The maritime history of Pinette

The Pinette area is tucked neatly into the underside of the Point Prim peninsula but originally the name was used for a wider area. Today the name Belfast is applied to the general area, but earlier maps and writings refer to the Pinette Settlement which included Glashvin, Eldon, and North and South Pinette as well as the southern portion of Point Prim noted on some maps as Pinette Shore. It encompasses the watershed of the Pinette River which split into four branches east of what is now Pinette Bridge. EPSON MFP image Pinette Bridge ca. 1910. Postcard photo by Elliot J. Lumsden. The harbour at Pinette, although seeming attractive for marine activities on a map was not an easy one to negotiate. Although the Pinette estuaries reached deep into southern Queens County and provided waterfront access to a large amount of territory, the rivers narrowed quickly and became shallow as one moved upstream. The approaches from the sea were daunting for mariners. Captain Bayfield noted in his St. Lawrence Pilot that the Pinette River had

only 2 feet of water over its rocky and exceedingly dangerous bar. It is therefore fit only for small schooners, although it has from 3 to 4 1/2 fathoms in its narrow channel, which runs in several miles through flats of mud and weeds, dry at low water, and then divides into several shallow branches. The bar is nearly a mile out from the entrance, and the Pinette shoals reach to double that distance.

Bayfield -The St. Lawrence Pilot 1847

The area developed rather slowly. The main settlement was Pinette Mills where St. John’s Church was located. The main road was the one leading from Eldon to Wood Islands and it avoided the shoreline.  By the late 1830s however, this began to change. There is a reference in 1839 to Pinette Wharf and an allocation of £50 which was presumably for construction, but it is not clear just where this wharf might have been located. By 1841 the inhabitants of Pinette were petitioning the legislature for assistance in building a wharf near Campbell’s Point on the south side of the Pinette River in 1841. This is almost certainly where the present wharf and bridge are located. The next year, 1842, a road funding allocation references the new wharf at the south side of the Pinette River as well as a wharf at Eon’s Point. Eon’s Point, a name no longer in use, appears to have been at the end of the Portage Road and was on the north side of the north branch of the Pinette River. A new line of road connecting Pinette Harbour with the Wood Islands Road was laid out in 1842.  An 1844 petition from inhabitants from Pinette, Belfast, and Point Prim for an extension to the wharf at Eon’s Point seems to confirm its location on the north side of the river. The insignificance of the area is suggested by the lack of detail in Bayfield’s chart published in 1847 but dating from surveys a few years earlier. The area appears devoid of roads bridges and wharves, but this may simply have been a question of scale.
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Detail from Bayfield Chart 1847

It is clear that the two wharves increased maritime traffic. Previously, vessels had been loaded and unloaded by beaching them as the tide fell and moving goods to the boats by carts. In 1853 three buoys were placed, marking the channel leading up to the wharf which had been constructed at the south side of the Pinette River. In 1855 an officer with the impressive title of Collector of Customs and Navigation Laws and Collector of Excise for the port of Pinette was appointed. The following year another official post – Harbour and Ballast Master had been appointed for Pinette and a Wharfinger named for the wharf on the north side of Pinette Harbour. Another Wharfinger for the wharf on the south side of the harbour was appointed in 1859. In 1865 there were two significant developments. A bridge was finally planned to cross the south branch of the Pinette River, and a wharf was erected at McAulay’s Point, further down the north side of the river and closer to the mouth. This greater access to shipping facilities to the Point Prim farmers.  It is not clear when the bridge crossing the north branch of the Pinette was constructed.
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Examiner 20 March 1865 p.3 

The Pinette area was, like almost all coastal regions on P.E.I. the site of some shipbuilding activity but it was not a major ship building site.  In the sixty-year period when most yards were operational only 86 vessels were built in Pinette and surrounding area, eight of which were built in 1857, the busiest year. Only five of the vessels from the area were over 100 tons. The ships built were all small schooners built for the coasting trade such as carrying local produce to Newfoundland or elsewhere in the Northumberland Strait region. Unlike some areas no individuals were primarily identified as shipbuilders and it was clearly an occasional activity. It appears that the only steamer to regularly serve Pinette (and only for one year) was the steamer Eldon which was built at the port in 1887. It was a small vessel, only 49 feet long and displacing 38 tons. Operating on a route which was advertised to connect Charlottetown, Vernon Bridge, Pinette, Wood Islands, Little Sands, and Murray Harbour four days a week in 1888 by October of that year the vessel was criticized for irregular service and not maintaining the schedule. In early 1889 the Eldon was purchased by a group of Montague merchants and linked ports in eastern P.E.I. for several years before being sold to Nova Scotia interests in Port Hawkesbury. In the 1890s and early 1900s the provincial government subsidized a weekly sailing packet service between Pinette and Charlottetown during the season. For most of the period the contract was held by Captain Finlayson, a well-known skipper from Pinette, using a number of small schooners including the Julia, the Swallow and the North Star.  In 1898 some 2900 bushels of potatoes, 2400 bushels of oats and 104 bushels of turnips were shipped through Pinette with a total value of $1157. By the time Pinette became established as a port in the late 1840s, commercial activity for the area had already become centred in Pinette Mills, Eldon and Orwell Corner. As the road network gradually improved much of the local shipping moved to Halliday’s Wharf, near Eldon.  That port was served by steamers such as the Heather Belle, Jacques Cartier and the City of London and well into the twentieth century by the Harland. As the Lumsden postcard shown above illustrates, small schooners could still be seen at the turn of the century at Pinette, but these soon disappeared, replaced by much smaller fishing boats for which the narrow channel and shallow bar were less of a barrier.  As for so many other small ports the twentieth century was one in which the age of sail came quickly to a close. Today the Trans-Canada Highway speeds travellers through the area in seconds, crossing two bridges effortlessly and ignoring the area’s marine heritage. A glimpse of the port of Pinette today can be found here. Another posting shows the area in the 1930s

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