Tag Archives: Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company

The History of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company

Princess of Wales in Summerside Harbour 1878. Detail From Panoramic View of Summerside

Princess of Wales in Summerside Harbour 1878. Detail From Panoramic View of Summerside

In 1878 Panoramic Views of both Summerside and Charlottetown were published. The views gave an accurate depiction of the two Island communities and highlighted the commercial and industrial progress being made. Because of the perspective view the largest items on the sheets are the paddlewheel steamers then proudly plying Island waters – the Princess of Wales (mislabeled in the drawing as the Prince of Wales) in Summerside Harbour and the St. Lawrence in Charlottetown Harbour. Also seen in Charlottetown Harbour lithograph was the smaller Heather Belle.

These three boats constituted the fleet of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company which had been organized in 1863 and was incorporated the following year to take over the contract for service between the colony of Prince Edward Island and the mainland from a New Brunswick company operating the Westmorland. The company was capitalized at £20,000 and shares were held mostly by Island shipbuilders, lawyers and capitalists

Early photo of the Princess of Wales in Charlottetown Harbour. the building behind the funnel is the Methodist Church

Early photo of the Princess of Wales in Charlottetown Harbour. the building behind the funnel is the Methodist Church

The company started operations with the Heather Belle and a new steamer called the Princess of Wales which had been built in Carleton New Brunswick and launched early in 1864. Newspaper advertisements in February said service would begin in April 1864 but in May she was still in Saint John being outfitted The vessel finally arrived in Charlottetown in June and went into service immediately.  At 192 feet and almost 1000 tons she was considerably larger than the Westmorland and there were some fears that she was too large for the trade. However the editor of the Islander noted that the Island had much to draw visitors  “…and if its attractions can be made known to the many thousands who yearly leave the cities of the United States in search of a pleasant retreat, for some months at least, a steamer quite as large as the “Princess of Wales” will be required to convey to our shores the thousands of tourists who will visit us.”  The two steamers each had a weekly route with the Princess of Wales visiting Pictou, Port Hood, Summerside and Shediac from the home port of Charlottetown and the Heather Belle traveling to Pictou , Murray Harbour, Georgetown and Souris.

Paddle Steamer Princess of Wales. The funnel seems to be removed in this photo.

Paddle Steamer Princess of Wales. The funnel seems to be removed in this photo but the walking beam which connected the engine with the paddles can be clearly seen.

General Whiting as she might have looked as a Confederate blockade runner. ship image drawn by Petr Merkulov based on the best available evidence and documentation.

General Whiting as she might have looked as a Confederate blockade runner. Ship image drawn by Petr Merkulov based on the best available evidence and documentation.

The Princess of Wales was joined in 1868 by another steamer, the St. Lawrence.  This paddle wheeler had been built by Messrs Greenan in Mystic, Connecticut in 1863. Launched as the Rafael, the side-wheel steamer was used as a blockade runner during the American civil war under the name General Whiting. Whiting was a general in the Confederate States Army who was captured and later died a prisoner. Under ownership of the Consolidated Steamship Company the General Whiting made at least four successful passages between Nassau and the Southern States and survived the war. Between 1866 and 1868 she was lying in Saint John and probably had been re-built to increase her accommodation. At 201 feet in length and 33 feet in width she was just slightly larger than the Princess of Wales. With a nominal power of 250 horsepower it was claimed she could have an average speed of 10 knots but also be “light on fuel.” Both the Princess of Wales and the St. Lawrence carried about 25 crew members.

Paddle steamer St. Lawrence in Charlottetown Harbour 1878. Detail from Panoramic View of Charlottetown.

Paddle steamer St. Lawrence in Charlottetown Harbour 1878. Detail from Panoramic View of Charlottetown.

By 1869 the Steam Navigation Company was running its vessels on several routes: The Princess of Wales and St. Lawrence visited Pictou, Cape Breton, Georgetown, Souris, Summerside and Shediac from Charlottetown on a regular weekly schedule, while the Heather Belle served Mount Stewart, Port Selkirk (Orwell) and Crapaud (Victoria).  In the early years the steamers also provided service to Miramichi and Richibucto.

