Category Archives: Charlottetown Harbour

From hub to spoke: Charlottetown as a transportation centre

Today we tend to think of Prince Edward Island as being at the end of something – a long drive, a flight, a ferry crossing. In the world of hubs and spokes we are clearly a spoke. You don’t go to Prince Edward Island on your way to anywhere. It is a destination.

However, for one period in the Island’s history this was not the case. In the mid-19th century especially, Prince Edward Islanders saw themselves as, if not the centre of the world, then at least the centre of something.  And looking at a map of the region it is not hard to see why.  A case in point is the outlook of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company. In an economy of wood, wind and water, sea transportation was the most effective (and in some cases the only) way to move goods and people. The Island sat in the centre of a large basin from northern New Brunswick in the west to Cape Breton in the east. Northumberland Strait touched the long shorelines of three provinces and Charlottetown was the largest port on the Strait.

Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company – ports of call 1865-1869. The Company also had services to Orwell and Crapaud.

The Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company’s steamers did much more than connect Prince Edward Island to the mainland. They were the moving parts of a communications web and Charlottetown, rather than being at the end of a spoke, was in fact the hub. Most voyages began or ended at Charlottetown and by passing through the port one could travel aboard ship from one end of the Strait to the other.

Until the railway lines in the region took their final shape the most effective way to get from Saint John to the Miramichi was to cross the Bay of Fundy, travel through Nova Scotia to Pictou and take a steamer up the Strait, touching at Charlottetown and Summerside. The same was true of travel to Cape Breton. A requirement of the earliest subsidies sought by the first Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company from the colonial governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia was that western and eastern ports in those colonies would be served.

Early photo of the Princess of Wales in Charlottetown Harbour. the building behind the funnel is the Methodist Church

In the 1860s the Steamers Princess of Wales and Heather Belle were tried on a variety of routes to accommodate the changing transportation patterns. When the railway reached Shediac in 1860 Point du Chêne  became much more important for transshipment of goods and passengers destined for points south and west such as Boston and Montreal.

Heather Belle

In 1865 the Princess of Wales and the Heather Belle were both providing service across the Strait four days a week.  Besides two trips to Pictou the steamers also went to Brule, directly across from Charlottetown, twice. From there the express wagon carried mails on a shorter road to Truro.  A year later the Princess of Wales sailed weekly from Charlottetown to Summerside, Shediac, Richibucto and Miramichi, with service to Pictou and Shediac more often.

The following year the schedule published in the Island’s newspapers revealed the full extent of the Company’s attempt to provide a full regional transportation service.

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Steam Navigation Company schedule. Summerside Journal 8 July 1869

On Mondays one of the company’s larger steamers, the Princess of Wales or the new-to-the-Strait St. Lawrence, left Charlottetown for Pictou, then on to Port Hood in  Cape Breton returning to Charlottetown via Pictou on Tuesdays.  Wednesday morning saw a steamer leave Charlottetown for Pictou then on to Port Hawkesbury on the Gut of Canso, returning on the same route the following day.  Another boat sailed Thursdays from Charlottetown to Pictou, Georgetown and Souris and the next day from Georgetown to Pictou and back to Charlottetown. Tuesdays and Saturdays had a steamer from Charlottetown sailing to points west; Summerside and Shediac, returning the following day. The company’s third boat, the Heather Belle, sailed Mondays for Crapaud (soon to become the port of Victoria), Tuesdays for Port Selkirk (Orwell Brush Wharf) and on other days back and forth to Mount Stewart Bridge.

Sailing times at Pictou and Shediac were determined by great measure by the arrival of the trains from Halifax and Saint John. Integrating passenger traffic with both mainland rail services and the Prince Edward Island Railway timetable was a sound business decision – even if waiting for a late train resulted in late sailings.  The service to smaller ports on the island such as Crapaud could vary according to the tides.

