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)


New Lobster Factories at Pinette – 1878

1880 map of Pinette River area showing location of Moore Shudd & Co. lobster factory. Fraser factory is noted in the map cvlose to the tip of Point Prim.

1880 map of Pinette River area showing location of Moore Shudd & Co. lobster factory. Fraser factory is noted in the map close to the tip of Point Prim. [not seen in this view]

Sailing into the tiny port of Pinette today you approach the shore near the site of the Boy Scout camp of happy memory and follow a buoyed channel along a shore populated with summer homes and fields reaching from the Point Prim road down to the beaches and low cliffs.  It can be a tricky narrow passage between the sand bars and spits up to McAulay’s wharf and the Pinette wharf where the highway crosses the river.  There is little sign that this stretch of shore was once home to the infrastructure of a rapidly developing fishing industry.

Lobsters only began to be a major resource for P.E.I. into the 1870s. Advances in processing techniques were refined as canning became common and shipping options became available. There was no shortage of lobsters. The impediment was that the small oar-powered boats could operate only a mile or so from shore at most and processing had to be done near the fishing grounds. On the other hand the small boats could be launched from every shore and did not require harbours or infrastructure. Factories (as the processing plants were called) could be built anywhere – and they were. From only a few in the late 1870s there were hundreds a decade later, providing much-needed seasonal employment along the coasts.

The new industry soon caught the eye of the press and the following report from the 6 June 1878 Patriot is one of the earliest accounts of the fishery that we have.

LOBSTER FACTORIES – Last week we visited Shed Moore & Co. lobster factory in Pinette. It is quite a large establishment. There is a well-built breastwork on the beach for the foundation for the preserving and boiling house, cooling room, tin shop, bath department, paint room, and carpenter’s shop. Thirteen boats are employed and 1200 traps are set at present. The want of good bait is much felt.   The fish are brought in twice a day – morning and evening. To keep the place clean and sweet the establishment is “flooded” every twenty-four hours. In the can shop six men are employed, and they waste no time loafing. Busier and more active workmen we never saw. The room where the young women work – some of them children – pleased us most. Neatly dresses, clean and active, we noticed some twenty female hands busy; and judging from appearances the lobsters from this factory may be eaten without misgiving. Sweeter and better tasting fish we never tasted.

Scene inside Lobster Factory. Robert Harris 1882. from Picturesque Canada.

Scene inside Lobster Factory. Robert Harris 1882. from Picturesque Canada.

The men and girls know their business and attend to it. The daily catch here is about 3000. The company would like to double that number, and after a while they, no doubt will. The can making is worth seeing – it can’t be described. The way the tin is cut, rounded, and tossed from one workman to another is wonderful. One thousand cans each for a day is not bad work. A large quantity of dry wood is also on hand.  John Compton’s force-pump supplies water. It is some 200 yards distant from the factory and cast iron pipes connect it with the building. Mr. Compton’s [word unclear]. invention, and we must see himself before we venture on a description of it. [word unclear], however, and Mr. Compton deserves credit for its introduction. The industry of lobster packing is a comparatively new one, and those engaged in it deserve encouragement. They cause money to circulate, and give employment to men, women, and children who might be worse engaged. We wish them success.

Messrs. James Fraser & Co. are building a lobster preserving factory nearer Point Prim. The shore and anchorage are excellent. They have a fine lot of traps ready for use. They expect to employ some forty hands. Mr. Donald Gillis is putting up a boarding house not far off, and intends to accommodate all the men. The extension of this industry cannot fail to be productive of good.

The Fraser factory was up and running within days of the publishing of the article and by the end of July had already dispatched a shipment of the “preserved crustacea” on board the steamer M.A. Starr which had anchored just off the Point Prim shore to receive the cargo.

Pinette River area today. Sand spit where factory stood has moved. McAulay's wharf is at the right with Camp Buchan at the left.

Pinette River area today. Sand spit where factory stood has moved. McAulay’s wharf is seen at the right with Camp Buchan Boy Scout camp at the left.

Today lobster are still caught in the waters off Point Prim. In the season the often-deserted wharves at McAulay’s and Pinette Bridge are busy spots as the lobster boats land their catches but they venture far from shore into waters that the 19th century dories rarely visited.  The boats are bigger and the lobsters are fewer but the biggest change is the disappearance of the hundreds of factories which were once almost as numerous along the shore as the tourist cottages are today.  More lobsters are shipped live or are frozen but some still make their way to the several factories which still “put up” lobster in cans, a process much like the one which created a new industry on the Pinette shore almost a century and a half ago.