Over the years, we have had much to say in these pages concerning the various passenger services operated on Western Lake Ontario. In particular, we have frequently mentioned the vessels which have traded between the cities of Toronto and Hamilton. Feature articles have concerned such steamers as MACASSA, TURBINIA and CORONA, but we have never featured one of the more interesting ships that operated between the two cities. In response to numerous requests, we will now rectify that situation. So make yourself comfortable, forget all your worries, and come with us to a time when a trip from Toronto to Hamilton was a relaxing, pleasant adventure on the lake instead of a frustrating and dangerous experience on the traffic-clogged highway.
The Hamilton Steamboat Company Ltd. was formed in 1887 at Hamilton to operate passenger services on the bay which forms Hamilton Harbour. The principals involved in the founding of the company were members of the Tuckett and Griffith families, with whom Philip J. Peer also was associated. The original president of the firm was T. B. Griffith, who served in this capacity until his death in 1893. He was succeeded by M. Leggatt, who functioned as president for many years. The first managing director of the company was J. B. Griffith, while G. T. Tuckett served as secretary and treasurer.
The first vessel owned by the Hamilton Steamboat Company was the wooden-hulled, 101-foot, double-deck propellor MAZEPPA, which had been built at Toronto back in 1884 by Melancthon Simpson. Designed for the Toronto Island ferry service, she was typical of many of the early ferries operated on Toronto Bay. MAZEPPA, however, did not long run on the waters for which she was intended. She was seriously damaged in Toronto's Esplanade Conflagration of August 3, 1885, although she subsequently was rebuilt and returned to service. In 1887, she was purchased by the newly-formed Hamilton Steamboat Company for use as a ferry between Hamilton and Burlington Beach, the strand separating the bay from Lake Ontario. Today, Burlington Beach is primarily a residential area, but once it was a noted bathing and amusement park to which Hamiltonians fled to escape the summer heat. The Hamilton Bay ferry service lasted longer than might have been expected, for it continued into the 1950s despite the availability of more convenient road access.
MAZEPPA ran on Hamilton Bay until she was sold out of the fleet in 1900. Nevertheless, she had scarcely begun her service on the bay when her owners began to eye the busy and lucrative passenger trade between Toronto and Hamilton. The company soon placed an order with a Clyde shipyard, that of William Hamilton and Company of Glasgow, for the construction of a steamer that would allow the firm to participate in the intercity trade. She was a handsome vessel, 155 feet in length, and she was named MACASSA. She made her debut on the lake in 1888 and immediately established a large following of faithful repeat passengers, to whom she was one of the best-loved steamers ever to serve the route. In fact, she was to run the Toronto - Hamilton service for a longer period of time than any other vessel.
MACASSA had not been in service for very long when the directors of the Hamilton Steamboat Company realized that a second boat was needed to handle the heavy traffic that the route was attracting. Once again, the H.S.B.Co. looked to a Scottish shipbuilder to fill its requirements, and this time the order was let to the firm of Napier, Shanks and Bell, which built the vessel as Hull 46 of its yard at Yoker (Glasgow). If the H.S.B.Co. had returned to the same builders that produced MACASSA, it might have had an even more successful ship for its fleet. But while MACASSA was a "flyer" known for her fast passages, MODJESKA (as the new ship was named) was slow and lumbering, and she stumbled from accident to accident throughout her years on Lake Ontario. While MACASSA had fine lines and a graceful appearance, MODJESKA was heavy and box-like, and was anything but a pretty ship, having almost no sheer. In addition, she almost always rode with a list, and this certainly did not help her looks, nor did it inspire a great deal of confidence amongst the travelling public. The list seems to have been most evident when large crowds of passengers thronged the steamer's upper decks.
MODJESKA was powered by two triple expansion engines of 166 N.H.P., which had cylinders of 15, 24 and 40 inches diameter, and a stroke of 27 inches. Steam was provided by four Navy-type boilers, 7 feet by 16 feet, which were fired with coal. The engines and boilers were built for the steamer by the firm of Dunsmuir and Jackson, Glasgow.
