Tag Archives: Brighton Beach

Riding the Range(s) – Sailing a Safe Course in Charlottetown Harbour

Long before the modern lighthouse made its appearance, the use of ranges as aids to navigation had a long history  in Charlottetown Harbour.  A range is simply a line defined by two points and early sailors learned to find safe passages and avoid hazards by lining up points on the shore.  Both natural and man-made features could be and were used. Church steeples, flagpoles and prominent barns and houses provided reference points, as did prominent cliffs, rocks and trees. For example, ensuring that one kept to the east of a line formed by lining up Dockendorff’s barn on York Point with the headland below Fort Amherst meant that you were safely clear of Trout Rock, a shallow reef off Holland Cove.  Before charts were prepared captains exchanged information about these ranges to help one another and the information was later formalized in published sailing instructions. At a time when navigation buoys often drifted off location ranges were a safer method of knowing where you were.

Detail from 1843 Bayfield Chart showing Presbyterian Church range

Detail from 1843 Bayfield Chart showing Presbyterian Church range

When the first detailed charts of Charlottetown Harbour were prepared by George Wright in 1839 and Captain Bayfield in 1843 information concerning ranges was an important part of the information included on the charts.  The ranges established then are not exactly in the same location as the current ranges marked by the present range lights in Charlottetown harbour but they performed an identical function.

Take the 1846 Bayfield chart for instance:  Running into the harbour from Hillsborough Bay one was instructed to line up two white houses on May Point (now Lewis Point)  with the edge of the bluff at Brighton. That course kept you safely in the channel through the harbour entrance. When you were able to line up a red beacon on the shore near the southern end of West Street with the spire of the Presbyterian Church you should turn to follow that line until, looking behind you could see a white beacon on the shore of Canceau Point line up with Mckinnon’s House just west of Warren Cove.  That would bring you to safe anchorage off the town. A later edition of the chart suggests that lining up the flagpole of Government House with St. Dunstan’s College would be a better line, the red beacon on West Street apparently being no longer in place.

Some Charts included small sketches of what to look for as you approached the harbour. The detail below from the 1843 Chart shows the location of Dockendorff’s barn lined up with Canceau Point as seen from the harbour mouth.

Detail from 1843 Bayfield Chart

Detail from 1843 Bayfield Chart

Detail from 1980 chart showing new range lights at Brighton

Detail from 1980 chart showing new range lights at Brighton

The modern siting of the ranges and the erection of dedicated range lights began in 1889 when two structures housing lights were built in Brighton. Known as Brighton Beach Front Range (at the west end of York Lane) and Brighton Beach Rear Range slightly further north on what had been the grounds of the Asylum the initial structures were simply masts with a lantern. These rudimentary aids to navigation were soon replaced by skeleton towers and later by more familiar lighthouse towers.   The rear tower was burned in a fire in June 1933 suspected of having started in some defect in tBrighton Beach rearhe light apparatus.  Firemen were unable to save the building from the flames that also threatened nearby cottages owing to a lack of water at the site. A temporary tower (shown in a 1950s photo) marking the rear range was erected and survived until 1968 when the current concrete tower, an “apple core” design, was built.  Over the years the front tower has been slightly re-located at least twice to deal with coastal erosion and has recently undergone renovations which recognize its heritage character. Since the lamps were first installed the quality of the lights installed in to towers has been steadily improved and the Brighton Range lights can now be seen well out in Hillsborough Bay although the development of the area has meant that there are now a great many competing lights along the shores of the harbour.


Tuck postcard ca. 1913

Brighton Beach Front Range light. Raphael Tuck postcard ca. 1913.

