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Speedy paddlewheeler gave its name to city street

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Phil Egan

I recently spent a few hours perusing the Street Names Project, and believe it or not, the first street I looked up wasn’t my own.

This brilliant work by Sarnia historians Randy Evans and Tom St. Amand is the definitive story behind the origin of Sarnia’s street names – a trove of fascinating tales that are educational and entertaining.

No, the first street I looked up was Tashmoo.

All through my 40 years in the travel and travel publishing industries, two prints hung on my office wall. The first was by William Powell Frith titled “The Railway Station, 1863.” Set in London’s Paddington Station, the original was presented to King George VI in 1947.

The second was a reproduction of the paddlewheeler Tashmoo, by marine artist and Great Lakes historian Jim Clary. I am fortunate to own four of Clary’s prints. My little collection includes The Northern Navigation passenger ships Noronic and Hamonic, depicted at Sarnia. I also have his splendid “Remember” print of the original Bluewater Bridge.

Both office prints have evocative travel themes, but Tashmoo is my favourite.

Launched at Detroit on December 31, 1899, the 306-foot Tashmoo became one of the most popular excursion steamers plying the Great Lakes. Belching black smoke from two stacks, she was fast in the water – so fast that Tashmoo earned the nickname “The White Flyer.” As an excursion boat, her superstructure was also lined with scores of windows, so Tashmoo was also known as “The Glass Hack.”

The White Star Line vessel herself had taken her name from Tashmoo Park in Algonac, Michigan. The amusement park, owned by the shipping company, had opened in 1897. The park was located on Harsens Island in the St. Clair Flats at the north end of Lake St. Clair, which is the world’s largest freshwater river delta.

In turn, Tashmoo Park is believed to have taken its name from Lake Tashmoo on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

S.S. Tashmoo was one of several excursion vessels that operated between Detroit and Port Huron. She carried 250,000 passengers annually to the dance pavilion, casino, rides, games, swimming and sporting fields of Tashmoo Park in the 1890s and in the early days of the 20th century.

In June of 1936, Tashmoo limped into Amherstburg after tearing a hole in her hull. She was able to disembark 1,400 passengers before sinking. She was later raised and scrapped. Tashmoo entered the Maritime Hall of Fame in 1985.

Randy Evans and Tom St. Amand confirmed that Sarnia’s Tashmoo Avenue was, indeed, named for the famous paddlewheeler.

As they say, now you know the rest of the Tashmoo story.


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