No better way to know Charlottetown…

Before aerial photography the production of a panoramic view was an artisanal effort and a result of considerable talent. In 1878 a view of Charlottetown was published, the first overall view of the city. It received favourable press notice  including the write-up below from the 11 July 1878 issue of the Semi-Weekly Patriot.


Charlottetown and its vicinity. – We were shown yesterday a first rate picture of Charlottetown. We do not know how the artist got there, but the sketch seems to have been taken from an elevated position over the head of the Railway Wharf. You have a view of part of the harbor and all of the wharves. The steamer St. Lawrence is going to her wharf; while the Heather Belle has just started for Mount Stewart. Here and there are small crafts with all sails set or accompanied by oarsmen. Other vessels are lying at anchor or unloading at some of the wharves. You have also a view not only of the city , but of the suburbs as well. To the west is Victoria Park and the Government House, and away in the distance is St. Dunstan’s College. You recognize also, many of the beautiful residences and the well laid off grounds of those who live in the Royalty. The whole city also lies before you, and you have a view of our wide streets and our squares. On closer examination you find that not only are you able to recognize the different localities , but every house on each block. The Post Office, the Colonial Building and the Court House stand out prominently. There is no better way for a stranger to become acquainted with Charlottetown than to study this picture. It is the work of A. Ruger, an artist of experience and ability. Mr. Stoner is the gentleman who has undertaken the work. The picture is to be lithographed, and that in the course of a short time, Mr. Stoner will solicit subscriptions for it. We have no doubt that many of our townspeople will gladly avail themselves of the opportunity thus afforded of procuring a copy of the picture.

The panoramic views often gave more and better details than the early air photos and their accuracy is astounding.  I have written more about the panoramic views in an article for  Island Magazine No. 24 Fall/Winter 1988 pp.14-18, titled “Panorama for Sale: The Bird’s Eye Views of Prince Edward Island [available here].  Close-ups of the Charlottetown waterfront show how much has changed and, amazingly, how much still survives – even at a distance of almost a century and a half. The artist has included more than fifty vessels and watercraft; steamers, schooners, fully-rigged ships, ferries, tugs, sloops, rowboats, and sculls in the harbour waters or tied to wharves, attesting to the importance of the harbour to the city.  In this posting I examine some of the  waterfront details of the 1878 panoramic view. 

Connolly’s, Pownal and Lord’s Wharf

In 1878 this section of town was not only a site of commercial activity, it was also the high-rent district. The former military establishment at the west end of Water Street had been turned into premium lots on Haviland Street, and Dundas Esplanade curved around giving a fine, uninterrupted view of the harbour. Mansions such as the John Ings House at the corner of the Esplanade and the Lowden House at the corner of Haviland and Water (which remains today) spoke to the prosperity of the community. However, the beauty of the new lots was spoiled by the Owen Connolly pork-packing plant at the corner of Haviland and Sydney streets. On Water Street the majority of the houses have survived although the appearance of the large Sterling House on the north side of the street has been destroyed through an unsympathetic renovation into apartments. It is worth noting that the lot on the south west corner of Water and Pownal is vacant and research suggests that this lot had never been built on until this year.

Much of the business on the Connolly Wharves was in timber, and piles of wood can be seen on the wharf itself. The “tee” shaped Pownal Wharf is uncrowded with buildings in contrast to Lord’s wharf which has a more than a half-dozen structures lining the lane from Water Street to the wharf.  Just to the east of Lord’s Wharf is one of several “timber ponds” where large floating timbers were stored before shipping or milling.

