The year 1965 was a particularly black year in the annals of lake shipping, for that was the year in which Canada, through federal government safety-at-sea legislation of doubtful origin, lost the last of its then-existing overnight inland-water passenger steamer operations. The ranks of the night boats had already been decimated by withdrawals during the previous two decades and by 1965 there remained only three such services, one on Lake Winnipeg, one (the C.P.R. service) on the Great Lakes proper, and one on the St. Lawrence River.
By the turn of the century, the major operator of passenger vessels in the St. Lawrence area was the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. In addition to the upper St. Lawrence "Rapids" boats, the market operations in the Montreal area which were held down by a large fleet of small and ancient steamers, and the Montreal - Quebec express service handled by the big MONTREAL (1903) and QUEBEC (1865), the company had built up a sizeable trade to the scenic Saguenay River. R & O acquired an interest in the Saguenay service in 1886 when the company absorbed the St. Lawrence Steam Navigation Company (formerly the St. Lawrence Tugboat Company).
R & O operated an assortment of steamers on the Saguenay run but by 1910 the line was held down by MURRAY BAY (I), (a) CAROLINA, an 1877-vintage iron-hulled beam-engined paddler which had been purchased in 1893 from the Old Bay Line for whom she had run Baltimore to Norfolk, by TADOUSSAC, (a) VIRGINIA, another beam-engined former Old Bay Liner which dated from 1879 and which came to R & O in 1903, and also by ST. IRENEE, (a) CANADA, a much rebuilt homegrown iron paddler dating back to 1865. Traffic on the Saguenay service was on the increase as the line was no longer simply a route of travel for those living in the Saguenay area or having business there, but was attracting an ever-larger tourist trade whose wanderings were much facilitated by R & O's interconnecting services.
Accordingly, the company had its consulting naval architect, the famous A. Angstrom who designed many other well-known lower lake steamers, draw up plans for a new vessel to be used exclusively on the Saguenay route. The contract for her construction was let to the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd. of Govan (Glasgow), Scotland, and the vessel was ready for service in the summer of 1911.
A steel-hulled twin-screw steamer launched April 22, 1911. The new ship was christened SAGUENAY. She measured 274.8 feet in length, 40.0 feet in the beam (54.5 feet over the guards) and 16.6 feet in depth. She was registered as 2777 tons Gross, 1864 Net, and was enrolled as C.130526. Steam was provided by three coal-fired forced draught boilers and at 175 p.s.i. it powered twin triple-compounding four-cylinder engines designed to deliver 2100 h.p. at 180 revolutions per minute. The engines were built by Fairfield on the Yarrow-Schlick-Tweedy balanced system. SAGUENAY was tested on the measured mile at Skelmorlie on the Clyde prior to being handed over to the R & O and she attained the very satisfactory speed of 1.6 knots.
SAGUENAY was a very handsome steamer and was so far above the existing vessels on the run in design and appointments that she could not help but be popular among the travelling public. The ship was endowed with a graceful sheer and her two masts and single, well-proportioned funnel were well raked. The main deck was closed in all 'round except for the stern section where the dining room was located. The promenade and gallery decks, on which the passenger cabins and most of the public rooms were located, were surrounded by open passageways and were progressively indented at the forward end so as to match the sweeping lines which she had been given. The only exterior feature with which the experienced observer might find fault was the location around the funnel casing on the hurricane deck of an enclosed observation room. This cabin might better have been joined to the rear of the texas abaft the pilothouse, but as it was, the break between it and the texas tended to draw the eye and break up the sheer of the upper deck. The ship carried three lifeboats on each side, one abaft the texas and two abaft the observation cabin.
