Tag Archives: Cape Tormentine

From New York to Charlottetown – By Canoe

Late in the afternoon of Monday, 24 August 1908 a small craft  moved past Blockhouse Point and across Charlottetown Harbour. Aboard were only two crew members and the vessel carried no cargo. The little boat was the sailing canoe Patsy Green and it had left at 5:30 that morning from Augustine Cove. The passage from there to Charlottetown under clear skies and a light breeze had taken less than eleven hours.  That was an impressive time, even though they were probably able to pass in the shallow waters between St.Peter’s Island and Rice Point. What was more impressive is that the journey had started in New York City, 900 miles to the south.

Aboard the canoe were 36 year old Henry A. Wise Wood and his wife Elizabeth Ogden. They had been canoeing for more than fifteen years but this was their longest journey. Henry was the son of a former mayor of New York City but had made his fortune as the inventor of the high-speed newspaper press and held hundreds of patents. His maritime interests were not limited to canoes and he was a member of the prestigious New York Yacht Club and later became one of the founders of the Cruising Club of America.

In several years of canoeing they had developed a canoe especially fitted for long-distance cruising. The Patsy Green was sixteen feet long, thirty-five inches in beam and she drew about six inches of water when loaded. The canoe was decked much like a kayak with one small cockpit forward for Elizabeth and one at the stern for Henry. Between them was a bulkheaded compartment for camping supplies, provisions and their clothing. Henry boasted that “We are often wet ourselves, but our supplies are dry always.” At the bow was a diminutive mast which could carry two boomed-out sails and was the responsibility of the bow crew. When not in use the mast could be unshipped and strapped to the deck.

The sailing canoe had been popularized in the 1880s by English yachtsman John MacGregor  and his long-distance adventures in his tiny Rob Roy canoe yachts but the English type of sailing canoes were simply small, narrow vessels, usually with a yawl rig. In North America enthusiasts embraced indigenous designs and their vessels were recognizably “indian” canoes, quite different from their English counterparts. What was similar was the frequent long-distance trips completed such as one from Lake George, N.Y. to Florida.

The Wise Wood’s journey to Prince Edward Island had really begun the previous year with a trip from New York to Gloucester on Cape Ann in Massachusetts. The Cape Cod Canal was not to open until more than seven years later and so the first challenge for the pair was to round Cape Cod in the cold swells of the Atlantic Ocean.

Once this was accomplished safely the proposal for the next year was to follow the Maine Coast north up to the Bay of Fundy, across the Chignecto Isthmus and Northumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island.  The pair left Gloucester in mid-July. When the wind favoured they sailed, but they  paddled most of the way, and stopped nights on shore at some house or settlement, or perhaps camped when necessary. Normally they made from thirty to thirty-five miles per day. After nineteen days paddling and sailing and a few days spent with friends at Campobello Island they reached Saint John.  Fog and storm kept them there for almost a week. Stopping at St. Martin’s and again at Alma they crossed the Bay and reached Sackville on the evening of Monday 17 August.

Loading the Patsy Green on the New Brunswick and Price Edward Island Railway train they re-launched at the “rather unattractive seaport of Cape Tormentine” but were again delayed by bad weather for most of the week. Setting off on Friday afternoon they decided to cross, not to the short direct route to Cape Traverse, but bound for Victoria cutting off a few miles by the diagonal. Three-quarters of the way across they were struck by a squall but kept their small sails up even though lobster boats around them were “scudding under bare poles.” They landed safely at the nearest shore, Augustine Cove, where they were “entertained at the hospitable home” of Louis Howatt for several days.

After a few days in Charlottetown at the Victoria Hotel the Wise Woods left for home – by steamer to Pictou then rail to Yarmouth, then by steamship to New York. The Patsy Ann accompanied them as baggage. In mid-September the story of their trip appeared in the magazine section of the New York Herald and was picked up in numerous newspapers across the United States. For most editors the lead feature of the story was not that the trip had been completed but that it had been completed by a woman! For once it was “Mrs. Henry A. Wise Wood and husband” rather than “Mr. and wife.” While only the Herald seems to have developed artwork for the story most of the papers re-printing it did insert a grainy photo of the couple in Charlottetown Harbour, as seen above.  Presumably while underway in stormy waters the straw boaters and neckties were safely below.

