PS Trillium

Trillium is a side wheeler ferry operated by the City of Toronto government, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Now 109 years old, she is one of several Toronto Island ferries operating between the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at Bay Street and Queens Quay and three landing points on the Toronto Islands. She is the last sidewheel-propelled vessel on the Great Lakes.[1]

Name: Trillium
Owner: City of Toronto government
Operator: Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division
Builder: Polson Iron Works
Christened: June 18, 1910
In service: July 15, 1910
Out of service: 1957
Refit: 1974
Reinstated: 1976
Homeport: Toronto, Ontario
Status: In service
General characteristics
Tonnage: Gross:672.82 Net:463.42
Length: 150 feet (45.7 m)
Beam: 30 feet (9.1 m)
Depth: 8 feet (2.4 m)[1]
Installed power: Scotch boiler
Propulsion: Side wheeler
Capacity: 955 (originally 1,450)
Notes: Polson Iron Works - Ship Builds, 1910[2]


The ship was built in 1910 by Polson Iron Works[3][4][5][6] at a cost of CA$75,000.[7] The 1,450-capacity (reduced later to 995) ferry was built for and initially operated by the Toronto Ferry Company.[8] She was launched on June 18, 1910,[9] christened with a bottle of champagne by eight-year-old Phyllis Osler, granddaughter of politician Edmund Boyd Osler.[7] The ferry entered service on July 1, 1910.[10] Trillium's sister ship, Bluebell and other ferries Primrose and Mayflower in the company's fleet were also named after flowers.

In 1926, the City of Toronto acquired Trillium and the other ferries in the Toronto Ferry Company's fleet, and took over all ferry services.[8] Nine boats and half-acre of land on Hanlan's Point was bought for CA$337,500.[11] The ferry was remodelled by the Toronto Transit Commission, replacing worn woodwork and the main deck cabin, and removing the side gangways and officer daycabins.[5]

Trillium was retired in 1957 and sold for CA$4,500 to the Toronto Works Department,[10] which intended to use it to carry sewage sludge from the new Humber Sewage Treatment Plant.[12] It was left to sink in a lagoon in the Toronto Islands, along with her sister vessel Bluebell. Unlike Bluebell, which was converted to a garbage scow, Trillium was left to deteriorate, its metal fittings stripped by scavengers and souvenir hunters.[13]

In the sixties, there was renewed interest in the Trillium. First, in 1964, it was proposed to display the Trillium along with other historic boats at the Toronto Maritime Museum at the Exhibition grounds but the proposal failed.[14] In 1965, it was then proposed to return the boat to service. Partly due to the advocacy of historian Mike Filey and Toronto Parks Commissioner Tommy Thompson, Metro Toronto approved her restoration in 1973.[7] The restoration at a cost of CA$950,000 ($3.86 million in 2018 dollars)[15], was chosen over building a new ferry which would have cost three to four million dollars.[16]

Champion Engineering Ltd. supervised the restoration, which was done in Port Colborne, Ontario at the E. B. Magee drydock in Ramey's Bend.[5][16] The restoration replaced the superstructure, boiler and deck. Original gauges and other 1910-era accessories were salvaged from Toronto Department of Public Works pumping stations.[16] Other items were salvaged from the boats Imperial Windsor and Texaco Brave which were being scrapped.[16] Several replicas were made of original parts, such as the brass bells and the beavers adorning the sides of the paddle boxes.[16] The boat was rebuilt as close as possible to the original 1910 plans.[5]

The ship returned to Toronto Harbour in November 1975.[17] The ship was rechristened on June 18, 1976, 66 years after her first launch, the ceremony officiated by the same Phyllis Osler Aitken.[7] She was returned to service on July 1, 1976, on runs to Hanlan's Point only, the other island ferry docks having been converted for the other ferries.[8] This caused numerous complaints, notably Johnny Lombardi, who offered to get volunteers to rebuild the Centre Island docks in time for the annual CHIN picnic.[18]

In 2017, Trillium was refurbished at a cost of CA$450,000. The refurbishment will extend its lifespan. The repairs included replacements to sections of the hull and rudder and three new coats of paint.[19]


In 1910, Trillium helped douse a fire on the harbourfront.[10] Toronto Ferry Company owner Lol Solman operated the hose himself from the second level of Trillium to douse the flames at the Niagara dock.[11]

In 1911, Trillium ran aground while on her return from a lacrosse match.[20] The ferry Island Queen took off 600 passengers, then ran aground herself. Launches, sailboats, rowboats and canoes had to come to the rescue of the 2,000 stranded people.[20] That year the water level of Lake Ontario was the lowest it had been since 1874.[20]

