A. Kennedy & Co., Ship Chandler and Sailmaker

Advertisement in Duncan Campbell’s History of Prince Edward Island, 1875

Robert Harris drawing of lower Queen Street ca. 1875. Confederation Centre Art Gallery CAGH-122

A few months ago I posted an entry which featured a drawing of the lower part of Queen Street by artist Robert Harris which probably dated from the 1870s. The drawing featured a number of buildings long since gone. At the time of the posting I lamented the fact that there did not seem to be any photos of the area. There were, of course, and they were hiding in plain sight at the Public Archives and Records Office. Once I tripped over them again I realized that they helped tell the story of an important feature of the waterfront and a tale of mercantile longevity on the Charlottetown waterfront extending almost a century and a half.

An essential part of any town with a nautical connection was a chandlery. The word is seldom encountered today with the decline of shipping, but until the middle of the 20th century it identified a business dedicated to supplying the wants and needs of those on the seas. This included materials and supplies for shipbuilding such as ironwork, blocks, tackle, ropes, chain, wire rigging, and anchors. The shops also supplied navigation equipment and charts, paint, tar, provisions, clothing and the like. Fishing supplies for the hundreds of fishers operating out of the small harbours of the Island were also a significant part of the chandlery businesses. They often advertised “everything from a needle to an anchor.”  The chandleries usually included the supply of canvass and many had in-house sailmakers or worked closely with a local sail loft. There was no such thing as a standard sail size at the time and each sail was custom made and cut and stitched by hand.  Sail making was one of the dozens of skilled crafts that accompanied the age of sail.

There were a number of chandleries and sail lofts on the Charlottetown waterfront. Small’s at the head of Pownal Wharf was one but one of the most long-lived was A. Kennedy and Company. The “A” in A. Kennedy was Archibald, was born in Greenock Scotland in 1816. He appears to have commenced business as a sail maker at the head of Peake’s Wharf in Charlottetown in 1846 as an 1866 advertisement thanks patrons for twenty year’s patronage. In that year he opened his chandlery under the name A. Kennedy & Co. in the location at the head of Queens wharf in the building formerly occupied by P.W. Hyndman.   This is probably the structure pictured below.

A. Kennedy & Co. corner of Queen and Lower Water Street ca 1875. Public Archives and Records Office item 2320 p-3

His building was at the corner of Queen and Peake Street  (later Lower Water Street) and is clearly the building which can be seen in the centre of the Harris sketch mentioned above. The building pre-dates the great file of 1866 which destroyed more than four blocks of buildings north of Water Street.   Besides the chandlery business Kennedy also owned shares in a number of sailing vessels (frequently in partnership with F.W. Hyndman) and a 1/64 share in the steamer Prince Edward. A long-time director of the St. Lawrence Marine Insurance Company In 1876 he was named President of the company.  He was also a city councilor, member of the school board and a director of the Prince Edward Island Hospital.  His several business interests and investments appear by and large, to have been successful and at the time of his death in 1903 his estate was valued at $47,500, about $1.4 million in 2020 dollars.  He and his wife had no children and his properties and the chandlery were left to his wife’s brother, Robert McLaurin.

Charlottetown Examiner 14 February 1910 p. 7

Robert McLaurin died in 1909 and the business was put up for sale by his executors. At the time it consisted of the store on  Queen Street as well as a separate sail loft on Lower Water Street. Although the age of sail was nearing and end with few new boats being launched there were still dozens of small schooners plying Island waters. Even with care, sails wore quickly and the sail loft business continued to be a niche service.

Ownership passed to Bruce Stewart and Company which had developed another of the waterfront business at the head of the Steam Navigation Wharf servicing the marine interests with a foundry and manufacturing business which was soon producing gasoline engines for small craft as well as a variety of machine and boiler skills for larger vessels including the steamers of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company. The name over the door of the store was changed to Bruce Stewart & Co. but the sign also stated “successors to A. Kennedy and Company.” The firm advertised itself as “The Ship Chandlery Men” indicating that the good will of the Kennedy company was an important asset.

