Category Archives: History

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.


The Confusing Story of the Charlottetown Marine Hospitals

Buried in the middle of a grove of tall poplar trees near Trout Point in the western part of Keppoch there is (or at least was, when I was but a lad) a shallow depression which marks the foundations of a building which once commanded the Point.

Site of the quarantine hospital at Keppoch. 1936 aerial photo detail.

The place is shown on maps and in the community history as the Marine Hospital but the real history of the place, and of the hospital activities is more complex than first appears.

Consider the plight of the sailor. Visiting foreign parts where disease could be rampant, serving on vessels with poor food and accommodation, a dangerous workplace and exposure to unfavourable weather all combined to make sailors vulnerable to sickness, broken bones and poor health. Moreover, they were not always in home port and responsibility for the nautical visitors was not something that harbour towns extended. Sailor patients were not wanted in the early hospitals (if they existed at all) for they seldom could pay their bills. One solution sometimes used was the establishment of dedicated marine hospitals which would be funded by a levy on the ships and cargos entering the port.  This created a fund which could be used to meet hospital expenses. The facilities were usually staffed by doctors and matrons on retainer and serviced only when there were actually patients.

Originally a colonial responsibility, the marine hospitals were one of the duties assigned to the Dominion in Confederation negotiations to create Canada and were part of the 1873 order in council that brought Prince Edward Island into Canada. Canada was to assume and defray all charges for a list of services which included “The Lighthouses, Shipwrecked Crews, Quarantine and Marine Hospitals.”

There are annual reports mentioning a marine hospital at Charlottetown for a several years after Confederation but a continuing complaint of the medical officer was that the hospital was contained in a rented building, “a small cottage,” not suitable for the purpose. The Public Accounts show that it was rented from Patrick Cullen for $120 dollars per year but its site is not given. A consistent  recommendation was that a proper building be constructed.

In  1876 a Marine Hospital was built in Souris, which, owing to the large number of American fishing vessels was a very busy port and it was difficult to transport sick sailors to Charlottetown.

Faced with the lack of a permanent facility in Charlottetown  $1,200 was appropriated in 1880 for purchase of land for a Marine Hospital in Charlottetown and $4000 allocated for its construction. A later account states that a parcel of land described as “Part of town lots Nos. 1, 53, 54 and 100 at Charlottetown P.E.I.  had been acquired for the hospital. It is far from clear just there this land might have been located. However, construction did not take place and it seems that other options were under consideration. In 1882 the marine hospital in Charlottetown “having been found unsuitable for the purposes required” was closed and an arrangement made with the Charlottetown Hospital and the Sisters of Charity for the care of sick seamen. This move was not universally popular, especially as it was a loss of a salary for the medical officer.

The Marine Hospital is often confused with the Isolation or Quarantine Hospital, especially since both were Dominion responsibilities after Confederation. The latter institution has a longer history.

Danger from the sea was not always marauding pirates or hostile navies. More often it was pestilence and disease brought by sick crew and passengers or by the ever-present ship’s rats.  In the 18th and 19th centuries the flood of emigrants  increased the dangers. Long voyages in unsanitary vessels where passengers were close-packed heightened the likelihood that disease was present when it arrived n the New World. Ships with sickness aboard were required to stop and fly the quarantine flag and wait for a doctor before any passengers could be landed.

In 1847 an immigrant ship with over 400 mostly Irish immigrants aboard arrived in Charlottetown Harbour from Liverpool. Instead of remaining off Canceau Point as required, the ship, the Lady Constable, was allowed to tie up at one of the city wharves and was cleared for  unloading of goods and passengers, even though 25 had died of disease during the passage.  A routine examination from a medical quarantine officer in Charlottetown had mis-diagnosed what at first appeared to be measles and dysentery. Instead it was the highly infectious disease of typhus which rapidly spread, both among the immigrants and to residents of Charlottetown. The community being without a suitable quarantine hospital the sick were eventually moved into the lunatic asylum and it was several months before the outbreak was controlled but not before at least 23 more had died from the disease.

The incident may have been what led to the purchase of land on the south shore of the Hillsborough River at Kelly’s Point, not far from the Clifton Methodist Church. A marine quarantine hospital was erected on the site in the summer of 1849 but was burned in what authorities suspected to be an arson attack with a few months. The site appears to have been abandoned. It is not clear if the structure was replaced or moved or whether authorities simply rented a quarantine building when the need arose.

Detail from the 1869 edition of Bayfield’s Chart of Charlottetown Harbour showing the mysterious “hospital” at Duchess Point in what is now Victoria Park.