The 1869 season was not a good one of the company. In early August the two steamers collided at night off Seacow Head.  The St. Lawrence was holed below the waterline and was saved only by being towed to shoal water by the Princess of Wales, which had also been damaged in the collision.  Although the Princess of Wales resumed service the next day the St. Lawrence required extensive repair. She was patched in Summerside and then towed to Pictou to be put on the marine slip for an overhaul.

Steam Navigation Company advertisement in the P.E.I. Directory 1889-1890.

Steam Navigation Company advertisement in the P.E.I. Directory 1889-1890.

Confederation in 1873 was good for the company. Although they had lost much of the Charlottetown to Summerside traffic through the building of the Prince Edward Island Railway, they benefitted from a 20-year $10,000 annual subsidy which was part of the Dominion’s commitment to furnish “continuous steam communication” and the railway links between Island towns and villages made the strait crossing routes more lucrative. In 1876 the company appears to have also have had at least one sailing vessel in their fleet. They are noted as owners of a 46 ton schooner, the Alexander, which had been built in Belfast in 1860.  In 1884 the Princess of Wales was substantially re-built with new steel boilers, more efficient but lighter and smaller, which allowed expansion of the passengers area to accommodate an additional 100 in the main saloon, as well as increased capacity on the freight deck.  The company was re-incorporated in 1890 under Dominion legislation as the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company, this time with $400,000 in capital stock.  John Ings, L.C. Owen, and William Richards, all of whom had been connected with the shipbuilding and ship-owning activities were the first directors.

In the 1890’s, with improved rail connections the routes of the steamers were simplified. One vessel made daily trips from Charlottetown to Pictou to connect with the Halifax train, the other ran from Summerside to Pointe du Chene to meet the train from Saint John with connections to Boston. In 1895 the subsidy was renewed and continued to be paid until the S.S. Prince Edward Island was launched in 1915.  Over the years the fleet had changed. The Heather Belle had been sunk in fog in 1891 and by that time the other wooden paddle steamers were almost thirty years old and feeling their age. In 1893 the St. Lawrence had suffered from a broken shaft which kept her off the routes for about six weeks and required leasing of a replacement.  The Princess of Wales had been the first of the large side-wheelers to go – replaced by the iron steamer Northumberland in 1891.  The St. Lawrence, described the same year  by the American  Counsel in Charlottetown as having “good accommodation for freight and passengers” was kept running until 1896  when the Princess arrived.

The last days of the Princess of Wales were inglorious. After being replaced by the shiny new S.S. Northumberland she was purchased by James Lantalum of St. John and partly broken up. However the hulk was left on the beach near the ferry slip in Charlottetown. In the winter of 1897 she was carried by the ice into the dredged channel and became a hazard to navigation. It was not until 1901 that a dispute about jurisdiction and costs was resolved and the wreck finally removed.

The St. Lawrence was likewise a far cry from her romantic past at the end of her days. Replaced by the S.S. Princess in 1896, her registry was closed in 1897 and her engine was transferred to the Victoria, a Saint John River steamer. By 1903 she was being used as a barge transporting cattle to waiting steamers in the port of Saint John. Her once spacious passenger accommodation had been replaced by stalls for cattle.

In 1907 the last artifacts of the Princess of Wales and the St. Lawrence were put on the market. Auctioneer R.B. Norton was selling off surplus and unclaimed goods at the Steam Navigation Company warehouse. Included was the mahogany and walnut furniture from the two steamers; dining tables, chairs, washstands and sinks, 8 mahogany sofas, tables, arm chairs and “a large lot of stuff that cannot be classified. ”

The company itself did not last much longer.  Although it seems to have been profitable to the end, the termination of the subsidy and the arrival of year-round ferry service certainly placed the company at a cross roads.  After disposing of their ships the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company sold their wharf by tender and in August of 1916 the enterprise was wound up after a half-century of service. It was truly the end of an era.