Bruce Stewart chandlery (A. Kennedy & Co.) ca. 1914. Lower Water Street at right of photo. Public Archives and Records Office item 3466/HF76.124.4

Charlottetown Examiner 1 April 1910 p. 8

Under the Bruce Stewart name, and reflecting the decline in nautical trades, the business evolved to more fishery supplies such as nets and ropes and equipment for the increasingly important lobster industry. At the same time the owners also began to advertise extensively as a supplier of farm and hardware needs such as paint and building supplies although they do not seem to have been involved in the lumber trade.

The separate identity of A. Kennedy & Co. seems to have been retained and the business may have been spun-off from Bruce Stewart as a separate company as the store operated into the 1950s on Queen Street, although not at the corner of Lower Water Street as that property had been demolished with the building of the large new warehouses for wholesalers DeBlois Brothers in the 1930s. Instead they re-located a block north to the NE corner of Queen and Water Streets The company’s slogan in the 1950s was “The Fisherman’s Friend”  In the 1960s the nature of the business changed and the chandlery operations were taken over by Atlantic  Netting Rope and Twine which is still in the marine supply business.  A. Kennedy & Co. became an auction house and antique dealer on Dorchester Street. In the current century the business was moved to Hampton and the sign for A. Kennedy & Co. could be spotted in a former general store along the highway. Both the store and the sign have since disappeared.





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The day the Steamers Stopped: Mainland Cut-off Again!

Princess of Wales in Summerside Harbour 1878. Detail From Panoramic View of Summerside

The last few weeks of the shipping season in 1883 looked to be business as normal for those using the steamers of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company. Merchants were rushing to get the last shipments of goods and supplies to the Island before the ice set in.  After that they would have to rely on the undependable services of the Northern Light, the icebreaker that the Dominion Government promised would bring and end to the Island’s seasonal isolation (or more likely “ice-olation”) but had utterly failed in the task. Island-bound winter orders began to build up at the railheads at Pictou and Point du Chene. On the Island side schooners and steamers were rushed to load with produce bound for market before they became iced-in at Island ports. Fall was a busy shipping season for paddle steamers Princess of Wales and the St. Lawrence, the veteran ships of the Steam Navigation fleet.

Paddle steamer St. Lawrence in Charlottetown Harbour 1878. Detail from Panoramic View of Charlottetown.

Passengers too, began to worry about getting to and from the Island. If the steamer service stopped the alternative of an ice-boat crossing was an un-attractive and dangerous alternative.

Then, on 29 October 1883 all plans unraveled as news hit the Island that the steamer service provided by the aging paddle-steamers Princess of Wales and St. Lawrence would be suspended. The mainland would be cut off again!   The cause was not severed winter nor mechanical problems with the steamers, rather it was by order of an official of the Dominion Government.

In 1882 the Steamboat Inspection Act had been amended to include Prince Edward Island. This legislation required safety inspections but it had not been operable on the Island as no inspector had been appointed for the area, but the following year, albeit late in August the Maritime Provinces inspector, a Mr. Coker, crossed on the steamer from Shediac to Summerside and returned from Charlottetown to Pictou.  Based on this short visit to the boats he ordered that they cease operations as of the end of October.

Initially it was understood that the order referred only to the carrying of passengers and that the freight operations could continue. The Northern Light was pressed into service two months earlier than normal to carry passengers and mail with three round-trips a week between Charlottetown and Pictou.  However, within a few days the ban was extended to any voyages of the paddle steamers, not just for passenger service.

There was however, one bit of good news. Earlier in the year the Steam Navigation Company had taken delivery of new boat for the fleet. The SS Summerside  was not designed or fitted out as a passenger vessel although there had been speculation that capacity would be added. Never the less passengers were taken aboard and must have missed the saloons, staterooms and dining facilities of the paddle steamers. The biggest job for the steamer was to keep up the flow of freight between Summerside and the rail head at Point du Chene.

