An Afternoon on the Elliott

Island newspapers took particular delight in publishing accounts penned by visitors to the Province.  The Island was sufficiently distant and yet accessible from New England that the area was frequently profiled by American periodicals. Armchair travellers could access Harper’s Monthly Magazine or Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and see the Island through a tourist eye. In September 1877 the Patriot published the following anonymous account of a summer trip up the West River written by an American visitor.

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Charlottetown from the Southport Ferry Wharf. Detail from illustration for “The Garden of British North America” Frank Leslie’s Weekly 1887

Perhaps you are ignorance of that river generally called the West. Well, should you ever be in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, owning allegiance to our neighbouring Dominion, step aboard the Government Ferry Steamer Southport on Tuesday and Friday, they being market days, and, for twelve cents “good and lawful money of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria,” you will be taken through twelve miles of the most charming scenery in the Lower Canadian Provinces.

Leaving the Queen’s Wharf and the City, resounding with business, for some time the eyes are charmed with the harbor out-look, a little ferry-boat, aptly named the Elfin, putting across to Southport on the opposite shore,  fishing schooners making in and out, and small boats of all shapes and sizes running across the steamer’s bows, then racing alongside, etc. Right down the harbor we go viewing Government House embowered in trees, looking like many a southern plantation residence. Battery Point with a few ancient guns, and a small red brick arsenal flanking it, then across the mouth of the North or York River, on the right hand, and a view of the harbor’s mouth and Light House on the other hand, shut out immediately by entering the river of our story.

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Government House from the harbour. Illustration from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine – September 1877

Just as the harbor is left for the river is passed Rocky Point, to and from which and the city a fine, large sail boat, ably manned, plies hourly every day, affording a splendid chance for luxurious coolness through sweltering days; and in the evening we heard that the same boat carries large parties of young people about the harbor for a few hours, one of the many pleasant ways in which Islanders thoroughly enjoy life.  Just above the Point is an old fort dating from the French occupation, the earthworks overgrown with large evergreen trees.   …  Although none of the Rivers in this Gem of the Gulf are very long, yet the alluvial soil causes deep cuttings, many  bends, and attendant “points”  opening up variety at every half mile. Passing along we disturb families of crane, standing solemnly on one leg fishing, and now and then a flock of ducks who rise from the water and sail away in “Indian file,” each one with its head on one side looking at the intruders with that inquiring gaze that hens bestow upon a hawk hovering around in chicken time.

There is a clearness in the atmosphere here that makes everything beautifully distinct, outlining the landscape on the sky and making an Indian Summer day just delightful, while beneath is flowing the river of water, silently, steadily onward to the sea.  Having asked the Captain the names of one or two Points, we were agreeably surprised to receive a civil answer, but we found afterwards it was one of the boat’s universal belongings.   We had always imagined that captains of steamers  had such a load of responsibility resting upon them, in the way of mint juleps and gin cocktails &c, that poor, common, travelling humanity must travel in silence but here was one almost ready to go to the other extreme, in fact, it gave rise to the thought that he was trying to gain the same end by means of an overpowering flow if descriptive language. “That’s Ferguson’s Point on the Port Side and McNeill’s just above , with White’s and Hyde’s  on the big bend just opposite, and there’s Patterson’s, Crosby’s and Wilson’s Points.” 

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Chart of Elliott River from the harbour to Dog [now Clyde] River from George Wrights 1839 Chart of Hillsborough Bay

We next stepped forward to interview the Engineer just as the steamer crossed Dog River mouth, every stream from that turning a mile. The engineer and Pilot said it was ” not much fun going up river now,” but when the geese and other wild fowl were in season, and good trout fishing could be had  and he was just warming to the subject, and introducing us (in imagination) to the landed proprietors along the river bank, when the Gong sounded for a landing, and, in a few minutes we were tied up to Farquharson’s Wharf, one of these peculiar structures made by piling fir trees (or Var) on the ice in the winter time allowing it to sink, and then building up with timber and ballast in summer, and they are said never to rot. A large Saw and Grist Mill is at the head of the wharf. A family is migrating up river to fresh fields and pastures new … the party consisting of a man and wife, an overgrown lump of a boy, a little golden-haired, dirty-faced girl, and a baby in arms, neutral gender, but of undoubted lung power. Their household effects were limited, yet occupied the whole of the attention of the owner and two deck hands to remove them from the wharf to the steamer’s deck. There was a cradle with a rocker and a half, a cooking stove with three legs and a brick, four chairs, two of which were backless and the other two minus several rungs, two bundles of sundries done up in patchwork quilts, the makings of a bedstead, one iron pot and a tea kettle. About three miles further up the whole interesting family was landed and went on their way rejoicing.

Just above the wharf two men were raking oysters from a bed uncovered at low tide, as are others in the same river, and some of the crew shouted themselves hoarse endeavouring to induce them to come down and let the strangers stand treat, but they would not come, and we are in doubt to this day as to the true merits of an Elloitt river bivalve, though able to endorse fully all encomiums , past or present upon Island oysters generally …

But the shades of night are coming down swift, it is time to be up and steaming, so the captain thinks and orders it so, that in a minute or two the boat, swing from a hawser as upon a pivot, heads downstream, and stopping only once to pick up a small boat passenger who had put out to intercept us, we were soon going up the harbor again, a soft mist falling. We could see the lights of the city gleam through the mist and rain, and were anon in the Hotel well satisfied with our afternoon’s enjoyment while outside.

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