THE MAPLE LEAF'S CANADIAN
By Gerald T Girvin
A Foreshadowing Detour
Soon after her trial run, the Maple Leaf sailed back to Toronto to obtain her furnishings. These had been purchased progressively during her construction and stored at the Bethune Company quarters in Toronto. Beautiful cabin furnishings - French beds, draperies, and coverlets: elegant table service - china, silver and fine linens; and plush upholstered chairs and settees for the Saloon. In a few days the Maple Leaf was transformed into an elegant floating hotel.
One of the most popular events in Canada in 1851 was the great Provincial Fair held at Brockville in September. Canadian steamboats on Lake Ontario anticipated capacity crowds for the event, while American steamers were extending their tourist season as well with passengers for the New York State Fair held at Rochester. It was an ideal time to introduce the Maple Leaf to the traveling public.
An excursion was first advertised on September 23 in both Toronto and Kingston, announcing departure from Toronto at noon on Wednesday, September 24. The Maple Leaf would tentatively leave Kingston at 6A.M. on Friday, September 26, returning from Brockville late that same night. But due to inclemency of the weather on Tuesday of that week, events at the Fair were postponed and it was advertised in both cities that the entire Excursion schedule would be delayed a day, hence the Maple Leaf sailed from Toronto on her first passenger trip on Thursday, September 25 at noon, from Kingston on Saturday morning, and returned from Brockville Saturday night. Cabin passage from Toronto to Brockville was advertised at five dollars, while deck passage was available for the less affluent at half that price. Passage from Kingston was simply noted as "half the usual fare." The cost of all meals was extra. Some excursionists most likely carried their lunches.25
The Maple Leaf was built to bolster Bethune' s participation in the Lake Mail Line which had become the Company's primary burden. When she eventually was ready for service, however, Princess Royal was not replaced on the route, and a new line was created for Maple Leaf probably in a bid for added revenue.
The Articles of Agreement of 1850 provided for a separate Through Line in addition to the Lake and River Mail Lines. This line extended from Hamilton and Toronto down the lake and river, "shooting" the rapids of the St. Lawrence from Prescott down river to Montreal, returning up river by the canals. But the three steamers assigned to this line could not compete successfully with the nine freight vessels on the same route, which carried passengers at cheap rates as an adjunct to a prosperous freight business. Hence the Through Line was not continued by the agreement partners in 1851.26
One of the parties to the original agreement, MacPherson and Crane of Montreal, however, decided to test the venture again the next year, operating independently. A new steamer, the Champion, was built at Montreal coincidental with the construction of the Maple Leaf. This company also rebuilt the damaged steamer Comet at the Kingston Yard and re-named her Mayflower. The Highlander, built the previous year, was chartered from Hooker and Holton, and became the third steamer on the route. Service on this new Through Line had begun on August 26.27
The Northern Railroad had completed its line into Ogdensburg in 1850 with direct rail connections to Montreal, as well as Boston and other eastern cities. It was decided to initiate a completely new route from Toronto, paralleling the Lake Mail Line to Kingston, but then continuing on down river to Ogdensburg on the American shore above the rapids, with convenient rail connections for Montreal and Boston. The Maple Leaf began the semi-weekly service on this route on October 6, leaving Toronto at 12 Noon every Monday and Thursday, and arriving at Ogdensburg about 7 A.M. the following morning to meet the morning trains leaving for Montreal at 7:30. The new route was widely advertised to provide passage to Montreal in 27 hours (the Through Line was requiring 33 hours) and offering the option of a rapids trip to Montreal on one of the American steamers from Ogdensburg.28
The new Maple Leaf enjoyed the adulation of newspapers in every port along her route - but no journal was quicker to praise than the Toronto Daily Patriot, whose favorite epithet for the Maple Leaf was "elegant." The paper reported that the speed of Maple Leaf had been "greatly improved" since her trial trip, and illustrated by relating that she had beat the Champion on a recent trip by twelve minutes, while on another day she had outdistanced the Passport by six minutes. She was earning the reputation of being the "new crack steamer - and with no match on these waters as a sea-boat." But repeated racing evidently had its toll, since we are told that on October 22, Maple Leaf had "an accident to her machinery" while competing with the Passport. We are not given further details of damage to her machinery, nor any mention of repairs, but the accident could not have been too serious, since she evidently was out of service only a very short time.29
The Patriot continued its patronage of the Maple Leaf with this laudatory description of the steamer on October 10:
If any incredulous individual feels at all
doubtful of the extraordinary changes that are daily taking place in the
condition of Canada, and especially in our good city of Toronto, let him step
down some Wednesday or Saturday morning to the Wharves, where he will find the
latest and newest of all the proud steamers that now enter our harbour -
the beautiful MAPLE LEAF - a boat that truly does honour to the Canadian
emblem whose name she bears.
We know nothing of naval architecture and engineering, and cannot pretend to criticize her build, or discuss the power and completeness of her machinery, but we are indebted to her courteous captain for a few facts, which we have noted down for the information of our readers. The MAPLE LEAF' s length overall is 181 feet; her breadth of beam, 26 1/2 feet; depth of hold, 11 feet. Like most of the newer lake boats, she has a Saloon on the upper deck, 130 feet in length with a row of state rooms on each side and a dining table capable of accommodating 100 guests, besides the ordinary cabin dining table. Of the state rooms, 12 are most comfortably fitted up with French bedsteads, and the remainder, 32 in all, have two berths in each. Everything is new and good. The Saloon and the ladies' cabin beneath are richly decorated with white and gold cornices and panelling, the chairs and settees cushioned with crimson plush, and curtains of crimson and gold damask. Owing to the anxiety of the proprietors to place the new boat on the Ogdensburg route immediately, the carpenters and painters' work is scarcely finished as yet, but we saw quite enough to convince us that nothing will be left undone to complete the elegance of her finish. We are particularly pleased with the profusion of stained glass, tastefully and elaborately painted by our friend Mr. E. C. Bull, whose skill has covered every glass door and window with pretty little sketches enwreathed with maple leaves, which would form quite a study for the youthful artist. Let our doubting friend, having seen this magnificent - and what is better still, this strong and steady steamer - remember the black and comfortless craft that used, once or twice a week, to come puffing into Toronto harbour; and then let him look ahead, and think of the coming day, when dozens of such boats as the MAPLE LEAF will waft into our port their crowds of passengers for the Sault Ste. Marie, for Lake Superior, or the Saskatchewan itself - and if he does not mentally give three cheers for the MAPLE LEAF - and the Rail road - why he must be as blind as a mole - that's all!"30
The Maple Leaf was like the fulfillment of a dream - and a long leap to the future. She was, like the railroad that had not yet reached Toronto (it did in 1854), a forerunner of great and exciting things to happen in a golden future.
A Foreshadowing Detour.
Among all the steamers in the Bethune fleet, the Admiral was unique. Built at Niagara, she established a new Lake Ontario speed record on her trial trip in May 1843. Yet her master, Captain William Gordon, had little faith in steam engines, and had the vessel outfitted as a topsail schooner in preparation for the event that her side-wheels should come to a halt. He also had misgivings about the safety of a British vessel in an American port, and had a four-pounder cannon mounted on her fore deck as a precaution. In 1849, the Admiral was placed on the cross-lake route from Toronto to Rochester by way of Port Hope and Cobourg.31
On October 23, 1851, the Admiral with Captain Robert Kerr, left Cobourg at her usual evening hour for her overnight crossing to Rochester. Soon after starting out on her voyage, she was in the midst of a heavy gale blowing on the open lake. In her pitching and rolling, a rope line used for turning the vessel in the Genesee River channel fell down among her paddle-wheel buckets and pulled the shaft clear of its fastenings, completely disabling the engines.
