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Mr. Kemp’s Very Special Oyster Boat

The Island waters a century ago were still populated with steamers and the few remaining sailing vessels were becoming fewer and fewer. Aside from the regular visitors of companies such as the Quebec Steamship Company and the local Island Tug Company’s Harland the most frequent ships were those of the federal government. At the time the Marine and Fisheries Department still counted Charlottetown as one of their main bases. With responsibilities for much of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Northumberland Strait the lighthouse and buoy tenders such as the Brant and the Stanley were often to be found at the wharf near the foot of Great George Street. 

In the 1910s and 1920s they were joined in Charlottetown by another vessel which was attached to the fisheries part of the Department’s mandate – at least for the winter season when the waters around the Island were ice covered. During the rest of the year the vessel could be found in the bays and estuaries of the region This was a relatively small ship with a specialized purpose and was one of the earliest scientific research vessels operated by the Dominion government.

Oysters had been a part of the island economy since at least the 1820s when they were being shipped to Quebec and Nova Scotia but it was not until the late 1880s that they came under scrutiny by the Dominion government. In 1890 the government hired Ernest Kemp of Whitstable England to come to the Island and study the oyster industry.  Although he conducted research in all three of the maritime provinces most of his work was done in Prince Edward Island. Working in connection with a research station, originally located in Malpeque but later moved to Ellerslie, Kemp  examined the oysters and especially their cultivation, with the aim of increasing production and enhancing their economic value.

Beginning with leased boats or small vessels borrowed from other government operations he was soon recommending a specific vessel for oyster research and in 1901 was able to persuade the department to fund a vessel of his own design. Launched the following year in Yarmouth the 50-foot wooden vessel was named the Ostrea, the scientific name for oyster. The vessel does not appear to have been registered and few details and no images of the vessel have been located but it served as a platform for research across the region for several years.     

However, it obviously did not meet all the needs because in 1915 work on a new research vessel commenced at the government shipyard at Sorel Quebec. The new ship was considerable larger than the original Ostrea with an overall length of 85 feet, a width of 18 feet, and drawing 4 feet 9 inches.  It was composite construction with steel framing including 5 steel watertight bulkheads but having planking of rock elm, oak, and B.C. fir. The engine was supplied by the John Ingles Company of Toronto and the boiler was built at the shipyard. One major working improvement was a steam winch which was used to hoist the dredges, a job on the older boat done by hand.   Slight delays caused by a war-time shortage of materials delayed her delivery until mid-September 1916 when Capt. Kemp took command at Sorel and made way to Charlottetown where it was laid up for the winter. Kemp was well-pleased. “She is roomy and fitted with all modern conveniences and I am in hopes that much more effective work will be done in this one than in the former boat, which was much smaller.” One feature remarked on by the Charlottetown Guardian was a lifeboat with a “detachable gasoline engine”. This vessel too, was named the Ostrea but unlike the smaller boat was duly registered.  The first Ostrea was then offered for sale with the proviso that the new owner would be required to change the name of the vessel.

The second Ostrea (pictured above) continued to be in the Dominion government service until 1930 although after 1920 the oyster industry was decimated by disease and almost disappeared, not recovering for two decades. For several years in the late 1920s the vessel remained on the hard and was maintained by departmental staff. With the dramatic decline in the industry the size of the vessel and its operating expense may have been too much for the task at hand. In 1929 David R. Dodge, writing on the oyster culture on Prince Edward Island had complained that “the real needs are a proper oyster boat and a good-sized power tender…” which would allow for service on the small beds in the rivers, impossible with the current Ostrea.  The next year the vessel it was sold to J. Simon of Halifax. He later incorporated the Hochelaga Shipping and Towing Company and in 1935 the Ostrea was transferred to the company. In September 1934 while engaged in a salvage contract the Ostrea struck the end of an underwater portion of a pier in Port Morian Cape Breton. The damage appeared to be minor but about twenty minutes later, and after travelling about 3½ miles, the steamer sank. A legal action was commenced on the basis that the pier was a hazard to navigation and the federal government was found on appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to be liable for the loss.

