Tag Archives: Barrachois

Depending on the Public Patronage – The Steamer Rosebud and the Subsidy

Haszard's Gazette 11 April 1855 p.3

Haszard’s Gazette 11 April 1855 p.3

Prince Edward Island is cut off from the mainland by Northumberland Strait and it seems getting across the strait has, for a long time, required a significant input of public funding. In the colonial period the subsidy took the form of a contract for carrying the colony’s mails and after Confederation it was more of an outright grant for services. Whether the subsidy was actually needed was seldom tested. Usually when the contract was awarded to one firm, other bidders vacated the field until the period of the contract had elapsed and they could bid again. But in the 1850s something strange happened – the Rosebud kept running.

The 1850s was a period of difficulty for the transportation links between colony and the mainland. The decade had opened with James Peake’s English-built steamer Rose providing service but he lost the mail contract in 1853 for reasons not entirely clear. It was replaced by a New Brunswick boat, the Fairy Queen, which sank with heavy loss of life late in the year. The next vessel to receive the subsidy was the Lady Le Marchant which was registered in Richibucto and owned by a New Brunswick member of the extended DesBrisay family and so it at least had some Island connections.

But the same year that the Lady Le Marchant came into service a new vessel was launched in Charlottetown which promised to provide competition. The Rosebud was the first steamship built on Prince Edward Island. She was owned by William Heard, a merchant and shipbuilder from the West of England who had come to the colony in the mid-1840s and soon prospered.  His yard was in Charlottetown near where the railway shops were later built.  Heard was an advocate for an Island replacement for the Rose  “decidedly the best and best-managed vessel ever put on the line between Pictou and Charlottetown.” Ironically Heard had purchased the wreck of the Rose when it went ashore near Rustico in 1853 and it is possible that the engine for the Rosebud could have been the one powering the Rose. Failing to find a suitable vessel to compete against the Lady Le Marchant he decided to build his own. She slid down the ways on 23 September 1854. Not large, at 120 tons, about 105 feet, she built as a packet with two cabins for passengers and other accommodations.  She was built on speculation for, as the editor of the Haszard’s Gazette noted , “We trust her enterprising owner may soon find employment for her, that will compensate him for his heavy outlay. ” On 15 November she was sent on her maiden voyage to Pictou and “all things considered . . . she has not disappointed her well-wishers.”  The Pictou Eastern Chronicle welcomed her arrival under the heading “More Steam in the Gulf” and noted she would be making three trips each week during the next year.

Haszard’s Gazette suggested that the Rosebud be placed on a new route. Rather than Pictou a more suitable Nova Scotia port might be Barrachois Harbour, 20 miles closer to Charlottetown and with only 12 miles between Point Prim and Amet Island the route would greatly shorten the time the vessel was subject to heavy seas. However when the Rosebud’s schedule was published in April 1855 it was between Charlottetown and Pictou and a short time later it was announced that the new vessel had been awarded the mail contract – much to the relief of Haszard’s Gazette: “We were at one time afraid that the Government were not going to employ the Rose Bud, and that we should have a streamer put on the route owned elsewhere, or perhaps none at all.”

However Haszard’s Gazette had been misinformed. The contract had again gone to Mr. DesBrisay and the Lady Le Marchant which announced a schedule of sailings to Pictou and Shediac, stopping at Bedeque.  Islanders now had a choice of boats for travel to Pictou. The Rosebud scrambled for extra work. The she had a short-term contract with the Anglo-America Telegraph to re-lay the cable between Cape Tormentine and Cape Traverse linking the colony with Halifax, Boston and New York! For the rest of the 1855 season the Rosebud travelled on the Pictou route. Besides her regular service she carried 200 members of the Benevolent Irish Society to a picnic in Orwell early in the month and advertised an excursion to Baie de Verte in 14 July and to Mount Stewart at the beginning of September. Later that month the steamer was transferred to the Summerside – Shediac route “for the remainder of the season” but by 4 October she had been laid up for the winter. William Heard took the opportunity to appeal to his fellow Islanders:

In the absence of that paternal regard for home production and enterprise, in which modern popular Governments are supposed to excel, and in the face of the most determined opposition,  — the Rosebud has performed her bi-weekly trips, between Charlottetown and Pictou, for the last 5 months, with almost undeviating regularity, and without even the smallest accident.   