There were fears that the weight of the
wheel and shaft would make the vessel lurch so badly as to capsize her. Two of
the hands, lashing themselves to the wheel house, made the attempt to secure the
shaft, and succeeded. The Admiral drifted with the wind and waves from Thursday
night till Monday morning, making Long Point, near Kingston, on Sunday, where
the mate was put ashore. On Monday, the brig Saxon was hailed, and
after sailing about the steamer for some time, succeeded in getting a rope to
her by attaching it to a cask and letting it float with the wind. She was then
towed into Oswego.32
When the Admiral failed to arrive at Rochester for several hours beyond her expected time, the Rochester agent, George Darling, telegraphed to Canada requesting the reason for her non-appearance, and learned that she had left Cobourg at her usual hour. The Company was wired immediately in Toronto, since there were serious fears that the Admiral might have been lost with about a hundred passengers in addition to her crew. By Monday morning, the captain of a schooner reported at Charlotte that he had seen the "Admiral standing down the Lake under sail and with no steam on." A troubled Donald Bethune boarded the America and sailed for Rochester, and upon arriving there, dispatched the America in search of her sister steamer. When the news reached Rochester that the Admiral had been safely towed into Oswego, a relieved Bethune wired to Toronto and ordered the Maple Leaf to sail for Rochester immediately to replace the Admiral on the cross-lake route.33
The "splendid" and "elegant steamer "Maple Leaf was reported to arrive in Rochester early in the morning of Wednesday, October 29, and as soon as her waiting passengers and delayed freight were loaded aboard, sailed for Cobourg on her first trip on the route for which she would become most famous in her Lake Ontario career.34
The Maple Leaf remained on the Rochester route, making two round trips weekly, until November 13, when she was replaced on the cross-lake route by the America, and then resumed her trips on the course from Hamilton and Toronto to Ogdensburg. But this change was only to be transitional, however, because on Wednesday, November 19, she finally came to replace the Princess Royal on the Lake Mail Line between Toronto and Kingston, and remained there for the few weeks until ice closed the navigation season on Lake Ontario.35
January 24, 1852, the parties to the 1850 Articles of Agreement met again in Toronto to renegotiate the terms of the earlier accord. This time Bethune had two vessels to participate in the north shore arrangement - the Princess Royal and the Maple Leaf. One of the goals of the new agreement was to reestablish the Toronto-Montreal Through Line on an expanded basis, providing for daily service on the route - a venture requiring a minimum of six speedy first-class vessels. Because previous attempts at a Through Line had never been financially successful, Bethune was partial to the Lake Mail Line's guaranteed remuneration. But given the circumstances, Bethune was left with no option but to offer his best steamer, the Maple Leaf - leaving the Princess Royal, criticized previously for its inability to maintain schedules, for reassignment to the Lake Mail Line.36
One of the steamers for the Lake Mail Line was the Magnet, built of iron at Niagara in 1847. Funding for her construction had been provided by the government, under an agreement that she could be impounded for war service on the lakes in the event of hostilities. Seemingly as a concession to Bethune, it was written into the agreement that:
...if the government shall take the steamer Magnet ... in that case the said Donald Bethune and Company have the privilege of replacing her with the Maple Leaf.
The signed agreement was to take effect on the following April 20.37 It was necessary to begin the Lake and River Mail Lines promptly on schedule due to the government contracts. But it was decided to delay the introduction of the Through Line until warmer weather. Hence the Maple Leaf left Toronto on Tuesday, April 20, on the Lake Mail Line, stopping at the north shore ports, and arriving at Kingston that evening. She remained in this service, carrying passengers, freight and mail from Hamilton and Toronto to Kingston, connecting at the latter place with the River Mail steamers for Montreal.38
One of the worst accidents ever to befall the Maple Leaf occurred just ten days after the navigation season of 1852 began. On the night of Friday April 30, she left Cobourg and was proceeding down the lake towards Kingston. At about 10:20 P.M., she came upon the upbound steamer Magnet near Nicholson's Island just off Presqu'ile. Second Mate Hector MeKellar, who had been with the boat since she came out, was in charge, with John McRobb at the wheel.
When vessels were passing on the north shore route, it was the custom for the upbound. boat to take the inner or "shore course," while the downbound boat was expected to hold to the outer or "sea room course." But the downbound Maple Leaf was relatively close to shore when the Magnet was first sighted off her starboard bow, heading northwest on a course which would take her across the Maple Leaf's path, heading towards the inner course. When the Maple Leaf was sighted by the Magnet, Captain Sutherland of the latter steamer commanded the Magnet's engines reversed and the vessel was progressively brought to a full stop, else the boats collide in midships which could have caused both to go down.
