The Bluebell in 1920, in Toronto Harbour, photo from the Toronto Public Library, 964-6-41
The Bluebell was built at the Polson Iron Works, located on The Esplanade between Frederick and Princess Streets. Constructed in 1906, the ferry was a double-decked, double-ended vessel that accommodated 1450 passengers. It was the largest in the fleet of eight Toronto island ferries owned by the Toronto Ferry Company. Two enormous side paddles propelled it forward, powered by steam generated by its coal furnaces.
In the first decade of the 20th century, when the Bluebell was launched, automobiles were beyond the means of most families, as were journeys by bus out of the city. In summer, Torontonians flocked to the city’s parks, especially Sunnyside and Scarborough Beach. The temperatures beside the water were comfortable compared to the hot city streets. Travelling to Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island was considered a special treat, the ferry ride across the harbour a major part of the enjoyment.
My earliest recollection of the Bluebell was in the 1940s, when my family journeyed to Centre Island for picnics. My father always took my brother and me below deck, where there was a large window that allowed passengers to peer into the engine room. On these occasions, I gazed in wonder at the enormous pistons that turned the side paddles, mesmerised by their size, the loud thumping and swishing sounds adding to the thrill. However, we usually did not remain below deck long, as it was hot and stuffy, and we returned to the open deck above to enjoy the refreshing breezes of the lake.
On one of the voyages on the Bluebell, my uncle, George Brown, who was the captain of the Bluebell, invited us to climb to the top deck where the wheelhouse was located. I remember gripping the iron ladder so tight that my knuckles turned white, my heart pounding in my chest. I felt that I was danger of falling into the lake, as the ladder extended out from the side of the vessel, the threatening water swirling directly below me. The view from the wheelhouse was magnificent, but when we descended the ladder to return to the passenger deck, it was even more frightening than when we had climbed up. I was about five years old at the time, and being suspended in space from a great height was a terrifying experience.
When the Bluebell was christened in 1906, because of its size, it was employed to transport passengers to Hanlan’s Point, where the city’s main baseball stadium and an amusement park were located. It was not until 1928 that it commenced ferrying passengers to Centre Island and Ward’s Island. Due to increased crowds journeying to Hanlan’s Point, a sister ship, the Trillium, joined the fleet in 1910. The Trillium cost $75,000, so it is likely that the Bluebell’s construction entailed a similar amount.
By the 1950s, more people were purchasing automobiles and traffic to the islands began to diminish. The demise of the baseball stadium and amusement park at Hanlan’s Point caused a further decease in the number of passengers crossing the harbour. The Bluebell was decommissioned in 1955. Its superstructure was removed, and its hull converted into a scow to haul garbage out into the Lake, where the trash was dumped. Finally, the hull of the Bluebell was sunk to create a breakwater at Tommy Thompson Park, near the eastern gap. The ferries that replaced the Bluebell, which remain in service today, were diesel powered.
The Polson Iron Works in 1926, on the Esplanade, between Frederick and Princess Street, where the Bluebell was constructed. Toronto Public Library, r-4418
Launching of the hull of the Bluebell in 1906. Toronto Public Library, el-25h
View of the Bluebell at Hanlan’s Point in 1909, from Chuckman’s postcard collection.
The Bluebell on June 6, 1927. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 4964
The Bluebell at the Toronto ferry docks on June 11, 1932. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 9259
The Bluebell in 1942, Toronto Public Library, 964-40
This photo was taken in August, 1943, by my cousin, whose father was the Captain of the Bluebell. She wrote the word “dad” on the photo to draw attention to her father, who was standing on the top deck, to the right of the wheelhouse.
Toronto Island ferries in 1952, the Bluebell in the foreground. In the background is the Queen’s Quay Terminal Building. Toronto Public Library, S1-1419.
The Bluebell in 1956, the year after it was decommissioned. Toronto Public Library, 1-3544.
The Bluebell in 1957, after its superstructure was removed to convert it into a scow. Toronto Public Library, 1-3544.
Below the deck of the Bluebell in 1957, when it was being converted to a scow. Toronto Public Library, S1-4166.
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For more information about the topics explored on this blog:
The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.
To place an order for this book:
Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)
Another book about the old theatres, which has been published by Dundurn Press, contains 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.
Link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear
Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released in June 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com here or contact the publisher directly by the link shown below: