Tag Archives: Charlottetown Summer Resorts

Fake News of a Phantom: The Ghost of Holland Cove

Camping at Holland Cove ca. 1895.

A legend is defined as “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.” What then are we to make of “The Legend of Holland Cove?” It is certainly unauthenticated but is it historical?

The tale is a rambling account of the death of Samuel Holland’s mistress and her re-appearance when time and tide are perfectly aligned. It is overlaid with the adventure of a group of campers who just happen to be at the locale at the right time. But as usual with such stories not all is what it seems to be.

To be successful ghostly accounts must have just the right mix of the known and the unknown. The tale is grounded in the residence of Captain Samuel Holland at Observation Cove, now called Holland Cove, in the winter of 1764-1765 while he was engaged in the survey of the colony. With the exception of that single fact, the rest of the tale is fiction. It tells of how Samuel had a mistress, “… a magnificent woman…tall, strait as an arrow with a lovely womanly grace of figure and motion, yet endowed with as much strength as most men; her dark skin, scarcely so dark as to betray the Indian blood in her veins; her hair wound in dark coils round a perfectly poised head, and a face grandly beautiful – a French woman with the added stature of the Micmac race.”  The teller of the tale gives her the name “Racine.” While anxiously waiting for Samuel to return from a winter surveying expedition she wandered out on the ice of the Cove, fell through and drowned.  Her birthday and the day she met Samuel for the first time was on the 14th of July.  This dramatic event is but the pre-amble to the ghost story. In actual fact Samuel was hardly in a position to have mistress while on the Island. He shared the cramped hut built in the woods at Observation Cove with his Quebec-born common-law wife Marie-Josephte Rolet and an infant son.

The highly fictionalized account moves suddenly to midnight, July 14 1776. Holland is away. (He really was away as he lived on the Island for only just under a year in the winter of 1764-1765 and he seems never to have returned. By March 1776 he was far from Holland Cove and was attached to the British forces in New York and he did not leave there until 1778.)  However to return to the story – his lieutenant was asleep on the beach at Holland Cove while two of his crew were in the house. One is awakened by voices and sees Racine in the room. She exits, leaving wet footprints, and walks to the cove and across the surface of the water until suddenly she plunges through and is seen no more. The awakened men return to the house and ponder the inexplicable wet footprints left behind.

The story then lurches forward to the late 1890s where a party of holiday campers are under canvas at Holland Cove. The ghost story is told and a young man of the party stays up until midnight. He sees the ghost – or perhaps he doesn’t. The end. So the alleged ghost story is about a group of teenagers and their chaperones reacting to the “legend” then a century old. As ghost stories go it is a pretty lame affair. What is more interesting is the source and after-life of the tale.

“The Legend of Holland Cove” first appeared in Vol VII of The Canadian Magazine, published in 1896. It is clearly identified in the magazine index as fiction. The author is F. Gerald, a name unassociated with any other publications and, as they say, “not an Island name.”   Yet the author clearly has knowledge of the Island.  A clue to his identity can be found in the Prince Edward Island Magazine for June of 1899 where a story titled “The Smugglers of Holland Cove” has many similarities of style including a party of campers at the Cove cast  as the main characters. This story too, is published over the name of “F. Gerald.”  However in the index to the volume the author is listed as “Justice Fitzgerald.”

Judge Rowan Robert Fitzgerald (1847-1921) was from a prominent family. He trained as a lawyer and was called to the bar in 1869. He was appointed a Judge of the P. E. I. Supreme Court in 1892 and served more than 25 years on the bench.  He was very much aware of Holland Cove as he and his family were among the earliest residents of Charlottetown to holiday at the Cove, initially tenting and later building summer cottages.

Two years after the publication of “The Legend of Holland Cove” Fitzgerald’s story was rewritten and included in Myths and Legends Beyond Our Borders by Charles M. Skinner. Skinner was an American journalist and author whose previous book had dealt with myths and legends of the United States. In casting his net for stories from elsewhere he had obviously spotted Fitzgerald’s recent publication.  However Skinner shortened the story and stripped it of its multiple layers setting the whole thing in 1765 and making Holland himself one of those present at the ghostly re-appearance.

