Category Archives: Charlottetown Harbour

Lillian E. Kerr – An icon of the age of sail?

 

Four-Masted Schooner “Lillian E. Kerr” Leaving Charlottetown Harbour, August 1941. Photo by George Coffin. Photo: Collection of National Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa.

It is perhaps the most iconic and best-known image of the age of sail on Prince Edward island.

The reality is that the Lillian E. Kerr had little to do with either Charlottetown or with the Island’s long-passed age of sail.

In August 1941 a four-masted schooner arrived in Charlottetown with a cargo of coal from Weehawken New Jersey. The vessel was one of what may have been only two or three surviving ships with that rig still on the Atlantic.  No one could have known it at the time but it was the last four-master to ever visit Charlottetown. Although a coal-hauler, the ship retained a certain grace and in the early days of the Second World War she was a reminder to residents of the days of wooden ships and iron men.

The photo of the Lillian E. Kerr as she left Charlottetown Harbour was one of at least two taken by George Coffin at the request of B. Graham Rogers, then director of the P.E.I. Travel Bureau. The striking photo was doctored to include a little boy posed pensively on the seawall and was the image on a travel bureau calendar issued in March of 1942.  This was the first visit of the Lillian E. Kerr to the Island capital. There would never be another.

The Lillian E. Kerr had been launched in 1920 from the large E. James Tull shipyard in Pocomoke City, Maryland. She was the last ship built in that yard. The age of the wooden ship was drawing to a close but the schooner rigged vessels were still popular in the early years of the twentieth century as they were affordable high-volume freighters which required only a few crew and no fuel other than the wind and were therefore cheap to operate. They hauled coal, lumber and fertilizer – cargos for which the speed and set delivery times were not essential.

In 1921 the Captain of the Kerr brought mutiny charges against a member of his crew following a fight aboard the ship. The Captain had found the crew member asleep at the wheel. The crew member attacked him with a knife and the two men fought on deck while the captain’s wife steered the vessel. The captain alleged that the crew member attacked him a second time and he was forced to shoot the violent man. The outcome of the charge is not known.

Built as a three-masted vessel the ship was later sold to Capt. James L. Publicover of Le Have Nova Scotia. He added her to his small fleet of cargo vessels and made a major change to the appearance of the schooner by having her re-rigged as a four-master.

“Lillian E. Kerr” in Charlottetown Harbour. Photo by George Coffin. Photo: Public Archives and Records Office

A little more than a year after leaving Charlottetown the Lillian E. Kerr was transporting a cargo of timber to Boston. During the night of  12-13 November 1942 she was overtaken by a convoy carrying war materials overseas. Although the Kerr was carrying running lights the ships of the convoy were not. She was rammed by a steamer called the Alcoa Pilot and went to the bottom with all of her crew except for one person was recovered but died soon after. The owner, Capt. Publicover, lost his son, son-in-law, and two nephews in the sinking.

It was not until almost five years had passed that the Admiralty court in New York heard the case. The evidence showed that the Alcoa Pilot, one of the lead ships in the convoy, had overtaken the Lillian E. Kerr and ran her down without taking proper evasive action. She was also charged with failing to stop to pick up survivors. The Alcoa Pilot was held at fault for the accident. The decision was upheld on appeal and damages awarded to Publicover.

Besides the tourism calendar, the main reason why the image of a vessel not built here, and seldom sailed here, became so familiar to Islanders is most likely because the picture, complete with a short-panted boy posed on an imaginary seawall adorned the cover of the menu of a well-patronized eatery, the Rendezvous Restaurant during the 1950s and early 1960s.

 

 

 

S.S. Cascapedia: Pictou to Montreal via Charlottetown, Gaspe and Quebec

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S.S. Cascapedia after modifications to increase passenger accommodation. Private postcard collection.

For much of the first half of the twentieth century Prince Edward Island’s main link with the rest of Canada was through Montreal. Toronto was hardly on the horizon.   Montreal had succeeded Boston as the metropolis for the Island. Transportation links through the Intercolonial Railway  were supplemented by an increasing sea connection through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and several companies were involved in the transportation of passengers and freight.