During the season the Lady Le Marchant made 43 trips to Pictou and 25 to Shediac and received a subsidy of £1300 from P.E.I., £240 from Nova Scotia and £360 from New Brunswick. The Rosebud made 40 trips to Pictou and received nothing.

The following year the Lady Le Marchant once again had the contract and the Haszard’s Gazette editor was careful to point out that while he was glad that the colony had not had to resort to a sailing packet there needed to be fair competition. The Rosebud had been refitted and repaired and a dependable service between Charlottetown and Pictou or Pugwash or Tatamagouche was preferable to a service which included Shediac, this having been responsible for delays and missed trips the previous year.  The editor hoped that Government would make some provision for Heard’s vessel as “it is not likely that the Rosebud will be kept on the route solely by the remuneration from freight and passengers.”

Haszard's Gazette 21 June 1856 p.4

Haszard’s Gazette 21 June 1856 p.4

Heard headed an advertisement in June “Depending on the Public Patronage” which clearly referred to the fact that he was not receiving any government assistance.  By July he was trying to avoid direct competition by sailing to Tatamagouche and not Pictou and in September the service shifted to a service between Bedeque and Shediac.

In 1857 Heard seems to have given up in the Pictou route and the Rosebud was now crossing twice a week to Shediac.  The 1857 advertisement touting the route noted it would give passage from Charlottetown to Boston in Four Days!!  In late November 1857 the Rosebud was advertised to run from Charlottetown to Halifax and from thence to Saint John. Although it continued to be mentioned as a connection in advertisements of the Moncton and Shediac Railway for the first part of 1858, it is not clear if it returned to regular service in Island waters. In 1859 Heard took the extreme step of removing the engine and converting the vessel to a sailing ship and it was re-registered. Later that year it was conveyed to a broker, George Heard – probably a relative – in Biddeford England and in 1860 it was sold to London owners. With that the documentary trail on P.E.I. runs out and it is not clear what became of the vessel. No image of the ship has been located.

For more than three years Heard had fought to get the subsidy for an Island vessel. Perhaps he was simply on the wrong side of politics, perhaps the Rosebud, in spite of positive press reports, was not the right boat for the Strait or perhaps there were other reasons lost with the passage of time why Heard did not get the contract.  Nevertheless, when a new boat was needed after the Lady Le Marchant left the strait it was another New Brunswick boat, the Westmorland that was chosen and she kept at it until 1864 – still irritating Islanders that the subsidy was being paid abroad.

The Challenge of “the Strait Challenge”


Route of the Strait Challenge

With the harbour in  Charlottetown still solidly frozen and with at least two of the nearly five metres of this winter’s snow still on the ground it is hard to imagine that there are just four months until the start of this year’s premier sailing race in the region.  Faced with declining interest and the need for a new race format the Northumberland Strait Yachting Association (NStYA) has torn up the schedule and developed a whole new approach.

Club-to-club Strait racing goes back some eighty years when there was competition between boats heading for the annual regattas of the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Strait. However it was not until 1964 with the inauguration of the annual Shediac to Charlottetown Race that there was a formal entry on the race calendar.   Over the years that race ran on a number of formats – day race, night race, a reversed course of Charlottetown to Shediac and while interest continued for many years, with over 100 boats competing in some races, the most recent period has seen diminished participation.  Most sailors saw the race as a rite of passage and it was a source of pride to have taken part but by definition a rite of passage happens only once. However, at least one skipper had been in the race fifty times and many others can count their participation in more than a score of years.  However, with the recent exception of a peak in the 50th anniversary year, the number of boats had steadily declined. Last year, the race was canceled owing to storm damage at the Charlottetown Yacht Club but as well there was a distinct lack of interest.  Other NStYA races in the region were also facing challenges. Many of the races in the program had become little more than club races open to visitors while the cross-strait races such as Shediac – Summerside and Pictou – Charlottetown were also suffering from low participation.  It was not just the NStYA races that were suffering as regattas and club races also saw reduced numbers on the start line. Blame could be attributed to aging skippers, the need for larger crews, time pressures and boats that seemed unable to sail beyond the harbour mouth.

