Tag Archives: Ferry Wharf

Ferry Hillsborough was last paddle-wheel steamer in harbour


Ferry Wharf in the 1930s

Ferry Wharf in the 1930s

When the ferry steamer Hillsborough (often spelled the Hillsboro) was launched in 1894 there was still a variety of steamer services in Charlottetown. Besides the subsidized service up the east and west rivers there were ferries linking the capital with Southport and with Rocky point and even some service to York Point. The ferry wharf at Prince Street could be a busy place, especially on market days when the ferry would be crowded by teams and wagons and even flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. 

Hillsborough ferry tender. Guardian 4 April 1902

Hillsborough ferry tender. Guardian 4 April 1902

The Hillsborough Ferry had a long history. Originally passage to the south side of the river was served by sail and oar. In the 1830s the development of horsepower on a turntable or treadmill (a teamboat) gave more reliable and regular service. By the 1850s small steam-powered vessels became the norm. Initially the route was tendered out or assigned by legislation and contract but eventually the unreliable service and the poor quality of craft offered led the government to purchase the ferry and contract out the operation. Later ferries were built for government and leased out for the season or a term of years.  Ferries under government ownership in Charlottetown Harbour included the Ora, the Elfin, the Southport, the Hillsborough  which were all steam vessels, and the Fairview which had a diesel engine. The season was set for the period as long as the harbour was clear of ice and so the annual start and end dates varied considerably. One of the first long-term contracts called for the ferry to cross to Southport every half hour except for the times it ran to Canso Point which it was required to do twice a day.

S.S. Hillsborough ca. 1900 PARO #4466/2 Edison Horton Coll.

S.S. Hillsborough ca. 1900 PARO #4466/2 Edison Horton Coll.

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Hillsborough Launch Tea Party  Daily Examiner 16 July 1894

Tenders were called for a new ferry in May of 1893 and the government obviously knew what they wanted for the builders could examine both a model and specifications. The tenders were for the hull only so either there was an engine in hand or the government wanted to tender that separately.

The Hillsborough was launched in Mount Stewart in July 1894 by Pisquid shipbuilder Angus MacDonald. The event was celebrated by a public tea with transportation provided by the Southport and the P.E.I. Railway. The boilers and engine were later installed in Charlottetown by MacKinnon and MacLean. The 225 ton steamer was 105 feet long and had a beam of 25 feet. The steam engine provided thirty and a half horsepower. Like both the Elfin and the Southport she was propelled by paddle wheels on either side of the hull.  She was double-ended with helm positions at either end of the vessel.  The Hillsborough was later reported to have cost the Province $17,800.

The Elfin (left) and Hillsborough heading for the Prince Street wharf ca. 1903. Photo is taken from the fabrication yard for the Hillsborough Bridge east of the Railway Wharf.

The Elfin (left) and Hillsborough heading for the Prince Street wharf ca. 1903. Photo is taken from the fabrication yard for the Hillsborough Bridge east of the Railway Wharf.

In 1895 the Southport, which had formerly been running across that harbour to …(as might be expected) …Southport, was moved to provide service to the East and West Rivers. The ferry to Rocky Pont at the time was the Elfin and the new  ferry steamer Hillsborough took over the cross-river route. She left Charlottetown first at 6:30 a.m. and then at half hour intervals until 9:00 p.m. She left the Southport wharf at quarter to and quarter past the hour. However there were several alterations or exceptions over the years to allow the Hillsborough to undertake excursions and to visit other ports. In 1901, for example, the Hillsborough visited Victoria where she went aground and a year later she was used to provide passenger service to Fort Augustus for the St. Patrick’s Church Tea Party.

Abandoned Ferry wharf at Southport ca. 1915

Abandoned Ferry wharf at Southport ca. 1915

In 1906 when the Murray Harbour railway line opened with service across the recycled Hillsborough Bridge a chapter in the harbour history closed. The bridge (which carried both rail and road traffic) was originally scheduled to be taken over by the provincial government on the first of July but the ferry ran for some time after that. A notice from the Secretary of Public Works simply stated “On and after Saturday, September 29th, the Ferry Steamer, Hillsborough will cease to run on the Southport Ferry.” With only one ferry route to service the ferry Southport was redundant and was disposed of. A week later the Elfin was destroyed by fire and the Hillsborough was transferred to the Rocky Point crossing and continued to operate on that route for almost thirty more years.

In the 1930s the deterioration of the ferry meant that it spend several lengthy periods on the marine slip in Pictou being re-planked and sheathed to extend its life. In mid-June 1935 it was announced that the ferry would no longer carry motor or horse traffic and a few days later the Guardian noted that the boat had been replaced by a motor sloop owned by MacDonald Brothers. With the ice-up of the harbour in January 1936 it was clear that the Hillsborough had made her last trip. The new ferry, the Fairview,was nearing completion at Capt. Charles Fitzgerald’s boatyard in Georgetown and it was hoped she would be in place when the ice went out in the spring.

In early May 1936, when the old Hillsborough left the harbour of Charlottetown for the last time the fires in the boiler had long gone cold. The ferry made its last trip towed by the government tug Bally. She was en route to Pictou where the discarded Hillsborough was dismantled and sold for scrap. She had been on the ferry route longer than any other vessel in the history of the harbour and was the last paddle wheel vessel seen in the harbour.