In contrast to the old joke, if your destination was up or down Northumberland Strait “you could get there from here,” and most likely how you did it was on a Charlottetown-based steamer. With confederation and the completion of the intercolonial railway from Halifax to Quebec the trains began to displace ships as the most common carrier. The rail line ran up the shore to northern New Brunswick and there was a falling-off of water traffic to that area and so the Steam Navigation Company ceased its western service, while at the same time maintaining its connections with Point du Chêne, now even more important for its links with both the New England and Canadian rail lines.  Confederation also brought the subsidized Pictou to Magdalen Islands steamship service which stopped at Souris. One result was that vessels based in Pictou rather than Charlottetown were used on new routes to Cape Breton and the Strait of Canso. Increasing Island demands for daily round-trips between Charlottetown and Pictou and Summerside and Shediac meant that the steamers were unable to continue their routes to other ports and they were gradually abandoned.  By the late 1870s the extended routes of the Steam Navigation Company and been subsumed by what had become a shuttle service across the Strait which continued until 1916. What traffic that existed between the eastern part of P.E.I. and Cape Breton enabled the local service of the Three Rivers Steamship Company to continue from 1892 to 1917.

In an ironic twist the improvements in transportation between 1860 and the Great War meant that in some ways Prince Edward Island became more isolated than it had been at the beginning of the period.

 

 

 

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Drunk and Disorderly: the Royal Visit of 1860

It was not a pretty sight and the correspondent for the New York Tribune made  it the centrepiece of his reporting of the event.  And what an event it was. The biggest thing to hit Charlottetown in its history. The first visit ever of a member of the Royal Family. Today it has become commonplace as every decade one or more Royals cycle through the province. It was not always so.

View of Royal Fleet at Charlotte Town 1860. From Journal of the Progress of the HRH Prince of Wales through British North America and his Visit to the United States. 1860.

When H.R.H. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Queen Victoria, came to North America it was a major event wherever he visited. Not only did he visit the British Colonies, still four years away from becoming a nation, but he also travelled to the United States which had been, less than a century earlier, colonies of an earlier empire.  The rarity of the event made the Royal visit a huge public event. The media circus, led by the American press ensured that every speech, every move, every detail was covered in full.  As the royal entourage  made its way from landfall in Newfoundland, west to Ontario and south into the United States the crowds and the interest increased.

HMS Hero, flagship of the Prince of Wales 1860.

When H.M.S. Hero entered Charlottetown Harbour on August 9  1860 it was accompanied by the largest group of warships ever seen on the Island, before or since. Besides the Hero the squadron consisted of warships Nile, Ariadne, Valorous, Cossack and Flying Fish. The French navy steamer Pomone was already in Charlottetown as was the locally based survey vessel Margaretha Stevenson. The wharves were occupied by overcrowded steamers which had brought royal watchers from all over North America to Charlottetown. There was a slight alteration to the plans as the H.M.S. Nile went aground at the harbour mouth and snuck away in disgrace to await the Prince at Quebec rather than joining in on the Island celebrations.  In the afternoon of the arrival the waters of the harbour echoed with salutes from the cannon afloat and ashore and the welcomes and the visits of the dignitaries occupied much of the day.

61W9JMgptVL._SY741_But behind the well-ordered facade of triumphal arches and speeches by provincial and municipal worthies there was an undercurrent of chaos.  The visit had completely overwhelmed the resources of the city.  There had been complaints for more than twenty years about the insufficiency of accommodation for visitors and when the steamer Arabian (packed, according to one journalist, like the Black-Hole of Calcutta) arrived with between four and five hundred, and by another account, six hundred),  all anxious to see the Prince, there was a mad scramble for what little accommodation existed. Even direct intervention from the mayor could not help the New York Herald’s correspondent, who, after walking the streets far into the night and being turned away from dozens of houses, eventually found a bed – but not a room.

It was about an hour after this that I was introduced to a mattress, on the top of sundry chairs, in a room in which I found four other sleepers extended on as many stretchers. I lay down but the street noises consequent on the landing of the steamer;’s passengers were so great that had it not been for excessive fatigue I should hardly have slept; but I did sleep, and when I awoke early in the morning and looked out of the windows I saw hundreds of my own fellow passengers, as well as those who had come by a subsequent steamer, crowding the streets and walking about searching for a place of rest.  

The restless crowd also impressed the correspondent for the New York Tribune not only for its size but also for its demeanour. He reported that strangers had been pouring into the little city for a week before the Prince’s arrival. Estimating that between 15 and 20 thousand visitors were present, he was able to contrast the behaviour of the crowd with that of the New York populace with which he was more familiar – and not to the credit of Charlottetown.

