Tag Archives: cruising

First Cruise Ship Visited more than a Century Ago

In recent years the residents of Charlottetown have become accustomed to the seasonal visits of cruise ships emptying their hundreds or thousands of passengers on a city hungry to sell meals, tours and Anne of Green Gables effigies. While this may seem to be a recent phenomena the first visit of a purpose-built cruise ship to the port took place more than a century ago.
There had been earlier vessels fitted out for winter cruising but their chief role was as passenger and freight carriers and the cruising role was incidental. The Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company’s Northumberland was one of the first in the Florida-Bermuda trade with its freight deck temporarily fitted with partitions to create additional cabins and several of the Plant Line Steamers such as the S.S. Halifax and Olivette had winter charters in the Caribbean Sea when ice ended their seasonal work as the Boston Boat.

S.S. Evangeline by marine artist Antonio Jacobsen

On 7 June 1913 the new Plant Steamships liner docked in Charlottetown for the first time. According to the Guardian its arrival eclipsed the excitement around the visit of H.M.S. Cumberland the previous week which had brought a “real live Prince” to the city in the personage of Prince Albert, son of King George and Queen Mary. Docking to a “rousing and hearty welcome” the Evangeline was probably the most luxurious and up-to-date ship to visit Charlottetown before WW 1. The S.S. Evangeline was designated as a “tourist passenger steamer”  and already had experienced a season of winter cruising between Key West and Panama, Cuba, and Jamaica advertised as “Winter Outings on Summer Seas”.  Her winter work was under charter to the Peninsular and Occidental line, not to be confused with the British Peninsular and Oriental (P&O) company which operated to the far east. The Peninsular and Occidental was a joint venture between the Plant line and Henry Flagler and the Evangeline voyages were the first cruises from a Florida port. For the Evangeline, in a reversal of the role of other Plant Line vessels, the summer was the “off-season”

Launched from the London and Glasgow Engineering shipyard on the Clyde in the summer of 1912 the new ship was 350 feet long, 46 feet wide and drew 22.6 feet. She was a powerful vessel with her twin 6,000 hp engines and twin screws giving a speed of 16 knots. She had capacity for 700 passengers and also could carry 1,500 tons of cargo. She had all the accommodation features of the finest and largest ships of her day.  On the promenade or boat deck canvas awnings allowed for strolls. Inside, this deck housed a large smoking room paneled in oak and with morocco upholstered chairs and settees, the entrance hall with a stairway to the decks below, 50 staterooms with direct access to the deck and a number of suites. The awning deck was completely devoted to passenger services with a music room or social hall, deluxe staterooms, the purser’s office and 80 more staterooms. The main deck forward of the grand staircase was devoted to the dining saloon with seating for 150 and the kitchens and pantries. This deck had another 80 staterooms several of which were fitted up as “bridal rooms de luxe”.  As a reminder that this was a ship of the early 1900s the report also noted that this deck also housed the lavatories and bathrooms suggesting that these facilities were not available in even the deluxe passenger cabins. And not all the accommodation was deluxe for on the lower deck near the waterline there were 25 family staterooms, a ladies’ cabin with 50 berths and the second class men’s cabin with 80 berths.

Plant Steamship Line’s S.S. Evangeline

For the Guardian writer, the arrival of the vessel was heralded as “A New Era in Tourist Traffic” and advance bookings  suggested that the Island would see the largest stream of summer visitors in its history.  Whether true or not the arrival of the large vessel re-kindled the debate over the need for increased hotel accommodation to meet tourist needs. Unlike today’s visitors who arrive and vanish in a single day it was anticipated that the passengers on the Evangeline would see Prince Edward Island as a destination and not simply as one of a series of day stops.

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Plant Line steamer S.S. Evangeline. Postcard image courtesy of Phil Culhane.

At least one Island businessman felt that the visit would be the first of many. Grocer and postcard seller R.F. Maddigan quickly ordered an image of the ship from his card supplier and the image above is from a card posted in 1914

Unlike several of the Plant Line ships this one had been built specifically for the firm which was then operating under the name Canada Atlantic and Plant Steamship Company. A year later the ownership was transferred to A.W. Perry of Boston but this did not really constitute a change as Perry was then owner of the Plant Line.

The outbreak of the Great War did not have an immediate effect on the P.E.I. service. The Evangeline was taken off the route in late September as it had been the previous year but instead of the sailing to the Caribbean  she was laid up in Boston with a planned charter to San Francisco via the Panama Canal in March. When she did come back to Charlottetown in the summer of 1915  it was advertised she was “Under the American Flag”, a change no doubt to make her a neutral vessel in the face of increased German U-boat and surface raider activity.

It was the Evangeline’s last summer in Island waters.  In the winter of 1915-1916 she ran between New York and Bermuda and in June of 1916 was chartered to carry freight to Manchester. She never returned to Charlottetown.  In 1918 she became to property of the French Government and was converted from a passenger vessel to a freight carrier.  She was wrecked off the coast of Brittany in January 1921.

