Each year, we attempt to select a special vessel to feature in our May issue, for that number is distributed at our Annual Dinner Meeting and we like to make it especially interesting in honour of that festive occasion. Accordingly, we have chosen to feature the sidewheel passenger steamer TORONTO, which is one of the ships that appears on the cover of each of our issues, but has, surprisingly, never been the subject of an in-depth study in these pages. Her somewhat larger and newer running-mate, KINGSTON, was our featured vessel in Volume IX, Number 8, back in May, 1977. How we managed to pass over TORONTO until now, we do not know, but we thank those various members who have suggested her, and hope that they and all of our members will enjoy the story of this famous ship. Our feature is all the more timely in that 1984 is the 50th anniversary of the tragic event that led to the demise of the beautiful TORONTO.
TORONTO had only two owners during her lifetime, and they both operated her on the same route. She was built for the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd., Montreal, a fleet which has received considerable mention in these pages over the years. The R. & O, as it has always been known on a familiar basis, could trace its beginnings back to the formation of the Richelieu Company in 1845. The company operated mainly on the St. Lawrence River and, as the years passed, its fleet grew in size as other river steamboat lines were amalgamated with the firm. In 1875, "the Richelieu Company merged with the Canadian Navigation Company Ltd. to form the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd.
The R. & O not only dominated passenger and freight service on the St. Lawrence River, but also was heavily involved with passenger routes on Lake Ontario. In fact, as the fleet grew, its influence even spread on the upper lakes, and it became the second largest inland fleet ever to operate under the Canadian flag. In size, it was surpassed only by its successor, Canada Steamship Lines Ltd.
In order to maintain its position of supremacy in carrying both vacationers and business travellers on its premier route, the R. & O retained the services of Arendt Angstrom to design for the company first one, and then a second, new overnight steamer. Angstrom was later to become the chief naval architect for the Canadian Shipbuilding Company Ltd., and he eventually was accorded the position of general manager in that firm. Angstrom was a most competent marine architect, and in his work can be detected signs of the influence of the great Frank E. Kirby.
The first of Angstrom's two steamers for the Toronto - Prescott route was TORONTO, which was built in 1898 as Hull 29 of the Bertram Engine Works, Toronto. Her hull was of open-hearth steel, while her superstructure was constructed of wood. TORONTO had a keel length of 269.4 feet, and was 278 feet in overall length. Her hull was 36.0 feet in width, but she sported a beam of 62 feet over the guards at the main deck. Her moulded depth of hull was 13.8 feet. These dimensions gave her tonnage of 2779 Gross and 1652 Net.
TORONTO was powered by an inclined, triple expansion, jet condensing engine that was built for her by the Bertram Engine Works at Toronto. It had cylinders of 28, 44 and 74 inches, with a stroke of 72 inches, and developed Nominal Horespower [sic] of 440 on a working pressure of 175 p.s.i. Steam was supplied by four Bertram-built return tubular boilers, each of which measured 11 feet in diameter and 11.5 feet in length over the heads. Each boiler was fitted with two suspension furnaces of 41.5 inches outside diameter, and was equipped with hot draft. TORONTO'S sidewheels were of the feathering variety and thus were much smaller than the old-fashioned radial wheels with which some of the older steamers were still propelled. TORONTO was given wheels that were 22 feet in outside diameter, and each of its buckets was 10.25 feet in length.
TORONTO was a fine-looking steamer indeed, and much more modern in appearance than any other vessel then operating on Lake Ontario or the St. Lawrence River. She had three passenger decks, with the main deck being enclosed forward of the paddleboxes, but open around the stern. Passenger accommodations were located on the promenade and upper decks, and light was admitted to the staterooms and to the galleried lounges via a clerestory which ran along the boat deck from just abaft the pilothouse to the after end of the upper cabin. Her pilothouse, with its sectioned windows, was a very handsome structure with a suitably protruding roof edge but no cluttering sunvisor, and a finely-lettered canvas nameboard stretched around the front of the pilothouse under the windows, although it could seldom be seen because of the high canvas weathercloth that was usually hung on the boat deck rail. Arendt Angstrom was known for his exceedingly handsome pilothouses (just as was Frank E. Kirby for the superb pilothouses that graced such vessels as CITY OF DETROIT III), and TORONTO and KINGSTON certainly ranked high on his list of achievements in this regard.