Magazine Section New York Herald 18 September 1908

Patsy Ann on display in Clayton N.Y. photo from: http://www.sailingobsession.ca/2014/07/mr-mrs-wood-patsy-green.html

The last word of the story, however, is from Henry. When asked why the couple had embarked on the trip he said “When I take my vacation I want to get away from the sound of steam and the chug-chug of the motor boat I like to get out on the sea with only sails and your own hands to help you along.”  Today the Patsy Green is part of the collection of the Antique Boat Museum in the Thousand Islands at Clayton New York, a considerable distance from the salt water where she achieved her fame.

P.E.I. Ferry Terminal was a Major Infrastructure Project

Ferry Terminal Pier at Carleton Head. Note the third rail on the pier. There was no need of a roadway as everything went back and forth by rail. Several temporary buildings of the construction camp can be seen on the point.

In 1912 Carleton Point was little more than the sea-side edge of a farm located a mile or so to the north and west of Cape Traverse. The latter community was the jumping off point for New Brunswick. The undersea cable of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company landed at Cape Traverse and the community was also the Island end of the winter ice-boat route. It boasted a pier that extended into the Strait and in 1885 a branch line had been added to the Prince Edward Island railway to join the pier to the Island’s rail system.

Pier-head during storm conditions. At least one of the pier cribs can be seen through the spray.

A year later the farm at Carleton Point had been converted to the site of a work camp for the building of the ferry pier. After years of agitation and delay the Dominion Government had committed to the development of an ice-breaking rail ferry service to the Island. Even before the issuing of a contract for construction of the vessel government engineers had been examining options for the route. On the New Brunswick side the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Railway ran from Sackville to Cape Tormentine and as this was the narrowest part of the strait the choice of the Cape was a foregone conclusion.

Winter scene at Cape Tormentine with barges and tugs. The existing rail line and wharf made construction here easier than on the Island side

On the P.E.I. side it was not as clear. Although Cape Traverse had a pier and rail connection the waters of Traverse Cove were shallow and unprotected. In fact, there was little protection on the Island side at all and the decision was made to create a new port where deep water could be reached fairly easily.  However the prevailing south-west winds and strong currents meant that the exposed shore would have to be well-protected by artificial means.

Strom waves at Carleton Head. The inner tower of the tramway can be seen on the still-wooded point.

Carleton Point (Carleton Head on some maps) had been named in 1765 by Samuel Holland for Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester and for the next 150 years appears to have escaped notice. It was here however that in 1913 work began on what was to be a massive project. The contract for the Island side construction was awarded to the Roger Miller Company of Toronto.  At a time when there were no services in the area everything, telephone lines, roads, wells, housing for workers and the building of construction  equipment had to be undertaken at the site. The nearest rail access was three miles away and no wharf or breakwater stood on the exposed shore. Transport of goods and equipment was hampered by the ban on automobiles and trucks on the roads from the main port at Summerside.

Outer tower of the tramway. It had its own steam power station with two boilers and an engine as well as generators to provide lighting. The stone blocks were positioned using the cable and then dropped into place.

One of the first tasks was the building of a powerhouse to supply electrical services and the electric generators and the steam machinery were continuous consumers of coal. On of the most evident pieces of equipment was a cableway carrying the huge stone blocks making up the pier and breakwater.  An island was created 1800 feet from shore and one end of the cableway built there with a 110 foot tower, the other end was on shore. At the peak of operations eighty railcar loads were put in place each 24 hour period.  The stone was brought on scows shuttling between Carleton Head and a quarry on the Scoudouc River near Shediac.  Work continued day and night lit by 43,000 candlepower searchlight on the top of the high cable tower. At a time when the brightest light was an oil lamp the light from the towers could be seen for miles around.

Derrick placing stones on the breakwater at Carleton Head.

The Carleton terminal structure was just over 1/2 mile long; a 2,000 foot pier and the landing slip of 740 feet.  The slip consisted on nine concrete cribs 100 x 30 feet joined together on site.  The cribs were built in Shediac and towed to Carleton where they were put in place and filled with quarry stone.  By the time the terminal was completed over 250,000 tons of quarry stone, some weighing as much as 10 tons,  had been put in place.  The transfer platform linking the rails on shore to the rails on the ferry itself was built by the Dominion Bridge Company  of Montreal and erected on-site. The mechanism raising and lowering it to adjust to the tide was powered by another steam powerhouse located on the wharf.

Tugs hauling cribs from Shediac where they were built. Once positioned they were filled with rock to form the actual terminal structure.