A third vessel in the oyster service – unhelpfully named the Ostrea II – was built of wood in Tancook Island, Nova Scotia in 1930 and fitted with a semi-diesel engine. The vessel was registered in Charlottetown 1932 and was subsequently placed in service in Richmond Bay. It was described as a “small craft” and was smaller than both of predecessors having a length of 44 feet and gross tonnage of 33 tons. Its registration was transferred to Marine Industries Limited of Sorel Quebec late in 1945 and it was described as a “Wood Crude Oil Scow” at the time.  Although it was not taken off the registry until 1961 it is likely it had been broken up some years before that.

The several Ostreas may have been small vessels when compared with other ships in the fleet of the Dominion but they were the mainstay of oyster research for much of the first half of the 20th century. 

For an expanded paper with notes and more details click on this link.

An 1890 trip from Charlottetown to Halifax on the S.S. Worcester

The Boston, Halifax, and Prince Edward Island Steamship Line’s S.S. Worcester in Charlottetown Harbour ca. 1893.

The steamship connection between Charlottetown and Boston (the Boston Boat) was begun in 1864, continued until the Great War, and was revived in the 1930s.  Although many steamers served the route the most famous were the vessels Worcester and its twin the Carroll, both from the civil war era, which for more than twenty-five years regularly made the passage back and forth between the Island and New England, stopping at Port Hawkesbury and Halifax.

Thousands of Islanders made the trip, many tasking the passage scores of times. Because it was such a common shared experience, accounts of the trip are rare. The following is a report from one “Viator” (Latin for traveller) published in the Charlottetown Examiner on 22 September 1890.  The delayed start from Charlottetown was on a Friday.

The early part of the lovely month of September is, to my mind, the ideal time for a holiday trip either by land or sea. Then it is that the weather is not sufficiently warm to be oppressive, nor so cold as to be unpleasant. … I went from Charlottetown to Boston of the steamer Worcester, of the Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Line and made the journey from Boston to New York via Providence by rail…

Owing to the fact that some of the ship’s firemen had indulged rather freely in the exhilarating fluids so openly and unblushingly dispensed in the Scott Act city of Charlottetown and were consequently unable to satisfactorily discharge their duties, necessitating the engagement of new men, the Worcester was almost three hours late in leaving port on the occasion of my taking passage in her. …

As the steamer passed out by the Block House the decks were lined with passengers. Some were in groups conversing and here and there a couple could be seen sitting rather closely together, as is quite natural when people are leaving home and happen to be of the opposite sexes

Passing out by the Black Buoy the water now became rough, and from the Bell Buoy until Point Prim was reached the “old reliable” made things so interesting for the before mentioned groups and couples that within half an hour the decks were deserted save by a poor seasick passenger unable to get away from the lee rail, and a few veterans … who made themselves popular by assisting the others, especially the females, to less exposed quarters. After passing Point Prim the sea was more aft, and the steamer went along more gently and quickly before the wind, and all was quiet for the night when the writer retired.

By daylight the next morning the steamer was well in between Cape George Promontory and the Straits of Canso, and the passengers were afforded a magnificent view of one of the most picturesque sights to be seen in North America. The high land of Cape George trending away to the south-west lost itself among the fertile valleys of Antigonish, only to reappear again in greater elevation as it spread out before us and touched the water at Cape Porcupine, Straits of Canso. Then a small gap and the loftier hills of Cape Breton stretch themselves before our vision, varied here and there by sharply-defined and precipitous buffs, which seemed away in a blue distance to almost touch the heavens. Port Hood Island showed out as a clearly-marked spot to the left, while just a shadow on the water astern gave mute evidence of the one spot every man cherishes – “Our native land.” As it lies peaceful and quiet on the very verge of the horizon, one is reminded of the many souls that have left its shores, how few, alas, of whom return to enjoy the peace and tranquility they so much desired before “passing to that bourne whence no traveller returns.” But the breakfast bell cuts short one’s musings, and, fully alive to the importance of the occasion, I made my way in the direction of the dining saloon. While we were at breakfast the steamer was made fast to the wharf at Port Hawkesbury.

