In this particular section of "Scanner", we have over the last decade featured many famous lake vessels. Readers will be aware, however, that we have leaned strongly to the passenger ships of the lower lakes and particularly to those which frequented the Toronto area. We have done so not only because these boats hold a special place in the hearts of our Toronto members, but because they have only infrequently been mentioned (and then with only minimal detail; in other marine publications. As our February issue featured the Niagara Navigation Company's big paddler CHIPPEWA, it is only fitting that this 75th Ship of the Month, appearing in our Tenth Anniversary issue, should be the popular steamer DALHOUSIE CITY which for almost forty years carried untold thousands of excursionists between Toronto and Port Dalhousie.
In order to trace properly the events leading up to the advent of DALHOUSIE CITY on Lake Ontario, it is necessary for us to go back to 1899. That year, the St. Catharines area of Ontario's Niagara Peninsula witnessed an event which proved to be a very important step in the development of the region, namely the incorporation of the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway Company. This concern, controlled by the owners of the Hudson Valley Railway, took over the assets of the St. Catharines and Niagara Central Railway and began active development of electric railway operations in the Peninsula, the city of St. Catharines being the core for its services. Already the company felt the influence of certain gentlemen connected with the Mackenzie and Mann interests of Toronto who shortly would gain full control of the fledgling electric line. The company grew rapidly and in due course of time was operating not only local electric cars within St. Catharines but also interurban or "radial" services to Port Dalhousie, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls and Port Colborne.
At the turn of the century, the Niagara Peninsula was not only growing as an important residential and fruit-growing area, but was also developing as a tourist region, particularly as it encompassed Niagara Falls. For many years, there had been passenger service across Lake Ontario not only to Niagara-on-the-Lake and Queenston on the Niagara River from Toronto but also from the latter city to Port Dalhousie which then was the northerly terminus of the Welland Canal and the port for St. Catharines. In 1899, the Port Dalhousie service was held down by the 121-foot wooden propellor LAKESIDE built in 1888 at Windsor, and by the 177.9-foot steel sidewheeler GARDEN CITY which was built at Toronto in 1892. At times, GARDEN CITY was sent to the route between Buffalo and Crystal Beach, Ontario, during which periods she was replaced by the small steamer LINCOLN. These vessels were operated in a pooling arrangement by the Lakeside Navigation Company and by the St. Catharines, Grimsby and Toronto Navigation Company.
In 1900, these operators were bought out by Toronto entrepreneurs J. H. Plummer, J. W. Flavelle and Z. A. Lash who also were involved with the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway Company. Indeed, the last-named gentleman was soon appointed chairman of the Board of the N. S. & T. The shipping firm was shortly renamed the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Navigation Company and in 1902 it became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the railway. During this time, it was under the influence of Mackenzie, Mann and Company Limited of Toronto.
The trade soon outgrew LAKESIDE and GARDEN CITY and the N. S. & T. began to consider how it might modernize its fleet in order to keep pace with the increasing demand for its services. It was not difficult for the company to come to the decision that a new boat must be built and it then set about designing a vessel that would be suitable for her intended route. The services of George Owen, the designer of many famous yachts, were retained for the preparation of the plans for the new steamer. While the result was a sturdy and dependable ship, it is likely that the N. S. & T. looked with a great deal of envy at the boats designed for the Niagara Navigation Company by Frank E. Kirby and Arendt Angstrom, for the products of their drawing boards proved to be far more successful and less worrisome than did Owen's design.
The plans having been completed, the company in late 1910 let a contract for the construction of its new steamer to the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company Limited which then set about assembling its Hull 30. The steel hull measured 199.8 feet in length, 37.0 feet in the beam and 20.7 feet in depth. Her tonnage was registered as 1256 Gross and 752 Net, and she was enrolled at Toronto as C.130312. It was originally planned that she be named DALHOUSIE, but when she slid into the waters of Collingwood harbour, she did so with the name DALHOUSIE CITY painted on her bows, this name being formally given to her in christening ceremonies on June 24, 1911. Her sponsor for the event was Miss Mary Hanna, daughter of Toronto financier D. B. Hanna of the Canadian Northern Railway, another Mackenzie and Mann enterprise.
The change in name appears not to have been made with the thought in mind that the town of Port Dalhousie was ever to become a thriving metropolis, although it might have done so had not the lower portion of the Welland Canal been moved eastwards in later years to terminate at Port Weller. Rather, the somewhat high-blown name was likely chosen to match the name of the older sidewheeler GARDEN CITY which, of course, was named after St. Catharines. As it turned out, Port Dalhousie declined in importance after the closing of the third Welland Canal and later it was absorbed into St. Catharines itself, for which it now serves as a quiet residential suburb.