Northern Light. Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly 1887.

The Dominion Government had an obligation under the terms of the Island’s entry into confederation to provide continuous steam communication across the Strait and in addition to the winter steamer Northern Light they moved quickly to add the steamer tug Napoleon III, a Canadian government steamer primarily engaged in lighthouse tending  onto the freight route between Charlottetown and Pictou.  This ship too had limited passenger capacity but the four boats were able to avoid what could have been a crippling blow to the Island’s economy.  By mid-November the Napoleon III was sailing between Charlottetown and Pictou while the Northern Light carried passengers and freight between Georgetown and Pictou.

Government Steamer Napoleon III. Helped in a pinch – but not very much. Image from Confederation Centre Art Gallery collection.

However there were still problems. The Napoleon III did not have the capacity of the Steam Navigation boats and within a day traffic was backed up. On 11 November a dozen rail cars worth of freight had been left on the Pictou docks.  The Examiner noted that if freight “cannot be carried to this port, serious loss to our merchants will be involved.” A few days later the Summerside had to have her propeller, damaged in a gale, replaced which caused further disruption.

The ice closed the port of Summerside early. By the first of December the S.S. Summerside had been moved to the Charlottetown Pictou route. The Napoleon III’s last trip was on 3 December  and it was announced that the last trip across the Strait by the SS Summerside would take place on 19 December.  Twelve days earlier she had carried an important cargo – two new boilers for the Steam Navigation Company Steamers.

The incident provided an additional excuse for the newspapers in the province to exchange a lengthy series of salvos debating what was either the high-handed inexcusable actions of the Dominion Government in cancelling the registration of the two Company paddle-steamers, or the admirable concern with the safety of the public in taking reasonable measures to prevent the use of unsafe vessels. What is strangely lacking is any sort of response from the Company itself.  Aside from a single advertisement regarding revised schedules the PEI Steam Navigation Company had nothing to say.

Given that silence there may have been something in the concerns of the Steamboat Inspector. In 1883 the Princess of Wales had had 19 years of service on the route and the St. Lawrence had been built even earlier. Although the Company appears to have had maintained the vessels over the period they had not had a major re-fit.

However, faced with revoked certificates the Company made major investments in their boats.  As noted above, new boilers arrived before freeze-up and the winter was spent with shipwrights swarming over the steamers. When put back in service in the spring of 1884 the two boats had not just been re-fitted and re-painted they had, in the words of the Patriot newspaper been “re-constructed”

It was well that the investment had been made.  a year later the Summerside went on the rocks at Fogo Island. The two old wooden paddle steamers continued to serve the Island for many years. The Prince of Wales was replaced in 1891  and the St. Lawrence, after more than thirty years service, was finally broken up in 1896.

Crossing at the Capes in 1863

The winter passage to Prince Edward Island was the subject of several drawings and engravings. This example come from Harpers New Monthly Magazine in 1877.

The story of the winter mail boats is one of the unique aspects of PEI history. The ice boats served as the main winter conveyance from the mid-1820s until 1917 when the “efficient steam communication” promised in the Confederation agreement was finally put in place. The ice boat service is often noted by visitors and writers as a curiosity but few of them actually visited the Island in winter and their accounts are often brief and second-hand.

During the 80 to 90 years the ice boats ran the methods and equipment used were much the same. The type of boat used evolved quite early, the ice runners being the most important modification. In the mid-1880s the service was taken out of the hands of private contractors and became a government-operated service with increased safety measures put in place. However at times there was competition for the crews having the mail contract and “opposition iceboats” provided an alternative service.

The following account, written for readers of the Fifeshire Journal published in Kirkaldy Scotland, is more detailed and realistic, especially as to the different types of ice encountered.