One hundred years ago saw the ending of one of the long-time marine connections between Charlottetown and Montreal and Quebec. In March of 1917 shippers and agents for the S.S. Cascapedia were given notice that the service linking Montreal and Quebec with Pictou was being withdrawn. For more than a decade the ship made stops at Charlottetown and Summerside.

The Cascapedia had been launched under the name Fastnet for the Clyde Shipping Company. Although sharing its original name with an earlier Pickford and Black vessel which had Island connections this vessel operated for five years from the port of Glasgow and across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Waterford and also made trips up the English Channel to London.  The ship and several others owned by Clyde Steamships were named for  lighthouses on the Irish Coast.

She was built in Dundee at the Thompson & Co. Lillybank yard and launched in 1895.  Described in the Marine Engineer as “a beautiful model of what a passenger and cargo boat should be” the steamer was 255 feet by 35 feet and 1,160 register tons.  In addition to three large cargo holds served by steam cranes and winches she had accommodation for between 40 and 50 first-class passengers on the after part of the poop deck.

The Fastnet was purchased by the Quebec Steamship Company to replace the ill-fated Campana which had sunk near Quebec in 1909. Modifications were made which significantly changed the appearance of the vessel. Additional cabins were built forward and behind her mid-ships structure which increased her capacity to 108 berths in 51 cabins, almost the same number as the Campana.  The new cabins were built over the cargo holds and the ship now depended on side-ports for loading and unloading. Initially the remodeled ship was to have been named the Ungava but a name recognizing the Gaspe salmon river was selected instead, possibly to help attract excursion passengers.

Together with the S.S. Trinidad the two ships provided a weekly service, the Cascapedia leaving from Montreal and on alternate weeks the Trinidad would leave from Quebec.  The latter ship’ route extended to Halifax and New York while the Cascapedia completed its voyage at Pictou with rail links to Halifax.

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S.S. Cascapedia at Gaspe, Quebec. Private postcard collection.

Besides serving as a freight and passenger carrier the Cascapedia continued the tradition of the Quebec Steamship Line and the Campana by serving as a cruise vessel.  In a brochure issued by the line the route was described in the following glowing terms. “The novelty and many attractions of the route, the excellence of the accommodation and the cuisine on the Cascapedia, and the convenient connections at either end make this an ideal summer trip.”

The decision to take her off the Gulf of St. Lawrence service may be connected with declining business brought about by the effect of the Great War on travel or on reduced freight traffic but is most probably connected with the beginning of the S.S. Prince Edward Island ferry service and integrated rail access to the Island. The spring of 1917 found the Cascapedia in  New York under the management of the Furness Withy line providing service between New York and Bermuda as the larger vessels formerly on that route had been need for troop transport as the U.S. entered the war.  It was reported in Canadian Railway and Marine World that she would be back of the Montreal, Gaspe, Prince Edward Island service later the year. However, although the Cascapedia was not suitable for the Bermuda run she did not return to the Gulf service.  Instead, the Quebec Steamship Company, which had been taken into Canada Steamships Line ownership sold her to a new company, Nova Scotia Steamships Limited, which was establishing a service between New York and St. John’s Newfoundland calling at Boston and Halifax.  This service partially replaced the operations of the Plant Line which has ceased operation the previous year.

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S.S. Cascapedia showing the additional passenger cabins built on the foredeck. Photo from https://clarkesteamship.wordpress.com/

Her time with the new company was short. In mid-November 1917, while the vessel was between ports the area was swept by a severe storm with winds approaching hurricane strength.  A radio message reported the vessel in a sinking condition off Cape Race.  A fire had broken out aboard and the 35 crew members and three passengers abandoned the vessel . They were picked up by a vessel bound for England and landed safely in Falmouth.

The Cascapedia was not replaced by Canada Steamships which gradually withdrew from passenger services in the Gulf but other firms, most notably Clarke Steamships, continued to provide services to Charlottetown for many years.

Sources

The primary resource for the history of shipping in the Gulf and Northumberland Strait continues to be K.C. Griffin’s excellent St. Lawrence Saga: The Clark Steamship Story.  Additional details have been added from several newspaper files and the journal Marine Engineer.