The United Empire (“Old Betsy“) was a passenger and freight ship with two masts, powered by propellers. In 1882, she was built in Sarnia using lumber from the local forests, for $125,000. She rode the Sarnia-Fort William route regularly, with stops at Goderich, Kincardine and Sault Ste Marie. “Old Betsy” was known as the finest vessel on the Great Lakes-Canadian or American-throughout her sailing period. She was originally owned by the Northwest Transportation Co. (Beatty Line), later the Northern Navigation Company.
On the Great Lakes those days it was considered “the golden era of passenger steamship travel,” and people had more disposable income to fund a trip for business and social purposes. This was the time when schools, secret societies, funerals and civic meetings like firemen’s conferences would ferry hundreds of people from port to port.
The ship was restored in 1905 when she was taken over by Northern Navigation Co. and renamed the “Saronic“. She was the first to sail the Great Lakes in a series of “iconic” passenger ships, which also included the Noronic, Ionic, Huronic and Hamonic. The Saronic was destroyed by a fire in 1915, and later her hull was converted into a steam barge. She was abandoned a few years later.
Not only was the Sartonic considered the finest passenger ship on the Great Lakes and Sarnia’s pride and joy, none of the Sartonic’s after passenger ships ever had the distinction of being on the Canadian four-dollar bill where the United Empire had once appeared.