One of the features of Oshawa recreational life was the running of pleasure steamer cruises from Oshawa Harbour to points across and along the lakeshore. These cruises, with entertainment, music and dancing on board, were tremendously popular at the turn of the twentieth century.
Steamers brought visitors and vacationers gliding across the shining waters of Lake Ontario, in a scene that conjures romantic images of yesteryear. Many of these steamboat lines were established by the owner of the railroads to complement passenger rail service offered in the community. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, the Garden City was owned by the Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Navigation Company, and she catered to sightseers wanting day trips abroad, usually to Toronto and back.
Another steamboat, operated by the Lake Ontario Navigation Company, Toronto, was the Argyle. It sailed regularly between Toronto and the Thousand Islands, making regular stops at the Port of Oshawa. The Argyle, once known as The Empress of India, was launched in 1876 by E.W. Rathbun & Company at Deseronto. The Empress was a sidewheel paddle steamer. By the turn of the 20th century, the ship was lengthened, renamed the Argyle, and operated by the Lake Ontario Navigation Company, Toronto. In her later years, the aging steamer changed hands and names several times, sailing as the Grimsby and Frontier before being abandoned and sinking near Chatham in 1916.
The arrival of the twentieth century ushered in great changes to the way people travelled. The automobile, with its short speedy hops, made steamship travel obsolete for all but very long oceanic trips. People were not interested in spending a day travelling by steamship, when the same distance could be travelled in a couple of hours in one’s own car. The Chevrolet became every man’s “luxury vessel,” bringing an end to the era of steamships.