P.E.I. Stereoviews 1922

Loading sheep for Newfoundland -  Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

Loading sheep for Newfoundland – Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

Loading cattle  Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

Loading cattle Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

Late in the summer of 1922 a photographer from the Keystone View Company of Meadville Pennsylvania visited Prince Edward Island. The company was preparing a series of photographs of industries across the country.  In addition to Charlottetown the photographer visited farms and took photos in Emerald, Mount Albion, and Augustine Cove as well as at the Experimental Farm in Charlottetown.  Most of the photos from Prince Edward Island, aside from shots of the Provincial Building, Prince of Wales, Prince Street School and St. Dunstan’s were not-so-riveting shots of turnip harvesting, old and new methods of potato picking and hen houses for comparative egg-laying experiments.

Loading Coal Keystone Mast UCR (2)

Coal handling in Charlottetown – Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

Following the agricultural theme the photographer also captured several images on the waterfront. At the Buntain & Bell wharf a steamer with stalls built on the deck (possibly the Canadian Steamships Line  S.S. Morona which had a regular service from Montreal to St. John’s, stopping at Charlottetown) was loading livestock for Newfoundland and images of sheep being driven aboard and cattle winched from the wharf are included in the collection. Besides being a labour-intense operation the loading was also of considerable interest to boys and other by-standers for whom the wharf-side activity was a source of entertainment.    At the next wharf over several coal schooners were in port and although hardly picture-postcard material shots of coal carts being loaded were captured by the lens.  They give a good view of Charlottetown’s working waterfront in 1922. These types of shots are rare because most photographers of the time focused on streetscapes, dramatic events or the impressive public buildings of the city.

Rosebank fur farm 1

Dr. Leo Frank at Rosebank Fur Farms – Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

Across the harbour on the Langley shore another type of farm was in operation,  The early 1920s were the height of the fox farming boom and Dr. Leo Frank’s Rosebank Fur Farms was one of the leading fox ranches in the country. The Keystone photographer took a whole series of images at the fox farm and the black silver foxes were clearly of interest. Silver fox breeding had been developed in Prince Edward Island like no where else in the country and it is not surprising that a series concentrating on industries would include photos of this type.

Indians Langley

Indian basketmakers at Langley shore – Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

Another image, probably taken at about the same time shows aboriginal basketmakers, in an encampment at Rosebank, with Minchin’s Point and the ferry wharf at Southport in the background

Indians Detail

Detail showing Minchins Point and Ferry Wharf – Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

st-view-viewerThe photos taken in 1922 were stereoviews, taken with a dual lens camera that resulted in a double image. When viewed through a stereo viewer the image appeared as a three dimensional representation of the subject.  Beginning in the mid-19th century the views were popular. Series of views of exotic locations, dramatic events and even pornography were produced. Besides being a parlour entertainment the views were promoted as an educational tool.   Several factors which helped increase stereography’s popularity was the novelty of experiencing explicit three-dimensional detail in a stereo card and the potential for card owners to frequently revisit views of world events in private or during social gatherings. By enabling armchair observers to have vicarious experiences in faraway places stereographs became to the later nineteenth century, what television and the Internet are to contemporary culture.  Some stereoviews were produced by local photographers and even amateurs but most were created by companies with traveling photographers and the views were marketed in series. Special boxes and furniture were also produced to house collections of images.  The standard stereocard was about 3.5 x 7.0 inches with a curved surface to enhance the 3-D effect and a variety of viewers produced to provide the 3-D effect.


Some Keystone images from a local collection.

The Keystone View Company was founded  in 1892 by an amateur photographer, B. L. Singley of Meadville, Pennsylvania. Starting with a series of thirty views of a local flood he soon expanded his work and eventually became the largest producer of stereocards in the world and by 1905 was offering 20,000 different views. Taking over the collections of competitors the company eventually gathered a established a collecton of over 2 million negatives and continued to produce images into the 1950s.  In the 20th century Keystone specialized in educational stereocard sets and promoted their use for teaching of geography, social studies, science, history and reading.  Their educational nature can be seen in this excerpt from the text on the back of Charlottetown lamb loading view:

Did you ever play “follow the leader”? Lambs and sheep always follow their leader. In this picture their leader has gone on board this boat and the lambs are crowding each other to follow. You wonder where they are going.  They have been raised on an Island and are going to be shipped to the mainland., There they will be taken to the stockyards. 

After 1955 the company moved into other lines of business and In 1978, the company’s records, prints, and inventory of negatives, weighing more than 30 tons, were donated to the UCR/California Museum of Photography at the University of California Riverside, where they are now known as the Keystone-Mast collection.  Of the more than 250,000 glass plates and negatives and 100,000 images some 40,000 are available on line and can be searched here.  In the on-line selection some 2700 items are from Canada and  about 60 are from P.E.I.  The collection includes duplicate views as the photographer tried to get the best exposure and framing.  Not all of the shots were turned into finished stereo cards.

Some of the raw PEI images are shown below:  Click on any item to start the slide show:

All images from  Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

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.

Lake map waterfront 001 (2)

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.