On July 15, 1916 at 3pm, the Trillium was docking at Hanlan's Point dock to discharge passengers going to a baseball game. As it was docking, it created a side-wash that overcame and capsized a canoe being paddled by couple Sam Sniderman and Rose Ezrin nearby. By the time people could reach the scene, the couple had disappeared underwater and drowned. Their bodies were found within minutes but could not be revived.[21]

Trillium collided with the former MS Normac in 1981.[22][23] Normac, a former Great Lakes passenger vessel had been converted to Captain John's Harbour Boat Restaurant, and had been permanently moored in the Yonge Street slip since 1970. A mechanical failure caused Trillium to fail before colliding with the restaurant. The restaurant developed a slow leak, which caused her to sink two weeks later.

A 29-year-old man drowned after jumping off Trillium while attending the 1993 Caribana festival. He jumped off at 11 pm on July 29, telling friends that he would meet them on shore at Ontario Place. Trillium was about 300 feet (91 m) from shore. Police recovered his body on July 30.[24] The victim's mother was hurt by speculation about his sobriety.[25]

See also


  1. Know Your Ships 2017. Marine Publishing Co. Inc. 2017. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-891849-22-0.
  2. "Polson Iron Works - Ship Builds, 1910". Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  3. "Nautical History". Save Ontario Shipwrecks. 2003. Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved December 21, 2011. The Iron Works only two existing ships in Toronto are the Trillium (built in 1913, which still ferry's passengers to Centre Island) and the RCYC passenger ferry Kwasind (1913).
  4. "Trillium". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  5. "Hail to the Trillium". The Scanner. Toronto Marine Historical Society (Summer 1976). Retrieved November 21, 2008. mirror
  6. "The Elegant Paddle Steamer". The Great Lakes Schooner Company. Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved November 21, 2008.
  7. Vyhnak, Carola (July 3, 2015). "Trillium: Queen of the Ferries". Toronto Star. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  8. "Trillium (Ferry)". City of Toronto government. Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved March 27, 2012.
  9. "New Ferry Boat Launched Today". Toronto Star. June 18, 1920. p. 10.
  10. Bateman, Chris (January 12, 2013). "The nautical adventures of the Trillium ferry in Toronto". BlogTo. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  11. Vyhnak, Carol (July 5, 2015). "Trillium: Queen of the Ferries". Toronto Star. p. A12.
  12. "Reprieve Bluebell To Become Tanker". Toronto Star. September 17, 1958. p. 16.
  13. Sutcliffe, Ted (March 30, 1973). "1910 ferry may yet chug again". Toronto Star. p. 37.
  14. "Ship Museum at CNE Sunk In Committee". Toronto Star. March 6, 1964. p. 3.
  15. Canadian inflation numbers based on Statistics Canada tables 18-10-0005-01 (formerly CANSIM 326-0021) "Consumer Price Index, annual average, not seasonally adjusted". Statistics Canada. January 18, 2019. Retrieved March 6, 2019. and 18-10-0004-13 "Consumer Price Index by product group, monthly, percentage change, not seasonally adjusted, Canada, provinces, Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit". Statistics Canada. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
  16. Champion, Gordon. "The Rehabilitation of the Trillium". PolsonIronworks.Ca. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  17. "Trillium's Back After $1 Million Refit". Toronto Star. November 7, 1975. p. B2.
  18. "Transportation to Island is inadequate, Lombardi charges". Toronto Star. August 3, 1976. p. B5.
  19. Hains, David (July 26, 2017). "Toronto's oldest ferry set to launch again". Metro Toronto. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  20. Hemingway, Ernest; White, William (1985). Dateline, Toronto: the complete Toronto star dispatches, 1920-1924. Scribners. p. 361. In 1911, the ferry boat Trillium ran aground and lay for fifty-eight minutes, stuck fast on her way to the city from the Toronto-Tecumseh lacrosse match at Hanlan's Point.
  21. "Lovers Drowned In Wake Of Ferryboat". Toronto Star. July 15, 1916. p. 5.
  22. "Captain John's boat leaves watery grave". Maritime History of the Great Lakes. June 15, 1986. Retrieved March 22, 2012.mirror
  23. "Captain John's Restaurant sinks". Heritage Toronto. October 6, 2008. Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  24. "Body of man, 29, found on bottom of lake". Toronto Star. Toronto ON. July 31, 1993. p. A04.
  25. Wright, Lisa (August 1, 1993). "Police find body of man who leapt from ferry boat". Toronto Star. Toronto ON. p. A5. Retrieved July 31, 2011.

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