Prior to the launch of DALHOUSIE CITY, the N. S. & T. formed a special company to own her. Incorporated early in 1911 was the Dalhousie Navigation Company Limited, Toronto, which boasted a capital of $50,000 and which indicated to the Dominion government that it intended "to purchase, lease, charter or otherwise acquire and operate steamships or other vessels propelled by any other motive power or device, to own piers, wharves, docks, dry docks, terminals, warehouses, etc.". The incorporators of the new concern were G. F. Macdonnell, R. H. M. Temple, A. J. Mitchell and J. B. Robertson, all of whom were somehow connected with the Canadian Northern Railway. It was for the Dalhousie Navigation Co, Ltd. that DALHOUSIE CITY was built and commissioned, and it was to this company that the ship was registered for almost her entire career on Lake Ontario, although for a short time during World War I, the Dominion List of Shipping indicated that her owner was Mackenzie, Mann and Company Limited, Toronto. DALHOUSIE CITY was never registered to the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Navigation Co. or to any other successors or affiliates as was NORTHUMBERLAND which came on the scene almost a decade later.
DALHOUSIE CITY was powered by a triple-expansion engine built by Collingwood Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. With cylinders of 18, 29 and 48 inches and a stroke of 30 inches, it produced 115 h.p. Steam was provided by two Scotch boilers measuring 13 feet 7 5/16 inches by 11 feet, the working pressure being 180 p.s.i. Each coal-fired boiler was fitted with three corrugated furnaces with grates six feet in length. The engine turned a 9 3/4-inch tailshaft and a cast iron propellor measuring nine feet in diameter. While it was variously reported in advance of her commissioning that she would be able to achieve speeds of 15 or even 19 miles per hour, her boilers proved to be inadequate for their task and she was hard-pressed to make even 12 m.p.h. once she was in regular service. She was always known as a bit of a plodder but the fitting of a new propellor in the early 1920s did achieve a modest increase in the speed that she could manage, although she was never in a class with her later running-mate, the graceful NORTHUMBERLAND.
DALHOUSIE CITY's speed was not her only failing. She was only 37 feet wide and, not being a sidewheeler, she tended to roll heavily in rough seas and made herself somewhat unpopular amongst members of the travelling public who were possessed of queasy stomachs. Her owners did their best to rectify this nasty problem and shortly after she was commissioned, she was taken to the shipyard for the fitting of bilge keels. These succeeded in reducing her propensity to roll.
Another hull problem was evident once DALHOUSIE CITY was in service. As built, she carried her anchors suspended from hawsepipes mounted quite close to the waterline near the bow. As a result of this arrangement, she tended to be very wet forward in even a moderate sea, for every time she dipped into a wave, the anchors would send fountains of spray up over the rails. After the first season of operation, her "hooks" were repositioned just above the level of the main deck and this solved the problem.
DALHOUSIE CITY was a good-looking, although rather traditional, three-deck steamer. Her main deck was completely enclosed, while the promenade and bridge or boat decks were equipped with cabins but were open around the sides of the ship. Passengers were not permitted access to the hurricane deck. The lower deck provided accommodations for the crew forward, while right aft was the "luncheon room" for passengers, situated immediately abaft the engine. In later years, snack bar facilities were provided in the promenade deck cabin.
The forward portion of the main deck was devoted to the carriage of freight and this space would often be used for the movement of produce from the Niagara orchards to Toronto markets. The passenger gangway led to the entrance hall from which the main stairway, built of red oak, gave access to the upper decks. Aft of the entrance hall were the purser's and stewardesses' rooms and beyond them was the ladies' saloon which was finished in red oak panelled wainscoting, red oak pilasters with compo-board panels, and interlocking rubber-tiled flooring. Immediately aft of the saloon were the ladies' lavatory and retiring rooms. Also located near the entrance hall were the engineroom itself, the men's lavatory and the purser's office.
On the promenade deck was located the observation cabin. Finished in white enamel and natural wood, it was furnished with easy chairs and lounges but also featured reversible trolley-car seats which could accommodate about seventy passengers. These were a most unusual fixture in a lake steamer but were undoubtedly suitable in that they could be turned to allow groups of four passengers to sit together and converse as a group instead of having to shout over those seated ahead of them. Also contained in the promenade deck cabin were six private staterooms which could be engaged for a crossing by those seeking privacy and quiet away from the crowds on the open deck and in the public cabins.
The handsome main stairway led upwards from the observation cabin to the boat deck where it opened into the sun parlour, a cabin furnished with settees and lounges done in close-woven cane. Immediately forward of this room was the smoking room which was panelled in oak and upholstered in leather, a rather traditional approach to such a space. Forward of the smoking room were the officers' quarters and then the pilothouse. That portion of the boat (or gallery) deck situated aft of the mainmast was originally an open observation area but about 1930 it was made into a covered dance deck by the installation of a domed shade deck above. This area was equipped with canvas awnings which could be dropped to prevent the dancers being bothered by inclemencies of the weather or by the cool night breezes upon the lake.
