That distinction is disputed by the United States and Holland. The Americans claim that the Savannah was the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. The Savannah, however, also used sails. There is more reason to believe that the honour should go to the Dutch ship Curaçao, which is believed to have crossed the Atlantic under steam power in 1827, on a voyage from Antwerp to Dutch Guiana. If the Dutchmen were first, then our Royal William was second, taking a more difficult course across the North Atlantic.
Royal William was built at Quebec in 1830 with the aid of a government subsidy. Its purpose was to offer a regular service between Quebec and Halifax. The engines were installed in Montreal and sails were added in case of a breakdown. She was described as “a smoke-belching, paddle-wheeling, clanking steam kettle.” The label probably came from a die-hard who believed in sails alone!
The Quebec-Halifax run did not prove to be profitable. Royal William also tried picking up trade to and from Boston, and was the first British steamship to enter an American port. That run did not work out well either, so finally the ship was sold to interests in England. She left Pictou on August 17, 1833, after picking up a load of coal for fuel. The Royal William was converted into a warship and sold to Spain.
Although Royal William‘s career in Canada was not successful, her advent on the St. Lawrence marked an era of progress, especially for Montreal. Until that time, Quebec had been the important city. In 1830, Montreal took steps to move into the lead. A harbour commission was formed to improve the docks and to put navigation aids along the river.
A fantastic website to visit first would be the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec. Then I would go to Suite 101. If you want more, then I would go to Town of Pictou, and then lastly, I would go to the Internet Archives to read “S.S. “Royal William” [microform] : the pioneer of transatlantic steam navigation (1894)” in a list of available file formats. With that, you will be well on your way to learning more!