Category Archives: History

Oar Wars – Rowing Rivalry on Charlottetown Harbour

Detail from Panoramic View of Charlottetown 1878

Among the dozens of harbour craft visible in the 1878 Panoramic View of Charlottetown is a shadowy figure seen near the steamer St. Lawrence. It is obviously a single scull rowing boat and its presence is a reminder of the popularity of rowing in late 19th century Prince Edward Island.

Beginning with the surprise win in the world championships in Paris by an amateur team from Saint John in 1867 the sport of rowing soon became one of the most popular sports in Canada. The “Paris Crew” was the inspiration for the founding of dozens of rowing clubs across the new Dominion and induced hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadians to take up the sport.  One of the first Canadian international sports heroes was a rower, Ned Hanlan of Toronto, who took and held world championships and whose every exploit was avidly followed by both national and local newspapers.

In Prince Edward Island the Hillsboro Boating Club (HBC) built on a tradition of the Charlottetown Regatta Club which had held regattas stretching back half a century  when the sport of rowing was mainly carried out with ungainly ships’ boats and gigs. When it was founded in the early 1870s the HBC racing fleet included purpose built racing boats; single sculls and two and four-oared shells.

Daily Examiner 21 August 1879

But it was not only the club boats which were seen on the harbour. Several individuals kept rowing boats for exercise and sport and in 1878 a group of four young oarsmen purchased a shell which had been used by a championship team from Halifax.  In early years competition was often the result of challenges issued and accepted with considerable money riding on the results. By 1886 the Hillsborough Boating Club was not the only one on the waterfront. The South End Boating Club was to prove to be a serious rival – at least for a short time. The club appears to have been founded earlier that year and soon had club rooms on Lower Water Street, a street which has now disappeared but which ran between Great George and Queen at the head of the wharves. Reading between the lines it appears that the South End Club was more of a workingman’s club than was the HBC.  In July 1886 the club had purchased a four-oared shell built by N. Logan and Sons of Saint John, 39 feet in length and weighing 106 pounds and in August added another similar craft formerly belonging to the Halifax Boating Club to their holdings.

One of the major promotors and long-time presidents of the Club was John Joy who operated, among other businesses, the Old London Oyster House located on Water Street near thre bonded warehouse. He had competed in harbour rowing events in the 1870s and in 1888 commissioned gold and silver medals to be awarded to the successful competitors in regattas in Charlottetown.

In a report on the annual general meeting on the club in 1889 an account was given of the club activities and benefits.

No more health giving recreation can be conceived, and none more pleasant when once experienced than to launch off morning or evening in the summer months, and be relieved of the smoke and dust of the city for an hour or two. Besides boats of all descriptions the latest approved apatrtenances may be found at trhe club rooms; Indian clubs, dumb-bells and all that may be desired fior muscular development.

A successful picnic was held on the West River with a brass band in attendance. In addition to rowing events a sports day was held with track and field activities. A year later the club was a reported to be in an excellent financial position and had inducted seven new members. Plans were made for an act of incorporation. A club fund-raiser was a moonlight excursion on the steamer St. Lawrence with the Artillery Brigade Band in attendance. A first class violinist had been hired to furnish music for dancing.

Later in the summer of 1890 a match was arranged between the Hillsboro Bating Club and the South End Boating Club. The No. 1 crews of both clubs were to row for a purse of $100 (a not inconsiderable sum worth just under $3000 today) –  $50 put up by each club. The race was to begin off Connolly’s wharf between 4 and 8 pm. At 4:30 with wind and tides favourable the judges ordered the race to be run. The South End club quickly appeared on the start line but one of the Hillsboro crew refused to row until after he had had his tea. The South End team retired to their clubhouse. At 6 pm the reticent Hillsboro crew member took his place in the boat and rowed to the start line and announced his readiness to have the race start. The South Enders declined to row at that time stating that the judges had set a time for the start and that Hillsboro failed to participate. The judges ruled the race forfeit and Hillsboro was ordered to pay $10 to the South End Boating Club.

Later that year the South End club purchased another 40 foot four-oared shell built of Spanish cedar with sliding seats. She was built in Carleton New Brunswick and cost the Club $150, over $4200 adjusted for inflation to todays costs.  The club’s crews participated in a regatta at Pictou  and hosted a regatta in Charlottetown in October. There were ten events, two sailing races and eight rowing heats including classed for four-oared shells, four-oared lapstrake gig boats, double sculls, single sculls, and several races reserved for boys (as opposed to men – ladies did not race). At the main event, the four-oared shells, the South End crew were bested by a team from New Glasgow.

A commentary in the Examiner congratulated the club.

