Tag Archives: Blockhouse

The Fort Lot: One of the Island’s Special Places

 

Detail from A Map of the Island of Saint John in the Gulph of St. Laurence divided into Counties and Parishes and the lots as granted by government [published 1775]. The name Fort Amherst does not appear.

On the port side as you sail into Charlottetown Harbour the land rises and you pass under the site of both the French and English military and civil headquarters for the Island in the 18th century. Today, much of this area is set aside as a National Historic site of Canada with an unwieldy hyphenated name reflecting the three cultures with which the site is associated – Skmaqn-Port-La-Joye-Fort Amherst.  What is not so well-known that from the very beginning of the English colonial period this land had always been set aside and earmarked as a special piece of property.

When Samuel Holland made his survey of the Island in 1764-1765 he lived at nearby Observation Cove (now Holland Cove) while the other staff lived in the location he had rejected – the decaying Fort Amherst, whose earthworks are at the centre of the present National Historic Site. “Fort Amherst,” he wrote, “…is only a poor Stockaded Redoubt with Barracks scarcely sufficient to house the Garrison and the houses that were near it was All pulled down to get the materials to built it.”

Holland famously divided the Island into 67 lots of about 20,000 acres along with reservations for county towns at Princetown, Georgetown and Charlottetown.  He also provided for one other reservation of land – The Fort Lot.  In a detailed description of the survey written on 5 October 1765 Holland notes

There is 520 acres preserved for the Fort Lott, having 1000 Yards to the North South and West from the Center of Fort Amherst and to the East as far as the Waterside, but it must Also be remarked that the Fort Lott takes up Almost all the cleared Land at Port Joy.     

In addition in a table attached to the report which enumerates certain features of each lot, the following is noted for Lot 65

Well situated for Agriculture it has a fine communication by Elliot River, but at present most of the Cleared Lands are about the Fort and taken up for the Fort Lott which has 1000 Yards, South and North and West from the Centre of the Fort and contains 520 Acres. 

One of Holland’s enduring legacies was his naming of Prince Edward Island.  He ignored aboriginal names, except a few which were adopted by the French and replaced most French names through an elaborate system of honouring British worthies.  The name Fort Amherst does not appear on the original manuscript Holland map although later printed versions of the map do name the fortification  A table on Holland’s manuscript map describing the townships does, however, note the Fort Lott.

Detail from A Plan of the Island of St. John with the divisions of the Counties Parishes and the Lots as granted by Government Printed and Sold by A. Drury [1775]

In early printed copies of the Holland map the 520 acre Fort Lot (or Fort Lott) is both named and delineated.  In some later additions of the map the name Fort Amherst has been added.  Neither feature is named on J.F.W. DesBarres’ Atlantic Neptune sheet showing the area.

In John Stewart’s 1806 volume which is the first published history of Prince Edward Island he notes the Fort Lot with its cleared land at the mouth of the harbour and how it had been coveted by Governor Patterson in the 1780s.

There is a reservation of a tract of land called the Fort Lot on the west side of the harbour, extending from the entrance of the Narrows almost to the mouth of the Elliot River, on this tract Fort Amherst formerly stood on an elevated spot three hundred yards from the water, it was erected immediately after the conquest of the Island…   The Fort was dismantled and destroyed by Governor Patterson soon after his appointment to the government, and there being near three hundred acres of fertile cleared land within the reservation, extremely beautiful in point of situation, the governor was tempted to make a grant of the whole to a person who re-conveyed it to himself and on this place built a handsome farm house and extensive offices, and laid out large sums in its improvement.

Patterson was married to Hester Warren and the farm built on the Fort Lot became known as Warren Farm. The name was adopted for the area and the cove on which the farm faced was called Warren Cove or Warren Farm Cove. After Patterson’s fall from grace the Fort Lot appears to have reverted to the Crown. In December 1798 a memorial was received from the Abbe de Calonne, a well-connected French émigré whose brother had Island property seeking a lease of the Fort Lot. The Secretary of State for the Colonies wrote to Lieutenant Governor Fanning, who had succeeded Patterson, directing that the Fort Lot be leased to Calonne. In June of the same year Fanning wrote that the lease had been executed for the Fort Lot and that Calonne had been put in possession but that the buildings were much out of repair. After Calonne gave up the property it was eventually sold or leased to a number of others who farmed the valuable property. One worthy who lived there was Captain (later Colonel) H. Bentinck Cumberland who acquired a considerable estate adjacent to the Fort Lot in what is now the community of Cumberland. His own residence was named Ringwood and it was located on the Warren Farm property but was in ruins by the late 1890.        

