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The Beattys (1794-1914)
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By Peter S. Chisholm, P.Eng.

Their steamboats expanded human settlement, commerce and tourist travel in Canada West.

In 1963, Fleetwood K. McKean asked: “Who were these men, the Beattys, who came coasting along in a sailing vessel, looking for timber a hundred years ago, at what was, for the North Shore, the dawn of history ?”
William Beatty Senior (1794-1881) was born in Cootehill County, Cavan, Ireland. Trained as a land surveyor, in 1835 he emigrated to Thorold, Canada West, with his wife Frances, three daughters Ann, Harriet, Rosetta, and two sons, James H. Beatty (1826-1902) and William Beatty, Junior (1835-1889). A third son, John D. Beatty (1838-1912) was born soon after the family arrived in Thorold. Also from Coothill, William Senior’s brother and brother’s family, including nine-year-old nephew Henry Beatty (1834-1914), joined them in Thorold in 1843.

From Thorold to “The Parry Sound Estate,” 1863

In Thorold, in 1835, William Senior would have been a contemporary of George Keefer’s family, including George’s son Thomas Coltrin Keefer (1821-1915). As outlined by Mary Wheeler, by 1863, William Senior’s holdings had grown to include a grist mill, a leather tannery, and a water power concession from the Welland Canal for a sawmill. Also, he would contribute to the maintenance of education and religion within the human settlement in and around Thorold that contained his enterprise and that of other pioneering entrepreneurs. Other Beatty ventures are described by McKean:

In the summer of 1863 William Beatty Senior of Thorold, along with his sons William, and James H., and his son-in-law, Nathaniel Wakefield, sailed up to the mouth of the French River in search of timber limits. In the course of these explorations they learned that [the] Gibson limits at Parry Sound were for sale. (One version has it that they were driven into Parry Sound to seek shelter from a storm and, thus came in contact with the Gibsons). The result was that James and William bought what the archives in Ottawa refer to as the “Parry Sound Estate” from W.M. and J.A. Gibson…. The Parry Sound Estate consisted of a small mill taking its power from the lower falls of the Seguin River, a few cabins, and a fifty-square-mile timber limit which began a mile and a half south of the river mouth and encompassed the land upriver and along the North Shore of the big sound . When surveyed, this limit was actually found to contain 84 square miles more than the original specification called for, and William Beatty [Junior] acquired additional limits in later years. The Beattys also bought the land where the town of Parry Sound now stands; it is recorded that on May 14, 1867, they acquired 2,198 acres of land at the mouth of the Seguin for the sum of four hundred and thirty-nine dollars (McKean 3).

The survey of new sources of timber to support their Thorold enterprise ended with the purchase of lands contiguous to a deep water harbour that would come to be first known as Parry’s Sound to honour the British explorer Sir William Edward Parry (Francis 1366).

The J. and W. Beatty Company (The Georgian Bay Transit Company), Parry Sound, 1865

William Senior, as silent partner, would share ownership of Beatty assets at Parry Sound with sons James and William Junior. This partnership was organized through the J. and W. Beatty Company in 1865, officially known as the Georgian Bay Transit Company. William Junior, an 1864 law graduate from Victoria University, Cobourg, Canada West, became responsible for The Georgian Bay Transit Company and related family interests in Parry Sound. Mary Wheeler notes:

A short time after his [William Junior’s] arrival the mills began to hum, settlers came to take up land, start business and to work in the camps. In a few busy years, he built a town site and a road to connect Parry Sound to the outside world …. William II [Junior] was so respected and admired by the people of Parry Sound he was called ‘The Governor.’ In the deed of every building lot he sold, he had inserted a clause prohibiting the sale of liquor on the premises. The ‘Beatty Covenant’ remained in effect until 1948. As his father had done in Thorold, William II [Junior] did much to further religion and education in Parry Sound (4-5).

While William Junior managed the Georgian Bay Transit Company enterprise in Parry Sound, brothers James and John contributed in other unique ways. The youngest brother, John, attended to public service for several years after 1864, working as Crown Land Agent and the Indian Agent for the district. The eldest brother, James, was the senior partner in the Georgian Bay Transit Company and was responsible for shipping in support for its commercial operations in Thorold and Parry Sound.