The story has one further version. In May 1935 the Charlottetown Guardian published a tale under the title “The Ghost at Holland Cove”  by F. Fitzgerald. The judge was dead by this time so it is unclear just who this was. In this telling the heroine of the story is Captain Holland’s wife whose ghost returns at midnight on the anniversary of her death in 1765, now conveniently dated in the summer, when the Cove had its full complement of summer visitors, most staying at the Summer Resorts. (In reality Holland’s wife lived until 1825.) Curiosity about the ghost led to the visitors to stay up until midnight when one of the party was frightened in the woods by another. No ghost sighting. The end. It was hardly confirmation of a longstanding ghostly tradition.

The story with its fragile foundation was continued with the establishment of a Y.M.C.A. camp at Holland Cove after WW2.  By the time I attended in the late 1950s and early 1960s it was a regular feature of the camp activities that one night of each camp session the juvenile campers, after suitable mood-setting around the campfire, would be led to the shore of the cove to watch for Lady Holland’s ghost.  If the tide was high on the chosen night one of the camp councillors (often “Bones” Likely) would row a boat across the cove with a lantern which would be mysteriously snuffed out, signaling that Lady Holland had met with her fate.  If the tide was low the drama would play out on the sandbars. The event was reckoned a success if first-time campers were kept awake by bad dreams.

So when is a legend not a legend?  The clearly fictional account, much copied and modified, hardly counts as something regarded as historical but unauthenticated.  Simply calling something a legend does not make it so. The tale has become part of a completely ersatz history grounded in nothing but Rowan R. Fitzgerald’s imagination but it lives on in ghost story collections assembled by anthologizers catering to nothing more than curiosity.

Those wishing to read the story in its original form can find Fitzgerald’s tale here, Skinner’s 1898 version can be read here, and the 1935 version is found here. The true story of Samuel Holland and his mistress and wife is told in Samuel Holland, His work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island by Earle Lockerby and Douglas Sobey, published in 2015. The truth is far more interesting than the fiction.

For another nearby location which, in the hands of a latter-day Fitzgerald,  might serve as the locale for a ghost story see the posting here.

Robert L. Cotton’s Charlottetown Summer Resorts

The wharf for the Resorts ca. 1915

The wharf for the Resorts ca. 1915

As tourism developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries many entrepreneurs sought ways to take advantage of the interest in the Island. Farm tourist homes developed into larger summer resorts such as Shaw’s and Gregor’s on the north shore and Smith’s (later the Redcliff Inn) in Hampton and the Keppoch Beach Hotel near Charlottetown.

In 1913 another model for tourism  was developed. Managing partner Robert Lawson Cotton along with shareholders  J.O. Hyndman, W.R. Aitken, A. MacKinnon and J.P. Gordon incorporated  Charlottetown Summer Resorts Limited located, not as the name suggests, in Charlottetown, but across the harbour in Holland Cove. The Cove had been the site of a number of private cottages for some years but the new company embarked on an ambitious development, or rather developments, as notices for the site noted Holland Cove, Holland Heights and Holland Hall. A series of cottages with a centrally located dining hall was be operated on the American plan. This building must have been quite large as shortly after the Resorts opened some fifty people sat down for supper there – meals $.50. The resort would also have other shared facilities. A tennis court was opened in July of 1913 and a landing pier was built at the Cove giving five feet of water at high tide and plans were made to extend the wharf so that gasoline motor boats could also land passengers when the tide was low. A carriage service was in place to meet the Rocky Point Ferry and convey passengers to the resort (fare 15 cents). By August a direct boat service, using the motor launch Holland Girl, was in place with three departures from Charlottetown each day. In addition to the Holland Cove compound, the company also held property at nearby Ringwood where additional cottages were constructed.

