Beach Grove Inn – Dancing, Golf, Bathing and Basic Training

Beach Grove Inn from Waterfront.  Postcard Photogelitine Engraving ca. 1930. UPEI collection

Approaching Charlottetown from Northumberland Strait one can see a very long way up the North River. Framed between Blockhouse Point and Seatrout Point the river recedes into the distance, past Duchess Point, and Lewis Point and finally past Pleasant Point near the North River Bridge. The view looking south from Pleasant Point is a striking one with the Strait appearing in the distance embraced by the points of land at the harbour mouth. Small wonder then, that it became the site of a summer hotel.

Beach Grove Inn from south west. Postcard PECO ca. 1940. UPEI Collection

The Beach Grove Inn may not have had all of the allure of the North Shore beach-front  hotels but it was close to Charlottetown and easily accessible from the railway station or steamer wharf by taxi or private auto.  The hotel was built in 1921 by R.H. Sterns, well-known as a hotelier in the community. He had come to Charlottetown in 1901 and purchased a livery business and in 1903 took over the Victoria Hotel, formerly the Hotel Davies.  He sold the hotel in 1919 after threatening to tear it down if he did not get his price. This resulted in a joint stock company being formed by leading local businessmen which took over the Victoria as well as the nearby Queen Hotel to ensure that Charlottetown had at least some quality accommodation to offer visitors.

The opening of the sixty room hotel in mid-July attracted eight hundred people who danced to the music of Professor Dixon’s Orchestra and the evening was proclaimed as the public social event of the season. Mr. Sterns’ hotel boasted all modern conveniences and pastimes, including a dining room presided over by a chef formerly employed by the Chateau Laurier, The hotel, identified as both the “Beech Grove Inn” and the “Beach Grove Inn” in publicity, had tennis courts and gardens and salt water bathing on the beach facing the magnificent view.  The property also included a farm and the Sterns residence which had been built in the mid-1800s.

Golf hole at east side of Inn.

In 1922 Sterns, who had continued to operate a farm where he bred trotting horses, decided to put a golf course on the property and had a major auction sale on-site where the breeding stock and farm and racing equipment such as sulkies was dispersed.  Two years later a new golf club was formed to lease the nine-hole course but it is not clear how long it operated.

Of all the attractions, it was the ball room which was to feature most highly in the recollections of Islanders. Although regular dances were held weekly at the Inn from the time it first opened, the twenty-year association with the Gyro Club made a lasting impression.  The Gyro Club was a men’s friendship club with some similarities with the Rotary Club. The Charlottetown chapter had been formed in 1929 and was an outgrowth of the local Young Men’s Commercial Club. The Gyro Club dances were the signature activity at Beach Grove, even when it was no longer operating as a tourist facility.

View from Inn toward Lewis Popint showing tennis courts and gardens.

Because Beach Grove was near Upton Farm it offered a pleasant place for a meal after the horse races at Upton track. In 1934 the recently-formed Charlottetown fox hunting club had a drag hunt through the Upton and Beach Grove properties.  

Beach Grove Inn ca. 1935. View from Lewis Point shore. The large residence was the original house on the site and housed the officers during WW II. Carter & Co. postcard. UPEI Collection.

Through the ’20s and ’30s the Beach Grove Inn was a successful seasonal operation. It seemed no conference or important visitation was complete without a motor trip to Beach Grove for luncheon or a dinner.  The Gyro dances attracted from three to five hundred dancers and spectators at a time when there were fewer competing social opportunities. The round of activities was uninterrupted by the death of R.H. Sterns in January of 1935. He and a Miss Douse, a clerk at the Hotel, had been motoring on the bushed ice road on North River late at night when he made a wrong turn and ended up near York Point. He collapsed and Miss Douse struggled across the ice to Brighton to seek help but Sterns did not regain consciousness and he died in hospital.

