In 1935 Harry C. Brown and his wife were proprietors of the Queen Hotel on Water Street which they had taken over after fire destroyed the nearby Victoria Hotel in 1929. They had a little dog, a brown and white Springer Spaniel that apparently had the run of the hotel and of the neighbourhood. The dog was often seen on the busy wharves including the one where the steamer to Pictou, the Hochelaga, docked on the Charlottetown end of its regular daily passage across the strait.
On the 14th of August 1935, a few minutes before the ship sailed, the little dog walked aboard but was apparently not noticed until the ship was on its way to the mouth of the harbour. As no passenger claimed the dog, the Hochelaga’s captain, Ernest Wells, ordered that it be put overboard. The engines were stopped and the dog lowered over the stern into the water between the Blockhouse and the Range Lights. The dog swam around in a confused manner and was last seen striking out for shore about 250 yards to the west.
An American tourist wrote to the Guardian expressing concern about the incident. A Guardian report two days later is a splendid example of the quality of reportage of the period. The accurate report from the tourist became a sensationally garbled story with the animal being thrown from the stern of the moving vessel two miles off Pictou, barely missing the thrashing propeller.
The story was noticed by the SPCA and after a meeting between the Captain and the Society’s officers, an action was filed in the Stipendiary Magistrate’s Court by the Society’s agent. Captain Wells could not resist responding to the Guardian news story with the justification that importation of dogs had been prohibited by the government. The previous year an Order in Council had, in fact, been passed for the purpose of controlling rabies which had earlier caused significant losses in the fox farming industry. However Wells’ letter did little to gain support for his action. “It would appear,” he wrote, “that the dog is not satisfied at home.” He also dismissed the complaint from the visitor claiming that writer “did not care anything about the dog, only wanted to hear themselves talk.” He didn’t need to go to Detroit to hear people talk.
Wells’ letter to the editor became one of the pieces of evidence entered when the matter was heard at the end of August. The events themselves were not contested. Wells claimed that he put the dog over the stern so it could return home, as he believed if he took it all the way to Pictou it could not be returned to the Island. “There was nothing that could happen to the dog. I could swim the distance myself.” he asserted.
It was about 2 weeks later that Magistrate K.M. Martin handed down his verdict. Wells was convicted of wantonly and unnecessarily ill-treating a dog and was fined ten dollars or ten days. Martin noted that placing an animal in a position of possible hazard, as well as the harm of straying through countryside or distress in the water certainly constituted wanton ill-treatment. He dismissed the claim of necessity through the ban on importation of dogs as well as Wells’ belief that the dog had the ability to escape harm.
And what of the dog? It apparently was little concerned by the incident as the following day the animal had taken a late afternoon ferry from Rocky Point back to Charlottetown and was re-united with its master. It had, however developed a taste for ocean travel and in Wells trial it was noted that the Spaniel had, in the days following its swim in the channel, twice more unsuccessfully attempted to stow away on the Hochelaga. One suspects that as a result of its adventure it may have been kept on a short leash thereafter.
The ban on the importation of dogs was lifted early the following year as it had prevented tourists with dogs from visiting the province.