At the same time new races such as week-long Race the Cape, (with a huge amount of public funding) centred on the Bras D’or Lakes and the interest generated by the one-time 150 Challenge a two-leg race from Charlottetown to the Magdalene Islands and back to Souris in 2014 suggested that a different format to the plethora of NStYA  races in the harbours of participating clubs, on a seemingly bi-weekly basis, might generate more interest.

The Strait Challenge is actually a series of four races linking the clubs active in Northumberland Strait inter-club racing. They are all day-long races with an average length of just over thirty nautical miles.  Some follow the routes of traditional NStYA races while the course for others is new. They will have the usual spinnaker and white sail classes but in addition there is a cruising rally which will follow the fleet without the pressures of actually racing.


Leg 1 – Shediac to Summerside

Leg 1 beginning on Monday 27 July follows the course of the traditional Shediac – Summerside race beginning at the Pointe du Chene Yacht Club  and a quick start to the Shediac fairway buoy.  From there depending on winds and currents boats  can follow the rhumb-line, head for the Island’s Acadian shore,  or skirt along the New Brunswick coast before striking out for the Summerside fairway and then up the narrow harbour channel to end at the Summerside Yacht Club – total distance of about 33 nautical miles. Celebrations at the SYC to follow.


Leg 2 – Summerside to Charlottetown

The next morning the longest leg of the race begins as boats leave Summerside Harbour and passing the fairway buoy head for the imposing Confederation Bridge leaving the Seacow Head Light to port. With tidal currents of up to four knots navigating the narrow Abegweit Passage provides an element of strategy and a knowledge of current patterns. Keeping out from the Tryon Shoals the boats head around the reef at the west of St. Peter’s Island, down the St. Peter’s Island shore to Spithead Buoy then into the narrow harbour mouth of Charlottetown where the finish of the 47 nautical mile leg is off the Charlottetown Yacht Club.   Charlottetown is the site of a lay-over day and boats will be able to take part in the regular Wednesday evening in-harbour race.


Leg 3 – Charlottetown to Barrachois

On Thursday it is a quick (we hope) trip almost due south to Barrachois, home of the Barrachois Harbour Yacht Club .  Sailing through Hillsborough Bay and leaving Spithead to Starbord the course for Leg 3 is set to Amet Island, thorough Amet Sound with the finish line in Tatamagouche Bay.  Although this is the shortest leg with just over 30 nautical miles as the seagull flies, it still promises a full day of sailing and the course crosses the tidal flow so there is one more factor to add to the course plotting.  Knowledge of the tide is important here for another reason, not so much for the currents created as for the fact that the entry to the marina has reduced access at low water.  There’s lots of water in the marina but one has to time when to enter and leave.

The final day of racing is Friday 31 July with the destination being the Pictou Yacht Club.  Boats will leave a start line in Tatamagouche Bay and head down the Nova Scotia Shore for Gull Rocks which mark the entrance to Caribou Channel  Leaving Pictou Island to port and close aboard the route of the Caribou – Wood Island’s Ferry the boats last major turning mark is at Pictou Road at the entrance to Pictou Harbour. Proceeding up the channel the fleet will finish the 33 nautical mile race just off the Yacht Club with the last social activity and presentation of awards.

The route down the Strait from Shediac to Pictou takes advantage of the prevailing westerly winds but experience on several of the legs suggests that  periods of calm may be experienced and most racers, especially on the Strait between Charlottetown and Pictou have memories of “holes” when the wind blew everywhere around them but would not fill their sails – that too, is racing.


Leg 4 – Barrachois to Pictou

It will  be very interesting to see if the change in format brings more of the casual sailors back to Strait racing.  Some folks are just tired of the same race courses year after year and to actually compete in the Northumberland Strait Championship has traditionally meant a commitment of almost every second weekend over the entire season.  Compacting the racing into a single week changes the level of commitment and has arguments both for and against.  Yes, competing in all the races  could mean a week of vacation time but it replaces having to take Thursdays and Fridays for delivery for every race and is probably less of a commitment overall.  Opting in or out of legs is also attractive for those with less time or interest.  Travelling with a fleet and having social opportunities at all of the yacht clubs may bring back some of the camaraderie that marked the beginning of the Association.  I especially like the idea of the cruising rally which can be a good introduction for those who would like to do more sailing but don’t want to be out in the Strait alone.