Good wholesome, manly sport is obtained upon the water by those who like it – and their name is legion.  We possess a sheet of water, in which to engage in aquatic sports, second to none in America. The youngest men amongst us who are engaged in the promotion of these sports deserve credit and encouragement. They have for several years past worked bravely under adverse circumstances, and they have triumphed over many difficulties They are evidently made of the stuff which constitutes a nation’s chief resource in troublous [sic] times.

The sixth annual report in 1891 noted the club’s history. It had grown from a beginning with thirteen members to more than fifty, from two second-hand single sculls to a large fleet and from a lean-to shed to a commodious club house and from nothing to assets in boats, oars and club furniture of almost $1000.  The meeting noted however that notwithstanding these successes there was still a lack of interest by the general public in aquatics. That year the Club tried to broaden its appeal. They decided to mount a “Grand Athletic Tournmant and Stallion Race”  at the Charlottetown Driving Park with all sorts of athletic sports such as might be found at the Caledonial Club Games along with a hose reel race between firemen and club members, a one-mile trot between two well-known horses and a dance at the Lyceum Hall. The event included everything but rowing. In advertising the Club was re-branded as the South End Boating and Athletic Club and this attempt to make it more of a sports club may have signaled a beginning to the rapid demise of the organization.  The athletic tournament was not a success and the Examiner noted “a small attendance.”

A very unusual event took place in January 1892. Without a hint of global warming the harbour remained free of ice well into January and on 12 January a four-oared race took place with shells from both the Hillsboro and South End clubs participating. With a crowd of spectators at Connolly’s Wharf three boats were at the starting line. The two mile course, to a turning buoy and back was completed in about thirteen minutes and it appears the South End crew was the winner. After the event crews and friends adjourned to the South End Boat House for refreshments, instrumental and vocal entertainment and speeches. The reception ended at 5:00 pm – perhaps called early for tea.

The winter race was one of the last reported activities of the South End Boat Club. Later that year there was a fund-raising lottery for a double scull racing boat and then a long silence. Rowing had lost its allure

Five year later the club had disbanded and all its boats were offered at auction as can be seen by the following advertisement.

Daily Examiner 19 May 1897

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Prince Eggward Island – The Henhouse of the Gulf

In the last quarter of the 19th century the harbours of Charlottetown and Summerside were busy places and the Island was famed for its exports. Oats, potatoes and lobsters were moved across the wharves to waiting sailing and steam vessels, especially the regular steamers of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company. The biggest bulk crop was oats, necessary for the horse-driven cities of Canada and New England. Potatoes were also shipped in bulk but they, like the oats were just as liable to be moved on slower-moving schooners and barks.

But beginning in the mid 1860s the Island achieved fame for another commodity, an export market which had all but disappeared by the end of the century. This posting provides some research observations about one of the Island’s most forgotten export products – the humble hen’s egg.

In June 1873, on the eve of Confederation, a correspondent for the New York Herald wrote from Summerside. “The excitement over the confederation scheme, by which this great egg-laying country becomes part of the New Dominion, has at length subsided…”  The Island over the years has had many nicknames but describing it as the “great egg-laying country” seems strange however it appears to have been a phrase which would readily identify the area in the minds of the Herald’s readers. In reading further in the historical record a forgotten chapter in the province’s agricultural history emerges.

Prior to the 1860s any egg production in the colony was purely a domestic market. The difficulties of both internal and external transportation mitigated against fragile commodities such as eggs. Transportation to any export markets was difficult. Only a few scattered references are made to egg shipments by sailing vessels and these are almost all small quantities and to destinations within the region. Although there had been steam packet services across Northumberland Strait since the 1830s the connections were mostly to Pictou and Shediac which were only poorly connected to other centres by difficult roads.

Twin steamers the Worcester and the Carroll were two of the “Boston Boats” carrying eggs to New England

That began to change early in the decade with establishment of regular steamer and rail services between P.E.I. and New England. In 1860 the European and North American Railroad through southern New Brunswick linked Shediac with Saint John and its steamer connections to New England. The line was later extended to lines in Maine and by 1872 It was possible to ship from Shediac to Boston by rail. In Nova Scotia the colonial railway reached Pictou Landing in 1867 and it became possible to go from Prince Edward Island to Halifax in a single day. From there it was an overnight steamer trip to Boston. The most important change took place in 1864 with the introduction of a direct steamer from Charlottetown to Boston. Originally operated by the Boston and Colonial Steamship line what became known as the “Boston Boat” created a weekly (and sometimes more frequent) service, which lasted until 1915.

Internally, the opening of the Prince Edward Island Railway in 1874 provided local access to faster and better shipping from the ports of Charlottetown and Summerside. While a fleet of small schooners and brigs were useful for shipping bulk cargo such as oats and produce, it was ill equipped to deal with perishable and fragile goods such as fish and eggs.

