by Connie Oswald Stofko
Dave Mischler, president of the Western New York Gas & Steam Engine Association, and his wife, Nancy, were among the last people to ride on the SS Canadiana, the boat that ferried passengers between Buffalo and the Crystal Beach Amusement Park in Ontario. The couple was in high school when they took a moonlight cruise in 1956, the last year of the Canadiana’s operation here.
The huge steam engine that once powered the boat will be on display at the 50th anniversary rally of the Western New York Gas & Steam Engine Association.
The rally will take place 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 8-11 at property the association owns at 10294 Gillate Rd., Alexander, near Darien Lake.
The event will include displays of antique tractors; tractor pulls; demonstrations of saw milling, woodworking, threshing and blacksmithing; parades; a flea market with more than 150 vendors, a consignment auction; activities for children; music, and food. You can get a commemorative 50th postage mark and merchandise and get a free 50th rally imprinted wooden nickel.
I never realized how big the Canadiana was. The ship was 215 feet long and 54 feet wide amidships, according to sscanadiana.com. There were three passenger decks.
She was powered by a triple-expansion steam engine developing 1,446 horsepower. Check out the photo. The engine, 20 feet tall, overshadows Nancy, who is five feet, two inches tall.
A single propeller provided propulsion. The Canadiana also had a cutout in the main deck to allow passengers to view the workings of the engine, according to Wikipedia.
The boat was built at Buffalo Dry-Dock in 1910, the last passenger vessel to be built in Buffalo at the end of the maritime era. Like other boats designed by Frank Kirby, it was palatial. Mischler remembers the large dance floor.
“The Canadiana featured stately, Victorian architecture,”according to sscanadiana.com, “salons done in rich mahogany, beveled mirrors, brass railings and lighting fixtures, grand stairways with sweeping banisters and stately newels, stained and leaded glass windows and gilded plaster Neptune’s heads between each, accenting the walls. Ceilings were done with three-dimensional plaster formations of grape vines and rose clusters enhancing ovals of mahogany molding that, in turn, framed hand painted scenes and still-lifes. To say she was elegant is an understatement.”
After being sold in 1956, the Canadiana changed owners numerous times. By 1983 she was berthed in Ohio needing major restoration, according to Wikipedia. A nonprofit group, the “Friends of the Canadiana,” brought the ship back to Buffalo in 1984 with a hope of restoring her to service.When restoration efforts failed, the ship was scrapped at Port Colborne, Ontario in 2004.
The Western New York Gas & Steam Engine Association got its start when folks in the agricultural community of Alexander decided it would be nice to have a gathering of antique machinery and equipment. The steam show was held annually at the Alexander Fire Department fairgrounds until 1975. When farms were being auctioned off, Mischler said, the group started buying land for a permanent home. The group now has 230 acres.
You can see more on the history of the group here.
In the video below, get a taste of what you can see at the rally.