The May Queen

The 160-foot side wheeler, the May Queen, was built in West Saint John by John Retallick and launched the spring of 1869 by the Union Line. She had a 339-ton capacity. When she was launched, there was a beautiful colored medallion, representing the Queen of the May, in the center of the paddle box. Her owners had designed her for the Grand Lake and Salmon River route and there she ran for the next eight seasons. Her old beam engine from the Forest Queen operated satisfactorily and a twice per week schedule was maintained. The trip upriver started at eight in the morning on Wednesday and Saturday, and Chipman was reached shortly before seven the same evening. The fare was $1.25, while breakfast cost 25 cents, and a dinner or supper cost 40 cents. Captain C. S. Brennen's crew consisted of a mate and purser, an engineer, two firemen, four deck hands, a steward and a stewardess, a cook, and a kitchen boy.

The May Queen was one of the steamers present at the celebrated rowing race between the Paris crew of Saint John and the Tyne crew of England in 1871. Many spectators boarded steamers to view the Paris crew, which had one the world four-man rowing championship in Paris four years earlier. The Paris crew won the 1871 race in record time but there was little celebration, as the stroke of the Tyne crew collapsed near the end of the race and died within a few hours. His name was James Renforth, and his name was adopted by the community nearby.

About mid-summer of 1877, the Union Line management decided to place the Fawn on the Grand Lake route, and to have the May Queen on the night run between Indiantown and Fredericton. Here, she competed with Soulanges or "sour oranges", as she was called by her rivals. There was a good deal of racing and jockeying for position between the two. Both boats came below the Reversing Falls to receive and discharge freight. While the May Queen had better speed , she also had more stops to make and at times the two boats would be alongside each other. On dark nights, the Soulanges would show up very bright because she had no stack screen and the sparks from her burning softwood flew high in the night sky. At the same time, the owners of the May Queen ran the following advertisement in the Freeman:

Commencing Thursday 6th inst. and until further notice Stmr. "May Queen" Capt. John McMulkin will leave Indiantown from Union Line Wharf on Tue., Thur., and Sat. afternoons a 6 o'clock for Fredericton and Gibson, calling at intermediate landings.

Returning will leave N.B.Railway Wharf at 3 o'clock on Mon., Wed., and Friday after arrival of the train from Caribou, Woodstock, etc.

Competition, such as that between the May Queen and the Soulanges, on occasion brought about a price war. That year for example, freight and passenger rates were reduced and before the close of the season flour was being carried for five cents a barrel. The Soulanges lowered the price for one-way Fredericton passage to 25 cents. Just ten years before, the Forest Queen had advertised to carry passengers to Fredericton for 20 cents. It is evident that during the years of keenest rivalry on the lower part of the river, fares were reduced to a minimum. A ticket to Oak Point and return could be had for 25 cents, which included tea and a sandwich any time the traveler felt like calling at the kitchen. No wonder that a saying at the time was that "it is cheaper to travel than to stay at home".

In the fall of 1880, the May Queen was placed on Small's Blocks in West Saint John for extensive repairs. The most striking of these was the raising of the hull by 18 inches. To do so, it was cut in two just below the guard and the upper section was raised. This resulted in improved accommodation, including ample space for berths.

In the years before the building of the railway from Saint John to Fredericton, the night steamer service was popular. Professional men especially found it convenient. After a day's work at Saint John, one could leave at 6 o'clock on the night boat and be in Fredericton the next morning in time for a full day's work. From all accounts, it is unlikely that much sleep was to be had on board. There appears always to have been a game of whist in progress, a storyteller to listen to, or the ample wares of the bar to be enjoyed. On one occasion, several men had travelled to Fredericton on business. On their way back a few days later, they celebrated long and well. Arriving at Indiantown at an early hour, they did not feel up to the exertion of going home, and reasoned it would be sensible to stay at Indiantown until the afternoon boat arrived. Having solved this problem, they went for a stroll in the hills of Pokiok. As luck would have it, the day boat was late, and it was well along in the evening before the weary celebrants could go home with the excuse of just having arrived from Fredericton.

Uniforms for officers were worn for the first time in 1886 when the Union Line introduced the practice. About four years before that, the May Queen deck hands had worn caps with that steamer's name. Soon, officers of most other lines were wearing uniforms and in some cases the deck hands wore a shirt with the name of their steamer lettered across the front.

The May Queen was to remain a night boat until 1884 when she returned to the Grand Lake route under a new group of owners, headed by Captain Brennen. In all she was to remain in service for 49 years, giving her the record for durability as far as the St. John River steamboats are concerned.

She was destroyed by fire on February 5, 1918.