The Rehabilitation of the Trillium

by Gordon Champion
D.G. Champion & Company

How the Trillium went from
this  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    to   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  this!

Trillium sunk at the Island   The Trillium at 100 years old, rehabilitated.


The Toronto Historical Board led bv Mr. Mike Filey, a prominent Toronto author and broadcaster specializing in the preservation of the City's history, prompted the Metro Parks Commissioner, T. W. Thompson, who also had a soft spot for Trillium, to try one final investigation and the author was appointed to do a survey in 1973.


Gordon Champion

Gordon Champion

The initial survey determined an estimated rehabilitation cost of $950,000.00 had to be confirmed and further ultrasonic testing of the hull and an examination of the engine's cylinders and pistons, etc., had to be carried out, along with inspection in dry dock before the Metropolitan Corporation voted on the expenditure. Consequently, Trillium entered McNamara's Whitby dry dock in June of 1974 where the writer, accompanied by the local Steamship Inspector, Mr. Bob Torrance, saw the rivetted steel hull exposed for the first time in over 20 years. With the exception of one or two local wasted areas, the shell thickness was close to the original throughout and all seemed in excellent condition.


Metro Toronto Council and Executive in two unanimous votes approved the rehabilitation of Trillium at an estimated cost of $950,000.00 with the work to be carried out by the Metropolitan Parks Department under the leadership of Commissioner Thompson. The Department entered into a contract with the author's company to act as Engineering Consultant and Project Administrator. Work really got underway when Trillium left Toronto on October I, 1974, for passage through the WeIland Canal to Port Colborne where the work was to be done. Metro Parks required an additional ferry to complement the existing fleet of four double-ended diesel powered ferries and it was estimated that a new 150 foot, 1000 passenger capacity double-ended diesel powered ferry would cost in the order of three and a half million dollars.


We still did not know what kind of beast we had a hold of because the wooden main deck was left in place until Trillium arrived in Port Colborne and at this point we were still preparing plans and specifications for submission to Ottawa. In fact, throughout the whole project much of the work was done on a day to day basis with decisions being taken as more was learned about Trillium's real condition.

Mr. David Munro of Marine Consultants & Designers (Canada) Limited was engaged as project Naval Architect and was responsible for a major contribution to the project. Dave's extensive knowledge and design abilties were needed in the difficult work facing the project relative to stability and compartmentalization to meet the most modern standards set down. Dominion Aluminum Fabricating Limited of Toronto were engaged by Metro Parks under the author's supervision to prepare a set of plans for the aluminum superstructure subject to C.S.I. approval. Concurrent with this activity, we were busy preparing plans and specifications for tender calls for the steelwork up to the main deck and bulwark, also machinery overhaul and installation.


Trillium is 150 ft. in length and measures 50 ft. over the sponsons with a beam of 30 ft. Capable of carrying 1,000 passengers, she is double-ended and registered at 611 gross tons, with an enclosed main deck and an open promenade deck.

Self-feathering paddlewheels.

Self feathering paddlewheels

Clearly, the wooden superstructure had to be replaced to meet today's fire requirements and therefore,the wooden superstructure, which was probably beyond repair anyway, had already been removed. The original Scotch boiler was hand coal fired and featured natural draft, with stokers obviously shovelling most vigorously for a top speed of 10 knots. The two l5 ft. diameter self-feathering paddle wheels are on a single shaft and each comprise eight floats of white oak. It should be noted that both wheels rotate in the same direction, either ahead or astern. The magnificent propulsion engine, which Mr. Thompson clearly wanted refurbished back to original, is an inclined compound engine having 17 H.P. bore, 34" L.P. bore and 4 ft. stroke, with throttle steam at 165 P.S.I.G.; this 1910 piece of magnificent engineering built by Polson turns at 30 RPM to achieve a ship speed of about 10 knots. The entire engine sits in an opening in the Main Deck and is in full view of passengers.

Trillium's new aluminum superstructure.

