The Forgotten York Point Ferry

When Samuel Holland selected the location for the Island’s capital he was influenced by the ease of access afforded by the rivers flanking the site. The Hillsborough, Elliott and York Rivers provided easy water access to the hinterland and before the development of a road system water was the main highway.

However as the land became settled and the economy shifted to agriculture the three rivers  became an impediment (except in winter) to getting access to to the growing town. The first of the rivers to be bridged was the York (North) River where a bridge at Poplar Island was, and continues to be, the route of access from the south and west. However, for pedestrians and horse and cart traffic from York Point, Cornwall and the South Shore it was still a detour well to the north of the shortest route which lay across the harbour.

York Point Wharf in 1935. Note the characteristic forked form of the ferry wharf.

York Point Wharf in 1935. Note the characteristic forked form of the ferry wharf.

A ferry across the North or York River was in use before 1830, probably as a private operation. However the construction of a bridge at Poplar Island, the site of the current crossing, in that year meant that there was limited interest in making improvements to the ferry wharf which appears to have been at or near the end of what is now the Ferry Road but it did not have the regularity or importance of the Rocky Point or Southport routes and it does not appear as a regular government ferry in the 19th century. Even by 1880 the Meachams Atlas shows the road as the “Old Ferry Road”. Possibly the investment required for a steam-powered craft was not justified by the amount of traffic generated on the route.  In the second decade of the 20th century a new technology emerged which made the venture more possible. The gasoline motor boat required less investment and could be accommodated in smaller craft. At the same time an expanded road network meant that more farmers were trying to get goods to Charlottetown and increasing leisure time resulted in the construction of a number of cottages on the North River Shore so there was a greater potential for business.

Guardian 21 July 1914 p. 7

Guardian 21 July 1914 p. 7

In September 1912 the Dominion government called for tenders for a wharf at Franklyn Point almost opposite Victoria Park. The wharf was to extend over 658 feet including the approaches  115 feet of this length to be two guide piers suitable for the ferry.  Initially the service used a motor boat but on completion of the wharf the Steamer Hillsboro made stops two days a week in addition to its Rocky Point service. The Hillsboro also provided service early in the spring and in the fall of the year.  However there appears to have been congestion at the Prince Street Wharf and a landing for the York Ferry was negotiated further west on the waterfront. After 1914 and into the 1920s there were calls for tenders for ferry operation on the route.  The first vessel noted on the route was the motor launch Dolphin which provided  four or five round trips each day from the York Point Wharf to Pownal Wharf – not the Prince Street Ferry wharf as was the case for the Rocky Point ferry. The 40 foot Dolphin had been built for the government the previous year for the route from Charlottetown to Bonshaw. She could carry up to 50 passengers with cabin accommodation for half that number.  However, she could carry only limited amounts of freight and was ill-suited to the transport of livestock.  Two years later the schedule for the Motor Boat Dolphin showed four trips on Monday (Market Day) and only two round-trips daily for the rest of the week. The exception was on Sunday when afternoon trips, possibly for picnic visits, were added.  The Dolphin was replaced by the Hazel R. (sometimes identified as the Hazel Ruth), which had been used in the motor boat service up to Bonshaw in 1917, and was running to York Point three times each summer day in 1919.  The Hazel R. was offered for sale in 1920 and in 1924 was once again reported on the Bonshaw service but it is not known if she continued to visit York Point. However, the service seems to have continued through the 1930s although the name of the boat is not recorded. A correspondent noted in April 1932 that the boat was “a great convenience” when the roads were almost impassable. The last newspaper reference I have been able to find was in 1935 when the LOBA (Ladies Orange Benevolent Association) held a picnic which included “a delightful sail on the York Pont Ferry”. In the late 1930s the yearly subsidy was reduced from $700 to $500 and it is not clear if it was paid past 1937. Whether for ferries or other purposes the wharf continued to be used and was dredged by the Dominion Government in 1944.

Google Earth view of York Point Ferry site. The wharf site is just barely visible at the foot of the light-coloured field.

Google Earth view of York Point Ferry site. The wharf ruin is just barely visible at the foot of the light-coloured field.

Although the 1935 air photo of Franklyn Point shows a forked wharf it is unlikely that after the early years when the Hillsboro operated, the ferry carried more than passengers and light freight as the Pownal wharf end of the run had no such docking accommodation.   At any rate after the 1940s the wharf fell out of use and gradually eroded.

Today a yellow harbour buoy is visible marking the outer end of the rock pile of the wharf ruin just under the water and the shore area is used by oystermen to launch their boats.  Along the shore the cottages are gradually being supplanted by permanent residences.

With paved roads the route to the capital via the North River Bridge is hardly a barrier and the York Point Ferry is barely a memory. Bill and Elizabeth Glen’s comprehensive history of Bonshaw has a photo of the Hazel R. but to date I have not been able to find photos of other boats on the route or of the wharf when it was still active. I would be pleased to hear of any more information about this almost-forgotten part of the harbour history.


7 thoughts on “The Forgotten York Point Ferry

  1. Chris Wilkinson

    Great article, I enjoy reading up on the forgotten history of the Charlottetown Harbour.

    On a Christmas Day shore ride, I came across what appears to be the remains of a very old wharf near the Beach Grove home, perhaps even the carcass of an old ship are close by – but it could be bits of the wharf. I have a few pictures I could send your way.

    1. sailstrait Post author

      Judging from the rock pile I agree there may well have been a wharf there. It may have been used to land coal and other supplies for the Beachgrove summer hotel which stood on the property. Remains are visible on the 1935 aerial photo of the area. The timber and ironwork are from two barges that were left there years ago and which have steadily deteriorated. I can remember when they were still reasonably intact.

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