Category Archives: Cruising Destinations

Up the creek or variations on a stream – More photos from the Irwin albums

In the late 1930s the West or Eliot River was the playground of the Charlottetown Yacht Club’s motor boaters.  The sailboats had the harbour and the bay with their races and regattas.  Powerboat racing had come and gone in the first decade of the century (and would come again with the advent of powerful outboards in the 1950s and 60s) and motorboaters were for the most part more interested in comfort than speed.

On the river itself there was little traffic and still less commerce. The regular trips of the Harland to Westville had ended in 1936 and the motor boat packet service of sorts which extended as far as Bonshaw with boats such as the Derry, Dolphin and the Hazel Ruth came to a halt about the same time because road travel had become more popular.   The wharves along the river at Shaws, Westville and further west were seldom used.

Above Dunedin the Bonshaw hills pinched the river  which had carved out large “S” bends as it wore its way through the soft sandstone. As the crow flies from Dunedin Bridge to Bonshaw is just over four kilometers but as the river flows it is about double the distance. With banks too steep for cultivation the upper part of the West River retained (and still retains) the appearance of a virgin forest, although the woods have been logged continuously since the early 1800s. A few massive pines and hemlocks on the steepest slopes give a taste of what the shoreline might have looked like in earlier years.


Upper reaches of the West river 2005. While the serpentine course of the river can plainly be seen the steepness of the banks is less obvious.  Image from Google Earth.


Green Road Bridge at Crosby’s Mills

There were a few spots on the inside of the meanders where the ground was flat enough for fields and these had been used by the adventurous from Charlottetown as camping and fishing spots since the time of confederation.  While large power cruisers such as Mac Irwin’s Roamer were stopped by the bridge at Bonshaw the head of navigation was a mile or so up-stream at Crosby’s Mill.  Just before reaching the mill the steel girder bridge over the river at Green Road made another barrier for larger boats.   At high tide this could easily be reached by rowboats or by the outboard powered runabouts.


Bentley’s Mae West emerging from under the Green Road Bridge.

The Irwin album has a large number of photos featuring one of these runabouts in particular. The Mae West was owned by Charlie and Eileen Bentley, a couple who were among the early members of the Charlottetown Yacht Club.  They appear to have been particular friends of Mac Irwin and often accompanied him on his excursions up the West River.  Charlie kept the Mae West in immaculate condition.  The Irwin albums attest to the fact that within the group there was at least one avid photographer. Although the quality of the photos is not always studio standard there is no mistaking the level of interest.  The photos were widely shared and copies of some of them appear in the Fred Small Collection and in the photos which once were displayed in the old Yacht Club building. Some of the latter have been transferred to the Yacht Club collection at the Public Archives and Records Office.

The Bentley family have a large number of photos of the West River activities and I am indebted to Eric Bentley for giving me access to his collection and for supplying identification for a number of the vessels and people.

The selection below represents some of the West River activities documented in the Irwin albums.  Click on any image to see the photos as a slide show.



Preview of a pre-war Yacht Club photo album

Close competition at the mark. 1938 Regatta

Close competition at the mark. 1938 Regatta

Some years ago when John Dennis, a much travelled and (now) a senior member of the Charlottetown Yacht Club was Commodore of the club he was presented with two albums of photos documenting activities of club members before World War Two.  The two albums, one with snapshots and the other with larger images constitute a collection of more than 140 photographs documenting many aspects of the activities of Charlottetown Yacht Club members.  These include excursions to the West River, activities at the club and in the clubhouse, regattas in Charlottetown and Shediac and waterfront scenes.   Collectively they offer a portrait of a busy club and a fully engaged membership spending time on and about Charlottetown Harbour.

The photos are without caption or identification and the owner of the albums is not known.  There were several members of the club in those years who had an interest in photography and these photos complement other collections including the Bourke family album at the Public Archives and Records Office and the Charlottetown Yacht Club collection at that institution.  Although the ownership of the albums is not known I have a high degree of confidence that they belonged to Mac Irwin. Because he was central to the club during the pre-war years (and for a long time afterwards) and does not appear in any of the pictures I believe he was on the other side of the camera pressing the shutter.  His boat, the Roamer, makes several appearances but usually when moored suggesting the skipper/cameraman was ashore.

I have been fortunate to be able to scan the collection and the photos will provide the basis for several more blog postings in the future. There are pictures which will add to stories already told and others which will be new areas for me to explore. Some photos will need more research so they can be better identified and observations are welcomed. The photos will eventually be added to the Yacht Club collection at the Public Archives and Records Office where they can be accessed by the public.  In the meantime here is a preview of a few of the images. Click on any of the pictures to begin the slide show. (Best when viewed on a desktop computer)