been maintained latterly by Canada Steamship Lines' ENGLISH RIVER and FRENCH RIVER with help from the "Fort" class vessels.
Prior to the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, most of the general merchandise shipped from Britain and Continental Europe, as well as many products emanating from the Province of Quebec, was shipped through the old St. Lawrence canal system and across Lake Ontario to Toronto and Hamilton in canal-size lake package freighters. Since the 1940's, Canada Steamship Lines Limited has been the only lake fleet to operate this service.
But C.S.L. did not always have it all their own way on the route. In the 1920's the Kirkwood Line of Toronto entered the service with the small ocean steamer GREYPOINT, (a) RATHLIN. RAHANE (later A.A.HUDSON) also operated Toronto-Montreal for some years for several operators. In addition, there existed for many years a special service between Montreal and the Bay of Quinte. In the early years of the century, vessels of the Hepburn fleet operated this route and even into the 1950's the Bay of Quinte Transportation Co. Ltd, maintained the run with the small steamer GLEN ALLAN and later the CITY OF BELLEVILLE, (a) OTTAWA MAYFERRY.
This competition prospered for some years but, due to the depressed business conditions of the 1930's, the steamers became unprofitable. Consequently, ASHBAY was sold Brazilian in 1935 and the ill-fated OAKBAY went to Capt. Henry C. Daryaw of Kingston, for bulk service on the lakes in the same year. In 1937 CEDARBAY, MAPLEBAY and POPLARBAY were sold for conversion to tankers and were renamed JOAN VIRGINIA (later COASTAL CASCADES), TRANSRIVER and TRANSLAKE respectively, all three lasting into the 1960's. In fact, TRANSLAKE is the last of the ten in existence and serves as the bunkering barge HALFUELER in Halifax Harbour. Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. acquired Tree Line in 1937 and for a few years operated it as a separate division but by the end of the war, all of the original ships had been sold and TEAKBAY was absorbed into C. S. L. proper. During the late 1930's, the parent firm operated its steamers KINDERSLEY, MAPLETON and STARMOUNT in the Tree Line package freight division but this practice ceased upon the outbreak of war in 1939.
Returning to the "City" type express steamers, these vessels did yeoman service, operating with monotonous regularity until the four small sisters were withdrawn from service upon the opening of the Seaway. They were scrapped at Levis, Quebec, after several years of inactivity spent at Kingston, but CITY OF WINDSOR continued to operate through 1961, being cut up at Hamilton late that year.
Prior to the formation of Canada Steamship Lines in 1913, package freight service was maintained by a number of lines, probably the most prominent of these being Inland Lines Ltd., managed by R.O. & A.B. MacKay of Hamilton. This itself was a consolidation. It had its beginnings in the Royal Mail Line, which was formed on Lake Ontario in 1840, and in the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Co. which had its start on the St. Lawrence in 1845. Another component of Inland Lines was the Merchants Montreal Line, also known as the Jaques Line, Back in the 1850's, Hooker & Pridham began operating ships, the firm soon becoming known as Hooker, Jaques & Co. By 1857 they were extending their service beyond Lake Ontario to Chicago. In 1858 the company's name became Jaques, Tracy & Co. and, in 1872, G.E. Jaques & Co. In conjunction with Aeneas D. MacKay and Capt. J. B. Fairgrieve of Hamilton and James Norris, Sylvester Neelon and Capt. P. Larkin of St. Catharines, they formed the Merchants Lake & River Steamship Line. There were 25 steamers in the fleet in 1872 and 1873 most of them chartered.
The Merchants Line continued to flourish and by 1898 was operated by Capt. J. B. Fairgrieve and R.O. & A.B. MacKay, Hamilton, W.A. Geddes, Toronto, and G.E. Jaques & Co., Montreal, In 1910 the Montreal & Lake Erie Steamship Co. of Toronto (in which Sigmund Samuel, noted philanthropist, held a large interest), operator of CITY OF OTTAWA, CITY OF HAMILTON and CITY OF MONTREAL (I), (a) CHINA (the latter burned in 1913), was absorbed and from then on the line was known as the Merchants Montreal Line.
Another firm engaged in package freight service was the Canadian Interlake Line, established by Capt. J. W. Norcross and R. M. Wolvin of Montreal. They formed the Mutual Steamship Co. about 1906 and the building of CANADIAN and ACADIAN (I) followed shortly thereafter, as well as the purchase of the wooden WASAGA, built in 1876 and originally in the Anchor Line fleet under the name WISSAHICKON (I). Later, the company absorbed the Canadian Lake Line of J.H.Plummer & Co., Toronto, operator of the J.H.PLUMMER, A.E.AMES and H.M.PELLATT along with KENORA, REGINA and TAGONA; the combined fleet then became known as the Canadian Interlake Line.
While the old wooden propellers and sidewheelers of the 1850's had been small, they certainly were numerous, as also were their owners. In addition to the early operators already mentioned, we should include McPherson & Crane of Hamilton and Montreal (John McPherson & Co.), H. & J. Jones & Co. of Montreal (later Jones, Black & Co.), Holcomb & Henderson (later Holcomb & Cowan and Henderson & Company), Butters & Co., the American Express Line and Chaffee & Company. All of these in their own way contributed to the development of the Lake Ontario route.
During the 130 years since Montreal-Lake Ontario steamboat service began, there have been many changes and amalgamations but it has become evident that here, as in most other trades, "rationalization" only reduces competition for a short period. In recent years, one company effectively eliminated serious competition, but then the number of lake package freighters was reduced following the opening of the Seaway to large vessels in the direct ocean-lakes service and now, in its turn, the container is causing a further realignment of services. Even Toronto has been dropped as a terminal for Canada Steamship Lines' route, having been replaced by a new facility in the small harbour at Port Credit that was originally intended to avoid the necessity of stopping at Hamilton as well. Truly, "the old order changeth."
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.