DALHOUSIE CITY was not the most handsome lake dayboat ever built but neither was she by any means an ugly vessel. She possessed only a hint of sheer to her decks whereas more finely-cut lines might have given her a more graceful appearance. To make up for this, however, her two tall masts were well raked and midway between the masts was mounted a tall but substantial stack whose rake matched that of the spars. Well forward on the boat deck, she carried a rather large pilothouse whose corners were rounded off to soften its lines. This house sported open bridge wings and an open navigation bridge on the monkey's island. In the early years, the ship's name was carried in large block letters on the front of the pilothouse below the windows but as time passed, the name was reworked in script.
The new steamer was painted in such a manner that her colours matched those of GARDEN CITY which, for a few years at least, was to be her mate on the route. DALHOUSIE CITY was given a red hull as far as the waterline while the rest of the hull, including the closed rail around the main deck, was a light slate colour. The rails and strakes were green, while the cabins above the main deck rail were a light buff. The stack was buff with a black smokeband. These colours were to remain with the ship for her entire life on Lake Ontario, although from time to time there appeared different variations in the shades of the colours used.
It had originally been hoped that DALHOUSIE CITY would be ready to enter service on her intended route by June 26, 1911 in time for virtually the entire summer season. This was not to be, however, as she was only christened on June 26, Work progressed quickly and on August 14, 1911, DALHOUSIE CITY cleared Collingwood on her delivery voyage. She arrived at Toronto on her first regular run on August 21st.
DALHOUSIE CITY's debut on the Port Dalhousie - Toronto service rendered the little LAKESIDE surplus to the company's requirements and the wooden steamer was laid up in Muir's Pond above Lock One at Port Dalhousie. She was sold later the same year for use in hauling construction materials and eventually wound up as the tug JOSEPH L. RUSSELL. She foundered in Lake Ontario off Point Petre on November 15, 1929. The full story of this steamer can be found in our Ship of the Month No. 42 feature which appeared in the October 1974 issue of "Scanner".
DALHOUSIE CITY ran opposite the paddler GARDEN CITY through the 1917 season but then the older boat was dropped from the sailing schedule. Passenger revenue was adversely affected by the continuation of the Great War and the hostilities had resulted in a coal shortage which forced the N. S. & T. to make do with only its newest boat. Revenue picked up again after the war but GARDEN CITY by then was considered to be unsuitable for further service on her old route. She lay idle and in May 1922 was sold to Montreal operators. She lasted until 1936 when she was scrapped at Sorel.
GARDEN CITY's place opposite DALHOUSIE CITY was taken in 1920 by the yachtlike steamer NORTHUMBERLAND which was chartered and eventually purchased outright from the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company for whom she had operated a ferry service between Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and Pictou, Nova Scotia. NORTHUMBERLAND was placed on the route "as was" and over the years was altered in many ways to make her more suitable for the Lake Ontario excursion trade. She proved to be a tremendously popular ship and ran opposite DALHOUSIE CITY through the 1948 season. She would undoubtedly have operated even longer had not she been destroyed by fire at Port Dalhousie on June 2, 1949 while fitting out for the new season. She had been scheduled to enter service the very next day but the damage was so severe that repair could not he justified and she was soon broken up for scrap at the shipyard in Port Weller.
Unlike her mate NORTHUMBERLAND, DALHOUSIE CITY was a fairly lucky boat and she was not involved in any particularly serious accidents over the years. She did encounter a few arguments with the pierheads at Port Dalhousie at various times but damage was never severe and repairs were put in hand. The steamer was dependable and made her 2 1/2-hour crossings of the lake with admirable consistency even if she was hardly compatible with NORTHUMBERLAND in the speed she could attain. DALHOUSIE CITY was licenced for the carriage of 1,050 passengers and on numerous occasions she carried capacity loads, particularly during the heyday of Lakeside Park, a small amusement park located beside the west pier of Port Dalhousie harbour.
DALHOUSIE CITY and her running mate operated from the foot of Yonge Street in Toronto through the 1926 season but due to harbour improvements involving a major landfill project undertaken by the Toronto Harbour Commission, they ran from 1927 onwards from the York Street slip where they moored beside the Terminal Warehouse. At the Port Dalhousie end of the route, the boats normally docked first on the west side of the harbour where they disembarked passengers for Lakeside Park and for connections on the electric line to St. Catharines. They would then move over to the east side of the harbour where they connected with the electric cars for Niagara Falls. The boats would lie at Port Dalhousie East until shortly before their scheduled departure time and would then move back to the west pier to load homeward bound passengers from the park.