Dark lines show the boundaries of the Fort Lot imposed on the 1880 Atlas sheet for Lot 65. Note that the Fort Lot includes the site of Blockhouse Light.

A table in Joseph Bouchette’s 1831 volume on the British Dominions in North America showing the extent of parishes shows Hillsborough parish being composed of Township 29, 30, 31, 65 and Fort Lot, suggesting that the Fort Lot was not considered to be part of Lot 65.  It appears however that by the latter part of the century the 520 acres was consistently included within the acreage of Lot 65.  An undated map at the Public Archives shows 470 acres (all but the northern tip of the Fort Lot) in the name of John Newsom.  The cadastral atlas of 1880 does not show a specific Fort Lot, the acreage having been broken up into a number of landholdings but at this time (and still)  the property lines of the original Fort Lot are evident on the map and the name Warren Farm appears referencing the whole area.

The Fort Lot was the site of the battery at the mouth of the harbour which pre-dated the Blockhouse Light which took its name from the defensive building which was built on the site of the battery.  Other noteworthy elements on the Fort Lot included the ranges, originally on Canseau Point and later relocated as range lights of the south edge of Warren Creek;  the landing place for the first ferry at Ringwood; the later site of the Rocky Point Ferry Wharf; and the Indian Reserve at Rocky Point.

The Fort Lot in 2018. Google Earth image

Today, however, the Fort Lot itself is a forgotten designation. The 520 acres has been carved up but the remaining land now protected as a National Historic Site still provides the sweeping view of the harbour which made it the best site for French and English fortification and references its early and subsequent life as a handsome farm property well into the mid-20th century.

 

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“One of the Finest Harbours in the World” – Charlottetown in 1860

 

Detail of 1845 Chart of Charlottetown Harbour showing navigation features noted in Sailing Directions.

In  conjunction with charts, Sailing Directions were one of the most important aids to navigation in the 19th century and they continue to be useful to sailors. The Sailing Directions or “Pilots”  provided instructions as to the best ways to approach a harbour and warned of dangers that might be encountered. The earliest Directions for Prince Edward Island date from about 1810 but were much improved following the hydrographic surveys of Admiral Henry Bayfield. He was the author of the authoritative guide which was published in many editions and still is the basis of the guides used today.  The following excerpt is from the 4th edition Bayfield’s St. Lawrence Pilot, Comprising Sailing Directions for the Gulf and River, published for the Admiralty in 1860. [a fathom is 6 feet and a cable is 1/10 of a nautical mile or 608 feet]

Charlottetown Harbour is 4 ½  cables wide at entrance between the cliffs of Blockhouse and Sea Trout points; but shallow water, extending from both shores, reduces the navigable width of the Channel, reckoning from the depth of 3 fathoms, to about  2 ¼ cables; and as the shoals are very steep, it would require to be well buoyed before a ship of large draught could beat in or out with safety. Cliffs of red sandstone 10 to 30 feet high, form the shores on either side, the land rising gradually from them in undulations, and being partly cultivated and partly wooded. An old blockhouse and signal post stand on Blockhouse point, the west point of entrance. The next point of cliff on the west side of entrance is Alchorn point, and at the distance of half a mile from the blockhouse are the remains of Amherst fort, on the hill, 93 feet above high water. On the same side, north of Alchorn point, is Warren cove, and lastly, Canseau point, with its white beacon, 1 ¼ miles from the blockhouse. Canseau shoal extends off Canseau point to the distance of 3 ½ cables, and will be cleared by keeping the blockhouse just open, clear of Alchorn point; observing that the extremes of the cliff of Blockhouse and Alchorn points in one, lead over the point of the shoal in 16 feet at low water.

On the opposite or eastern side of the entrance, and less than a mile within Sea Trout point, is Battery point, with its shoal; the latter running out 2 cables, and having on its extreme point a buoy moored in 3 fathoms at low water. Outside that depth, on either side, the water deepens abruptly, and there are 13 fathoms in the middle of the channel. The red beacon and Scotch church tower at Charlottetown, clear the shoal off Battery point in 10 fathoms, and at the distance of 120 yards.  Within the harbour, in addition to the flats of mud and weeds extending off shore, there is the Middle Ground, with 17 least water, and for the situation of which the seaman is referred to the plan of the harbour; it may be well, however, to notice that the white beacon on Canseau point and McKinnon’s log house in line, lead through midway between it, and the flat of the southern shore.