Although otherwise undocumented as to purpose, a building is shown at Duchess Point in an 1856 plan of Government House Farm. On the 1869 edition of Bayfield’s Chart of Charlottetown Harbour this is identified as “Hospital”.  Although it persisted on charts until well into the 20th century the identification may have been an error. But at the time there was, in fact, a quarantine hospital but not at this site. An inventory of the Dominion Department of Public Works properties in the 1880s has an entry for the quarantine station at Charlottetown Described as follows” Erected in 1863, at a cost of $1350, upon a piece of land containing about nine acres, situate at the entrance to the harbour, a distance from the city of about two miles by water and three miles by land. Building is situated near the centre and faces the south. It is 52 ft. 3 in. x 22 ft. 6 in with a kitchen in the rear  20 x 12 1/2 ft. The whole built of wood , on stone foundation. The main building consists of one storey with attics.”

Marine Isolation Hospital, Sea Trout Point. Public Archives and Records Office, Camera Club Collection.

This building had been constructed by the P.E.I. government in 1863 by contractor John L. Phillips and is referred to in the accounts as a “public hospital” but as no other hospitals existed at the time it can be concluded that this was a quarantine hospital.   Other sources make it clear that this building was not located in Charlottetown but at the harbour mouth.  It would have been in place well before the 1869 chart revisions were made yet that chart does not show a hospital at Sea Trout Point.

Given that no other evidence has been found supporting a hospital at Duchess Point in the Government House Farm it is probable that the 1869 chart is in error with the cartographic engraver misplacing the facility at the wrong location.  Indeed the next edition of the chart, dated 1916 clearly shows the quarantine hospital at Seat Trout Point although it continued to show the mysterious hospital in Victoria Park at Duchess Point as well.

Detain from the 1916 edition of the Chart of Charlottetown Harbour showing the site of the Quarantine Hospital near the summer cottages at Keppoch

The quarantine hospital at Trout Point, frequently referred to as the Marine Hospital operated into the 1920s. As the importance of the port declined so too did the hospital. Often treating more than fifty patients a year in the 1880s it was often empty in the twentieth century as medical care and disease control improved.  There were still cases of smallpox and scarlet fever spotted from time to time among the sea-going population but the fear of disease had been reduced to the point that the hospital was duplicating other facilities.  The structure seems to have been abandoned about 1925.  The property was sold and the building demolished in 1936 with some of the materials being used to build a cottage at the point.

Never fired in anger: the shore defences of Charlotte Town

As a trained and experienced military officer, Samuel Holland knew a thing or two about defending a position. He had been at both Louisbourg and Quebec when the British overwhelmed the French and he carried lessons learned about defence forward when he was surveying the Island of St. John in 1764-1765.  His report at the conclusion of the survey includes comments regarding the defensive capability of the three principal towns he had made allowance for in the survey.

The site for Charlotte Town, he noted,  had the advantage of easy communication, a fine site and a good water supply. Equally important in its favour was the fact that

…a Battery or Two some Distance Advanced, will Intirely Command the Harbour. An Enemy attempting to Attack the Town, cannot do it without Great Difficulties, Viz. having Passed the Batteries at the Entrance of the Harbour , they must attempt a Passage up Hillsborough and York Rivers, the Channels of Both which are Intricate, and the Entrances of the Respective Channels will be so near the Town that it must also be Attended with the Greatest Hazard, shou’d they Land any Troops on either side of the Bay of Hillsborough, they must still have the River of the Same Name on the East, or Elliot or York Rivers on the West to pass before they Could effect anything of Consequence.    

What is not mentioned in the defence summary is the fort site on which both the French and English had built rudimentary earthworks.  When Holland arrived in 1764 they were in ruinous condition and Charlottetown was to succeed the Fort Lot as the administrative capital of the colony, which at the time was simply part of Nova Scotia.  With the end of the war with the French, defence had become a reduced priority and Fort Amherst was abandoned soon afterwards.

The lack of “a Battery or Two some Distance Advanced,” meant that when conflict next arose Charlotte Town had nothing to defend it. In 1775 two American armed cruisers boldly sailed past empty and decaying Fort Amherst and anchored in front of the town without opposition. They landed armed shore parties and seized supplies, valuables and several of the colony’s officials.  Although America was in a state of war with Great Britain the latter action was deemed to be somewhat unsporting and eventually led to their return and an apology from George Washington – possibly the last time an American President apologized for anything.

The return of the officials led to a flurry of defensive activities. Phillips Callbeck, acting as administrator of the colony’s government in the absence of Governor Walter Patterson, developed a proposal to defend Charlotte Town. Seventeen cannon which had been abandoned in the ruined Fort Amherst when the garrison was removed in 1768 were moved across the harbour and installed in a timber-fronted fortification – grandly called “Patterson’s Battery” which had been built at the western end of the town’s waterfront.

Detail from Charlotte Town The Capital of the Island of St. John by Thomas Wright ca. 1780. Patterson’s Battery is at the west end of what would become Water Street

The plan also called for a battery on the height of land overlooking what was known as Tartar’s Wharf at the foot of what would later be named Great George Street. Other proposed defences included small redoubts to which the inhabitants of the town would retreat in the case of a raid or invasion. Although begun these were never finished. When Military engineer William Booth visited in 1785 he found that the largest of these had been burnt by the inhabitants as it was “a harbor for muskitos.”  During the same visit he found that although well-situated, Patterson’s Battery and the garrison buildings had never been finished and were in very poor condition.

