Steamboat Days: An Illustrated History of the Steamboat Era on the St. John River, 1816-1946


176 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-920732-24-9





Reviewed by Richard Wilbur

Randall White is the author of Voice of Region: On the Long Journey to
Senate Reform in Canada, Too Good to Be True: Toronto in the 1920s, and
Global Spin: Probing the Globalization Debate.


Those awaiting a long-overdue scholarly study of post-1867 New Brunswick can increase their knowledge of that unknown province by referring to a growing number of shorter works. Steamboat Days is a good example. It is actually two books in one. The co-authors, one an academically trained historian cum civil servant, the other an experienced riverboat captain, compiled 84 often uneven pages of script, plus seven of useful appendices and four more with explanatory notes plus an index. Fifty-three pages of illustrations give another version, often far more vivid than the stilted prose.

In an obvious appeal to the general reader, the authors are heavy on descriptive narrative at the expense of analysis. Little attempt is made to indicate how these amazingly varied and adaptable vessels enabled Saint John City merchants to maintain and broaden their control of New Brunswick’s internal economy. But most readers will be fascinated by detailed accounts of these ships’ decor and mechanical performances, not forgetting thrilling races between rivals. Co-author Taylor is largely responsible for this bonanza of information, which began when his father, also a veteran river-boat captain, started collecting the clippings and other material that gave birth to this useful study. It also has a detailed fold-out map to guide readers unfamiliar with one of Canada’s most historic rivers.


MacBeath, George, and Donald F. Taylor, “Steamboat Days: An Illustrated History of the Steamboat Era on the St. John River, 1816-1946,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,