Winter Pic Nic at Point Prim

Several times I have mentioned in these postings that once winter set in on Prince Edward Island the rivers and bays became highways. The ice roads, often marked by “bushing” the ice with spruce poles, were more effective for winter transport than the roads of the Island with their hills, woods and spring mud and a well-constructed sleigh gave a smoother and more efficient ride than any carriage or cart.

There was usually only a brief time between the closing of navigation and the opening of the winter roads and often the rivers and coves would freeze while the main channels were still open. Sleighs would stick to the shoreline and “portage” across points and headlands until the hard frosts made the bays safe for passage. Many surviving diaries faithfully give the dates of the first and last crossing of the ice by sleighs and teams.

One of the best examples of how significant the ice passage was can be seen in the following account dating from March 1848 which appears in the Islander in Charlottetown but was reprinted in the Liverpool Mercury in June of the same year.  The event may have seemed as strange and delightful to a Victorian Liverpudlian as it does to us today.

This 1846 chart of Hillsborough Bay was the first to show Prim light which had been first lit only a month earlier in December of 1845. The chart shows the light at a considerably distant set-back from the shore showing the extent of erosion at the point. 

The event celebrated the recent arrival in the Island of a new Governor, Donald Campbell, who was the first Highlander to fill the Governor’s role. It also celebrated the building of the Point Prim light which had been completed three years earlier.  The light did more than mark the dangerous reef at the point. Because the point extended well out in Northumberland Strait it was a major way-point for vessels coming up and down the Strait, even if they were not bound for Charlottetown. The sixty-eight foot elevation of the lantern meant that it was visible for many miles. The notice of the new lighthouse was publicized by the British Admiralty and was widely reported in British newspapers.  Then, as now the sight of the tall white light tower by day and the flashing light by night was a comfort to mariners in vessels large and small. The founder of the feast and organizer of the event, William Douse, was the Member of the House of Assembly for the Belfast district and the agent for the Selkirk Estate.

PIC NIC AT POINT PRIM.

On Thursday the 30th March past, a Pic Nic party consisting of His Excellency Sir Donald Campbell, Hon. T. H. Haviland, Hon. J. S. Smith, Hon. R. Hodgson William Campbell, Esq., His Excellency’s son, William Douse, Esq., M. P. P and several other members of the House of Assembly together with about 40 other of the private gentlemen of Charlottetown, on the invitation of Mr. Douse, was held at the Light House, Point Prim. About 9 o’clock, the party, in twenty sleighs, having assembled at the Queen’s Wharf, proceeded directly across the river, and thence by portage to Belle Vue, where they again took the ice, and drove thereon, a distance of 18 miles, to Prim, without stopping —passing the different points of land at a distance. When the party arrived off Belfast, the inhabitants, in parties—to the number of between two and three hundred—were observed proceeding towards Point Prim—some on foot, and others in sleighs—with a Piper at their head, for the purpose of giving His Excellency “A Highland welcome.” The party, on arriving at Point Prim in the first place inspected the Light House; they then sat down to Luncheon, outside, at a table erected for the occasion, of about 40 feet in length. Mr. Douse presided, with His Excellency on his right hand, and the Hon. Mr. Haviland on his left

After luncheon the worthy chairman proposed the Health of Her Majesty the Queen, which was received with every demonstration of loyalty and respect. F. Longworth, Esq., M. P. P. for Charlottetown, then proposed the health of His Excellency Sir Donald Campbell, which was received in the most complimentary and flattering manner. His Excellency acknowledged the compliment, in a short, but pertinent and happy speech; and then, turning to the people assembled as spectators and and to do him honour, addressed a few words to them which afforded them much satisfaction. When His Excellency ceased to speak the party, and his countrymen—the people of Belfast most especially —made the welkin ring with their enthusiastic cheers. The party spent about two hours, altogether at the Point in the most social and agreeable manner. When they were making ready to return to Charlottetown, the people would not allow His Excellency’s horses to be put to his sleigh, but drew him themselves for about a mile on the ice. His horses were then attached to his sleigh, and such of the people who had drawn and accompanied him on foot, loudly cheered him once more, and took their leave; but many of them in sleighs, together with the Piper—who all the continued playing National airs—accompanied His Excellency for four or five mile further on the ice; and then took their leave of him, directing their course towards the shore. His Excellency and party continued their way, on the sea ice, direct across the Bay to Belle Vue.

On arriving in Town, the party with Mr. Douse at their head, conducted His Excellency to Government House. Having arrived there, Sir Donald alighted on the colonnade, and the party drove past him in succession for the purpose of respectfully taking their leave, and received from His Excellency, in their turns, as they passed, the most courteous salutation.

Possible route of the Governor’s party from Belle Vue cove to Point Prim. For safety they would have travelled from major headland to headland. Detail from 1846 chart of Hillsborough Bay

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