Table of Contents

Title Page
Author's Note:
Table 1: Estimated Cost per Ton of Early Canadian Great Lakes Steamboats
Competition and Profitability
Table of Illustrations

The employment of experienced sailors like McKenzie and Petrie was important to the Frontenac, for it was not long after the original decisions had been made about steamboat design, that the proprietors started having second thoughts about her route. In their first petition to the legislature of 31 January 1816 they described the steamboat as "transporting stores and merchandise from Prescott to Kingston, or any other place on the borders of Lake Ontario within this Province." Venturing onto the Lake appears as an afterthought--at least for the next two paragraphs. The request for "an exclusive privilege to navigate by steam the waters from Prescott to Queenston" seems a much more forthright declaration of intent. 70

The Frontenac, however, never did visit Prescott. The second schedule of departures, published in the Kingston Gazette, did not even mention Prescott except in terms of rates and she would not venture onto the St. Lawrence until early in August. 71

On 7 August 1817 they set out for Prescott with the Chief Justice, William Dummer Powell, and the other members of the circuit court. Thirty miles downstream the Frontenac was making a good speed in a swift current when she suddenly grounded on a "large shoal of rocks". The only chart at their disposal made no reference to the shoal, which in "honour" of their "discovery" has been known as Frontenac Shoal to this day. McKenzie, however, was less interested in filling in the gaps on his chart than he was in being free of the embrace of his discovery. Reversing the wheels and shifting the weight in the hold failed to produce the desired results, so men had to be sent back to Kingston. Two groups of soldiers of the 37th Regiment were dispatched before they shifted her off the rocks. To their considerable relief, eight days after her departure she arrived back in Kingston with the only damage being the loss of a piece of the keel.72

There are those who have suggested that the Frontenac ran aground "not unwittingly", and that her owners were more interested in maintaining the point of transhipment at Kingston. 73 Somehow the absurdity does not seem to have struck them of deliberately running a 15,000, 700 ton steamer on a rocky shoal in the Thousand Islands just to justify a change in route! If additional explanation is needed it may be drawn from Van Cleve's sketch of the Frontenac, with the captain standing atop a cabin amidships, the engineer in the hold below and the hands at the tiller awaiting their instructions. The pattern of communication from captain to crew was simply too primitive for the semi-charted waters of the Thousand Islands.

Other observers commented on the sluggish way in which the Frontenac answered the helm. 74 Much of the explanation for this may lie in the observation of one of her later owners, that her engine was "an excellent machine but far too small for a boat of the size of the Frontenac. She did tolerably well in smooth water but she could not make headway against a strong wind. We were, on one occasion, more than a week making the trip from Kingston to Toronto." 75 One traveller even commented that she was not as fast as the Ontario, a steamer with chronic engine problems.76

The same caution which subsequently restricted her route to Lake Ontario was evident in a description of the Frontenac docking at York. According to one source, the Frontenac, and the William IV after her, would stop their engines while still some distance out in the harbour. Boats would be lowered with heavy hawsers aboard. When the boats landed at the wharf the hands on shore would manhandle the steamer into her berth. Somehow the operation always seemed to draw a crowd.77

Crowds of course, were what the Frontenac's proprietors had in mind when they talked about the passenger trade. A couple of surviving travel accounts describe her endowments from a passenger's point of view. "Her state-rooms contain four births [sic] each, and the beds and pillows have no other inconvenience, except a scarcity of feathers. If one of our passengers tells a correct story, he took the trouble to count and found the pillow under his head to contain only nineteen feathers and a half. ...The table spread before us, was certainly very fairly supplied; which is generally one of the greatest comforts, on board of these floating hotels."78

John Howison, a relatively good sailor, found his passage on the Frontenac delightful. After describing the dimensions of the craft, he explained that she was designed to "cover three seas, and thus be prevented from pitching violently in boisterous weather."79 This information was of little comfort to his fellow passengers, who after a stormy night on the lake arrived at breakfast "wan, dejected, and sea-sick"80


Previous    Next

Return to Home Port