The hotel (“so well-known that any elaborate description is not necessary”) was offered for sale in June of 1936 and continued operations until the outbreak of WW II.  The property was leased by the Department of National Defence and in October 1939 the 2nd and 8th medium battery of the Royal Canadian  Artillery moved into the premises. The hotel accommodated the orderly officers and men while the 11 officers, a batman, a cook and two waiters were housed in the Sterns house. Formerly operating as a summer hotel, the Inn required the installation of heating throughout for year-round operation.  In 1940 a great deal of construction took place at Beach Grove; five large new buildings housed space for instruction, storerooms, a 15 bed hospital and  an 85 x 95 foot drill hall with a 125 foot indoor rifle range attached.  At the same time a new road was constructed to access the facility. The former lane with a bridge across Ellen’s Creek had been a private road leading to the Lewis, Burke and Tweedie properties on May Point and the Inn had been accessed by a public road from the highway to the north of the Inn.

In September 1940 the installation became No. 62 Canadian Army Basic Training Centre which prepared recruits with preliminary training before they were shipped out to more specialized regimental training facilities.  No. 62 C.A.(B) T.C. had more than eighty staff under the commend of Lt. Colonel F.I. Andrew.  Hundreds of Islanders as well as recruits from elsewhere had their first taste of army life at Beach Grove.  Army use of the base ceased in 1944 as the war wound down and the property was purchased by the provincial government in 1947. The hotel became the residence for inmates of the provincial infirmary which had been overcrowded since the asylum at Falconwood had burned down in 1931. Outbuildings met other provincial needs. For example the property housed a detention home for delinquents beginning in 1951.  All buildings on the site have since been demolished and a new senior citizens home built on the site.  Only a few traces, such as the ornamental trees bordering the gardens and tennis courts, remain of the resort which once graced Pleasant Point. 





Dancing till dawn – another look at the 1860 visit of the Prince of Wales

“Thy grandsire’s name distinguishes this isle;
We love thy mother’s sway, and court her smile.”
Banner hanging in the ballroom of the Colonial Building, Charlottetown 1860.

A recent posting on this site featured American accounts of the 1860 visit of the Prince of Wales to Charlottetown and highlighted, perhaps unfairly, the carnival-like atmosphere, overcrowding  and drunkenness which the journalists from the States chose to make a centerpiece of their reporting.  For the Americans, the Prince’s visit was a unique experience and their florid accounts strained to find moments of interest in what was oftentimes a repetition of the rounds of addresses, salutes, dinners and balls which would characterize the events across two nations as the Prince travelled to Canada and the United States.

Prince of Wales receiving addresses at Colonial Building 1860. London Illustrated News

For the English media, royal appearances were less of a one time event and more of a continuation of the emergence on the Royal family into the public world.  Though the visit to North America was a new location it may have been less of a new story for readers in the United Kingdom. In contrast to the brash sensationalism of the New York Herald and the New York Journal the accounts in the Times of London were more subdued and polite. Instead of a drunken mob the Times correspondent wrote of a Charlottetown population that was considerably “wetted” and were consequently very “fresh.”

Not that the English journalists were uncritical;  the writer for the Times noted of Charlotte Town that “such a little group of houses can be called a city,”  that the entire governmental structure with its miniature House of Lords and Commons was “like putting paddle engines on a canoe,” that in the overcrowded ball held at the Colonial Building it was impossible to tell who was dancing and who was simply trying to find the door. It was with only a slightly condescending manner that the ball and the visit was termed a decided success.  All in all, the English account was less of an embarrassment to the Island population than  those of the American cousins.

Published serially in the Times as the visit progressed, the writings of “Special Correspondent” Nicholas Augustus Woods were published in book form in London the following year as “The Prince of Wales in Canada in the United States.”  An on-line copy can be found here. The section of the book describing the Prince’s visit to Prince Edward’s Island follows:

This province is considered the most fertile of all the English North American possessions, and is one of the dozen claimants that insist on being called the garden of Canada, though the only portion that has any really justifiable pretensions to that high title is the magnificent tract of land that extends over the whole country lying between Toronto and Hamilton in Upper Canada. Still Prince Edward Island is the most fertile of the provinces, though immeasurably behind St. John in everything but the value of its soil for agricultural produce. The whole island is, in fact, a large dairy farm, only wanting emigrants to turn its rich resources to account. The great fertility of the soil is in a great measure due to the abundance of streams that cross it in all directions, while the island itself is so deeply indented by bays and inlets, that it is said no part of it is more than eight miles distant from the ebb and flow of the sea tide.

