Tag Archives: Carvell

James Duncan – Charlottetown’s Biggest Bankrupt

The Duncan shipyard property in 1878 at the time of Duncan’s bankruptcy. Duncan’s house was on the corner of Prince Street with its conservatory. The property also included a residence to the west which dated to the 1820s. Image from the Panoramic View of Charlottetown 1878.

Between the Steam Navigation Wharf (which had carried the names of Reddin’s Wharf and Pope’s Wharf) and the Ferry Wharf at the end of Prince Street  lies a property of some significance to the history of Prince Edward Island. Here the foreshore stood at the foot of a high embankment and the waters were relatively shallow so that any wharf would have to be quite long to reach the channel.  Instead of a wharf the property became the site of one of the few shipyards on the waterfront.

The Duncan shipyard saw the building of a number of ships but most of the vessels owned by James Duncan were built elsewhere and  closer to the raw materials required, many in the Mt. Stewart area.   However the Duncan shipyard was the site of the building of the largest ship ever launched on Prince Edward Island, the Ethel, which displaced 1795 tons when she slid down the ways and promptly went aground in June 1858. Luckily the 205 foot ship had to wait only until the next spring tides before she was freed.

Duncan Shipyard property in 1863. Detail from D.J. Lake Topographical Map of Prince Edward Island

Andrew Duncan and James Duncan (who may have been brothers) were both involved in shipbuilding in the 1840s. Andrew had a shipyard in Elliot River and was one of the Directors of the Steam Navigation Company. Their firm A.& J. Duncan & Co., which also included James Duncan Mason who may have been another relation, was dissolved in 1855 and reconstituted as Duncan, Mason & Co. with Robert Robinson Hodgson as a new partner. One of their first projects was the building of a large 3 1/2 story brick store on the corner of Dorchester and Queen Streets which still stands.

Duncan Building on corner of Queen and Water Streets. Meacham’s Atlas of Prince Edward Island 1880.

For the next two decades the firm reaped the benefits of the wood, wind and water economy  building and selling or managing dozens of vessels. James Duncan became a member of the Island’s Council and participated in a wide range of civic activities. Shipbuilding in PEI reached a peak in the late 1860s but leveled off and was relatively steady at a lower level through to the mid 1870s. However Island builders had difficulty matching their output with the market and prices and production dropped after 1875.  In 1878 only 35 vessels were built in the Island and about half were sent to Great Britain for sale. By the end of 1879 only 10 of these had sold and at unfavourable prices. James Duncan and Co. were caught with large debts and ships they were unable to sell at other than a loss. 

James Duncan House in 2005. Photo: City of Charlottetown

In October 18978 the Merchant’s Bank of Prince Edward Island pushed Duncan & Co. into bankruptcy and a loss of confidence in the bank, which was one of Duncan’s largest creditors, meant it almost went under as well, saved only by investment from other Island banks.  There were many significant losses. Two creditors were each owed more than $100,000; Sir James Malcolm who was Duncan’s British agent was owed $119,000, and the Merchants Bank was owed $146,000 (3.1 million and 3.8 million respectively in todays funds) Another 17 companies were owed more than $1000 each and many others faced losses at lesser amounts. For small businesses even a slight loss could tip them from profit to loss. The Duncan bankruptcy had a ripple effect as the effects spread across the community. The total amount of liabilities of bankrupt firms on Prince Edward Island more than doubled over the previous year.  Duncan & Co. was soon wound up but the assets brought in far less than was needed and the settlement was only 32 cents on each dollar owed. Carvell Bros., who had not been a major Duncan creditor, suspended their operations blaming the failure of many of their customers but they were able to re-open their doors by the end of 1879. Two of the Island’s marine insurance companies stopped writing new policies and crossed their fingers that they would have no major claims which would bankrupt them and luckily both survived.

James Duncan was briefly jailed and his assets were seized by creditors and liquidated.  These assets which included several ships, the Duncan shipyard property, and the Duncan property on Water Street including the contents were all sold for the benefit of creditors. Much of the property was purchased by Captain Ronald McMillan who built a coal depot on the shipyard site.

James Duncan Property 1873 (outlined in green). Note how the shoreline comes almost up to the buildings. Note building wing “form’ly the Foundry” and the blacksmith shop. The solid red line shows the property of the Prince Edward Island Railway. Dotted line shows possible route of railway extension to Great George Street. This land was expropriated in the 1880s.

Several of the Duncan properties still stand; the large brick double store on the corner of Queen and Dorchester Streets, Duncan’s residence at the corner of Prince Street and Water and the large building (now apartments) next door to the west which had originally been the store of Messrs. Waters & Birnie and which was likely built in the early 1820s.  It was also the site of the Phoenix foundry. The foundry and a blacksmith forge were still on the property in 1873 and were likely used in conjunction with the shipyard.  Other than the two residences traces of the estate and shipyard have disappeared under the Confederation Landing Park. James Duncan left Prince Edward Island soon after the bankruptcy and died in Scotland in 1889.

Charlottetown Regatta Day 1935

A tight start. A variety of rigs and sail types were evident in the racing fleets before the formation of the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Straits. Irwin Photo album

Long before there was a Race Week at the Charlottetown Yacht Club the organization was hosting events which attracted sailors from across the region. In fact, the 1935 regatta had entries from a number of ports along Northumberland Strait – but only one entry from the host club!  In preparation for the mid-August competition boats arrived in Charlottetown from Pictou, Shediac, Montague, Summerside, and Borden. Shediac, which was the hot spot for sail races in the mid-1930s, sent fourteen boats to the Charlottetown races.  Pictou was represented by five and another three yachts came down the shore from Summerside and Borden. Some of these small boats sailed on their own or were towed by yacht club members with powerboats. Others may have been carried by the C.G.S. Brant which assisted many of the yacht clubs during the period.

