Governor’s Island is just a few nautical miles from Charlottetown Harbour mouth but is a tough place to visit because almost all sides consist of rock reefs extending in some cases several miles from shore. Sailing directions suggest total avoidance. The Island is a rough triangle and can be walked around in little more than an hour.
Rather than a frontal assault I chose to sneak up on it from behind. The north side of the Island is linked to Squaw point by a very shallow area with some nasty outcrops but in my earlier explorations I had found that by hugging the two buoys that mark the outer limits of the rifle range I could get my shallow draft bottom across, especially a high tide. The safest approach is from the north just inside of the eastern sand spit but there are no safe anchorages in the case of a storm. The reefs and shallow water completely surround the island
I anchored Ebony a safe distance off – much too safe as it turns out because the eight feet of water in which I anchored continued well into the shore and I had quite a row in and out. The dinghy incidentally rows like a dream. Memo to self – get a small anchor for the dinghy so I don’t have to haul it over the rocks in case of rising tide.
The sand spit at the east end of the Island extends well over a mile into Pownal Bay and is a favourite spot for seals to haul out on a hot day and baste in their own juices. When I visited the seals were elsewhere and all that was visible on the beach was a bald eagle, just standing and waiting. There has been an eagle colony on the Island for several years.
What is on the Island is a major cormorant colony with what must be thousands of birds. Twenty years ago they were hardly seen anywhere on Prince Edward Island. As a child I can remember passing a nesting spot on old pilings near Pictou, never dreaming that they would become such a pest on our side of the Strait. Now the diving birds come right into the marina in their quest for fish.
They nest in trees and quickly kill them with their guano.After they have killed all the trees they will move on to other locations. Already a few nests are appearing on St. Peter’s Island and a few other locations. Passing downwind of the colony is a trial for the nose but when I visited Governor’s Island it either wasn’t too bad or my sense of smell was damaged.
Unlike St. Peter’s Island across the bay Governor’s Island never had a permanent year-round population. For many years, up until the mid 1930s there was at least one seasonal lobster cannery on the island and I can remember stories of members of the Judson family who owned the Island of going out to the island to picnic or work at the cannery. There would have been a number of factory buildings such as a cook house and bunk houses for the male and female workers as well as the cannery itself. Whether the buildings were hauled across the ice or simply disintegrated isn’t clear but there are no obvious signs of their presence.
Governor’s had a fascination because of its geology. Abraham Gesner in his geological survey in the 1840s noted that it was an extension of the pattern of rock folds that gave some evidence of coal potential at Gallas Point on the east side of the bay. It is one of the few locations in PEI where fossils can be found. In the 1930s drilling took place on Governors for coal formations, or better yet, oil. Although promising nothing of substance was found. With the need for oil as part of the war effort drilling was re-started in 1942 but this time from a crib erected about a mile west of the island. At the time it was the deepest off-shore well that had ever been drilled in North America and it was a dry hole. The crib is still noted on charts and is marked by a warning buoy. On calm days the cribwork is still visible on the ocean floor.
Back on land there is some evidence of the drilling . Rusted piping, a couple of mechanical devices, chain running into the bank, and a mysterious cauldron encased in concrete.
Besides the cormorants, and a few hardy blue herons who also nest here, the inhabitants of the island are a colony of about 60 harbour seals. Attracting “seal watching” cruises from Charlottetown they are more often heard rather than seen. Their grunting and howling carries for miles. On an earlier visit to the Island I found myself in the middle of twenty or twenty-five curious heads watching the progress on my boat. Their heads seem much like those of dogs when at sea and they cannot resist anything that perks their interest. On this trip the tide was almost at dead low and the seals had climbed out of the water to lounge on the rocks. I was able to get within about 50 feet of them but then with a grunt there was a rolling roar as they tumbled into the sea and safety.
I continued my walk, rowed back to Ebony and sailed on to China Point. As I was leaving the sound of rifle at the small arms range echoed across the water and I was glad that I had crossed the range area hours before.