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A Trip on the Steamer Esturion

August 4, 2022

The Steamer Esturion at Chemong Lake

The Trent Valley Navigation Company spearheaded and underwrote the naming the Kawarthas, providing the region a handle to attract tourists. In the first promotional material, the quintessential experience of visiting the Kawarthas was taking a trip on one of their beautiful white paddlewheel steamers—reflected in countless postcards that were distributed near and far.  Controlled by Bobcaygeon’s Boyd family, the company offered an integrated network of steamships, that served to transport visitors through the lakes.

The Esturion carried passenger traffic on Sturgeon Lake. It was the fanciest passenger steamer on the Upper Lakes—sporting black ash and bird’s eye maple interior, with red plush upholstery. It ran between Lindsay and Bobcaygeon daily, and then twice daily from about the start of June to the end of September. In 1902 the Esturion left Bobcaygeon at 8:00 am, went to Lindsay and returned by 1:15 pm, left again at 3:10 and returned by 8:10, stopping at Sturgeon Point both ways on both trips. Return fare from Lindsay to Bobcaygeon was $1, and a family of up to six could buy a season ticket for $10.

Once the novelty wore off, many modern passengers would not particularly enjoy the experience of going on a steamer. The steam engines were loud—an incessant wheezing chuff, combined with the mechanical sounds of all the moving parts. Many steamers were also a little unstable—some of them capsized. The Esturion started off as the Victoria, but after an 1884 fire charred the timbers, it turned out that the mishaps was “rather an improvement than otherwise, the hardening of the surface rendering it impervious to the wet.” Rebuilt as the Esturion the ship went on to have a lengthy career. To cure its instability, it was fit with false sides, which gave it a distinctive appearance, especially from the front.

But for their time, steamers provided excellent service. They served meals, including the best cuts of lamb, beef, veal, bacon and pork. They had cakes, eggs, bread, buns, bananas, Weston’s cookies, Ginger snaps, tapioca, cherries, apples and beer. They even used Sunlight brand soap. Companies went to great lengths to keep these boats in top condition—many were painted every year with white lead. On the summer service, their clientele included tourists and wealthy Lindsay business owners who had cottages at Sturgeon Point. For many ladies in fine white dresses and gentlemen in their best suits, these steamers represented the pinnacle of Victorian consumption.

While the companies marketed the experience of travelling on a steamer, many people would take an excursion on a palace scow, which was towed behind the steamer. Excursions were typically to a community along the lakes. Curve Lake, Oak Orchard and Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls were very popular destinations. Many church groups and community organizations organized outings, at 25 cents per passenger and were often allowed 5 cents per ticket if they guaranteed 200 sales. Travelling on a steamer was smoky by modern standards, and despite spark arrestors, passengers (including a great many ladies in beautiful white dresses) might be showered with embers, especially when in tow. The palace scows were also used for transporting livestock. But nineteenth century travellers did not share the same standards we have today. It was a generation that typically could only travel where their feet or horses took them, and having the chance to float along and see the lakes was special indeed.

Excursions democratized the experience of travelling to see the Kawartha Lakes. By the early twentieth century, practically everyone had the chance to travel on a steamer. But within a few years of founding the Kawarthas as a steamboat-inspired region, the Trent Valley Navigation Company found that despite their marketing successes, it was not profitable. Before long, gas launches (motor boats) appeared, which meant that well-off travellers (who were indispensable to steamship revenues) could get their own boat. The company quickly liquidated their boats, as the model of an integrated transportation route (modelled on American and British transportation magnates) was replaced by select specialized routes. One of the steamers that emerged after the demise of the TVNC was Charles Gray’s Lintonia. It was a smaller ship that ran a similar route to the Esturion, especially catering to Lindsay businessmen cottaging at Sturgeon Point. It served until 1931, being one of the last passenger steamers in the Kawarthas.

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