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The Rail Car Ferries, Ontario No. 1

In 1905 a change in the fortunes of the harbour occurred. The Ontario Car Ferry Company was formed as a joint venture between the Grand Trunk Railway of Montreal and the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad. The new company was formed chiefly to transport coal from Pennsylvania to Ontario to run the Grand Trunk Railway’s locomotives.

an outline map showing Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River as far east as Cornwall. A dotted line shows the route of the Ontario Car Ferry Company ferries between Cobourg, Ontario and Rochester, New York.

Ontario Car Ferry route across Lake Ontario.


Rochester, New York, with excellent docking facilities and railway lines at Port Charlotte, was the choice for the southern terminus.  Cobourg was chosen as the northern terminus because it was located directly north of Rochester. Also it was in close proximity to the raw materials to be shipped south – chiefly feldspar (used in making glass and other products), lumber, pulpwood and flour.

black and white picture of a large white ferry boat turning within tight confines between two wharfs. a small group of people watches on one wharf and two people in a canoe paddle in the foreground

Ontario No.1 negotiates the confines of Cobourg harbour.

The vessel was built chiefly to carry freight.  Below deck railway cars rolled aboard full of coal going north or other products on the return trip.  But passengers were welcome too, with the vessel licensed to carry up to 1,000.  They stayed above deck where she had staterooms and cabins, a dining salon and a large parlour, as well as a music room, a ladies’ lounge and rest room.

Built by the Canadian Shipbuilding Company of Toronto, Ontario No. 1 was launched in April 1907.  She was a handsome vessel, painted a spotless glowing white with two raked stacks, a steel hull and twin screws for propulsion.

The Town of Cobourg had visions of becoming a major port once again!