KINGSTON, the second of Angstrom's boats for the Toronto - Prescott route, was rather larger than TORONTO and more massive in appearance. Although she was of superb design both internally and externally, she suffered somewhat in aesthetic balance as a result of her size, and lacked some of the grace that was so evident in TORONTO. The most noticeable difference in appearance between the two running-mates was the fact that TORONTO carried only one stack, while KINGSTON had two. TORONTO'S funnel was of moderate proportions and was raked parallel to her mast, but the stack was considerably thicker than either of those carried by KINGSTON.
TORONTO was painted white all over, both hull and cabins, although she originally sported a high red boot-top. Her stack was done up in traditional Richelieu and Ontario colours, crimson with a broad black smokeband. Her closed wooden rail forward on the promenade deck was adorned with elaborate gilded trailboards, and her paddleboxes were equally well decorated, their design centred around a gilded silhouette of a beaver in relief.
Aboard its new flagship, the R. & O provided "spacious and elegant" passenger accommodations. There were 140 staterooms, including four parlour rooms and a large Pullman sleeping cabin. Sleeping accommodation could thus be provided for 430 passengers but, of course, the line was not averse to selling passage to passengers who could not afford to hire a cabin for the night. These "deck passengers" would have to find their own spot to sleep for the night. Modern travellers will tend to think poorly of such arrangements, but such was the practice of the day on all major lake lines. (Remember our comments several issue back about the deck passengers injured on PASSPORT when she 'scaped her steam into the lower deck cabin.) A splendid dining saloon, with a capacity for over 100 persons, was located forward on the upper deck, with light being admitted by six three-window groupings down each side.
"The Railway and Shipping World" waxed eloquent on the subject of TORONTO'S decor, in its issues of July 1898 and January 1899. "The interior finish ana decorations of the spacious halls and deck saloons are elaborately executed, the main and gallery saloons being finished in Francis I Renaissance, with the dining room in Louis XVI. The entrance hall is decorated in Neo-Grec, with modern Renaissance details, with the smoking room in Oriental treatment. The refreshment and waiting rooms are in Elizabethan panelling of prima-vera, natural wood finish. The main staircases are in Honduras mahogany with wrought metal balustrades in hammered leaf work, finished antique bronze, the main newels carrying bronze figures sporting electric torches. A 700-light electric light plant, with ornamental electrolliers, in carbons, furnishes light throughout the steamer."
The hull of TORONTO was launched at her namesake city on Tuesday, June 21, 1898, and the launching was witnessed by a large number of invited guests, who were given a vantage point on the decks of the local steamer WHITE STAR (See Ship of the Month No. 52, November 1975). TORONTO'S sponsor at the christening ceremonies, held the same day, was Mrs. Forget, the wife of Senator Forget, who was the president of Richelieu and Ontario Navigation. Not long after TORONTO hit the water (in fact, it was on July 13, 1898), the directors of R. & O approved the building of a "sister ship" to TORONTO, which they hoped to have ready in time for service in 1899. That vessel was KINGSTON, but she did not actually enter service until 1901.
In fact, both ships were late in delivery, for TORONTO (whose total cost was originally estimated to be $275000) was expected to be ready for her trials in August 1898, although it was not thought that she could be made ready for passenger service that year. As it was, a couple of preliminary trials were run on Monday and Tuesday, November 28 and 29, 1898, although contemporary reports indicated that the "official trial trip" had not been run. In respect of those preliminary trials, the press reported considerable detail that may be of interest to our readers.
"The main object of the first one (trip) was to ascertain the coal consumption - that is, how many pounds of coal were consumed per indicated horsepower per hour. The engines were indicated during the progress of the trial (3 hours, 43 minutes) with the following results: steam by gauge, mean during trial, 155 lbs.; vacuum, mean, 24.5 inches; revolutions, 34.2; mean draught of steamer during trial, 7 feet, 7 3/4 inches; displacement corresponding to this draught, 1,160 net tons; coal burned entire trial, 12,747 lbs.; I.H.P., mean during trial, 1,878; coal per I.H.P. per hour, 1.82 lbs.
"The steamer was also run on a 19-mile course during this trial and the accurate time noted. The course was from Oakville Lighthouse to Gibraltar Light, Toronto. This stretch of 19 miles was covered in just 60 minutes, or at the rate of exactly 19 miles an hour. The total of engine revolutions over the 19-mile course was 2,047.