MODJESKA was very much unlike MACASSA in appearance during her years on Lake Ontario (although the two were rather similar as rebuilt in later years on the upper lakes). Her steel hull plating was extended upward around most of the main deck cabin and light was admitted to the interior via a row of portholes. The main deck was open aft (except for a closed steel taffrail), exposing the after part of the deckhouse where the ladies' saloon was located. A small dining room was originally located down on the orlop deck aft, but later on a lunch counter was placed forward on the freight section of the main deck. Gangways were provided on either side of the ship on the main deck just forward of amidships. The steamer was given a straight stem and a rather heavy-looking counter stern. Her hull was originally painted black up to the top of the main deck rail, while the superstructure was white. In later times (probably in 1909), MODJESKA's entire hull became white.
The upper or promenade deck was open, with only a small deckhouse providing shelter from the elements. Around this deck ran on open rail covered with wire mesh, and the wooden slat seats backed against this rail so that passengers sitting on them faced inboard. Although later there was a lengthy section of closed rail installed forward on this deck, the ship was built with only a short bit of closed rail right at the stem, and on it were mounted elaborate gilded trailboards. The anchors were set on the upper deck forward, their chains leading from hawseholes on the main deck level, and a small davit was set just abaft the steering pole to handle the anchors in the event that they had to be dropped.
Shade for the upper deck was provided by the boat or hurricane deck, which extended out to the sides of the ship and ran all the way back to the stern, and on it were located four lifeboats, two on each side. At the forward end of the boat deck was the ship's large square pilothouse; it had three large windows across its front, with two windows and a door set in each side. It was a rather bald-looking structure as built, but later it was given an open bridge on its roof as well as flying bridgewings, the whole of this navigation area being protected from the elements by canvas weathercloth. The tall and fairly heavy funnel, which was painted white with a wide black smokeband at the top, rose with a good rake abaft the pilothouse. The steamer's single tall mast rose out of the upper deck, well forward of the pilothouse.
In later years, there were some minor changes to MODJESKA's appearance. Due to the heavy passenger traffic which the service attracted, the boat deck was opened to passenger access and a protective rail was installed around the entire deck. At this time, the squared-off forward end of the deck, in front of the pilothouse, was rebuilt with a rather pleasing curve which extended it forward some considerable distance, and a wide companionway was built at the forward end of the upper deck cabin, opening onto the boat deck between the pilothouse and the stack. As well, apparently in the second decade of the new century, two rather prominent passenger stairways were placed so that they led from the upper deck to the forward edge of the boat deck.
By the early 1900s, MODJESKA was given a somewhat more modern appearance in that her single mast was removed and two new spars were fitted. The short pole foremast now rose immediately abaft the pilothouse and it was raked parallel to the stack, at a pleasing angle. The somewhat taller pipe mainmast was stepped well aft but it rose from the boat deck at a rather less acute angle than either the foremast or the stack, thus giving the steamer something less than a balanced profile.
MODJESKA, having run her trials on the Clyde in sufficiently good order that the H.S.B.Co. accepted her, set out across the Atlantic on her delivery voyage under her own power. She was commanded during this trip by Capt. Malcolm-son, and with the ship safely in Great Lakes waters, he stayed with her for the remainder of the 1889 season. He was succeeded in 1890 by Capt. Adam Middleton Sharp. Some of the other masters who commanded the Hamilton Steamboat Company's vessel over the years were Captains John Irving, Crawford, Maddicks, Robert Cooney, Henderson, Goodwin, Staunton, William Zealand, Parkinson and George J. Corson. Most if not all of these well-known Lake Ontario skippers served on both MACASSA and MODJESKA at various times.
