Tag Archives: Georgetown

Home port of Georgetown – the Three Rivers Steamship Company

 

Steamer Enterprise at Montague. Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard #6045 (detail). The card is erroneously titled “New Steamer “Empress”

Historians sometimes bemoan the apparent inability of P.E. Islanders to move from the success of Island wooden shipbuilding and trade to the new realities of steamships and iron. The failure of the Island’s Ocean Steamship Company in the 1880s is seen as the end of the province’s efforts to keep pace with changing technology.  This analysis ignores the relatively successful attempts over an eighty-year period by the owners of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company (and its successor, the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company) to have Island control of intercolonial and interprovincial shipping.

It also ignores another initiative which saw success at the turn of the 19th century, an initiative which did not originate in the capital, Charlottetown, but from the eastern part of the province. The Three Rivers Steamship Company was incorporated by provincial statute in 1892 and successfully operated for a quarter of a century. Capitalized at only $20,000 several of the major owners and officer of the company had close ties to Kings county. Alexander Martin was a merchant in Valleyfield, Donald A. MacKinnon was a Georgetown lawyer later to serve as an MLA and MP and eventually becoming Lieutenant Governor, George Whiteman was a Montague merchant and shipper, G.A. Thompson a later president of the company, was a merchant with the firm of Poole and Thompson of Montague.

By mid-May of 1892 the Three Rivers Steamship Company was in operation. The steamer Electra, built in 1887 near Yarmouth, had been launched as a fish tug but was refitted a year later for passengers and freight and operated on the Nova Scotia coastal service before being purchased by the P.E.I. company for $7,500.  She was small by steamer standards – 86 feet long by 17 feet wide and displacing only 111 gross tons. Her engine generated only about 25 horsepower. The steamer was a regular visitor to ports in south-eastern P.E.I. such as Montague, Georgetown and Murray Harbour linking them with Charlottetown and Pictou. Service to some ports such as Murray Harbour South and Annandale depended on the tide as the wharves were not accessible at low water.

Prior to the completion of the Hillsborough Bridge and the Murray Harbour Branch line in 1905 southern Kings county had no railway connections to the rest of the province and the branch line to Montague was not completed until 1906.  Local schooner and steamer service continued in these areas long after the rest of the province and the locally based Three Rivers Steamship Company met a need for the area.

The company invested in new boilers for the ship early in 1900 but that fall experienced a close call in which the ship was nearly lost. In mid-October the Electra was returning to Georgetown from a trip to Pictou when she was caught in a major storm which caused damage all across King’s county. The ship took on so much water that the fires in her boilers were extinguished. Under her experienced captain the crew were able to rig canvas and the Electra made it into the port of Georgetown under sail.  However before the end of the decade the amount of trade dictated that a newer and larger ship was required. The completion of the branch rail lines was providing a competitor for freight haulage but was also bringing new cargos and passengers to the Kings County ports.  After being replaced the Electra was sold to Captain William A. Beattie of Pictou and continued to visit P.E.I. Posts. She was wrecked at Margaree Harbour Cape Breton in 1911.

Enterprise under construction at McGill Shipyard, Shelburne 1907. Photo PARO Acc.2554/25

In April of 1907 a new steamer was launched from the McGill Shipyard at Shelburne Nova Scotia for the New Burrell Johnson Iron Company of Yarmouth who were to install her machinery before turning her over to the Three Rivers Steamship Company.  The Yarmouth company was also responsible for a several other vessels with P.E.I. connections including the tug William Aitken and the steamers Harland  and Magdalen.  The new wooden ship was christened the Enterprise.  At 120 feet she was half again as long as the Electra with a beam of 25 feet and displaced 211 tons, almost twice that of the older ship. Her engines produced 42 horsepower and carried her at 12 knots.

S.S. Enterprise with schooners at Murray Harbor. Photo: PARO Acc.2689/92

On 1 July 1907 she began her service and one of her first trips was a one-day round trip excursion from Montague to Pictou calling at Lower Montague, Georgetown and Beach Point. As with other steamers and ferries of the period these excursions continued to be a regular feature and added to the popularity of the vessel. More important to her success however was the annual $6,000 Dominion subsidy owing to the interprovincial service she provided. Beginning in 1907 her route consisted of two round trips each week from Montague to Pictou calling at Georgetown and Murray Harbour and one round trip beginning at Montague calling at Georgetown, Souris, Port Hood, Port Hawkesbury and Port Mulgrave.

