The ice that surrounds Prince Edward Island in winter is a living thing. Although it may give the appearance of a solid body it is always in motion. As such it is an ever-present danger for those who dare to be on it. While the “board ice” which is attached to the shore is relatively stable the winds, tides and currents move the floes up and down the Strait and large pressure ridges piling ice a dozen or more feet thick can be formed where floes collide with one another. Other ice jams or seawalls formed where ice rafted upon offshore reefs such as those at Point Prim or Cape Bear.
As a winter highway for sleighs the ice close to shore and in the bays made travel easy and in Charlottetown and other areas the ice was “bushed” or marked with spruce poles showing the safe routes, a practise which continued well into the days of automobiles. These ice roads were dangerous but for many they were simply a part of winter travel for Islanders. Common routes were across the harbour and up the east, west and north rivers as well as along the shore from Point Prim across Orwell Bay and Pownal Bay to Alexandria.
In other locations the ice provided opportunities and amusements through the long winter. However it was not without hazard as the following report from the Guardian from the 20 February 1911 edition recounts:
Saturday morning the Earl Grey rescued two young men from Cape Bear who had gone off duck shooting on the ice which carried them out to sea. They were Louis Harris, aged 17 and Fletcher Jordan, aged 25. At one o’clock Friday afternoon they started to walk out on the ice which at that time was packed in closely against the sea wall which extended about half a mile from the cape. The heavy southwest wind which sprang during the evening separated the ice field from the board ice and the young men found their return to the shore cut off by an ever-widening band of water as they were carried to the eastward. At dusk a snowstorm added to the discomforts of their position. Their friends on show became alarmed at their absence and several boats started to the rescue with no avail. The Earl Grey which arrived in Georgetown Friday night did not intend to leave until Sunday morning but on being informed of the two men being adrift on the ice fields Captain Brown promptly went forth to the rescue, leaving at daylight. They picked up Harris and Jordan eight miles to the eastward of the cape. The men were hungry and cold, but escaped being frostbitten. They were taken to Pictou by the steamer and were brought back home yesterday. When Harris and Jordan left Friday afternoon they were accompanied by Elliot Lumsden. When the ice began to move off the shore at 4 o’clock Lumsden saw a chance and at considerable risk reached the shore. Harris and Jordan were not heavily clad. the latter having on a sweater but no overcoat. After the snowstorm had ceases they were exposed for a time to pelting rain . They kept moving round all night. After the Earl Grey had got past Panmure Island the man on the lookout saw the missing men through the glass and at 8 o’clock they were safe on board the steamer. They were brought back to Georgetown on the Earl Grey yesterday.
I am indebted to Ron Harris, formerly of Murray Harbour but now living in Halifax, for bring this story to my attention. He provoked my interest with the following recollection which led me to search for the story.
The ship [Earl Grey] played a very significant role in our family. When my Father, Louis Harris, was 17 years of age he and his cousin went shooting ducks on the seawall off Cape Bear PEI. The seawall broke away and they went adrift into the Northumberland St. and eventually into the Atlantic. They drifted all night and survived by dancing one whistling for the other in turns. They spent the night on one ice cake until it broke in two. Eventually they were able to get on the same part. Fortunately back in 1910 my uncle was manager of the Marconi station which was located there and sent a message to the Earl Grey who immediately left and rescued my Dad and his Cousin who were now 9 miles off the coast of PEI. … the ship had just been put into service that very year otherwise there is every reason to believe they would have perished. My Dad long dead has over 160 descendants and without that ship none of us would be in existence.