1894 Excursion from New York and Boston was the real beginning of Charlottetown as a cruise ship port of call.

In a posting more than two years ago (found here) I opined that the first cruise ship visited Charlottetown just prior to the Great War. I was wrong by about two decades.

Quebec Steamship Company steamer Orinoco in Charlottetown 10 August 1894. Photo probably by Charlottetown photographer Cloud Hill.

On 10 August 1894 an article appeared in the Charlottetown Examiner announcing “The Orinoco Arrives.” The previous day the vessel with a large party of excursionists had tied up at Pownal wharf. The vessel was described as “handsomely furnished” and the saloons were “spacious and comfortable.” Unlike other passenger-carrying ships she appears to have landed no freight at Charlottetown. This was strictly an excursion trip. On her arrival a large number of Charlottetown residents were welcomed aboard for an evening of music. The ship spent the night and most of the next day in Charlottetown and no doubt passengers came ashore to see the sights of the city. After her stay of just under 24 hours she left to continue her two-week trip to Dalhousie, New Brunswick and the Saguenay, Tadoussac and Quebec.

Before she left however the excursion leader, Mr. E. Stokes, commissioned a local photographer with the intriguing name of Cloud Hill to capture an image of the Orinoco and her tourist passengers. That is, with little doubt, the scene shown above.

The S.S. Orinoco was operated by the Quebec Steamship Company, formerly the Quebec and Gulf Ports SS Co. which had provided a steamer a service between Quebec and Pictou calling at Charlottetown and other ports. In 1894 they had the paddle steamer Miramichi, a former blockade runner, on the route. The Orinoco normally operated between New York and Bermuda and also from Halifax to several Caribbean destinations. However in 1894 the company tried an experimental cruise from New York to the St. Lawrence. The famous Thomas Cook & Sons was the steamship’s agent and the trip was a great success. Thomas Cook had offices in several American cities and with the exception of a single Canadian all of the passengers were Americans. The Orinoco also stopped at Charlottetown about a week later on the return trip to New York. The following year the vessel repeated the excursion with an itinerary which included Boston, Bar Harbor, Portland, Saint John, Yarmouth, Halifax, Dalhousie, Gaspe Saguenay and Quebec.

Built in a yard at Hartlepool in the Tees region of northern England and launched in 1881, the Orinoco which, was originally to be called the Barbados, was an iron screw steamer, 270 feet long and displaced 1864 gross register tons. She had accommodation for 60 first class and 30 second class passengers as well as large freight capacity.

Although the 1894 and 1895 tourist excursions were considered successful they were not repeated and the competition provided by the Plant Line may have been seen as a barrier to further profitable trips. The ship continued to operate from New York to Bermuda and the Halifax firm of Pickford and Black chartered the vessel for their Caribbean service in 1900. Less than six months later she was wrecked in Grenada on a passage from Demerara to Halifax. She was replaced by another Dutch-built chartered vessel which the firm confusingly also renamed as the Orinoco. That vessel was wrecked in 1907.

With the Orinoco’s passengers identified as “tourists” and “excursionists” 1894 makes a much better starting date for Charlottetown’s status as a cruise port. While later vessels were often fitted out with services for cruise passengers their trips to Charlottetown were part of a regular steamship route whose accommodation was available to ordinary travellers as well as tourists. Sold as an excursion the trips of the Orinoco were designed for, and apparently limited to, vacationers. The Port of Charlottetown can thus claim a history of cruise ship visits going back more than 125 years — with a few interruptions.

The image of the Orinoco at Pownal Wharf was brought to my attention through a posting on the Historic Prince Edward Island Facebook site which can be found here. Unfortunately this site does not indicate the source of the photo. More on the history of steamers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence can be found on Kevin Griffin’s excellent site The St. Lawrence Saga.

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