Category Archives: Steamers

He came over on the Mayflower

The steamship service between Prince Edward Island and the mainland had two primary routes: from Pointe du Chene or Shediac to Summerside, and from Pictou to Charlottetown. There was however, no lack of proposals for alternate ports.  The primary driver for port choice after the 1860s was the proximity to rail connections once the mainland was reached. Shediac was connected with a system that went to Saint John in time for the Prince of Wales visit in 1860 and that connection eventually extended right through to Boston.

The extension of the Nova Scotia Railway to Pictou Landing in 1867 gave steamers access to the rail service to Halifax and with the completion of the Intercolonial Railway following Confederation the route offered an all-rail service to Quebec and the Canadian heartland.

The little community of Brule on the shore near Tatamagouche was touted well into the 20th century as another possibility for the “trans-strait” passage, one which was promoted long and hard by Charlottetown’s member in the House of Commons.  Its success would have been dependant on the creation of a new branch of the Midland Railway from Truro to Brule but the road was never built and the route was hypothetical at best.

Location map showing Pugwash location and steamer route (blue). From I.C.R. timetable ca. 1905.

There was another route which actually was tried, and once again the connection with the rails was the basis for the proposal.  By 1891 a “short line” had been constructed which left the main line of the Intercolonial at Oxford Junction and skirted the Northumberland Strait shore before terminating at Pictou.  Prior to its construction, Pictou was linked to the rails by a ferry to Pictou Landing and thence by a branch line to New Glasgow and the Intercolonial line between Truro and Cape Breton. The ferry, named the Mayflower, had been built in 1875 in Montreal. She was 125 feet long by 23 feet wide and displaced 377 tons. Her main salon provided accommodation for sixty passengers.

Charlottetown Guardian 29 December 1891. p. 3

The new short line, more properly known  as the Oxford and New Glasgow Railway made the  Pictou Landing ferry redundant and the fifteen year old vessel was acquired by J.O. Reid of Pugwash. The ship was rebuilt with new boilers in early 1891 and a published report gave her capacity as 300 passengers and 400 barrels of freight.  It appears she was purchased with the intention of establishing Pugwash as a third mainland connection with Prince Edward Island with steamer service linking the Nova Scotia port and Charlottetown.  In promoting the service its owners asserted that the staunch, twin-screw vessel had ice-cutting capacity and would be able to run a month later and begin service and a month earlier than the steamers of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company.  A further benefit would be better timed connections with the I.C.R. trains both coming and going so that passengers ands mails would reach Charlottetown nine hours earlier.  A better connection with Pugwash had been supported at the annual meeting of the Charlottetown Board of Trade and the Guardian editor noted that the new route would “put the Steam Navigation Company on its mettle.”

Service was scheduled to begin on 1 October 1891 and advertisements for the Pugwash and P.E. Island Steamboat Company continued to appear in the Charlottetown Guardian through December 1891 showing service three days per week and pledging that “This is the, shortest, most direct, and cheaper than any other route to or from Prince Edward Island.”

True or not, it seems that the Mayflower failed to pry business away from the Steam Navigation Company and there is no further word of the Pugwash to Charlottetown Service. It is not clear if the ships previous experience as a ferry across the mile-wide harbour of Pictou may have been limiting factor in the minds of potential passengers. Later she may have been used elsewhere in the region and or as a ferry at Canso. In 1895 it was rumoured that the Mayflower was to run between Summerside and Cape Tormentine connecting with the New Brunswick and P.EI. Railway which ran between the Cape and Sackville but it seems to have remained nothing more than a rumour.

In the spring of 1899 the Mayflower appeared on the Pictou-Souris-Magdalenes service but when it was discovered that the ship had been condemned by authorities as unseaworthy for transportation of passengers it was hastily replaced. The vessel was under Ontario ownership in 1901. It was re-built in 1904 and last operated on the Great Lakes in 1910.

Today large freighters seeking cargos of salt still visit Pugwash but to dream of being the main link between the mainland and Prince Edward Island died when the Mayflower left the port for the last time.  In addition, the rails which were so important for determining which ports would serve the Island have vanished from all the harbours on Northumberland Strait.  Shediac, Cape Tormentine,  Pugwash, Tatamagouche, and Pictou – none have rail links that survived the end of the 20th century.






Cruising to New York – The S.S. Trinidad

Postcard showing the Trinidad ca. 1910. Phil Culhane collection.

In spite of the extreme difficulties associated with winter travel across Northumberland Strait, in the other three seasons of the year Prince Edward Island was reasonably served with the “continuous steam navigation” sought in the  confederation agreement.  With direct services to the mainland across Northumberland Strait, to Montreal and Quebec through the Gulf, and to New England via Halifax and Boston one could get from the Island to just about everywhere served by steamship and rail – if you weren’t in a hurry.

