The construction of a causeway across the West River in the early 1960s resulted in a major change in the way that river was used for recreational purposes. The Rocky Point Ferry, once an essential link in the network was eventually discontinued and the transportation to several features at the harbour mouth was limited with those with access to automobiles.
A more important change was on the river itself as the causeway ended access to the upper part of the river for all but the smallest powerboats. With changing transportation patterns the river, for the most part, had ceased to be the commercial highway it once was. Small wharves at the bottom of farms eroded and cannot now be seen. Schooners which had carries the agricultural produce up and down the river and across the Strait were abandoned on the shore.
The ferry at Westville came to an end after the building of the Dunedin Bridge about 1900. The era ended when the construction of the causeway across the West River at Meadowbank in the early 1960s resulted in a real detriment to the use of the river for pleasure purposes which had existed for more than sixty years.
There are 7.3 nautical miles of waterway above the present causeway before the tidehead is reached at Bonshaw and for many years this was a preferred destination for pleasure boaters from Charlottetown. The steamship service offered by the City of London and the Harland ended at Westville. Further up there was a bridge at Dunedin which barred to river to sailboats but a humped-back bridge there made it possible for motorboats to go through, especially at low tide. Even the stout Houseboat Doris was able to get up the river as far as Bonshaw. The hamlet was also the terminus of a regular motorboat service. Bonshaw also was home to a number of stores, a post office and several churches. Small outboards and skiffs could reach Crosby’s Mills just above the Green Road bridge. Above the Dunedin bridge the river took on a serpentine shape flowing between high banks of the hills at Strathgartney. There were several camping spots along the river and photo albums from the Bourke, Weeks and Irwin families at the Public Archives and Records Office are filled with photos of boats and tents and families on the river. The Restless and the Roamer feature prominently in these pictures but smaller boats and canoes owned by Fred Small and others can be seen. Mac Irwin exercised his photographic skills and took some wonderful shots of boats at rest and in action. The scenic views also gave rise to a number of postcards depicting the views along the river.
In addition to ending excursions, the West River Causeway also had a damaging effect on the river itself. The tidal flow of the river was obstructed by the new roadway with its narrow spillway and the river above Meadowbank failed to flush in the same volumes as before. Mudbanks appeared and the edges of the river became clogged with marshes. Fish
populations almost disappeared from popular “holes”. In some cases the old channels silted up. The widening of the spans two years ago has resulted in a beginning of the return to the old river but it may be many years before the full changes are seen. On a more positive note, as can be seen in the image above, the steep banks and lack of easy access have kept the river area from being developed and it remains a river through the forest for much of its length. Although I cannot get my boat Ebony above the causeway I hope to row the course of the river during the summer and find the sites of some of the photos taken a hundred years ago.