Steamers on Lake Temagami

The Belle - biggest of them all

1906-18

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           JAMES MARTIN COLLECTION

The "palace-steamer" was launched as the flagship of Dan O'Connor's tourist empire on July 5, 1906 in the shadow of his Hotel Ronnoco. O'Connor had a vision for Temagami. In it the Belle was to play the part of the royal coach that would deliver the rising tide of tourists to his hotels.

It would also, in retrospect and by no means intended, become a barometer for the health of local tourism.

This was a big boat for Temagami it could carry enough passengers in one trip to fill every bed in the hotels up the lake but O'Connor had reason to be confident. The Cobalt mining camp was booming and prosperity was spilling into the neighbouring towns of New Liskeard and Haileybury. New mineral strikes were popping up throughout

The Belle (above) moored at the Hudson's Bay Company post on Bear Island, c.1907. This postcard is a rare early photo of the boat. A group of mining engineers is on a lake excursion. This dock was in front of  the original store, which was located just south of today's docks.

the region Bay Lake, Elk Lake, Gowganda, Shining Tree, Matachewan, Timmins, Kirkland Lake. The railway was extending its reach. New Ontario, as northern Ontario was called, was thriving with no

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                           

 

 

 

end to the riches. And the crown jewel of New Ontario tourist destinations, the one lake region that would most benefit from this wealth, was Temagami.

The Temagami Steamboat and Hotel Company owned most of the guest rooms on the lake and most of the steamers. O'Connor managed the company and held a controlling interest. Immodestly, he crowned himself the "Laird of Temagami" and repeated it often. 

The 108-foot, 100-ton, wooden, Temagami-built S.S. Belle of Temagami could carry up to 300 passengers (though licensed for 175) and feed them from an onboard snack bar. O'Connor promoted her heavily. Visitors came from the Tri-Towns (New Liskeard, Haileybury, Cobalt) by train for daily excursions. Charters were run for the Oddfellows and national professional associations meeting in the booming Tri-Towns. And she hauled freight and passengers to the lodges, camps and cottages.

About 1909 O'Connor packed his bags and sold his interest in the company. He was a restless entrepreneur who built businesses but didn't hang around to manage them in maturity. This was his quick legacy in Sudbury, and now he was repeating it in Temagami.

Temagami Steamboat operated ten steamers, even buying up a fledging competitor. But O'Connor had misjudged the growth and let his enthusiasm get the better of his business sense. The

"Laird of Temagami" (right) with Belle crew at the Temagami landing.                    

                                           ARCHIVES OF ONTARIO

 

accommodation business had peaked and there was no other industry on the lake from which to capture business. That many steamers and over 500 hotel beds couldn't be supported. The company had become extravagant and sloppy and there would be a price to pay.

The troubled company started selling off boats one by one, each  leaving the lake. In 1912, the Lady Evelyn Hotel burned and was not rebuilt. When the First World War started in 1914, business declined precipitously and Temagami Inn on Temagami Island was shuttered. The Belle stayed berthed in Temagami Bay at the landing. The smaller Bobs and Keego, the only other remaining boats, were cheaper to operate and took over the runs.

At the end of the war, fresh entrepreneurs arrived with new enthusiasm, formed the Perron and Marsh Navigation Company, bought the Belle and put it back into service.

In the wake of her sale, the fabled Temagami Steamboat and Hotel Company that had opened the doors of Temagami to the world, closed its own doors.

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If you have photos, anecdotes or information you would like to contribute to this series on Temagami's boat lines,

email Brian Back at Ottertooth.com

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