A Charlottetown Harbour Scene — or not

Entering the Harbour at Sunset - Charlottetown

Entering the Harbor at Sunset – Charlottetown

It was an evocative photograph and must have seemed even the more so at a time when the standard was a simple black and white.  The light passing below a low cloud catches a vessel coming into port. The silhouette of the town is in the background, the skyline punctuated by church steeples.  What matter that the colour was introduced by the printer and may have had no counterpart in the reality of the Charlottetown sky.

Guardian 8 July 1907 p.4

Guardian 8 July 1907 p.4

The period from the turn of the century to before the Great War – the close of the Victorian era and the Edwardian years – were the heydays of the postcard mania.  A series of relaxations of the postal regulations made postcards possible and the world began sending and collecting cards. Prince Edward Island was not exempt and hundreds of thousands of cards were sold here. In 1907 Carter and Company, only one distributer, advertised they had contracted for the manufacture of half a million coloured cards from European manufacturers.  The same year Guardian noted that between seventy-five and a hundred new views of the Island would be available for the coming season.  Although no exact count has been undertaken the total number of Island post card images produced between 1900 and 1920 could easily have exceeded five hundred.

Some cards were produced by Island publishers: Carter and Company and The Journal Publishing Company were two who had cards made for them. Other cards were part of the output of national and international publishers:  Valentine & Company, Steadman, W.G. MacFarlane, Raphael Tuck & Sons all had Prince Edward Island views in their collections, usually printed in Germany or England.  One of the most productive was the Toronto firm of Warwick Bros. & Rutter whose high-quality cards were printed in Canada.  This company produced over 7,000 different Canadian views and more than 140 of them were from Prince Edward Island.  Many. if not most, of the P.E.I. Cards were by amateur photographer William Steel Louson. His images had an atmospheric appearance much removed from the normal documentary depictions of public buildings and street scenes and so it is not unreasonable to conclude that he might be the originator of the “Entering the Harbor at Sunset” card pictured above.

Except for the fact that the card itself is a fraud.

Although at first glance the card is one of Charlottetown Harbour there are a few difficulties.  With the city in the background the photo must have been taken from Southport or Bunbury. If so, where is the vessel heading, and why is the shoreline so far away? Ships did pass up the river through the Hillsborough Bridge; small coal steamers unloaded directly at the Falconwood wharf.  If it is indeed Charlottetown in the background where are the characteristic three steeples of St. Dunstan’s or the mass of the Notre Dame Convent which dominated the east end of the city?  There is a navigation buoy just aft of the ship which should suggest that the ship should be hard aground on Minchin’s Point. The ship itself is a puzzle as it looks more like a lake boat suited to the Great Lakes canals than a coaster serving the Atlantic seaboard.

The answer can be found in the caption for the image below.

Sunset on Lake Ontario

Although it was not unusual for postcard publishers to appropriate images (Louson photos appear un-credited in a half-dozen different publisher’s offerings) it is less common to shift locations. It did happen however – one Island fishing scene is labeled by one publisher as being near Souris and by another as the Dunk River.

The hundreds of pre-war post cards are excellent historical images and provide rare views of Island scenes now much altered or which have disappeared., but not when they are lifted from one location and transported to another.  Unless of course there is another Charlottetown on the shores of Lake Ontario.

NOTE;  More on the photographic work of W.S. Louson can be found in the Spring/Summer 1991 issue of The Island Magazine


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