The entire complexion of the Toronto - Hamilton service changed in 1904, for in that year the newly-formed Turbine Steamship Company Ltd. placed in operation its big turbine-powered dayboat TURBINIA. The two competing lines were soon locked in a battle for the patronage of potential passengers, and it was for this reason that MACASSA was lengthened in 1905. The competition continued for a number of years, the only brief respite coming in 1907 when TURBINIA was placed on the Toronto - Niagara route in a laughable attempt to buck the Niagara Navigation Company Ltd., which operated its big sidewheel steamers CHIPPEWA, CORONA and CHICORA, as well as the propellor CAYUGA, on that run. Needless to say, TURBINIA soon tucked her tail between her legs, as it were, and returned to the Hamilton route for which she had been built.
The Hamilton Steamboat Company was quite able to hold its own in the cutthroat competition with TURBINIA, and both of the lines developed devoted followings amongst the travelling public. The officers of the H.S.B.Co. at this time were Aemelius Jarvis, president, H. G. Nicholls, vice-president, C. E. A. Goodman, secretary, and W.E. Bishop, manager, while A. Angstrom, A. Bruce and H. B. Whitton were directors.
Then, on January 15, 1909, control of the H.S.B.Co. was acquired by the Eaton family interests. The Eatons were, and still are, the proprietors of one of Toronto's largest and most distinguished department stores (which now is the "flagship" of a national chain of retail outlets). When the Eatons acquired the Hamilton Steamboat Company, a new group of officers was installed, including John C. Eaton, president, R. Y. Eaton, vice-president, J. J. Vaughan, secretary and treasurer, and directors Harry McGee, C. Booth and A. McCrea. W. E. Bishop remained as the company's manager. Interestingly enough, the Eatons also controlled the Turbine Steamship Company! Despite the common ownership, however, the Eatons made no attempt to amalgamate the operations of the two steamer lines, and each retained its own distinctive colours.
The 1911 season brought further ownership changes, for in that year both the Hamilton Steamboat Company and the Turbine Steamship Company were acquired by the tremendously successful Niagara Navigation Company Ltd. MODJESKA, MACASSA and TURBINIA all continued to operate as before, however, for the new controlling interests did not alter the Hamilton service, apparently believing in the old adage of not messing with a good thing. The hull of the MODJESKA, however, was once again painted black at this time.
During 1912, Niagara Navigation itself was merged into the larger Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. and, on June 11, 1913, the R & O, together with all of its many divisions, was amalgamated into the newly-formed Canada Transportation Company Ltd., Montreal. The name of the new company was soon changed to Canada Steamship Lines Ltd.
As a result of these various changes, MODJESKA was given the red and black stack colours which were carried by the Niagara Navigation and R & O boats, and later by the C.S.L. steamers. It is interesting to note that similar colours had also been carried by some of the other C.S.L. antecedents, including the Mackay and Playfair fleets. About 1920, C.S.L. adopted for all of its vessels the red stack with a white band and black top which it had inherited with its Northern Navigation Division, formerly known as the Northern Navigation Company Ltd. (The Beatty Line).
In the years following its formation, Canada Steamship Lines used various colour schemes for the hulls of its Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River passenger steamers. They were painted black for a while, some of them later became all white, and by about 1930 they were olive green. MODJESKA and MACASSA, however, always had their hulls painted black to the main deck during their C.S.L. years, and CORONA was also repainted with a black hull when, no longer needed regularly on the Niagara route, she was transferred to the Hamilton route in the years following the First World War and into the 1920s. Perhaps these different colours were planned to enable potential passengers more readily to distinguish the Hamilton boats from the Niagara steamers.
One of C.S.L.'s notable acquisitions during this same period of time was a picnic park located at Grimsby, Ontario, a town on the south shore of Lake Ontario, about mid-way between Hamilton and Port Dalhousie. The purchase of this park may well have been an effort to lure away some of the passengers whom the steamers DALHOUSIE CITY and NORTHUMBERLAND regularly carried from Toronto to Port Dalhousie's Lakeside Park. In any event, MODJESKA and MACASSA regularly ran the Toronto-Hamilton-Grimsby service, and there exist numerous photos of them at the Grimsby Beach wharf.