But here in Charlotte Town, nothing has been known in street or square, but incessant brutal bursts of drunkenness, so violent, and wild, and reckless that the most vicious quarters of New York could not yield their parallel. I never saw so small a place given over so utterly to bestiality. Fancy a town in every street of which great riotous mobs continually gather in quarrelsome force, breaking through tavern doors, intrenching themselves in narrow lanes and inviting gladiatorial combats  with all who passed, or scattering about, to spread disorder more effectually; in which every corner was made a fighting-ground; in which deserting soldiers, of whom there were numbers, perpetually plunged into conflicts with the townspeople, and made free with their weapons, until dragged away to temporary confinement; in which children and plenty of them, of tender years, ranged the thoroughfares, not less besotted than the mature multitudes; the whole passing, from hour to hour, an uninterrupted scene of disgrace and degradation. There must have been something weak in the administration of affairs. Of course the better part of Charlotte Town looked aghast upon these excesses; but that no provision should have been made for their suppression, was surely the gravest oversight.

His comments caught the eye of Vanity Fair magazine who later quipped that the Prince’s visit had given an added dimension to the phrase “tight little Island.”

Strangely the deficiencies in civil order were not reported in the local press which instead focussed on the turn-out of the militia and beauty of the street decorations. To read in the Islander or the Examiner of the events is not unlike encountering a parallel universe.  The grand success of the visit as reported locally is at odds with the scene sketched by the New York Herald’s reporter

The cheering was not very energetic, and the weather was gloomy and wet. It cleared up during the time between his leaving the ship and reaching Government House, but after that it rained heavily all day. … The illuminations which were attempted in the evening did, considering the extremely wet and cloudy weather, much credit to the natives. The attempt was spirited, but the failure desperate.

The Prince’s party stayed two nights in Charlottetown, the second night being given over to a public ball at the Colonial Building and the following day the fleet departed for Quebec.

The Royal Tour was the subject of countless newspaper accounts and several volumes by both journalists and the travellers themselves.  Two days in Charlottetown merited little more than a footnote in either the official accounts or the foreign press. While rejoicing that the city was mentioned at all, it is likely that Charlottetown’s inhabitants preferred to pass over the views of the New York press.

Fake News of a Phantom: The Ghost of Holland Cove

Camping at Holland Cove ca. 1895.

A legend is defined as “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.” What then are we to make of “The Legend of Holland Cove?” It is certainly unauthenticated but is it historical?

The tale is a rambling account of the death of Samuel Holland’s mistress and her re-appearance when time and tide are perfectly aligned. It is overlaid with the adventure of a group of campers who just happen to be at the locale at the right time. But as usual with such stories not all is what it seems to be.

To be successful ghostly accounts must have just the right mix of the known and the unknown. The tale is grounded in the residence of Captain Samuel Holland at Observation Cove, now called Holland Cove, in the winter of 1764-1765 while he was engaged in the survey of the colony. With the exception of that single fact, the rest of the tale is fiction. It tells of how Samuel had a mistress, “… a magnificent woman…tall, strait as an arrow with a lovely womanly grace of figure and motion, yet endowed with as much strength as most men; her dark skin, scarcely so dark as to betray the Indian blood in her veins; her hair wound in dark coils round a perfectly poised head, and a face grandly beautiful – a French woman with the added stature of the Micmac race.”  The teller of the tale gives her the name “Racine.” While anxiously waiting for Samuel to return from a winter surveying expedition she wandered out on the ice of the Cove, fell through and drowned.  Her birthday and the day she met Samuel for the first time was on the 14th of July.  This dramatic event is but the pre-amble to the ghost story. In actual fact Samuel was hardly in a position to have mistress while on the Island. He shared the cramped hut built in the woods at Observation Cove with his Quebec-born common-law wife Marie-Josephte Rolet and an infant son.

The highly fictionalized account moves suddenly to midnight, July 14 1776. Holland is away. (He really was away as he lived on the Island for only just under a year in the winter of 1764-1765 and he seems never to have returned. By March 1776 he was far from Holland Cove and was attached to the British forces in New York and he did not leave there until 1778.)  However to return to the story – his lieutenant was asleep on the beach at Holland Cove while two of his crew were in the house. One is awakened by voices and sees Racine in the room. She exits, leaving wet footprints, and walks to the cove and across the surface of the water until suddenly she plunges through and is seen no more. The awakened men return to the house and ponder the inexplicable wet footprints left behind.