By the close of operations in December of 1914 the breakwater had been constructed up to low water and the pier had reached some 1500 feet from shore.  The new branch line connecting with existing Cape Traverse subdivision, a distance of 2 1/2 miles had been constructed but grading had been almost completed and the rails had been laid. In September 1915 tenders were called for the building of the rail facilities at the shore end of the terminal. A station, water tank, engine house, transfer platform, standpipe, ash-pit and turntable foundations were built to accommodate rail operations. Initially all tracks had a third rail to carry both narrow-gauge PEI Railway cars and the standard gauge Intercolonial Railway cars which would come across on the ferry.  A transfer station allowed goods to be moved between one type of car to the other.

Carleton terminal structure as it neared completion. Dredges and derricks are still at work but the apron for loading cars onto the boat is in place along with the steam powerhouse which controlled its movement.

The turning basins at both piers had been dredged to a depth of twenty feet at low tide but as the S.S. Prince Edward Island drew that much there was little margin for error and continuous dredging became an almost permanent part of the operation of the port for the next few years.

Completed pier as seen from the breakwater.

In August 1916 a Guardian writer foresaw a fine future for the town. Beautifully situated in the midst of a prosperous farming district, possessing natural attributes as a summer resort with a broad sandy beach, excellent sites for a golf course and summer cottages, having the potential to be a warehousing and distribution centre for the province. By November a decision had been made by the Dominion Government about the name for the town to be built on the cliff overlooking the ferry terminal and rail yard. It was to become Port Borden, named after Robert Laird Borden, the country’s Prime Minister.  Carleton Point became Borden Point at the same time.

When the regular ferry service began in October of 1917 the outlook was bright but town failed to fulfil its earliest expectations.  Rather than stopping at Borden travellers lost little time passing through to Charlottetown, Summerside and tourist destinations. Although planned using modern design principles, possibly by leading town planner Thomas Adams of the Canadian Conservation Commission it did not develop its potential as a regional centre and was primarily a dormitory town for the ferry workers. The busy work of being a distribution centre and transfer point disappeared when the standard gauge rails were extended across the province.

NOTE – Photographs used in this posting are from the Robinson Collection at the P.E.I,. Public Archives and Records Office Accession 3466/74.91




The Carferry meets the Car: The S.S. P.E.I. and the auto

When I was young in the 1950s any ferry trip was an exciting journey, but even more so if we caught the Prince Edward Island. In those care-free days of hands-off parenting we seemed to have the run of the ship while our elders relaxed in the lounge or restaurant. We were up and down ladders and companionways, poked our heads into the engine room and visited all sorts of places which today would strike fear into the hearts of the ship’s insurers (and our parents if they had known). Near the stern of the S.S.Prince Edward Island we discovered a mysterious pair of stairways which went up into nothing but a blank steel wall.  On an engraved plaque over the arched entry-way to the stairs and very nearly obscured by dozens of coats of paint could be seen the legend “Second Class Passengers.”   It was one of the few remnants of the two class system of accommodation around which the ship had been built. What was lost was destroyed to suit the automobile.


SS PEI in 1960s with a full load of autos.

Almost as long as it was operating the ferry service the railway never seemed to ‘get” the automobile. For them cars, and later trucks, were simply another commodity to be loaded onto rail cars and shunted aboard the ferry.  The passenger service was designed to handle folks descending from the steps of a passenger car or sleeper with the assistance of a porter or conductor.  How one clambered down from an auto atop a flatcar was not a question that needed to be addressed. When goods began to arrive on trucks the railway saw it as competition and the rates charged for trucks continued to be an irritant for many years. However by the 1920s it was clear that the auto was here to stay and had to be grudgingly dealt with.

In 1931, with the launch of the S.S. Charlottetown the S.S. Prince Edward Island became obsolete. The new, larger, and even grander ferry had something that the P.E.I. lacked – dedicated services for automobiles. The rail deck was larger than on the older ship but the chief innovation was a circular drive around the upper deck so that cars could be driven on and off. Elaborate ramp systems at Port Borden and Cape Tormentine which could be raised and lowered dealt with the tidal changes.

CN007219 (2)

SS PEI before 1938. An auto aboard a flat car is visible on the rail deck.

