Confederate Blockade Runner “The Chicora” Now Flying the Canadian Flag, 1911, Niagara Navigation Co.

Confederate Blockade Runner “The Chicora” Now Flying the Canadian Flag, 1911, Niagara Navigation Co.

By A. J. Clark

Sailing under the Canadian flag on Lake Ontario is a Steamer the history of which dates to the days when British Shipyards were turning out their speediest craft for what then constituted the most exacting service in the world namely, the running of the United States navy’s blockade of the ports of the seceding Southern States. The steamer is the Chicora of the fleet of the Niagara Navigation Company of Toronto, Canada, plying between the latter place and the Canadian and American ports on the Niagara River below the Falls. She has been continuously on the route since she was purchased to found the line in 1878 and has been remarkably successful. Built at Liverpool or at Birkenhead just opposite, towardd the close of the great civil struggle she yet arrived on the American side of the Atlantic in time to make several successful trips into the port of Charleston, South Carolina, despite all the vigilance of the Union men of war. Confirmation of this was obtained by her present owners many years ago from her war-time captain who visited Toronto to have a last look at the vessel once his pride and from the decks of which he had been able to smile scornfully at his sluggish pursuers. As a blockade runner the steamer had no upper-works and was turtle backed to the fore mast. Everything to make her conspicuous was carefully avoided. No topmasts were used and the rakish funnels though unusually tall to secure strong draught, were of small diameter. She is shown thus in a rare old photograph now in possession of one of the officers of the company. It was taken while she was coaling at a West India port for one of her dashes into Charleston harbor.

The close of the war between the States putting an end to the career for which she was built the low-lying craft was brought to Halifax where it may be that she received her present musical Spanish name meaning “Land of Flowers.” Sold for service on the Great Lakes she was cut in two to pass the canals and after being rebuilt to fit her for her new duties was put in commission between Collingwood on Georgian Bay, and Thunder Bay on the north shore of Lake Superior. On this route during the summer of 1870, came the next vent in the Chicora’s history, for during that season she did yeoman service in forwarding Lord Wolseley’s (then Col. Garnet Wolseley) famous Red River Expedition for a suppression of the first Riel rebellion in the Canadian North West.

As soon as it became known that Canada proposed to use the great lakes as part of the route over which to send her soldiers to the scene of the rebellion the American authorities issued strict orders forbidding the passage of Canadian troops or their supplies through the canal located on United States territory around the rapids of the St. Mary’s River. So zealous were the officials at the “soo” intrusted with the enforcement of these orders that they even stopped the Chicora on her regular trip, though she had neither troops norr contraband of war on board. Not to be deprived of 500 and odd miles of water travel Col. Wolseley formed the plan of shipping his supplies to the foot of the rapids, having them portaged over Canadian territory and re-shipped for the passage across Lake Suparior [sic]. This scheme was carried into effect, but fortunately for the better relations of the two countries the annoying restriction was removed by the Washington authorities before the final departure of the expedition. Consequently to the Chicora fell the honor of taking Col. Wolseley and staff and the advance guard of the Red River forces through to Port William, then but a Hudson’s Bay Company’s post.

The Chicora has an iron hull 210 feet in length and is of the side wheel type. Her engines are those originally placed in her though they have been in great part rebuilt. What might be termed the only relic of her early career now preserved aboard the steamer hands on the rail in front of the pilot house in the form of a small ship’s bell. This in its own way tells practically all that is known as to when and where the vessel was built and her original name. On the bell is engraved:—”Let Her B, 1864, W. C. Miller, Shipbuilder, Liverpool.”

The accompany illustration is made from a copy of the old photograph mentioned above and shows the historic steamer lying at her West India coaling station. The masts of the sailing ships, outside which she lies, make a rather confusing background, but otherwise the outlines are quite clear. The awnings amidships and aft were for the protection of the crew while cruising in tropical waters.

[Note: There is no accompanying illustration in the source.]