Port Hope, Canada – Steam Navigation

The maritime flavor contained in the name, ” Port Hope,” obviously demands that some attention should be paid to the shipping interests of the Town. Already in the preceding chapter, the development of the Harbour from its diminutive beginnings to its present goodly proportions has been traced out and it accordingly becomes the aim of this chapter to set down some record of those vessels, especially steamboats, which have frequented this Port from the days when the first steamship ploughed the waters of Lake Ontario. This momentous event in lake-shipping occurred in 1816, when the Frontenac, a vessel of seven hundred tons, was launched at Ernesttown on the Bay of Quinte. This steamer immediately started to run from Prescott to Niagara calling at Newcastle (near Presqu’ile Point), York and Burlington, the fare from Prescott to York being placed at £4.

The Frontenac was followed in a few years by other steamships so that the “York Loyalist” of August 12th, 1826 has this to say of the new departure in marine life, “On noticing the first trip of another steamboat, we cannot help contrasting the present means of conveyance with those ten years ago. At that time only a few schooners navigated the Lake and the passage was attended with many delays and much inconvenience. Now there are five steamboats, all affording excellent accommodation and the means of expeditious travelling. The routes of each are so arranged that almost every day of the week the traveller may find opportunity of being conveyed from one extremity of the Lake to the other in a few hours.”

The first steamer to call regularly at Port Hope was the Niagara which appeared in 1827. There was at that date not even the semblance of a wharf at Port Hope and passengers and goods were landed by means of small boats, which plied between the anchored vessel and the shore. This inconvenience was removed by the construction of a small pier in 1832. About this same period the steamer Constitution, later known as the Transit, began to ply across the Lake between Genesee County and the northern ports and continued to do so until 1837. She was then succeeded by the Traveller and it again by the Hamilton in 1839.

Meanwhile the Canada, Niagara, Queenston, Alciope, William the Fourth, St. George and other vessels had been performing trips up and down the Lake, calling regularly at Port Hope. These vessels left Toronto at 9 a. m. and rounding Gibraltar Point at the west end of Toronto Island stood down the Lake for Port Hope, which was reached at 4p.m.

Up to 1840 there was little organization and little permanencyin lake navigation. Vessels were owned separately as a rule andfrom year to year werechanged from one route to another.

But in 1840 the Niagara Harbour and Dock Company inaugurated the Royal Mail Line of steamers with the St. George, Niagara and City of Toronto on Lake Ontario and three others on the St. Lawrence River. The three named sailed from Toronto to Kingston, calling at intermediate points and ever since there has been a regular daily service on the Lake during the summer months by the steamers of this Line.

From 1840 to 1857 the following additional steamers were accustomed to call at Port Hope—Princess Royal,

Sovereign, Magnet, Passport, Arabian, Maple Leaf and Kingston. Of these three continue to traverse the Lake. The Passport( Caspian) and the Magnet (Hamilton) joined the R. M. Fleet in 1847, being new steel steamers and the fastest on the Lake. The Magnet was modelled on the Clyde and was put together at Niagara by James and Neil Currie. The British Government took a large proportion of the stock with the view of using her in the event of war with the United States. The Passport was built the same year at Kingston. A few years after these two vessels began to run, it was deemed expedient to plank over their steel hulls, it being believed that with steel bottoms there was more danger of holes being stove in by the rocks in descending the rapids. The Kingston* was added to the line in 1855. After many years service, it was much altered becoming the Algerian.

In 1857 the Canadian Navigation Company bought up the Line Boats and controlled them for the following as Prince of Wales eighteen years. Instead of running river and lake boats they despatched their steamers direct from Toronto to Montreal. The initial through fleet consisted of the Kingston, Banshee, Passport, New Era, Champion and Magnet. Two famous boats were built during these eighteen years—the Spartan in 1864 and the Corsican in 1870.

In 1875 the Richelieu Navigation Company amalgamated with the Canadian Company and the present R. &. 0. Line was formed. This has now become one of the most famous shipping corporations of the world. Many new vessels have been added to its fleet and several of the older ones have disappeared. With the completion of the magnificent steamer Kingston in the present year, which, with its sister ship the Toronto, makes daily trips down the south shore, the famous old evening boats, that for so many years have called at Port Hope, have become memories of the past. The Spartan was the last of the old line to visit this Port, calling on September 14th, 1900.

Meanwhile the Rochester Line has witnessed many changes. In 1840 a new vessel appeared on the route—the Gore, commanded by Captain Dick. Two years later she was joined by the America and the two vessels ran conjointly until 1846, when the America took the trip alone for six years. The Admiral, its successor, only ran for one season, it being burned at Toronto, early in 1853. From 1855 to 1863 the Maple Leaf and the Highlander were on this route and after them the Rochester crossed the Lake for three seasons.

The immediate predecessor of the Norseman (North King) was the Corinthian which began to run on June 24th, 1865. She was built for the Line Boat Company but was used for several years on the Rochester Line. (During the first season there was great rivalry between her and the (Rochester.) The Norseman, a name quite familiar to the people of Port Hope, was built in 1868 and for many years was on the route across the Lake. In 1891 it was entirely remodelled and overhauled, its name being changed to North King.