The Niagara River Line - What Might Have Been

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
Lay-up Listings
The Niagara River Line - What Might Have Been
Ship of the Month No. 54
City of Ottawa
Table of Illustrations

It is now eighteen years since Torontonians have been able to enjoy the steamer ride across Lake Ontario to Niagara-on-the-Lake and Queenston. Yes, it was on Labour Day 1957 that CAYUGA, the last of the Niagara steamers, made her last revenue voyage. True, during 1974 two hovercraft did make the crossing on a more-or-less regular basis but the service was not successful and was withdrawn completely after one of the vessels was involved in a rather serious accident off Toronto. Since the retirement of CAYUGA, no other operator has come forward to place on the route any ship capable of carrying a large number of passengers and we rather doubt that any such service will ever again operate.

But ye Ed. has always dreamed of running such a service and doubtless many other fans have had the same dreams. Funny thing, though - we are not the only ones who have had dreams about the Niagara service that did not come true. In their own days, both the Niagara Navigation Company and Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. planned to build ships for the route that were never actually built. Most everybody knows of the famous CHICORA, CIBOLA, CORONA, CHIPPEWA and CAYUGA, and the river ferry ONGIARA, but how many people have ever heard of the other two ships that never came to be?

It was back in July 1912 that the Railway and Marine World reported that some few months earlier the Niagara Navigation Company had retained the famous marine architect Frank E. Kirby of Detroit to draw up plans for another new vessel for the Toronto - Niagara service. The line's newest vessel at that time was CAYUGA which had entered service in 1906. But only preliminary work was started on the planned new steamer, the work being interrupted by the purchase of Niagara Navigation in 1912 by the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. Hardly had this merger been concluded when in 1913 Richelieu and Ontario itself was swallowed up in the formation of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., and the corporate confusion in this period was undoubtedly great enough for the officers of the firms involved to leave aside for the moment any thought of expanding an excursion service on Lake Ontario. And then along came the war and all such thoughts were quickly dismissed for the duration.

Then in 1918 the war came to an end and the then-operators of the Niagara service, C.S.L., once again began to think of the possibility of expanding the service. The Canadian Railway and Marine World of September 1920 carried a report that on August 25th, 1920 Mr. J. W. Norcross, C.S.L. President, made the following announcement at Toronto:

"The plans and specifications for the new steamship for the Toronto -Niagara River Line are completed and the steel has been ordered. It is the company's intention to have the construction commenced at once and the ship ready for the summer season of 1921. This is to be the first of the new series of passenger ships that Canada Steamship Lines contemplates building building, and will embody all the best points of modern construction. The principal dimensions will be 410 feet long, by a width of 70 feet over the guards and her carrying capacity will be 4,000 persons, which is twice the present carrying capacity of the CAYUGA on the same run. The entire construction of the ship will be of steel and no wood will be used, the interior finish being of pressed steel and the decorations after the most improved style. There will be four decks and also a very large restaurant and special attention will be paid to the allotment of dancing space so that ample room will be provided for all. There will be a spacious moving picture theatre and continuous entertainments will be put on. There will also be a children's playground with competent attendants in charge, which will leave the mothers free from the responsibility of watching their little ones. The ship will be propelled by geared turbine engines of the latest design and they will develop a shaft horsepower of over 6,000 enabling the development of a speed of 22 knots an hour. Special attention has been paid to all details and arrangements for the accommodation of the public. The deck space, designs and construction will be not only superior to, but far in advance of, anything that is now afloat or under construction for passenger carrying on fresh water."

The journal then added its own thoughts as follows:

"The plans have been prepared by A. Angstrom, naval architect, Toronto. No announcement has been made as to where the ship will be built, but it will almost certainly be by one of the shipbuilding companies which are being merged into the British Empire Steel Corporation, probably the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company, Collingwood, Ont. On account of the Welland Canal limitations, the ship, if built at Collingwood, would have to be brought through the canal in sections, probably on their sides, and even that might not be practicable and it is more likely that the fabricating will be done at Collingwood and the assembling, etc. at Toronto."

The steamer would have been a very impressive craft if she had ever been built. She was to have been fitted with three funnels and if she had come to fruition she would have been the only Lake Ontario passenger vessel so fitted. But unfortunately business conditions conspired to force the abandonment of the steamer's construction. Traffic on the cross-lake route began to drop off alarmingly and the other Niagara steamers were more than capable of handling the flow of excursionists.

While it is true that if the vessel had been constructed she might have stayed in service a bit longer than CAYUGA (which was retired by C.S.L. at the end of the 1951 season and only in 1954 reactivated by the Cayuga Steamship Company), her advent would probably have spelled the end of the 1896-built sidewheeler CORONA. Perhaps in the long run it was just as good that the fleet stayed as it was. But then again, it's sometimes fun to dream about what might have been .....


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