After breakfast and ascertaining that the steamer would have to await the arrival of the Sydney boat which was likely to be late owing to the fresh westerly wind prevailing and having Mr. Sawyer’s guarantee that we would not be left behind Capt. Bernard, Mr. Wright and myself started off to see the sites of Port Hawkesbury…..

Delayed by the late arrival of the connecting steamer from Sydney, Viator and several other passengers took a tour on the Canso Strait area which coincided with the passage of part of the Royal Navy’s North Atlantic Fleet on its way to Quebec. The description of this part of the trip has been omitted but can be found in the full newspaper account.

We also saw the Neptune with our Sydney passengers passing along so we dropped our inspection of the railways and warships and hastened back to our boatman who soon landed us on the Worcester… In the meantime, the Neptune had tied up to the wharf, and by noon the passengers and their baggage were transferred to the Worcester, and we were off again.  As the boat left the harbour we met a beautiful steam yacht flying the stars and stripes and as we went by both steamers dipped their flags with marine courtesy. Now all was life and animation aboard. Everyone was busily engaged admiring the rough scenery of “the Gut” — quite a change to most of our passengers from the low land and red clay of P.E. Island. … As the steamer passed down Chedabucto Bay we began to get evidence of the sea roll, and by the time she rounded Cape Canso and was fairly headed up the shore for Halifax, a good many of the now familiar faces had disappeared to be seen no more until our arrival in Halifax. The sea was not rough, but it kept up a constant motion not to be borne by new beginners. Still, however, there was quite a number of passengers around the decks till night, after which only a few couples kept possession of the benches until ten, at which hour the steward and stewardess made their rounds as usual and gathered in the stragglers. About four o’clock in the afternoon we passed the Carroll — the sister ship of this line — bound east. All the afternoon and evening Nova Scotia was a blue line off the fight hand side (perhaps I should say starboard side) and every hour or two we could make out a new lighthouse and after dark the lights.

Next morning when I came on deck there was every appearance of rain, and the steamer was abreast of Devil’s Island Light, with Chedabucto Head stretching out away across our bows. By nine o’clock we arrived at the wharf in Halifax. All hands are on deck again anxious for a run on shore after the tedium of seasickness, and soon the Worcester is almost deserted. As she has a large freight to take in for Boston the stevedores and crew are soon hard at work. While the loading is in progress the passengers start off to “do” the city.

Halifax was reached on Sunday morning. Viator toured the city and re-boarded the Worcester to complete the trip to Boston which was reached on Monday afternoon.

The maritime history of Pinette

The Pinette area is tucked neatly into the underside of the Point Prim peninsula but originally the name was used for a wider area. Today the name Belfast is applied to the general area, but earlier maps and writings refer to the Pinette Settlement which included Glashvin, Eldon, and North and South Pinette as well as the southern portion of Point Prim noted on some maps as Pinette Shore. It encompasses the watershed of the Pinette River which split into four branches east of what is now Pinette Bridge. EPSON MFP image Pinette Bridge ca. 1910. Postcard photo by Elliot J. Lumsden. The harbour at Pinette, although seeming attractive for marine activities on a map was not an easy one to negotiate. Although the Pinette estuaries reached deep into southern Queens County and provided waterfront access to a large amount of territory, the rivers narrowed quickly and became shallow as one moved upstream. The approaches from the sea were daunting for mariners. Captain Bayfield noted in his St. Lawrence Pilot that the Pinette River had

only 2 feet of water over its rocky and exceedingly dangerous bar. It is therefore fit only for small schooners, although it has from 3 to 4 1/2 fathoms in its narrow channel, which runs in several miles through flats of mud and weeds, dry at low water, and then divides into several shallow branches. The bar is nearly a mile out from the entrance, and the Pinette shoals reach to double that distance.