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S.S. Cascapedia: Pictou to Montreal via Charlottetown, Gaspe and Quebec

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S.S. Cascapedia after modifications to increase passenger accommodation. Private postcard collection.

For much of the first half of the twentieth century Prince Edward Island’s main link with the rest of Canada was through Montreal. Toronto was hardly on the horizon.   Montreal had succeeded Boston as the metropolis for the Island. Transportation links through the Intercolonial Railway  were supplemented by an increasing sea connection through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and several companies were involved in the transportation of passengers and freight.

One hundred years ago saw the ending of one of the long-time marine connections between Charlottetown and Montreal and Quebec. In March of 1917 shippers and agents for the S.S. Cascapedia were given notice that the service linking Montreal and Quebec with Pictou was being withdrawn. For more than a decade the ship made stops at Charlottetown and Summerside.

The Cascapedia had been launched under the name Fastnet for the Clyde Shipping Company. Although sharing its original name with an earlier Pickford and Black vessel which had Island connections this vessel operated for five years from the port of Glasgow and across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Waterford and also made trips up the English Channel to London.  The ship and several others owned by Clyde Steamships were named for  lighthouses on the Irish Coast.

She was built in Dundee at the Thompson & Co. Lillybank yard and launched in 1895.  Described in the Marine Engineer as “a beautiful model of what a passenger and cargo boat should be” the steamer was 255 feet by 35 feet and 1,160 register tons.  In addition to three large cargo holds served by steam cranes and winches she had accommodation for between 40 and 50 first-class passengers on the after part of the poop deck.

The Fastnet was purchased by the Quebec Steamship Company to replace the ill-fated Campana which had sunk near Quebec in 1909. Modifications were made which significantly changed the appearance of the vessel. Additional cabins were built forward and behind her mid-ships structure which increased her capacity to 108 berths in 51 cabins, almost the same number as the Campana.  The new cabins were built over the cargo holds and the ship now depended on side-ports for loading and unloading. Initially the remodeled ship was to have been named the Ungava but a name recognizing the Gaspe salmon river was selected instead, possibly to help attract excursion passengers.

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Steamer Trinidad at Gaspe

Together with the S.S. Trinidad the two ships provided a weekly service, the Cascapedia leaving from Montreal and on alternate weeks the Trinidad would leave from Quebec.  The latter ship’ route extended to Halifax and New York while the Cascapedia completed its voyage at Pictou with rail links to Halifax.

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S.S. Cascapedia at Gaspe, Quebec. Private postcard collection.

Besides serving as a freight and passenger carrier the Cascapedia continued the tradition of the Quebec Steamship Line and the Campana by serving as a cruise vessel.  In a brochure issued by the line the route was described in the following glowing terms. “The novelty and many attractions of the route, the excellence of the accommodation and the cuisine on the Cascapedia, and the convenient connections at either end make this an ideal summer trip.”

The decision to take her off the Gulf of St. Lawrence service may be connected with declining business brought about by the effect of the Great War on travel or on reduced freight traffic but is most probably connected with the beginning of the S.S. Prince Edward Island ferry service and integrated rail access to the Island. The spring of 1917 found the Cascapedia in  New York under the management of the Furness Withy line providing service between New York and Bermuda as the larger vessels formerly on that route had been need for troop transport as the U.S. entered the war.  It was reported in Canadian Railway and Marine World that she would be back of the Montreal, Gaspe, Prince Edward Island service later the year. However, although the Cascapedia was not suitable for the Bermuda run she did not return to the Gulf service.  Instead, the Quebec Steamship Company, which had been taken into Canada Steamships Line ownership sold her to a new company, Nova Scotia Steamships Limited, which was establishing a service between New York and St. John’s Newfoundland calling at Boston and Halifax.  This service partially replaced the operations of the Plant Line which had ceased operation the previous year.

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S.S. Cascapedia showing the additional passenger cabins built on the foredeck. Photo from https://clarkesteamship.wordpress.com/

Her time with the new company was short. In mid-November 1917, while the vessel was between ports the area was swept by a severe storm with winds approaching hurricane strength.  A radio message reported the vessel in a sinking condition off Cape Race.  A fire had broken out aboard and the 35 crew members and three passengers abandoned the vessel . They were picked up by a vessel bound for England and landed safely in Falmouth.

The Cascapedia was not replaced by Canada Steamships which gradually withdrew from passenger services in the Gulf but other firms, most notably Clarke Steamships, continued to provide services to Charlottetown for many years.

Sources

The primary resource for the history of shipping in the Gulf and Northumberland Strait continues to be K.C. Griffin’s excellent St. Lawrence Saga: The Clark Steamship Story.  Additional details have been added from several newspaper files and the journal Marine Engineer.

S.S. Halifax – Charlottetown to Boston and Return

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S.S. Halifax preparing to leave Charlottetown. A visiting warship can be seen in the background

By 1890 the wooden steamships Carroll and Worcester which had provided the direct Charlottetown – Boston connection since 1872 were more than twenty-five years old and in 1892 their owners, the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company became bankrupt. Fortunately another company, the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company, which had previously operated between Boston and Halifax, was able to begin service to the Island, and better still had a modern vessel for the route.