Immediately within Canseau and Battery points which are the inner points of entrance, the channel expands into one of the finest harbours in the world, having depth and space sufficient for any number and description of vessels. In sailing in, York river will be seen running in to the northward; the Hillsborough river stretching away to the E.N.E. far as the eye can reach; and Elliot river running in to the westward. The confluence of the streams of these three rivers, between Canseau shoal and the mouth of York river, form the Three Tides, where there is excellent anchorage, used occasionally by laden vessels preparing for sea, the usual anchorage being off the wharves of the town, where the channel is 2 ¾  cables wide, and carries nearly 10 fathoms water.. Of the three rivers which unite in the harbour, the Hillsborough is the largest, being navigable for vessels of the largest draught to the distance of 7 or 8 miles, and for small vessels 14 miles above, where there is a bridge 2 miles from the head of the river. There is portage of less than a mile across, from the Hillsborough near its head to Savage harbour on the north coast of the island. York river, the smallest of the three, is crossed by Poplar island bridge, 2 ¾  miles from its mouth. Elliot river may be ascended 4 or 5 miles by large vessels, and 9 or 10 by small craft and boats. The shores of all three rivers are settled, and the country generally fertile.

Charlottetown, which is now a city, is advantageously situated on the northern bank of the Hillsborough river, a short distance within its entrance, and at the point where the deep water approaches nearest to the shore; its wharves, however, still requiring to be 240 yards long to reach the edge of the channel. The city is extremely well laid out, with spacious squares and wide streets at right angles; but these are as yet thinly occupied by houses of the rapidly increasing population. The new Provincial building, occupying the centre of the principal square is the only stone erection in the place. The houses, with the exception of 9 or 10 which are of brick, are all of wood; and so also are the churches and the chapels. The Scotch church, with its square white tower, will easily be distinguished, being the most to the westward, and appearing with the red beacon (used with it as a leading mark, and standing close to the on the left side of the city. Still farther to the left will be seen the Government house, by itself, and distinguished by its colonnade.

No part of the city exceeds in elevation 50 feet above the sea at high water but the land rises gradually behind it to the height of 150 feet at the distance of 1 ½ miles, and is well cultivated, whilst yet sufficient wood has been preserved to give to the country an agreeable and park-like appearance.

The site of Charlottetown, as the capital of the island, and the seat of the provincial government and legislature, appears to have been extremely well chosen, whether in regard to its almost central position, its extensive inland communication by means of the rivers which unite their streams before it; or the superiority of its harbour, which possesses, moreover, the important advantage of having the greatest rise of tide in the Gulf anywhere below Cape Chatte, with the exception of Campbelltown in the Restigouche, which is inaccessible to vessels of large draught. All kinds of supplies may be obtained at Charlottetown, but water only from wells with pumps, which are numerous in the town. In the year 1856, 619 vessels (35,931 tons burthen) entered inwards, and 603 vessels (42,365 tons) cleared outwards; in the same year the total value of imports amounted to 182,499l., and of exports to 54,090l. In 1858 the population was about 8,000.

Although primarily for navigation purposes, the Sailing Directions also could contain useful information about changing shore facilities and landmarks. The 1891 American edition of the Sailing Directions contained the following information about Charlottetown:

The Provincial building occupies the center of the public square, and is flanked on either side by the law courts and post-office, both substantial brick structures. The market house, a large wooden building, with a belfry at the west end containing the fire alarm, is situated west of the post-office, while St. Paul’s Church, a wooden building with a spire, occupies the east end of the square. The new Presbyterian Church, a handsome stone building, is situated at the NW. end of the town, and a convent, built of brick with a small belfry at the top, is conspicuous from the harbor. The Roman Catholic Cathedral, a wooden building with a large gilt cross at the top of the spire, and Bishop’s palace, of stone, near it, also show prominently. The lunatic asylum, a fine building of stone with a high tower, stands just north of Falcon Point. The railway station is at the east end of the town, and may be known by the wharf in connection with it, on which stand large chocolate-colored warehouses. St. Dunstan College, a Roman Catholic seminary, built of brick, stands on a hill 150 feet high, 11/2 miles to the northward of the town. The telegraph station is situated in Queen street, which runs northward from Queens Wharf, and is in connection with the Anglo-American Telegraph Company.

Sailing Directions continue to be published to this day and are a part of the suite of navigation tools available to sailors.

The Light at Blockhouse Point

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Blockhouse Light with Charlottetown in distance 2016. Photo by Stephen Desroches. Used with the permission of the photographer

There seem to be no images of the first light structure marking the entrance to Charlottetown Harbour but in recent years the present building has become one of the most photographed buildings in the province.  The building on Blockhouse Point has a striking appearance with the light tower and its large attached dwelling and is most often pictured as seen from Alchorn’s Point immediately to the north.  The autumn view above, photographed by Island photographer Stephen Desroches,  is one not often seen but it shows how the building stands at the gateway to the harbour.