Boston and Colonial steamship advertisement. Note final line regarding egg shipments

In 1863 $8,980 worth of eggs were shipped to the United States from the Island. Within four years this had grown to $24,000 worth of eggs in spite of the fact that there was a 10 per cent tariff on eggs. By 1867 egg exports from Charlottetown alone had grown to 156,000 dozen, almost all bound for the Boston market. Many went by the Boston and Colonial steamers but most were sent by rail via New Brunswick. A year later advertisements began to appear offering cash for eggs to meet the growing market.  In 1874 the New England Farmer noted that eggs from Prince Edward Island weighed thirty per cent more than other eggs.  The following year the Boston Globe reported that a recent steamer cargo included five million eggs from Prince Edward Island in a single shipment.

Packaging for the shipping of eggs took many forms. Egg cases carried 49 dozen, boxes contained 100 dozen and barrels contained 79 dozen. While eggs from Prince Edward Island used all three forms, barrels using oats as the packing material may have been the most common. Local egg merchants received, graded, and packed eggs from area farmers. Containers would be loaded onto railway cars for transit to Charlottetown and Summerside. They would then need to be loaded onto ships. Summerside shipments had to be off-loaded at Shediac and into railcars. As several rail lines were needed to get to Boston, in some cases the eggs might be handled again if the cars did not go the whole distance. At Charlottetown almost all of the shipments were direct to Boston on the Boston Boat and had to be transhipped less often. The Boston and Colonial line realized at an early date that eggs were a significant export commodity and by 1878 were noting in their advertising that “Eggs in boxes and barrels handled with the greatest care.”

In 1878 the Boston market handled over 5.5 million dozen or in excess of 66,000,000 eggs. Eggs from Prince Edward Island, although available only from April to November represented 17 per cent of the total supply or almost 1,000,000 dozen eggs. Shipments from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were so few that they were not even mentioned in the accounts.

Both Island and Boston merchants advertised offering cash for eggs

The prices paid for eggs and other produce on the Boston Market was a regular feature of Island newspapers by 1881 enabling egg producers to have a better appreciation of the valuation. By the 1882 season wholesalers were advertising in Island papers seeking stock. J.M. Auld (highest prices paid for large and small lots) told producers “Two Thousand a Day Wanted this Season” while Arthur & Toombs advertised “500,000 Dozen wanted this season.”

However the egg rush did not continue indefinitely. Protectionism in the United States was ushered in by the McKinley Tariff in 1890. In 1889 David Laird, speaking on the threat posed by tariff proposals noted “At the present time the owners of hens are in a dilemma with regard to the proposed duty of five cents a dozen on eggs by the American Congress, and many a young and old woman in the country would sleep more soundly if they were assured that this duty would not be imposed.” The previous year the Island had shipped 2,148,000 dozen eggs valued at $309,000, an amount exceeding the province’s expenditure on education.

The damage to the export egg trade was significant. In 1890 the year the Tariff was first introduced the egg exports to the United States from Canada were 12,800,000 dozen, a value of 1.8 million dollars. By 1897 the number had shrunk to 479,000 dozen, giving less than $50,000. Efforts to shift the production to the markets in Great Britain had seen limited success. In 1890 only $860 (dollars, not thousands) worth of eggs had been sent across the Atlantic. By 1897 the annual egg exports to the United Kingdom were still less than 7,000,000 dozen bringing in $924,000. It appears that the majority of these shipments were made by producers in Ontario and Quebec. There is no evidence that Island henneries played the same role in the trans-Atlantic shipping that they had in the New England market which appears to have gradually withered.  Protectionism had allowed American producers to re-capture their domestic markets and without the ability to send eggs elsewhere the production on Prince Edward Island returned to serving domestic needs. By 1900 the great Boston egg boom was over. However the industry slowly rebuilt and by 1929 some 1.3 million dozen eggs were being produced, mostly through co-operative associations. and put on the market in neighbouring provinces, Quebec and New England.

A more detailed draft paper on the Boston egg exports along with source notes for this blog posting can be found here.

The most beautiful ship never to visit Charlottetown

It mat have seemed at first that the gigantic liner might come into Charlottetown but instead it remained in Hillsborough Bay beyond Fitzroy rock, and passengers were shuttled back and forth through the harbour’s mouth to the city’s wharves.  Even at a distance it was a magnificent sight and quite unlike anything ever before seen in Island waters.

Artists view of the Champlain

The S.S. Champlain was described as the first modern ocean liner. At the time of her launch in 1932 she was the largest, fastest, and most luxurious cabin class liner in the world. She was the flagship of the Compagnie Général Transatlantique, better known as the French Line.  She incorporated many of the art deco design features which later appeared in the better known S.S. Normandie. She had accommodation for over 1000 passengers; 623 in cabin class, 308 in tourist class, and 122 in third class; and she carried over 500 crew. At 641 feet long (almost 200 meters) and 82 feet wide (25 meters) she would have been the largest ship ever to visit Charlottetown to that date – if she had come into harbour.

