A separate chapter has already been devoted to the history of the Royal Mail Line, which as a mail line, ceased to exist about 1857, and its story has been fully told elsewhere. It was succeeded by the Canadian Navigation Company and the latter still continued to designate their vessels as "Royal Mail Steamers," at last that was the term applied to those plying between Hamilton, Toronto and Montreal.
When the "Richelieu" company absorbed the "Canadian" company, Sir Hugh Allan, of the famous line of ocean steamships, was its chairman, so it is almost needless to say it had been most efficiently managed. It had many routes, each of which will be described later.
The entire number of different routes the company now covers is as follows: Toronto and Montreal, and between the latter city and Quebec. From Montreal to Saguenay forms another route in connection with the steamers plying from Quebec to Saguenay Then there are the ferrys from Montreal to Longueuil and St. Helen's Island and from Hochelaga to Boucherville. Besides these there are the various market boats, of which the names and routes will be given in due course.
The vessels upon this course in 1875 have already been mentioned. Of those then in existence the Kingston was wrecked, was subsequently rebuilt and called the Algerian and is on the route now. The Champion was a wooden vessel, became unseaworthy about 1880 and was broken up. The Grecian was wrecked in 1870, on Split Rock, above the Cascade Rapids in the St. Lawrence. She had on board at the time a battery of Royal Artillery under command of Captain, now Major, General Sandom, all of whom with their equipments were saved. The steamer itself, though, became a total loss. Among the other vessels the Passport and Magnet are the oldest; they have been in constant service since 1847, and all particulars concerning them have been given elsewhere. In 1893 the former steamer was under the command of Captain A. J. Craig, and the latter under that of Captain Z. Lafrance. Her route was between Hamilton and Montreal, making a weekly journey from and to each port.
On the downward journey to Montreal the following ports are called at, namely, Darlington, Port Hope, Cobourg. Kingston, Clayton, Round Island, Thousand Island Park, Alexandria Bay, Brockville, Prescott, Cornwall and Coteau Landing. There is a slight variation in the upward journey as the steamers call at the ports on the Bay of Quinte.
Captain Roy's steamer is the smallest of the two, but she is nevertheless a magnificent vessel. She was built in 1830, as so many more steamers have been, by Gilbert, of Montreal, is of five hundred and nineteen tons capacity and can comfortably accommodate nearly two hundred cabin passengers. She had new boilers in 1891 and is lighted throughout by electricity. She is a sidewheel iron steamer with compound engines.
The steamers plying on this route are the Carolina and Canada, between Montreal and the Saguenay River, and the steamer Saguenay, between Quebec and the river. The two former vessels are under the command of Captains Dernier and Barraf respectively.
The Columbian, a vessel of which her proprietors are justly proud, is a twin screw steamer, built at Chester, Pa., U.S.A., in 1892. She is constructed of steel, her bottom being sheathed with wood, and her capacity is four hundred and eighty-eight tons. She is commanded by Captain George Batten.
The vessel itself is a side wheel steamer of five hundred and twenty-five tons burthen, built by White, of Sorel, in 1870, and though now, at the close of the season of 1893, in her twenty fourth year of service, may, through the fact that she is an iron vessel, be expected to last for many years longer.
The Berthier runs between Montreal and Three Rivers, calling at intermediate ports. She is also an iron side wheel vessel, and was built by the same firm and at the same place as the Chambly, in 1870. She has a capacity of four hundred and twenty-four tons.
The fourth steamer of this group, the Terrebonne, runs from Montreal to Terrebonne, Boucherville and all intermediate ports. She is an iron vessel of only one hundred and ninety tons, and built by the same firm as the three steamers already named.
The Laprairie runs from Montreal to Laprairie. This vessel was built by Cantin, of Montreal, in 1867, and she has now a cap; city of four hundred and forty-three tons, she having been lengthened and rebuilt in 1893. Like the great majority of the steamers belonging to the R. & O. she is a side-wheel vessel.
To Longueuil only runs the Island Queen, a screw steamer of one hundred and two tons, built by Davis, of Kingston, in 1887. To "St. Helen's Island the Cultivateur, Captain Labelle, makes daily journeys. She was built in 1857 by Freshet, of Sorel, was extensively repaired in 1881, and was completely refitted in 1888. Her burthen is just three hundred tons. The Hochelaga forms the ferry from Hochelaga; she is a composite steamer of three hundred and eighty-one tons, and was built in Sorel in 1886.
Most appropriately, as many will think, the head offices of the R. & O. are in St. Paul street, Montreal. not such a very great distance from the spot where once lived the pioneer of lake navigation, La Salle. A marble tablet placed on the house which now occupies the southwest corner of St. Paul and St. Peter streets records that
The president of the R. & O. is Mr. N. K. Connolly; vice-president, Mr. Wm. Wainwright; the general manager, Mr. Julian Chabot; the traffic manager, Mr. Alexander Milloy, and the secretary and treasurer, Mr. R. Bourdon.
Before concluding this article it will perhaps prove interesting to many of those who may read it if a letter from "An Old Quebecker" on the speed of the old R. M. line is giver. In Montreal and Quebec that line was often spoken of as the Torrance Line," as in Toronto it was not infrequently referred to as "G. B. Holland's Company." The contents of the letter are as follows: --
"This information I have before me received lately from an old and well-know steamboat owner and agent in Quebec. He says: As to the speed of the "John Munn " and "Quebec," I can speak positively as we had for five years a deadly contest between the "Quebec" and the "Montreal" (this was the first "Montreal"),but we beat her every trip, and often arrived in Quebec at 3 a. m. after having left Montreal at 6 p. m., on her way down calling at Sorel, Port St. Francis, Three Rivers and Batiscan, and upward at Montreal (as the tide suited), at 3:50 to 4:50 a.m., having left Quebec at 5 p.m. The time: "Quebec" from Montreal to Sorel, 2 hours, 25 minutes: "John Munn," 2 hours. 16 minutes down: 2 hours, 50 minutes up.
"The Armstrongs (captains) disputed this time of the "John Munn's," and Captain Charles Armstrong (so long and favorably known to the Harbor Commissioners here) was invited to go on board and time her, which he did, and reported to Messrs. Torrance and Molson that the above time, 2.16 down and 2 50 up, was correct.
"The first was lost in a snowstorm on November 29. 1853, the second was burned off Cap Rouge, the third is the R. & O. N. Co.s boat, and has made herself, like this city, a good name. Long may she keep it up." And so say all of us.
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This electronic edition is based on the original in the collection of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston.