The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), Aug. 26, 1845

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We have hesitated long as to whether we should bring this subject before the public, and expose the exactions which are imposed on the travelling community on our waters. We are fully aware that where private individuals are embarked in extensive enterprises, and staked large sums of money on their success, they, being dependent on the public for that success, are likely to guide their proceedings so as to give general satisfaction. We are well aware too, that as to safety and speed, the Lake Ontario Boats are all that can be desired, and as to comfort, the cabin passengers have no room to complain. We admit these boats have been very expensively fitted up, and that the present high charges may be defended, though erroneously in our opinion, on the plea that low fares would not maintain the boats now running, and pay the interest of capital invested in those which are laid up. Such are the arguments of the steamboat proprietors and their friends, and we acknowledge that the Press should not attack the system until satisfied that its effect on the public interest is injurious. We are satisfied that the present high fares not only press heavily on private persons and individual enterprise, but that the public weal is deeply affected by it. However necessary it may be for Mr. Bethune to levy heavily on the public to support his mammoth steamboat speculations, though it may be absolutely necessary for him to get out of one route, means to support two, and the funds for buying and laying up all the boats which can be brought to oppose him; still these are not demands which can fairly be made on the public. All which can justly be demanded of the community is, how much will it take to build and support a steamer on the Hamilton route? and how much per head will meet the sum necessary, and give a reasonable return in the shape of profit? The question is not how much can we rack out of the Eclipse to pay for keeping the Admiral, the Coburg, and other boats idle. If Mr. Bethune has entered into unprofitable speculations, he has no right to expect the community to make it up for him.

To show the precise state of the case as it now stands, we will endeavor to give a list of the boats owned in this port, with the names of the proper proprietors: -

America, Mr. Bethune. Toronto and Rochester.

Sovereign, Mr. Bethune. Toronto and Kingston.

*City of Toronto, Capt. Dick and Mr. Heron. Toronto and Kingston.

Princess Royal, Mr. Bethune. Toronto and Kingston.

Eclipse, Mr. Bethune. Toronto and Hamilton.

Chief Justice, Capt. Richardson. Toronto and Lewiston.

Transit, Captain Richardson. Toronto and Lewiston.

Queen Victoria, Capt. Richardson. Toronto and Hamilton.

Admiral, Mr. Bethune. Laid up.

Cobourg, Do. Do.

Traveller, Do. Do.

Frontenac, Do. Do.

St. George, Do. Do.

*It is understood that Messrs. Dick & Heron have exchanged a share of the City with Mr. Bethune for a part of the Princess Royal.

It thus appears that out of thirteen steamboats, five are laid up, nine of the thirteen are owned by Mr. Bethune, and so good a business is it, that he makes four pay the expenses of the whole nine. He has no fear of opposition this year, for an agreement has been struck between all the lines not to oppose each other. Last year we had an American boat touching at Toronto every day - the Chief twice-a-week for Kingston, and the Admiral and the Gore regularly plying to Oswego and Rochester. This certainly was a great accommodation to the public, but the steamboat owners thought they could make more money otherwise. Accordingly, a bargain was struck; the American line to have the whole States' coasting to themselves, with the exception of the America touching at Rochester; Captain Richardson to have the Lewiston and Toronto and Hamilton routes; while Mr. Bethune should have all the rest.

One difficulty arose in this division of the spoils, how the large amount of freight coming by canal to Oswego for Canada was to be forwarded, and who was to reap the rich proceeds of it. The way in which this was settled shows how cooly the gentlemen went about the matter, and how little the convenience of the public was consulted. It was agreed that the steamer Admiral should be taken off the Oswego route, and it was thought Mr. Bethune had the best of the bargain otherwise, the freight was divided between the American boats and Captain Richardson. The consequence is, that when a Coburg merchant brings goods from New York via Oswego, they are shipped by the American boats to Lewiston, tumbled ashore there, re-shipped by the Chief Justice or Transit, tumbled ashore again in Toronto, and again shipped by Mr. Bethune's boats for Coburg! Three days are thus consumed, and the goods certainly are not benefitted by the handling which they receive.

The Canadian public are at the mercy of Mr. Bethune and Captain Richardson, and the fares have been put at a rate which will certainly not induce an increase of travelling. The fare from Lewiston to Toronto is two dollars, a distance of 36 miles, -from Lewiston to Hamilton, about 45 miles, we believe the rate is two dollars by the Express, an American boat, - from Hamilton to Toronto, it is a dollar and a half - and from here to Kingston it is five dollars. Thus the charge for a passenger coasting from Lewiston to Kingston is $8 1/2, a distance of about 250 miles, while on Lake Erie you may go in splendid boats from Buffalo to Detroit for $5, though the distance is 100 miles greater. The fare from Kingston to Prescott, we think, $3, which makes the fare from Lewiston to Prescott on the Canadian side $11 1/2, while the passengers can go by the American boats for about one half of the money.

The charge of $5 from Toronto to Kingston is exorbitant. If the North River boats can make money running from Albany to New York, for $1, we think the Canadian public may justly complain of the exaction. We know it is said - there is a great difference in the number of passengers. But what makes the difference? the high fares. Put the fares at a more moderate rate and you will increase the traffic - put them at one half, and you will quadruple it. We are constantly told that we must not compare the Canadian with the North River fares, where there is always a wonderful rush of passengers. But it will be found that the traffic has not always been so great. We recollect three or four years ago, when there was a monopoly similar to ours, on the North River, and the state of affairs was very different. The charge then was $3 1/2 instead of $1; instead of 500 passengers, the boats often went out with fifty; and for the three, four or five boats which now leave each end of the route nightly, there was but one, with occasionally a second.

