A Famous Trio comes to the Lakes

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
Lay-up Listings
A Famous Trio comes to the Lakes
Additional Marine News
Table of Illustrations

In the February 1974 issue of "Scanner" we described in detail the three Canadian Pacific Railway steamers ALBERTA, ALGOMA and ATHABASCA which were built on the Clyde in 1883 and which made such a great impression on the travelling public when they entered lake service in the spring of 1884. Through press clippings located and kept by fellow member R.T. "Scotty" McCannell, son of long-time ASSINIBOIA Master and fleet Commodore Capt. James McCannell, we were able to give day-by-day descriptions of the design, building and launching of the three ships as well as their departure for Canada.

This rare Esson photo courtesy R. T. McCannell shows ALGOMA at the C.P.R. elevator, Owen Sound, and illustrates the original appearance of the ship and her two sisters.
Thanks again to Mr. McCannell, we are now able to present a detailed description of the passage of the three ships up the St. Lawrence River after they had been cut in two, the information being culled from reports which appeared in The British Whig. Scotty has also assembled clippings from The Sarnia Observer tracing the movements of the vessels up the lakes after they had been rejoined at Buffalo and completed at Port Colborne. The collection of news reports provides a detailed look at what was a most complex and difficult operation, the movement of three 270-foot steamboats through a series of canals whose locks were no more than 250 feet in length.

The British Whig, Kingston, Wednesday, September 26, 1883:

The ATHABASCA, the first of the C.P.R. steamships, has arrived in Montreal after a run of twenty days from Glasgow. She will be cut in two for passage through the upper canals, two bulkheads being built just at the point where this cut will be made, and all that is necessary is to remove the heads of the rivets.

The British Whig, Kingston, Thursday, October 18, 1883;


Capt. Donnelly has left for Montreal with the steamer HASTINGS and tug FOLGER for the purpose of bringing up the river the C.P.R. steamship ATHABASCA, cut amidships at Montreal and intended for the Lake Superior service. The dimensions of the vessel are such that she had to be cut in this way before she could pass through the St. Lawrence Canals. She is 270 feet long overall, 38 feet beam and 28 feet depth of hold. She has a tonnage of 2000 and accommodation for 180 first class passengers and 1200 steerage passengers. There are two other steamships, ALGOMA and ALBERTA, just arrived in Canada. They also will be cut before being towed to the West. They are all fitted with heavy engines of l700 h.p. The service will connect the two ends of the line from Algoma to Port Arthur, a distance of 364 miles across Lake Superior, the passage occupying about 24 hours. The steamers will commence running next spring when a daily service will be given.
This is the second case in which an iron vessel, too long to pass through the Beauharnois and Cornwall canals, has been cut in half at Montreal. Some years ago several sidewheel gunboats had to undergo an operation before passing through the locks, being too wide, and the paddleboxes and wheels were removed. A similar operation was performed on the fast passenger steamer ROTHESAY when she passed up, but the first case in which the hull of a vessel was cut in order to pass her through the canal was that of the iron steamship CAMPANA two years ago. The time taken in the operation on that occasion was very long, wooden bulkheads having to be built on the face of each section of the cut, while pontoons had to be constructed to bolster the bow and stern to prevent the sections going down by the head and stern. The vessel being constructed in the ordinary way, the cut was very ugly and gave great trouble, the ribands of iron composing the hull being dovetailed into one another. With the ATHABASCA, the operation was much easier, the vessel having been constructed with the knowledge of the required operation. In consequence the sheets of iron were made to fit and to end at the place where she was cut, and iron bulkheads five feet apart erected on each side of the connection. Accordingly all that was necessary was to knock off the heads of the rivets at the joint and float the two pieces to their destination. The necessity of pontoons will be averted by judicious ballasting. Mr. Mansell, one of the builders, superintended the operation of cutting. The steamers, when running, will be the first steel boats ever used on the lakes, besides being by far the largest passenger steamers afloat on those waters.

The British Whig, Kingston, Wednesday, October 24, 1883:

The new C.P.R. steamship ALGOMA was drydocked yesterday to be cut in half for transportation through the canals. The ATHABASCA has been bisected and the water was let into the dock to float the halves. The stern piece was, however, found to be too heavy aft and the water was again let out. Some of the ballast will be taken out, but it is expected that the stern will have to be bolstered with pontoons similar to those used with the CAMPANA.