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Blockhouse Light from the south ca. 1890. Library and Archives Canada photo. The square window for the sector is on the second floor of the tower. The flagstaff is clearly visible to the right.

Although there was a light structure on the point in the middle of the 19th century the one standing in 1873 when Canada took over responsibility for aids to navigation was considered to be inferior and in 1876 the Dominion parliament appropriated $4,000 for a new building. James Butcher was the contractor for the building which cost $$2,750 and the remainder of the funds were presumably directed to the light itself.  At 42 feet the tower is far from being the tallest on the Island but sitting as it does atop the headland it stands 60 feet above the water and can be seen from a considerable distance. Sailors can pick out the white building from Point Prim.

In addition to the light at the top of the tower the building housed a red sector light on the second floor which can be seen in the 1890 photo. A sector light is a fixed lamp which can be seen from only a certain angle and is used to show the correct line into the port. In this case keeping the red light and the white light tower light in line when coming in from the Strait brought a ship to the Fitzroy Rock bell buoy. One then steered a N.N.E 1/2 E. course to reach Spithead buoy and then turned to head into the harbour.   With the building of the range lights on the Haszard farm in Bellevue Cove in 1890 the sector light was no longer needed and was removed.  It was probably not long after this time that the light opening was converted to a conventional window.

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Blockhouse Light about 1914. Minor architectural detail changes can be seen but the present building is almost exactly as pictured here.

Although the configuration of the building has not changed since its construction in 1876 there were some slight modifications sometime before 1914.  The wooden railing around the dwelling roof and the light tower was removed and on the tower at least the railing was replaced by one of iron or steel. The windows in the tower were changed to include a pediment, the verandah which originally was attached to the west and south faces was removed from the south side the height of the chimney was increased and the cornices, which were originally bracketed, were changed to a flared design.

The flag staff with its arms for signal flags remained in the site until about 1920 but it was likely unused for most of that time.

When it was built the lighthouse stood in a clearing well away from any vegetation and a field extended to the west of the structure. Over the years this has grown in and a grove of trees developed at the end of the point which has been left, possibly to reduce erosion.  Unlike many island lighthouses this structure has not yet had to be moved although there has been considerable loss at the point which can be seen by comparing early photos with more recent ones.

Chart 2037 (2)

Blockhouse Light and lobster hatchery about 1912. No trace of the hatchery or wharf structure remains on the site.

Detail from Chart of Hillsborough Bay showing light and hatchery wharf

Detail from Chart of Hillsborough Bay showing light and hatchery wharf

The building stood alone on the point until the erection of the short-lived lobster hatchery and its attached wharf.  Neither lasted long into the twentieth century and not a trace of the building or wharf remain at the site. A trackway from the point down to the beach provided access to the shoreline of the protected cove. It shows in a number of early photos and can still be made out in the undergrowth under the trees growing on the cliff.    

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Blockhouse Point and Lighthouse from Alchorn’s Point about 1920. The trackway to the beach can be seen. The point has eroded to a point well inside of the three tall trees since this photo was taken.

Contemporary view of Blockhouse Light from Alchorn's Point

Contemporary view of Blockhouse Light from Alchorn’s Point. Photo from Wikimapia.

The Blockhouse Light is one of the most accessible lighthouses on Prince Edward Island. It is close to the National Historic Site at Fort Amherst – Port La Joie.  Although the building itself is closed to the public the site has many visitors brought by both the structure and its commanding view of  Hillsborough Bay on one side and the Harbour entrance on the other. It overlooks the narrow channel through which cruise ships and yachts pass all summer long.

Although Blockhouse Light is much-photographed and is the subject of sketches, paintings and prints by man artists, one of my favourite souvenirs of the light is not a picture but a small plaster-cast model which retains many of the architectural features of this iconic building.

Plaster souvenir model of Blockhouse Light ca. 2000. Maker unknown.

Plaster souvenir model of Blockhouse Light ca. 2000. Maker unknown.

Sources:

This is one of a number of posting concerning Blockhouse Point. The early history of the point is found here, views of the area by a prominent postcard photographer are here and a contemporary view of the area can be seen here.

One of the best sources for information about this light, and indeed all of the Island’s lighthouses, is lighthousefriends.com. Additional information can be found at the site for the PEI Lighthouse Society

Stephen Desroches holds copyright to his photographs which may not be reproduced without permission. He is a professional photographer, artist and designer from Charlottetown. Examples of his work and contact information can be found at stephendesroches.com