Tag Archives: Elfin

April on the waterfront 1891

Charlottetown’s Busy Waterfront. Detail from a Panoramic View of Charlottetown 1878.

Although by 1890 the days of busy ship yards on Prince Edward had long since past the industry did not vanish overnight. The Island still possessed a large fleet of sail and steam providing services and connections between the Island and the mainland, as well as overseas. Besides the building of ships the industry had a large suite of related trades whose importance would continue for many years.  The waterfront was still the place of industry as a report from the waterfront in 1891 will show. Shipyards gave rise to related businesses which continued to operate and serve the fleet. In the 1890s we still had sailmakers, ships carpenters, chandlers and boatbuilders. Once the shipping season ended many of the warehouses were taken over by boatbuilders and shipwrights. There was also a large inshore fishery which had strengthened by the lobster industry. While it was sill almost exclusively sail powered by the end of the decade engines were beginning to make their appearance. Small steam engines, some built by local engineers, were just beginning to appear in steam launches and small yachts.

In the spring as the ice deteriorated into cakes and floes smashed and tossed about by the tides and waves the warehouse and boat-building shops were opened to reveal a winter’s labour and an assertion that while the harbour was asleep its craftsmen had been busy.

Here is what was happening on the waterfront in April of 1891:  Extensive repairs had been completed on Ronald McMillan’s steamer William. The ship was raised up on the ice between the wharves and a number of iron plates replaced and the whole bottom re-riveted, a task which kept eleven men employed for the winter.  The P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company paddle steamers; Princess of Wales and St. Lawrence were overhauled and completely re-painted over the winter and the St. Lawrence received new 2 inch deck sheathing. By mid-April both ships were loaded with cargo and were waiting for the ice to clear from Hillsborough Bay. The ferry steamers Southport and Elfin were also overhauled and the Inland Steam Navigation Company’s Heather Belle had also been prepared for the 1891 season.  Numerous schooners had also over-wintered in the harbour of Charlottetown and were repaired and overhauled by their crews and Charlottetown shipwrights.

On the pleasure boat side three steam yachts had been completed over the winter. One, for Jefferson Gardiner was 56 feet overall and 11 feet wide and had a 20 horse power steam engine built by the McKinnon & McLean of Charlottetown. It was estimated she could reach speeds of 10 knots. The hull had been constructed by McPhee Bros. of Souris and had 1 1/2 inch planks and had two sleeping berths and seating for fifty people.  Another steam yacht, also boasting an engine from McKinnon & McLean was built by H.H. Crossman for a buyer in Newfoundland. She was 38 feet overall, was  half decked and also had sleeping accommodation for two and seating for 20. A third yacht was completed by builder Angus McDonald. She was also 38 feet long  and would be fitted with an engine built by White & Sons.

McPhee Bros also completed eight fishing boats for the Portland Packing Company to be used in the lobster fishery. These were of an identical design with 17 1/2 foot keel and 20 1/2 overall length. The three boats were completed in less than three months.

Another local boat builder, James Griffin, had a busy winter. He completed a four-oared lapstreak boat for John Collins intended to be used for the boy’s crew at the rowing club. Griffin had built seven or eight four-oared boats over the last several winters. The is one was 32 feet long and had a beam of 3 feet. The previous fall he had completed a rowing craft 34 feet long and 3 feet 8 inches wide, copper fastened throughout and reported to be the finest boat he had ever produced and was offered for sale. He also complete two pleasure rowing boats which had already been sold.

Today once the last cruise ship leaves, the sailing yachts and powerboats are snatched from the water and the ice begins to close in Charlottetown turns its back to the water. In the 1890s however, winter was a time when harbour-life continued, although to a different pattern. It was a time when shore-based marine trades barely paused in their quest to ready the harbour for its next season.


Another last word on the Rocky Point Ferry

Morning News and Semi-Weekly Advertiser 14 October 1843 p. 43

Morning News and Semi-Weekly Advertiser 14 October 1843 p. 43

One of the problems with history is that there is just too much of it.  Just when you think you have got it sorted another little wrinkle appears in the fabric.

Such is the case with the Rocky Point Ferry. The wrinkle in this case is a listing of steamer services in the Daily Examiner for 7 July 1893. Amidst the listings for services to West River, Southport Ferry, the Steamer Jacques Cartier and the Steamer Electra is the service for the Rocky Point Sailboat. Leaving Charlottetown for Rocky Point on Monday and Thursday at 9am, 11am, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm  and on other days at  11 am, 4 pm and 6 pm.