Holland HallThe Resort was an early success. At the end of the 1913 season the Guardian editorialized that the company had realized 30% on investment. Cotton was quick to respond that while the company was “much gratified”  the figure was not correct. He said that the business had proven that tourism could be profitable but that it was still not as profitable as the booming fox business. By 1915 some thirty cottages had been built on the Summer Resorts property including five-room house for Colonel Ings built on the point to the west of the Cove. These buildings appear to have been a mix of private family  dwellings and units for rental. Generally, for both the cottages occupied by Charlottetown families and those occupied by visitors (many of whom were from the English families of Montreal, often with Island connections), the period of occupation was the entire summer season. Often wives and children were sent to the Cove as soon as schools allowed and husbands followed as work allowed.

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Detail from Cummins Atlas 1926 showing Resort properties at both Warren Cove and Holland Cove as well as other Cotton holdings.

In 1921 the Guardian noted that by mid-June all but four of the forty cottages at Holland Cove and Ringwood had been engaged, several of the Charlottetown families had already moved in for the summer and that the first visitors from outside the province were expected during the week.

When the Official Motor Guide for Prince Edward Island was published in the early 1930s Charlottetown Summer Resorts had 27 cottages available for rental. A three-room cottage furnished was $65.00, a four-room furnished was $80.00 and $100 would get you a five-room cottage – all prices for the entire season! All cottages had a veranda and an open-front heating stove for cool evenings. Board was available at the dining room for $8.00 per week. In addition to the resort residents the dining room also catered to casual diners who arrived directly by boat or via the Rocky Point ferry.

Holland Cove looking East ca.1915

Holland Cove looking East ca.1915

Within a few years the Resort had become quite a summer colony. Cotton was a master at publicity and ensured that social notices included information about the comings and goings around Holland Cove.  For example following is the information supplied to the Charlottetown Guardian for their 10 June 1926 edition:

The Charlottetown Summer Resort Cottages at Holland Cove have filled up earlier this season than ever before and the residents there have already settled down to the summer’s enjoyment, the first tennis tournament of the season having been played yesterday. Amongst the new people at Holland Cove for the first time this year are Mrs. C. Bancroft Fraser with her three children and Mrs. Martin of Montreal who is occupying one of the cottages at the shore. Also Mrs. Fred McKay and two children and Miss Wright and little daughter Molly who are in one of the cottages on the Middle Cove. Colonel and Mrs. Campbell and two boys from Kingston, Ontario  who were here several years ago are back again and Dean H.M. MacKay, Mrs. MacKay, and Ian and Betty are spending their sixth consecutive summer in one of the hill cottages. Mrs. Morrison and two daughters from Keene N.H. are again in the same cottage as last year. Mr. and Mrs. L.C. DesBrisay and daughter from Montreal are expected a little later on and several other arrivals are expected. Miss Florence Pope is in her cottage again. Miss Green of Summerside has been with her and she is expecting Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Pope and son from Ottawa. Miss Morson, Miss DesBrisay, and Miss Simpson are in the cottage adjoining the dining hall. Mr. C.L. Miles and family are again in the same cottage as last year. On the opposite side of the cove Mrs. Bartlett, Mr. and Mrs. Cosh and Master Pete and Mrs. J.O. Hyndman and daughter Constance are again in residence and Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Gordon are back again as usual in their large cottage below the orchard.   

Over the years more and more of the cottages were purchased from the company and the pattern of summer-long invasion from Montreal and beyond did not fare well in the depression years. By the Second World War the Resorts had ceased operation although the area remained (and still remains) a summer colony. Some of the resort cottages built by Cotton are still in use today while others were removed from the site or torn down. After the war the dining room and much of the land had became the property of the Charlottetown Y.M.C.A. and was used for the “Y” Camp.  A series of bunkhouses was constructed in 1946 YMCA by volunteers and was used for many years for both boy’s and girl’s camps.

In the course of researching this posting I have discovered three more postcards of the Holland Cove area which show or mention the Resorts and which appear above and also have been posted to the Holland Cove photo gallery here. That brings the number of postcards and views of the area to over a dozen. Not bad for a small summer community on P.E.I.