Most coverage of P.E.I.’s international connections has centred on the “Boston Boat”, the regular steamer service provided by at least one, and often more, steamship lines. These links pre-dated confederation and lasted until the Great War and served the trade links and flow of population between the Island and New England.

What is less well-remembered is that the province had direct steamer service to New York for several years early in the twentieth century. The Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Line, later the Quebec Steamship Line, had run a service between Montreal , Quebec and Pictou, stopping at Summerside, Charlottetown and Gaspe for several years.  At the same time the company  had regular sailings between New York and Bermuda, a service which had begun in 1874 and continued for more than forty years.  One of the vessels used on this route was the steamer Trinidad.

SS Trinidad at Bermuda ca. 1890 before being lengthened. Note the single funnel.

The Trinidad was built for the Quebec Steamship Company in 1884 at Deptford on the Wear River in northern England. She was 270 feet long and the 2100 ton ship operated primarily as a freight vessel with limited passenger accommodation.  She had been built specifically for use on the crossing between New York and Bermuda but also travelled elsewhere in the West Indies. The run was profitable and nine years later the Trinidad was sent back to the Wear and was rebuilt in Sunderland. Forty feet were added to her length and tonnage increased to 2600 tons. A new engine was installed and the look of the vessel was significantly changed with the addition of second funnel. More importantly cabins and saloon were overhauled and renovated and new accommodation added.  She was now capable of carrying 170 first class passengers.  The New York Times stated she looked like a miniature liner.

Stern view of the Trinidad

In 1908, the tercentenary of Champlain’s voyage of Quebec the company began a summer service using the Trinidad to travel from New York to Quebec stopping at Halifax and Charlottetown.  Following the stranding and loss of the Campana the Trinidad took over her duties on the subsidized Quebec to Pictou Service and the further use of the vessel to go to New York was suspended for the rest of the season although it resumed the following year.  A review describing the vessel appeared in the Quebec Chronicle in June 1909

SS Trinidad at Gaspe

[She is] fitted up in the most modern style as a passenger steamer. Her salon, a handsomely furnished apartment is situated amidships, and has accommodation for nearly 200 passengers. Immediately forward of the salon is the ladies sitting room, most tastefully fitted up and furnished …[and aft], a cosy smoking room, where gentlemen can enjoy a quiet smoke of their favourite brand … while discussing topics of the day. There is also a music room in  which both sexes can meet and listen to the music of a first class piano … staterooms are lofty, well ventilated, and comfortably furnished. The passages to them are wide and lofty, being richly carpeted. On the upper or boat deck is a promenade extending nearly the full length of the steamer. This deck is covered with canvas awnings and is well supplied with chairs.  

In the winter season the Trinidad returned to the Bermuda run which became increasingly popular and the ship turned from being mere transportation to a cruise experience. In 1911, for example,  advertising notices appeared such as one in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle touting the Quebec cruise which covered 1500 miles over five days. “The voyage during the summer months is a veritable yachting trip, and the rates of passage so low that it is brought within the  reach of the most moderate income. “

In fact there were great differences between the New York Service and the Boston Boat. The former  was primarily a cruise line. Charlottetown was a port on the route rather than the terminus and the main business was the tourist. For those wishing to get from New York to Quebec there were much quicker rail connections.  The Trinidad made the round trip only once every two weeks and only in the high summer season  while the Plant Line had a regular weekly or semi-weekly service which began in the spring and extended into the fall.  While the Plant Line Steamers did have a major cruise component it was still very much a shipping line.  Some Islanders did travel to New York on the Trinidad but it never did have the same intimate connection with the Island as the Boston Boat.

In 1913 the Quebec Steamship Company became part of Canada Steamship Lines and the following year the Quebec to New York service was cancelled. During the Great War the Trinidad was used to carry supplies across the Atlantic and between England and France. Prior to the United States entering the war in 1917 the Trinidad was known to have travelled under a false name and neutral registry port. The ship was sold in 1917 and was torpedoed in March 1918 while travelling between Rouen and Liverpool and sank in the Irish Sea.


A winter crossing on the Stanley – 1890

Canadian Government Steamer “Stanley”. Warwick Bros & Rutter postcard #1694.

Following the unsatisfactory performance over a dozen years of the Dominion’s first ice breaker the Northern Light, the arrival of the C.G.S. Stanley promised relief and a serious attempt to address the goal of “continuous steam communication” across Northumberland Strait. The arrival of the new vessel in time for the 1888-1889 winter was accompanied by lighter than usual ice conditions. The Stanley made almost four times the number of trips that the Northern Light had been able to provide the previous year. Passages were relatively smooth the following winter as well and it looked as if the much-dreaded trip to the mainland on the winter steamer or the even more uncomfortable alternative of the ice boats at the Capes was a thing of the past.

