In the Mid-Summer issue, we featured the life of the famous passenger steamer ROTHESAY. It will be recalled that she was sunk near Prescott on September 12, 1889, after a collision with the tug MYRA, and that the wreck of ROTHESAY was dynamited in 1901 by a crew from the Royal Military College at Kingston in an effort to remove what constituted a hazard to navigation. That the wreck was, indeed, a menace to shipping in the area is borne out by the following news item culled from the August, 1899, issue of "The Railway and Shipping World".
"The wreck of the old steamer ROTHESAY is giving annoyance in the vicinity of Blalay's Point near Prescott. The iron skeleton of the wheels stands only a few inches below the surface."
As photographs taken of the wreck after the accident indicate, almost the whole of ROTHESAY's superstructure was clear of the water after she sank. It is to be assumed that the action of the winter ice and the efforts of scroungers had since carried away enough of her woodwork that little, if anything, was left above the water by the summer of 1899.
Readers will also recall that we mentioned, in the ROTHESAY feature, the rather heated animosity that developed between the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. and Enoch Lunt and Sons as a result of repeated efforts by the Lunts to operate ROTHESAY on the upper St. Lawrence River in opposition to the boats run in that trade by the R & O. It seems that the R & O jealously guarded its upper river trade and took great offence whenever any other operator invaded its territory. The following item, taken from the July, 1898, issue of "The Railway and Shipping World", and entitled "Thousand Island Steamboat War", bears no real relevance to ROTHESAY, except that she was later operated by Folger's St. Lawrence Steamboat Company, but does indicate just how hot the competition on the river became at that time.
"On July 15, the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Co. declared war against the American Line and started competing boats to cut rates in the Thousand Island district. The R & O took the COLUMBIAN and CASPIAN from the Montreal-Kingston route and put them on the Thousand Island route, which had hitherto been left to the American Line. The cut in rates amounted to about 75 percent; for instance, the R & O put into effect a rate of 25 cents from Kingston to Alexandria Bay, calling at Gananoque, for which the American rate was 75 cents. The new service will extend from Kingston to Ogdensburg, N.Y., including all intermediate points in the Thousand Islands, and it is said that if the R & O Co. finds it necessary, it will carry passengers free. The R & O, in meeting the competition of the American Line, did not desire to cut the rate from Kingston to Montreal, as that would mean a reduction in the rate between Toronto and Montreal, on which route it has about all the business it can handle. It was decided, therefore, to go into the territory hitherto occupied almost exclusively by the Folgers, and cut the rates between Kingston, Ogdensburg, and local points in the Thousand Islands.
"The American Line was organized last year by the Folgers, of Kingston, who are said to be the principal parties behind it, although they are supposed to have some backing from the New York Central Railway. At first, there was only one boat, the AMERICA, running between Clayton and Montreal. This season, however, it was decided to extend the operations of the line and give a daily service between the points mentioned. Two boats were placed on the route, the EMPIRE STATE and the NEW YORK. The latter was formerly called the SHREWSBURY, but was rebuilt in Buffalo last winter and renamed. The American Line has a traffic connection with the New York Central, which issues through tickets via the American Line to Montreal.
"The general manager of the R & O, when asked for an explanation respecting the move, said: 'Self-protection alone has compelled us to take this step. The American company, not satisfied with its own territory, invaded ours. It attempted by every means to steal our business. The time has arrived for us to strike back. We will maintain the best service between the two points and will call at other points, including Clayton and Alexandria Bay.'
"Another director of the same company said: 'The American Line is really owned by the Folgers, the monopolistic owners of steamboats in the Kingston district. For a period, they respected our territory and we respected theirs. Last season, however, they ran boats twice a week between Alexandria Bay and Montreal. This year, the company, still further enraged by our refusal to buy two of their boats offered to us, began a daily service. Their experiment of running their boats ahead of ours proved a great failure. We make better speed and our boats reach here at a more reasonable hour. Last night, for instance, their boat carried 9 passengers to Montreal, while ours numbered 141. Our captains in the new competing territory in the Kingston district have been instructed to accept business even if at a sacrifice. The district in the summer time is one of excursions and we are bound to secure all of them even if we have to carry the passengers for nothing.'
"At the recent annual convention of the American Society of Railway Superintendents at Alexandria Bay, Mr. Folger in speaking said: 'On an occasion of this character, it is fitting that something new should be told you, and so I will announce here for the first time that a company has already been formed by the strongest men of this country to carry the shields that we bear to Quebec and the Saguenay, and to furnish a service there as we have here, to make the hearts of the tourists rejoice, and I wish it understood by this assemblage and their association that our hospitality to it will be as broad and as long as our route.'
"In reference to this, the general manager of the R & O Co. said: 'The Saguenay project of our rivals is easier said than done. Talk is cheap. To become our competitors in the lower river traffic would require an investment of at least a million dollars. The capital represented by the American Line in the Kingston-Montreal service does not exceed $30,000. The boats were bought for a song, and the only improvement has been the addition of some interior fittings. We are having a daily walk-over in the carrying of tourists from the Thousand Islands to Montreal. Yesterday, for instance, the COLUMBIAN left an hour behind our rival, the EMPIRE STATE. We overtook them before Brockville was reached, and got out of Prescott ten minutes ahead. We reached Montreal at 6:20, beating them by an hour. Our passengers all succeeded in making connections with the Quebec boat.'"
The February, 1899, issue of the same journal reported that "the steamers of the American Line, consisting of the NEW YORK, EMPIRE STATE and AMERICA, are undergoing a general overhauling, and improvements and alterations are being made to the boilers and wheels, which is expected to materially increase their speed. More staterooms are being added to the NEW YORK and EMPIRE STATE."
The differences between the Richelieu and Ontario and the American Line must have been resolved satisfactorily during the winter of 1898-99, for the following item appeared in the same publication a few months later. "There is no passenger war on the St. Lawrence this year, the R & O. N. Co. handling the through business exclusively, and the Folger boats attending to the local Thousand Island business. The Folger fleet consists of the steamers NEW YORK, EMPIRE STATE, AMERICA, ST. LAWRENCE, NEW ISLAND WANDERER, ISLANDER, and JESSIE BAIN." That the differences between the vessel operators were resolved is not surprising, for the only winners in such a rate war were the passengers who reaped the benefits of frequent service and low fares .
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.