Ship of the Month No. 72 CHIPPEWA

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine Collection For Sale
Ship of the Month No. 72
You Asked Us
Winter Lay-up Listings
Table of Illustrations

When most marine historians think of the City of Toronto and the passenger vessels which served its port, they most frequently think of the famous day boats of the Niagara Navigation Company Limited which ran between Toronto and the ports of the Niagara River for so many years. And in these times, the Niagara service having ceased twenty years ago, the boat which usually comes to mind is CAYUGA which, of course, was the last of her breed.

Be this as it may, CAYUGA was hardly the most interesting boat to operate on the Niagara River line. In these pages, we have told the stories of the former blockade-runner CHICORA (March 1975) and of the ill-fated CIBOLA and her replacement CORONA (December 1970). We have also mentioned the little ONGIARA which for many years served the company as a ferry running between Queenston and Lewiston.

This most extraordinary photo by Charles Barker shows CHIPPEWA lying alongside the Terminal Warehouse, Toronto, while fitting out for one of her last seasons of operation.
But the most impressive vessel ever to serve the Niagara River line was the big paddler CHIPPEWA. A huge boat as far as excursion steamers ran in her day, she long had a devoted following of passengers and after her demise was perhaps best remembered by most of them for her familiar walking beam which they had watched from a vantage point on the hurricane deck. CHIPPEWA was perhaps even more remarkable for her amazing beam over the guards, for her classic profile, and for the fact that she was designed by the most famous of all Great Lakes marine architects, Frank E. Kirby.

The Niagara Navigation Company Limited dated back to 1877 although the Niagara River passenger service itself was much older and saw its beginnings in the early years of the nineteenth century. In 1877. a gentleman by the name of Barlow Cumberland and a business associate, the Honourable Frank Smith, both of whom were involved in the ownership of the upper lakes passenger steamer CHICORA, got together and bought out the other owners of the boat so that they might implement their plan of bringing CHICORA to Lake Ontario and placing her on a run between Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake, a service which was then being operated by vessels which Cumberland thought to be unsatisfactory.

Cumberland and Smith registered CHICORA in their names in 1877 and that same year obtained from the Dominion government a charter for the formation with a capital of $500,000 of the Niagara Navigation Company Limited to which CHICORA was transferred in 1878. The previous fall, the boat had been brought down the Welland Canal in two sections, rejoined at Muir's Drydock at Port Dalhousie, and brought to the level of Lake Ontario through a lock rather shorter than was the boat, an interesting escapade of which the details were related in our March 1975 issue. CHICORA entered service in 1878 and in 1888, the service having proven successful, she was joined by the new steamer CIBOLA which was built especially for the company.

CHICORA and CIBOLA were the two classiest steamers then operating on Lake Ontario and they brought the Niagara Navigation Company to the limelight amongst local vessel owners. The Niagara route was immensely popular amongst the people of Toronto who flocked to Niagara on summer excursions to escape from the heat of the city as well as amongst the residents of the Niagara peninsula who used the boats to travel to Toronto. By 1890, the line was flourishing and its patronage was increasing to such an extent that other operators were seriously considering moving into the trade in an effort to share Niagara Navigation's financial success. An affiliated company, the Niagara River Navigation Company Limited, was formed in New York State to purchase the wharf at Youngstown, New York, to prevent other operators from using it, and it was even thought that the new company might own U.S.-flag passenger steamers should that be necessary.

This same reasoning led the directors of the Niagara Navigation Company to begin thinking about the construction of a steamer even larger than CHICORA and CIBOLA to ensure that the N.N.Co. would continue to hold the upper hand in the Niagara River passenger trade. The new boat was planned as a much more capacious and impressive vessel than either of the others and to pave the way for her building it was necessary for Cumberland and his associates to arrange for considerable additional financing.

