In the 1920s Charlottetown was the primary depot for the Gulf of St. Lawrence with responsibilities extending to the Strait of Belle Island and beyond as well as a number of Newfoundland lighthouses. The Aranmore saw lighthouse duties along the north shore of the Gulf and into the Strait. Late in 1919 the Aranmore had been stranded in an attempt to carry supplies to marooned and starving wireless operators at Battle Harbour and two crew members spent the winter ashore in shacks maintaining the ship. It was not pulled from the shore until September of 1920. Throughout the 1920s the Aranmore was normally attached to the Charlottetown Marine Agency during the season and was laid up in Halifax over the winter, occasionally making voyages to Sable Island. A large number of the ship’s crew were from Prince Edward Island.
The photo below shows that Southport Ferry Wharf at Minchin’s Point. Dating from about 1912 it shows the wharf in poor repair. The ferry service had stopped in 1905 and deterioration was rapid. The ferry service and its wharf had been the primary reason for the establishment of a community and the fortunes of the community to great measure mirrored those of the wharf itself.
Yes. there really was a port at Southport – well, at least there was a wharf. Best known as the ferry landing for the Hillsborough Ferry, the wharf eventually was responsible for the creation of a village on the southern shore of the Hillsborough River opposite Charlottetown. As it was on the route between Charlotte Town and Georgetown the ferry was likely a feature from the earliest days of the colony. The wharf, and the beginnings of the tiny settlement, first appear in George Wright’s 1842 chart of Hillsborough Bay and Charlottetown Harbour.
However the wharf was not at the high bluff, known as Minchin’s Point or Murphy’s Point but a little to the west avoiding the steep climb up the bank. The wharf at Minchin’s Point was built following a call for tenders in 1842 and appears on Capt. Bayfield’s chart of Charlottetown Harbour which appeared in 1852. In early years the wharf had a floating jetty to make it easier to access the ferry in spite of changing tides. Thereafter there are a long series of extensions and re-buildings of the wharf to accommodate the succession of ferries which were used on the route. Steam powered vessels such as the Ora, the Ino, the Arethusa the Elfin, the Hillsborough and the Southport were familiar and regular visitors to the wharf at Minchin’s Point.
The ferry traffic gave rise to the need to hotels and taverns as well as businesses serving the travellers. It also became a service centre for communities such as Keppoch Kinloch, and Cross Roads for those wishing to avoid having to cross the Hillsborough in order to meet their needs. By 1863 the community was well-established and the alternate names “Southport” and Stratford” appeared to both have been in use.
An article in the 20 November 1878 Semi-Weekly Patriot documents further growth of the community.
Passing by the Church, Smithy and Schoolhouse at Alexandria, and the Church at the cross roads, we reach Southport, destined to be one of the fashionable and health-bearing adjuncts of Charlottetown. It is now quite a business centre , and when the new road is opened it will become still more important. The day is coming when the seaside from Farquharson’s point to the Harbour’s mouth will be studded with villas. Charles Haszard Esq., by the ferry facilities which he so obligingly affords, is doing much for Southport as well as for the health and pleasure seekers from the city. The Honourable the Speaker of the Assembly is a citizen of this place – where he and H. Bovyer, W.H. Farquharson, and John Kennedy carry on mercantile business. An Episcopal Church, a school-house, a Tannery, two line kilns, a Post Office, three forges, two Houses of Entertainment, seven Brick Kilns, a Tailor’s Shop, one Harness and Saddlery establishment and two weigh scales are among our Southport notes. Beer, McIntosh, McKenzie, Alex. and Neil Stewart, Flood and Son, and the two Cardiffs manufacture Brick extensively; the blacksmiths are Allan Stewart, Allan Ham and Charles Walker; and the Carpenters and Carriage Builders are Angus and John McInnis, John Godfrey, James Wood, Isaac Turner, and James Costello.
Notwithstanding the glowing 1878 report that the community was destined to be a “fashionable and healthy adjunct” it was clear that growth of the village had slowed if not stopped. There are scarcely more houses shown in the area in the 1880 Meacham’s Atlas than there had been 17 years earlier. Although landowner John Picton Beete had ambitiously subdivided the property and laid out a street network the anticipated growth failed to arrive. The area did, however had become the centre for brick making with a large number of brick yards and as the newspaper account above notes a large number of brickmakers had establishments near Southport. While most of the brick manufactured would have been carried by ferry or across the winter ice to Charlottetown it is probable that some export of brick took place at the ferry wharf.