New aluminum superstructure

Herb Fraser and Associates Limited of Port Colborne won the contract for the steelwork and machinery at just over $300,000.00 and proved to be an excellent low bidder because of their depth of experience on this kind of machinery. They also contributed much enthusiasm along with their skills. Additional watertight bulkheads had to be installed, but only after extensive water blasting of the inside of the hull, which revealed mostly original mill scale. The new steel deck was placed on the original deck beams, but not without difficulty, followed by steel bulwarks, etc. The original steel bulwark and the original steel casing around the engine and boiler rooms respectively were retained. The rudders were refurbished as were the rudder stocks and the old chain and cable steering gear was replaced with two independent Wagner hydraulic steering gears.

Instrument panel, builder's plate and brass rails.

Gordon's 'Finds'

The author spent much time finding brass telegraphs, bells, pressure gauges, lubricators, oil cans, revolution counters and similar delights which were so essential to restore this 1910 feat of engineering. Metro Works Department were the main contributor with pressure gauges, lubricators, etc. from early 1900 pumping stations. The magnificent brass railing which encloses the engine and tops the bulwark around the engine compartment is perhaps better than original, having been found under a dozen coats of paint in the 1906 High Level Pumping Station (near Casa Loma). The brass bells were recast from an original pattern and the large beavers adorning the sides of the paddle boxes were cast in aluminum, as were the decorative spear poles.

Trillium's original Builder's Plate.

Polson Iron Works original builder's plate.

Most fortunate was the return of the original builder's plate and the original whistle. For larger equipment, the author (aided by two young and enthusiastic sons) obtained Duplex pumps, air pump, hot well, steam engine driven circulating pump and steam engine generators from vessels being scraped in Port Colborne and Hamilton, namely the Imperial Windsor and the Texaco Brave. Frasers undertook the complete overhaul of the steam auxiliaries and their installation in accordance with plans prepared by D.G. Champion Engineering Limited.

Trillium's old and new boilers.

Trillium's old and new boilers.

There was little need, and possibly zero possibility, of using the old boiler mainly because the boiler room was always closed to the public view and there are similar boilers restored within Metro. A Spanner Silrlyflo boiler was installed, rated 10,000 lbs. per hour at a working pressure of 175 psig, complete with automatic firing equipment and electrically driven boiler feed pumps, all arranged to operate on light oil. A key factor was to provide a ferry boat capable of being ready on short notice and the objective of a maximum of one hour for steam raising and propulsion for service was, in fact, bettered. Electrical power is generated by either one of two Troy single cylinder 60 H.P. vertical steam engines running at 400 RPM and driving Stamford 40 K.W. 1800 RPM, 550/3/60 brushless generators through vee belts, Trillium also has a 40 kW Ruston emergency diesel generator, though this is seldom used as the vessel also has 100% electrical capability from shore power and her emergency electrical system is by means of automatically charged batteries. Canal Electric Limited of St. Catharines were responsible for the electrical work, including lighting of the main and promenade decks which was arranged to recreate the original arrangement as closely as possible.

Dominion Aluminum Fabricating Limited started the aluminum superstructure in June, 1975, and the vessel was complete and ready for service by November, 1975. The aluminum superstructure was designed throughout to incorporate the original scantlings particularly for the deck planking and the trim around the two large staircases, wheelhouses and all appurtenances. Cost of superstructure was just less than $300,000.00 and included painting, two large end loading ramps and four small side loading ramps, shade deck, wheelhouses and woodwork. Much of Trillium's original appearance was recaptured by attention to reproducing in accurate detail original wooden facings at the stairways, pillars, doorways and similar areas.

Trillium's new aluminum benches.

New benches

The many passenger benches were closely copied from the original and over 600 bench frames were cast in aluminum to duplicate the original heavy cast iron frames. Conventional lifesaving equipment was installed and two dummy lifeboats were specially fabricated in fibreglass and along with the original radial davits enabled the retention of Trillium's original profile.

After successful inclining tests and final Government inspection Trillium returned to service on June 18, 1976 and remains in regular ferry and charter service today.

Plaque to mark Trillium's return to service, courtesy Gordon Champion.

Plaque to mark Trillium's return to service in 1975, courtesy Gordon Champion.