The company's directors were not about to scrimp on their new boat and to ensure that she would be totally suitable, they arranged in 1892 to retain the services of the superb marine architect, Frank E. Kirby of Detroit. He had already designed a number of upper lake passenger steamers and in later years would be responsible for such gems as CITY OF CLEVELAND III and CITY OF DETROIT III as well as for the giant paddlers GREATER BUFFALO and GREATER DETROIT. Kirby did his job well and a contract for the construction of the hull, boilers and superstructure of the new boat was let to the Hamilton Bridge and Shipbuilding Company, Hamilton, Ontario. The firm of W. and A. Fletcher and Company of Hoboken, New Jersey, secured the contract for the provision of the propulsion machinery for the vessel.

Construction of the yard's Hull No. 2 began in 1892 and over the following winter it took shape. Built of steel, the big hull measured 308.5 feet in length, 36.3 feet in width and 12.5 feet in depth. Her tonnage was 1514 Gross and 764 Net. Long for her day she most certainly was, but her most impressive statistic was her beam over the guards which has been variously reported as 67, 72 or 75 feet. Although it is somewhat less stunning than the others, we tend to feel that the 67-foot measurement was probably the nearest to being correct. Anyone who might fail to recognize the significance of such a great overall beam for a ship her size need only look at a bow-on photograph of CHIPPEWA to have the idea brought home quite forcibly.

The Fletcher firm, notable for its beam engines which found their way into many lake passenger steamers, produced for CHIPPEWA a beam condensing engine with a single cylinder of 75-inch diameter and a stroke of 132 inches. It achieved 476 Nominal Horsepower on steam supplied by five coal-fired boilers measuring 10 feet by 21 feet. This machinery was to serve the boat for her entire career of forty-three years, a period not particularly remarkable for such an engine but a bit of an exercise in endurance for the boilers which, not surprisingly, were the subject of considerable concern during the last few years of her operation.

CHIPPEWA was launched at Hamilton on Tuesday, May 2nd, 1893, many notable persons attending the ceremonies. The christening of the boat was carried out by Miss Mary Osier and Miss Mildred Cumberland, daughters of N.N.Co. director E. B. Osier and vice-president Barlow Cumberland, and they are reported to have "gallantly" broken the necessary bottle on the ship's bow.

The Niagara Navigation Company always devoted a great deal of thought to the naming of its vessels and by the time CHIPPEWA came along, the company was well entrenched in its policy of giving to its ships names beginning with the letter 'C and ending with 'A', a practice inherited from the old CHICORA. Barlow Cumberland himself described CHIPPEWA'S name in the following manner:

"Again the question of a new name arose and this time it was considered that the name should still be Indian, but of Canadian origin. Thus the name CHIPPEWA was selected as that of a renowned Canadian tribe of Indians which had flourished in the Niagara River District, and also as a renewal of the name of H.M. Sloop CHIPPEWA, upon which General Brock had sailed on Lake Erie. It will be noted that the name is not that of the village and postoffice of Chippawa, but is spelled with an 'E', being that of the Indian tribe. A fine carving of a Chippewa Chieftain's head, taken from Catlin's collection of Indian portraits, is placed on the centre of each paddlebox, similarly as a rampant buffalo had previously been placed on those of the CIBOLA."

Unfortunately, the carved Indian heads disappeared from CHIPPEWA's paddleboxes as the years passed but the name remained with her to the end.

The construction of CHIPPEWA was hurried along under the personal supervision of Mr. William Hendrie who was president of the Hamilton Bridge and Shipbuilding Company and also a director of Niagara Navigation. Enrolled as C.100753 and registered at Toronto, CHIPPEWA was licensed to carry 2,000 passengers. She was a three-deck vessel, having a spacious and many-windowed cabin on the promenade deck and, for the first time on an N.N.Co. steamer, a hurricane deck which was open to passengers wishing to savour the cool lake breezes or watch the walking beam.

CHIPPEWA, despite her size, was one of the most graceful steamers ever to sail the waters of Lake Ontario. Her attractive profile was the result of a sheer which swept back from a long, open foredeck. She was given a fine counter stern and displayed a cutaway forefoot which gave her the appearance of a racer. This impression was heightened by the marked rake of her one mast (an after mast was added later) and two funnels. The stacks, just the right diameter and height to suit her lines, were widely spaced fore and aft of the walking beam. One just abaft the officers' cabin and the other close behind the paddlebox, they sprang from a raised clerestory which ran for the better part of the length of the hurricane deck. Her pilothouse (Kirby is particularly famous for his handsome pilothouses and CHIPPEWA's was one of his best) was located far forward on the hurricane deck, a beautiful blue nameboard with gold lettering curving around its front. The pilothouse sported an open bridge with wide wings.

CHIPPEWA originally carried six lifeboats, three on each side, but in later years was given two more boats. A check of photos taken at various stages in her career will indicate that the boats were carried in different locations as time passed, in various combinations of placings forward and aft of the paddleboxes on the promenade deck and in similar locations on the hurricane deck above.

The new steamer apparently made a trial trip on July 26th, 1893 but she was not completely finished and handed over to the Niagara Navigation Company until May 1894. The official inaugural trip from Hamilton to Toronto was made on a Saturday during the month of May with the company's senior captain, John McGiffin, on the bridge and Mr. William Fletcher at the controls of the engine his company had built.

Maiden voyages being what they usually are, mishaps are not entirely unexpected and that of CHIPPEWA was no exception. The Niagara Navigation Company would have liked to have used Milloy's Dock at the foot of Yonge Street in Toronto but a disagreement between the N.N.Co. and wharfinger Milloy had resulted in the line being denied use of the facility. As a result, the season of 1894 saw the company's boats using the nearby Geddes Wharf and on the day of CHIPPEWA's maiden arrival, CHICORA was lying across the face of the pier. CHIPPEWA was forced to dock along the west side of the wharf but she was not checked early enough as she made her final approach, with the result that she sliced some six feet through the wooden timbers at the end of the slip and planted her bow solidly in the Esplanade. CHIPPEWA was undamaged apart from a few scratches on her paint and when she had been backed away from the street, her American guests were disembarked and taken over to CHICORA, in which ship they duly departed for Niagara.

CHIPPEWA immediately went into regular service on the Niagara River line and, although traffic hardly warranted the operation of all three boats right away, the popularity of the line was rapidly increasing and CHIPPEWA soon made a name for herself amongst regular excursionists. Before long, she was operating with huge crowds aboard, a condition well illustrated by some of the early photographs of the boat which show her with awe-inspiring masses of people on every deck. She was to remain immensely popular throughout her lifetime.

During all her years with Niagara Navigation, CHIPPEWA had white cabins and a "black hull with red hoot top. The black paint was carried up over the main deck bulwarks instead of stopping at the level of the main deck itself as it did on the ships of some other lines. She was given the usual stack colours, red with a wide black smokeband. Close-up views of the ship indicate that she had some extra touches of ornamentation, most of which disappeared as the years wore on. Examples were the intricate but restrained gold trailboards on the main deck rail forward and the elaborate N.N.Co. emblem which was placed over the centre pilothouse window. On the promenade deck rail forward, she carried the inscription "N.N.Co." in large letters and below it appeared "Buffalo - Niagara Falls - Toronto".

If the line was not operating at full capacity as soon as CHIPPEWA joined the fleet, this situation changed abruptly in the middle of the 1895 season. In the early morning hours of July 15. 1895, the CIBOLA, which was tied up for the night at the Lewiston wharf, caught fire and was destroyed. Her untimely demise, which fortunately was accompanied by the loss of only one life, left the N.N.Co. desperately short of boats and it was only with considerable difficulty that CHIPPEWA and CHICORA carried on by themselves.

The company made immediate plans to replace the lost CIBOLA and in 1897 commissioned the Toronto-built CORONA into whose hull had been placed the inclined compound engine of the burned steamer. CORONA was rather smaller than CHIPPEWA, being only 270 feet in length, but was somewhat similar in appearance. She was designed by Arendt Angstrom, whose fame as a lake marine architect ranks second only to that of Kirby. CORONA's less ponderous dimensions gave her a rather more balanced appearance than that of CHIPPEWA and most historians feel that CORONA was the more successful of the two designs. Unfortunately, she was for many years the "odd boat" in the fleet and her career was shorter than that of CHIPPEWA. CORONA also had it all over CHIPPEWA in the whistle department. The former vessel had a most melodious triple chime (which can still be heard in the Marine Museum of Upper Canada) while CHIPPEWA blew a rather squeaky single whistle which often took a long time to "warm up" to a decent note.

