This is the earliest photo of the historic steam launch Phoebe (ed. actually: Phoebe II). It is dated June 1914 and we can safely assume that she was delivered sometime in May 1914 when the ice was gone from Lake Muskoka. Her keel was laid in 1913 when friends of Dr. Brashear had ordered her from the Davis Dry Dock Company in Kingston, Ontario. She replaced the steam launch Phoebe,which had burned the year before in winter storage. Dr. Brashear was heartbroken with the loss of the steam boat especially since he had not even adjusted to the lost his solemate Phoebe A Stewart who had died in 1910. The obituary from 1913 shows the important role their summer home on Lake Muskoka played in the latter part of the Brashears’ lives. Their home and work was in Pittsburgh, PA, but from June to September the family “summered” on Urania Island in Lake Muskoka, Canada.
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
|DEATH||23 Sep 1910 (aged 66–67)
Muskoka Lakes, Muskoka District Municipality, Ontario, Canada
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
From the very large digital file photo at the top of this post, I have selected different subjects. These shed a light on the Edwardian custom for well-to-do Americans and Canadians to “summer” in the Canadian wilderness that included the Lake Muskoka area. Ken Robertson, Florida, USA, a descendant of John and Phoebe Brashear. sent us the photo. It is part of the book by Paul Jeffrey, Steam Launch Phoebe, Her 100 Year Journey, available at Novel Ideas Bookstore, Kingston, Ontario.
In the early 1900-s people traveled by train. Whole families from the larger cities in the US, like Pittsburgh, would travel to Toronto, Canada and then onto Gravenhurst in the first class comfort of the train. Servants most likely traveled on the same train in third class. Steam at that time was the most prominent form of power for large conveyances such as trains and boats and heavy steam locomotives would huff and puff into the station announcing their arrival with a blast of the steam whistle.
Note in this detail the passengers disembarking and walking up a ramp to the wharf where the steam launches came to offer them a ride to a cottage on Lake Muskoka, and other nearby lakes. The Brashear family lived during the spring and summer on Urania Island in Lake Muskoka, opposite the little town of Beaumaris.
The young man on the right admirers the steam launch Phoebe. He is well dressed for the occasion with a three-piece suit, a tie and a fashionable straw hat, and a wristwatch. He must have been proud to wear one.
The British War Department began issuing wristwatches to combatants from 1917. When the soldiers returned from WWI, they kept these watches and it became a modern symbol to wear a wristwatch instead of a pocket watch.
The company H. Williamson Ltd., based in Coventry, was one of the first to capitalize on this opportunity. During the company’s 1916 AGM it was noted that “…the public is buying the practical things of life. Nobody can truthfully contend that the watch is a luxury. It is said that one soldier in every four wears a wristlet watch, and the other three mean to get one as soon as they can.”
By the end of the War, almost all enlisted men wore a wristwatch, and after they were demobilized, the fashion soon caught on – the British Horological Journal wrote in 1917 that “…the wristlet watch was little used by the sterner sex before the war, but now is seen on the wrist of nearly every man in uniform and of many men in civilian attire.” To Read more click here.
In the background is a well dressed lady sitting down on a bench. Going on holidays to the Canadian Wilderness meant dressing appropriately in long cool cotton dresses with hat and jewelry. A man near her reads possibly the latest stock market news and stories about the front in Europe on his “tablet”, that is the 1914 newspaper. Could it be the Globe and Mail? More than likely.
By the 1850s, The Globe had become an independent and well-regarded daily newspaper. It began distribution by railway to other cities in Ontario shortly after Confederation. At the dawn of the twentieth century, The Globe added photography, a women’s section, and the slogan “Canada’s National Newspaper”… For more click here.
In the background and detached from the train station is the boat building business of H.Ditchburn, with two men discussing the fitting of a wooden run-about or maybe the rental of this boat, after all the sign is clear; “Boats for Sale or Rent”. The man in the shirt and tie might well be a customer, or the owner of the launch discussing issues. The person standing in the launch is dressed more like a yard employee listening attentively.
In 1904 the enterprise was run by Henry’s nephew, Herb Ditchburn, who partnered with Tom Greavette to reorganize the firm as the H. Ditchburn Boat Manufacturing Company. The firm built many custom-built gasoline launches along with some stock models, mostly consisting of rear-cockpit configuration with engine forward. In 1910 the company’s line included 26 to 30 foot launches. Click here for more.
Note the term “custom-built gasoline launches”. While steam engines were a common source of power for the trains and for the larger boats like the Phoebe, this was the period in which the internal combustion engine replaced many steam engines in the smaller and lighter boats that then could go so much faster, and were easier to handle. These lighter and more versatile internal combustion engines became rapidly the engine of choice for automobiles making steam and electric propulsion obsolete. With respect to the latter we are about to come full-circle.
The man standing on the platform to the right and looking at the smaller boat, can also be seen with others in the full photograph at the top of this post. They stand on a veranda that is separate from the arrival area and they might be employees of the railroad, as the enclosed building attached to the platform is most likely the warehouse and station office.
The Gravenhurst railway station and wharf.
The building that sheltered the arrival and waiting area for the steam launches, like the Phoebe, is seen past the horse drawn carriages. The train that carried the vacationers and was seen in the background of the photo at the top of the post,is in this view at the center of the photo in the distance with the public walking back and forth on the station platform. The Ditchburn Boat Company is seen in the foreground at the right.
Note how busy the local station was with trains lined up three deep. Photo from: The Steamboat Era in the Muskokas, the Golden Years to the Present, Volume II , page 166, Richard Tatley, Stoddard, Boston Mills Press.
We hope you enjoyed this photo essay of years gone by.