Late 19th Century ferries – the Elfin and the Southport

The Elfin 1873-1906

Elfin approaching Prince Street Ferry Wharf.

Elfin approaching Prince Street Ferry Wharf.

For the quarter century, between confederation with Canada and the launch of the Hillsborough in 1898 Charlottetown harbour crossings were provided by two paddle-wheel steamers; the Elfin and the Southport.

In 1873 the Elfin, was launched in Joseph Fairchild’s shipyard in Georgetown in late April and was put on the Southport ferry route in May.  The boat had a gross tonnage of 122 tons  and was 81 feet long by 22 feet in width. The Semi-weekly Patriot praised the government for its action in engaging the steamer as it was a considerable improvement on the Ora. The new ferry had capacity for 18 horses and vehicles and they were separated from the area for foot passengers. Another improvement was the addition of shelter for the passenger seating to protect them from the rain and cold winds.  However even with a new boat the service was not immune from criticism. In the 23 October 1973 issue of the Patriot it was noted that the Elfin could not run when the tide was low  and that the steamer service ended at 8 p.m. and later travellers had to be sculled across the harbour.

The Elfin was not built by the government but by a group of businessmen including Daniel Gordon, L.C. Owen, A.A. MacDonald, J.L. Westaway.  Early in 1874 Gordon responded to a request from government to lease the vessel to run between Charlottetown and Southport and quoted a subsidy request of $1000.  At some later date the government appears to have purchased the craft outright.

With the launch of the Southport in 1875 the Elfin serviced the run to Rocky Point and also became a spare boat for Charlottetown. Occasionally she could be dispatched for duties elsewhere. In September 1877, for example, she was in use between Aitken’s wharf (Lower Montague) and Georgetown to help with the expected crowds for the King’s County Exhibition. Her normal schedule in 1877 was for service to Southport  twice an hour from 6 to 9 a.m. and four times an hour from then until 10 p.m.

In 1895 she was on the Rocky Point route leaving the city  at 6:30, 8 and 10 am, 12 noon and 2, 4 and 6 pm.

She was destroyed by fire on 7 October 1906 and the register was closed the following day. Firemen on the scene reported that the fire was intense, probably because of the thirty years of oil dripping from the gears and machinery having soaked into the timbers. She was succeeded on the route to Rocky Point by the Hillsborough.

Although the fire left the Elfin as a hulk it was still a fixture on the waterfront until at least 1911. The wreck had been sold to Thomas Doyle of Rustico who apparently soon gave up on removing the partially sunken vessel and it sat as an obstruction and unsightly object between the Ferry Wharf and the Railway Wharf.  Although purchased by Doyle it remained registered to the provincial government and the Guardian called the attention of the administration  to the “spectacle of ruin and dilapidation” urging them to take action but it is not known when it finally disappeared.

The Southport 1875-1905

Southport in Charlottetown Harbour from Picturesque Canada

Southport in Charlottetown Harbour from Picturesque Canada

The steamer Southport was a government-owned vessel built in Summerside in 1875 but her machinery was built and and installed in Pictou. The vessel arrived in Charlottetown in mid-June 1875 after a six hour passage from Nova Scotia. and went into service later that month following modifications to the wharves at Charlottetown and Southport.  At 102 feet in length by twenty-six in beam, she was considerably longer that the Elfin and twice her displacement. The steam engine driving the paddle wheels was rated at fifty nominal horsepower. In 1877 her schedule saw the boat leaving Charlottetown early on Tuesday and Friday mornings for Shaws Wharf on the West River and making a second return trip in the afternoon. Two years later she sank at the Prince Street Ferry Wharf.  After her day’s service she had been tied to the east side of the wharf and as the tide rose she caught on the side of the wharf. Water rushing in through one of her ports filled the boat so that in the morning all that could be seen of the boat was the smokestack and the top of the deckhouses. The accident was discovered by delegates of the Baptist association who had been scheduled for a West River excursion. Faced with the conversion and total immersion of the vessel the Baptists had to make other plans. Charles Haszard, operator of the boat, was able to secure the use of the City’s steam-powered fire engine to pump her out and re-float the ferry.

By 1891 the boilers in the steamer were worn out but because the government had been late in calling for tenders for repair or replacement it was not available to start the season and the service had to be provided by Batt Brothers tug. In 1897 the Southport was replaced on the East and West River services by Alex Strang’s Alameda, built in 1885, which had for several years provided service between Cape Traverse and Cape Tormentine.  That boat served through 1899.

Following the launch of the Hillsborough, the Southport provided regular river service to Westville and to Mt. Stewart and after the wreck of the Jacques Cartier in 1902 she also filled in on the run to Orwell.

The Southport was not built to replace the Elfin which continued on the ferry run to Southport but to supplement it and provide new services across the harbour and up the rivers. Like most of the other harbour ferries the Southport was also used for other purposes on occasion. In 1878 she was used to tow a 360 foot raft with 186 tons of timber belonging to Peake Bros. from Pinette to Charlottetown. A few weeks later it broke local records by towing a raft measuring over 400 feet. The same year it ran a special trip to North River Bridge to carry spectators to the trotting races at Upton Park track. In 1880 it carried excursionists to the Loyal Orange Lodge picnic at Wood Islands but West River Bridge, Westville and Shaw’s wharf on the West River were the favoured locations. It seems to have been a special favourite for Sunday school outings and in the 1890s advertisements for Methodist, Baptist and Church of England groups can easily be found in the newspapers. A day ticket for the return trip cost 25 cents.

In 1903 the Southport was on the route between Charlottetown and Mt. Stewart on the East River as well as up the West River.  In April of that year she broke the paddle shaft on one side of the boat and drifted with six passengers and a full load of freight until a boat was lowered and a line carried ashore at Hickey’s wharf.  She was rescued by the Hillsborough and towed to Charlottetown.  It later emerged that the 27 year-old vessel had not been inspected for eight years, she had inadequate life-saving equipment and was run by engineers who did not have engineering certificates.

In April 1905, with the opening of the Hillsborough Bridge the hull, boiler and machinery of the 30 year-old Southport was offered for sale by tender and she was acquired by Bruce Stewart. The boat was anchored off Victoria Park in July of 1905 and used for a fireworks display during “Home Comers Week.”  That was her last known use. The machinery may have been more valuable than the boat itself, as it was broken up and the registry closed in December 1905.

Other ferries

This concludes a series of postings on the steam-powered ferries of Charlottetown Harbour. For earlier vessels  click on the following links: Fairview  1936-1958, Hillsborough 1894-1936,  Ora 1856-1873, Ino 1856, Arethusa 1853-185?, Isla 1849-1851.  Information can also be found on the short-lived ferry service to York Point.


7 thoughts on “Late 19th Century ferries – the Elfin and the Southport

  1. Pingback: Another last word on the Rocky Point Ferry | Sailstrait

  2. Pingback: The West River Draw-bridge | Sailstrait

  3. Pingback: Ferry Hillsborough was last paddle-wheel steamer in harbour | Sailstrait

  4. Pingback: April on the waterfront 1891 | Sailstrait

  5. Pingback: “most suitable for an afternoon’s enjoyment” Excursions in the Bay – 1877 | Sailstrait

  6. Pingback: R.I.P. Rocky Point Wharf | Sailstrait

  7. Pingback: Putting the “Port” in Southport | Sailstrait

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.