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This page is dedicated to the restoration of the 1908 triple expansion steam engine from the steam powered excursion vessel SS Canadiana. This engine served millions of American and Canadian guests from 1907 through 1958 as the Crystal Beach Boat and her efforts to survive in the years that followed.   It is our hope to help spread her story and to engage in the effort to preserve what remains for future generations. We greatly appreciate any help you may provide in this effort.

We have all heard much about Crystal Beach and the Crystal Beach Boat (CBB), a.k.a. the Canadiana. Previously, I added my two cents about the legendary beach and amusement park, and, herewith, my additional two cents about the equally legendary boat.

Ah, yes, it was awesome, especially viewed as a youngster! On my maiden voyage in 1940, I was filled with anxiety. Going to a foreign country across what seemed like the Pacific Ocean was scary. Mom and I boarded the ship from behind the deteriorating Dante Place Projects. I rushed to the third deck for a good look around a very busy harbor; tugboats were huffing and puffing, a grain ship was being pushed down the Union Ship canal,a few freighters towed here and there. Nearby, the Detroit boat (twice the size of the Canadiana) was waiting to take passengers to the Motor City. Buffalo was a leading lake port then.  Alongside the harbor, trains were unloading coal. Other trains were leaving and entering the DLW terminal.”All aboard!” The Canadiana chugged slowly out of the harbor picking up speed as it passed the first break wall. It was time for me to spend a few minutes on the first deck looking through the screens down at the massive engines. They thumped away so vigorously that I swore we were on the Queen Mary. Not far away on the first deck were some guys playing slot machines. Young Tony Illos watched them in a trance, anticipating future trips to Vegas; yes, there were slot machines in the 1940s on the Crystal Beach Boat.

Back on the second deck, my Mom sat with some friends in the plush inner cabin amidst the brass railings and mahogany trimmed panels. I traveled up to the top deck to gaze in awe at the pilothouse where the Captain, a rather grisly old seafarer, guided the ship like a veritable Chris Columbus on the open sea.  Then came the initial sightings of our destination. I saw the Cyclone (to be replaced shortly by the less perilous Comet) and the Ferris wheel; soon enough, we were docking at the long concrete pier. We disembarked and hurried through Customs where we were asked, “Where were you born?” That was the only question, so off we went for hours of frolicking.

We caught the 9pm boat for home; the voyage back would be even more mysterious. We were out to sea again,this time in the dark. Would we ever see land again? Alas, off starboard, some red lights on towering radio transmitters from Hamburg were sighted– a sure sign that land was near.The Canadiana cruised past the historic 1833 lighthouse. The final thrill was to watch them turn ship turn around in the harbor and dock so the bow was once again facing out toward the clear blue waters of Lake Erie What a grand ship’ It is remembered primarily for those trips to Crystal Beach, but also fondly for the Sunday evening cruises! Three hours out on the water, dancing on the largest dance floor on the Great Lakes to the mellow sounds of the locally famous Harold Austin Orchestra.

The 1956 season was the last for the Crystal Beach Boat An incident that year involving black and white
youth (many called it a race riot, some preferred to regard it as juvenile delinquency) led to the ending of the CBB trips from Buffalo to Crystal Beach. Indeed, Dave Costello, a frequent visitor from Elmira, recalls that rowdy behavior encouraged by excessive beer consumption became more frequent 0n trips that summer than in previous years. Sources also point out that the boat trips were increasingly less profitable. The great American automobile love fest was underway in the 1950s; many resort seekers preferred to travel by auto over the Peace Bridge for a quick 9-mile trip up Garrison Road to Shangri La. Another factor was the increasing competition from newer amusement parks.

The Canadiana was headed for an uncertain future In the 1960s, it was docked on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland where it sank (briefly), was re floated, and eventually made it back to Buffalo by way of Ashtabula It never became a seaworthy passenger ship again Valiant efforts were made by various individuals and ad-hoc groups to raise money and secure grants to save the Canadiana; these groups hoped to restore it to its former grandeur. Ed Patton was part of the group that wrote a grant to save the CBB, but, unfortunately the CBB was in Canada and so the funds could not be applied In its final years, Friends of the Canadiana and the Canadiana Restoration Project were also involved By the end of the 1980s, the Canadiana settled in Port Colborne at the Marsh Engineering Works.

The CBB was docked in a small slip Just off the Welland Canal, directly facing the Robin Hood Flour MillThere, it languished until its bitter end In 2006, the Crystal Beach Boat received its death notice– pay up or move. The steam engine was saved and made it's way back to the U.S.  What was left of the hull, the wood and steel, was disassembled for scrap. In its final decaying years, I frequently stopped by to see how the once proud vessel was deteriorating. The photos above indicate stages of deterioration.

I later showed my grandsons the photos. Nick Hassett thought the Canadiana may have been hit by Japanese dive bombers while tied up at Pearl Harbor. Joey Hassett surmised that the Canadiana was used in the invasion of Okinawa, the last great battle of WWII and ended up being a target of a Japanese Kamikaze. Of course, the truth was much less dramatic.  But what wonderful memories remain for so many senior citizens of the legendary SS Canadiana and its dock. Indeed, the entire industrial and commercial complex that made Buffalo one of the busiest inland ports in the entire country has been replaced by numerous marinas housing hundreds of sailboats and powerboats. Also, on any given day, one may observe 94 kayaks floating around the harbor. Some of the paddlers are getting their daily exercise; others are looking around in sheer wonderment, occasionally listening to the booming rock groups at Canalside. Hey, it’s all part of the rebirth of Buffalo.