Bayfield -The St. Lawrence Pilot 1847

The area developed rather slowly. The main settlement was Pinette Mills where St. John’s Church was located. The main road was the one leading from Eldon to Wood Islands and it avoided the shoreline.  By the late 1830s however, this began to change. There is a reference in 1839 to Pinette Wharf and an allocation of £50 which was presumably for construction, but it is not clear just where this wharf might have been located. By 1841 the inhabitants of Pinette were petitioning the legislature for assistance in building a wharf near Campbell’s Point on the south side of the Pinette River in 1841. This is almost certainly where the present wharf and bridge are located. The next year, 1842, a road funding allocation references the new wharf at the south side of the Pinette River as well as a wharf at Eon’s Point. Eon’s Point, a name no longer in use, appears to have been at the end of the Portage Road and was on the north side of the north branch of the Pinette River. A new line of road connecting Pinette Harbour with the Wood Islands Road was laid out in 1842.  An 1844 petition from inhabitants from Pinette, Belfast, and Point Prim for an extension to the wharf at Eon’s Point seems to confirm its location on the north side of the river. The insignificance of the area is suggested by the lack of detail in Bayfield’s chart published in 1847 but dating from surveys a few years earlier. The area appears devoid of roads bridges and wharves, but this may simply have been a question of scale.
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Detail from Bayfield Chart 1847

It is clear that the two wharves increased maritime traffic. Previously, vessels had been loaded and unloaded by beaching them as the tide fell and moving goods to the boats by carts. In 1853 three buoys were placed, marking the channel leading up to the wharf which had been constructed at the south side of the Pinette River. In 1855 an officer with the impressive title of Collector of Customs and Navigation Laws and Collector of Excise for the port of Pinette was appointed. The following year another official post – Harbour and Ballast Master had been appointed for Pinette and a Wharfinger named for the wharf on the north side of Pinette Harbour. Another Wharfinger for the wharf on the south side of the harbour was appointed in 1859. In 1865 there were two significant developments. A bridge was finally planned to cross the south branch of the Pinette River, and a wharf was erected at McAulay’s Point, further down the north side of the river and closer to the mouth. This greater access to shipping facilities to the Point Prim farmers.  It is not clear when the bridge crossing the north branch of the Pinette was constructed.
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Examiner 20 March 1865 p.3 

The Pinette area was, like almost all coastal regions on P.E.I. the site of some shipbuilding activity but it was not a major ship building site.  In the sixty-year period when most yards were operational only 86 vessels were built in Pinette and surrounding area, eight of which were built in 1857, the busiest year. Only five of the vessels from the area were over 100 tons. The ships built were all small schooners built for the coasting trade such as carrying local produce to Newfoundland or elsewhere in the Northumberland Strait region. Unlike some areas no individuals were primarily identified as shipbuilders and it was clearly an occasional activity. It appears that the only steamer to regularly serve Pinette (and only for one year) was the steamer Eldon which was built at the port in 1887. It was a small vessel, only 49 feet long and displacing 38 tons. Operating on a route which was advertised to connect Charlottetown, Vernon Bridge, Pinette, Wood Islands, Little Sands, and Murray Harbour four days a week in 1888 by October of that year the vessel was criticized for irregular service and not maintaining the schedule. In early 1889 the Eldon was purchased by a group of Montague merchants and linked ports in eastern P.E.I. for several years before being sold to Nova Scotia interests in Port Hawkesbury. In the 1890s and early 1900s the provincial government subsidized a weekly sailing packet service between Pinette and Charlottetown during the season. For most of the period the contract was held by Captain Finlayson, a well-known skipper from Pinette, using a number of small schooners including the Julia, the Swallow and the North Star.  In 1898 some 2900 bushels of potatoes, 2400 bushels of oats and 104 bushels of turnips were shipped through Pinette with a total value of $1157. By the time Pinette became established as a port in the late 1840s, commercial activity for the area had already become centred in Pinette Mills, Eldon and Orwell Corner. As the road network gradually improved much of the local shipping moved to Halliday’s Wharf, near Eldon.  That port was served by steamers such as the Heather Belle, Jacques Cartier and the City of London and well into the twentieth century by the Harland. As the Lumsden postcard shown above illustrates, small schooners could still be seen at the turn of the century at Pinette, but these soon disappeared, replaced by much smaller fishing boats for which the narrow channel and shallow bar were less of a barrier.  As for so many other small ports the twentieth century was one in which the age of sail came quickly to a close. Today the Trans-Canada Highway speeds travellers through the area in seconds, crossing two bridges effortlessly and ignoring the area’s marine heritage. A glimpse of the port of Pinette today can be found here. Another posting shows the area in the 1930s