A Short History of a Short Wharf

Today it exists only as a short stub of a wharf, one of two sheltering the Charlottetown Yacht Club’s junior sailing fleet. The name Lord’s Wharf has all but disappeared along with the wharf itself but the latter survives in an abbreviated state and serves as a reminder of a depression works project which gave employment to dozens of Charlottetown men and helped see their families through the late 1930s.

Mr. Lord comes to Charlottetown

William W. Lord moved to Charlottetown from the Tryon area in the early 1840s. He acquired the property at the south-east corner of Water and Pownal Streets which had a water lot which gave him rights over the seabed out to the channel marking the edge of the harbour.  The lot was not a deep one and the waters of the harbour lapped at the rear of the property not far from Water Street.

Rankin House at the corner of Pownal and Water Streets 1894

Rankin House at the corner of Pownal and Water Streets 1894

One of the early improvements was the erection of a building on Water Street across from the corner where Samuel Holman was to run West India House. Lord’s building was originally a house but it was shortly turned into a hotel called the Rankin House which served as a landmark at the head of the wharf for many years. W.W. Lord achieved success in business and politics and was a director of the Union Bank, the Bank of Prince Edward Island and a number of insurance companies. His son, Artemis Lord, was, for many years, agent for the Department of Marine and Fisheries.

Business on the Wharf

Advertisement from Frederick's Directory 1889

Advertisement from Frederick’s Directory 1889

The wharf was also the home of a number of other businesses. In the later part of the nineteenth century.  John F. Worth was a sail maker with a loft on Lord’s wharf. As a private wharf the site did not attract the same sort of notice as came to the wharves owned by the colony or by the City of Charlottetown such as Queen’s, Pownal Wharf or the Prince Street Ferry Wharf.  Nor was the wharf the home to shipping companies such as the Island Steam Navigation Company or the Plant Line. Occasionally there would be advertisements for cargos landed such as herring from Newfoundland in 1854 or coal in 1891 and lumber in 1909.

Lords 1869001

The waterfront about 1860. The closeness of Lords and Pownal wharves can be clearly seen.

Although built later than Pownal wharf which dates from the 1830s, Lord’s wharf had a major challenge as it was very close to the earlier construction and the basin between them was scarcely wide enough to accommodate two vessels abreast. Although there was 16 feet of water at the end of the wharf it shoaled quickly.  The wharf had been built by the common method of sinking timber cribs with rock and then bridging the cribs until the desired length or depth was achieved.  Unless maintained the wharves deteriorated quickly. Lord’s wharf was narrow and there was little room for warehouses on the wharf itself although buildings were found on the landward end.

Lords 1869004

As the age of wooden ships came to a close derelict vessels could be found next to several of the Charlottetown wharves.

By the turn of the 20th century the wharf had fallen on hard times and it seems to have been rarely used. In 1901 docking at the wharf was hampered by the hulk of an old schooner which had been dragged by a storm to the west side of the wharf. Rankin House, formerly a building of note on Water Street, was likewise “neglected and dilapidated” and its removal in 1907 was applauded by the Guardian.  In 1909 the wharf was purchased by “well-known junk dealer” Louis Block who undertook some repairs. Pyne and Hyde’s Star Foundry occupied one of the buildings on the wharf but it had ceased business by 1911 when Block purchased the equipment. He maintained a warehouse and junk yard on the wharf gathering hair, skins, old cloth and metals. The site was plagued with a number of fires.

Elevators and Rolled Oats

In 1913 Lord’s Wharf was the preferred location for a proposal to construct a large Rolled Oats Factory on the waterfront. The Colonial Corporation of Halifax had created the Price Edward Island Cereal Company and told City council that it was planning a large concrete dock, mill, grain elevator, box factory, cooperage and powerhouse on the Lord’s Wharf property with planned investment of more than a $600,000. The wharf would be served by an extension of the railway along Lower Water Street. The proposed mill would produce 300 barrels of rolled oats each day, primarily for the export market.  An interview by an enthusiastic reporter with one of the proponents of the scheme appears in the 11 November 1913 Guardian and reads remarkably like economic development proposals floated across the local government desks on a regular basis to this day. The economic spin-offs would be huge for the city and the province, employment would be created, a market would be provided for local products, value would be added to the surplus oat production, etc. etc. etc.  The proposal was missing only the impact on tourism that a five-story grain elevator on the waterfront would provide.  All that was required by the company was a tax exemption, free site, free rail connection, a subsidy from the federal government for the construction of the elevator, a grant from the province, and for Islanders to purchase stock in the corporation. However, unlike today, none of the levels of government were seduced by the promised benefits and the proposal died. It would be 60 years before a grain elevator was built in the province and it would be far from the waterfront.

A Wharf Cut Short

Lords 1869002

Lords and Pownal Wharves in 1919. The rockpiles marking the remains of Lord’s are not shown but extend almost to the channel.

The wharf fared scarcely better than the proposal. The hulk of the schooner had been raised and floated away when the east side of the Pownal Wharf was dredged in 1915. Six years later the remains of much of Lords Wharf were removed by the dredge. For years it had been judged an impediment to the navigation of vessels using the Pownal and Plant Line wharves to the east and west of Lord’s. What was left was barely half of the original length of the wharf.

By this time the wharf property had become the property of the City of Charlottetown and it was one of a number of locations where works projects took place to provide employment during the height of the depression.  Over $6000 was spent in 1936 and 1937 improving what was left of the wharf and making work for the city’s unemployed. As early as July 1936 City Council was looking into a proposal to rehabilitate the wharf and turn it over to the Charlottetown Yacht Club. In August 1937 the City Recorder was authorized to enter into a lease for the wharf.  By the end of October of that year the new club house on the wharf was nearing completion.

The corner lot at Water and Pownal became the site of the Eastern Hay and Feed Company’s new Charlottetown warehouse which was opened in November 1940. The opening was celebrated by a huge dance in the three empty floors of the  building featuring  both square dancing with Don Messer’s orchestra and modern music by the Blue Dome orchestra. Advertising advised couples to  “Swing and sway at Eastern Hay.” Eastern Hay and Feed later became Atlantic Wholesalers. Part of this structure still serves as P.E.I.’s Supreme Court building. Between Eastern Hay and Feed and the Yacht Club the City of Charlottetown works department had a large barn that was probably had been one of the warehouses on the wharf.

Since taking over the responsibility for Lord’s Wharf the Charlottetown Yacht Club has maintained the resource but once again deterioration of the wharf is taking its toll and siltation caused by discharge from the City’s storm water drains and by the change to currents from developments elsewhere in the harbour is creating problems at the wharf. This time it is unlikely that make-work employment projects will hold the solution.

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5 thoughts on “A Short History of a Short Wharf

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