One of the most luxurious steam yachts of the Thousand Islands was a floating fixture on the St. Lawrence River during the area's Gilded Era.
Now the restored vintage vessel - which once sank in the Boston Harbor - is almost ready to sail back to Brockville. Today the majestic Magedoma is afloat again, under its original name, the Cangarda, in California.
"The boat's up and it runs fine," said boat builder Jeff Rutherford of Rutherford's Boat Shop in Richmond California. "It's due to leave for New England soon."
The 109-year-old steam yacht will sail from its current port at a marina in California to the Atlantic Ocean after a remarkable restoration project to owner Bob McNeil's summer home in Maine. The boat will winter at a maritime museum in Mystic Connecticut and McNeil hopes to sail the steam yacht back to the St. Lawrence as soon as next summer, said Rutherford.
"He wants very much to do a visit in the Thousand Islands," he said.
The restoration of the 138-foot steam yacht is to be featured on a television program called Ultimate Restorations. The Cangarda is considered among the last Victorian era steam yachts in the world. It took a crew of 30 eight years and to bring the vintage vessel back to its original glory. The cost of restoration is at $12 million US.
It was an epic project for Rutherford, who restores classic yachts and specializes in marine woodworking. "I didn't know the first thing about steam yachts until this came along," he said, adding: "You just look at it one piece at a time."
The Magedoma sailed the Thousand Islands for more than four decades. Senator George Fulford bought the steam yacht for $100,000 in 1904 from owners Charles Canfield, a Michigan lumber mogul. The Cangarda was named after owner Canfield and wife, Belle Gardner. Fulford rechristened it, The Magedoma after his family (MAry, GEorge,DOrothy,MArtha). The boat had a crew of up to nine men including a cook, steward and fireman. It had four double staterooms, drawing room, dining room, staterooms for the captain and engineer and a bathroom with a shower.
The millionaire famously made his fortune by patenting "Pink Pills for Pale People” in 1890 and marketing them around the world.
He held lavish parties aboard the yacht which he kept outside his Edwardian estate in Brockville. But he didn't get to enjoy the Magedoma for very long. He died in one of the first motor vehicle accidents in North America a year later.
The Fulford family kept the steam yacht for decades, entertaining dignitaries aboard including Prime Ministers and British royalty. High profile guests included Canadian Prime Ministers Sir Wifrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Prince of Wales and Duke of Kent and the British Prime Minister. Fulford's daughter Martha's wedding to second husband Charles MacLean was also held aboard the Magedoma in 1908.
Prime Minister Mackenzie King kept handwritten notes of one such voyage in his diary, noting on Aug. 5 1927: "It was a perfect day, a perfect sail, the scenery exquisite, the passage smooth."
The family loaned the yacht to the Canadian Navy during World War II as a training vessel in the St. Lawrence. It was returned to the Fulfords after the war with damages in need of $13,000 in repairs. They sold it shortly after and it changed hands several times.
An attempt was made to restore the boat in the early 1980's. The ship was disassembled and an effort was made to rebuild the hull but the project ran out of money. In 1999, the gutted hull sank at Boston pier. But it was rescued shortly thereafter and a search began for a new owner.
McNeil, a venture capitalist in Marin County California, bought the Cangarda in 2002 and the restoration project started at Rutherford's Boat Shop. The yacht was disassembled and sent in bits and pieces to the West Coast where Rutherford and his team began their work. The hull was rebuilt, the Victorian interior was reinstalled complete with Cuban mahogany woodwork.
The vessel slipped into Richmond's Marine Bay Aug. 24th, 2007 and was finally afloat again. But the boat has required more work since then and is awaiting a certificate of inspection from the US Coast Guard before it embarks on its journey back to the Atlantic Ocean and - ultimately - the Thousand Islands.
The plan is for the Cangarda to be on display at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut during the winter and Maine during the summer.
Local historians are ready to welcome the steam yacht back to familiar shores. "We hope to host the Magedoma at some time in the future," said Pamela Brooks, coordinator of Eastern Ontario Museum Sites, at Fulford Place. "We'd be very excited if it did come."
But reminders of the antique yacht remain in Brockville.
A former bedroom in Fulford Place is now dedicated to the Magedoma complete with a model of the steam yacht. It's just one of many displays in the 35-room Edwardian mansion with 20,000 square feet which Fulford built in as a sprawling summer retreat for his family in 1901. Now a National Historic Site, Fulford Place first opened as a museum in 1993 when George Fulford II bequeathed it to the Ontario Heritage Trust.
A street in Brockville, Magedoma Drive, is even named after Fulford's steam yacht.
The steam yacht, Magedoma sailed the St. Lawrence River for nearly 40 years - a return would mark a legacy voyage for the vintage vessel which found a home port here in the Thousand Islands more than a century ago.
By Kim Lunman
When Kim Lunman returned to Brockville in 2008 researching Island life and meeting islanders soon became Kim’s passion. Over the past two years, Kim has written almost fifty profiles. In the fall of 2008, Kim joined our TI Life team to help create our monthly online magazine. At the beginning of May 2010, Kim's new company, Thousand Islands Ink, distributed 25,000 copies of Island Life, as an insert in eastern Ontario with distribution through the EMC papers and in New York though the Thousand Islands Sun. We recommend getting Island Life to see other photographs of Magedoma as well many other island stories.
Kim recently wrote: “I can't help but think Paul Malo - who wrote so much about the Magedoma - would be thrilled with the news the new owner may come back to the Thousand Islands on it for a voyage as early as next summer. The Rutherford who took these photos is the 16-year-old son of the restoration expert”.