River cruising on the Rhine, Danube and other European rivers is an increasingly popular pastime but it is hardly new. Rivers have been exploited for their commercial potential for millennia and aside from their contribution to transportation their recreational potential has long since been recognized.
This is true even on the limited river systems of Prince Edward Island. Steamers such as the Heather Belle, the Jacques Cartier, and later the Harland, as well as the ferry steamers provided a working freight and passenger service up the rivers to head of tide. In a two-part article titled “Pleasant Ways and Days” which appeared in the 1877 Semi-Weekly Patriot a correspondent writes about the excursions available to those from the city. Besides the coastal trips to Crapaud and Orwell and visits to the islands of Hillsborough Bay the writer enthuses about the trips on the river steamers as if employed as a hack publicist for the steamship companies:
All who have taken the trip up the East and West (or Hillsboro and York [sic]) Rivers, but especially the latter, agree that it can hardly be surpassed for varied beauty, winding in and out as it does, through intervale and upland, here a “bank” and there a “brae,” clothed, now to the waters edge with varied forest shades, anon, carpetted to the bank, with every tint of grass green of the splendid farms. Flocks of cranes and solitary specimens stand along the bank and sail slowly away as the boat draws near, snipe, flit, dicks and geese, in season, hover around and everything is beautiful.
This trip is performed on the government steam-ferry Southport, a large and substantial boat under the command of Capt. Henry Mutch. On Tuesday and Friday at morning and evening 5 a.m. and 3;30 p.m., the trips are made, touching at Farquharson’s wharf and going in sight of Bonshaw wharf, 12 cents each way, reduction in favour of large parties, and one has the advantage of the interesting study of mankind, to be had in the varied specimens of human nature of the one thousand, or fifteen hundred the boat will hold.
This is probably the most acceptable [trip] of the list as no fatigue is felt, the time occupied being about 1 1/2 hours each way. The view of the opening up of the North (or York) River and of the Straits, through the Harbours mouth, is very beautiful. In returning you pass Rocky Point, when the whole harbour, the city, Stratford shore, and the long reach of the “Hillsboro’s sparkling tide” are seen at once , and well repay the pleasure seekers and fully assure them that “this little isle that gems the sea, is isle as fair as isle can be.”
The trip to Mount Stewart in the Heather Belle Hughes Bros. owners and agents on Wednesday and Friday either at 4 a.m. or 3 p.m., are most enjoyable touching at Apple Tree wharf if desired, but always calling at Fort Augustus, Cranberry, and Hicky’s wharf, and, if arranged for, a couple of hours can be had at the Bridge to see the enterprising little place, and its great industry – shipbuilding. As many as 25 vessels have been on the stocks there at one time.
Choosing a moonlight night the down trip is just perfection, Falconwood, the Stock Farm and New Insane Asylum are in sight from the River, Fort August Chapel looms up, and mayhap nearing Mount Stewart passengers may experience the excitement of a race with the Railway train that approaches the bank near there, and returning to the city at 10 a.m. or 10 p.m., will readily acknowledge that 30 cents could not have been more profitably expended, but of course our readers will remember when we speak of these very cheap rates that they are for parties not less than twenty, but might even be lessened for larger parties.
Service and excursions up the West River were to continue almost to the middle of the 20th century. However the parallel routes of the railroad and steamship lines up the Hillsborough River mean that there was a duplication and the river business fell off dramatically. Today it is rare for even pleasure boats to pass upstream of the Hillsborough Bridge.