The Meteor’s Importance

The Meteor’s Importance

According to one of the leading authorities on Lake Temiskaming steamships, Bruce W. Taylor, “To have come north on the Meteor, or even to have had an ancestor come up on that famous boat, is, for Northerners, akin to having an ancestor come over on the Mayflower. Even today, [1993] oldtimers talk with pride of having come up the lake from Témiscaming, on the Quebec side of the lake…. To have arrived by boat usually sets a person aside as a pioneer—one who arrived before the advent of the railway on the Ontario side in 1904.” In Quebec, he continued, the Meteor is the symbol of the Temiscamiens quebecois and is an important part of their heritage.

The Société de Colonization du Lac Témiscamingue commissioned the building of La Minerve (renamed Meteor) in 1887 to carry passengers and freight from Témiscaming to the north end of the lake. With no train service or useable roads into the north until 1905, this was the only way to the Little Clay Belt, and a slow, but steady trickle of settlers boarded La Minerve for points north. Steamship travel was not cheap. In 1894 it cost $4.50 to travel from Mattawa to Haileybury – which was equivalent to about two days pay for a labourer. Freight was an additional 85 cents per hundred pounds. The trip from Temiscaming to Ville-Marie was $1.00.

As the only passenger steamer on Lake Temiskaming until 1899, the Meteor provided a lifeline to the outside world for people on both sides of the lake. It ferried settlers and their belongings to their new homes; delivered the mail; carried freight, prospectors, hunters and fishermen, and tourists to the area; and allowed farmers and merchants to take their goods to market. William G. Trethewey was only one of many prospectors who found his way to the silver fields of Cobalt via the Meteor. After traveling from British Columbia to Toronto in April 1904 he purchased a prospector’s license and equipment, and when the lakes were clear of ice, left by train for Temiskaming in May. He stayed the first night in North Bay before boarding the CPR to Mattawa and later the Meteor to Haileybury — a “hamlet of a few houses, a store, a post office, and one hotel…. In spite of the electric lights of the town not being in commission, I managed to find a place to sleep, thanks partly to Mr. McKinley [whom he had met on the Meteor].” An eight kilometre walk over a muddy spring trail brought the thirty-seven-year old to the Cobalt camp.

On a typical trip, the Meteor left Témiscaming in the late afternoon on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays following the arrival of the train. After stopping at several small settlements along the way, the steamer reached Ville-Marie around sundown. The next morning it left early for Haileybury, New Liskeard, and North Temiskaming before returning to Ville-Marie for the night. The following day the Meteor returned to the foot of the lake to begin again. Except for special excursions, the steamer did not operate on Sundays. The advertisements provide a more detailed look at the Meteor’s time table.

The Meteor was also a source of entertainment for the communities surrounding Lake Temiskaming. “If anything,” wrote historian Richard Tatley, “the Meteor was probably unsurpassed as a recreation ship in Timiskaming.” A variety of social groups rented the Meteor for dances, excursions, and the occasional church service. In July 1908, for example, the Anglican congregations in New Liskeard, Haileybury, and Cobalt chartered the Meteor for an excursion on Lake Temiskaming. Approximately five-hundred Anglicans set out for a day of children’s races, picturesque walks, and games of cricket and soccer. The previous year, the Presbyterian Church, the Haileybury Yacht Club, the Methodist Church, the St. Jean Baptiste Society of Ville-Marie, and the Oddfellows were just a few of the groups that booked the Meteor for excursions. The steamship line placed advertisements in the local newspapers emphasizing the many attractions of a lake cruise – a visit to the old Mission; a run up the Montreal River; the scenic views, including the precipitous 61 metre high Devil’s Rock; the dramatic views and vistas; and a moonlight cruise complete with a meal and dancing under the stars to a live orchestra. The mine manager of the Kerr Mining Company, Robert Livermore, wrote that one his family’s favourite summer pastimes was a cruise aboard the Meteor on Lake Temiskaming, followed by a swim.