Following the outbreak of war with France in 1793 Patterson’s Battery was repaired and in 1798 when Prince Edward was commander-in-chief of the British Forces in North America with his headquarters in Halifax, it was completely re-built and re-named as St. George’s Battery. At the same time an additional battery (and the only one still in existence)  was built at the Governor’s Farm. This four gun emplacement was named “Kent Battery” in honour of the Prince, who was also Duke of Kent.  A blockhouse which mounted two guns, protected by another battery of four guns was built at Beacon Point on the west entrance to the harbour which soon acquired the name Blockhouse Point.  Additional protection was provided by a further battery with four guns on the east side of the harbour channel. This fortification was named for the Duke of York and its short existence is still commemorated by the name Battery Point.  Finally the old Tartar’s Wharf emplacement at the foot of Great George Street was enlarged to mount six guns and was given the name Fort Edward or Prince Edward Battery. This apparent interest by the Prince in the welfare of the colony led to the vote in the legislature to rename it as Prince Edward Island.

Detail of 1845 Chart of Charlottetown Harbour showing location of defensive works.

By the first year of the 19th century a vessel approaching Charlotte Town faced, on paper at least, formidable defences. It would have to sail beneath cannon at Blockhouse, York Battery, Kent Battery, St. George’s Battery and Prince Edward Battery before anchoring off the town.  However, the heightened level of defence did not last for long.  In 1802 the Great George Street battery had been disassembled and the land sold off for development.  The name of the Prince Edward Battery was transferred to the battery at Fanningbank.  A report in 1803 showed all the fortifications to be miserable condition.  Only the Blockhouse was really useable. The shoreline had eroded at St. George’s Battery. At the Prince Edward Battery several of the guns were simply lying on the ground and they has been removed completely from the York Battery at Battery Point. To add insult to injury the contingent of Royal Artillery responsible for the guns, seven men under command of a corporal, was transferred to Halifax the same year. The St. George’s Battery was again re-built but this time moved 100 feet back from the shore to avoid tumbling into the harbour through erosion. After 1804 the Garrison of Charlottetown usually included a small contingent of Royal Artillery whose chief employment seems to have simply been maintaining the equipment.

As the century progressed threats from the French (and after 1814 from the Americans) receded and the emplacements were barely maintained.  It was increasingly clear that whatever tensions may have persisted in Europe the strategic importance of Prince Edward Island was virtually non-existent.  The British Army Garrison was withdrawn in 1855 and returned only for the ceremonial occasion of a royal visit in 1860 and to address tenant league unrest a few years later. With the garrison recalled to Halifax, Charlottetown’s fortifications, consisting of St. George’s Battery, Fort Edward and the Blockhouse,  were dismantled and the ordnance and equipment shipped to Halifax. The Blockhouse continued to be used as a signal station and later a lighthouse.

Detail from 1845 chart showing location of Ordnance Grounds and St. George Battery. Note that Pownal Wharf has not yet been built.

The Garrison and the St. George Battery, known as the Ordnance Grounds, which consisted of the property south of Sydney and west of what is now  Union Street, being surplus to requirements, were transferred from the Imperial Government to the Colony in 1863. Taking advantage of the windfall, and rejecting the suggestion that it might become a public park the entire property was carved into 21 building lots and auctioned off the following year with the proceeds going to the colonial balance sheet. New streets including Haviland Street and Dundas Esplanade were for many years the most prestigious addresses in the city until many (including the Esplanade itself) were gobbled up by the expansions of the Charlottetown Hospital and disappeared.

The fortification legacy is limited. Battery Point with its short-lived battery is now a subdivision. The Blockhouse continues as an aid to navigation with nary a nod to its defensive importance. Prince Edward Battery, now grandly called Fort Edward is the sole survivor of the lot.

There is one other symbol that remains. When the battery at Blockhouse was being dismantled an 18 pound cannon slipped over the bank and was deemed too difficult to retrieve. In 1860, just prior to the visit of the Prince of Wales, the gun was brought to Charlottetown and imbedded with the muzzle up at the corner of Queen and Grafton Streets. Originally surmounted with a flagstaff which bore the Union Jack throughout the Prince’s visit it continues to represent the days when Charlottetown needed protection from the dangers which arrived by sea.

A more detailed account of the harbour fortifications can be found in David Webber’s “On Guard, The Defences of Charlottetown Harbour” The Island Magazine #64 Fall/Winter 2008 pp. 31-37. For more on the military history of Prince Edward Island the best sources are David Webber’s A Thousand Young Men  Charlottetown: 1990 and James B. Pollard’s Historical Sketch of the Eastern Regions of New France … and Prince Edward Island Military and Civil. Charlottetown: 1898