CGS Stanley steaming through heavy ice. Note the iceboat hanging from the davits.

It is in this context that the following account of an early winter trip from Charlottetown to Quebec in 1890 is set. Although the journey involved four different rail lines with changes at Georgetown, Pictou, Stellarton, Truro and Levis as well as the steamer passage, it seemed as if this was simply a matter of routine, marred only by the usual irritations suffered by the usual passengers.  The account of the December trip was published in the Montreal Gazette for December 13 1890 over the name “Lorainne”. Only the section dealing with the trip from Charlottetown to Pictou is reprinted here. This trip without incident, taken so early in the season, was followed by a winter of exceptionally severe conditions and it was soon clear that the Island transportation problems had not been solved. That however, was in the un-knowable future for our contented traveller.

It was about 10 0’clock on a bitter night when the hotel sleigh drove round to the door, and we took our seat by the side of a timid lady, who seemed nervous about everything, and about her trunks in particular. Our drive to the railway station occupied not more than three minutes, and there was the mail express, steaming and snorting, all impatient to be off to Georgetown, the winter port of the province. Late and cold as it was the station was full of people. A rosy-cheeked Irish girl was going off to Boston and her “sisters and cousins and aunts” were grouped round the carriage giving her a hearty send-off. The other passengers were a couple of clergymen, the aforesaid timid lady, and a pretty Pictou girl attended by several gentlemen friends. Arrived at Georgetown it was, for all of us except the timid lady, but the work of a moment to get ourselves and our baggage on board of the Stanley. She, after the manner of her kind, had lost her trunk or misplaced it which gave her the same sorrow and trouble. From the bad air of the train and the bleak air of the wharf, to the clean, cosy Stanley, what change! After a few words with the agreeable and obliging purser, Mr. Dominick Ryan, so well-known to the travelling public of the summer season by reason of his long tenure of office on the steamer St. Lawrence, we were shown to our cabin by another old friend of the route.— the steward – named Smith. Smith is a good Catholic, and many a time has come to the rescue of some one of his coreligionists who on a Wednesday in advent would wistfully consign himself to a dinner of herbs, having per force of conscience been obliged to decline the “stalled ox,” when suddenly a plate of boiled herring would be popped down before him with a whisper of “waiter’s dinner, sir.” A well-known Catholic priest told me having been travelling for some time, he had lost count of the days of the week, and at breakfast on the St. Lawrence, was plunging his knife into succulent steak, when presto! lo!  the plate was whisked away replaced by one of codfish, with a whisper of “Friday,” Sir.

The cabin which was allotted to us on the Stanley was not only cosy, but beautiful in all its appointments. Rich carpet and curtains, a luxurious sofa, two berths, furnished with spring mattresses, eider down spreads, a cabinet de toilette, chairs, foot stools, curtains, in fact every possible luxury. In this charming boudoir, we were supplied with hot lemonade for supper and soon slept most comfortably.

Next morning early, we were awakened by a grating sound against the outer wall of our apartment, and dressing quickly, went on deck to see the Stanley cutting through the ice. Fields of ice over six inches thick lay all around us, but the iron vessel with her powerful machinery cut through it as if it were wax. The air was keen and cold, so that like Sir Joseph Porter, we were glad to go below, where breakfast awaited us. A good breakfast too, beefsteak, sausages, Irish stew, in the consumption of which we were aided by the parsons above mentioned. Nearing Pictou the view on deck was fine. The ice which was at least ten inches thick was bushed and teams with their bells jingling were being driven merrily along. The drivees thereof were far from being such picturesque figures as their brethren, the habitants of Quebec. The farmer “down below” has no distinctive appearance. His coats follow the fashion when new and when old are patched with something more modern. His cap has a square crown, and ears which turn down and tie under his chin. His boots are of a heterogeneous class. He knows not of toque or sash or bottes sauvages. He knows naught, moreover of the time honored carriole. His sleigh is a farm sled with posts stuck in and boards built round if needed. For the rest, his tobacco has pretty much the same flavor as that of the habitant. Fortunately no whiff of that pungent weed reached us from the sleighs that glided along between the rows of spruce trees, parallel to our course. Between us and the sleighs were boys skating – some indeed, so close as to be within hail of the steamer. Steadily we cleft our way amid a shower of feathery snow flakes that betokened the breaking of the “cold snap.” Through piled ice, through flat ice, ice stationary and ice floating, the Stanley moved with equal placidity making Pictou wharf before noon.