The fare by the America from Rochester to Toronto is $4, a very extravagant charge, and from Toronto to Coburg it is $2 1/2, though the distance is only between 60 and 70, miles. So high indeed is the Coburg rate, that we believe the stages run in opposition for two dollars.

The influence of all this cannot fail to be most disastrous on the public prosperity, and we cannot help attributing to it a large share of the "slow-coach" character, which we have justly received as a people. Few can estimate the benefit a business man receives from travelling. He notices the progress of other places, picks up improvements in his profession or trade, his views are enlarged, his mind invigorated, and he returns home to resume his avocations with redoubled energy and skill. The very intercourse with fellow passengers on his journey is most beneficial; he gets out of the circle of local prejudice in which men are too often found in Canada; the shell may be rudely broken, but he returns to reflect more confidently and more truly than before.

But the practical benefit of cheap travelling is very great in such a country as Canada. Business otherwise done by letter is transacted in person; the merchant visits his customers, judges of his prosperity, and sells with more confidence; the enterprising mechanic seeks fresh fields for the sale of his commodities; the state of the country is better known, markets are better regulated, and business is done more satisfactorily from the frequency of communication which low fares produce.

The addition which cheap travelling makes to the social comfort of the people is of itself inestimable, and we regard it as one of the greatest evils of the present high rates that our laboring classes are debarred from the enjoyment of sailing on the healthful waters of Lake Ontario. The emigrant too, suffers heavily; many a hurried bargain is struck, many rash contracts entered on, which an excursion through the Province might have prevented, and which would have been made but for the high fares. Canada is an unknown land abroad, - even in the States, it is regarded as little better than a wilderness - and no surer method could be taken to keep it so, than by maintaining the steamboat fare at their present pitch.

The citizens of Toronto are especially interested in this matter. The extensive trade of the west has been almost entirely cut off from Toronto by the enterprising merchants of Hamilton, and no doubt can exist that the ten shillings, or occasionally seven shillings and six pence fare has often been a powerful argument with buyers in favor of the Hamiltonians. We expect to see, and that before long, boats running between Toronto and Hamilton almost every hour of the day; we should like to see a larger and more popular boat than the Eclipse on that route - a business boat, a boat for the people - without the distinction of cabin and deck passengers - with a commander who would treat all with equal respect - and by which the charge would be two shillings and six-pence currency. And it would pay well; Toronto and Hamilton would become almost as one town, and Toronto might recover a share of her Western Trade.

The proprietors of steamboats on Lake Ontario have been this year most successful. Mr. Bethune, by his four boats, though with the expense of nine, is known to have realized already a large sum, and as there is no probability now of opposition, the season's business will be lucrative beyond precedent. A great change will take place next season on the navigation of our waters; the opening of the canals through to Montreal will produce a complete revolution, and it is said Mr. Bethune is making extensive preparations to run a line of boats daily, direct through from Hamilton to Montreal. An attempt, it is supposed, will be made by the steamboat proprietors to take the carrying trade entirely out of the hands of the Forwarders. The increase of business will make the steamboat owners more independent of the public, and lower fares cannot be expected. It is for the public, and especially for the people of Toronto, to say whether a Joint Stock Company ought not to be formed for the purpose of placing two good plain boats on the Hamilton and Niagara routes, to protect the community from the exactions now demanded. We shall not allow the matter to rest, deeply impressed as we are with its importance. Confirmatory of our argument, we extract the following lines from a Unites States contemporary, received this morning. The traffic through Whitehall is chiefly Canadian: -

Increase of Travel - Since the establishment of day boats and the reduction of fares on Lake Champlain, the travel has increased beyond parallel. Nearly all of the Steamers have full loads, and the packets on the Canal are crowded to their utmost capacity. Our Hotels are doing a first rate business, and the prospects of the place are quite flattering. On Monday evening last there were over six hundred arrivals in our village; part of this number left for the south, part for the east, and part for the north. [Whitehall Chronicle]


We are greatly in hopes, that all the parties in this foolish and unnecessary warfare will come to some compromise ere they ruin their business for the sake of an ungrateful Public. The chief part are now met in Kingston, and we trust will not separate without arranging their differences. The Forwarding Trade is all that is left to Kingston, and the trade is not of that magnitude to allow of the people gaining anything, when the Forwarders or Ship Owners lose money. We know not who is to blame in this matter, neither do we care. - All we know is, that the rates of Freight and Passage are not higher, than a fair regard to the interests of those concerned will warrant. Anything in the shape of extortion, whether on the Lake or River, would meet at once with our severest condemnation.

The Highlander made her first trip to Toronto and back, in gallant style. She left Kingston on Saturday Evening, shortly after six; and arrived at Toronto at half-past eight o'clock, on Sunday Morning. She had bad wood on board, and met with detention. Part of the way she steamed it at the rate of 15 miles per hour. On her return, she left Toronto on Monday afternoon, at half past two, and got to Kingston at half-past four o'clock this morning, being detained by fog two hours near Nine Mile Point. As yet she hardly knows her road, but when that is taught her, she will easily do the distance between port and port in 12 hours. She is advertised to leave for Toronto again this Evening, but we hope that matters will be arranged ere that time.

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Aug. 26, 1845
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), Aug. 26, 1845