NOTE: More on the panoramic views of Charlottetown and Summerside can be found in the Fall-Winter 1988 issue of The Island Magazine

Surveyors in the Gulph – Margaretha Stevenson Comes to Charlottetown

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The Margaretha Stevenson on the ways at the foot of Great George Street in the early 1860s. Today the Colonial Building and the brick house at the corner of Water street remain, as well as part of the stone foundation for the warehouse which now makes up part of the garden wall.

Not Launched from Prince Edward’s Isle

The photo is a dramatic one. Against the background of the early 1860s Great George Street and the Charlottetown waterfront a ship, completely rigged, stands ready to be launched. But the picture is not what it seems…

The trim little vessel was not built in a Charlottetown ship yard, nor anywhere else on the Island. Indeed surprisingly for a country rich in timber and with a shipbuilding tradition, the ship was not even built in Canada but in a shipyard on the distant Firth of Clyde in Scotland and launched in April 1860 .  The other surprise is that the vessel was a steamship. Although sporting the rig of a topsail schooner the ship was registered in Glasgow, its first port, as an iron screw steamer. The 105 foot vessel was just 65 register tons and was described by the Dumbarton Herald as a “steam yacht.” Designed and built as a steam tender for the survey ship Gulnare the tiny vessel had ample accommodation; six elegantly furnished state cabins for the captain and surveying officers,  a chart room, a chronometer room, eight berths for the chief engineer and firemen, focs’le berths for the remainder of the crew, and a saloon “in a very chaste and handsome style” capable of seating sixteen.  In the speed trials she was capable of 10 knots under steam power.

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Detail of the Margaretha Stevenson showing the propeller at the stern of the vessel. Also clear is the topsail schooner rig and the relatively small size of the ship.

The topsail schooner was a popular rig for P,.E.I.-built ships, many of which were sold in the United Kingdom.  Its blend of square and fore-and-aft rigging allowed for good maneuverability with a smaller crew and it was often used on coastal vessels.  However, in a closer view a three-bladed propeller can be seen and in a later view of the ship (seen below) the funnel for the steam engine can be spotted. In addition it would have been highly unusual for a vessel to be launched fully rigged. A more logical explanation is that the ship has been hauled out of the water for re-fit or repairs.

The ship is the Margaretha Stevenson and her presence in the port of Charlottetown is part of a significant chapter in the history of the harbour. It was a time when Prince Edward Island was at the centre of production of nautical charts detailing the east coast. For more than forty years the port was an important component  of the British Admiralty’s plan for charting the world.

The Survey of the Gulph

It begins in Quebec in 1841 when Captain (later Admiral) Henry Wolsey Bayfield was nearing the completion of his charting of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Seeking a better site from which to continue the survey of the Gulf and Newfoundland he moved his establishment to Charlottetown.  Although engaged in surveying the coasts between the break-up and freeze-up during the winter months in Charlottetown the surveyors returned each fall to offices in Charlottetown to plot the soundings and observations of the previous season. After preparing  the plans and charts they were forwarded to the Admiralty Hydrographic Office in London to be engraved.

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Admiral Henry Wolsey Bayfield in later years

Bayfield, having overall responsibility, insisted on accuracy of location and name, good style, and the best scale for each chart. His staff gradually increased to include three assistant surveyors, a draughtsman, and a medical officer. While on survey duties his assistants customarily went off in surveying boats for a few days or weeks to work on a survey while Bayfield laboured elsewhere, but he was always in command. His surveyors were provided with detailed  instructions and they were required to report to him in person or by letter on a regular basis. He set a high standard which he expected his men to follow. He was impatient with carelessness, inaccuracy, or indolence, but he showed appreciation for good work and did not hesitate to recommend his assistants for promotions.

By 1848 Bayfield and assistants had completed the surveys of Prince Edward Island, Northumberland Strait, part of Gaspe, and Cape Breton and he moved the work on to other areas including the Halifax area and Sable Island before retiring in 1856. In retirement he was promoted Vice-Admiral, Rear-Admiral and finally Admiral in 1867. He died in Charlottetown in 1885.