James’ responsibility for shipping was frustrated by the absence of rail transport between Parry Sound and the settlement of Collingwood. To solve its transportation problem, the J. and W. Beatty Company had its first steamship, the Waubuno (1865) and the second ship, the Manitoba (1870), built at Port Robinson, near Thorold. The Waubuno was a 193-ton-displacement wooden hull sidewheeler steamer.

The J. and H. Beatty Company, Thorold, 1865

Incorporation of the Georgian Bay Transit Company in 1865 took place in the context of regional and family events that developed after the Beattys’ arrival in Thorold in 1835. The first of these events was the discovery of oil in Lambton County in 1858 by James Miller Williams (1818-1890). This created demands for improved commercial transportation by land and water. Also in 1858, surveyed by John H. Fairbank (1831-1914), the London-to-Sarnia Branch of the Great Western Railway opened to carry James H. Williams’ oil from Enniskillen Township west to steamships waiting in Sarnia. And by 1862, Fairbank had bypassed unreliable road transportation to barge his oil down the Thames River to Sarnia for outbound transport by steamship.

William Beatty Senior’s nephew Henry Beatty, who had left Ireland in 1843, returned to Thorold in 1865 from wide-ranging adventures in the United States and the pre-Confederation Canadian West. Henry’s association with the Beatty enterprise began in Thorold as outlined by McKean:

“Henry Beatty also should receive mention here since he was connected with James H. and William Beatty Sr., in their steamboating enterprises. He also had a very colourful career. He went from Thorold to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he became a clerk in a hardware store. The gold fever caught up with him, and he journeyed off down the Mississippi River, to Panama, and over to California where he dug enough gold to buy his own hardware store. He struck off again in 1863, this time to the Cariboo in British Columbia, and reported back [to Thorold] the following year with $40,000 worth of gold. He immediately joined the Beattys in their shipping company [then at Thorold] (6).”

In 1865, they formed the J. and H. Beatty Company, a steamship corporation with initial headquarters in Thorold and separate from the other Beatty steamship company, the Georgian Bay Transit Company. Five years later, in 1870, the J. and H. Beatty Company would pursue commercial shipping opportunities in Sarnia and move its headquarters from Thorold to Sarnia. After the move, the J. and H. Beatty Company would be popularly known as the Beatty Line.

The J. and H. Beatty Company, Sarnia,
The Beatty Line, 1870-1877

Wheeler outlines the adventurous nature of shipping on the Great Lakes at the time, and the role played by the Beatty boats. It took three weeks to travel from Sarnia/Windsor to the Lakehead, including calls to Goderich, Kincardine, Southampton, Sault Ste. Marie, Port Arthur, Fort William, and Duluth. A one-way ticket to Port Arthur cost $17 (Wheeler 9-10).

In 1871, the J. and H. Beatty Company ordered construction of its first company steamer, the Manitoba, at Port Robinson near Thorold. By 1872, the Manitoba provided the means for the J. and H. Beatty Company to secure regular steamship communication between Sarnia and Fort William. With Henry Beatty a silent partner, the brothers James H. and John D. Beatty were joint managers of the J. and H. Beatty Company from 1870 to1877. During this interval, John Long and Thomas Long introduced the Georgian Bay Navigation Company, known as the White Line according to the colour of their steamships, to shipping commerce on Georgian Bay. Meanwhile, the Beatty Line continued its Georgian Bay shipping as the Georgian Bay Transit Company.

Henry Beatty and the North-West
Transportation Company, Sarnia, 1876

In 1876, the J. and H. Beatty Company (Beatty Line) formed a joint venture with the Windsor Line, incorporated as the North-West Transportation Company. This joint venture would continue to be known as the Beatty Line, and added the Asia and the Sovereign to the steamship assets of the new corporation. In 1877, Henry Beatty became the sole manager of the Beatty Line interests.