Meanwhile, CHIPPEWA served the Niagara River line with a regularity and dependability that bordered on the monotonous but which undoubtedly pleased her owners to no end. She rarely made the news and during her lifetime was involved in remarkably few scrapes of any kind. The year 1902 did, however, provide a few anxious moments for Cumberland and his associates.

Back in 1891, the Dominion government had been reconstructing the Kingston drydock. Messrs Smith and Cumberland were already dreaming of their big new passenger boat and in anticipation of her eventual construction, the drydock at Kingston was fitted with a pontoon gate which could be shifted fifteen feet beyond its normal position when necessary to accommodate CHIPPEWA. But when 1902 rolled around and it was necessary that she be docked for inspection and repair, it was found that the gate could not be moved due to the fact that it had never been used in that manner. The local authorities refused to accept CHIPPEWA for drydocking and it was only after persistent efforts by Cumberland and Capt. McGiffin in Ottawa that the government agreed to have a notch cut in the stone steps at the inner end of the dock to accommodate CHIPPEWA's bow. The necessary alterations having been rushed to completion, the big paddler was drydocked as scheduled.

CHIPPEWA's uneventful career undoubtedly resulted in part from a large helping of good luck, but the Niagara Navigation Company was not one to take chances with its boats. On occasion, there were what Barlow Cumberland, founder of the company and the only vice-president it ever had, described as "longish passages". We shall let Mr. Cumberland himself tell the story.

"One Saturday morning in August 1903. the CHIPPEWA left Toronto at 7 a.m. during a strong gale with a heavy sea from the east. A thick fog was found enveloping the south shore extending some five miles out. On gaining the bell buoy off Niagara and not being able to see anything, Captain McGiffin, rather than run any risk, determined to keep close to the buoy, ready to run in should the fog lift. Here during all day and evening he remained within the sound of the bell, coming up to and dropping away again under the heavy sea, until at last the lights on the land could be seen and CHIPPEWA came alongside the dock at 11:50 p.m., sixteen hours from Toronto*. No other steamer was on the lake that day. McGiffin kept his passengers well fed and for his carefulness and judgment was advanced to the position of 'Commodore'."

In the days before the government installed range lights at the mouth of the Niagara River, the steamers were often guided to safety in bad weather by the locomotives of the Michigan Central Railroad which would be moved to a position where their headlamps shone out into the lake. They would also blow their whistles to help the boats find the river mouth.

Captain John McGiffin, as senior captain of the Niagara Navigation fleet, left CHIPPEWA in 1907 in order to take command of the newly-commissioned twin-screw steamer CAYUGA built for the company in Toronto. CAYUGA was some ten feet longer than CHIPPEWA and, of course, was of rather more modern design. Capt. McGiffin sailed CAYUGA until he passed away about 1910. There is in existence a fine photograph of CHIPPEWA which shows her lying in the Yonge Street slip with her flags at half-mast in honour of her longtime former commander. On the death of McGiffin, Capt. C. J. Smith, who had replaced him earlier on CHIPPEWA, moved over to take command of the flagship CAYUGA and Capt. W. Malcolm stepped up from CORONA to CHIPPEWA. Capt. Malcolm was to remain in command of CHIPPEWA until the steamer's retirement a quarter of a century later.

The first major change in the operation of CHIPPEWA came in 1912 for that year, the Niagara Navigation Company Limited was bought out by the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Limited, an operator of St. Lawrence River area passenger services which had been formed in 1875 but whose development could be traced back as far as 1845. In May of 1912, Cumberland, Osier, and their associates (Sir Frank Smith had died in 1901) sold all their shares of the N.N.Co. to the R. & O. and in June the company's directors resigned and were replaced by gentlemen chosen by the new owners. The Richelieu and Ontario had become the largest operator of passenger vessels on the Great Lakes. To add to its original fleet, it had acquired the Northern Navigation Company in 1911 and at the same time as Niagara Navigation was swallowed, R. & O also bought out the Thousand Island Steamboat Company and the St. Lawrence River Steamboat Company. Other Canadian vessel operators also cast their lot with R. & O. around this time.

