Tag Archives: Ferry

Scandal at the Launch

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

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

From the distance of more than a century it is difficult to understand the titanic struggles related to prohibition of the sale of alcohol which seem to have been an undercurrent of the politics of Prince Edward Island in the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s.  And while one may search the local press in vain for letters to the editor advocating drink, the opposite is not the case. In the 1890s Prince Edward Island was subject to Dominion legislation, the Canada Temperance Act, (known as the Scott Act after its author) which provided a “local option” following petition and plebiscite for prohibition on a county level. The three counties were ostensibly “dry” but Charlottetown switched several times from “wet” to “dry” and back again and there was a constant battle in press on the subject. It seemed that what ever the political stripe of the government in power their stance it was unsatisfactory for the temperance advocates.  Almost every event and activity was under scrutiny and subject to complaint for the presence of alcohol.  Such was the case with activities surrounding the launch of the new ferry Hillsborough in July of 1894.

Daily Examiner 16 July 1894 p.2

Daily Examiner 16 July 1894 p.2

By the mid-1890s the days of wooden ships was drawing to an end and  launchings were becoming rare events. Added to the fact that almost any activity could be used as an excuse for an excursion, the launch of the new ferry steamer became the central event for a “MAMMOTH PICNIC” at Mount Stewart.

The new ferry was being built to replace the aging Elfin and to supplement the Southport. Although not known at the time she was destined for use in Charlottetown Harbour for more than forty years – initially on the Southport crossing and later to Rocky Point. Like her predecessors she was a side paddle wheel steam boat. She was constructed by Pisquid shipbuilder Angus MacDonald with boilers and engine 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 had paddle wheels on either side of the hull.  She was double-ended with helm positions at either end of the vessel. She was, in fact, the latest thing in ferry boats.

Her launch was the excuse for a festive event. The Southport made a special trip up the river with excursionists and the Prince Edward Island Railway provided cheap fares across the system to take the curious to Mount Stewart for the day’s activities.  Once there, the grounds had a picnic with “delicacies of the season”, games and amusements as well as the launch ceremony. Given the predominance in the advertising “TEA INCLUDED” appears to have been a significant drawing card. The 1st class refreshment saloons reference did not mean that strong drink was on order but merely that tea and a “lunch”  would be available.

But a dark cloud was to be cast over the day by the presence of alcohol.  Not, as one might suppose, by bootleg rum or local shine shared out behind the horse barn but by a far more insidious and public threat to morality perpetrated by a juvenile as willing tool of the government.  The following indignant letter to the Daily Examiner’s editor lays out the charge:


What will our friends in the Liberal party say to the following choice item which appeared in yesterday’s Patriot? Referring to the launch of the new ferry steamer at Mount Stewart, where the Scott Act is supposed to be the law on the land, the Patriot says:

“At 1:15 little Miss Commiskey, daughter of Mr. Speaker Commiskey, Fort Augustus, christened the steamer the “Hillsborough” by breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow.”

As a friend of temperance, I regard it as extremely unfortunate, and especially at this particular time, that the present Local Government, or any member thereof, should sanction the purchase of liquor for any such purpose. What is the natural inference?

For the author of the letter the natural inference must have been that by 1:16 on the 21st of July 1894 the entire Mount Stewart audience would be dead drunk on champagne fumes caused by little Miss Commiskey at the behest of the evil minds of the Liberal party.  While we may laugh today it is worth noting that the tradition of using political correctness as a stick with which to beat the current government remains a strong one in our community.


The Carferry meets the Car: The S.S. P.E.I. and the auto

When I was young in the 1950s any ferry trip was an exciting journey, but even more so if we caught the Prince Edward Island. In those care-free days of hands-off parenting we seemed to have the run of the ship while our elders relaxed in the lounge or restaurant. We were up and down ladders and companionways, poked our heads into the engine room and visited all sorts of places which today would strike fear into the hearts of the ship’s insurers (and our parents if they had known). Near the stern of the S.S.Prince Edward Island we discovered a mysterious pair of stairways which went up into nothing but a blank steel wall.  On an engraved plaque over the arched entry-way to the stairs and very nearly obscured by dozens of coats of paint could be seen the legend “Second Class Passengers.”   It was one of the few remnants of the two class system of accommodation around which the ship had been built. What was lost was destroyed to suit the automobile.


SS PEI in 1960s with a full load of autos.

Almost as long as it was operating the ferry service the railway never seemed to ‘get” the automobile. For them cars, and later trucks, were simply another commodity to be loaded onto rail cars and shunted aboard the ferry.  The passenger service was designed to handle folks descending from the steps of a passenger car or sleeper with the assistance of a porter or conductor.  How one clambered down from an auto atop a flatcar was not a question that needed to be addressed. When goods began to arrive on trucks the railway saw it as competition and the rates charged for trucks continued to be an irritant for many years. However by the 1920s it was clear that the auto was here to stay and had to be grudgingly dealt with.

