Although there have probably been pleasure sailing activities and regattas in Charlottetown Harbour since the early 1800s one of the earliest organized groups was the Hillsboro Boating Club. The Club was certainly in existence by 1874, if not earlier. In that year the club was responsible for the Regatta in Charlottetown While the social aspects of the event captured the attention of the press owing to the appearance of the band of the 87th Royal Irish Fusileers who would play at the public Regatta Ball there was also and extensive racing program. The Boating Club Committee for the Regatta included Francis L. Haszard, H.J Palmer, H.W. Longworth, W.C.Desbrisay, and J.E. Haszard.
The 1874 Regatta events included races for sail boats, 20 foot keel and over, 4 oared row boats, single sculls, sail boats under 20 ft., stern sculls, two-oared boats, four-oared boats with under 17 boys crew, sail boats open to all except previous race winners, double sculls and two-oared dorys. The Regatta followed the rules of the Royal Halifax Yacht Club. One of the prestige events was the single sculls race in which four boats contended for a medal put up for competition by Lord Dufferin, the Governor General.
The Examiner noted: “Should tomorrow be a fine day the Regatta will, to be sure, be a great success. Fast boats from various towns and settlements on the coast, as well as those of Charlottetown, will, we understand, be entered for the Race. For the convenience of the public the Committee have caused to be erected at Connolly’s Wharf a “Grand Stand” from which a splendid view of the whole course may be obtained. The second Promenade Concert in the Drill Shed tomorrow evening and the Grand Ball in the Market Hall on Wednesday evening, will, with the Concert on Monday evening, and the Regatta on Tuesday, make up a cycle of festivity not soon forgotten.” In reporting the results the newspaper noted that there had been thousands of spectators ashore and hundreds of pleasure boats in the harbour
But forgotten it may have been for, confusingly, a regatta in August 1878 is referred to by the Semi-Weekly Patriot as “the first regatta of the Hillsborough Boating Club.” That event was also characterized by the absence of “the scenes of drunkenness and rowdyism which are generally considered a necessary accompaniment of boat-racing.”
By 1892 there were two boating clubs in operation. The South End Boating Club and the Hillsboro Boating Club. On the 18th of January that year the winter was so mild that a regatta between two rowing teams representing the clubs was organized.
In 1898 the Annual Regatta took place on the 10th of September. First class boats were those 18 to 24 feet on the waterline with those under 18 feet being rated in the second class. John P. Joy donated a silver cup to be competed for by boats of the Maritime Provinces, to be won by three years victories in succession.
The Club had facilities of some sort as the 1899 annual general meeting took place in the club rooms and it was decided to tear down the old boat house and erect a new and larger building on the same site. At the time the Club had 35 members. That year one of the series of rowing races was “married” versus “single.”
Early in 1900 the Guardian reported that a new boathouse was to be erected for the Hillsboro Boating Club. This was to be considered at a special meeting of the club held at Peake’s #1 wharf suggesting that this was the location of the existing boathouse. The new building was to be built in three weeks by Mr. Burns and was to be 38 feet by 42 feet with a verandah facing the Hillsborough River. It was built for by July the monthly meetings of the club began to be held in the new building. This seems to have been the building picture above and located on the eastern side of the ferry wharf at the foot of Prince Street although there appears to be no sign of the verandah.
As the post card photo clearly shows this was very much a rowing club and the photo, probably taken about 1910 shows three sculls and eight skiffs. Whether these were all club owned boats is not clear
In 1903 the club decided to sent two racing crews to Summerside to compete in a regatta there and both the crews and the boats were dispatched by train. The annual regatta that year was held on the 5th of September with three classes of sail boats and races for four-oared double sculls and a class for pleasure row boats. The sail races were to used the Nova Scotia Yacht Club rules. For class A boats a cup valued at $100 was provided and class B (lobster boats) could win $20. The cup still exists in the collection of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation. It was won by the “Micmac” in 1903, 1905 and 1906, while the “Cabot” took the cup in 1904. The “Micmac” having won the cup three times the trophy was retired.
In 1905 improvements were made to the boat house with the provision of new dressing rooms on the second floor. In May the Guardian reported that the club boats were being repainted and put in good order in anticipation of the season. The annual regatta was held in mid August and included a yacht race, a lobster boat race and a knockabout sailboat race. The Club offered to connect their landing stage to Peake’s Wharf for the purposes of Old Home Week on payment of $25 from the City of Charlottetown.
1906 saw the Club complete the purchase of two comfortable pleasure boats for use by members. The need for additional boats was revisited in 1908 and in the September meeting it was proposed that the club order an number of new boats for rental purposes. It is not clear if this referred to rent by club members or for the general public. The following spring boat builder Nelson Paquet of Souris visited the club to look over the HBC boats and in September it was reported that L&N Paquet had constructed three 16-foot boats for the club. These boats are likely shown in the postcard view.
Shallow water at the club appears to have been a continuing problem. In 1904 the Club tried to address the problem by asking the City of Charlottetown to dredge the dock in front of the club. In 1910 the Club extended the float in front of the building to ensure that there would be deep water even at the lowest tides.
A recap of club facilities and services for the 1913 AGM noted an expansion of both boating and swimming activities. Two new spring-boards were installed to allow for diving. A shower bath also made its appearance the club having been attached to the City water supply. Several new rowboats had been ordered and another canoe added to the fleet. However the Club’s foundations were becoming a problem and resources were committed to reinforcing the piling and sheathing and to paint the club. A team from the HBC entered the double sculls race at the Georgetown regatta. The pilings were addressed in 1915 with a new foundation for the club.
In 1920 at the Club’s Annual General Meeting it was noted there were a “nice lot of new boats” in Charlottetown and that an excellent year was expected.
For 1921 although a satisfactory financial statement was provided the problems of the foundation had returned and the meeting was told that the executive intended to have the club renovated and new piles placed under the building.
The last newspaper reference to the Hillsboro Boating Club is in reference to the 1925 planning for Old Home week when Mac Irwin presented a proposal for a regatta jointly sponsored by the Hillsboro Boating Club and the Charlottetown Yacht Club. This event would have yacht races, motorboat races, rowing, a boat parade and other activities.
The HBC seems to have slipped quietly from view. The clubhouse had disappeared by the time of the 1936 aerial photos of the harbour and its sailing activities had been taken over by the Charlottetown Yacht Club beginning in the 1920’s. The HBC’s demise was likely related to the rise of interest in motorboating and the club with its interest limited to rowing and swimming lost support.