In 1885, Hamilton was still a location where ships were built and launched into the bay.
At the foot of Macnab street was the Robertson’s yard where, throughout the winter of 1884-1885, a ship was built for the firm of Mitchell & Thornton.
To be called the Ouida, the ship was described in the Spectator of April 27, 1885 as being a “handsome, staunchly built craft of about 60 tons burden, 70 feet long (set beam, has cabin accommodation for about 250 people, and draws about four feet of water.) She has the Clara Louise engine – 17 horse power – and a new 20 horse power boiler. Her screw is a 4 foot 6 one, and with her powerful machinery, the Ouida ought to be able to glide through the water at a surprisingly rapid rate. She was built by Mr. G. I. Cooper, of Mavel, Chatauqua lake, after a model of his.
“She was built by Mr. G. I. Cooper, of Mavel, Chatauqua lake, after a model of his. He has built several American boats on the same model, and they have been found unequalled for speed, comfort and safety.”
Intended to be a vessel to carry passengers to the Bay View resort at the far west end of the harbour, or to the Brant Inn or to the Beach Strip, the Ouida was outfitted to provide care for its passengers :
“The Ouida is handsomely finished in hard wood, and bears all over the marks of close and careful supervision in seeing that every part of the work was well and thoroughly done. Sliding glass windows will protect the cabin in stormy weather, but in times of peace upon the bay, the windows will be lowered and the cabin made an open one. Cushioned seats and benches will be added in a few days, and everything possible done to make her snug and comfortable.”
There had been no public announcement that the Ouida was to be launched during the afternoon of Saturday, April 25, 1885. However, word somehow circulated that there would be a launching at 4:30 that afternoon and an immense crowd gathered to witness the event.
The Times reporter arrived at the location a full ninety minutes before the scheduled launch and was taken aback by what he saw :
“When the Times’ representative arrived on the scene at 3 o’clock, the high bank overlooking the bay was lined with people, and a large number had congregated in the yard proper. The steamer as she stood presented an appearance which caused general exclamations of approbation from all.”
About a dozen men were hired to help launch the Ouida and they started their work promptly at 4:30.
As the ship started down her route to the water, the large crowd started to cheer, and the especially invited guests waved to those on shore excitedly, but, as described in the Times:
“Owing to one of the slides slipping off the ways, and the consequent entanglement of a chain, a delay of an hour or so resulted, but soon after six o’clock, the builder, owners and spectators had the satisfaction of seeing the staunch little steamer riding, as pretty as a picture, in the waters of the bay.”
The delay from 4:30 until the final descent of the Ouida into the bay was tortuously long for those present.
A few “gentleman” in the crowd could stand it no longer, and proceeded to take out their frustration on each.
Again as described by the Times’ representative:
“While the lake crowd were waiting for Ouida to move into the water, they, or at least several of their number, relived the monotony by pummelling each other after the most approved fashion. The fist fight was brought to a close by such a fair knockdown that the vanquished party almost disappeared in the soft much into which he fell. The crowd pulled him out.
“Another fistic encounter terminated in a gouging match while both were prostrate near the workshop. The crowd closed in so that neither could harm the other very much while on their feet, but when upon the ground some ugly abrasions were inflicted. The victor washed his bloody face in the bay; the other fellow was toted off by his friends. After the manly (?) exhibitions, the boys got up a dog fight.”
It took awhile but eventually the Ouida was riding proudly on the waters of the bay. For those gathered for the launch, the excitement of the launch might have proved less memorable than the pugilistic exhibitions.