DALHOUSIE CITY had a particularly loud and piercing but deep whistle. It was not unusual that when she was leaving Toronto on an August morning on the first trip of the day, the bay would be shrouded by fog. This did not deter DALHOUSIE CITY from leaving at the appointed time and she would make her way across the bay to the Eastern Gap at almost regular speed, sounding fog signals at short intervals and causing no end of worry to passengers on the various Toronto Island ferries which were carrying the morning commuters from the Island to work at reduced speed. The particularly strident blasts of DALHOUSIE CITY's whistle often gave the impression that she was headed straight for the ferry and would collide with it at any minute. Luckily for all concerned, such a confrontation never took place.
Photographs of DALHOUSIE CITY showing her moving tend to belie her lack of speed. As a result of her hull form, DALHOUSIE CITY always would squat in the water when under way at normal speed. This often made her seem to be travelling faster than was actually the case. No doubt Capt. George Blanchard and Capt. George C. Childs, two of her long-time masters, wished that this illusion of speed could have become a reality.
As far as the company itself was concerned, the N. S. & T. Railway Co. in 1904 came under control of Toronto parties as a result of financial difficulties encountered by the New York owners. Full control of the N. S. & T. including the Navigation Company was acquired in 1908 by the Canadian Northern Railway and thus it became an affiliate of Mackenzie, Mann and Co. Ltd., some of whose people had been associated with the N. S. & T. prior to the actual acquisition of a controlling interest.
The N. S. & T. continued as a subsidiary of the Canadian Northern until in 1917 the parent railway succumbed to the financial embarrassment which had plagued it for a number of years. The Canadian government bailed out the railway empire but only on the condition that the government have a controlling interest. Thus, late in 1918, Mackenzie and Mann wended their way from the scene and the Canadian National Railway Company was formed with the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway Co. and the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Navigation Co. as two of its many subsidiaries. From this time onward, the Port Dalhousie steamboats operated under the management of what was known as "Canadian National Steamers" and for a while, DALHOUSIE CITY even carried this name on her promenade deck rail forward, although she continued to be owned by the Dalhousie Navigation Co. Ltd.
The navigation division of the railroad did, however, encounter deficits in both 1939 and 1940 and, since the line could not divest itself of either boat and still maintain a reasonable service, it sought instead to rid itself of Lakeside Park together with both steamers. Offers were solicited in 1941 and again in 1943 but no sale was ever consummated. The steamboat line returned to a profitable position during the Second World War when highway travel was difficult but in 1946 the deficit returned and never again disappeared.
The spring of 1949 found the steamer line in the red as far as the ledgers were concerned but passenger traffic was still sufficient to warrant continued service. Both DALHOUSIE CITY and NORTHUMBERLAND were fitted out as usual but the disastrous fire aboard the latter vessel the day before she was to enter service for the season spelled the beginning of the end for the line. DALHOUSIE CITY was placed in service without her running mate but the schedule had to be altered because it was the slower of the ships that had survived. DALHOUSIE CITY was able to handle two round trips on weekdays and, with a bit of pushing, three on Saturdays and Sundays, but special excursions had to be left either to the C.S.L. Niagara steamboat CAYUGA or to C.N.R. rail routes.
The loss of NORTHUMBERLAND did not really harm the steamer line and, in fact, the deficit decreased in 1949, but the reduced schedule of sailings caused a reduction in the number of persons using the connecting electric lines and attending Lakeside Park. These considerations, together with the prospect of having to expend considerable money to bring DALHOUSIE CITY into compliance with tougher fire safety regulations, led the company to a reluctant decision to abandon the boat service.
The steamer continued her regular sailings through the 1960 season, at the close of which she was laid up as usual in the Lachine Canal. During the night of November 13-14. 1960, she was totally gutted by a fire whose origin was suspect, to say the least, and which seemed to be related to underworld activities in the Montreal area. The burned-out hull, which had sunk in the Lachine Canal, was purchased by Buckport Shipping Limited, Montreal, and raised. Plans to convert the vessel, which was renamed (c) BUCKNOR, into a barge were never implemented and the hull was dismantled at Montreal in 1961.
DALHOUSIE CITY had fifty good years in the passenger trade, thirty-eight of them on her original route. Her career must be considered a success and it is only unfortunate that she could not have spent longer on her home waters of Lake Ontario, serving the passengers who knew her so well.
(Ed Note: Much of the description of DALHOUSIE CITY's interior was taken from issues of "The Railway and Marine, World" appearing at the time of her commissioning. Those wishing to read more on the history of the N. S. & T. Railway Co. are referred to Niagara. St. Catharines & Toronto by John M. Mills, published in 1967. Its chapter on the steamer line is regrettably short.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.