BUILT: Port Arthur, Ontario in 1913
TYPE OF SHIP: Cruise Ship
OWNED BY: Canada Steamship Lines
LENGTH: 362 Feet in Length
TRAVELLED: Sarnia and Lakehead Run
PASSENGERS ON BOARD: 525 guest, 171 Crew
TOTAL DEATHS: approx. 119
PLACE: Toronto Ontario at Pier 9
The Noronic was known as a floating palace because she was elegant, and passengers were treated like Royalty. Noronic was the largest passenger ship of its kind on the great Lake, and to sail her was said to be a beautiful experience one would remember their whole life. The dining room on this ship was superb with the finest cuisine.
Getting to your destination was never an issue because the ship was comfortable beyond belief and passengers could dine while enjoying the ship's own orchestra. She also had a bad reputation because the well to do businessmen would come on board in the company of their mistresses and leave their wives at home to care for the children. Noronic's last voyage would mark the beginning of the end for the Great Lakes Cruise ships. During the summer season, the Noronic worked the Sarnia-Lakehead run, but each September, the ship made two popular post-season cruises where she picked up passengers in Cleveland and Detroit. Then she would head out through the Welland Canal to Lake Ontario, stopping at Toronto Harbour and then continue on to the Thousand Islands. One could dine and enjoy the breathtaking sunsets.
On September 17, 1949, at approximately 7:00 P.M. the Noronic arrived into Toronto Harbour where she docked at pier 9 for the night. At about 1:30 a.m. someone smelled smoke and the smoke became more distinct by the minute. The fire had quickly spread throughout the ship as it was fuelled by multiple layers of varnish. The people had to decide between jumping into the lake and the burning deck. Civilians made courageous efforts to try to save passengers. The gangways were crowded with everyone in a panic to get off of the ship and escape the burning flames. There was a young man by the name of David Williamson who had just finished his shift at the Good Year Tire Factory at 1:00 a.m. He heard the Noronic's ten short blasts from her Klaxton horn which he recognized as the international distress signal. He ran down to the pier at the same time that the fire crew arrived. Williamson dragged 20 or more people from the water to shore. The scene at pier 9 was of confusion and chaos with screaming passengers, the sirens of ambulances and fire trucks, the shouts of rescuers and the wail of the Noronic's horn stuck in position.
There were more than 190 passengers taken to Toronto hospitals and first aid centres. The Toronto Morgue could not handle all of the bodies and therefore a temporary morgue was set up at the Horticultural Building at the Canadian National Exhibition. There was nothing left of the Noronic but a smouldering wreck. The Noronic Steamship was nothing but scrap and destined for Hamilton Ontario. A far cry from being the luxury ship that she had been in the past. What was the cause of this terrible tragedy? An investigation determined that the fire had started on the port side of C deck in a closet used to store maids' equipment and linens. It could have been started by faulty wiring or even a cigarette. The disaster was blamed on the owners of the vessel and Captain Taylor. They accused him of being drunk, which he denies completely. They also accused him of being an ineffective leader during the crisis. Canada Steamship Lines were told that they should have installed proper safety equipment. They were fined $2 Million dollars in damage. Captain Taylor's license was suspended for 1 year. The Noronic's demise would change the history of cruise ships forever because the cost of insurance was too high.