Iceboats at board ice ca. 1895. Cyrus Lewis Photo – New Brunswick Museum collection

Now sir perhaps your respected readers would like to know the way in which we obtain our mails in winter, for the navigation closes upon us generally in December, and remains so until the end of April, consequently the shortest route by which the mails can come is via Cape Tormentine (in New Brunswick), to Cape Traverse, the north-west part of our island, distance nine miles. The process of getting them across the straits is as follows: — The boats are about twelve feet long, five feet beam, and eighteen inches deep; they are fitted with two runners, about three feet long, one on each side of the keel; they are built as strong and light as it is possible to put the materials together, and thinned [sic] on the outside to prevent abrasion by the ice. The crew consists of four men, they, with four passengers and a little luggage, are all the boat can carry with safety. Each boat is fitted up with eight straps, four on each side, by which the boat is hauled along, or an unfortunate fellow who breaks through the ice is saved from a watery grave. There is generally about half a mile of ground ice along the shore, over which all hands, passengers and crew, having buckled on their straps, turn to and haul over the boat containing the luggage and mails. They then, perhaps, come to some shell ice, formed by the preceding night’s heavy frost. This is too strong to pull through with oars, so a man is placed in the bow of the boat to break it with his feet, while the others are busy with their ice hooks and pikes, and work their way foot by foot. Perhaps the next thing is a channel of open water, and what a relief that is; you sit down and rest yourself and fancy that you are going at a rate of twenty miles and hour, as the willing crew bend their backs to the oars; but this does not last very long; for slower and slower goes the boat. At last, in spite of the most strenuous exertions of the crew, not an inch further can they get. They are now in another class of ice, and is called lolly; it is made by the grinding o the ice cakes together, and is about the consistency of the ice with which you make “Sherry Cobler,” but you can’t get through it so easily. Pikes and hooks are now of little use, all you can do is to clear the bow of the boat as well as you can, and, using the oars paddle fashion, work your way inch by inch, waiting for a chance to catch hold of a small cake of ice, over that you go, and into the lolly again. All this time you are drifting with the tide, at the rate of three knots an hour. The boats are often in the lolly from three to five hours, and finding it impossible to get through, have to return to the side from whence they started. With the small boats they are obliged to cross the straits, it is impossible to rig up any contrivance by which they would be enabled to get through the lolly faster than they do at present.  Well, when you get through you come to ice broken and piled up in all directions. Over this you have to drag the boat, and I can assure you it requires a vast amount of exertion to get it over some of the hillocks. Then there is broken ice, where you have to bridge over from cake to cake, taking care not to get a dip between them. This part of the work is very dangerous, as in some cases it is almost impossible to tell which is sound and which is rotten. Then more lolly and shell ice, until you reach the ground ice. A passenger has not only the privilege of not only paying for but of working his passage. The present contractors, Messrs. Irving & Warren, are, I believe, active, careful, and intelligent men, and most certainly deserve better payment than they at present get for their arduous and dangerous services — how dangerous it would be useless for me to say. I am informed they receive 16 dols., or about £3 sterling, for each trip with a mail; for a trip without a mail they get no pay; and it very often happens that, on account of boisterous weather, they are unable to cross for a whole week. There they are frozen four to eight hours in an open boat, aye, and sometimes longer, with wet feet and clothes; no chance to light a fire to boil a cup of that which “cheers but not inebriates;” no chance to shield themselves from the chill blasts of winter, or even to change their wet stockings and boots. Such then is the exceedingly hazardous duty to which these men are exposed, and their payment is certainly not over the mark, but if anything rather under it; however, they seem perfectly contented with their small pittance, and do their work like true Americans.

Fifeshire Journal 28 May 1863 p.7

Burrows Arthur Wilcock Sleigh had written an account found here some ten years earlier which provided even more details. For another account a few years after the Fifeshire Journal story  see this page.