Before the creation of the Canadian navy in 1910 the nation depended on Great Britain’s Royal Navy to patrol Canada’s off-shore waters. But the waters of the Dominion were also home to a home-grown fleet of smaller patrol ships. Charged with excise duties and controlling the fishery these small ships played an important role along Canada’s Coasts.
Some vessels like the Constance, the Curlew and the Petrel were transferred back and forth between the Customs Preventive Service and the Fishery Protection Fleet as needs required but they also seem to have had a broad range of duties no matter what service they were attached to. The fishery patrol vessels were more frequently seen in Prince Edward Island waters, especially late in the season. In the 1890s there was still a large American fleet (referred to as “hookers”) following the mackerel and herring schools which moved up the Nova Scotia shore and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Souris and Georgetown were regular ports of call for the American schooners and were also used as the stations for the cruisers charged with watching the American s for infractions of fishing regulations.
One of the vessels for which the King’s County ports was a base was the Kingfisher. Unlike almost all the other vessels in the Fishery Protection Service Fleet she was sail-powered. Initially chartered in 1891 from her builder Joseph McGill of Sherbrooke, N.S. she soon proved her worth and sometime after 1893 she seems to have been purchased by the Department of Marine and Fisheries. McGill was a major builder and was responsible for a number of vessels later built for the New Burrill-Johnson Iron Company of Yarmouth. Some of these vessels, including the Magdalen and the Harland also saw service on P.E.I.
The Kingfisher was a small schooner of 107 tons but was a relatively speedy sailer and as the American herring fleet was still sail-powered she was an effective vessel for patrol duties. The vessel was kept busy. In 1896 for example, she sailed 7,117 miles, spending 1,762 hours at sea. During this time she recorded 416 boardings for inspection purposes. Although that was not a particularly busy year for the fishery some 60 hookers were on the grounds off East Point where they were shadowed by the Kingfisher until they began to follow the fish schools south. In addition to the Americans, the vessel also had to keep an eye on the illegal lobster fishery, mostly from Island-based fishing craft.
With her extra duties as a customs and excise cruiser the Kingfisher had a number of successes. In 1894 she seized a vessel off East Point and confiscated a cargo of liquor. October of 1898 saw her off Rollo Bay where a schooner from St. Pierre had suspiciously anchored over night. Landing a shore party from the Kingfisher a cache of 200 gallons of whisky was located through the keen sense of smell of one of the ship’s crew.
However, based on the amount of newspaper coverage the greatest success for the Kingfisher was not on the fishing grounds but on the sports field at Georgetown. For several years in the late 1890s the entire East Coast Fisheries Protection Fleet gathered there for a sports day. In mid-October 1898 the crews of the cruisers La Canadienne, Acadia, Curlew, Osprey and Kingfisher competed for cups and awards.
Some of the events were as one might expect – contests of strength and speed; the hammer throw, shot put and 100 yard dash. However there were also a few events not known to the Olympics (and a few not known to me) . These included the smoking race, potato race, sack race, and the egg and spoon race. In addition there was a rifle shooting competition and a community concert in the Court House put on by the ships’ crews for the people of Georgetown. A tea party was held in the drill shed in conjunction with the sports day and a “snug sum” raised for the community. In return the ladies of the town provided a free lunch for the officers and men. The Kingfisher seems to have punched well above its weight as the small crew captured trophies in a number of events
The Minister of Marine and Fisheries for the period 1896-1901 was Island M.P. Louis Henry Davies – later to be Chief Justice of Canada. He appears to have had a particular interest in the Fisheries Protection Service and attended several of the group’s sports days. His interest was noted in the annual report of the Commander of the fisheries service. “He takes great interest in our ships, and always on leaving the grounds has a word of praise for the officers and men.” In addition to this praise of the Minister the continuing success of the Kingfisher in the sports days was mentioned in the Departmental Annual Reports tabled in Parliament. The report certainly supports a mutual admiration between the Minister and the crews.
After a decade the shortcomings of a sail-powered vessel mounted and in 1905 the Kingfisher was sold to Harold Bartlett of Birgus Newfoundland. Her replacement was the Petrel whose story has been told in an earlier blog entry. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any images of the Kingfisher, probably the last Canadian Government patrol vessel to be completely sail-powered.