Enterprise at Montague. Photo: PARO Acc.2947/1

In 1908, her first full year of operation she made 98 round trips and carried over 1300 passengers and almost 3,400 tons of freight including 137 livestock. The return trip from the Montague to Pictou was $2.50 and the Cape Breton ports were a dollar more.  In the years before the beginning of the Great War  numbers for both passengers and freight increased.  The Cape Breton stops were dropped before 1912 and in that year the ports served were Montague, Lower Montague, Georgetown, Beach Point, Pictou, Murray Harbour North, Murray Harbour South, and Charlottetown. Cardigan and Newport were added  by 1914.  While some of these ports saw almost daily service, others such as Cardigan and Charlottetown were visited only once per week.

Enterprise at Murray Harbour Photo: PARO Acc.4466/1

In April of 1916 the Guardian reported that Three Rivers Steamship’s G.A. Thompson was travelling to Quebec and Halifax to try to find a replacement for the Enterprise which had been sold to parties in Newfoundland. Although the sale did not go through, at a meeting of the Charlottetown Board of Trade at the same time it was noted that the vessel was unlikely to be replaced. Thompson was obviously unsuccessful or abandoned the search for a new vessel as in 1917  the company once again had the Government of Canada contract and $6,000 subsidy. The ship made 84 round trips carrying 1500 passengers and almost 6,000 tons of freight. The subsidized service was at an end that year as in 1918 the subsidy was eliminated, probably reflecting that fact that the S.S. Prince Edward Island was now providing service across the strait. The Three Rivers Steamship Company appears to have been wound up and the Enterprise sold.

That however, was not the last that the Enterprise was seen in Prince Edward Island waters.  In 1918 she appears to have been owned by the Western Steamship Company of Nova Scotia and was leased to J.A. Farquhar & Co. who had secured the contract for the service between Pictou and the Magdalen Islands, stopping at Souris. She was not a popular vessel on that run as it was believed that the ship would not be able to cope with the conditions in the Gulf and she was replaced the following year.

Enterprise, probably at a Nova Scotia port ca. 1930. The vessel shows modifications made to the upper deck after it was sold by the Three Rivers company.  Photo: Maritime Museum of the Atlantic – MP20.14.1

The Enterprise operated elsewhere in the Atlantic region for a number of years but in 1933 she was the property of W.N. MacDonald of Sydney and he developed a weekly service which saw the Enterprise sailing from Georgetown to Port Hawkesbury, Mulgrave, Isle Madame, Bras d’Or Lake Ports and Sydney. Promising the cheapest and fastest freight and passenger service between Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton the ship offered “the most delightful sail on the Atlantic Seaboard ” through the St. Peter’s Canal and lakes to Sydney. The round trip fare was $18.00 including stateroom and meals.  The regular service was advertised again in 1934 but it is not clear if it continued after that.  The ship was destroyed by fire in Cape Breton in 1936.

Loading potatoes on the Enterprise Ca. 1933. Photo PARO Acc.2799/7

While trade between the Island and Cape Breton continued for many years there seem to have been no further attempts at a scheduled service. It continues to be a dream that occasionally recurs in the form of a proposal for a ferry between the two provinces. MacDonald had a continuing interest in Prince Edward Island shipping and was one of the principals connected with the creation of Northumberland ferries in 1939.

 

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A winter crossing on the Stanley – 1890

Canadian Government Steamer “Stanley”. Warwick Bros & Rutter postcard #1694.

Following the unsatisfactory performance over a dozen years of the Dominion’s first ice breaker the Northern Light, the arrival of the C.G.S. Stanley promised relief and a serious attempt to address the goal of “continuous steam communication” across Northumberland Strait. The arrival of the new vessel in time for the 1888-1889 winter was accompanied by lighter than usual ice conditions. The Stanley made almost four times the number of trips that the Northern Light had been able to provide the previous year. Passages were relatively smooth the following winter as well and it looked as if the much-dreaded trip to the mainland on the winter steamer or the even more uncomfortable alternative of the ice boats at the Capes was a thing of the past.

