One of the smaller but best loved passenger ferries which operated on the waters of Toronto Bay was the wooden double-deck propeller JOHN HANLAN, a vessel that served 45 years on the Island route. She came from the yard of Abbey at Port Dalhousie, a well known builder of lake schooners and tugs. Completed in 1884, she was given official number 85519 and measured 71 feet in length, 16 feet in the beam and 6 feet in depth, her tonnage being 37 Gross and 25 Net.
The diminutive steamer was built for the Hanlan Ferry Company to operate principally between the City and Hanlan's Point on Toronto Island, a cottage area popular among Toronto's well-to-do of the time. An amusement park was also located on the Point. The HANLAN got off to a less than auspicious start, however, for on August 29, 1884, in her first year of service, she was damaged by fire. A disgruntled former member of the ferry's crew, one James Robertson, was arrested after the fire and charged with arson. The steamer was immediately repaired and returned to service.
JOHN HANLAN frequently made trips from Toronto across the lake to Port Dalhousie at harvest time to pick up cargoes of Niagara fruit bound for the Toronto market. In the early days of her Island service, she operated in conjunction with the Doty Ferry Company, another operator of ferries on Toronto Bay. In 1890 she was purchased by Lawrence Solman and eventually was chartered to the Toronto Ferry Company Ltd, Solman acquired full control of this concern about 1915.
Seeing the popular ferry lying sunk and cut almost in two, the papers of the day sadly commented, "It looks as if the JOHN HANLAN has made her last trip to the Island." But such was not the case as the plucky steamer refused to play dead. She was raised and rebuilt and in 1911 she returned to her familiar run across the Bay. Before the accident she had sported a typical (for the day) ornamental octagonal pilothouse with a peak on top, but she was rebuilt with an up-to-date square structure which somehow fitted her character even better. The rest of the ship was changed very little. Her upper deck was open, with shelter provided by a boat deck extending aft from behind the pilothouse. Her lower deck was open fore and aft with an enclosed cabin surrounding the engine area and extending right out to the sides of the vessel. The engineer and his controls were placed at deck level where they never failed to produce stares of wonderment and fascination from the many small-children who crossed to the Island, each boy no doubt longing for the chance to wrap his hand around the brass handle of the throttle.
JOHN HANLAN, incidentally, was powered by low-pressure non-condensing engines which puffed most satisfyingly as she steamed along. She had remarkably fine lines for a wooden steamer of her size and her bow lifted up and back giving her the appearance of a proud little lady showing herself off to all who cared to look.
After her return to service following the accident, JOHN HANLAN continued on the Island run, usually operating to Ward's Island, then a summer community of tents at the extreme east end of the Island, or to the lakeside Home for Little Children, a convalescent hospital located on Gibraltar Point. Along with the other assets of the Toronto Ferry Company Ltd., the HANLAN passed to the ownership of the City of Toronto on November 1st, 1926. The management of the ferry fleet (along with the Hanlan's Point amusement park) was handed over to the Toronto Transportation Commission, operator of the street railway system, on February 21st, 1927. JOHN HANLAN was one of three steamers put into service on April 15th, 1927, the first day of T. T. C. operation.
The HANLAN in her later years was commanded by Captain Patrick J. McSherry, an affable gentleman who had been Lightkeeper at Toronto's Gibraltar Point Lighthouse for a number of years. He came from a family of lake sailors, three of whom perished in the wreck of the schooner BELLE SHERIDAN when she foundered in Weller's Bay, Lake Ontario, in 1880. In the days of Lawrence Solman and the Toronto Ferry Company, the ferry skippers were never required to wear uniforms unless they so desired and bought them on their own. Pat McSherry took full advantage of this situation and could usually be seen sporting a bowler hat. It was with great reluctance that he complied with the T. T. C.'s requirement that officers wear uniforms complete with peaked cap.
Despite the technological advances achieved by the 1920's, JOHN HANLAN operated right to the end of her days without the benefit of electric light, as far as we can discover, although all but one of the other ferries were fitted with generators. As a result, she must have had a very quaint atmosphere about her when she operated at night, her cabin aglow with lamplight, on occasions such as the evening of July 1st, 1927, when she carried a large party from the city to observe the Dominion Day fireworks display at Hanlan's Point.
But alas, like all wooden vessels, her upperworks needed more and more repair work as time passed, and her hull began to lose its strength. She even damaged her own stern when, about 1927, she attempted to tow the ferry LUELLA back to the city docks from Ward's Island where LUELLA was lying disabled, having broken her shaft. JOHN HANLAN began to tow while LUELLA was still tied to the dock, a deckhand probably dozing by the rail instead of attending to his duties. Unfortunately, the hawser did not break and the HANLAN's superstructure at the stern was torn away, including the towing post. Despite her age, repairs were effected.
JOHN HANLAN operated through the 1927 and 1928 seasons but finally in the spring of 1929 she failed to pass inspection. The tired old steamer suffered the humiliation of being towed to Sunnyside Beach where she was set afire on July 19, 1929, as a spectacle. Similar acts of public "vandalism," designed to increase attendance at the Sunnyside amusement park, proved to be the end of two other veteran Island ferries, JASMINE and CLARK BROS.
Before the HANLAN was burned at the stake, her whistle, a very high-pitched and far-carrying chime, was removed and transferred to LUELLA, a wooden single-decker dating from 1880. When this steamer was herself retired at the close of the 1935 season, the whistle was again moved, this time to the T. J. CLARK, a passenger and freight steamer built in 1911. The CLARK last operated in 1959 and was scrapped during the winter of 1960-61 by the Toronto Dry Dock Company Ltd. During 1960, while the CLARK was lying at the Bay Street docks, the whistle disappeared and, despite the efforts of several enthusiastic searchers, the wandering artifact has never surfaced. Somewhere, where its true value is probably not realized, rests the last reminder of the many years of faithful service of the little steamer JOHN HANLAN.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.