Horse Propelled Ferry

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In 1843 the very enterprising Privat brothers launched the first Toronto boat propelled by horses. It was called the Peninsula Packet. Many people are under the impression that the Privat brothers had something to do with creating this unusual Toronto boat. The reality is that there were several European inventors who designed horse propelled boats as early as the 1600 and 1700s, but these boats never caught on in Europe. However the Privat brothers were of European descent and may have well known of them before launching the first one in Toronto. Boats propelled by horses were first used in New York City in 1814, but the design was inefficient and too costly for most operators. The breakthrough in horseboats came in the late 1820s when a new form of propulsion was developed – the treadmill.

Illustration from Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto, vol. 2,
Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1896.

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In 1843 the Toronto Islands were still a peninsula connected to the mainland. It was then that the Privat brothers, Louis Joseph and Peter Louis, opened The Peninsula Hotel on the peninsula. In order to bring guests to the hotel the bothers bought a steam boat hull from the Niagara River and brought it to Toronto. Boats propelled by horses were a novelty in the area. The horseboat, called the Peninsula Packet, was powered by two horses, each walking on a treadmill, which was connected to a side paddle wheel. She was sixty feet in length by twenty three feet wide. Business flourished and by 1845 the horseboat was powered by 5 horses, all walking on a single, circular treadmill. In 1851 the Peninsula Packet was retired from service, a victim of modernization. The first Toronto boat propelled by horses gave way to a steam-powered ferry, the Victoria. 

Many ferries continued to be built and launched over the years including Firefly, Ripple, Princess of Wales, Bouquet, Transit, Juliette, Island Queen, Mascotte, and the Trillium, one of two larger ferries. To read more, click here