Meanwhile, across the harbour the range at Mackinnon’s Hut was relocated from Canceaux Point to Warren Cove in 1907 with two identical buildings constructed.  Using the new locations meant that only two ranges were required rather than several when only natural features or privately owned structures established the lines of safe passage.  The new miniature lighthouse structures were quickly adopted as another attraction for cross-harbour excursions. Although when built the small buildings were located in open fields and were visible from several vantage points the growth of trees has meant that they are not easily seen unless one is directly on the line of the two lights in the towers. (Click on any image for larger display)

A century after being put in place many of the range structures are in danger of being replaced by steel towers or eliminated completely. While GPS equipment and electronic navigation have made the task easier there are few better ways to ensure a safe passage into a port than riding the ranges.


Salt Water Bathing and Nude Swimmers

One of the supposed main attractions of 19th century Prince Edward Island for visitors was the availability of “salt water bathing.” The much-touted health benefits of the activity featured highly in the advertising for the resort hotels along the Island shores and Charlottetown’s boosters were soon decrying the fact that in spite of the harbour waters lapping at the edge of the city little had been done to capitalize on the advantage. Although some of the waterfront houses such as that of Owen Connolly had private facilities they were not available for the public. In 1877 Summerside already had a privately operated bath house and the Patriot worried that the western town was laughing at the capital for its lack of initiative. It must have struck a nerve as later that year the city corporation erected a breast work and “rough bathing house”  on the bank at Victoria Park.  The issue did not seem to be one of access to the water so much as the question of proper bathing attire as this item from the Patriot of 27 June 1878 suggests:

On Saturday evening the police discovered a heap of clothes on one of the wharves, and seeing no owner near took charge of them and carried them to the station. A few minutes later three angry, naked and ridiculous looking bathers might have been seen running up the wharf in an undignified manner, and taking refuge in a store to escape the loudly express admiration of numerous spectators. The police subsequently discovered them to be the owners of the clothes and handed them over to them, receiving in return numerous blessings for their vigilance in looking after the clothes which might otherwise have been stolen.

For the next quarter century there is little mention of harbour bathing clothed or naked but in 1900 a correspondent re-opened the question of a suitable facility. Stating that the ramshackle structures at the park would be condemned on sight he urged a public facility available to the citizens which would, like those in American cities, have disinfection for bathrooms and for  bathing suits. The matter was raised at city council and referred to a committee. In 1904 it was supported by the Mayor. Some sort of building was available by 1905 and the Guardian noted that proper facilities might cause visitors to stay longer in the city and not fleeing to the country hotels. The Tourist Association also weighted in with their support. It would certainly not be the last time the lobby group argued that public money spent on facilities would be quickly repaid through tourist spending in the city.  What was wanted was “a place where a sea bath can be had at any hour without waiting – some attractive, clean, accessible place, with proper depth of water and suitable dressing-rooms…” There is, however, little indication that the population served expanded beyond residents of the City.

In 1907 the council took decisive action. The City Surveyor presented a plan for a bathing house with eight apartments furnished with locks to ensure privacy, and investment of $100 was approved.  Hasty action was called for as one writer complained that the existing facilities should be burnt, being too filthy to describe.


Charlottetown Guardian 20 July 1906. p. 1

Building the facilities was one thing, managing them another. An item from the Guardian shows one element of the problem. “Many boys were impelled by the warm weather and the agreeable temperature of the water yesterday to go swimming at Victoria Park. It seems a pity that the little chaps had to undress themselves in the open when the bathing houses might be used. It is “swimmin’ time” now and the facilities for bathing at the park should be available to the public.”

The following year the Guardian again reported on the propensity of the “small boy element of the population” who presented ” a startling exhibition of the “altogether”” when interrupted in their bathing by a policemen, causing the boys to run like “pre-Adamites” through the streets to places of refuge. Clearly there remained entertainment value in swimming from the city’s wharves whether or not proper changing facilities were available.  The city wharves continued to have their faithful patrons well into the mid-20th century.


Diving boards at the Hillsboro Boating Club, Prince Street Wharf.

