When Charlottetown was originally laid out there was precious little access to the waterfront. Initially the area south of Water Street was the site of the town windmill, the stocks and the market, but the lots and their accompanying water lots extending to the channel were soon sold off. The several town squares were likewise used for public buildings such as the gaol , the market, the legislature. When the British Army units were pulled out the Barrack Grounds at Georges Battery became surplus to requirements it was transferred to the City of Charlottetown in 1864. At the time there was some pressure for a public space where the garrison was located at the west end of Water Street but this too, was sold off to create twenty-one building lots and establish the very desirable Dundas Esplanade. Not a square foot of this section of the waterfront was made available for public access.
Luckily, the Governor’s Farm located at Fanningbank still provided some open water frontage which was used for cricket matches, militia drill and some other events but in reality this was a private residence and subject to the whims of the governor of the day as regards public access.
This finally changed after Confederation when in 1875, forty acres of the farm were deeded to the City for use as a park. At last the public could access the harbour without having to compete with the commercial activities on the city wharves. Paths were cut in the woods and fields and soon city residents could walk or ride in the pleasant atmosphere of the former farm lands.
Yet all was not well as evidenced by the following letter from an outraged citizen published in the Semi-Weekly Patriot on 25 June 1878. For this individual, not all of the citizens of the city were created equal; and boys, who insisted in flocking to the park for entertainment, provoked his especial wrath. They obviously did not know their place – or more correctly their time. Naked bathing could be tolerated but only in the morning and after sundown, lest the ladies and gentlemen taking their airs in the Park drives in the fashionable afternoons and evenings of the summer spot the little urchins at play.
“Bathing in the Park”
Sir: – Allow me through your columns to call attention to what is fast becoming an intolerable nuisance. I mean the practice indulged in by numbers of boys of bathing, during the afternoon, at the shore of the new Park. The authorities have taken much trouble to make the drive round the shore a pleasant one, and have succeeded, and many drive there in the afternoon and evenings. The boys have it into their heads to bathe there, also, during the afternoon , so that from three o’clock until evening driving parties are frequently annoyed by seeing a number of boys in a perfectly nude state, dipping themselves along the beach. Besides the indecency of this exhibition, it is excessively unpleasant for ladies and gentlemen who wish to enjoy the pleasant drive the place affords. Could it not be stopped? It is very right for the boys to have a good bathe, but the time should not be during the afternoon when citizens use the park. Early in the morning is the proper time and I would suggest that bathers be confined to the morning and to the evening after sundown. I do not find fault with the keepers of the park as I think they have their hands full, but I think one of our numerous policemen might be spared to patrol the shore during the afternoons till the end of summer.
Either “Citizen” had some political clout, or he had foreknowledge of the By-law relating to Victoria Park approved by City Council a few weeks later, for included in the several clauses relating to forbidden activities was the following:
11. No person shall bathe or swim along the shore of the said park from the hours of nine o’clock in the morning to nine o’clock in the evening; nor shall any person indecently expose any part of his or her person in the said park, nor shall the plea of answering the call of nature be considered a palliation of the offence.
The intolerable nuisance had been elevated from the offences of small boys in the afternoon to any swimming, clad or otherwise, by anyone during the daylight hours. “Citizen” was no doubt pleased. Notwithstanding the plea that called for urgent police intervention there seems to have been little or no action as a result of the letter. I have written in an earlier post (titled Salt Water Bathing and Nude Swimmers) of the measures that were taken over the years to make the harbour more “bather friendly.” Interestingly the wheel seems to have come full circle and today, while almost no one bathes at Victoria Park, except in the kiddies pool, hot days will find a crowd of youngsters swimming and jumping off the former Department of Transport wharf near the Yacht Club. Except in the case of a wardrobe malfunction as the result of a poorly executed dive, the dress code does not seem to include a nude option.