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Captain (later Admiral) John Orlebar

Bayfield was succeeded in the survey work by Captain John Orlebar who had been his assistant since 1836 and has credit for many of the P.E.I. charts, including Charlottetown Harbour and the Hillsborough River. Once Orlebar had taken command of the survey the attention of the Admiralty shifted to Newfoundland and Orlebar was directed to take his survey crew each year to northern waters although the headquarters remained in Charlottetown until 1863 when it was removed to St. John’s.  In the 1860s the survey team  included a number of Islanders including Frederick W, Hyndman who had joined the Royal Navy a few years earlier. Hyndman is noted as assistant on a number of Newfoundland charts created during the period.  Orlebar initially used the steamer Lady Le Marchant for his Newfoundland work but in 1860 the Admiralty chartered the Margaretha Stevenson which appears to have been designed and built specifically for the purpose. In 1864-65 the vessel helped survey the route and assisted the Great Eastern in the laying of the Atlantic cable.

The Story of the Ship

The Margaretha Stevenson was not large ship but was very effective for getting into small harbours along the coast.  The 114 ton vessel was 110 feet long and 18 feet wide and drew 10 feet. Launched from the yard of William Denny & Bros. at Dumbarton Scotland in April 1860 she crossed the Atlantic later in the season under sail. Her 2 cylinder, 28 horsepower engine had been put in place in Scotland but was not used during the crossing.  It is possible that the photo above may have been taken at the time of the arrival of the ship in Charlottetown when the engines were made operational.  The registered owners up to 1869 were members of the Stevenson family of Quebec.  William Stevenson was a merchant there who had business connections to Prince Edward Island and was a correspondent of James Peake. In 1846 he bought the steamer St. George from the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company and also owned the Pocahontas, another of the vessels which linked Charlottetown and Pictou. Stevenson was also owner of several of the vessels used by Capt. Bayfield in the survey, all of which were called the Gulnare and one of which was built in Charlottetown.

Margaretha Stevenson 1

Margaretha Stevenson caught in ice while owned by the Moise Company 1867. Note the funnel and the diminutive size of the ship – Arthur Henderson Photo McCord Museum

In 1869 the Margaretha Stevenson was sold to W.M. Molson, a member of the Quebec brewing and banking family, and her survey duties came to an end. The vessel was used in connection with a venture called the Moisie River Iron Company, formed to exploit magnetic ore discovered near Sept Iles on the Quebec North Shore.  The ship later passed through the hands of a number of other owners and was primarily used as a passenger and freight carrier for the service along the North Shore of the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Anticosti and Quebec and Natashquan. In 1879 the owners changed name of the vessel to the Otter. Passenger accommodation was expanded and in 1886 the small ship was licensed for 125 passengers  but it is hard to imagine that many on board in safety. The registry was closed after the vessel was wrecked near Riviere-du-Loup in dense fog in November 1898.

Memories of the Charlottetown waterfront in the 1840s

Early in 1900 Elizabeth J. Macdonald, wife of Senator A.A. MacDonald, sat down to write her reminiscences of the Charlottetown she remembered from half a century earlier.  Titled “Charlottetown Fifty Years Ago” and published in a series of 9 installments in the original Prince Edward Island Magazine in 1900 and 1901, her account provides a glimpse of the town at mid-century.  This excerpt concerning the harbour was published in the June 1901 issue of the magazine.

Charlottetown waterfront from the south west by Robert Harris (undated) collection of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery

Charlottetown waterfront from the south-west by Robert Harris (undated) collection of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery

And what are we to remember this time, what is there interesting to record? Is it the appearance Charlottetown presented to a stranger coming up the harbour, and what are we to imagine some of the many immigrants coming here from Scotland and Ireland in the early forties, and later on, thought of it?  Some probably would see it very flat and unattractive, others look upon it as well-protected from the encroachment of any enemy, and others again would think it a comparatively busy place; that is if its numerous shipyards, with generally two or three vessels under construction, were any indication, and would decide there was plenty of work for all who were able or willing to do it.