The story then lurches forward to the late 1890s where a party of holiday campers are under canvas at Holland Cove. The ghost story is told and a young man of the party stays up until midnight. He sees the ghost – or perhaps he doesn’t. The end. So the alleged ghost story is about a group of teenagers and their chaperones reacting to the “legend” then a century old. As ghost stories go it is a pretty lame affair. What is more interesting is the source and after-life of the tale.

“The Legend of Holland Cove” first appeared in Vol VII of The Canadian Magazine, published in 1896. It is clearly identified in the magazine index as fiction. The author is F. Gerald, a name unassociated with any other publications and, as they say, “not an Island name.”   Yet the author clearly has knowledge of the Island.  A clue to his identity can be found in the Prince Edward Island Magazine for June of 1899 where a story titled “The Smugglers of Holland Cove” has many similarities of style including a party of campers at the Cove cast  as the main characters. This story too, is published over the name of “F. Gerald.”  However in the index to the volume the author is listed as “Justice Fitzgerald.”

Judge Rowan Robert Fitzgerald (1847-1921) was from a prominent family. He trained as a lawyer and was called to the bar in 1869. He was appointed a Judge of the P. E. I. Supreme Court in 1892 and served more than 25 years on the bench.  He was very much aware of Holland Cove as he and his family were among the earliest residents of Charlottetown to holiday at the Cove, initially tenting and later building summer cottages.

Two years after the publication of “The Legend of Holland Cove” Fitzgerald’s story was rewritten and included in Myths and Legends Beyond Our Borders by Charles M. Skinner. Skinner was an American journalist and author whose previous book had dealt with myths and legends of the United States. In casting his net for stories from elsewhere he had obviously spotted Fitzgerald’s recent publication.  However Skinner shortened the story and stripped it of its multiple layers setting the whole thing in 1765 and making Holland himself one of those present at the ghostly re-appearance.

The story has one further version. In May 1935 the Charlottetown Guardian published a tale under the title “The Ghost at Holland Cove”  by F. Fitzgerald. The judge was dead by this time so it is unclear just who this was. In this telling the heroine of the story is Captain Holland’s wife whose ghost returns at midnight on the anniversary of her death in 1765, now conveniently dated in the summer, when the Cove had its full complement of summer visitors, most staying at the Summer Resorts. (In reality Holland’s wife lived until 1825.) Curiosity about the ghost led to the visitors to stay up until midnight when one of the party was frightened in the woods by another. No ghost sighting. The end. It was hardly confirmation of a longstanding ghostly tradition.

The story with its fragile foundation was continued with the establishment of a Y.M.C.A. camp at Holland Cove after WW2.  By the time I attended in the late 1950s and early 1960s it was a regular feature of the camp activities that one night of each camp session the juvenile campers, after suitable mood-setting around the campfire, would be led to the shore of the cove to watch for Lady Holland’s ghost.  If the tide was high on the chosen night one of the camp councillors (often “Bones” Likely) would row a boat across the cove with a lantern which would be mysteriously snuffed out, signaling that Lady Holland had met with her fate.  If the tide was low the drama would play out on the sandbars. The event was reckoned a success if first-time campers were kept awake by bad dreams.

So when is a legend not a legend?  The clearly fictional account, much copied and modified, hardly counts as something regarded as historical but unauthenticated.  Simply calling something a legend does not make it so. The tale has become part of a completely ersatz history grounded in nothing but Rowan R. Fitzgerald’s imagination but it lives on in ghost story collections assembled by anthologizers catering to nothing more than curiosity.

Those wishing to read the story in its original form can find Fitzgerald’s tale here, Skinner’s 1898 version can be read here, and the 1935 version is found here. The true story of Samuel Holland and his mistress and wife is told in Samuel Holland, His work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island by Earle Lockerby and Douglas Sobey, published in 2015. The truth is far more interesting than the fiction.

For another nearby location which, in the hands of a latter-day Fitzgerald,  might serve as the locale for a ghost story see the posting here.