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S.S. Halifax at Canso

The steamer Halifax was built on the Clyde at the Govan Middleton Yard of the London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Company and was launched in July 1888. She was rapidly completed and began service between Boston and Halifax 20 October 1888. The single-screw vessel was 230 feet long by 35 feet wide and drew some 21.5 feet.  In spite of her width she had a somewhat ungainly and top-heavy appearance emphasised by a high prow and passenger decks running the full length of the steamer.  However there are no reports of instability and the passages were usually without incident

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S.S. Halifax at the Plant Line Wharf in Port Hawkesbury

The new vessel was owned by the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company which had been incorporated in Halifax the previous year by a number of leading merchants from the Nova Scotia city including James E. Chipman who appears as owner in the registration.

In a listing of port connections from Halifax in the 1892 Canadian Guide Book by Charles G.D. Roberts the steamer was particularly noted;

…the fine, new, steel steamer Halifax of the Canada Atlantic Line to Boston. This is a most desirable route to Boston. The fare [from Halifax] is $7; return ticket, $12. Staterooms $1 to $1.50 extra. The streamers sail from Halifax every Wednesday at 8 A.M. arriving in Boston Thursday at 1 P.M.; from Boston every Saturday at noon, arriving in Halifax Sunday evening at 6 P.M. Through tickets are issues in connection with this line, over most important railways and baggage checked through. The boat is very steady and safe, and most comfortable in her equipments [sic]. 

Up until 1892 the Halifax appears to have travelled on the Halifax –  Boston route but in that year the Canada Atlantic line was combined with Henry Plant’s, Plant Line and during the ice-free season the steamer began to run as far as Charlottetown stopping at Port Hawkesbury en route. From Port Hawkesbury steamers connected through the Bras d’or lakes to Sydney. From Charlottetown passengers could transfer to other steamers to connect with Quebec and Montreal  

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S.S. Halifax at the Plant Line Wharf, Charlottetown ca. 1893

The Halifax was one of the first cruise ships to operate in the Caribbean. In 1891 she was reported to have carried a group of American excursionists from Boston to Kingston, Jamaica. Following the 1892 merger of the Canada Atlantic and Plant lines the Halifax was again pressed into the off-season cruise business. In early 1893, she provided three 10-night experimental winter cruises between Tampa, Nassau and Jamaica. Her first cruise left Tampa with 89 passengers on February 16, 1893, with Henry Plant himself aboard to make sure that all went well.  Thereafter the Halifax was a regular on the winter service between Tampa, Key West and Havana operated in conjunction with the Peninsular and Occidental Steamship Company.

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The Plant Line Wharf Charlottetown, Great George Street in background

While continuing to provide an important freight and passenger service between the Island and Boston, the Charlottetown – Hawkesbury – Halifax connection enabled the Plant Line to begin advertising the Boston – Charlottetown trips – not just as passage, but as cruise. The service thus was a precursor to the dozens of cruise ships which visit the harbour today.  By 1904 the company was advertising the return passage in a popular magazine under the heading “Plant Line Ocean Trips”

“‘One Night at Sea’ or Six Days’ Cruise 1400 miles for $18. From Union Wharf, Boston, every Tuesday and Saturday, 12 noon for Halifax, Hawkesbury and Charlottetown. Good board. Cheapest rates. Best trout and salmon fishing, and shooting. Beautiful scenery. This doesn’t half tell it. Send stamp for booklet ‘Looking Eastward,’ maps, etc.”

The $18 round trip fare looks a bargain but it did not include accommodation or meals.

screen-shot-08-25-16-at-07-57-pmDuring a thick fog  in August of 1901 the Halifax struck a rock near Minot’s Light south-east of Boston while on passage from Halifax to Boston. The 250 passengers were safely taken off after the captain had beached the sinking vessel close to shore.  Although reported as wrecked the vessel was floated to dry-dock in Boston and was able to be repaired and later returned to the route.  She was temporarily replaced by the chartered Dominion Atlantic Railway steamer Yarmouth  which had been operating on the Plant Line’s Boston to Sydney service. The Halifax was repaired and was back on the route the following year.

In 1903 the president of the Canada Atlantic and Plant line sold out. M.F. Plant turned over the line, the S.S. Halifax, the Plant wharf in Halifax and leases of wharves in Charlottetown and Hawkesbury as well as the charter of the Steamer Olivette to a group of investors from Boston and Halifax.

With the declining fortunes of the Plant Line and the economic difficulties caused by the Great War the line was wound up. The Halifax was sold to a group of New York investors. She was last sighted leaving St. Michael’s in the Azores on a passage from New Your to Bordeaux on 11 December 1917 but was never heard from again.

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Warwick & Rutter patriotic postcard featuring the S.S. Halifax

For anyone wishing more information about steamers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence I can highly recommend Kevin Griffin’s on-line history of the Clarke Steamship Company found here. He also contributes to a blog featuring cruise information called the Cruise People.