Then, on 29 October 1883 all plans unraveled as news hit the Island that the steamer service provided by the aging paddle-steamers Princess of Wales and St. Lawrence would be suspended. The mainland would be cut off again! The cause was not severe winter weather nor mechanical problems with the steamers, rather it was by order of an official of the Dominion Government.
In 1882 the Steamboat Inspection Act had been amended to include Prince Edward Island. This legislation required safety inspections but it had not been operable on the Island as no inspector had been appointed for the area, but the following year, albeit late in August the Maritime Provinces inspector, a Mr. Coker, crossed on the steamer from Shediac to Summerside and returned from Charlottetown to Pictou. Based on this short visit to the boats he ordered that they cease operations as of the end of October.
Initially it was understood that the order referred only to the carrying of passengers and that the freight operations could continue. The Northern Light was pressed into service two months earlier than normal to carry passengers and mail with three round-trips a week between Charlottetown and Pictou. However, within a few days the ban was extended to any voyages of the paddle steamers, not just for passenger service.
There was however, one bit of good news. Earlier in the year the Steam Navigation Company had taken delivery of new boat for the fleet. The SS Summerside was not designed or fitted out as a passenger vessel although there had been speculation that capacity would be added. Never the less passengers were taken aboard and must have missed the saloons, staterooms and dining facilities of the paddle steamers. The biggest job for the steamer was to keep up the flow of freight between Summerside and the rail head at Point du Chene.The Dominion Government had an obligation under the terms of the Island’s entry into confederation to provide continuous steam communication across the Strait and in addition to the winter steamer Northern Light they moved quickly to add the steamer tug Napoleon III, a Canadian government steamer primarily engaged in lighthouse tending onto the freight route between Charlottetown and Pictou. This ship too had limited passenger capacity but the four boats were able to avoid what could have been a crippling blow to the Island’s economy. By mid-November the Napoleon III was sailing between Charlottetown and Pictou while the Northern Light carried passengers and freight between Georgetown and Pictou. However there were still problems. The Napoleon III did not have the capacity of the Steam Navigation boats and within a day traffic was backed up. On 11 November a dozen rail cars worth of freight had been left on the Pictou docks. The Examiner noted that if freight “cannot be carried to this port, serious loss to our merchants will be involved.” A few days later the Summerside had to have her propeller, damaged in a gale, replaced which caused further disruption.
The ice closed the port of Summerside early. By the first of December the S.S. Summerside had been moved to the Charlottetown Pictou route. The Napoleon III’s last trip was on 3 December and it was announced that the last trip across the Strait by the SS Summerside would take place on 19 December. Twelve days earlier she had carried an important cargo – two new boilers for the Steam Navigation Company Steamers.
The incident provided an additional excuse for the newspapers in the province to exchange a lengthy series of salvos debating what was either the high-handed inexcusable actions of the Dominion Government in cancelling the registration of the two Company paddle-steamers, or the admirable concern with the safety of the public in taking reasonable measures to prevent the use of unsafe vessels. What is strangely lacking is any sort of response from the Company itself. Aside from a single advertisement regarding revised schedules the PEI Steam Navigation Company had nothing to say.
Given that silence there may have been something in the concerns of the Steamboat Inspector. In 1883 the Princess of Wales had had 19 years of service on the route and the St. Lawrence had been built even earlier. Although the Company appears to have had maintained the vessels over the period they had not had a major re-fit.
However, faced with revoked certificates the Company made major investments in their boats. As noted above, new boilers arrived before freeze-up and the winter was spent with shipwrights swarming over the steamers. When put back in service in the spring of 1884 the two boats had not just been re-fitted and re-painted they had, in the words of the Patriot newspaper been “re-constructed”
It was well that the investment had been made. A year later the Summerside went on the rocks at Fogo Island. The two old wooden paddle steamers continued to serve the Island for many years. The Prince of Wales was replaced in 1891 and the St. Lawrence, after more than thirty years service, was finally broken up in 1896.