Accommodation was provided for 240 cabin passengers, most being placed in two-berth cabins, all of which were on the gallery and promenade decks. All cabins were outside and were constructed on the staggered plan, that is, so that the upper berth in one cabin overhung the lower in the adjoining cabin. This not only saved considerable space but also led to more airy lower berths, whose occupants, according to an article published in Britain at the time of her completion, were not as "cribbed, cabined and confined" as normal on vessels of the type. It will be noted with interest that SAGUENAY was a "class" ship. The occupants of the regular staterooms, together with those assigned to her several luxurious parlours, were considered to be first-class passengers. Second-class accommodation was somewhat less than desirable in that no sleeping space was provided. Those unfortunate souls who purchased second-class tickets were assigned to small communal sitting-rooms - gents to port, ladies to starboard - located on the main deck athwart the engine controls and abaft the freight deck. Farther forward on the same deck was the stable for horses or cattle.
The central public rooms of the ship were the lounges located forward and aft on the promenade deck between the rows of cabins. These areas were rendered more impressive by the addition of wells up through the gallery deck terminating in high skylights at the hurricane deck level, the after well being much longer than that forward. In addition, the promenade and gallery decks featured large and spacious observation turrets at their forward and after ends, each of these four structures being equipped with large picture windows so that passengers might observe the scenic beauty of the rugged Saguenay landscape. The turrets on the promenade deck were circular in shape but those on the gallery deck were elliptical, or flattened, so that the cabin there might be recessed from the one below producing a satisfying "bob-tailed" appearance to the decks. Similar observation decks were to be features of later Saguenay cruise vessels.
SAGUENAY's dining saloon was located right aft on the main deck behind the tiled grand foyer and the Purser's office. Panelled in mahogany and equipped with large observation windows running right around the stern, the room could seat 100 passengers at a time. Strangely enough for a Great Lakes -type steamer, the galley and pantry were located below the dining saloon on the orlop deck and the food was delivered to the waiters on a hoist. The cooks and scullions must have had a very enjoyable time of it working in those enclosed spaces right over the two propeller shafts, but the arrangement was no doubt economical in that the galley did not take up valuable space on the freight deck.
In short, SAGUENAY was a splendid vessel for her time and was all the more notable in that her design was so far in advance of any of the ancient steamers that were her running-mates. But this very feature may have been the reason that she was to enjoy only a very short career on the route for which she was designed. She was the prototype of a fleet of three larger vessels built a decade and a half later and she was destined to be replaced by these ships that were not much more than larger versions of herself.
SAGUENAY came across the Atlantic to Canada in the summer of 1911 and, considering the advanced state of a summer season which in that area is naturally shortened by weather conditions, it appears that she did not have a full season in service that year. However, in the spring of 1912 she commenced operation on the cruise service from Quebec City to the Saguenay River carrying freight and local travellers as well.
But the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. was in a state of change in 1912 and that year the firm and its operations were greatly enlarged by the absorption of eight other companies, a move that gave R & O a virtual stranglehold on lake passenger operations on the Canadian side of the border. The following year, on June 11, 1913. the R & O was itself involved in a further merger that resulted in the formation of the Canada Transportation Company Ltd. which was almost immediately renamed Canada Steamship Lines Ltd.
Under C.S.L. management, SAGUENAY continued on her route from Quebec to the Saguenay, connecting with MONTREAL and QUEBEC which made the run back and forth between their namesake cities. Business on the Saguenay service continued brisk and took a tremendous increase after the first war. As a result, the year 1920 saw the Saguenay service augmented by the Lake Ontario steamers SYRACUSE, (a) GERONIA, and ROCHESTER which were transferred to the route and renamed (c) CAPE TRINITY and (b) CAPE ETERNITY respectively. These vessels were totally unsuitable for the run but their additional capacity proved useful. As well, MURRAY BAY and ST. IRENEE stayed on the route although in 1921 and 1920 they were renamed respectively (c) CAPE DIAMOND and (c) CAPE ST. FRANCIS. The latter vessel was retired from service in 1921 and the other four carried on, TADOUSAC having been retired back in 1917 and scrapped in 1918.
The only major accident involving SAGUENAY of which we are aware occurred about this time when she sank in Tadoussac Bay after striking a rock. Tadoussac is located on the St. Lawrence at the mouth of the Saguenay. The steamer was raised and the Davie Shipbuilding Company Ltd. repaired her at Lauzon. She had settled only to the level of the main deck and damage was not particularly severe.
