An Iceboat in Charlottetown Harbour – Not for Winter Sport

Not the Rocky Point Iceboat. A view of the Capes crossing from Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly 1887.

Not the Rocky Point Iceboat. A view of the Capes crossing from Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly August 1887.

The term “iceboat” usually means one of two things on Prince Edward island. It refers either to the winter mail service between Cape Traverse and Cape Tormentine that operated for almost a century before the implementation of a successful winter steamer service with the S.S. Prince Edward Island in 1917 or to the sport of iceboating which continues to this day.  There is a third meaning that is unique to Charlottetown harbour.

Rocky Point has been served by a communication link across the harbour to Charlottetown since the mid 1800s; in summer by a ferry (first powered by sail and later by steam), and in the winter by a bushed road across the ice.  As travel between the South Shore and the capital became more and more important interruption to the route became more of a problem and there was no greater interruption than the times between the development of enough ice to stop the ferry and the thickening of the ice to support pedestrians and sleighs.  The problem was reversed in the spring as the ice road became too fragile but still posed a barrier for the ferry. This was compounded by mud season when alternative land routes were impassable.  In 1937, for example a mild winter kept the ice road form forming anytime over the winter and the ice boat was in daily use for several months. The return of the S.S. Hillsboro “was hailed with delight by the residents of Rocky Point.”

We have several accounts of the crossing at the Capes and in the history of the service lives were lost as storms came up and the boats were swept down the strait. Among the best of the traveller accounts is by B.W.A. Sleigh in his Pine Forests and Hacmatack Clearings, a copy of which can be found in Haszards Gazette for 6 July 1853 .

The crossing to Rocky Point is less documented but a report in the 12 April 1950 Guardian gives a snapshot of the boat and its users.  At that time the service had been in place for about 45 years but the design of the boat used was similar to that used on the Capes route. About 20 feet long, the boats were modeled on a Norwegian pram but had runners on the keel to allow the boat to be pulled across the ice. The boat in use in 1950 had first seen service in the oil drilling on Governor’s Island in 1925 when to was used to take supplies to the drillers over the winter. For much of the history of the Rocky Point route Augustus McMahon and Aretmus McKinnon were the operators of the service but in 1950 the captain was Howard Smith and the crew included Oswald Gorvette and Harold Mackinnon.  The Guardian reporter was at the Charlottetown end of the run at Paoil’s Wharf:

Eleven people in addition the the crew of three made the trip over and back yesterday. There were 300 additional passengers on the way back, however as Mr. Allison MacMillan took home a batch of spring chicks. He also piled three or four bags of feed in the boat, some of it probably chick starter for the trip. This was too much for mailman Wendell Gorvette, who, with a companion grabbed the mailbag and started walking….

Run over the ice on two sleigh-shoe covered runners about eight inches apart on the bottom the boat is dragged across the ice by the men with ropes attached to it. The passengers walk beside the boat so that if they strike holes they may have safety and may also drag the boat to the water. When the water is reached the passengers and crew take to the boat. The captain steers her from the stern while three men man the oars Only ten people are supposed to get in the boat but frequently sixteen or eighteen make the trip.

During the past few days they have gone through into ice holes three times. They felt no concern yesterday afternoon however as they stated that Captain Smith now knew where the holes were and would steer around them…

Leaving time from Charlottetown is 2 P.M.. This schedule is not too strictly adhered to, however, as many of the passengers are late in returning. For those who do return on time it means they must wait around until then. Some of the men expressed regret about their inability to bring cattle into the city for the breeders sale last Saturday. They were also prevented from buying any cattle. …     

Unlike the Capes route where passengers paid one fare to sit in the boat and another to help pull it there was no charge at all for crossing Charlottetown Harbour, however passengers were still expected to help the crew with the pulling. The ice boats probably continued in operation until the opening of the West River Causeway in 1958.  Although for a number of years after the causeway opening the track across the harbour continued to be “bushed” and the summer operation of a motor boat was continued for passengers, the ferry Fairview was taken off the route. It is unlikely that the iceboats were launched after the new route across the West River near New Dominion was in operation.


5 thoughts on “An Iceboat in Charlottetown Harbour – Not for Winter Sport

  1. Pingback: Searching for Black Gold beneath the Red Rocks | Sailstrait

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  3. Pingback: Fairview was the Rocky Point Ferry until 1958 | Sailstrait

  4. Lorraine Ella Clements

    As a child I remember my father taking us to ROcky Point on a ferry in the mid 50’s. I am looking for information on the ice road we crossed on from Charlottetown to Rocky Point. The road was plowed and marked with little trees. Do you have any information on the ice road not the ice boat? Could you email me please. I am at and thank you.

  5. Pingback: The last iceboat on the Strait | Sailstrait

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