All Aboard The Ontario Car Ferry!

All Aboard The Ontario Car Ferry!

This article was scraped from Rochester Subway. This is a blog about Rochester history and urbanism has not been published since 2017. The current owners are now publishing link spam which made me want to preserve this history.. The original article was published April 10, 2013 and can be found here.

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station, Rochester, NY. [PHOTO: Provide by Al from Wolcott, NY]

   I get a ridiculous amount of email here in the Rochester Subway. Most of it isn't really worth sharing but occasionally I get a diamond in the rough. So here's one from the mailbag...

Al from Wolcott, NY sent me this great photograph today along with a question. He writes, "Someplace on the internet I recently ran across a comment that the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburg Railroad terminal was the place where people boarded a passenger train for Charlotte and then got on a boat for a trip to Cobourg, Ontario. Can you confirm this?" Yes. Yes I can. But first, let's look closer at this photo...

That's Nick Tahou's restaurant today. [PHOTO: Provide by Al from Wolcott, NY]

   The image Al sent is of a steam train at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station (formerly Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburg Railroad)     here

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on West Main. You may recognize the station building as Nick Tahou's.

The photo was taken by Al's friend and fellow Kodak employee sometime before 1965, because, he says, that's about when Al printed it from the negative. But we don't know exactly when it was taken. There is a billboard sign for Neiman's Liquor Store in the background and I found liquor license notices and ads for Neiman's (at 288 West Main St.) from 1966 going back as far as 1939. Another clue... The automobile seems to be early 1940's vintage.

Al thinks the photo was taken from the B&O freight house; but the freight house is actually in the shot, to the left of the tracks. From the angle I'd say this was taken from the Brewster Gordon and Company building on Canal Street. Today it's known as the     SoHo Center

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, and at one time it was Eastman Kodak Camera Works Building W. Maybe that could offer a clue as far as the date? When was Kodak in this building? I have no idea.

If you think you can pinpoint the date drop a comment below.

Now, back to Al's original question: was there a passenger ferry from Rochester to Cobourg, Ontario, and did this railroad line bring passengers to the ferry?


Vintage view of car ferry Ontario no. 1 at night.

    This page at

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does an excellent job detailing the history. So I'll just list a few of the highlights...

Car ferry Ontario no. 2. c.1927. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

   The Ontario Car Ferry Company was a joint venture by the Grand Trunk Railway (Canada) and the Buffalo Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway (U.S.). It was set up primarily to offer speedy export of coal shipments from Pennsylvania to Montreal. Rochester was immediately chosen as the southern ferry terminus, and after some deliberation Cobourg was chosen as the northern.

Crowd of people, including a band, in the bow of the car ferry Ontario I, as the boat leaves Charlotte. The group is the Rochester Common Council on an outing in Coburg. July 26, 1912. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

   ONTARIO No. 1 sailed from the Genesee Dock (where     Turning Point Park

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is today) for the first time November 19, 1907, with 28 cars of bituminous coal.

Group of city clerks and their families on board the ferry Ontario I during the Rochester Common Council outing at Coburg. August 4, 1912. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

   The company did not immediately advertise for passengers, but in 1909, began to carry them between Memorial Day and the end of September. For the most part, the company adhered to a schedule sailing from Rochester at 9:00 A.M. and returning in the afternoon. ONTARIO No 1 was fitted with berths for 90 people, buffet facilities, a music room, and what were by the standards of the car ferries, ample public accommodations. She was licensed for 1000 deck passengers.

According to     this article

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in City Newspaper, a round-trip ticket on the Cobourg ferry cost $2.30 in 1948, which is equivalent to roughly $18 today.

Crowd on docks in Coburg waving as the car ferry Ontario I leaves. Rochester Common Council outing in Coburg. August 4, 1912. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

   The Ontario Car Ferry Company was the only car ferry line on the Lakes to have a regular boat train connection. Beginning in 1909, with the opening of passenger service, the BR&P scheduled a boat train out of its Rochester station half an hour before sailing time. The boat trains, number 407 northbound and 406 southbound, were well patronized during the summer months and ran for 33 seasons.

The car ferry Ontario I grounded in the Genesee River due to ice. c.1928. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

   The Ontario Car Ferry Company was financially successful and in seven years of service, ONTARIO No. 1 had logged 2,000 trips with no major accidents. Traffic had increased to a level that justified a second ferry, and in 1914, the company ordered ONTARIO No. 2 from the Polson Iron Works of Toronto for $458,000. With the arrival of ONTARIO No. 2 the company began to operate passenger service daily except Sunday from July 1st through the Labour Day weekend, with three weekly trips in June and September.

An aerial photo of the car ferry Ontario II in winter. c.1934. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

   The company never carried passengers between October and May, apparently preferring the flexibility in dispatching of freight-service-only for the seasons when storms and ice descended on the Lakes. The long approach to Genesee Dock up the river was frequently an operating problem, and on January 25, 1920, both ferries were caught in pack ice for several hours. The company continued its admirable freedom from major accidents, however. The photo above is circa 1928.

Passenger excursions declined after World War II, and the aging ferry boats eventually became too costly to maintain. Service was ended in 1950 and both vessels were scrapped.

Chris Gemignani

Chris Gemignani

Rochester, NY, USA