The Prince Edward Island was demoted to a back-up function, taking over from the Charlottetown for the six weeks or so that the Charlottetown was in dry-dock or supplementing the newer ferry for busy periods such as Old Home Week. On both the older boat and the new ferry automobiles and trucks which did not fit on the auto deck still had to be loaded on to flat-cars to be moved onto the ferry. This was fine as long as there were only three of four round tips each day and there was lots of time for shunting.  With each passing year the volume of automobiles carried and it was clear that using flat cars was limited as a solution to the problem.

Stern of the SS PEI ca. 1917. Note the absence of the docking station.

Stern of the SS PEI ca. 1917. Note the absence of the docking station.

Over the years a number of changes had been made to the S.S. P.E.I.  Early in its service the upper decks had been extend to better enclose the stern and to provide space for a small deckhouse with controls for the officers backing to vessel into the dock. However the general appearance of the ship remained the same. In the spring of 1938 the decision was taken to add auto capacity to the S.S. P.E.I. This was to make a big difference in the look of the ship. Aft of the funnels the second class facilities and officers quarters were torn off the stern of the boat to create an auto deck but lacking the circular deck lay-out of the Charlottetown it was the bane of drivers who sometimes had difficulty backing their vehicles into the tight spaces allocated. While the Charlottetown could accommodate 44 cars the P.E.I. had space for only about 40 vehicles.

SS Charlottetown

S.S. Charlottetown ca. 1935. Note the auto ramp allowing vehicles to drive up to the auto deck.

In 1941 the situation suddenly changed as the Charlottetown sank off Nova Scotia and the Prince Edward Island was once again the only year-round vessel linking the Island with the mainland. With half of the passenger facilities eliminated to make for the automobile deck and the realization that under war conditions the S.S. Charlottetown was not likely to be replaced until the conclusion of hostilities it was apparent that more changes to the Prince Edward Island were warranted. This was heightened by the steamer’s use in winter conditions which meant that passengers could be on the vessel for many hours while it negotiated heavy ice. In November 1941 a contract was given to Bruce Stewart and Company for the construction of a new deck-house for the ferry. However for some reason the work was actually done when the ship was in dry-dock in Lauzon Quebec in July 1942. During the re-fit the Scotia II took over the route  The deck house was created above the auto deck and provided a lounge area of about thirty feet wide by sixty feet long.  At the same time officers quarters which had also been lost were replaced on the upper deck. In spite of the fact that a number of years elapsed between the building of the auto deck in 1938 and the deckhouse in 1942 I have not been able to find a picture showing the ship in this period.

Over the winter of 1941-42 Bruce Stewart’s workers were in the midst of converting the boilers from coal burning to oil burning. The old bunkers were being cut away and replaced with oil tanks. The work was being done in Borden and it was expected that the work would not interfere with regular crossings. After two of the boilers had been converted the work was halted owing for the need to conserve oil for war efforts and for several years the ferry operated with two oil-fired boilers and four still using coal.

S.S. P.E.I. ca. 1960 running without any autos aboard. It can be clearly seen that everything aft of the funnels was removed to provide parking for cars. Compare this to the original design at https://sailstrait.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/the-steam-ferry-prince-edward-island-in-charlottetown/

S.S. P.E.I. ca. 1960 running without any autos aboard. It can be clearly seen that everything aft of the funnels was removed to provide parking for cars. Compare this to the original design at https://sailstrait.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/the-steam-ferry-prince-edward-island-in-charlottetown/

Even with the new auto deck the Prince Edward Island could not keep up with the demand for auto space and plans were developed in 1942 to plank part of the rail deck between the tracks so that trucks and additional autos could be carried if there was not a full load of rail cars aboard. This seems to have been a temporary solution as in 1946 the Guardian reported that autos loaded on flat cars would be used to address the high volume of autos associated with Old Home week.  In 1948, after the Abegweit came into operation the rail deck of the S.S. P.E.I. was planked for about 75 feet from the stern so that large trucks and more autos could be carried without having to load them on rail cars. Even the new Abegweit (with room for 100 cars on the auto deck) was designed with the lower deck reserved for rail use only. However, after a year in operation the deck was planked about half-way from the stern to accommodate trucks. Eventually the planking was extended to cover the entire rail deck. By the 1950s transfer of autos to flat cars was ended.

Each of the changes made to accommodate the auto seemed to take away from the steamship atmosphere of the S.S. Prince Edward Island but for as long as I was able to sail on her she was still my favourite of the P.E.I. ferries.