In November, 1888, President Griffith, of the Hamilton Steamboat Company, contacted customs authorities in Ottawa to determine whether a vessel built in Scotland would be subject to customs duties upon entering Canada.
Upon receiving the information that such vessels could enter the country free of duty if they were to be used solely in Canadian waters, President Griffith immediately cabled to the William Hamilton Company in Port Glasgow, Scotland. He gave the company permission to begin work on a steel steamer, following the design which Griffith himself had given the company while he was in Scotland earlier That year.
The design of the new steamer was first-class in every respect, and it was intended that it would be the finest vessel that had yet sailed on Lake Ontario. With an estimated cost of $60,000, the steamer was to be 160 feet long, with a 24 foot beam. The steamer would be propelled by a compound, triple-expansion engine with a capacity of 1,100 horse power.
Griffith’s design provided for two decks, a main deck and a promenade deck. On the after part of the main deck would be a large dining room, furnished with handsome chairs, plushly upholstered. The dining room’s floor was to be covered with velvet pile. Lighting for the dining room would come through large plate glass windows, while electricity would be available to augment the natural light.
From the main deck, a mahogany staircase led up to the promenade deck. Four staterooms were part of the layout of the promenade deck.
After a construction period of a little over five months, the new steamer, to be called the Macassa, was launched and tested in the waters nearby Port Glasgow.
On May 19, 1888, using coal as her only ballast, the Macassa set sail from Port Glasgow. Ten days later, despite encountering occasional heavy swells, and a potential mutiny by the crew, Captain Hardy brought the steamer past Cape Race, Newfoundland.
Besides the captain and the crew numbering 22 in all, four stowaways, a handsome Scotch pony and a dog for President Griffith, made the voyage of the Macassa across the Atlantic Ocean.
On June 8, 1888, the Macassa completed the last leg of her journey by passing through the Burlington Bay Canal into the Hamilton harbour at 6 a.m.
After taking her place at the dock of the Hamilton Steamship Company, the Macassa was visited by hundreds of Hamiltonians, curious to get a first look at the steamer.
With a critical eye, shared by many among the crowd, the reporter for the Spectator noted that “the steamer has not been cleaned up since her ocean trip, for she looked rather the worse, but the men were busily at work this afternoon scraping the masts and getting things into shape. While she is evidently a staunch, fast and handsomely fitted boat, it was generally thought that she has too little deck room for people who want to be out in the open air when they make a short trip for pleasure.”
Despite the initial criticisms, when the Macassa was ready on the evening of June 9, 1888, to make her first excursion from Hamilton, an immense crowd assembled on the James Street docks. All were anxious to be among the passengers on that first trip. Most would be disappointed since the Macassa had been hired by the Wentworth Chapter of the Royal Templars of Temperance for a moonlight excursion, and only those with tickets were allowed to board the steamer.
Approximately 700 people went out with the Macassa for that “moonlight” excursion, although it was actually a moonless overcast night sky.
The new steamer on the waters of Hamilton Bay made it to the Beach Strip in 20 minutes, and ventured through the canal to Lake Ontario. The young man from the Spectator accompanied the members of the Royal Templars of Temperance, and noted that “the trip was extended about fifteen miles in the lake, and though there was no moon, the water was smooth and the air not too cold and everybody enjoyed themselves.”
A treat for the reporter and for the other passengers on the Macassa that evening was the appearance of another locally-based steamer, the Mazeppa, which “met the Macassa some distance outside the piers on her return trip and ran in before her to show her the way. In coming into the dock at the foot of James street, the Macassa narrowly escaped running into the other boat, which had just tied up.
“In order to avoid the collision, the big steel craft was run head on against the pier, and went into it about six feet, crushing the timbers with her keen-edged brow as if they were matches. She backed off and was found not to be injured in the least, there being hardly a mark on her. The crowd on deck got a scare.”
Just about a month later, the Macassa proved her ability to safely ride out one of the heaviest gales that had been known on Lake Ontario.
On July 4, 1888, a wind storm blew up that was so severe that most steamer operators decided to tied up at their docks rather than face the weather conditions.
The Macassa ran to Toronto in the morning directly into the heavy wind, plowing through very heavy waves. The passengers who made that trip were satisfied that the Macassa was a worthy vessel, even though they all arrived in Toronto extremely seasick.
Many of the seamen on the dock at Toronto were of the opinion that the weather was far too severe for the Macassa to make the return trip to Hamilton, but the steamer did indeed set out.
As described in the Weekly Times:
“With only about a score of passengers on board she started out, and in exactly 2 hours and twenty minutes, she was at her dock here, having accomplished the fastest run ever made between Hamilton and Toronto. Coming through the canal, hundreds of people ventured out to see the sight. The sea was running right over the end of the piers, and the spray was going over the top of the lighthouse. The wind threatened to dash her against the pier, but she was too well-handled. She rode the waves beautifully, kept right in the middle of the canal.”