"The second trip was made for the purpose of ascertaining the greatest number of revolutions for which the boilers could continuously and comfortably furnish steam, and also to record the speed with this number of revolutions. The steamer was run on the same course as the previous day, and a record of time, revolutions, steam gauges, etc., carefully taken, the same as on the previous day, but the engines were not indicated for power. The record of this trial is as follows: steam pressure by gauge, mean over course, 175 lbs.; vacuum, 23.5 inches; revolutions, mean over course, 36.87; mean draught of ship, 7 ft. 7 ins.; displacement corresponding to this draught, 1,148 net tons; time over course, 58.25 minutes; distance, 19 miles; speed, 19.6 miles an hour."
These trials apparently confirmed the expectations of the R. & O for TORONTO, and the ship was accepted from the builders. In fact, exactly the same engines and boilers were later specified for the construction of KINGSTON, despite the fact that she was a slightly larger vessel.
Meanwhile, "at the meeting of directors, March 8 (1899), Capt. H. Esford was appointed commanding officer of the new steamer TORONTO. The new vessel was naturally a prize which was looked on with envy by a great many of the old commanders in the fleet, and there had been a good deal of rivalry as to who would secure it. Capt. Esford was the choice of the committee of management, and the directors endorsed the decision. Capt. Esford was commanding officer of the CORSICAN, and has been in the employ of the company as pilot and officer for a good many years... Capt. Esford is a resident of Barriefield, a suburb of Kingston, and is well known, particularly at the points touched by the western line, as he is the oldest captain in the company's employ on that line."
TORONTO spent the winter of 1898-99 at Toronto, where the finishing touches were put to her by the Bertram yard. She had been enrolled at Toronto, as C.107412, and she was ready to go into revenue service upon the opening of navigation in the spring of 1899. She actually entered service on June 1st, 1899, with Capt. H. Esford on the bridge, with W. Black service as chief engineer, and with F. M. Hepburn holding the position of chief steward.
With the appearance of TORONTO on the run in the summer of 1899, the timetable for the Toronto - Prescott service was rearranged somewhat. TORONTO could not dock at the old R. & O pier at Toronto, for she was too big for it. Instead, she was designated to sail from the Yonge Street side of Milloy's Wharf. As well, her eastbound departure was delayed from 2:00 p.m. until 2:30, no doubt in deference to her speed, which was rather more than the older boats of the fleet could manage. TORONTO ran the route with stops at Charlotte (Rochester), Kingston, Alexandria Bay and Brockville, and in 1899 she was the only vessel on the through service that made a Charlotte stop. Later additions to the schedule were calls at Clayton, N.Y., and the Hotel Frontenac in the American Narrows section of the river.
Despite the advent of TORONTO, business was good enough that the R. & O kept some of its older ships on the route as well, and the same situation persisted during the 1900 season. In fact, some of the older boats even ran for a short while after the big new KINGSTON came into operation in 1901. Be that as it may, TORONTO and KINGSTON proved to be two of the best passenger boats in service anywhere on the Great Lakes, and they served very well for the R. & O and its successor.
KINGSTON introduced a few developments that were not incorporated in TORONTO at the time of her construction. One of them was the placement of the dining saloon forward of the paddleboxes on the main deck. TORONTO'S dining room, of course, was way up on the upper deck just below the pilothouse, and this was not really a very practical place for a dining facility. Not only did it make food preparation and service something of a problem, but it also did not please passengers who felt squeamish if there were any movement to the ship.
Accordingly, TORONTO'S dining room was relocated on the main deck, forward of the machinery, and new windows were cut in the side of the enclosed cabin to give it light. (There were never as many windows down there in TORONTO as there were in KINGSTON.) The removal of the dining saloon from the upper deck allowed more staterooms to be installed there, and most of the big three-window sets were removed from that section of the deckhouse. At the same time, the officers' quarters that had been displaced from the forward end of the main deck were relocated in a new cabin that was built on the boat deck immediately abaft the pilothouse. While the addition of this cabin forced the truncation of the boat deck clerestory, it is your editor's humble opinion that the resultant change in TORONTO'S appearance actually served to balance her lines and make her even more attractive.