It should be noted that Grimsby had always provided a source of revenue for MODJESKA and MACASSA, even during the years before the formation of Canada Steamship Lines. The town lies right in the middle of the Niagara fruitgrowing district, and the steamers frequently called there to pick up shipments of the much-admired produce of the Niagara orchards and vineyards. The boats brought to the cities of Hamilton and Toronto innumerable cartloads of tasty peaches, pears, grapes, etc. When C.S.L. finally abandoned its Toronto - Hamilton division, the company sold the park at Grimsby, and steamer service to that town was completely discontinued.
MACASSA and MODJESKA ran together in C.S.L. colours on their traditional route into the 1924 season, but that year was a particularly unfortunate one for the hapless MODJESKA. Over the previous years, she had been involved in more than her fair share of scrapes and bumps. The 1924 high season was barely underway when MODJESKA was involved in two very serious collisions which occurred only two days apart, and they were to prove her undoing as far as her Lake Ontario service was concerned. In respect of these accidents, we can do no better than to quote a report which appeared in the August 1924 issue of "Canadian Railway and Marine World".
"The Canada Steamship Lines passenger steamships TORONTO and MODJESKA collided off the company's dock at the foot of Yonge Street, Toronto, on July 5, at 8:00 a.m. The MODJESKA was about to start on her regular run across the lake to Grimsby, and had taken on about 500 passengers, while the TORONTO had arrived from Prescott and had discharged her passengers. Both ships had backed out of the dock, the TORONTO in order to proceed to the coal dock to fill her bunkers, and the MODJESKA to make for the Western Gap.
"In their turning movements, the TORONTO was seen to be coming down on the MODJESKA, which blew one blast, the TORONTO apparently stopping her engines. The impact occurred almost immediately, the TORONTO'S bow being stove in, the MODJESKA's port side being bent in and her upperworks damaged. Neither ship was damaged below the water line. The MODJESKA's passengers were transferred to the Canada Steamship Lines s.s. CORONA and proceeded to their destination. Temporary repairs were made to both ships and they resumed their runs the same day.
"The collision was reported in the regular way, and the Marine and Fisheries Department ordered an investigation to be made by Capt. L. A. Demers, Dominion Wreck Commissioner, which was opened in Toronto, July 15, Capt. Demers being assisted by Capts. J. B. Foote and John Williams as nautical assessors. Francis King, K.C., represented Canada Steamship Lines and F. L. Webb acted for Capt. Henderson of the MODJESKA, but Capt. Booth of the TORONTO was unrepresented. The investigation continued on July 16 and 17, when it was stated that a decision would be given in about a fortnight thereafter
"The s.s. TORONTO went into the Collingwood Shipbuilding Co.'s drydock at Kingston on July 15 for repairs, which included the taking off of fourteen plates and the construction of a new stem. The repairs were completed July 18, the TORONTO arrived in Toronto the same evening, and resumed her regular run the next day.
"On July 7, two days after having been in collision with the TORONTO, the MODJESKA was in another accident, while making for the entrance to the Western Gap of Toronto harbour, at about 10:00 p.m., on her return trip from Grimsby, with about 50 passengers on board. The weather during the day had been wet and in the afternoon a fog had set in, which became thicker as the night advanced, and was reported dense along the waterfront at 10 o'clock. The MODJESKA was making her way for the gap, going slow and sounding her siren (sic). Suddenly, a black mass loomed up ahead; three blasts were blown, and the MODJESKA struck the Sunnyside seawall close to the entrance of the Western Gap. The passengers were got off quickly in small boats, after which the MODJESKA, with her pumps going, backed off and steamed to her dock, being about two hours on the way on account of the fog, which continued dense. The only person injured as a result of the accident was one of the lunch counter employees who was thrown down by the shock.
"The MODJESKA's bows for about four or five feet above the water line were stove in, but otherwise she suffered no damage. The seawall was struck near the 'L' end of one of the sections, which was shifted from its place for seven feet. The MODJESKA went into drydock at Toronto July 15 for repairs, which consisted of renewal of the forefoot and stem, and the renewal of forward plates. At the time of writing (July 19), she is expected to be in service again by the end of July.