The Douse shipyard being on the Douse property near the west end of Richmond Street was the first to meet the eye, as it showed up from the harbour, and there Mr. Douse built several vessels.  The next to be seen was close by where the Stream Navigation Wharf now is, and where the second Gulnare was built in 1845 by Peake & Duncan. The first Gulnare was built in Quebec and came to Charlottetown in 1841, the same year that Captain Bayfield, Commander Bedford, Lieutenant Orlebar, and the other officers of the surveying staff came to take up their residence here. The second Gulnare not being quite up to their expectation, they had the third one built in Quebec. She proving a failure, the late Mr. Longworth undertook to build the forth. All were topsail schooners and we understand the fourth Gulnare was more satisfactory. After that they had their first steamer, the Margaretta Stephenson, built by and belonging to a firm in Quebec by the name of Stephenson.

Further along and almost directly below where the Duncan House now stands, was the Duncan shipyard where the ring of the workman’s hammer was constantly heard and there the largest ship ever built on this Island, registering 1791 tons, was launched in the year 1858, by the firm of Duncan. Mason & Co. and named the “Ethel” after Mr. Duncan’s only child. Mr. Heard’s shipyard was about where the railway yard now is, only nearer where the railway wharf is  built. On the shore not far from the Kensington shooting range of today was McGill’s shipyard, where there appeared to be always a vessel on the stocks. Some of the old ship-builders used to say, was that ship building was like making patchwork quilts, that when one was finished there was almost enough material left to make another, and in that way they were induced to go on building. But the wooden ships of P.E. Island are almost among the things of the past and it is only now and again that we hear of a ship being built.     

Charlottetown 1863. Detail from D.J. Lake Map 1863

Charlottetown 1863. Detail from D.J. Lake Map 1863

By 1863 when the map above was drawn the number of wharves had grown. Besides the municipal government wharves at Queen and Pownal streets additional wharves had been built:  From west to east these were Lord’s Wharf (the stub of which forms the east wharf of the Charlottetown Yacht Club), the first of several Peake’s Wharves (later to be called the Plant Line wharf, then Poole & Lewis, and still later, Pickard’s),  Bourke’s (also known as Tremaine’s and the ferry wharf before 1856) Reddin’s Wharf at the foot of Great George Street (which was later named the Steam Navigation Wharf) and then the Duncan shipyard. Furthest east was the Colonial government ferry wharf at Prince Street. Both Borque and Tremaine had been holders of the ferry contract in the 1840s and 1850s.

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Wharf detail – Lake Map 1863

In an earlier article in the series which was published in June 1900, Ellen MacDonald had recalled the wharves and ferry service of her youth:

As far as we can remember there were only three wharves, Queen’s Wharf at the end of Queen Street, Peake’s Wharf on the west side of Queens, and Tremaines, or the Ferry Wharf on the east side of Queen’s. All the wharves were much shorter than now; Tremaine’s was only a few blocks or piles long, quite long enough for the sail and team boats that crossed to Southport. A sailboat crossed on Mondays and a team-boat on other days of the week. The team-boat was run by two or sometimes three horses. There was a large wheel in the middle of the boat, (just such a one as is used in a tannery to grind bark) to which the horses were attached; the horses going round and round in a circle, turned the wheel and propelled the boat. Passengers came from the Southport side and returned again about four times a day, twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon.  

A story is told of a middle-aged lady who came across the ferry to do some shopping She had not taken into consideration that the tide was falling when she left home; it was one of the sail-boat days and when she  got to the Charlottetown side the tide was low, and she being very stout and heavy, could not climb the wharf, neither could her friends lift her up so she had to remain in the boat for some hours, until the tide fell lower and then rose sufficiently high for her to reach a proper stepping place. That was one of the inconveniences of long ago.