That same year the good people of Rocky Point also had service from the Steamer Southport at least twice a day with four crossings on Saturday and Sunday. One presumes that the sailboat carried only passengers and small parcels while those wanting to transport livestock or waggons had to wait until the steam ferry called.

There had been some sort of sail ferry to the Rocky Point area at least since William Hubbard advertised the services of the Charles in 1843 as noted in above notice. It was certainly in place in 1850 when the ferry sank in a squall throwing the ferryman, his lad and two passengers into the water where one of them drowned inspite of the dispatching of Tremain’s steam boat Isla to the site of the disaster.  Although the wharf and roads connected Rocky Point to the south shore of Lot 65 and traffic increased, especially on market days, the service was probably less than satisfactory – especially since the crossing to Southport was by steam by the 1850s. This seems to have changed in 1874 as seen by the following note in the 30 May Semi-weekly Patriot. “The people of Rocky Point have now got what they desired in the shape of a steam ferry. The contract for the old sail boat having expired the steamer Eljin [sic] commenced to make trips between Connolly’s wharf and Rocky Point, yesterday.” 

Detail of Rocky Point area from 1869 edition of Bayfield's Chart of Charlottetown Harbour

Detail of Rocky Point area from 1869 edition of Bayfield’s Chart of Charlottetown Harbour

The trips to Rocky Pointy may have been incidental to the Eflin’s primary role of crossing between Charlottetown and Southport and it appears that the services of the sailboat were continued for a number of years.

Although Hubbard’s boat probably landed on the beach at Warren Cove and no wharf is shown on the 1839 George Wright Chart of Charlottetown harbour it was apparently not long before a wharf was built at Rocky Point.  The wharf extended into Canceaux Cove angled a little to the west of the later wharf now crumbling into ruins and its footprint on the bottom of the cove can be seen in some of the aerial photos taken in the 20th century. With the coming of steam service the Rocky Point wharf was kept dredged and the channel marked by buoys but keeping pace with the crumbling of the wharf the dredged channel is filling in. The ferry boats have long since gone and soon all that will remain will be a rockpile extending from the shore.




Late 19th Century ferries – the Elfin and the Southport

The Elfin 1873-1906

Elfin approaching Prince Street Ferry Wharf.

Elfin approaching Prince Street Ferry Wharf.

For the quarter century, between confederation with Canada and the launch of the Hillsborough in 1898 Charlottetown harbour crossings were provided by two paddle-wheel steamers; the Elfin and the Southport.

In 1873 the Elfin, was launched in Joseph Fairchild’s shipyard in Georgetown in late April and was put on the Southport ferry route in May.  The boat had a gross tonnage of 122 tons  and was 81 feet long by 22 feet in width. The Semi-weekly Patriot praised the government for its action in engaging the steamer as it was a considerable improvement on the Ora. The new ferry had capacity for 18 horses and vehicles and they were separated from the area for foot passengers. Another improvement was the addition of shelter for the passenger seating to protect them from the rain and cold winds.  However even with a new boat the service was not immune from criticism. In the 23 October 1973 issue of the Patriot it was noted that the Elfin could not run when the tide was low  and that the steamer service ended at 8 p.m. and later travellers had to be sculled across the harbour.

The Elfin was not built by the government but by a group of businessmen including Daniel Gordon, L.C. Owen, A.A. MacDonald, J.L. Westaway.  Early in 1874 Gordon responded to a request from government to lease the vessel to run between Charlottetown and Southport and quoted a subsidy request of $1000.  At some later date the government appears to have purchased the craft outright.

With the launch of the Southport in 1875 the Elfin serviced the run to Rocky Point and also became a spare boat for Charlottetown. Occasionally she could be dispatched for duties elsewhere. In September 1877, for example, she was in use between Aitken’s wharf (Lower Montague) and Georgetown to help with the expected crowds for the King’s County Exhibition. Her normal schedule in 1877 was for service to Southport  twice an hour from 6 to 9 a.m. and four times an hour from then until 10 p.m.

In 1895 she was on the Rocky Point route leaving the city  at 6:30, 8 and 10 am, 12 noon and 2, 4 and 6 pm.

She was destroyed by fire on 7 October 1906 and the register was closed the following day. Firemen on the scene reported that the fire was intense, probably because of the thirty years of oil dripping from the gears and machinery having soaked into the timbers. She was succeeded on the route to Rocky Point by the Hillsborough.