Peake’s Wharves No. 1,2, & 3, Queen’s Wharf

The business concerns of the Peake Bros. firm dominated this section of the city. On the south side of Water Street the home of James Peake still stands while the handsome building on the corner of Water and Queen Streets (now the Merchantman Pub) housed his business. Across Water Street another row of brick business buildings also survives from this period. Peake’s No. 1 wharf (later Pickard’s coal wharf) was the location of a large number of two and three story warehouses testifying to the volume of mercantile traffic which passed through the port during the shipping season. Next to it was a more modest structure, the Queen’s Wharf, which was an extension of Queen Street and was one of the oldest wharves in the city. The Vessel moored on the east side of Peake’s No. 2 Wharf is believed to the the S.S. Prince Edward, an attempt by the shipowners of Charlottetown to move from wood, wind and water to steel and steam – an effort which was not a success. Two of the Peake Wharves are headed by Peake Street, later called Lower Water Street. This street, along with most of its surrounding buildings, disappeared with the development of DeBlois Bros. wholesalers and still later the Sheraton/Delta/Marriott/ Prince Edward Hotel. Several of the wooden houses on the south side of Water Street and the brick structures on the corner of Water the Queen Streets date from before 1878 and can be identified on  this view.



Although not perhaps the busiest wharf for shipping in 1878, the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company Wharf was the main passenger entry for Charlottetown. Besides serving the regular steamers of the Company, the St. Lawrence and the Princess of Wales (which appear prominently in the panoramic views of both Charlottetown and Summerside), it was also the terminal for coastal steamers, such as the Heather Belle, linking Charlottetown with Crapaud, West River, Mt. Stewart and Orwell. In addition the ships of the Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Company docked here as one of the ports on their service linking Quebec, and ports such as Miramichi, Shediac and Pictou. Duncan’s wharf was immediately adjacent and east of that the Duncan shipyard site which also served the timber and coal trades.

Another busy wharf was the Prince Street Wharf which was the Charlottetown end of ferry services across the harbour to Southport and to Rocky Point. The engraving shows the block and bridge construction which was used in many of the wharves of the period. To make these wharves a wooden frame was built and then filled with rock. A series of blocks would be joined by bridges. This construction pre-dated driven piles and reduced the pressure on the wharves as currents and tides could flow between the blocks. Owing to the re-development of the area few buildings survive from 1878. The exceptions are the Birnie house in the middle of the block and the Duncan House with its greenhouse at the S.E. corner of Water and Prince.


As was the case with many cities the industrial east end was one of the busiest parts of the city. Just out of sight in this view is the gasworks which lay to the east where the electric plant was later located. The shops and yard of the Prince Edward Island Railway occupied land that had been filled in as the normal shoreline of the Hillsborough River almost reached Water Street in several places. Although engines for the railway were imported, much of the rolling stock for the railway was constructed in the car shops. The yard also housed the station, which the trains ran right through, freight handling sheds, and headquarters for railway operations. Many of the buildings shown in this view were destroyed in a fire in 1905. The current Founders Hall was built in a similar location in 1906 to replace the shops shown. here. One of the survivors from the 1905 fire is the stone building now known as the brass shop. This structure is shown in this view as a two bay building in the middle of the rail yard just east of the roundhouse. Originally the building was twice as long but owning to the damage much of it was demolished after the fire and the building shortened. The arched openings for rail cars can still be seen at the east end of the structure. Note that the car shops were built almost at the water’s edge. The additional land at the present time is infill. Although the Railway Wharf is the only one connecting directly to rail access to the narrow-gauge line it was not one of the busier wharves in the city and is seldom mentioned in news reports. 

In contrast to the single working wharf of the present day, Charlottetown’s 1878 waterfront  had more than a dozen busy wharves handling goods coming onto and leaving the Island. Especially in the absence of cruise ships the claim of Charlottetown to be a port city is barely sustained by the presence of the occasional oil tanker or gravel carrier bringing these commodities to the province and export by ship of anything from Charlottetown is rare indeed.     


2 thoughts on “No better way to know Charlottetown…

  1. Norah Henry

    Thanks Harry for the incredible sketch of my childhood home on Water St.and other landmarks. Norah (DeBlois) Henry

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Reginald Porter

    This is an exceptionally fine essay about a subject that interests me deeply. This post, and the Island Magazine article you wrote years ago, are vital tools in the study of Charlottetown topography. Thank you!


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