The history of the earlier steamers plying on the Ottawa river between Montreal and what is now the capital of the Dominion is very obscure, and it has been found all but impossible to ascertain their names and owners with any degree of accuracy.
In other portions of the history of the Canadian Marine, reference has occasionally been made to steamers known to have run to Ottawa from Kingston and other ports, though until about 1850 the traffic was most inconsiderable.
In 1856 the Ottawa River Mail Steamers ran from Montreal to Ottawa City (Bytown) daily, Sundays excepted. They were the Lady Simpson (Capt. H. W. Shepherd), from Lachine to Carillon, and the Phoenix, from Grenville to Ottawa City. They went through by daylight.
This was spoken of as the cheapest, best and most convenient route. Parties leaving Montreal by the 7 a.m. train (for Lachine), from the depot in Bonaventure street, reached Ottawa City the same evening. The steamers stopped to deliver mails at all the principal places along the river, including Point Aux Anglais, for the accommodation of the inhabitants of the County of Two Mountains
The first two are passenger vessels, the others are what are called market boats and are largely patronized by farmers, country dealers, lumbermen and others residing on the route between the two cities, who send what they produce down the river to Montreal, and on the return journey bring with them or have sent to their homes goods which they require but could not produce. A modern writer, speaking of the scene presented on the Montreal wharf when these boats are unloading, says: "On certain days of the week when market is held in Montreal, it is an interesting sight to see these boats unloading at their wharves, the variety of stock and the gathering of all sorts and descriptions of people making up a lively scene."
The Empress, Captain A. Bowie, is an iron side wheel vessel of 410 tons. She was built at Montreal in 1875 and was formerly known as the Peerless. She was rebuilt in 1886 and besides being able to accommodate nearly eight hundred passengers is considered one of the fastest river steamers afloat.
Her commanding officer is Captain Shepherd, who is at once the oldest and most experienced captain navigating the Ottawa river. He has been in command of steamers thereon for upwards of forty years. His first vessel was the Lady Simpson, which he commanded for many years with credit to himself and his employers, besides being most popular with the passengers carried. The Lady Simpson was succeeded by the Prince of Wales in 1860, and she by the Sovereign in 1889.
A correspondent, referring to Captain Shepherd's services, thus pleasantly speaks of him:--" During the period of nearly half a century in which Capt. Shepherd has had command of these vessels. their reputation as favorite steamers, well and successfully navigated, has been fully maintained."
The Prince of Wales was built by Cantin, of Montreal, early in 1860, is of 3,044 tons burthen, and has since she was first put upon the river been in constant use. The Princess, of nearly the same tonnage as the former steamer, was built at Carillon in 1872, and has rendered her owners most efficient service. The Maude was built by Cantin, of Montreal, in 1869, has a capacity of one hundred and seventy-two tons, and is in use by the company as a tug.
The officers of the Ottawa River Navigation Company are as follows:--President, Mr. R. W. Shepherd; vice-president, Mr. J. Gibb; secretary and manager, Mr. R. W. Shepherd, junior. All these gentlemen are thoroughly conversant with all the details appertaining to their business.
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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.