At the time of the sale of their company, the directors of the Niagara Navigation Company had been intending to build yet another steamer for the line. Frank E. Kirby had been retained to produce the plans but the idea of adding to the fleet was dropped as soon as it became obvious that the merger would take place. Despite the fact that, as the years passed, the suggestion of building another boat for the Niagara service would surface from time to time, no such vessel ever appeared.

The most remarkable change in the Niagara River line after its acquisition by the R. & O. was the introduction of Sunday sailings. Ever since it began operations back in 1878 with CHICORA, the Niagara Navigation Company had operated only on a Monday-through-Saturday basis and on Sundays its steamers remained at the wharf. Saturdays, however, were big days for the boats.

"It has often been noted that a Saturday half holiday is almost universally taken by the citizens of Toronto. In fact, not a few of the travelling men from the United States have said that there is no use coming to Toronto to do business on Saturday, as everyone is closing up for their afternoon trip. In the attaining of this condition, the Niagara Navigation Company has had much to do, as a result of persistent advocacy.

"With the increasing (number of) steamers, we had abundant deck room which we desired to fill, particularly for the afternoon trip. This might be effected by getting the employers of some of the specific lines of business to close their establishments at 1 o'clock on Saturdays."

CHIPPEWA, with something less than a full crowd aboard, is inbound at Toronto's Eastern Gap in this photo dating to about 1930.
But Sunday sailings were entirely out of the question as the directors of the company clung tenaciously to the then-popular idea that Saturday afternoon was for recreation and that Sunday was for rest. The only exception to this rule was ONGIARA which ran the Queenston to Lewiston ferry service and which did operate on Sundays. One of the first official acts performed by the new management after the R. & O. takeover was to announce that Sunday service on the Niagara River line would be introduced in order that passengers from the Niagara area would be able to make through connections for the other R. & O. steamers sailing from Toronto for eastern ports and the St. Lawrence River. The first Sunday sailing was made on July 7th, 1912.

The steamers did not look much different under R. & O. management. Despite the fact that Richelieu and Ontario steamers normally wore white hulls, the Niagara boats retained their black colours, perhaps because R. & O. did not wish to do anything drastic which might alter the success of the operation, but more probably because the new management simply never got around to making the change. Red and black were the official stack colours of the enlarged R. & O. fleet, so no change in funnel colours was made. The N.N.Co. insignia did disappear from the bows and pilothouses of the boats.

The year 1913 brought further changes for the Niagara steamers. In June of that season, the lakes saw the formation of Canada Steamship Lines Limited, Montreal, the giant shipping corporation in whose birth the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company played a starring role. CHIPPEWA and her cohorts were in due course transferred to the ownership of the new company and were placed in what was thereafter called the Niagara Navigation Division.

Until about 1920, the old colours of the Niagara boats were retained and the Canada Steamship Lines name was simply painted on the bows. But then, they were given the red, white and black stack colours which C.S.L. had adopted from the old Northern Navigation Company. At the same time, the main deck bulwarks were painted white although the hulls remained black. This latter change did not, in your editor's humble opinion, improve the looks of any of the ships. As more years passed, CHIPPEWA'S hull was painted white and at this stage she was probably less attractive than at any other time during her life. In the early thirties, her hull was painted green with an orange boot top and she regained with this change a bit of her earlier class.

CHIPPEWA's years with C.S.L. were generally uneventful but she did have one narrow escape from disaster. It was the custom of the Niagara steamers to lay up for the winter in the Yonge and Bay Street area of Toronto harbour, quite close to the old Island ferry docks. She was there on March 12, 1918 when the ferry docks, which had suffered numerous fires over the years, were severely damaged in a major blaze. The flames destroyed the ferry steamers ISLAND QUEEN and KATHLEEN and badly damaged CLARK BROS., although the latter survived. CHIPPEWA suffered minor damage due to her proximity to the fire but she was saved from any serious harm.