The sole Charlottetown boat was the P-No sailed by Jack King, a yacht that had raced in Charlottetown for at least ten years.  This sloop was designed by Walter Pinaud who went on to be a yacht designer of significance in Cape Breton.  The Charlottetown Yacht Club did not have a clubhouse or ownership their own wharf at the time.

Commodore Fred Morris’ power yacht Elizabeth served as a viewing platform for spectators and officials. This photo shows both modern Marconi rigs as well as a variety of gaff and sprit rigs in earlier boats still part of the racing fleet. Irwin Photo Album.

Saturday was race day with two races scheduled with the possibility of a third depending on wind conditions and the timing of the other races. The course was one which was often used by Charlottetown yachtsmen; start off Carvell’s wharf, Government Point black buoy (now Middleground), Rosebank Buoy, a mark boat anchored off the Railway Wharf and the finish line at Carvell’s.  To make sure that visiting boats were not mistakenly off-course the fleet was preceded to each mark by Joe MacDonald  in his powerboat.

Light winds were the order of the day for the 1935 regatta. Irwin photo album.

As it turned out the winds failed to cooperate with the race organizers and only two races were held. A very slow first race was followed by a second only marginally faster and boats seemed to drift over the finish line.  A third race was cancelled after the start as the winds fell to a whisper and none of the nineteen boats completed the course. However race officials were able to declare a regatta winner on the basis of the first two races.  Onawa, sailed by Gordon and Eric Coffin sailing out of Montage was the winner with Charlottetown’s P-No in second place. Third position went to a Shediac boat, Vestra helmed by Charles Fawcett and in fourth place was another Montague boat , Dr. L.A. Johnson’s Ghost.

Although there was little participation from Charlottetown yachts the 1935 regatta was one of the factors  leading to increased interest in yacht racing in the Island capital and was a precursor to the formation of the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Straits and its successful series of inter-club races in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Charlottetown Yacht Club – A History in Five Photos

Last month I had the opportunity to sit down with Ron Atkinson who was a Yacht Club Board Member for several years and was Commodore in 1964 – one of the most exciting years in the history of the club.  Besides his memories of the Club activities Ron has a collection of materials which he willingly shared with me.  The following photos were ones that I had not seen before but which cover a forty-year period in the Club’s history and which Ron allowed me to copy.

CYC005a

Although this photo was taken in 1959 it shows a structure which pre-dated the Yacht Club by many years.   Remembered by Ron as “Carvell’s salt shed”  the building which shows up in few other photos sat on Pownal Wharf  where the Club parking lot now stands. Carvell’s had leased the wharf in the 1920s but the building may be older than that. Probably used for the storage of salt which was sold for fish preservation, the building was typical of the waterfront structures which received little or no maintenance after shipping dropped off in the late 1930s.  Before that Carvell’s Wharf was a busier spot and the regular steamers using the wharf included Clarke Steamships Gaspesia.  By the time this photo was taken the wharf had crumbled with only the rock pile visible to the right of the picture.

CYC001aThis photo was taken sometime before 1937 when the Yacht Club clubhouse was built on the stub of what had been Lord’s Wharf. Work undertaken through the depression works program had made a great job of clearing the site and restoring the pilings and infill for the wharf. The float which was the boarding point for boats was already in place and anchored yachts were beginning to fill the basin.  To the left of the picture, moored at Carvell’s, or Pownal wharf, are two of the boats essential to the history of the Club; Hal Bourke’s Restless and Mac Irwin’s Roamer.   The wharf had an extension running east and west to enable large steamers to tie up and given the perspective this photo must have been taken from the deck of one of the steamers.  The wharf would have provided excellent shelter from to south-east winds for the yachts in the basin. Note that the area to the north of the Club is almost empty with neither the City Barn nor the Eastern hay and Feed warehouse yet constructed.

CYC002aProbably copied from a newspaper this picture can be dated between 1938 and 1940. the new architect-designed clubhouse overlooks the snipe fleet and a small schooner. The ground is still almost empty between the Club and Water Street. In June 1940 the City of Charlottetown let a contract to Albert MacKinnon for a new City Barn to be built just north of the Club. The design for the structure had been drawn by architect James Harris.  The building was to house the city’s public works equipment and horses.  CYC003a

With a group of members launching one of the club’s Snipe fleet changes to the club’s surroundings can be spotted in the background. The City Barn, very recently built but already looking old, is in place and visible behind it is the Eastern Hay and Feed warehouse, later Atlantic Wholesalers. The photo is probably from the early 1940s. Several of the participants seem to have military-style dress and the Club was a popular spot for airmen training at the R.A.F. and R.C.A.F. facilities at what is now the Charlottetown Airport. Although not absolutely clear it is likely that the gentleman in the leather jacket to the left of the boat is Mac Irwin who was involved in almost every Club activity.

CYC004a

Jump ahead about thirty years. With the fleet at anchor in what must have been a very high tide the changes that time has brought can be seen. Several additions (clearly without the influence of an architect) have been made to the clubhouse to add to the facilities and increase the bar revenue. The scotch derrick which served as the mast crane is to the right of the building and a number of finger piers extend east from Lords’s Wharf.  The City Barn and the Atlantic Wholesale warehouse still stand and the various sheds, barns and warehouses on Pickard’s wharf all seem to be awaiting demolition and redevelopment as Harbourside. Experienced club members will recognize many of the boats afloat and ashore; Plumb MacDonald’s boat is in what is now the ‘hood, Mac Irwin’s last Roamer is moored just west of Pownal wharf, and that looks like the Hunk A Dory in the parking lot. It is amazing to see how much the view is dominated by the bulk of St. Dunstan’s Cathedral.