“The Shipping Season in the Fall is Short…”

Loading schooners at Montague about 1905

Loading schooners at Montague about 1905

While the tradition of the harvest being a busy time on farms on Prince Edward Island continues the availability of storage facilities for grain, potatoes and other crops has meant that our harbours seldom see a rush of shipping. Today a steady stream of tractor trailers crossing the bridge has dulled the frenzy of getting the harvest to market and the harbours are empty of shipping. There is excitement in Charlottetown if two cruise ships and a gravel barge are in port at the same time.

Poplar Island Bridge ca. 1890. The view is from North River towards Upton Farm. Bridges often served as wharves for loading and unloading small schooners.

Poplar Island Bridge ca. 1890. The view is from North River towards Upton Farm. Bridges often served as wharves for loading and unloading small schooners.

A century and  half ago it was a different story. The trade from Prince Edward Island was carried on scores of small sailing vessels; brigs, brigantines and schooners with a handful to full-rigged ships. Some higher value commodities such as eggs and oysters made their way to market on steamers but bulk goods, mostly oats and other grain, and potatoes were hefted aboard vessels at every small port on the Island. And they had to be loaded and on their way before the rivers and strait froze over. Visiting some of these shipping places today it is hard to believe that it was possible to even bring an empty vessel to the wharf let alone load it with produce. In some cases the boats were loaded from bridges or were grounded at low tide and were filled directly from carts or be goods carried on the backs of the farmers.

The extent of the trade can be glimpsed from newspaper reports although the shipping frenzy was too common to be remarkable.  The following is simply the report from one week at the beginning of November 1873 as it appeared in the Patriot. The activity had begun in September and would continue until the snow fell or the rivers froze. The wharves mentioned are almost all ones close to Charlottetown. The picture would have been mirrored all across the Island.

Shipping News

Capt. Samuel McRae Lot 49, is loading a schooner with produce in Southport, H. beer Esq. is preparing for another, and the “Glynwood” is being loaded by Haszard  & Longworth; and Richard Smith Esq. Pownal, has one of Capt. Richard’s brigs taking up oats at Pownal. A schooner went up the East River on Monday for a cargo of potatoes, oats &c. The shipping season in the fall is short, and this year we hope our farmers will make the best of it.

Seven or eight schooners are being loaded at Mount Stewart Bridge; two were ready for sea at Hickey’s Wharf yesterday and there is one at Cranberry Wharf , and another at McConnel’s Wharf, taking in produce. The “Fanny” built by David Egan Esq. at Mt. Stewart for Messrs Welsh & Owen, is laden with oats, potatoes, oysters &c. for Newfoundland and may sail to day or tomorrow. Mr. Neil Currie has a schooner loading at McEwen’s wharf, West River, and Messrs Welsh & Owen have a 600 ton ship at Cardigan; one at Montague; one at Vernon River, one at  Grand River; one at Mt. Stewart; one at Summerside, and one ready to go at Pinette – all for oats for the English market. Three or four are loading at Crapaud, and Mr. Walter Mathewson, of Alberton, is about sending the “Prince Bismark,” there for a cargo of oats.  

The price of produce is without material change. Pork has a downward tendency, and may be quoted at from 6 to 7 cents. O. Connolly is the principal purchaser at present. He takes in about 40,000 lbs. weight per week.

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