Just think of it. Explorers and then settlers arrived by sailboat, and then their main means of travel along the shore or up and down the Don or Humber Rivers was by boat. Before long, someone had to set up a boat repair service, which then expanded into boat building (canoes, row boats, fishing boats, schooners). The lumber was easily found up river, so some of these early shipbuilders were on the rivers.
Today shipbuilding isn’t an industry we connect with Toronto. Toronto is about finance, high tech, communication, media. But at one time, Toronto was a major player in the shipbuilding industry, both in shipbuilding and repair. And many believed that Toronto was destined to become a major shipbuilding capital. It was a profitable time industry as well.
Our various shipbuilding companies over the next century included the Dominion Shipbuilding Company (built where Harbourfront is today), Polson Iron Works (known for building steamers and ferry boats), the Toronto Drydock Company, the Toronto Shipbuilding Company, Dufferin Shipbuilding Company, among others. Little or nothing of these shipbuilding yards survives today. For example, the Canadian Shipbuilding Company was located near the foot of Portland Street.
Many of the ships built at Toronto companies were fully rigged ships and barques (sailing vessels), capable of Great Lakes and ocean travel. When steamships arrived on the scene, many were built by companies like the Polson Iron Works. Polson built the Trillium Ferry still in use today to transport people back and forth to Toronto Islands.
Over the years, Toronto shipwrights turned out many passenger and cargo vessels, dredges, car ferries, cruisers, and steam yachts. Two that still exist in Toronto today are the Kwasind and Hiawatha (owned by the Royal Canadian Yacht Club) and the Trillium, which continues to cross Toronto harbour.
Shipbuilding reached a peak in Toronto around the time of the First World War. At that time, Canada was the fourth largest ship owning nation in the world! (Canadian Encyclopedia).