"The investigation into this accident was held in Toronto July 18, before Capt. L. A. Demers, Dominion Wreck Commissioner, with Capts. Foote and Williams as nautical assessors. After hearing evidence and arguments, decision was reserved."
The results of these two enquiries have been reprinted previously in these pages. Needless to say, there could be little doubt as to where the blame would be placed in respect of MODJESKA's altercation with the Sunnyside Park breakwater. In connection with the collision with TORONTO, the cause of the accident was deemed to be the misunderstanding of whistle signals and the improper use of signals. The Wreck Commissioner found that both MODJESKA's master and TORONTO'S mate had erred in judgment, but he also suggested that the Toronto harbour authorities should take steps to ensure that different departure times were arranged for vessels sailing from adjacent piers,
Whistle signals having been an important factor in the collision with TORONTO, we might mention that MODJESKA carried at least two different steam whistles during her years on Lake Ontario. Early photos show her sporting a very large triple-chime whistle, carried quite low ahead of the stack, just in front of the steam 'scape pipe which ran up the front of the funnel. What this whistle sounded like, or where it went, we have no idea. By the early 1900s, however, MODJESKA was blowing but one single steam whistle, and observers recall that it had a distinctly unpleasant tone. It seems likely that the poor performance of this whistle contributed to the confusion which ultimately led to the collision with TORONTO.
Despite the "Canadian Railway and Marine World" report that MODJESKA would be back in service by the end of July 1924, C.S.L. repaired only her hull and never began the work of fixing her superstructure. The steamer never ran again for Canada Steamship Lines, as MACASSA, CORONA and TURBINIA were quite capable of handling the traffic load that then existed on the intercity service, with MACASSA also being able to deal with the Grimsby run. MODJESKA lay idle at the eastern end of Toronto Bay for the duration of the 1924 season and remained in lay-up through 1925.
In 1926, C.S.L. sold MODJESKA to the Owen Sound Transportation Company Ltd., which was expanding its services on Georgian Bay and northern Lake Huron. The steamer was repaired and was taken to Owen Sound, and she ran in the day excursion trade during the summer of 1926, wearing an all-black stack, white cabins, and a black hull. Over the winter of 1926-27, she was completely rebuilt with overnight passenger accommodation and at that time she was renamed (b) MANITOULIN, a name far more suitable for her new duties. The reconstruction changed her tonnage to 913 Gross and 453 Net.
Forward of the dining saloon and aft of the main stairway to the upper deck was the lobby or foyer, on either side of which were located the steward's and purser's offices. Forward of the stairs was the freight deck, which was retained because of the large amount of local freight which the Owen Sound Transportation Company boats carried to the many small ports which they served. In this area were carried a number of barrels filled with sand, which were moved around the freight deck as necessary to maintain the trim of the vessel as the quantity of freight varied from port to port along the route. The rather spartan crew's quarters were located down on the orlop deck.
Passenger accommodations were constructed on the upper deck, the new deckhouse extending out to the sides of the ship, leaving open deck space only at the bow and stern. At the forward end of the new cabin was a small lounge, with observation windows in its curved forward end. From this lounge, a linoleum-decked corridor ran back through the cabin and around the stack casing. Down each side of the corridor were the staterooms and, despite the modest beam of MANITOULIN, there were both inside and outside staterooms on each side. Most had only upper and lower berths and a wash basin, public showers and toilets being located at the side of the ship near the funnel. There were four "parlour" cabins, A, B, C & D, which had their own "facilities", namely a toilet hidden behind a curtain.
A new rounded pilothouse was built far forward on the boat deck, and behind it was a cabin which housed the master's quarters as well as an observation room equipped with a small dance floor. Inside access to this room could be gained via a steep stairway from just behind the lounge forward on the upper deck. A small wireless shack was built just forward of the mainmast, and in later years this cabin was used by the ship's hostess. New and heavier masts were fitted, as was a new stack, taller and thicker than the original but not quite as heavily raked. It was painted in the usual O.S.T.Co. colours, buff with a blue band and a wide black smokeband. The hull was black to the main deck rail, while the cabins were white with buff trim.