The short-lived brick boom came to an early end as supplies of brick-clay were exhausted and the community once again lapsed into a quiet stagnation. Comparing the plan above with the 1935 air photo below it is clear that Southport in the 1930s was still stuck in the 1870s. Over the years the ferry wharf had been extended and re-built but the construction of the Hillsborough Bridge, which was completed in 1905, and the opening of new roads to the east, meant that traffic no longer stopped at Southport. The railway by-passed the hamlet and what services that were provided by merchants were for locals only. There was a frisson of excitement in 1913 when construction of a marine railway large enough to carry the S.S. Prince Edward Island was begun close to the ferry wharf but work ceased in 1915 and was never completed.
There were occasional reports of other vessels using the Southport wharf to load cargo. For example, in 1886 the steamer M.A. Starr crossed the harbour to Southport after unloading at Charlottetown in order to load potatoes for Halifax. Small schooners continued to load produce at the Southport Wharf into the 1930s, and the wharf was dredged n 1937. The Dominion Department of Public Works used the wharf as a place to tie up scows used in dredging and construction but by the end of the Second War even this seems to have ended. With the end of activity the wharf soon eroded. A caution buoy marked a spot where a sunken scow rested on the bottom but even that marker was removed in the last few years.
Today few, if any, traces remain of the ferry wharf and it is no longer even buoyed as a hazard to navigation as no boats except those of oyster fishers have a reason to visit the Southport shore. However one part of the Patriot’s 1878 forecast has become true. The shores all along the edge of the Hillsborough, right to the harbour’s mouth and beyond are today “studded with villas.”
Before the invention of the airplane residents of Charlottetown would have had little idea of what their city looked like from the skies. In 1878 they got a hint of the City’s appearance with the publication of a panoramic view of the city1. The Semi-Weekly Patriot noted its publication ” We do not know how the artist got there but the sketch seems to have been taken from an elevated position over the the head of the Railway Wharf. You have a view of part of the harbor and all of the wharves.” More on this view will be the subject of an upcoming blog posting.
Real aerial images were taken of the city in the late 1920s by the Royal Canadian Air Force but these would not have been freely available to the general public. Instead they had to wait for images of the city to be published as postcards. Over the years from the late 1930s to the present a number of air photos of the city were made available. Unfortunately the quality of postcard images had deteriorated considerably from the cards of the golden age of postcards in the years before the beginning of the Great Depression. Nevertheless these cards are one of the better sources to document the changing nature of the Charlottetown waterfront over the last eighty years.
Click on any highlighted text to see pages dedicated to the history of the wharf or company.
This appears to be the earliest air photo of the Charlottetown waterfront to appear on a postcard. It shows a city not much changed since the years immediately following the publication of Meacham’s Atlas in 1880.2 While the names attached to several of the wharves changed over the years their basic configuration did not.
This detailed view was obviously taken at the same time as the more distant card above and can be dated before 1938. It shows an industrial waterfront in the closing days of the the age of sail. The Charlottetown Yacht Club clubhouse at Lords Wharf has not yet made its appearance although a number of small boats can be seen moored to the sheltered east side of Pownal Wharf. Indeed small craft can be seen at almost all of the wharves. The lot at the head of Pownal Wharf appears to be cleared for erection of the Eastern Hay and Feed Warehouse which was opened in 1940 and the rail spur which was extended along Lower Water Street does not appear to have been built. Judging by the number of warehouses Pownal Wharf seems to be in active use although no large ships can be seen there. Pickard’s Coal Wharf to the east is busier with at least three schooners tied to the wharf. Next is Queen’s Wharf , one of the smallest in the city but it has a vessel tied to each face of the wharf. At the Buntain and Bell Wharf with its distinctive warehouse a large schooner is either arriving or departing. The Marine and Fisheries wharf is quiet with all of the vessels stationed there on patrol although several smaller craft can be seen hauled out on the marine railway between that wharf and Buntain and Bell. The MacDonald Rowe woodworking plant can be seen just to the west of the end of Great George Street. In contrast with the neat and tidy arrangements on the Marine and Fisheries Wharf the Steam Navigation Wharf is a jumble of warehouses and out buildings (more than a dozen), most of which were associated with Bruce Stewart and Company’s industrial operations. Although the regular steamer service provided by the Harland had come to an end this was one of the busier wharves in the city. Between it and the Ferry Wharf at Prince Street another coal yard was in operation. Beside the Ferry Wharf itself a small building can be seen, probably the Hillsborough Boating Club building. Note how close the shoreline is to the railway shop building, now Founders Hall.