About this time, the Saguenay service acquired one of the vessels that were to last until the abandonment of the route in 1965. It was about 1921 that C.S.L. purchased the former Central Vermont Transportation Company's steamer NARRAGANSETT which had been built in 1912 at Wilmington by Harlan and Hollingsworth for the New York to Providence route. She never operated on her intended service and had been requisitioned for war use in 1917. It was after she was put in mothballs as surplus tonnage after the war that C.S.L. bought her, rebuilt her for the cruise trade, and placed her on the run to the Saguenay from Montreal under the name (b) RICHELIEU. This 322-foot vessel, as rebuilt, incorporated many of the features earlier originated on SAGUENAY. Despite the fact that RICHELIEU operated out of Montreal, SAGUENAY continued to run from Quebec City.
Then on November 18, 1926, came the tragic destruction by fire of the beautiful nightboat MONTREAL. This left the Montreal - Quebec service with only the 6l-year-old QUEBEC and so Canada Steamship Lines set out to replace both ships and to update the vessels on the Saguenay run at the same time. Davie Shipbuilding and Repairing Ltd. of Lauzon won the contract for three large propeller-driven passenger steamers which were built as Hulls 495, 496 and 497. The first to be launched was the 329.8-foot ST. LAWRENCE which appeared in 1927. The following year there came from the yard the 350-foot sisterships TADOUSSAC and QUEBEC in that order. Their appearance made it quite clear that their design lay rooted in the original plans for SAGUENAY, particularly in the continuation of the use of observation turrets on the promenade and gallery decks forward. The ships were, however, much more massive and slab-sided than was their ancestor.
CAPE TRINITY had been returned to Lake Ontario in 1925 and CAPE ETERNITY in 1927, and in 1928 the ageing CAPE DIAMOND paddled herself into a lay-up from which she would emerge only for scrapping in the 1930's. The year 1929 started off as a busy one and saw TADOUSSAC and QUEBEC running the Montreal - Quebec service, RICHELIEU and ST. LAWRENCE going to the Saguenay from Montreal and SAGUENAY carrying on with the route to her namesake river from Quebec. But SAGUENAY was hardly needed with the newer and bigger ships on the route and she was laid up during 1929. The subsequent depression brought to a close the Montreal - Quebec passenger service and this freed TADOUSSAC and QUEBEC for use on the Saguenay run, thus sealing the fate of SAGUENAY. She was laid up for many years (presumably at Sorel) and the only activity she saw was during 1934 and 1935 when she was brought out to carry package freight only between Montreal and Quebec.
SAGUENAY was then relegated again to lay-up status and remained that way for over a decade. Then in 1946 Chinese interests expressed a desire to buy her and in due course she was sold to the Wah Shang Steamship Company, China. She left Canadian waters under the name (b) KIANG YONG. It is reported (but unconfirmed) that she grounded somewhere on the China coast in 1949 but was subsequently repaired and reactivated, although we do not know where she operated. The Rev. D. Ridley Chesterton of the World Ship Society advises that the 1949-50 Lloyds Register bears a pencilled note to the effect that she was renamed (c) YANGTSE but in the 1950-51 Lloyds she still appears as KIANG YONG. The same listing appears in the 1951-52 Lloyds but bears an official overprint "wrecked". The 1951 Lloyds Casualty Report shows her under the name YANGTSE PHOENIX with the notation that she dragged her anchors and grounded near Tai Po during a typhoon on August 1st, 1951 and that she was subsequently scrapped. It is quite evident that the wreck return caught Lloyds by surprise in that it had not been advised of a change in name, a fact which is not surprising since China is not the easiest part of the world from which to obtain information.
Thus ended in foreign waters the career of a vessel that despite her advanced design spent only eighteen summers on the run for which she was built. While not long-lived by any means, she certainly proved her worth to R & O and to C.S.L. and she left a legacy in the ships she spawned to carry on after she herself was gone. How much more appropriate it would have been for her to have lasted long enough to see the Saguenay service through to its untimely close.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.