As always, this requires a commitment on the part of the Clubs themselves. In the recent past arrangement for starts and finishes at some clubs have left something to be desired and while several clubs hare noted for their hospitality others pretty much ignored the racers. Besides boats, skippers and crews the Strait Challenge will need the whole-hearted support of the Clubs across the region, and even more importantly a dedicated cadre of volunteers. Also needed are champions to promote the race in each of the five yacht clubs involved.

What ever your role –  skipper or deck fluff, racer or cruiser, race finisher or bar-tender (or bar attender),  mark your calendar for 27-31 July and tell your friends. It promises to be a great week of sailing.

Crossing the Strait


Google Earth view of Amet Sound

Google Earth view of Amet Sound

Almost due south of Charlottetown and less than thirty nautical miles across Northumberland Strait lies a wonderful cruising ground for small boats. Amet Sound  runs about 12 miles west to east and is about four miles across.  Just to the west is the town of Wallace which is also a traditional destination for sailors from the Charlottetown Yacht Club.   Within Amet Sound itself there are a range of possibilities. Tatamagouche was once a port and there are still remnants  of wharves along the narrow channel leading to the town. At the eastern end of the bay is River John which can (I am told) be reached through a staked channel.  The fisherman’s port of Cape John also has capacity for a few pleasure boats, especially when the lobster season has ended in late June.


In the middle of the Sound  is the marina at Barrachois and a very perfect marina it is too!  There is still a fishing wharf  near the bridge but a new dredged marina with plenty of

Aerial view of Barrachois Yacht Club and marina

Aerial view of Barrachois Yacht Club and marina

water lies just to the east.  The marina is privately owned but it hosts the Barrachois Harbour Yacht Club   which is very busy and hospitable club. The basin is home to a surprising number of large sailboats – even more surprising when one realizes that there are tidal limitations on  getting in and out  the channel.  Drawing over four feet may mean that you can’t enter or leave at low tide but the club members with whom I spoke said that this was a minor inconvenience.  A lot of sailing is waiting for wind and tide and if you can’t deal with that then you are better off with a powerboat.

The marina has fuel, a launching slip and a 5 ton travel-lift. It also has showers and a screened kitchen/dining area for boaters. The screens are necessary because even the greatest boosters on the marina will concede that the mosquitos can be fierce.  I was introduced to the Bugbusters Hatch Insect Screen  which I think will become a permanent addition to my on-board convenience items.

Fitzroy Rock Buoy

Fitzroy Rock Buoy

Getting to Barrachois from Charlottetown is the easiest of all sailing directions – go to the harbour mouth and sail south for twenty-five nautical miles.  I was accompanied by a colleague in his boat “Le Petite Prince” and aside from the noticeably strong pull of the outgoing tide and a period of calm in the middle of the strait it was a beautiful sail.   On the way we passed close to Fitzroy Rock buoy (seen above) and Point Prim Buoy which is about 5 miles off Point Prim and is about one-third of the distance from port to port. The buoy is a whistle buoy but in reality the sound is more of a moan. It can be heard for miles off and seems to follow you for miles after you pass by.


Amet Island

Amet Island

Soon Amet Island began to loom up and it is best kept to port as we head to Malagash Point Buoy.  Amet is a flat-topped Island now much populated by cormorants and has a distinct odor if you pass down wind. Passing Amet is a bit misleading as it seems that you have arrived at the destination but it is still a further 7 miles up the sound to Barrachois. After Malagash Point one can head west for Tatamagouche  or east to River John but we kept

Detail of Barrachois approach

Detail of Barrachois approach

straight on towards Barrachois.  The actual entry into Barrachois is well marked but the channel is well defined and it is essential to keep inside the buoys.  The entrance to the marina is quite narrow and there is a rockpile  just to the west of the entry with which I now have personal experience.  We were certainly comfortable on our fingers and found the marina to be sheltered from all winds.


Schooner at Barrrachois

Schooner at Barrrachois

One surprise at Barrachois was a two-masted schooner anchored in the river above the marina. I was told it was locally-built and is only a few years old. It certainly looked at home on  its mooring.