The British Whig Kingston, Saturday, October 27, 1883:

The pontoons to place under the steamship ATHABASCA are built and efforts are being made to get the vessel out of the dock by their means. Owing to unfortunate causes, it is stated she will not get away for a day or two.

The British Whig Kingston, Saturday. November 3, 1883:

The steamer ATHABASCA has been handed over to Capt. John Donnelly at Lachine and the parts are now en route to Kingston.

The British Whig Kingston, Monday, November 12, 1883:

The sections of the halved and pontooned steamships ATHABASCA and ALGOMA have not yet arrived here, but are expected tonight, the blow not having a tendency to delay them on the river. The bow of the ATHABASCA was reported last night to be at the head of the Matilda Canal and the stern at the head of the Morrisburg Canal. The bow of the ALGOMA had reached the foot of the Matilda Canal and the stern the foot of the Morrisburg Canal.
The sections of the steamship ALBERTA left Cantin's dry dock, Montreal, on Saturday morning in charge of Canal Superintendent Conway for the upper lakes, the work of cutting her in two having been a complete success. The steamships will be towed to Buffalo with all possible haste. The uniting of the parts cannot be done on Lake Ontario as the complete steamships would be five feet too long for even the new locks of the Welland Canal.

The British Whig Kingston, Tuesday, November 13, 1883:

The C.P.R. steamship ALBERTA has reached Valleyfield where she is now moored until more favourable weather sets in. The ATHABASCA is in the vicinity of Brockville.

The British Whig Kingston, Wednesday, November 14, 1883:

The divided parts of the steamships ATHABASCA and ALBERTA were at Brockville last night. They are expected here tonight or tomorrow.

The British Whig Kingston, Saturday, November 17, 1883:

The steamship ATHABASCA lies at South Bay, windbound. The tug ACTIVE has come back from South Bay, having parted her hawser in the passage up to South Bay with the steamship ATHABASCA. She returned to secure another hawser. The ALGOMA left Prescott at noon.

The British Whig Kingston, Monday, November 19, 1883:

The last of the steamships, ALBERTA, arrived at noon. The ATHABASCA left South Bay yesterday and was passed by the prop. ST. MAGNUS striking for the south shore. In the blow of Saturday the steamship lost her pontoons.
Yesterday morning the tug DAVID G. THOMSON, steamer HIRAM A. CALVIN and prop. EUROPE arrived with the steamship ALGOMA from Prescott. The divided craft tied up at Swift's Wharf where, during the day, she was visited by hundreds of persons. Each visitor had something to say of the great proportions of the craft and the probable cost. One man declared that it would cost $60,000 to take the vessel from Montreal to Buffalo. He was stretching the truth greatly. The ALGOMA will go west as soon as tugs can be secured.

The British Whig Kingston, Tuesday, November 20, 1883:

The steamship ATHABASCA has arrived at Port Dalhousie. The other steamships will go west in a few days.

The British Whig Kingston, Wednesday, November 21, 1883:

It was one of the ATHABASCA's pontoons that was picked up at Point Traverse.
The stern part of the steamer ALGOMA is at Charlotte and the bow at McDonald's Cove. The tug METAMORA had the latter, but while going through the Gap her sternpost was pulled out and the towline became entangled in the wheel. The tug came to Kingston for repairs.
The tugs will take ALBERTA to Port Dalhousie as soon as possible. There is great interest in the records made by the tugs in running between Port Dalhousie and Kingston. The tug ACTIVE covered the distance in 18 hours, the HASTINGS in 19 hours, the D.D. PORTER in 15 hours, and the CHIEFTAIN in 13 hours. The Captains say that the latter was not working by the day, but that she made the trip in as short a time as possible in order to get under pay. The other Captains, with so much per day, think that life is too short to make great time.

The British Whig, Kingston, Friday, November 23, 1883:

The steamship ALBERTA was raised yesterday and about 3 o'clock the tugs started with her for Port Dalhousie. The chains that were lashed around the pontoons attached to the steamer ALGOMA cut through them and they filled with water. In this condition the craft was taken to Charlotte. It will require some time to make repairs.