The 1913 season brought with it big changes for TORONTO, for it was in June of that year that Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal, was formed as a result of the merger of a great number of Canadian shipping concerns, of which the largest certainly was the Richelieu and Ontario. TORONTO would eventually trade her crimson and black stack for the red, white and black stack colours of C.S.L., but it was not until about 1920 that TORONTO and the other R. & O passenger boats were actually given these new colours. Her cabins remained white, while her hull thereafter was, at various times, white, green and black. The advent of C.S.L. brought no major alterations in the service provided by TORONTO and KINGSTON, and the pair carried on as before, and just as they would for many years to come. Both TORONTO and KINGSTON spent their entire lives on the Toronto - Prescott route, and both were to enjoy relatively problem-free careers.
One change in scheduling did come about for TORONTO and KINGSTON in 1913, when ROCHESTER (20), (b) CAPE ETERNITY (35), (c) GEORGIAN (4l), (d) AVALON II (45)f (e) GEORGIAN (46), (f) HA SIN, owned by the R. & O American subsidiary, the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company of the United States, operated from Toronto to the U.S. side of Lake Ontario. It was believed that there was no longer any need for TORONTO and KINGSTON to stop at Charlotte. Accordingly, the Toronto sailing was rescheduled for 6:00 p.m., so that departure time would be more suitable for passengers making connections by train. By the following year, however, with C.S.L. having taken over the operation, ROCHESTER was gone from the Toronto - Rochester route, and the Charlotte call was reinstated for TORONTO and KINGSTON, their sailing from Toronto put back to 2:30 p.m.
As an example of how the service was scheduled, we might look at the 1918 timetable. TORONTO and KINGSTON sailed eastbound from Toronto on alternate days, departing at 3:30 p.m. and arriving at Charlotte at 9:45 p.m. Sailing from Charlotte at 10:30 p.m., they arrived at Kingston at 5*15 a.m. the following day. Departing Kingston at 5:30 a.m., the steamers would call at Clayton at 6:50 a.m., at Alexandria Bay at 7:30 a.m., and at Brockville at 8:50 a.m., arriving at Prescott at 9:50 a.m., just in time for any ongoing passengers to catch the 10:00 a.m. eastbound sailing of the rapids steamer for Montreal. On the westbound portion of the trip, the steamers would leave Prescott at 12:30 p.m., calling at Brockville at 1:30, at Alexandria Bay at 2:55 at Clayton at 3:40, with arrival at Kingston scheduled for 5:00 p.m. After a stop of 30 minutes, the ships would sail for Charlotte, arriving there at 10:45 p.m., and departing 15 minutes later. Arrival at Toronto was at 7:00 a.m. That schedule was in effect from July 1st to September 7th. During the period from June 22 to July 1, sailings were only on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, with only one of the two boats running. A special note in that timetable indicated that TORONTO and KINGSTON were then permitted to carry passengers between ports in New York State, and that stop-overs would be allowed at two U.S. ports in succession.
By the 1920s, the sailing time from Toronto had been changed slightly to 3:00 p.m. Standard Time, and the steamers left Prescott westbound at 11:50 a.m. This is, generally, the schedule that they would run for the remainder of their respective careers.
During the spring of 1916, TORONTO was drydocked at Kingston and refurbished. It was at this time that the ship was fitted with wireless and, when she emerged from the shipyard, she sported a wireless antenna strung between her masts. The mainmast supported the after end of this antenna, and thereafter had another reason for existence apart from the carriage of the light for which the mast had been fitted by virtue of new regulations which had been instituted back about 1908. TORONTO'S wireless call sign was VGTD. Wireless equipment was also fitted aboard KINGSTON a short time later, for the company thought that this would allow passengers to keep up to date on news stories of the day, especially those concerning the progress of the war in Europe. It was probably at the same time that the wireless antenna was fitted on TORONTO that the gaff was removed from her foremast. As well, it was about this time that each boat received "moving picture apparatus for the amusement and instruction of passengers".
TORONTO was a dependable boat, and very seldom did any event arise that would cause her to depart from her regular routine. One such occurrence did, however, come to pass on the morning of Saturday, July 5, 1924, at about 8:00 a.m., when she collided with the C.S.L. steamer MODJESKA off the company's Yonge Street wharf, Toronto. TORONTO had backed away from her dock to proceed to the bunkers dock at the east end of Toronto Bay, while MODJESKA had backed out of her adjacent dock, with 500 passengers aboard, bound for Hamilton. Through the misunderstanding of whistle signals, and the use of improper signals, the two boats met, and MODJESKA received damage to her upper works on the port side. (Two days previous, MODJESKA had suffered other damage by striking the Toronto western breakwater.)