In 1931, with the launch of the S.S. Charlottetown the S.S. Prince Edward Island became obsolete. The new, larger, and even grander ferry had something that the P.E.I. lacked – dedicated services for automobiles. The rail deck was larger than on the older ship but the chief innovation was a circular drive around the upper deck so that cars could be driven on and off. Elaborate ramp systems at Port Borden and Cape Tormentine which could be raised and lowered dealt with the tidal changes.

CN007219 (2)

SS PEI before 1938. An auto aboard a flat car is visible on the rail deck.

The Prince Edward Island was demoted to a back-up function, taking over from the Charlottetown for the six weeks or so that the Charlottetown was in dry-dock or supplementing the newer ferry for busy periods such as Old Home Week. On both the older boat and the new ferry automobiles and trucks which did not fit on the auto deck still had to be loaded on to flat-cars to be moved onto the ferry. This was fine as long as there were only three of four round tips each day and there was lots of time for shunting.  With each passing year the volume of automobiles carried and it was clear that using flat cars was limited as a solution to the problem.

Stern of the SS PEI ca. 1917. Note the absence of the docking station.

Stern of the SS PEI ca. 1917. Note the absence of the docking station.

Over the years a number of changes had been made to the S.S. P.E.I.  Early in its service the upper decks had been extend to better enclose the stern and to provide space for a small deckhouse with controls for the officers backing to vessel into the dock. However the general appearance of the ship remained the same. In the spring of 1938 the decision was taken to add auto capacity to the S.S. P.E.I. This was to make a big difference in the look of the ship. Aft of the funnels the second class facilities and officers quarters were torn off the stern of the boat to create an auto deck but lacking the circular deck lay-out of the Charlottetown it was the bane of drivers who sometimes had difficulty backing their vehicles into the tight spaces allocated. While the Charlottetown could accommodate 44 cars the P.E.I. had space for only about 40 vehicles.

SS Charlottetown

S.S. Charlottetown ca. 1935. Note the auto ramp allowing vehicles to drive up to the auto deck.

In 1941 the situation suddenly changed as the Charlottetown sank off Nova Scotia and the Prince Edward Island was once again the only year-round vessel linking the Island with the mainland. With half of the passenger facilities eliminated to make for the automobile deck and the realization that under war conditions the S.S. Charlottetown was not likely to be replaced until the conclusion of hostilities it was apparent that more changes to the Prince Edward Island were warranted. This was heightened by the steamer’s use in winter conditions which meant that passengers could be on the vessel for many hours while it negotiated heavy ice. In November 1941 a contract was given to Bruce Stewart and Company for the construction of a new deck-house for the ferry. However for some reason the work was actually done when the ship was in dry-dock in Lauzon Quebec in July 1942. During the re-fit the Scotia II took over the route  The deck house was created above the auto deck and provided a lounge area of about thirty feet wide by sixty feet long.  At the same time officers quarters which had also been lost were replaced on the upper deck. In spite of the fact that a number of years elapsed between the building of the auto deck in 1938 and the deckhouse in 1942 I have not been able to find a picture showing the ship in this period.

Over the winter of 1941-42 Bruce Stewart’s workers were in the midst of converting the boilers from coal burning to oil burning. The old bunkers were being cut away and replaced with oil tanks. The work was being done in Borden and it was expected that the work would not interfere with regular crossings. After two of the boilers had been converted the work was halted owing for the need to conserve oil for war efforts and for several years the ferry operated with two oil-fired boilers and four still using coal.

S.S. P.E.I. ca. 1960 running without any autos aboard. It can be clearly seen that everything aft of the funnels was removed to provide parking for cars. Compare this to the original design at https://sailstrait.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/the-steam-ferry-prince-edward-island-in-charlottetown/

S.S. P.E.I. ca. 1960 running without any autos aboard. It can be clearly seen that everything aft of the funnels was removed to provide parking for cars. Compare this to the original design at https://sailstrait.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/the-steam-ferry-prince-edward-island-in-charlottetown/

Even with the new auto deck the Prince Edward Island could not keep up with the demand for auto space and plans were developed in 1942 to plank part of the rail deck between the tracks so that trucks and additional autos could be carried if there was not a full load of rail cars aboard. This seems to have been a temporary solution as in 1946 the Guardian reported that autos loaded on flat cars would be used to address the high volume of autos associated with Old Home week.  In 1948, after the Abegweit came into operation the rail deck of the S.S. P.E.I. was planked for about 75 feet from the stern so that large trucks and more autos could be carried without having to load them on rail cars. Even the new Abegweit (with room for 100 cars on the auto deck) was designed with the lower deck reserved for rail use only. However, after a year in operation the deck was planked about half-way from the stern to accommodate trucks. Eventually the planking was extended to cover the entire rail deck. By the 1950s transfer of autos to flat cars was ended.

Each of the changes made to accommodate the auto seemed to take away from the steamship atmosphere of the S.S. Prince Edward Island but for as long as I was able to sail on her she was still my favourite of the P.E.I. ferries.