CHIPPEWA was a valuable boat for the Niagara operations of C.S.L. because she was a suitable running mate for CAYUGA. The other two ships of the line were not so fortunate. CHICORA had been relegated to the status of spare boat when CAYUGA was commissioned back in 1907 and latterly she had been shuffled off onto the unsuccessful Olcott Beach run. She did not operate after the close of the 1914 season and eventually wound up as a coal barge. CORONA lasted longer but she really did not fit in with CHIPPEWA and CAYUGA.

During the 1920's, CORONA spent a few years on the Hamilton route and then remained laid up for several seasons before rejoining the Niagara run about 1927. She was laid up about 1930 and was sold for scrapping in 1937.

But the great CHIPPEWA carried on. She was hauled from the water on the marine railway at Ogdensburg, New York, in the spring of 1936 and there was given extensive repairs. She was the largest vessel ever to use the railway and must have made quite an impression on local observers while she was high and dry. She entered service as usual in June 1936 and at the time there was no indication that this would be her last year of operation. However, during the month of August, she encountered a heavy easterly gale and took a severe battering at the hands of the elements. It was afterwards found that her wooden superstructure had been shifted out of alignment as a result of the beating that she had taken. Despite this most serious problem, she continued in service until after Labour Day and was then laid up as usual in the York Street slip alongside Pier Six, Toronto.

Nearing the end of her career, CHIPPEWA is seen leaving Queenston wharf prior to turning and heading down he Niagara River. Photo by Charles Barker.
C.S.L. management took a long, hard look at CHIPPEWA's condition. In view of the fact that the Depression years had taken their toll on the number of passengers travelling to and from Niagara and it was considered that CAYUGA would be able to handle the trade by herself, it was decided that the major expenditure necessary to have CHIPPEWA repaired so that she might continue in operation was not economically warranted. It was simply announced that she was being permanently withdrawn from service and no hint was given to the public as to the real reason for the decision.

CHIPPEWA was hauled off down the Toronto Ship Channel and was laid to rest in the circulating cut which ran off the turning basin towards the open lake. There she lay, her woodwork showing the passage of time and the lack of maintenance, until 1939 when she was sold to Frankel Bros. of Toronto for dismantling. The Frankels took possession of the steamer on August 15, 1939 and began the disheartening job of stripping away CHIPPEWA's wooden cabins. By mid-September, nothing remained above the main deck except the machinery and the familiar walking beam.

On September 19, 1939, the C.S.L. canal package freighter CITY OF MONTREAL, commanded by Capt. N. Legault, was in Toronto on her upbound trip, unloading cargo from Montreal and loading for Hamilton. Before sailing, CITY OF MONTREAL proceeded down the Ship Channel and put lines aboard the hull of CHIPPEWA which was manned for the day by a skeleton crew from CAYUGA. CITY OF MONTREAL towed the sad remains of CHIPPEWA out of the channel, across Toronto Bay, and up Lake Ontario to Hamilton, depositing her at the scrapping berth of the Steel Company of Canada Limited. Few indeed were those who witnessed this final departure of CHIPPEWA from Toronto and were not saddened by the sight.

CHIPPEWA'S registry was officially closed on September 26, 1939 with the notation that the vessel was dismantled and the hull sold. By the end of the year, the Stelco torches had done their thing and nothing remained of the largest sidewheeler that ever operated on Lake Ontario.

Ed. Note: For their help in providing information and photographs for this history of CHIPPEWA, we thank Charles Barker, Robert L. Campbell, Alan Howard and James M. Kidd. The quotations of Barlow Cumberland come from his book A Century of Sail and Steam on the Niagara River which was published in 1913 after his death and is now extremely rare. It is required reading for any serious students of Lake Ontario marine history.


Previous    Next

Return to Home Port or Toronto Marine Historical Society's Scanner

Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.