TORONTO, however, was more seriously damaged, and she was hauled off to the drydock at Kingston, where she was incarcerated on July 15th for the replacement of her stem and fourteen steel plates. (It may well have been at this time that the gilded trailboards were removed from the promenade deck rail at her bow; KINGSTON also lost hers at about the same juncture.) TORONTO was off the dock on July 18, and was back in Toronto that same evening, ready to resume her route the next day, but in the meantime the schedule had been tossed into disarray. With TORONTO unavailable, KINGSTON was run on a daily return trip from Prescott to Charlotte, and RAPIDS KING was brought up to run a daily connecting service between Toronto and Charlotte. No doubt both passengers and management were very pleased when TORONTO returned to service.
In due course of time, Capt. L. A. Demers, Dominion Wreck Commissioner, convened an enquiry into the collision between TORONTO and MODJESKA. Capt. Demers eventually found that both the master of MODJESKA and the mate of TORONTO had erred in judgment, but he also suggested that the harbour authorities should take steps to ensure that different departure times were arranged for vessels lying at adjacent piers.
TORONTO and KINGSTON would probably have sailed on together for many years to come had it not been for the unfortunate events of fifty years ago. It was in September of 1934 that the Ward Line's passenger steamer MORRO CASTLE caught fire in the Atlantic Ocean off the New Jersey coast, and 134 persons lost their lives. The loss of MORRO CASTLE was a particularly visible disaster in that the burning ship drifted ashore on the beach at Asbury Park, where many thousands of the curious could watch her destruction as well as the removal from the vessel of the remains of her many victims. While the circumstances of the MORRO CASTLE fire were such that arson was almost certainly involved, the authorities were greatly concerned because of the rapid spread of the fire that trapped so many passengers. As a result, the U.S. government adopted strict new safety regulations that were put into effect in 1938. One of the new rules stated that no passenger ship equipped with a wooden main deck would be permitted to operate within United States waters.
Unfortunately, this regulation proved to be the undoing of TORONTO. She ran in U.S. waters, and she had a wooden main deck, whereas the newer KINGSTON had been built with a steel main deck. The cost of rebuilding TORONTO with a steel deck was completely prohibitive, and it was reluctantly decided that the company had no alternative but to withdraw TORONTO from service. Thus, the 1937 season proved to be her last, and in 1938 it was up to KINGSTON to carry on alone. This she did, and she remained in service through the 1949 season, at which time her career, too, was brought to an end as a result of fire safety regulations, these being the new rules that were introduced after the fire that destroyed C.S.L.'s NORONIC at her Toronto dock on the very same day that KINGSTON made her last trip of the 1949 season.
TORONTO'S mainmast was removed (it was generally taken down during each winter lay-up anyway), and gradually her windows were boarded up to prevent damage to the boat during her period of inactivity. C.S.L. still hoped that TORONTO might some day be reactivated, and she was even given a coat of grey paint on her entire superstructure, including the funnel, to help preserve her in case she should be needed later. But the day never came when the company could make further use of TORONTO, and the old steamer began to look more and more sad as she lay year after year in her lonely berth in the Cut. The onset of World War Two, of course, had really put an end to any hope of further service for TORONTO.
TORONTO arrived safely at Hamilton, and she was soon cut up by the Stelco crews. Before long, all her superstructure was removed, and nothing remained above the hull except for her funnel, boiler uptakes, and paddleboxes. Then even these were cut away and the hull was dismantled. It would be only three years later that these same wrecking crews would be ripping away at the beautiful cabins of KINGSTON, and the last vestiges of the once prestigious nightboat service on Lake Ontario would disappear.
One particular part of TORONTO would survive, however, that being one of the carved beavers that had graced her paddleboxes. One of them was retained by Harold Dixon, the proprietor of the Toronto Dry Dock Company Ltd., and it hung for many years over the front door of the drydock office on Villiers Street at the Keating Channel. When the drydock company finally went out of business, many of its relics, including TORONTO'S beaver, found their way to the Marine Museum of Upper Canada, and there the gilded beaver can be seen to this day.
When the old Toronto Island sidewheel ferry TRILLIUM was rebuilt in 1975, thought was given to how her otherwise plain paddleboxes might be decorated. It was decided that TORONTO'S beaver might be suitable, and so two castings were made from the original. Today they may be seen gracing the paddleboxes of TRILLIUM as she runs her daily summertime excursions around Toronto Harbour.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.