Thursday 5 June 2014

The Launch of the Frontenac

Today we pay a visit to the lovely country of Canada, a land I have visited just once when I made the long journey all the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake just a few years ago. It is happy memories of this trip that have occasioned my tale today, the story of the launch of PS Frontenac, the first paddle steamer to traverse the Great Lakes.
Frontenac by Captain James Van Cleve
Frontenac by Captain James Van Cleve

Frontenac was built in Ernest Town, Ontario, at a cost of £15,000; designed by Tiebour and Chapman of New York and built by their workers, hopes were high for this exciting new venture. The process took long months, whilst the conglomerate of Canadian businessmen who had financed the vessel watched and waited for their investment to come to fruition. Based in the country of Frotenac, it was these financiers who chose her name.

Finally the paddle steamer was completed and on 7th September 1816 she left the care of the builders to begin her working life. From Ernest Town, Frotenac was taken to Lake Ontario where she received her official public launch on 5th June 1817, amid much celebration and excitement.

Although Frotenac was well-used on made regular and popular trips across Lake Ontario to ferry people between Kingston and Niagara-on-the-Lake, the hoped-for profits failed to materialise. For nearly ten years the steamer passed back and forth over the lake and though the local population were loyal, there were simply not enough passengers to make the initiative pay.

Finally, in 1824, John Hamilton bought Frontenac for the apparently bargain price of just £1550 yet even this proved to be a bad business decision. He ran the boat for two years and finally, a decade after she launched, Frontenac was sold for scrap. Fate had a final twist to play in the destiny of the once grand paddle steamer and as she sat on the lake awaiting salvage she was set alight by arsonists and burned out of existence.

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