John Henry, author of Great White Fleet: Celebrating Canada Steamships Lines Passenger Ships reflects on “How [He] Learned to Love Canada Steamship Lines and Its Passenger Steamers”:
Growing up on the shores of Lake Erie in the 1940s and 1950s, I developed a passion for lake and river passenger steamers that has never left me. In the early postwar years, you could still take overnight trips every summer aboard the massive paddlewheel vessels that plied between my hometown, Buffalo, N.Y., and Detroit. And take them I did — no fewer than four times in five years.
As my interest in such travel deepened, I inevitably learned about the biggest inland-water steamboat operator of all: Canada Steamship Lines of Montreal, whose elegant passenger ships could be found in ports all the way from Duluth, Minnesota, in the continental heartland at the western end of Lake Superior, to the lower St. Lawrence River, east of Quebec City. Unfortunately, I managed to take only one of these steamers, the beautiful Cayuga on the Toronto-Niagara run — and that was after C.S.L. had sold her. But I always wanted to know more about what I had missed before the company ended all passenger service in 1965.
The opportunity to do so came after reading that Canada Steamship Lines had donated thousands of historic photographs and hundreds of boxes of its archival material to the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston, Ont. So, during a two-year period, I repeatedly visited the museum to do research for what I envisioned would be a copiously illustrated hardcover book on C.S.L.’s dozens of passenger ships (known collectively as the “Great White Fleet” because of their spotless white paint jobs). And I gathered vintage pictures from other sources, including the esteemed Toronto marine historian Jay Bascom, whose C.S.L. collection has to be among the finest in Canada.
The result is Great White Fleet: Celebrating Canada Steamship Lines Passenger Ships, timed to coincide with the centennial of the company’s creation in June 1913. Flourishing still, C.S.L. operates bulk carriers on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence; other units of its parent, CSL Group Inc., operate similar ships around the globe. But I saw the centennial also as a fitting occasion to revisit the wonderful fleet of passenger ships that the company fielded for more than half its existence and that raised its profile in a very positive way.
It’s time to celebrate that delightful part of Canada’s transportation heritage as well!