The Clarke Steamship Company had a long history of linking ports in the Gulph of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland with Montreal. Clarke ships were frequent visitors to Charlottetown and their story is a small part of Kevin Griffin’s extensive research into the company which is presented in his WordPress blog titled St. Lawrence Saga: The Clarke Steamship Story. (I am indebted to Mr. Griffin for information he provided and for the photo of the North Coaster which I have used in this write-up.) Many Islanders will remember the Clarke Steamships name but what is less widely known is that a small group of Island business men were involved in one Clarke venture just after World War II.
As the war drew to a close the Island became eager to capitalize on the long-time trade links with Newfoundland that had been strengthened after 1939. Premier Walter Jones bombarded Ottawa with requests to develop direct and subsidized shipping links to carry Island produce and livestock and even considered having his government enter the steamship business.
In 1946 the Dominion Government agreed to continue an existing war-time subsidy for an additional four years and, without competition, granted the $4,500 per trip concession to Clarke Steamship Company. In April of 1946 Desmond Clark visited the Island, met with the business community and with Premier Jones and announced that service would begin shortly. While in Charlottetown he announced the creation of the Inter-Island Steamship Company capitalized at half a million dollars. Of the nine company directors five were from the P.E.I. business community: H.C. Bourke of Carvelle Bros – leading wholesale merchants , Walter Hyndman – Hyndman & Company marine insurers, Walter Pickard – Coal merchant, J. Andrew Likely of the DeBlois wholesale firm, and L.H. Poole merchant and shipper of Montague. The Guardian noted the youth of the Directors:
It is a matter of satisfaction to find the younger generation taking an active part in the development of the trade and commerce of the Province, as exemplified by the directorate of the new Inter-Island Steamship Company.
The new company was, in all likelihood, somewhat of a shell or holding corporation as the vessel operated as a direct part of the Clark fleet. Inter-Island may have been created in order to forestall other Island interest in the service.
The company’s vessel, the Island Connector was designed and built as a China Coaster to be a supply vessel in the war against Japan. Launched Vancouver in late 1945 as the Ottawa Parapet it was renamed and reconfigured as the Island Connector by the Pacific Dry Dock Company and was completed in April 1946 when it set sail for the East Coast. With dimensions of 224 feet by 37 feet it was one of three 1,300 ton, nearly identical ships acquired by Clarke for their Gulf and North Shore Services. Its two cargo holds could accommodate 75,000 cubic feet of cargo and the ships had accommodation for twelve passengers. Clarke offered “Vagabond Cruises” return from Montreal to P.E.I. and Newfoundland ports for a fare of $200.
Mount St. Vincent History Professor Corey Slumkoski has explored the Island – Newfoundland trade connection in a number of articles the most accessible of which is “Animals on the Hoof” published in the Island Magazine in 2006. However in this article and in a number of others on related subjects he identifies the Island Connector as a “diesel schooner” which certainly was not the case as it had an Allis-Chalmers triple expansion reciprocating steam engine giving a speed of 10 knots.
The subsidized service continued from April through November for four seasons, ending in 1949. By this time Newfoundland had become part of the Dominion and the trade was no longer international but inter-provincial. Clarke kept the Montreal – St. Johns route using the Island Connector through 1950 but Charlottetown was no longer a regular stop. The ship was sold to Canadian Pacific for their West Coast Service and re-named the Yukon Princess. It was laid up in 1956, sold to the Westley Shipping Company. Later re-named the Rosita it was wrecked off Nicaragua in 1963 and scrapped the following year. Shipping between Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland was continued by the P.E.I. government owned M.V. Eskimo.