If there is one thing for which we at T.M.H.S. can take credit, it is this: when we open up a can of worms, we really do a good job of it! Ye Editor, however, would not feel that he was doing justice to his responsibilities if this were not the case, for our task is not simply to report the news and give a superficial smattering of historical fact in these pages. We feel a definite sense of gratification when we venture onto new ground (or water, as the case may be), and provoke comment or argument with one of our features. Such is the case with our October "Ship of the Month", the passenger steamer COLUMBIAN, (b) BROCKVILLE, (c) RAPIDS QUEEN, (d) CD. 110.
Never before has one of our feature articles prompted such interest on the part of our readers. In fact, we have received so much correspondence on the subject that we will be kept busy with it for several months. Our particular thanks go to Rev. Edward J. Dowling, S.J., of Detroit, to George Ayoub of Ottawa, and to Gerry Girvin of Rochester for their most valuable assistance.
The early history of the steamer is in considerable doubt and we do not know whether she was actually built to the order of the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation interests or whether the Delaware River Iron Ship Building and Engine Works (please note the correct corporate title) built her on speculation. Last month, we mentioned that the 1892 American register (signal letter code section) identifies her owner in that, the year of her build, as the Morgan Iron Works of New York City. Why this should be, we do not know, but we do know that the Delaware River shipbuilding firm encountered difficulties in its latter years and went out of business about 1908. It is possible that Morgan may have given certain financial assistance to the yard or even purchased its interests and, if this should be so, it would seem to lend credence to our suggestion that the boat may have been built "on spec". It would be unusual, to say the least, for a vessel to be registered to a shipbuilder if she were actually built to the order of someone else.
The plot thickens, however, in that COLUMBIAN first appeared in Lloyds' Register in 1892 which, unlike the U.S. Merchant Vessels listing of the same year, shows her owner as the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company of Philadelphia. This is somewhat surprising as it is one of the earliest records we have of an American affiliate of R & O. Nevertheless, the entry muddies the water in connection with the question of whether R & O ordered the construction of COLUMBIAN or bought her either on the ways or after completion.
The British Naval List and Maritime Directory for 1893 and 1894, as well as Lloyds' of 1893 (the 1894 edition is not available), show her owner as one George Shea of St. John's, Newfoundland. Her port of registry was St. John's and her official number was Br.101254. The same records indicate that from 1895 through 1905, her owner was the Montreal Safe Deposit Company, Montreal, but her home port was still St. John's.
The port records for St. John's, as contained in the Public Archives at Ottawa, indicate that, on January 30, 1893, COLUMBIAN was enrolled at St. John's, her owner being George Shea, merchant, of the same city. Her dimensions were shown as 175.0 x 33.9 x 9.0, 703.9 Gross and 470 Net. It was indicated that she was a twin-screw vessel, of sloop rig, having two (yes, two) triple-expansion engines with cylinders of 12 1/2, 19 and 30 inches and a 15-inch stroke.
The St. John's port records also show that COLUMBIAN was transferred on March 13, 1895 to the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd., Montreal, and on April 9, 1895 to the Montreal Safe Deposit Company, Montreal. Strangely enough, these entries were made only ten minutes apart, at 10:30 and 10:40 a.m., respectively, on May 23, l895. We assume that the Montreal Safe Deposit Company was the mortgagee which financed the acquisition of the ship by R & O and, generally, the R & O program of updating its fleet. We do not know what Shea's connection may have been, although he was involved in the ownership of several other lake passenger boats.
The steamer first appears in the Canadian List of Shipping in 1906 under the name BROCKVILLE. She was still registered to the Montreal Safe Deposit Company but her port of registry was changed at that time to Montreal and her official number became C. 101254. It was not until 1907 that her owner was actually recorded as being the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd., Montreal. We must assume that the mortgage on the ship had been paid off. It should be noted that, although the R & O had built up an extensive shipping empire centring mainly around its St. Lawrence River services, the company was often in precarious financial straits and it was not uncommon for its boats to be mortgaged in order that working capital might be obtained.
Incidentally, the Canadian Railway and Marine World for April 1900 indicates that COLUMBIAN was that year chartered out by R & O to the Lake Ontario Navigation Company (sic) - its real name was the Lake Ontario and Bay of Quinte Steamboat Company - to run during the summer months between Charlotte, Port Hope and the Thousand Islands. The charter agreement contained a clause which stipulated that R & O retained the right to use the ship on Mondays during the period June 9 through August 27 for its route between Kingston and Montreal.
As far as the disposal of the ship by C.S.L. is concerned, it seems that RAPIDS QUEEN was not sold directly to Sincennes-McNaughton. She actually was purchased in 1929 by Toronto entrepreneur John E. Russell and it was not until 1930 that she was transferred to Sin-Mac Lines Ltd., Montreal, of which Russell was an executive officer.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.