The British Whig Kingston, Saturday, November 24, 1883:

The tug ACTIVE and consorts have safely delivered the steamship ALBERTA to Port Dalhousie. The ALGOMA was expected there yesterday.
On Wednesday night a Thorold citizen walked out to see the ATHABASCA at Lock 21. He walked on and on till he found himself in the canal at the head gates of the lock, from which he was rescued. He did not wait to see the noble vessel; he was content with what he saw at the bottom of the canal.

The Port Arthur Sentinel, Saturday, November 24, 1883:

The C.P.R. steamship ATHABASCA arrived at Kingston on Thursday morning last. The passage through the canals required great care owing to the pontoons which buoyed up the stern being very frail. The third pontoon on the ATHABASCA had to be removed at every lock. The steamer HASTINGS assisted by the H. M. MIXER canalled the ATHABASCA.
In the Edwardsburg Canal the ALGOMA's bow was taken by the H.F. BRONSON and the stern by the HIRAM A. CALVIN and JESSIE HALL. The BRONSON, HASTINGS and CALVIN towed the parts of ALGOMA and ATHABASCA to Prescott. The latter was then towed to Kingston by HASTINGS and HIRAM A. CALVIN and the tug S.S. EDSALL.
From Dickinson's Landing to Matilda the craft were assisted by the tug ONTARIO. Capt. Murphy, owing to knowledge of the currents, rendered very good service in steering. The tugs JESSIE HALL and H. F. BRONSON have gone back to assist the tugs ONTARIO, FAVELLE, GEORGIA and MAY SMITH in bringing the ALBERTA through the canal. The steamers HASTINGS, S.S. EDSALL, ACTIVE and DAVID G. THOMSON will, as soon as the weather permits, start for Port Dalhousie. The steamers will then return to take the parts of the other steamers west.

The British Whig Kingston, Saturday, December 15. 1883:

Two pontoons which broke away from one of the C.P.R. steamships recently taken to Buffalo, came ashore at South Bay and are in the possession of Mr. Alva Rose.

The Sarnia Observer, Friday, April 11, 1884:

Commodore Anderson left this morning for Port Colborne to take charge of the ATHABASCA, the leading vessel of the C.P.R. fleet. The Commodore says he will start on the opening of navigation for Owen Sound, calling at Sarnia by the way. If time is allowed at this port there will be a general turn out to see the new Clyde-built steamers.

The Sarnia Observer, Friday, April 25, 1884:

We learn from Port Colborne that Capt. Anderson has been appointed to the command of the ALBERTA and as the other two boats are nearer completion than the ALBERTA, it will be the last one to leave for the upper lakes.

The Sarnia Observer, Friday, May 16, 1884:

