Putting the “Port” in Southport

The photo below  shows that Southport Ferry Wharf at Minchin’s Point. Dating from about 1912 it shows the wharf in poor repair. The ferry service had stopped in 1905 and deterioration was rapid. The ferry service and its wharf had been the primary reason for the establishment of a community and the fortunes of the community to great measure mirrored those of the wharf itself.   

Southport Notman

Photograph | Charlottetown from Southport, PE, 1910 | VIEW-4820

 

1839 Wright 2

Detail from George Wright’s chart of Hillsborough Bay and Charlottetown Harbour 1842.

Yes. there really was a port at Southport – well, at least there was a wharf. Best known as the ferry landing for the Hillsborough Ferry, the wharf eventually was responsible for the creation of a village on the southern shore of the Hillsborough River opposite Charlottetown.  As it was on the route between Charlotte Town and  Georgetown the ferry was likely a feature from the earliest days of the colony.  The wharf, and the beginnings of the tiny settlement, first appear in George Wright’s 1842 chart of Hillsborough Bay and Charlottetown Harbour. 

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Detail from Capt. Bayfield’s chart of Charlottetown Harbour 1847

However the wharf was not at the high bluff, known as Minchin’s Point or Murphy’s Point but a little to the west avoiding the steep climb up the bank.  The wharf at Minchin’s Point was built following a call for tenders in 1842 and appears on Capt. Bayfield’s chart of Charlottetown Harbour which appeared in 1852.  In early years the wharf had a floating jetty to make it easier to access the ferry in spite of changing tides.  Thereafter there are a long series of extensions and re-buildings of the wharf to accommodate the succession of ferries which were used on the route. Steam powered vessels such as the Ora, the Ino, the Arethusa the Elfin, the Hillsborough and the Southport were familiar and regular visitors to the wharf at Minchin’s Point.  

The ferry traffic gave rise to the need to hotels and taverns as well as businesses serving the travellers. It also became a service centre for communities such as Keppoch Kinloch, and Cross Roads for those wishing to avoid having to cross the Hillsborough in order to meet their needs. By 1863 the community was well-established and the alternate names “Southport” and Stratford” appeared to both have been in use. 

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Stratford or Southport. D.J. Lake’s Topographical Map of P.E.I. 1863

An article in the 20 November 1878  Semi-Weekly Patriot documents further growth of the community.

Passing by the Church, Smithy and Schoolhouse at Alexandria, and the Church at the cross roads, we reach Southport, destined to be one of the fashionable and health-bearing adjuncts of Charlottetown. It is now quite a business centre , and when the new road is opened it will become still more important. The day is coming when the seaside from Farquharson’s point to the Harbour’s mouth will be studded with villas. Charles Haszard Esq., by the ferry facilities which he so obligingly affords, is doing much for Southport as well as for the health and pleasure seekers from the city. The Honourable the Speaker of the Assembly is a citizen of this place  – where he and H. Bovyer, W.H. Farquharson, and John Kennedy carry on mercantile business. An Episcopal Church, a school-house, a Tannery, two line kilns, a Post Office, three forges, two Houses of Entertainment, seven Brick Kilns, a Tailor’s Shop, one Harness and Saddlery establishment and two weigh scales are among our Southport notes. Beer, McIntosh, McKenzie, Alex. and Neil Stewart, Flood and Son, and the two Cardiffs manufacture Brick extensively; the blacksmiths are Allan Stewart, Allan Ham and Charles Walker; and the Carpenters and Carriage Builders are Angus and John McInnis, John Godfrey, James Wood, Isaac Turner, and James Costello. 

Notwithstanding the glowing 1878 report that the community was destined to be a “fashionable and healthy adjunct” it was clear that growth of the village had slowed if not stopped. There are scarcely more houses shown in the area in the 1880 Meacham’s Atlas than there had been 17 years earlier.  Although landowner John Picton Beete had ambitiously subdivided the property and laid out a street network the anticipated growth failed to arrive.  The area did, however had become the centre for brick making with a large number of brick yards and as the newspaper account above notes a large number of brickmakers had establishments near Southport. While most of the brick manufactured  would have been carried by ferry or across the winter ice to Charlottetown it is probable that some export of brick took place at the ferry wharf.    

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Detail from manuscript map of Lot 48 by C.R. Allen, prepared for Meacham’s Atlas 1880. Public Archives and Records Office.

The short-lived brick boom came to an early end as supplies of brick-clay were exhausted  and the community once again lapsed into a quiet stagnation. Comparing the plan above with the 1935 air photo below it is clear that Southport in the 1930s  was still stuck in the 1870s. Over the years the ferry wharf had been extended and re-built but the construction of the Hillsborough Bridge, which was completed in 1905, and the opening of new roads to the east, meant that traffic no longer stopped at Southport. The railway by-passed the hamlet and what services that were provided by merchants were for locals only.  There was a frisson of excitement in 1913 when construction of a marine railway large enough to carry the S.S. Prince Edward Island was begun close to the ferry wharf but work ceased in 1915 and was never completed. 

There were occasional reports of other vessels using the Southport wharf to load cargo. For example, in 1886  the steamer M.A. Starr crossed the harbour to Southport after unloading at Charlottetown in order to load potatoes for Halifax. Small schooners continued to load produce at the Southport Wharf into the 1930s, and the wharf was dredged n 1937.  The Dominion Department of Public Works used the wharf as a place to tie up scows used in dredging and construction but by the end of the Second War even this seems to have ended. With the end of activity the wharf soon eroded. A caution buoy marked a spot where a sunken scow rested on the bottom but even that marker was removed in the last few years. 

Southport 1935

Today few, if any, traces remain of the ferry wharf and it is no longer even buoyed as a hazard to navigation as no boats except those of oyster fishers have a reason to visit the Southport shore. However one part of the Patriot’s 1878 forecast has become true. The shores all along the edge of the Hillsborough, right to the harbour’s mouth and beyond are today “studded with villas.”   

 

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