Maritime History of the Great Lakes
New Mills List


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188" AND "1880-188" AND "1889
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New Mills List


The aim of this List is to include all inland and coastal steam and motor vessels operating in Canada, over about 45 feet in length for 19th Century vessels, and about 60 feet for those between 1900 and 1930, though some smaller vessels have been listed as well. A few that were registered outside Canada have been included where they ran for an appreciable time in Canadian service (e.g. charter). In the years covered here, British registered ships could operate here on the same basis as Canadian. Warships and those used in transocean services have been excluded. Gross tonnage is used. Listings are under the earliest name held as a Canadian vessel, with references to the last-previous or first-subsequent foreign name where known. Two unregistered vessels that never received names are shown following “Z’.

Much information here, particularly for earlier listings, has been derived from contemporary newspaper news reports and advertisements. In areas not yet penetrated by railways, shipping was of vital interest to all, and the doings and mishaps of steamboats were carefully noted. In the absence of modern news services, the papers copied freely from each other so that a general coverage can be obtained. In a remarkable number of cases this primary source contradicts information contained in other records and has usually been used here; thus this List does not always agree with data appearing elsewhere.

Another source is the Reports of the Board of Steamboat Inspection published annually from 1868 to 1920. These suffer badly from misprints and no single Report can in itself be taken as “gospel”. However if they are systematically tabulated year by year, anomalies can be detected and ignored. The tonnages given can be relied on since many tolls and charges (including the inspection fee itself) were based on them. These Reports have been the source of information on many rebuildings and renamings. Disappearance from the Reports is usually a better indication of retirement than the date of Removal from the Register since the latter date can be twenty years or more after the fact; it is used here only when no more specific information is available.

The Lists of Wrecks and Casualties appearing with the Inspection Reports are less useful than they seem, both because of the misprint problem and also because of the questionable nature of the dates given, which sometimes seem to be the date the “Casualty” was reported rather than the date of the mishap itself. Different dates for the same event are sometimes given in different sections of the same Report, or a different date appears under each name for a mishap (e.g. collision) affecting more than one vessel. This is one reason why dates are given in year/month format only. (The other is that when reading a report in a weekly paper, quoting another weekly, each published on different days of the week, it is impossible to tell what day is meant by (e.g.) “last Tuesday”.)


Registration in the nineteenth century was somewhat haphazard and some vessels in outlying areas were never registered at all, and are given here with such information as is available. They are denoted by “U” in the Official Number column.

The biggest problem is the eccentric history of registration (or non-registration) on the inland waters of Eastern Canada. Originally there was no Canadian register as such; “sea-going” vessels (a very all-inclusive category) were registered at Quebec or Montreal under the Imperial Merchant Shipping Act. They had to be measured for tonnage at one or other of these ports, and since it was impossible for those located above the Lachine Rapids to reach them they were simply ignored, officially speaking. In practical terms all vessels on the Great Lakes and Upper St.Lawrence River before 1845 were unregistered, and are shown by “N” in the Official Number column.

Late in 1845 the Province of Canada (as it then was) passed the Inland Navigation Act which created a Provincial registry system, the Collectors of Customs being required to act as Registrars of Shipping. The purpose was primarily to establish ownership, and hence liability, in case of accident; no central registry existed and records were kept in the various Customs offices. Virtually all of them have disappeared, and there is no official data on any of these vessels unless they lasted long enough to appear on the first List of Shipping published in 1873. Registration under the Inland Act was limited to Canadian-built boats, and it was the custom to register foreign-built craft at Montreal under the Imperial Act regardless of where they were located.

Unregistered vessels could use any name their owners chose, and later apparently the Custom-House authorities were not careful of this matter; the newspapers have proved invaluable in attempting to unravel this particular snarl.


During the period of dual registration (Imperial or Inland), tonnage was computed on different formulae by the two authorities, the one used by the Inland Act (called Custom-House Measure) giving a smaller figure since less of the space above the main deck was counted. The new Dominion of Canada rationalized the system and after 1874 all new registrations were made under new regulations equivalent to the Imperial Act. In 1877 and 1878 all vessels using Custom-House Measure were resurveyed, sometimes with startling effects on their official particulars; the tonnage of some large passenger boats virtually tripled overnight. The resurveyed figure has in all cases been used here.

Official Numbers were assigned from blocks in the British series set aside for the purpose. The use of Official Numbers began in 1855; at that time all vessels then operating and registered under the Imperial Act were given numbers, those in the Province of Canada (registered at Montreal or Quebec) in the 32000/33000 series and those in the Maritime Provinces in the 34000/35000 series. It should be noted that those transferred from British to Canadian register retained their British numbers unchanged. Early registrations before the creation of Official Numbers are also indicated by “N”.

The Custom-House authorities did not use numbers and such vessels are indicated by a dash in the Official Number column. When they were incorporated into the unified Canadian register no numbers were assigned to them unless a resurvey was required due to rebuilding. The last steamer with no Official Number (PIERREPONT) was withdrawn in 1930. The Federal Government did not register many of its own vessels until the time of World War I. The record is unquestionably held by TRUDEAU which was purchased in 1876 but not registered until 1914, almost at the end of her long career.

I must express my appreciation to Prof. Eugene Clevenger and Mr. Charles Rae for their expertise and hard work in the computerization of these records, condemned as they were to work with a computer-illiterate Luddite; also to Mr. Maurice Smith and Dr. Gordon Shaw for their help and encouragement. Most of the research was performed over a period of almost thirty years in the extensive library collection of the University of Toronto, whose staff could not have been more helpful.

John M. Mills


The following vessels were in service as indicated, but are known only from newspaper references and/or Inspection Reports. Any additional information would be greatly appreciated.

Alma: Rideau-Ottawa 1858-62
Augusta: Upper St. Lawrence 1848-50
Beaver: Saskatchewan River 1901-05
Brantford: Grand River 1843
British Queen: Rice Lake Ont. 1850’s
Cornwall: Upper St. Lawrence 1823-32
Dalhousie*: Montreal 1820
Dragon: Upper St. Lawrence 1838-40
Empire: Rideau Canal 1848-49
Felicite: Montreal 1833-36
Fly: Kawartha Lakes 1855-60
Georgie: Fraser River B.C. 1878-80
Glengarry: Upper St. Lawrence 1854
H.P. Redner: Lake Ontario 1860-65
Hastings: Thames River 1848-55
Hope: Lake Ontario 1851-59
Locomotive: Lake Ontario 1855
Longueuil: Montreal 1858
Mohawk: Rideau Canal 1840-42
Moira: Lake Ontario 1844-47
Napoleon: Lake Ontario 1854-56
Neptune: Grand River 1842
Newcastle: New Brunswick 1868-73
Nil Desperandum: Ottawa River 1880’s
North Star: Cobden Ont. 1855-57
North Star: Minden Ont. 1874
Ontario: Ottawa-Rideau 1860-63
Prescott: Ottawa-St. Lawrence 1861-71
Rival: Upper St. Lawrence 1845
St . Anne: Trois Rivieres Que. 1864-70
St. Eustache: Ottawa River 1864-65
St. Paul: Trois Rivieres Que. 1866-72
Sarah: Lake Ontario 1869-71
Victoria: Upper St. Lawrence 1841
Victoria: Lake Ontario 1851-65
Watchman: Lake Superior 1877-83
Welland: Toronto 1856-68

*Note: This is not the better-known steamer on the Upper St. Lawrence 1822-34.