The ALGOMA of the C.P.R. steamship line and the first of the new fleet to ascend the lakes called here on Friday last (May 9) and during her stay was inspected by thousands of people, and of both sexes. Capt. Moore's good nature was severely taxed to answer all the questions put to him in regard to the boat as were the engineers and other officers. Saturday evening the ALBERTA arrived, Commodore Anderson in command. There was another rush to see the new boat and welcome her popular commander and during her brief stay the vessel was literally overrun with visitors. On Monday the last of the fleet, the ATHABASCA, Capt. Foote, passed up.
As all three are to outward appearances exactly alike, a description of one will serve for all. These vessels were built on the Clyde last year under the supervision of Mr. Henry Beatty and were brought to this country to be fitted out with cabins etc., which work was done at Port Colborne. They are 270 feet in length, 38 feet breadth of beam and the hold is 15 feet deep. Their molded depth is 23 feet, 3 inches. Taking the ALBERTA as a sample: She carries the Plimsoll loading mark which permits her to be loaded to a depth of 15 feet at which draft she is expected to carry 2000 tons of freight. From keel to rail she is constructed entirely of steel, the plates being of various thickness in different parts of the hull. Her hull is divided into watertight compartments by six steel bulkheads and the watertight-ness of these cannot be doubted as they were thoroughly tested when she was cut in two and towed up the lakes. There is no communication whatever between these compartments, so that in a collision there will be no doors to shut to prevent the water running from one to another. The main and promenade decks are of steel and the only parts of the ship that can burn are the cargo and the cabin. Her cabin runs nearly the length of the ship and is plain and substantial. It as well as other parts of the steamer is lighted by electricity. The main saloon is nearly as large as a sidewheel steamer but it is made so at the expense of the staterooms which are somewhat small and cramped.
She has single berths for 180 first class passengers and accommodation for steerage passengers on the main deck aft of the engines. She can comfortably accommodate 1000 passengers of all classes. The cabin is supplied with bathroom and smoking room. The cabin furniture, carpets, etc., are all of the best and most substantial character. The kitchen and oil room are encased in steel. The fire protection of the steamer is arranged somewhat after the manner of the Holly system and there is at all times a pressure of 50 p.s.i. on all the hydrants and the hose is at all times screwed on ready for use.
In the way of motive power she is provided with a fore and aft compound engine with cylinders 70 and 35 x 48 inches which is supplied by steam from two boilers tested up to 210 p.s.i. The boilers are built of steel plate one inch in thickness and each one has 220 three and one-half inch tubes. The furnaces are of corrugated iron. The machinery will turn a propellor 13'6" in diameter with 21-foot pitch. The engine will develop 1700 h.p. and is expected to propel the steamer from 16 to 18 m.p.h. She has in all fourteen engines on board, used for hoisting anchors and freight, working steam pumps, steering and everything else that requires power. Her steam steering gear, which is of the most perfect kind made, can be worked in the pilothouse or on the bridge and she has an auxiliary wheel aft to be used in case of accident to the steam gear. She is provided with a Sir William Thompson patent compass which is supplied with an apparatus consisting of two hollow iron globes for correcting the deviation of the compass incidental to iron and steel ships. She has two steel masts rigged with fore-and-aft canvas. These masts, together with her short thick smokestack, rake aft in a style that gives a decidedly business-like appearance to the ship. She carries six yawlboats, each of which is provided with a compass, sailing gear, water bucket, etc., and each is arranged so that when it is lowered and the proper number of people in it, it will unhook itself from the ropes by which it is lowered. Besides the boats, she carries a large number of life preservers and rafts.
The means of signalling between the captain and engineer is similar to that in use on ocean steamers. On the bridge at the pilothouse is a dial, in front of which is a lever. When the engine is stationary the lever stands upright. Moving it one way signals the engineer to go ahead and moving the other way is the signal to reverse the engine. On this dial is a hand which is worked from the engineroom and the hand follows the lever when the engineer understands the signal.
The ALBERTA in all her parts is up to the English Board of Trade regulations. Each steamer is said to have cost $300,000. She looked beautiful at night when illuminated with electric lights and as she moved off from the dock was greeted with rousing cheers by the large crowds assembled.
The Masters of ALGOMA and ALBERTA are two of our most popular captains and are men who take a deep interest in Sarnia, and almost every person was on the watch to see them pass through. The ALGOMA when she arrived here had on 200 tons of coal and 300 tons of pig iron and was drawing 7 feet forward and 13 feet aft. Capt. Moore had been on his feet 96 hours (?) when he reached here. The ALGOMA stopped to let off Mrs. John Beatty and Mrs. Henry Beatty who were the first passengers carried on the new boat, and for the captain to see his friends. The ALGOMA is officered as follows: Capt. Moore of the steamer QUEBEC; Mate, G. Hastings of the steamer PARISIAN, Allan Line; Second Mate, R. McLeod; Engineer, George Pettigrew of the steamer ONTARIO; Assistant, Alexander McDermott; Purser, Alex. McKenzie; Steward, C. Taylor.
When the ALBERTA arrived here she had 175 tons of coal and 250 tons of pig iron and was drawing 7 feet forward and 12 feet aft. The following comprise the crew of the steamer: Captain, Commodore Anderson of the steamer CAMPANA; Mate, G. Simpson; Second Mate, John Wagner; Engineer, D. McLean; Assistant, James Wilson; Purser, J. Johnston; Steward, Edward Masterson.
Of the ATHABASCA we can say only that she passed up about dusk on Monday evening and did not do us the favour of a call. Of her crew we only know that she is commanded by Capt. Foote, and that Mr. T. Pettigrew is first engineer and Mr. John Kelly assistant. The two latter are old Sarnia residents and we feel sure would have been glad to give their old friends here a call in passing. A large crowd was assembled to meet them and much disappointment was felt when it was seen that the vessel had no intention of stopping.

