Early in January 1936, before the harbour iced over, the paddle steamer Hillsborough made its last trip. Replacing it was a boat that was new in many ways. True, it retained the double ended configuration which enabled vehicles to drive on and off without having to turn around but in many ways it was a new design.
The Fairview (named for a community near Rocky Point) was built in Georgetown at the shipyard of Captain Charles Fitzgerald. There were few ship yards left on Prince Edward Island in the mid-1930s and Fitzgerald had also built the ferry Newport (1928) which crossed the Cardigan River and the Montague (1930) which ran to Lower Montague. These two boats linked Georgetown with the communities in Eastern Kings County and enabled the county capital to continue as a commercial centre. The building of the new ferry provided work for about twenty men, many of whom had worked in the disappearing shipbuilding trade for years.
The new steamer was launched in December 1935 and was 115 feet long, 28 ferret wide and drew 7 feet. The ferry had a gross tonnage of 227 tons. The main difference between it and its predecessor, the Hillsborough, was in the means of propulsion. The Fairview was powered by a five-cylinder Canadian Fairbanks diesel engine which produced 175 horsepower which could drive the boat at 8 1/2 knots. The engine was supplied and installed by Bruce Stewart and Co. of Charlottetown The ferry was wood throughout; the frame being American oak and pine and the planking was 3 inch hard pine fastened to the frame using the traditional “trenails”, wooden pegs about 20 inches long and an inch in diameter driven through the planks and frame and wedged at both ends. The vehicle deck, which could carry up to eighteen automobiles, was spruce covered with asphalt plank. Unlike the Hillsborough, the Fairview had a deck covering most of the vehicle area from the elements. The passenger cabins, one of which was identified as the ladies cabin, were finished in Douglas Fir. An additional line of inch and quarter hardwood planking along the waterline protected the hull from ice. Noteworthy equipment included 2 lifeboats and forty life belts.
The vessel was towed to Charlottetown for final fitting out at the Bruce Stewart wharf. By the 26th of March 1936 it had completed its test runs and was put into service. Running from the period when the ship could be navigated through the spring ice until the winter closure of the harbour which could be as late as January the vessel continued on the route for twenty-two years. Service was interrupted when the Fairview went to Pictou for its annual overhaul. The boat was replaced on the run by a gasoline-powered launch. In the winter a bushed road was marked for crossing the harbour.
For the most part the crossings were uneventful. An exception took place in August of 1944. As the ferry approached the Prince Street Wharf the horses hauling a truck wagon with potatoes and turnips were startled and backed up. Unfortunately the chain closing the gap at the stern snapped and the wagon slipped off the end of the Fairview dragging the horses, cart, and a seven-year old boy, Delbert Muirhead of Canoe Cove, into the water. His father managed to jump clear as the wagon went off the stern of the boat into the water. A passenger on the ferry dove into the water and saved the boy but the team, wagon and produce was lost. Howard Muirhead valued the team at $300, the wagon at $540 and the load of potatoes and turnips at $20.
In the days before automobile ownership was common the Fairview, like the other ferries before it, provided an easy and pleasant way for residents of Charlottetown to escape the city. Some times, on summer weekends two or three hundred people would cross the harbour on the boat to Rocky Point to use the beaches, visit the Indian encampment or the “Fort Lot” where the ruins of Fort Amherst were visible. Some even went farther to Holland Cove.
I have a recollection from about 1957 of being delivered by my family to the Ferry Wharf where the campers at the Holland Cove YMCA camp were assembled. After crossing the harbour on the Fairview we loaded our camping gear onto a waiting jeep and walked the dusty road from the Rocky Point wharf to Holland Cove where the cabins awaited us.
With improved roads and pavement gradually being extended into the countryside there was agitation for a permanent link between the communities of the South Shore and the City. Various bridge proposals and routes were advanced and in 1958 a causeway was constructed across the West River between Meadowbank and New Dominion, just east of the steamer wharf at Westville. Although a passenger service was continued into the early 1970s using the Fairview II and MacDonald’s 3, the converted fishing boats carried no cargo or automobiles. The Fairview itself was sold off and used as a construction barge. Noted as “unseaworthy” the registry for the ship was canceled in 1963.
In spite of the fact that the Fairview was a fixture in the harbour for more than two decades photos of the ship are scarce. I would be pleased to learn of any that are available.