St. Lawrence Steamboat Company Passenger Lists, 1819-1838 1

I’m sure that everyone has heard of the absence of passenger lists to Canada before 1865. In many cases, the captains felt it wasn’t necessary to keep lists of their passengers, so there are simply none to research.

John MolsonBut, in this case, with John Molson and his St. Lawrence Steamboat Company, there are passenger lists from 1819 to 1838.

Molson, an entrepreneur in Montreal in the early 1800s, built a successful brewing business. Over the years, he had heard stories of immigrants from the British Isles to Canada who had landed in Quebec City, but if their destination had been in the western part of Upper Canada (Ontario), or in some cases, the United States, many of them would not have gone. They would have not continued on their journey because they had run out of money, and transportation was very expensive on the St. Lawrence. So they could not get to where they were going, and had to stay in Quebec City – even if it had not been their choice.

But John Molson had an idea.

What if he supplied the boats to ferry them along the St. Lawrence River down to Montreal for a reasonable fare?

Soon, passengers and freight was plying the waters between Montreal and Quebec City, a distance of 150 miles or so.

People could now continue their journey past Quebec City and Montreal, and travel onward to settlements in Upper Canada and the United States. The business idea that he had years ago had turned into a success.

The Montreal Gazette of June 1817 carried a piece describing the business as being offered at an affordable price “to such settlers as may in future arrive at Quebec, transport on the most easy terms to Montreal, with a view to proceed to Upper Canada”.

Almost two hundred years later, has put the records of this business online.

Ancestry explains that you “can expect to find the name of the passenger, abbreviations for ports of embarkation and destination, fare, amount paid, and remarks”.

You can also see whether they were traveling in steerage or in a cabin, and the dates of travel. While passenger details can be sparse, you may also be able to spot clues by noting the names of fellow passengers.1

As the introductory notes to the Ancestry state, where families are traveling together, you may find listings like this one: “Wm Gibbon & wife & 6 children - 12/3.” This indicates that he was traveling with his wife, and six children, and that three of the six were under twelve years of age. Children under twelve were allowed to travel at half-fare, so they were noted. Having this family structure can help you identify families”.

The database is also available for free at the Ships List website.

The records have been transcribed, and are available for the years 1819, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823, 1824, 1825, 1826, 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, and 1834.

There is background information here which is not available on the site, and you may wish to compare the two lists together, especially if you are having problems reading the original record.

So, is your ancestor there?


1    The use of the FAN Club (Family, Acquaintances and Neighbours), as proposed by genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills a few years ago, is excellent in finding your ancestor. This applies especially if you are looking for your ancestor in the censuses and, of course, in passenger lists.



About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Lapointe, BA is a genealogist with a background in research (Sociology, Acadia University), she is also a blogger, writer, journalist, author, editor, and professional researcher. She specializes in inter-migration (cross-border) research between Canada and the United States, as well as immigration to Canada from the UK and Europe. Please visit her award-winning daily news blog at

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