Spring Along the Waterfront

Increased activity on the Charlottetown waterfront was one of the signs of spring on Prince Edward Island. The locally-based steamers and ferries as well as other vessels that had overwintered in the harbour, either on purpose or as the result of an early freeze-up had to be prepared for the up-coming navigation season. The ice usually went out of the harbour in early April and as it cleared Hillsborough Bay and Northumberland Strait, sea-borne commerce returned to the region.  Maintenance of the vessels could range from a lick of paint to a replacement of the boilers but each task, great or small, meant employment for men who would have spend a quiet winter. 

Watching all of this was a young man who worked on the waterfront in another capacity. In 1904 William Rowe was a clerk in the family firm of MacDonald-Rowe Woodworking who had a milling, lumber and building supply business at the foot of Great George Street.  The business was incorporated in 1911 with  W.M. Rowe, S.A. MacDonald and Lemuel Poole among the incorporators and would be a fixture on the waterfront until late into the 20th century when the whole area was de-industrialized and re-developed for tourism and leisure. 

William was a bit of a poet and the following appeared in the 11 April 1904 issue of the Charlottetown Patriot under the title “Spring along the Waterfront.”  

Northumberland A

PEI Steam Navigation Co. steamer Northumberland in Charlottetown Harbour.

There’s commotion in the dockyards
There’s hurrying to and fro,
For the men are pumping schooners
And shoveling ‘way the snow
The grand old boat “Northumberland
Looks as spruce as any swell
That ere she took from Summerside
To other lands to dwell.

And the “Princess” has been togged up,
She is ready for to ply
Between us and the “Bluenose”
As the summer months go by
On the stocks there lies the “Hillsborough
She is getting done up brown
For to carry Southport people
Back and forth to Charlottetown.

3218.67 launch 2

Launch of the steamer Elliot in 1893. The vessel was wrecked on the St. Paul rocks in 1904, only a few days before the poem was published.

At McMillan’s near the ferry:
(Now we fail would drop a tear)
For that staunch and good ship Elliot,
That was launched so bravely here.
She is resting from life’s burdens
Where the wild bird only, calls,
To its mate among the shore rocks,
In the lonely Isle, St. Paul’s.

3218.93 Connolly wharves

Down at Connolly’s wharf, the dockmen
Have the landing cleared away:
Ready for our ship the Minto
That’s expected in today.
How it gladdens all our hearts up
And Oh! How our spirits rise
As we see the ice floes vanish,
Crushed beneath the boat we prize.


Dominion Government icebreaker Minto

Yes we truly bid her welcome,
And we stretch a friendly hand
To the Captain who so nobly
Fought to free our icy land.
Good-bye ice, and with you winter:
Go! And let the blue waves leap
And we’ll welcome back the summer.
And our ships will plough the deep.

Wm. M. Rowe

I am indebted to Gary Carrroll for bringing the poem to my attention.

6 thoughts on “Spring Along the Waterfront

  1. Clive Cudmore

    Thanks, again for the great Charlottetown waterfront stories. The poems sure fit in.
    Would Wm. Rowe be that of MacDonald and Rowe?

  2. Norah Henry

    Thanks Harry for another interesting Sailstrait. My grandfather Capt. Thomas Taylor was the captain of SS Minto. Norah

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Ian Carter

    Hi Harry! I live in Charlottetown and love the way our harbour front has evolved over the years.
    I’d love to track down some vintage photos that show the older harbour at its best.

    I’ve enjoyed your FB and blog posts over the years and wonder if you could suggest a source for a few harbourfront digital images I could print and display.

    Many thanks for your help with my project.

    Thanks in advance … looking forward to hearing from you.

    Seen by Phil at Sunday 10:39am

    1. sailstrait Post author

      Depending on the nature of your project you will find that the best source of most of the harbour images is the collections at the PEI Public Archives and Records Office. While some images are available at their on-line site the vast majority have not yet been digitized. The on-line images are generally at low resolution and may not be suitable for enlargement. However larger resolution images may be available at additional cost. Use of any images requires suitable reference to the source collection.

      1. Ian Carter

        Thanks Harry!
        I’ll be in touch with Archives.
        Your Blog is always interesting and much appreciated.

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