Spoiled as we are by the images of the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth of the Cunard Line it is easy to forget that the French for many years had the most advanced designs and speed for the transatlantic crossing and luxurious interiors and services were world-famous.  These were liners which had a grace and nautical style which the sea-going, apartment-building cruise ships seen each summer in Charlottetown’s harbour today completely lack.  A three-minute video showing the ship and its interior can be found here.

The Champlain at sea

So how was it that the most spectacular vessel in the world ended up anchored in Hillsborough Bay on 24 August 1934?

The Champlain was on a special cruise. Rather than simply shuttling between New York and English and French ports the August crossing followed a unique route. It started in St. Malo from whence Cartier had departed, across the Atlantic to the French territory of St. Pierre and Miquelon off Newfoundland, then stopping at Charlottetown, Gaspe, and Quebec before proceeding to New York.  All of this was in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Jacques Cartier. While today political correctness proclaims this as the sad beginning of the plague of “settler societies,”  in 1934 Cartier’s “discovery” and exploration of the Atlantic Coast of Canada was a very big deal.

The Champlain was accompanied by three French warships; the destroyer Vouquelin, frigate d’Entrecasteau and the armed sloop/coast guard ship Ville D’Ys. But these were not the only vessels hovering around the Champlain. Because she was judged too big to enter the harbour there had to be some transfer of passengers from the ship to the Marine wharf and so the Canadian Government Ship Cartier and the car ferry Prince Edward Island were pressed into service as passenger shuttles.  The smaller, but more official, Cartier took 100 of the official party to shore while the rest of the passengers, 500 or so, were transferred to the S.S. P.E.I.  As the Cartier approached the harbour two Canadian sea-planes circled it and dropped a wreath of flowers symbolizing the welcome to the province.

Canadian Government Ship Cartier used to ferry dignitaries from the Champlain to Charlottetown

The was no shortage of officials aboard the Champlain. France was represented by a group of 130 distinguished visitors headed by the Minister of Public Works, the president of the University of Paris, and a large contingent of Mayors from French cities and towns.  The Admiral of the Fleet for the Royal Navy and the warden of New College Oxford represented the United Kingdom. The United States sent the American Ambassador to Canada and a Senator from New Hampshire. A number of Canadian officials and politicians also lucked out on the junket while dozens more participated in the on-shore activities.

French destroyer Vouquelin which accompanied the Champlain on its visit to Charlottetown

The main even was the unveiling of a National Historic Sites and Monuments Board plaque commemorating the discovery of Prince Edward Island which Cartier had visited in 30 June and 1 July 1534. The plaque was mounted on an impressive cairn on the grounds of the Colonial Building.  Canadian dignitaries at the ceremonies included five current or former ministers of the crown, the lieutenant governor, premier and chief justice.  The ceremony itself was presided over by Dr. Clarence Webster chairman of the Historic Sites board.  After a large number of speeches it was off to Government House for a garden party.  The Island’s militia regiments played a role by furnishing an honour guard but the Boy Scouts presence was even more prominent. Island scout troops were present as was a group of twenty-two scouts from France.  After an inspection from the French scout commissioner and Island commissioner R.C. Parent commemorative badges were exchanged and the scouts marched back to the Marine Wharf with the French commissioner and three boy scout chaplains stopping off at the Bishop’s Palace.  At the pier the  French scouts “lustily sang two boy scout songs and Auld Lang Syne in French” before embarking.

After leaving Hillsborough Bay the Champlain proceeded to Gaspe where another Historic Sites and Monuments Board ceremony and round of speeches awaited.  The welcomes and speeches were repeated over and over as the party visited Trois Rivieres, Quebec, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa.

The HSMBC plaque and sandstone cairn sat on the Colonial Building grounds until the area was landscaped following the building of the Confederation Centre of the Arts. Realizing that the event commemorated had little to do with Charlottetown it was moved to Kildare in the Alberton area, closer to the spot where Cartier had actually landed and proclaimed to Island to be the fairest land t’is possible to see.  However putting  it in context after crossing the Atlantic in a tiny ship and stopping in the rocky coast of western Newfoundland, any land at all would be fair to see.

The plaque and cairn have outlived the ship by many years.  At the outbreak of the Second World War the Champlain was pressed into service ferrying war refugees across the Atlantic but on returning from New York in June 1940 she struck an air-laid mine while approaching La Rochelle France. She was one of the largest ships lost in the war.

A wonderfully detailed site (in French) dedicated to the “unknown and unjustly forgotten” Champlain can be found here.