MANITOULIN began service in 1927 on her intended route, the five-day run from Owen Sound to the Soo and return, via the "Turkey Trail" (the North Channel behind Manitoulin Island), with numerous stops along the way. Much freight and many local passengers were carried, but as the years passed, the company began promoting the service as an interesting cruise, and MANITOULIN attracted quite a following. For a good many years, her principal running-mate was the old wooden-hulled steamer CARIBOU, a small ship but one that was immensely popular with the residents of the areas which she served.
Back on Lake Ontario, meanwhile, MODJESKA's old friend, MACASSA, operated through the 1927 season and then she, too, was retired by C.S.L. As MANITOULIN had proved to be so successful, the Owen Sound Transportation Company bought MACASSA as well, and she was transformed into the nightboat MANASOO whilst laid up at Toronto during the winter of 1927-28. Looking very similar to MANITOULIN, she began service on the "Turkey Trail" in 1928, but early on the morning of September 15 of that year, when downbound from Manitowaning for Owen Sound, she capsized and foundered near Griffiths Island in Georgian Bay, and only one passenger and four crew members were rescued. Her loss could be attributed directly to the fact that the Hamilton Steamboat Company lengthened her too much for her narrow beam back in 1905. and the Owen Sound Transportation Company compounded the problem by giving her a new high superstructure which proved to be too much for her.
MANITOULIN, whose stability might well have been questioned because of her propensity to list whilst running on Lake Ontario, in fact proved to be quite stable and a good sea boat after her rebuilding. This was due in part to a large quantity of cement which was placed in her bottom to compensate for the addition of the new upperworks, but we do not know for sure whether this addition was made at the time of her rebuild or after the loss of MANASOO. MANITOULIN suffered a number of bumps and groundings of varying severity during her years of service for the O.S.T.Co., but she got into surprisingly little trouble, considering the tortuous nature of the channels through which she travelled so regularly each summer.
After spending most of the 1946 summer on the Tobermory ferry run, the aging CARIBOU was retired in the autumn of that year. The new steamer NORISLE was commissioned in mid-October, 1946, and she took MANITOULIN's schedule on the "Turkey Trail" until the end of the season. For the next few years, MANITOULIN carried on by herself in the summer months, while NORISLE did the run in the off-season, even though she had been built primarily for the Tobermory ferry route and proved rather cumbersome to handle in the restrictive waters of the North Channel and its small ports.
Late in 1949, MANITOULIN suffered a grounding, but this was of little import in that it already had become evident that she would be retired at the end of that season. Her retirement was in no way related to any lack of popularity of the ship or her service, but rather was a direct result of the loss by fire of NORONIC at Toronto on September 17, 1949. The NORONIC tragedy led to the implementation by the Canadian government of very strict fire safety regulations and MANITOULIN, with her wooden superstructure, could never have been made to conform to the new requirements. After she was withdrawn from service, her owners hurriedly placed an order for a new steamer to replace her, and in 1950 they took delivery from Collingwood of the rapidly-constructed NORGOMA, which provided much more modern and suitable accommodations for the travelling public.
MANITOULIN lay idle for a while at Owen Sound and then was towed down the lakes and was moored on the east side of Port Dalhousie harbour, below Lock One of the old canal. There she was gradually stripped of her wooden upperworks during 1951. As a young boy, Ye Ed was taken aboard what remained of MANITOULIN and he saw the devastation that had been wrought by the wreckers, as he stood on the ship's main stairway which led upward from the debris on the main deck into nothingness. The hull of the old steamer was finally dismantled in the drydock at Port Weller during November 1952, this procedure being necessary because of the problems caused for the breakers by the large amount of cement which she still carried in her bilges.
MODJESKA/MANITOULIN was always a rather unusual vessel, and she certainly would never have won any beauty or design competitions. Nevertheless, she did the job that all of her owners asked of her and she enjoyed her share of popularity wherever she ran. It is interesting to note that, in her final days, she returned to the waters of Lake Ontario which had been her original home for so many years.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.