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Alexander Milloy (from Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto)
In the sixty-eight years remaining to the Magnet, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping trade changed radically. After the vessel had been laid up for a couple of seasons, her original owners were finally able to dispose of her late in 1859. With the end of a sharp economic downturn almost in sight, the Magnet's new proprietor, Alexander Milloy,93 sensed profit in the burgeoning summer excursion trade between Quebec City and the resort communities on the lower St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers. To raise the capital to buy and renovate the Magnet,Milloy had been forced to register three mortgages against the vessel. The alterations were largely to her upper deck, adding more "family state rooms" and thereby making her more appealing to middle class leisure travellers.94

Magnet on the lower Saint Lawrence
The Saguenay route was a popular one, but the Magnet never earned enough to allow her new owner to pay off her mortgages. Consequently, in the summer of 1862 he sold her to the Canadian Inland Steam Navigation Company, a concern of which Milloy was an active promoter as well as secretary. The principal interests of the Canadian Navigation Company (as it would come to be known) lay in the Magnet's old Hamilton-Montreal route, where, despite competition from the Grand Trunk Railway, the company regularly turned a profit in the package freight and leisure passenger trades. For the next few years Canadian Navigation's management decided to retain the run on the lower St. Lawrence and Saguenay, although operations were confined to the fashionable summer travelling season between mid-June and early September. During the rest of the navigation season the Magnet ran between Montreal and Hamilton.95

For a brief moment in 1866 the British Admiralty's investment in her was justified. Within a few days of the crossing of the Niagara frontier by armed Fenians, the Magnet was requisitioned by the Canadian government. For eight days a company of the Royal Marines from HMS Aurora was assigned to the vessel. In the fleet of fifteen Canadian gunboats the Magnet was both the second largest and the oldest. In fact she was nearly twice as old as any other steamer pressed into service. Despite Sutherland's original agreement with the Admiralty, a commitment delegated to subsequent purchasers, the Canadian government would be charged $1,800 for her hire.96 When in 1875 her owners merged with the Richelieu Company, the Magnet became a part of the new Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company fleet.

Eight years later the Magnet, together with another company vessel, the Spartan, were leased to the Owen Sound Steamship Company,97 which wanted them for the rapidly expanding trade between the Georgian Bay ports, Sault Ste. Marie and Port Arthur. The piecemeal construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway along the north shore of Lake Superior was stimulating the marine freight trade, while Manitoba was experiencing a flood of immigration by this route. The Magnet worked for ten seasons on the Owen Sound-Lake Superior trades before returning to the lower lakes for the opening of the 1893 season.98

Coloured postcard of the Hamilton in the Lachine Rapids.
The following year the Magnet was severely crippled in the Coteau Rapids and towed down to the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company's facilities at Sorel, where, after substantial alterations, which probably included her conversion from wood to coal burning, she was re-registered the following spring as the Hamilton.99 The new name was in keeping with a company's policy of naming new vessels after cities served by the Richelieu and Ontario, and it also commemorated the vessel's strong early associations with Hamilton. After more than sixty years' service the Hamilton was finally retired from the passenger trade.

It was in a much humbler capacity that the Hamilton finished her days. In the winter of 1909-10 her engine was removed and the superstructure altered to make her a barge.100 For eight seasons she was owned by the Empire Refining Company, an oil company based in Walkerville.101 Then in 1917, she passed into the hands of her final owner, Grant Cooper, the Toronto-based solicitor for the British American Oil Company.102 How the end came ten years later is nowhere recorded; all we know is that the registry was closed.103

With the opening of the Grand Trunk Railway between Montreal and Toronto, the region's shipping trades underwent a severe crisis. While the Magnet shifted to the lower St. Lawrence, others were moved up the Welland Canal or were used in the American Civil War. After these initial, difficult adjustments were made, the Great Lakes fleets were once again profitable, much more so in fact then the debt-ridden Grand Trunk Railway would ever be. Like the Saguenay line, the upper lakes route was relatively free of railway competition when the Magnet arrived. Ten years later, with several shipping lines and a transcontinental railway, the route was suffering from some of the same excess capacity that had been felt on the lower lakes in the late 1850s. More than sixty years in the passenger trades, especially during the highly competitive railroad era, was a remarkable record, and it is not surprising that eventually the Hamilton was converted into an oil company barge, or that after another twenty years the hull was scrapped.


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This article originally appeared in Ontario History.