There has been ice boating on Charlottetown Harbour since at least the 1880s and probably long before that. An undated newspaper clipping from that era asks the owners of ice boats to keep clear of the winter road from the ferry wharf to Southport noting recent incidents of horses being spooked by the boats and causing a runaway …”thus driving becomes a danger instead of a pleasure.” The photo above is probably the boat belonging to Charlottetown photographer H.B. Stirling. The photo comes from his album and in January 1899 he was advertising the sale of his 20 foot iceboat with oak runner plank, complete with sails.
The same year the Guardian was promoting the formation of an ice boat club so that Charlottetown could be up-to-date in winter sports. “Instead of one or two ice-boats Charlottetown should possess a fleet of at least a dozen…” Other than the cost of canvas a boat could be built for under $15.00 and most yachtsmen had canvas sails which lie useless in the winter. “It would be a small matter to build ice boat hulls to suit the canvas and spars used on the 16 and 18-foot class boat during the season of open water.” By 1909 there appear to have been occasional ice boat races. The Examiner of 12 March 1909 reported on an exciting race with eight boats competing over a three-mile triangular course with four circuits for a total of twenty miles. The winning boat, Devil, owned by Nelson Winchester completed the course in 49 minutes for an average speed of about 24 miles per hour. Other boats included Praught’s Topsy, Batt’s Skidoo and Hinkey Dink owned by E. Flynn.
During the 1920s and 30s frequent mention is made of ice boats on the harbour ice, sometimes as many as a dozen at a time – this along with note of upwards of 300 skaters. The boats used before the Second World War differ significantly from those of recent times. They were often much larger and were generally gaff-rigged and carried a jib. Less often built to a standard design the sizes varied. In the 1909 race account noted above there is mention of the We Are Here “the largest and best ice boat ever built on P.E.Island” owned by Clark and Murnaghan which had broken its spar in three places in a practice run and was unable to compete. The boats also had rear steering much like a conventional boat. The crossbar providing balance was forward of the crew and not at the rear as at present.
I am indebted to Catherine Hennessey for several of these references and photos.