For those of a certain age living on Prince Edward Island the memory of being stuck in the ice on the ferry was a part of our collective heritage. If nothing else it taught patience for there truly was nothing the passengers could do – and in some cases nothing the crew could do either. But we seldom thought the experience was one that tourists would come here to experience. The passage below paints a more attractive picture and one which suggests the firm editorial hand of the Board of Trade. Because the passage and the delay was a common event we have few eye-witness accounts. Written early in 1905 this one pre-dates the terrible winter when Pictou was blockaded by an ice-jam for weeks on end and no passengers were able to reach the Island except in the small ice-boats on the Capes route and no freight at all was carried. As we liked to say before the bridge “The mainland is cut off from civilization again.”
Ice-locked in Prince Edward Island
The trip in one of these steamers is a novel one, and during the season many tourists journey north to make it. The writer determined to take this trip last January and procured passage on the Minto, which sailed the next morning for Georgetown. We were a party of 40 and, to make a pleasant voyage, we indulged in more or less light revelry. At 7 o’clock we steamed out of Pictou harbor, and when about three miles out we struck the real thing – ice- ice by the ton. The boat’s bow went up and her stern went down, the pumps were working constantly, and quaver of her machinery shook the whole steamer. Bang! On the top of a large cake of ice. Crash! It broke and she sailed on but only for a few minutes the ice was too much for her – the wind unfavorable – she could go no further. The captain gave orders , she wheeled around, and to the disappointment of all, headed for Pictou. At noon the captain sighted the Stanley off Pictou Island heading for Pictou harbor. There was no time to loose, the whistle blew and the Minto steamed out again . The wind had shifted, she ploughed through the ice and seemed to have a free way. In about an hour we passed the Stanley. She was making good headway and was soon out of sight. For the next couple of hours we encountered little ice but about 4 o’clock we came to a sudden halt. A rush was made for the deck: pikepoles and crowbars were plying the ice. Slowly she backed a few lengths, put on full steam and headed for the enemy. She ploughed away for two miles through six feet of ice. Again she halted – stuck solid.
The captain, from his position on the bridge, quickly took in the situation and ordered the engines to be stopped. In enquiry we learned that we were to remain on the top of this jam until morning at least, but some on the boat who had been caught in like circumstances before, remarked that we might be there much longer. so we prepared ourselves to bear it.
For the next half hour there was more or less confusion among the passengers to get located for the night. The captain called us together and told us not to be allarmed [sic], but to keep cool. One passenger assured him rather sarcastically that they would have no difficulty keeping cool in the midst of such arctic surroundings.
The party were a jolly lot and soon we became acquainted and exchanged cards. At six supper was served. All sat down and being possessed of healthy appetites. we enjoyed a hearty meal. During the trip the steward and his staff were very kind to us and kept us well supplied in such luxuries of life as the Minto could afford under the circumstances. Supper over we had an impromptu concert. Gramophone selections, songs and recitations were rendered interspersed with violin and harmonica solos and step dances. After the concert the ladies enjoyed a few games of whist and the gentlemen repaired to the smoking room to indulge in the philosophic weed and swap a few short stories. In this manner the evening was whiled away. At 11 o’clock we turned in. There were not staterooms for all and some slept on couches. By the next morning the wind had shifted a little and the massive ice pan was moving. This looked encouraging and we hope to be able to make an early start. By 7 o’clock the wind and tide had again shifted. The captain gave orders and we were once again moving towards Georgetown. Every piece of shroud trembled like a leaf. The flagpole on the stem shook like a signal staff in a gale, but the Minto broke the jam and crushed the enemy, quivering the while with the exertion. Up in the wheelhouse the strain was felt as strongly as below. The passengers were alarmed. A severe storm was blowing up from the north-east that kept the captain peering anxiously into the snow ahead. We listed now to the starbord, now to port, ran up, crashed down and hammered our way ahead. Could she stand this sort of thing long? Twenty minutes later she halted. It took an hour to cut her out. We were making headway, altho the throb of the big engines could be heard in the wheelhouse, and the pumps were throwing frothing streams from her sides. For three hours she kept at it, and then came a blast of the whistle. She stopped. We had been going through some heavy ice.
Her bow was deep down; another list to starboard, she backed up a few yards, stuck her bow up in the air, made for the driving snow and ice, and for a while ploughed doggedly along. Presently we struck open water, and the beat of the engines was restored to a normal state. The sea was a little rough but we sailed along for three-quarters of an hour without any exertion. At last the open water came to an end and we saw the glistening peaks of a pack of heavy ice stretching as far to starboard and port as we could see. In a few minutes we were upon it., and dashed into a lead between two fields of heavy ice eight feet in thickness. When the crash came it was followed by a sharp grind that tells of heavier ice. The Minto trembled, lurched and stopped, backed up and made at it again and this time went through into an expanse of thin ice. The openness we had just made closed up, and quickly too; the ice fields on either side were moving together and in less than two minutes the opening was welded strong.
It was now 3:30 in the afternoon. We had been on the ice since 7 o’clock of the previous morning. Five miles of grinding and crushing had yet to be done before we could reach Georgetown. In the distance we could see the Island coast, the sight of which was hailed with joy, for it assured us that the dangers and anxieties of the trip were over. We sailed along beautifully now, hammering away towards the homestretch. The rest of the trip was pleasant: the wind had died away, the storm abated, and a crimson and golden sunset on the western horizon turned the peaks into great, glittering crystals, presenting a beautiful picture.
At 4:30 we bumped triumphantly alongside the dock. A cheer greeted us from the shore, and we were soon among anxious ones, who had sighted the steamer early in the afternoon, plodding along through the mountains of ice, and who had awaited patiently to see us safely landed. The passengers gave three cheers for the Minto and crew and they deserved it.
Toronto World. Reprinted in the Quebec Saturday Budget 14 October 1905.