At the onset of Henry’s tenure, the various steamship assets of the Beatty family included the Waubuno, built at Port Robinson near Thorold in 1865, for the Georgian Bay Transit Company. Three others, all built for the North West Transportation Company, were the Manitoba, also built in Port Robinson in 1871, and the Ontario and the Quebec, both built in Chatham in 1873 and 1874 respectively. As noted, the Asia and the Sovereign were included by the joint venture with the Windsor Line.

But it was not all smooth sailing for the Beattys. McKean recounts events from 1879:

“The S.S. “Waubuno” may be said to have made the Beattys, but in the end she almost broke them, too…. In the early years she prospered, and made enough money for the Beattys so that they built other and larger vessels to replace her on the long runs of the upper lakes. She was assigned to the short but lucrative run between Collingwood and Parry Sound, where the business had increased to the point where she was fully occupied.
Inexplicably she sailed out of Collingwood, at four a.m., on Saturday
November 22, 1879, and was lost with all hands, in one of the most mysterious shipwrecks of the Great Lakes (13).”

In subsequent legal proceedings, The Georgian Bay Transit Company and the Beattys were unsuccessfully sued for damages and the Georgian Bay Transit Company would continue as the Great Northern Transit Company. After the Waubuno sank, dangerous conditions on the great lakes would continue to harass the Beattys. They lost the Simcoe in the fall of 1880, the Manitoulin, bought to replace the Waubuno, burned in 1882, and the same year the Asia, another vessel under control, by charter, of the Beatty Line, foundered at Kennedy bank.

Eagle gives the following summary of Henry Beatty’s contribution both to the Beatty family shipping enterprise and subsequent national transportation initiatives:

“In 1870 he [Henry] became a partner in his uncle’s [William Senior] steamship firm. Under Beatty’s management the firm expanded from one to 5 steamships and extended its operations from Sarnia to Port Arthur, Ont, and Duluth Minn. In 1882 he was appointed manager of lake transportation for the CPR [Canadian Pacific Railways]. One of his first duties was to supervise construction in Scotland of 3 vessels that became the nucleus of CPR Steamships. A man of unusual executive ability and vision, he served as marine adviser to the CPR after retirement (1892) (Eagle 152).”

The Beatty Legacy—Black,
White and Red Steamer Colours

In 1882, Henry left the Beattys. The same year, the United Empire steamer was built in Sarnia, for James H. Beatty personally. At the time, he was a partner in both the White Line (the Great Northern Transit Company) and the Beatty Line (the North-West Transportation Company). In 1890, the Beatty Line launched their steamer, the Monarch, in Sarnia. Wheeler notes: “Around 1890, the North Shore Navigation Company came into being and their ships, painted black, were known as the Black Line.” (71) In response to competition, the Black Line, (North Shore Navigation) and the White Line (Great Northern Transit) merged to become the Northern Navigation Company of Collingwood with James H. Beatty as a partner in the merger.

In 1901, by purchase of James H. Beatty’s shares in the Beatty Line, the merger expanded to take in the North-West Transportation Company. Quoting the Sarnia Observer of March 11, 1902, Wheeler explains:

“When the Northern Navigation Company purchased the controlling interest in the North-West Transportation Company, the latter disappeared from the list of companies navigating the Great Lakes. The Beatty Line, so long famous on the lakes, passes out of existence and the vessels flying its flag–the Monarch and the United Empire–will now sail under the Northern Navigation flag (71).”

After a second merger in 1914, the Northern Navigation Company became the Canada Steamship Company. Wheeler reminds us that “as long as the Canada Steamship Company remains in operation, there is a visual memento of the North-West Transportation Company (the Beatty Line). The next time you see a Canada Steamship Company boat, take a close look at the smoke stack” (73). The stack will have three colored rings around the circumference: the top ring is black to recall the North Shore Navigation Company (the Black Line), the middle ring is white to recall the Great Northern Transit Company (the White Line), and the ring at the base is red to recall the pioneer North-West Transportation Line, the Beatty Line. McKean notes that the Great Northern Transit Company later became property of Canada Steamships Limited. Today, the Canada Steamship Line website shows that its colors remain black, white and red (McKean 15).

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