The Sarnia Observer, Friday, May 16, 1884:

A good thing on the marine reporter of the Detroit Free Press is the taking of the code signals on the ALBERTA for the "flags of all nations". Queer he didn't know what resemblance she bears to an ocean steamship after all.

The Sarnia Observer, Friday, May 30, 1884:

An Owen Sound dispatch of the 23rd says: The CAMPANA and ATHABASCA, the latter the fastest boat on the new C.P.R. line, had an exciting race in the upper lakes this week. The two steamers left Port Arthur at 4:15 on Sunday afternoon on the down trip. The boats kept in sight of each other during the whole trip. On Tuesday morning they left Sault Ste. Marie, reaching Owen Sound in 16 hours, the ATHABASCA coming in about five miles ahead, making the fastest time on record on that route.

The Sarnia Observer, Friday, June 13, 1884:

We regret to learn that Capt. Moore of the C.P.R. steamer ALGOMA is lying very ill of inflammation of the lungs at Sault Ste. Marie. Mrs. Moore was telegraphed for and went up on the steamer ONTARIO on Friday night. We hope that the captain will soon get better and be able to attend to his duties again. Capt. Morrison was telegraphed for and is now commanding the ALGOMA. Capt. Moore could not have left his boat in better hands.

The Sarnia Observer, Friday, June 27, 1884:

Considerable excitement was caused here on Monday by the announcement that the steamer ALGOMA of the C.P.R. line was three days overdue at Owen Sound. The ALBERTA was two days over her time making the trip from Port Arthur to Owen Sound owing to dense fogs. Monday night a dispatch was received stating that the ALGOMA had arrived at Owen Sound at 5 o'clock on Monday morning. There had been heavy fogs on Lake Superior and the captain said that was the cause of the delay. All the way down she was in fog and it was dangerous to run at anything like speed.

The McCannell collection of news reports includes many other items of a rather humourous nature concerning the three vessels but those included above are the most important from a historical point of view as regards the advent of the steamers and their first year of service. One other item, however, is of considerable importance in that it mentions a rather nasty incident which occurred during ALBERTA's eleventh season of operation.

An item appeared in the Owen Sound Times of May 30, 1894 and mentioned that ALBERTA, under the command of Capt. J. McAllister, had encountered heavy gale conditions while downbound in Lake Superior. One wave came over the vessel's bow and crashed down on deck. The front of the cabin was smashed in and the sea came in through the pilothouse, carrying out the back windows. The forecastle companionway was broken off and water filled the forecastle, rushing out on the main deck passageway at a depth of three feet and flooding the diningroom and forward staterooms. The impact was so great that the steam steering gear was shifted back four inches. Stanchions were bent like straws and some of them were carried away. About thirty feet of projecting hurricane deck on the port side was carried away and the steel deck and deck frames were sunk about four inches.

In our earlier history of the original trio, we mentioned that the bows of the surviving pair ALBERTA and ATHABASCA, together with MANITOBA, were rebuilt early in the new century. In fact, we now learn that this operation was performed in February and March of 1897 and at that time the turtle-backed forecastles and raised pilothouses were added.

Speaking of MANITOBA, we did not say much about her in our original article since she was not a member of the original trio and was constructed by Polson Iron Works at Owen Sound to serve as a replacement for the lost ALGOMA. She was launched on May 4, 1889 but, strangely enough, she did not operate in 1890. She was placed back in service in 1891 but she was once again laid up during 1894 and part of 1895. She re-entered service on the Georgian Bay to Lakehead route in June 1895 when ALBERTA was placed on the route from Windsor to the Lakehead with way calls at Courtright, Sarnia, Mackinac Island and the Soo. This route was a summer service only for ALBERTA and was terminated at the end of August. ALBERTA once again went on the Windsor route from June to August 1896 but the run was cancelled at the end of that season.

On the subject of MANITOBA we shall have more to say at a later date and as well we will devote an article to the story of the arrival in the Great Lakes of KEEWATIN and ASSINIBOIA.


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