Margaree Steamship’s S.S. Farnorth – The last of the Boston Boats

The S.S. Farnorth, probably in Halifax ca. 1935. Photo from http://www.tynebuiltships.co.uk/R-Ships/richardwelford1908.html

The direct connection between Prince Edward Island and Boston which existed for more than fifty years was broken during the Great War when the Plant Steamship Company elected to taken the last of their steamers off the run owing to war conditions. However there were probably sound economic reasons for ending the service as well.  Passengers had other options with the development of better rail connections which gave speedy access to New England and patterns began to shift as more and more Islanders were going to Montreal, Toronto and the west. There was also less north-south trade as Canadian manufacturers from central Canada took over Atlantic markets.

Never the less the idea died hard and for many years the Charlottetown Board of Trade lobbied for a resumption of the direct connection. After a gap of twenty years the idea seemed to have died but it was revived in 1934 when Wentworth N. McDonald, owner of Margaree Shipping of Sydney Cape Breton bought the steamer Farnorth  which had been owned by the bankrupt Farquhar Steamship Company.  Farquhar had operated several shipping routes in Atlantic Canada and its ships were occasional visitors to Charlottetown, taking cargos to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland ports.

The new service was to be provided by the 255 foot Farnorth which had been operating throughout the Gulf of Lawrence for a decade under the ownership of Farquhar & Co,. of Halifax.  The ship had been completed in 1908 having been built in the Jarrow Yard of the Palmer Shipbuilding and Iron Company on the Tyne. She was originally named the Richard Welford and was operated by  a Newcastle company. In 1915 she was hired as an armed boarding steamer by the Admiralty and although torpedoed off Gibraltar she was repaired and survived the war. She was returned to her owners in 1919 and re-named the Hethpool.

S.S. Farnorth, launched in 1908 as the Richard Welford. Photo from http://www.tynebuiltships.co.uk/R-Ships/richardwelford1908.html

The ship was powered by a triple-expansion steam engine generating 350 horsepower giving (when new) a speed of 13 knots. It was a mixed cargo and passenger vessel, originally configured for 60 – 70 1st class and 40 2nd class passengers.

The new owner in 1934 was the Nova Scotia-based Margaree Steamship Company owned by Wentworth N. MacDonald of Sydney. MacDonald would have been know to Islanders as he owned a variety of small steamers including the Constance and the Enterprise which served Island ports.

Unlike the Plant Line steamers which operated on a Charlottetown – Halifax – Boston routing the Farnorth’s schedule was a little more of a meander. It advertised Boston – Halifax – Charlottetown – Mulgrave – Port Hawkesbury – St. Peter’s Canal – Baddeck and the Sydneys  (both Sydney and North Sydney) where one could connect with the Newfoundland Railway steamers.  The service re-established an old route whereby one could travel from Montreal to Boston or New York with the Farnorth connecting with the Clarke Shipping steamer Gaspesia at Charlottetown. The vessel arrived in Charlottetown on 10-day schedule with a fare starting at $50 for the round trip including stateroom and meals or $26 from Boston to Charlottetown  ($30 from Charlottetown to Boston to account for the additional time taken through the Bras d’Or lakes)  With a nod to the changing tourism patterns they also advertised transport for automobiles beginning at $16 in either direction.

In 1935 McDonald spoke to the Charlottetown Board of Trade about the service he had established the previous year. He said he considered that the Charlottetown to Boston route had great possibility of additional passengers and freight. He did however, hint that the four months of operation in 1934 had not met expectation noting that the route had  been dormant for twenty years and that the period could be considered “a fair trial.”  He asked the Board of Trade to lobby for a subsidy for the service but at the same meeting a letter was read from the Trade and Commerce Department stating that the route was not being considered for assistance. It appears however that a subsidy was provided with a required number of trips to qualify.

By early November 1935  the Farnorth had been suddenly taken of the route and sailings cancelled without notice, a move that caused concern for shippers as the move left freight bound for Prince Edward Island on the wharves at Boston and other ports. It was reported that the ship had made the required trips to access the subsidy and then ceased service. The following year the Charlottetown – Boston route was dropped entirely but the steamer continued to call irregularly for freight, especially potatoes, for both the Newfoundland and Boston markets for the next few years. Fond remembrances of the Boston boat could not recapture the traffic lost to rails and roads, and even in in the 1930s to air routes.  It is unlikely the more than 100 passenger berths on the Farnorth were ever more than sparsely filled in the 1935 season. The day of the Boston boat was well over.

In 1937 the Farnorth owners were soliciting support for their steamer in a proposal to put her on the Charlottetown – Pictou route, which was being served by the S.S. Hochelega, promising to cut side loading doors in their steamer in order to load take autos, but they were not successful and later that year the ship was sold to Fraser Shipping and seems to have ceased visits to Prince Edward Island. The Farnorth was sold and re-named several more times before finally being broken up in Baltimore in 1952.  Wentworth McDonald continued to have an interest in Prince Edward Island and was one of the original owners of Northumberland Ferries crossing between Wood Islands and Caribou.

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