The Photo Gelantine Engraving Company of Ottawa [PECO] has a well-deserved reputation for poor quality of colouring and reproduction and the card above is one of the worst. Luckily, thanks to Phil Culhane’s excellent site at peipistcards.ca an uncoloured version, also published by PECO is available. With additional clarity enough information can be gleaned from this view of the waterfront to date it from about 1952. In this view Dundas Esplanade has not yet been gobbled up by the expanding Charlottetown Hospital. Paoli’s Wharf is no longer in use and his begun its long deterioration which continues to this day. Some of the structures have disappeared from Pownal wharf and the Charlottetown Yacht Club occupies the area although Pownal Wharf itself still extends to the channel giving good protection for a number of moored yachts. Further along the scene is much the same as in the pre-war view. However, there is a distinct absence of shipping at the several wharves. Queen’s Wharf appears to be abandoned and crumbling.
This image from the south appears to date from the early 1960s. The air photo has poor resolution but sufficient detail can be gleaned to pick out a number of features. The addition to the PEI Hospital appears on the left. Along the waterfront from the west we can see that the Pownal Wharf has been cleared of the salt shed and warehouses and is now much shorter than in earlier views. Pickard’s coal wharf seems intact but the stub of Queen’s Wharf does not appear to be in use. Next to it the Buntain and Bell Wharf has at least one smaller vessel tied up. The Marine wharf is the busiest in the harbour with Coast Guard vessels on both sides. At the foot of Great George Street the former Steam Navigation Wharf is now being used as the Texaco terminal although only four tanks have built at this date. The northern end of the wharf still houses several of the Bruce Stewart & Co. buildings. The tanker mooring structures still standing off the Confederation Landing Park date from this period. The Prince Street Ferry Wharf has deteriorated as the service to Rocky Point was halted with the completion of the West River Causeway at New Dominion in 1958. Infill has pushed the shoreline south from the railway yards and structures. A freighter can be seen at the east side of the Railway Wharf.
Although differing in production qualities and distributed by different entities the two cards above are both by the same photographer, George Hunter, and were taken on the same flight. Although the wharf detail is not clear in some cases both cards show identical vessels tied up at the Railway Wharf. With shots taken from the west the cards show details which do not often appear in postcards. The Armories on Kent Street are prominent in the top card which also shows West Kent School which was demolished in 1966 to make way for the government office complex. The card itself dates from after 1978 but the image is more than a decade earlier. The entire block bounded by Haviland Street, Water Street, Sidney Street and the harbour is occupied by the Charlottetown Hospital, the School of Nursing and the Sacred Heart Home. Dundas Esplanade which appears on earlier postcards has completely disappeared. H.M.C.S. Queen Charlotte is located on what had been the upper section of Connolly’s or Paoli’s Wharf while the wharf itself is in complete ruins. The large City Barn can be seen just north of the Yacht Club. The new Department of Transport Wharf is under construction, incorporating Pickard’s Coal Wharf, the ruin of Queen’s Wharf and the Buntain and Bell Wharf. To the east of the new construction the Marine and Fisheries Wharf is still in use and the former Steam Navigation Wharf now sports an additional two tanks for Texaco Oil. The ruins of the Ferry Wharf lie to the west of the Railway Wharf.
The re-development of the Charlottetown waterfront in the 1970s and 1980s brought more changes to the area than the previous half-century. One of these changes was the development of Harbourside on the site of post-industrial buildings on the waterlots south of Water Street. This 1978 image centers on the Charlottetown Yacht Club where almost all vessels were still moored off and were reached by dinghies or the club tender. The club building itself had been enlarged with an extension and deck which house a bar for members and guests. The dinghy launch ramp and the jetty at the stub end of the Pownal Wharf provided landing spots. The Department of Transport Wharf has been completed and is in use and the apartments and commercial spaces north and east of the yacht club are being landscaped.
This image was taken after the completion of the Harbourside buildings and shows the Yacht Club Property before the addition of the marina although some fingers have been added to the inner basin protected by a floating barrier which eventually sank and remains close to the end of Lord’s Wharf. The hotel and convention centre occupy the foot of Queen Street and the Marine and Fisheries wharf is still in place to the east. The Texaco tank farm is still in use and Confederation Landing Park has not yet been built.
Although this photograph is from the same source it follows the previous one by several years. The removal of the Texaco tank farm paved the way for the development of the 6 acre Confederation Landing Park which was completed in 1995.This image dates before that project but does show the major 1990 development at Peake’s Quay following the removal of the Marine and Fisheries Wharf. At the Charlottetown Yacht Club the inner basin marina (the ‘hood) has been developed.
- See H.T. Holman “Panorama for Sale: The Bird’s Eye Views of Prince Edward Island” The Island Magazine No. 24 (Fall/Winter 1988) pp. 14-18. Can be downloaded from this site: https://www.islandimagined.ca/articles
- A series of fine articles on the creation and publishing of the Meacham’s Atlas have recently appeared in Reg Porter’s blog found here