It is about a 2 1/2 nautical mile row from the Charlottetown Yacht Club to the site of an old wharf on the Hillsborough River which served what was then the Provincial Lunatic Asylum at Falconwood , later renamed Riverside Hospital and even more recently Hillsborough Hospital as both Falconwood and Riverside had somehow become tainted names. The wharf served for coal delivery to the huge Victorian pile which was at the time miles from town. Photos in the Public Archives show a large steamer at the wharf. When the bridge crossing the Hillsborough was built in 1903 to serve the Murray Harbour Branch Line of the PEI Railway it had a swing span to allow for river traffic.
Hillsborough Hospital showing site of coal wharf
The old railway bridge was closed in the later 1960s and the narrower span of the new bridge caused changes in the currents and siltation and the site of the old wharf would hardly float a rowboat today. All that is left is a small rock pile running out from the shore and a shadow on the aerial photos on Google Earth. Beyond the wharf site is a relatively undeveloped area and a number bald eagle nests are in the taller trees in a part of the shore which once housed the city’s landfill site.
Another remnant of the past are the pillars of the railway bridge. When the bridge steel was removed following the opening of the new bridge the pillars marched across the river and included a circular base for the swing section and wooden cribs which supported the span when it was open. The cribs were the first to disappear but over the years even the sturdy sandstone pillars fell victim to frost heaves and ice movement and the ones in the channel have toppled, leaving stumps just under the water as navigation hazards. At low water the harbour seals heave themselves up on these rock and baste in the sun.
The remaining pillars have been colonized by the cormorants. Initially they used them only as resting points and spots to dry their wings between fishing excursions. Their main location is Governor’s Island where the whole site is a rookery. However on my rowing trip yesterday I noticed that nest-building was taking place on at least one of the six surviving pillars west of the current bridge. The site was formerly used by a tern colony but the cormorants have crowded them off, The cormorants are dirty birds and being downwind from a nesting area will really take your breath away. It is very hard to avoid inhaling as you pass beneath the rock piles, especially when rowing.
Nearby is another low tide resting point for birds. A rubble jetty extends to shelter the intake waters for the electric plant’s cooling system. Although covered at high tide as the waters recede it is used by gulls and the cormorants for sunning themselves. Unlike the bridge piers this site plays host to a range of sea birds. On my hour and a half row I was once again followed by a curious seal who seemed hardly able to believe that a boat would venture east of the Hillsborough Bridge. The low span and the swift currents of incoming and outgoing tide make the area dangerous for sail and the powerboats of the harbour seem more interested in the sea-side than the river side of the Hillsborough Bridge.
It takes just a little over half an hour to row from the Charlottetown waterfront to the remains of the ferry wharf at Rocky Point. The ferry service was the last of the three serving the town, crossing the three rivers giving access to the interior parts of the province and making it easy to get to Charlottetown. Ferries ran from Charlottetown to Southport across the Hillsborough, to York Point across the Yorke or North River and to Rocky Point across the West or Eliott. The first to disappear was the route to Southport which was no longer needed after the building of the Hillsborough rail bridge in 1903. The ferry to York Point was discontinued some years later but the Rocky Point Ferry was a regular route until the early 1960s when the West River Causeway was built providing access to those along the south shore. In winter the route ran across the harbour which was “bushed” to show the route. As late as the 1950s the winter ice road was part of the transportation system of the province.
The Google Earth view makes it seem as if the wharf could still be in operation but the view from sea level dispels the notion quickly and effectively. The road to the shore is still maintained and the shore next to the wharf provides an easy boat launch for the oyster rakers.
In recent years the pilings have become isolated from the shore and have been taken over by the flocks of cormorants which rest here on their excursions from the nesting area on Governor’s Island. The cormorants are easily spooked and it is difficult to get too close before they lift en masse. Judging from the noise made by Terns as I was rowing by some of the pilings may be used by the smaller birds for nest areas.
This is the second site for the wharf as it was originally slightly to the west of the current rows of pilings. The former wharf is shown on the charts and has a ghostly presence on the aerial view. The dredged channel is still evident and the pilings do offer some shelter for Canceaux Cove to the west and in summer it is frequently used as a picnic and swimming anchorage. Canceaux Cove and nearby Canceaux Point and Canceaux buoy are named for HMS Canceaux which was used by Capt. Samuel Holland in his survey of the Island of Saint John in 1764-1765. During the winter the ship was laid up in this cove.
Today the ferry slip where the Fairview II docked on a regular basis is nothing but a jumble of pilings and steel tie bars. The roadway has completely eroded and at high tide the pilings seem to stand alone. When the water recedes there is still some of the rock rubble which formed the roadway visible but the wharf is clearly beyond saving. Soon it will disappear completely as have the other wharves from the ferry service, visible only as rock piles at low tide and as images on charts and aerial photos.
The prelude to activity at the Charlottetown Yacht Club is the annual ”docks-in” day held in late April. It is a general maintenance, clean-up and work day for club members to get the property ready for the sailing season. With the floats stored on shore for the winter season a major part of the activity is getting the fingers and walkways into the water and correctly positioned and anchored. Over the years most folks have self selected into one of several work parties. There is a group who move the floats from storage to the crane using a fork lift loaned and usually manned by a club member. Another group mans the crane and lifts the floats into the water. A third work-party uses the CYC tender, the “Fred Small” to move them into place. The assembly gang puts the jigsaw puzzle together.
Craning the floats into the water
Skipper Don masters the art of driving a power boat
Ken demonstrates bow-thruster technique
Demonstrating what not to do with crane . Ron supervises.
Pining the fingers into position.
In addition there are a number of specialized activities which have been adopted by individuals. Edwin has developed a particular expertise in threading the pilings into the harbour bottom sockets.
Edwin putting the round peg in the round hole
Wellington’s specialty is getting the flag mast into place
Mast crew untangling rigging
This year another gang was responsible for making an addition to the club building to create an office for the Coast Guard Inshore Rescue team who will be operating out of the CYC. Under the direction from the Commodore this group framed up an office which was completed in the following weeks.
Inshore Rescue office under construction
There is also a veranda gang whose contribution consists of running commentary on the efforts of others and helping to make sure that there are no left-overs for the lunch and crew beverages. Not photographed this year.