Although the fire left the Elfin as a hulk it was still a fixture on the waterfront until at least 1911. The wreck had been sold to Thomas Doyle of Rustico who apparently soon gave up on removing the partially sunken vessel and it sat as an obstruction and unsightly object between the Ferry Wharf and the Railway Wharf.  Although purchased by Doyle it remained registered to the provincial government and the Guardian called the attention of the administration  to the “spectacle of ruin and dilapidation” urging them to take action but it is not known when it finally disappeared.

The Southport 1875-1905

Southport in Charlottetown Harbour from Picturesque Canada

Southport in Charlottetown Harbour from Picturesque Canada

The steamer Southport was a government-owned vessel built in Summerside in 1875 but her machinery was built and and installed in Pictou. The vessel arrived in Charlottetown in mid-June 1875 after a six hour passage from Nova Scotia. and went into service later that month following modifications to the wharves at Charlottetown and Southport.  At 102 feet in length by twenty-six in beam, she was considerably longer that the Elfin and twice her displacement. The steam engine driving the paddle wheels was rated at fifty nominal horsepower. In 1877 her schedule saw the boat leaving Charlottetown early on Tuesday and Friday mornings for Shaws Wharf on the West River and making a second return trip in the afternoon. Two years later she sank at the Prince Street Ferry Wharf.  After her day’s service she had been tied to the east side of the wharf and as the tide rose she caught on the side of the wharf. Water rushing in through one of her ports filled the boat so that in the morning all that could be seen of the boat was the smokestack and the top of the deckhouses. The accident was discovered by delegates of the Baptist association who had been scheduled for a West River excursion. Faced with the conversion and total immersion of the vessel the Baptists had to make other plans. Charles Haszard, operator of the boat, was able to secure the use of the City’s steam-powered fire engine to pump her out and re-float the ferry.

By 1891 the boilers in the steamer were worn out but because the government had been late in calling for tenders for repair or replacement it was not available to start the season and the service had to be provided by Batt Brothers tug. In 1897 the Southport was replaced on the East and West River services by Alex Strang’s Alameda, built in 1885, which had for several years provided service between Cape Traverse and Cape Tormentine.  That boat served through 1899.

Following the launch of the Hillsborough, the Southport provided regular river service to Westville and to Mt. Stewart and after the wreck of the Jacques Cartier in 1902 she also filled in on the run to Orwell.

The Southport was not built to replace the Elfin which continued on the ferry run to Southport but to supplement it and provide new services across the harbour and up the rivers. Like most of the other harbour ferries the Southport was also used for other purposes on occasion. In 1878 she was used to tow a 360 foot raft with 186 tons of timber belonging to Peake Bros. from Pinette to Charlottetown. A few weeks later it broke local records by towing a raft measuring over 400 feet. The same year it ran a special trip to North River Bridge to carry spectators to the trotting races at Upton Park track. In 1880 it carried excursionists to the Loyal Orange Lodge picnic at Wood Islands but West River Bridge, Westville and Shaw’s wharf on the West River were the favoured locations. It seems to have been a special favourite for Sunday school outings and in the 1890s advertisements for Methodist, Baptist and Church of England groups can easily be found in the newspapers. A day ticket for the return trip cost 25 cents.

In 1903 the Southport was on the route between Charlottetown and Mt. Stewart on the East River as well as up the West River.  In April of that year she broke the paddle shaft on one side of the boat and drifted with six passengers and a full load of freight until a boat was lowered and a line carried ashore at Hickey’s wharf.  She was rescued by the Hillsborough and towed to Charlottetown.  It later emerged that the 27 year-old vessel had not been inspected for eight years, she had inadequate life-saving equipment and was run by engineers who did not have engineering certificates.

In April 1905, with the opening of the Hillsborough Bridge the hull, boiler and machinery of the 30 year-old Southport was offered for sale by tender and she was acquired by Bruce Stewart. The boat was anchored off Victoria Park in July of 1905 and used for a fireworks display during “Home Comers Week.”  That was her last known use. The machinery may have been more valuable than the boat itself, as it was broken up and the registry closed in December 1905.

Other ferries

This concludes a series of postings on the steam-powered ferries of Charlottetown Harbour. For earlier vessels  click on the following links: Fairview  1936-1958, Hillsborough 1894-1936,  Ora 1856-1873, Ino 1856, Arethusa 1853-185?, Isla 1849-1851.  Information can also be found on the short-lived ferry service to York Point.