Fairview was the Rocky Point Ferry until 1958

Diesel Ferry Fairview

Diesel Ferry Fairview

Early in January 1936, before the harbour iced over, the paddle steamer Hillsborough made its last trip. Replacing it was a boat that was new in many ways.  True, it retained the double ended configuration which enabled vehicles to drive on and off without having to turn around but in many ways it was a new design.

This boat on the ways at Fitzgerald's shipyard in Georgetown has been mis-identified as the Fairview. It is more likely the Montague or the Newport.

This boat on the ways at Fitzgerald’s shipyard in Georgetown has been mis-identified as the Fairview. It is more likely the Montague or the Newport.

The Fairview (named for a community near Rocky Point) was built in Georgetown at the shipyard of Captain Charles Fitzgerald. There were few ship yards left on Prince Edward Island in the mid-1930s and Fitzgerald had also built the ferry Newport (1928) which crossed the Cardigan River and the Montague (1930) which ran to Lower Montague. These two boats linked Georgetown with the communities in Eastern Kings County and enabled the county capital to continue as a commercial centre. The building of the new ferry provided work for about twenty men, many of whom had worked in the disappearing shipbuilding trade for years.

The new steamer was launched in December 1935  and was 115 feet long, 28 ferret wide and drew 7 feet.  The ferry had a gross tonnage of 227 tons. The main difference between it and its predecessor, the Hillsborough,  was in the means of propulsion. The Fairview was powered by a five-cylinder Canadian Fairbanks diesel engine which produced 175 horsepower which could drive the boat at 8 1/2 knots. The engine was supplied and installed by Bruce Stewart and Co. of Charlottetown  The ferry was wood throughout; the frame being American oak and pine and the planking was 3 inch hard  pine fastened to the frame using the traditional “trenails”, wooden pegs about 20 inches long and an inch in diameter driven through the planks and frame and wedged at both ends. The vehicle deck, which could carry up to eighteen automobiles, was spruce covered with asphalt plank. Unlike the Hillsborough, the Fairview had a deck covering most of the vehicle area from the elements. The passenger cabins, one of which was identified as the ladies cabin,  were finished in Douglas Fir. An additional line of inch and quarter hardwood planking along the waterline protected the hull from ice. Noteworthy equipment included 2 lifeboats and forty life belts.

The vessel was towed to Charlottetown for final fitting out at the Bruce Stewart wharf. By the 26th of March 1936 it had completed its test runs and was put into service.  Running from the period when the ship could be navigated through the spring ice until the winter closure of the harbour which could be as late as January the vessel continued on the route for twenty-two years. Service was interrupted when the Fairview went to Pictou for its annual overhaul. The boat was replaced on the run by a gasoline-powered launch.  In the winter a bushed road was marked for crossing the harbour.

For the most part the crossings were uneventful. An exception took place in August of 1944. As the ferry approached the Prince Street Wharf the horses hauling a truck wagon with potatoes and turnips were startled and backed up. Unfortunately the chain closing the gap at the stern snapped and the wagon slipped off the end of the Fairview dragging the horses, cart,  and a seven-year old boy, Delbert Muirhead of Canoe Cove, into the water. His father managed to jump clear as the wagon went off the stern of the boat into the water.  A passenger on the ferry dove into the water and saved the boy but the team, wagon and produce was lost. Howard Muirhead valued the team at $300, the wagon at $540 and the load of potatoes and turnips at $20.

In the days before automobile ownership was common the Fairview, like the other ferries before it, provided an easy and pleasant way for residents of Charlottetown to escape the city. Some times, on summer weekends two or three hundred people would cross the harbour on the boat to Rocky Point to use the beaches, visit the Indian encampment or the “Fort Lot” where the ruins of Fort Amherst were visible. Some even went farther to Holland Cove.

I have a recollection from about 1957 of being delivered by my family to the Ferry Wharf where the campers at the Holland Cove YMCA camp were assembled. After crossing the harbour on the Fairview we loaded our camping gear onto a waiting jeep and walked the dusty road from the Rocky Point wharf to Holland Cove where the cabins awaited us.

The Fairview after conversion to barge. Tied to Buntain & Bell wharf about 1960. Photo - Ron Atkinson

The Fairview after conversion to barge. Tied to Buntain & Bell wharf about 1960. Photo – Ron Atkinson

With improved roads and pavement gradually being extended into the countryside there was agitation for a permanent link between the communities of the South Shore and the City.  Various bridge proposals and routes were advanced and in 1958 a causeway was constructed across the West River between Meadowbank and New Dominion, just east of the steamer wharf at Westville.  Although a passenger service was continued into the early 1970s using the Fairview II and MacDonald’s 3, the converted fishing boats carried no cargo or automobiles.  The Fairview itself was sold off and used as a construction barge. Noted as “unseaworthy” the registry for the ship was canceled in 1963.

In spite of the fact that the Fairview was a fixture in the harbour for more than two decades photos of the ship are scarce. I would be pleased to learn of any that are available.