The Magnet was struck on the larboard (port) bow; which was taken away with 27 feet of her plank; she was cut right across as if done by a saw.
After the vessels struck, the Maple Leaf proceeded about three boat lengths forward before coming to a stop, carrying away the anchor, hausers, iron windlass and guard staves of the Magnet, tangled in her chains. Captain Sutherland called to Captain Wilkinson to turn the Maple Leaf alongside the disabled Magnet, which was promptly done. The frightened passengers aboard the Magnet were transferred to the Maple Leaf along with the mail, and then Captain Sutherland. The Maple Leaf then towed the crippled Magnet into Presqu'ile Harbour as the Mayflower passed to the south. After untangling each craft's respective gear, the Maple Leaf proceeded on her course to Kingston.
The Magnet's hull had been built with four watertight compartments, a factor which was truly in her stead after the accident. She was taken to Niagara, where she had been built, and hauled out on the marine railway, where she remained over a month for repairs.39
The new Through Line was finally inaugurated on Monday, June 14. Six crack steamers began the daily service, commencing with the Maple Leaf leaving Hamilton Monday morning at 7 A.M., calling at the Niagara ports of Niagara and Queenston, and Lewiston on the American shore, connecting there with the American steamers for Rochester and Oswego. This downbound route paralleled the American shore and stopped at Cape Vincent before calls at Brockville and Prescott on the Canadian shore of the river, with another call at Ogdensburg before descending the rapids to Montreal. The Maple Leaf left Montreal every Thursday afternoon, ascending the St. Lawrence Canals, and after a stop at Ogdensburg, followed the north shore on her upbound trip with calls at Kingston, Cobourg, Port Hope and Darlington before docking at Toronto on route back to Hamilton.
The time of the downbound trip from Niagara to Montreal was advertised as "about twenty- five hours." The Maple Leaf was joined on the Through Line by the steamers Arabian, New Era, Champion, Highlander and Mayflower, leaving Hamilton on consecutive days from Monday to Saturday, on their weekly trips to Montreal.40
Meanwhile the inevitable legal proceedings developed in consequence of the collision of April 30.
The owners of the Magnet instituted proceedings at law against the proprietors of the Maple Leaf to recover damage for the injuries which the Magnet sustained by the occurrence.
The case was eventually tried at the "assizes" or court in Hamilton on October23 and the hearings occupied the court the entire day. Several witnesses were called to testify - officers of both vessels and passengers who witnessed the accident - and daguerreotype photos were entered as evidence. Captain Sutherland gave his testimony, but it was regretfully announced that Captain Wilkinson of the Maple Leaf could not testify because of a critical illness. Some testimony inferred that the Maple Leaf had been cruising at a high speed because she had been "striving" or racing with the Mayflower. It was also claimed that the Maple Leaf was traveling on the night in question without a range light on her mast.
After the jury was charged by Judge Sullivan, who reviewed the testimony and interpreted the naval statutes of 1851, a verdict was delivered in favor of the Magnet, stating that the:
...parties aboard the Maple Leaf did not act under the influence of cool judgment, or deliberation, or of observation.
With the verdict for the plaintiff, the Bethune Company was fined £600, the equivalent of $2,400.41
As stated, Captain Wilkinson was not present at the trial. One of the defense counsels claimed:
I cannot bring Capt. Wilkinson to give an account ... whether he acted right or wrong. It is expected he will shortly answer at another bar. We have just received a telegraphic dispatch stating that he has been seized with a sudden illness and is not expected to live two hours, so that defendant cannot bring him here to explain or rebut any of testimony already deduced.
Captain Neil Wilkinson, who had guided the construction of the Maple Leaf with such superb dedication, and had been her first and only master, died that very day, October 23, 1852. He was remembered as a "thorough seaman and gentleman."
Captain James Dick was immediately appointed as the second master of the Maple Leaf and sailed with her until the navigation season closed in late November.42