A. Kennedy & Co., Ship Chandler and Sailmaker

Advertisement in Duncan Campbell’s History of Prince Edward Island, 1875

Robert Harris drawing of lower Queen Street ca. 1875. Confederation Centre Art Gallery CAGH-122

A few months ago I posted an entry which featured a drawing of the lower part of Queen Street by artist Robert Harris which probably dated from the 1870s. The drawing featured a number of buildings long since gone. At the time of the posting I lamented the fact that there did not seem to be any photos of the area. There were, of course, and they were hiding in plain sight at the Public Archives and Records Office. Once I tripped over them again I realized that they helped tell the story of an important feature of the waterfront and a tale of mercantile longevity on the Charlottetown waterfront extending almost a century and a half.

An essential part of any town with a nautical connection was a chandlery. The word is seldom encountered today with the decline of shipping, but until the middle of the 20th century it identified a business dedicated to supplying the wants and needs of those on the seas. This included materials and supplies for shipbuilding such as ironwork, blocks, tackle, ropes, chain, wire rigging, and anchors. The shops also supplied navigation equipment and charts, paint, tar, provisions, clothing and the like. Fishing supplies for the hundreds of fishers operating out of the small harbours of the Island were also a significant part of the chandlery businesses. They often advertised “everything from a needle to an anchor.”  The chandleries usually included the supply of canvass and many had in-house sailmakers or worked closely with a local sail loft. There was no such thing as a standard sail size at the time and each sail was custom made and cut and stitched by hand.  Sail making was one of the dozens of skilled crafts that accompanied the age of sail.

There were a number of chandleries and sail lofts on the Charlottetown waterfront. Small’s at the head of Pownal Wharf was one but one of the most long-lived was A. Kennedy and Company. The “A” in A. Kennedy was Archibald, was born in Greenock Scotland in 1816. He appears to have commenced business as a sail maker at the head of Peake’s Wharf in Charlottetown in 1846 as an 1866 advertisement thanks patrons for twenty year’s patronage. In that year he opened his chandlery under the name A. Kennedy & Co. in the location at the head of Queens wharf in the building formerly occupied by P.W. Hyndman.   This is probably the structure pictured below.

A. Kennedy & Co. corner of Queen and Lower Water Street ca 1875. Public Archives and Records Office item 2320 p-3

His building was at the corner of Queen and Peake Street  (later Lower Water Street) and is clearly the building which can be seen in the centre of the Harris sketch mentioned above. The building pre-dates the great file of 1866 which destroyed more than four blocks of buildings north of Water Street.   Besides the chandlery business Kennedy also owned shares in a number of sailing vessels (frequently in partnership with F.W. Hyndman) and a 1/64 share in the steamer Prince Edward. A long-time director of the St. Lawrence Marine Insurance Company In 1876 he was named President of the company.  He was also a city councilor, member of the school board and a director of the Prince Edward Island Hospital.  His several business interests and investments appear by and large, to have been successful and at the time of his death in 1903 his estate was valued at $47,500, about $1.4 million in 2020 dollars.  He and his wife had no children and his properties and the chandlery were left to his wife’s brother, Robert McLaurin.

Charlottetown Examiner 14 February 1910 p. 7

Robert McLaurin died in 1909 and the business was put up for sale by his executors. At the time it consisted of the store on  Queen Street as well as a separate sail loft on Lower Water Street. Although the age of sail was nearing and end with few new boats being launched there were still dozens of small schooners plying Island waters. Even with care, sails wore quickly and the sail loft business continued to be a niche service.

Ownership passed to Bruce Stewart and Company which had developed another of the waterfront business at the head of the Steam Navigation Wharf servicing the marine interests with a foundry and manufacturing business which was soon producing gasoline engines for small craft as well as a variety of machine and boiler skills for larger vessels including the steamers of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company. The name over the door of the store was changed to Bruce Stewart & Co. but the sign also stated “successors to A. Kennedy and Company.” The firm advertised itself as “The Ship Chandlery Men” indicating that the good will of the Kennedy company was an important asset.

Bruce Stewart chandlery (A. Kennedy & Co.) ca. 1914. Lower Water Street at right of photo. Public Archives and Records Office item 3466/HF76.124.4

Charlottetown Examiner 1 April 1910 p. 8

Under the Bruce Stewart name, and reflecting the decline in nautical trades, the business evolved to more fishery supplies such as nets and ropes and equipment for the increasingly important lobster industry. At the same time the owners also began to advertise extensively as a supplier of farm and hardware needs such as paint and building supplies although they do not seem to have been involved in the lumber trade.

The separate identity of A. Kennedy & Co. seems to have been retained and the business may have been spun-off from Bruce Stewart as a separate company as the store operated into the 1950s on Queen Street, although not at the corner of Lower Water Street as that property had been demolished with the building of the large new warehouses for wholesalers DeBlois Brothers in the 1930s. Instead they re-located a block north to the NE corner of Queen and Water Streets The company’s slogan in the 1950s was “The Fisherman’s Friend”  In the 1960s the nature of the business changed and the chandlery operations were taken over by Atlantic  Netting Rope and Twine which is still in the marine supply business.  A. Kennedy & Co. became an auction house and antique dealer on Dorchester Street. In the current century the business was moved to Hampton and the sign for A. Kennedy & Co. could be spotted in a former general store along the highway. Both the store and the sign have since disappeared.

 

 

 

 

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