Charlotte Town itself, if such a little group of houses can be called a city, stands on the junction of the Hillsborough, York, and Elliott rivers. Beyond it all the country seems like a gigantic park, so richly is it wooded, so fertile are its wide extent of meadows and soft grassy uplands. The whole population of the place, however, is very small, scarcely more than 90,000, very far less than that of any of the Metropolitan boroughs. Yet Prince Edward Island has not only its members, but its Upper and Lower Houses of Assembly—a House of Lords and Commons for 90,000 widely-scattered agriculturists! It seems like putting paddle-engines into a canoe. But, poor and small as Prince Edward Island is, compared to other provinces, far more was done for the Prince in the way of state preparation than could have possibly been expected. It rained, of course, just as the Prince landed, and continued to pour in torrents all the rest of the day and night. Fortunately, the arches and other decorations were of too solid a character to be easily washed out, but, on the contrary, looked all the better and the fresher for their wetting. The same remark may apply to the people, who appeared to have been “wetting” considerably, and who consequently were very “fresh” indeed. Before the ball, which took place on the night of the 10th, His Royal Highness reviewed the Volunteers, who, though far from numerous, were, in all relating to equipment and discipline, a credit to the colony. After this small military display, every one made up their minds for the féte of the evening, which, if all I heard was true, must have been anxiously looked forward to all over the island since the previous Christmas. The ball, therefore, was in its way a very gay affair. As at Halifax, it took place in the rooms where the Legislative Assembly meet semi-occasionally for transacting the affairs of the island. Certainly, whatever other advantages these rooms possessed, they were not large. So the ball-room was very crowded, and not many could get in, or, being in, get out. But people like being crowded at a ball, especially when dancing is not their forte, and thus even the most critical at Charlotte Town could not detect whether the bewildered individuals, pushing here and there, were really involved in the mazes of a quadrille or only trying to gain the door. The Prince was there, too, laughing and dancing as much as any, and the Duke of Newcastle and Mr. Dundas, the Lieutenant-Governor, were equally amused and equally complicated among the crowd. So the whole féte was voted a decided success, and “the festivities prolonged to an advanced hour.”

Saturday, the 11th, was a quiet day—that is, the Prince only received visitors and embarked in state on board the “Hero,” which, with the “Ariadne,” ” Cossack,” and “Flying Fish,” and a French 42-gun frigate, “Pomone,” were all dressed in colours, had yards manned, and saluted. This made a good spectacle of the departure, and the crowds of people lining the shores finished the effect, and made the whole ceremony one of considerable state and éclat, in spite of the rain, which had, of course, been dropping all the morning, and which the thunder of the guns brought down at last with drenching vehemence. At two P.M. the signal was made to weigh anchor, and in half an hour afterwards the squadron was steaming quickly down the straits, with light winds, thick, rainy weather, a little cross sea, and a decided prospect of each and all getting worse as the night drew on.


From hub to spoke: Charlottetown as a transportation centre

Today we tend to think of Prince Edward Island as being at the end of something – a long drive, a flight, a ferry crossing. In the world of hubs and spokes we are clearly a spoke. You don’t go to Prince Edward Island on your way to anywhere. It is a destination.

However, for one period in the Island’s history this was not the case. In the mid-19th century especially, Prince Edward Islanders saw themselves as, if not the centre of the world, then at least the centre of something.  And looking at a map of the region it is not hard to see why.  A case in point is the outlook of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company. In an economy of wood, wind and water, sea transportation was the most effective (and in some cases the only) way to move goods and people. The Island sat in the centre of a large basin from northern New Brunswick in the west to Cape Breton in the east. Northumberland Strait touched the long shorelines of three provinces and Charlottetown was the largest port on the Strait.

Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company – ports of call 1865-1869. The Company also had services to Orwell and Crapaud.

The Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company’s steamers did much more than connect Prince Edward Island to the mainland. They were the moving parts of a communications web and Charlottetown, rather than being at the end of a spoke, was in fact the hub. Most voyages began or ended at Charlottetown and by passing through the port one could travel aboard ship from one end of the Strait to the other.

Until the railway lines in the region took their final shape the most effective way to get from Saint John to the Miramichi was to cross the Bay of Fundy, travel through Nova Scotia to Pictou and take a steamer up the Strait, touching at Charlottetown and Summerside. The same was true of travel to Cape Breton. A requirement of the earliest subsidies sought by the first Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company from the colonial governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia was that western and eastern ports in those colonies would be served.

Early photo of the Princess of Wales in Charlottetown Harbour. the building behind the funnel is the Methodist Church

In the 1860s the Steamers Princess of Wales and Heather Belle were tried on a variety of routes to accommodate the changing transportation patterns. When the railway reached Shediac in 1860 Point du Chêne  became much more important for transshipment of goods and passengers destined for points south and west such as Boston and Montreal.

Heather Belle

In 1865 the Princess of Wales and the Heather Belle were both providing service across the Strait four days a week.  Besides two trips to Pictou the steamers also went to Brule, directly across from Charlottetown, twice. From there the express wagon carried mails on a shorter road to Truro.  A year later the Princess of Wales sailed weekly from Charlottetown to Summerside, Shediac, Richibucto and Miramichi, with service to Pictou and Shediac more often.

The following year the schedule published in the Island’s newspapers revealed the full extent of the Company’s attempt to provide a full regional transportation service.


Steam Navigation Company schedule. Summerside Journal 8 July 1869

On Mondays one of the company’s larger steamers, the Princess of Wales or the new-to-the-Strait St. Lawrence, left Charlottetown for Pictou, then on to Port Hood in  Cape Breton returning to Charlottetown via Pictou on Tuesdays.  Wednesday morning saw a steamer leave Charlottetown for Pictou then on to Port Hawkesbury on the Gut of Canso, returning on the same route the following day.  Another boat sailed Thursdays from Charlottetown to Pictou, Georgetown and Souris and the next day from Georgetown to Pictou and back to Charlottetown. Tuesdays and Saturdays had a steamer from Charlottetown sailing to points west; Summerside and Shediac, returning the following day. The company’s third boat, the Heather Belle, sailed Mondays for Crapaud (soon to become the port of Victoria), Tuesdays for Port Selkirk (Orwell Brush Wharf) and on other days back and forth to Mount Stewart Bridge.

Sailing times at Pictou and Shediac were determined by great measure by the arrival of the trains from Halifax and Saint John. Integrating passenger traffic with both mainland rail services and the Prince Edward Island Railway timetable was a sound business decision – even if waiting for a late train resulted in late sailings.  The service to smaller ports on the island such as Crapaud could vary according to the tides.

In contrast to the old joke, if your destination was up or down Northumberland Strait “you could get there from here,” and most likely how you did it was on a Charlottetown-based steamer. With confederation and the completion of the intercolonial railway from Halifax to Quebec the trains began to displace ships as the most common carrier. The rail line ran up the shore to northern New Brunswick and there was a falling-off of water traffic to that area and so the Steam Navigation Company ceased its western service, while at the same time maintaining its connections with Point du Chêne, now even more important for its links with both the New England and Canadian rail lines.  Confederation also brought the subsidized Pictou to Magdalen Islands steamship service which stopped at Souris. One result was that vessels based in Pictou rather than Charlottetown were used on new routes to Cape Breton and the Strait of Canso. Increasing Island demands for daily round-trips between Charlottetown and Pictou and Summerside and Shediac meant that the steamers were unable to continue their routes to other ports and they were gradually abandoned.  By the late 1870s the extended routes of the Steam Navigation Company and been subsumed by what had become a shuttle service across the Strait which continued until 1916. What traffic that existed between the eastern part of P.E.I. and Cape Breton enabled the local service of the Three Rivers Steamship Company to continue from 1892 to 1917.

In an ironic twist the improvements in transportation between 1860 and the Great War meant that in some ways Prince Edward Island became more isolated than it had been at the beginning of the period.