Throughout much of this period the Hillsboro Boating Club had provided a swimming area at the Prince Street Ferry Wharf. Several attempts were made to include swimming events in regattas held in the harbour, not always with success.  With the decline of the fortunes of the Boating Club it very much looked as if the downtown swimming site might be lost.  A blueprint was drawn up in 1926 with a scheme for a yachting, boating  and swimming facility with plenty of room for mooring boats. [The location is not noted in the reports but could well have been at the site later occupied by the Charlottetown Yacht Club at Lord’s wharf.]

In 1918 Victoria Park had lost its monopoly as the sole approved public bathing site when the city negotiated with the Dominion Government for a dollar a year lease of a part of the Kensington rifle range just east of the Hillsborough Bridge. This was to be a second location for bathing houses and the site became known as Kensington Beach.  Unlike Victoria Park which was still being recommended for its tourist potential, the primary audience for Kensington Beach was the residents of the eastern part of the city.

The next year saw tenders called for new bathing houses to be erected at Brighton Road and the Kensington Range. This appears to be the first mention of the Brighton Road site, near where the current swimming pool lies, and was different from Victoria Park.

Screen ShotIn 1921 a request was received from the Rotary Club for permission to erect a boy’s bathing house at Victoria Park. The structure at Kensington Beach was reported to be in unsatisfactory condition and the Brighton building was not being kept up. There were obviously issues at the eastern end of town as well. In 1924 John Burns, the gateman at the Hillsborough Bridge, was sworn as a  constable with extra duties to prevent vandalism at the nearby bathing houses.  Later that year it was noted that vandalism had deceased and the biggest problem was that the facility was now too small to accommodate the many east end users. The next year tenders were called for the erection of an additional building.

bathing east

Aerial view of the Kensington Beach bath houses at the north end of the Hillsborough Bridge ca. 1936. Several of the firing positions for the rifle range can be seen at the top of the photo.

For the next twenty years the condition and maintenance of the bath houses at both locations was a headache for the City Council.  New buildings were noted on several occasions but there were repeated complaints about vandalism, dilapidated facilities and “bad behavior”, especially at Kensington beach.  In 1945 the Province purchased the Rifle Range property. Premier Jones soon weighed in noting that the city had not done a very good job of keeping the property up. The city had turned the adjacent area into the city dump. The next year it was announced that a new bathing house would be built at the end of Brighton Road and that the ones facing the harbour entrance would be refurbished. There were now three buildings at Kensington Range and these were to be moved several hundred yards east towards the cove and away from the road and rail line.  In 1948 it was announced that the Red Cross would build new bath houses at Brighton Beach and Kensington Beach. The Kensington Beach had become a popular spot but in 1951 the site was abandoned, owing, according to the city report, to increased industrial activity in the area.  A contributing factor may have been the growth of the municipal dump just outside the city limits, quite close to the bathing beach.  The Red Cross bathing hut at Kensington was offered for sale and in 1952 was moved to the cannons at Victoria Park to serve as a “ladies only” building. In 1956 two large rafts, complete with diving boards were anchored off the Park.

However a shadow was cast over the future of salt-water bathing in Charlottetown Harbour by the pollution levels discovered in several places. At the time the city had no sewage treatment and drains discharged directly into the harbour.  In 1957 pollution forced an end to the supervised swimming at Brighton Beach and the activity was moved to the Victoria Park driveway site and at the wading pool. In 1962 all swimming areas except for Victoria Park were posted for pollution. And it was not long after that announcement that all facilities except those at the park pool were removed. One of the few remaining traces of the once-busy recreational activity at the eastern side of the city is a short street off Kensington Road dead-ending at the provincial public works equipment yard called Beach Street.

The promise of delightful salt water bathing in Charlottetown Harbour has not returned. Even with the improvement in water quality through reduced industrial activity on the harbour and with the building of a treatment plant it is unusual to find swimmers in the Charlottetown side of the harbour waters. As city councillors had suggested a century ago tourists and residents alike now simply travel to beaches on both the north and south shores of the Island, ignoring a resource close at hand.