CGS Stanley steaming through heavy ice. Note the iceboat hanging from the davits.

It is in this context that the following account of an early winter trip from Charlottetown to Quebec in 1890 is set. Although the journey involved four different rail lines with changes at Georgetown, Pictou, Stellarton, Truro and Levis as well as the steamer passage, it seemed as if this was simply a matter of routine, marred only by the usual irritations suffered by the usual passengers.  The account of the December trip was published in the Montreal Gazette for December 13 1890 over the name “Lorainne”. Only the section dealing with the trip from Charlottetown to Pictou is reprinted here. This trip without incident, taken so early in the season, was followed by a winter of exceptionally severe conditions and it was soon clear that the Island transportation problems had not been solved. That however, was in the un-knowable future for our contented traveller.

It was about 10 0’clock on a bitter night when the hotel sleigh drove round to the door, and we took our seat by the side of a timid lady, who seemed nervous about everything, and about her trunks in particular. Our drive to the railway station occupied not more than three minutes, and there was the mail express, steaming and snorting, all impatient to be off to Georgetown, the winter port of the province. Late and cold as it was the station was full of people. A rosy-cheeked Irish girl was going off to Boston and her “sisters and cousins and aunts” were grouped round the carriage giving her a hearty send-off. The other passengers were a couple of clergymen, the aforesaid timid lady, and a pretty Pictou girl attended by several gentlemen friends. Arrived at Georgetown it was, for all of us except the timid lady, but the work of a moment to get ourselves and our baggage on board of the Stanley. She, after the manner of her kind, had lost her trunk or misplaced it which gave her the same sorrow and trouble. From the bad air of the train and the bleak air of the wharf, to the clean, cosy Stanley, what change! After a few words with the agreeable and obliging purser, Mr. Dominick Ryan, so well-known to the travelling public of the summer season by reason of his long tenure of office on the steamer St. Lawrence, we were shown to our cabin by another old friend of the route.— the steward – named Smith. Smith is a good Catholic, and many a time has come to the rescue of some one of his coreligionists who on a Wednesday in advent would wistfully consign himself to a dinner of herbs, having per force of conscience been obliged to decline the “stalled ox,” when suddenly a plate of boiled herring would be popped down before him with a whisper of “waiter’s dinner, sir.” A well-known Catholic priest told me having been travelling for some time, he had lost count of the days of the week, and at breakfast on the St. Lawrence, was plunging his knife into succulent steak, when presto! lo!  the plate was whisked away replaced by one of codfish, with a whisper of “Friday,” Sir.

The cabin which was allotted to us on the Stanley was not only cosy, but beautiful in all its appointments. Rich carpet and curtains, a luxurious sofa, two berths, furnished with spring mattresses, eider down spreads, a cabinet de toilette, chairs, foot stools, curtains, in fact every possible luxury. In this charming boudoir, we were supplied with hot lemonade for supper and soon slept most comfortably.

Next morning early, we were awakened by a grating sound against the outer wall of our apartment, and dressing quickly, went on deck to see the Stanley cutting through the ice. Fields of ice over six inches thick lay all around us, but the iron vessel with her powerful machinery cut through it as if it were wax. The air was keen and cold, so that like Sir Joseph Porter, we were glad to go below, where breakfast awaited us. A good breakfast too, beefsteak, sausages, Irish stew, in the consumption of which we were aided by the parsons above mentioned. Nearing Pictou the view on deck was fine. The ice which was at least ten inches thick was bushed and teams with their bells jingling were being driven merrily along. The drivees thereof were far from being such picturesque figures as their brethren, the habitants of Quebec. The farmer “down below” has no distinctive appearance. His coats follow the fashion when new and when old are patched with something more modern. His cap has a square crown, and ears which turn down and tie under his chin. His boots are of a heterogeneous class. He knows not of toque or sash or bottes sauvages. He knows naught, moreover of the time honored carriole. His sleigh is a farm sled with posts stuck in and boards built round if needed. For the rest, his tobacco has pretty much the same flavor as that of the habitant. Fortunately no whiff of that pungent weed reached us from the sleighs that glided along between the rows of spruce trees, parallel to our course. Between us and the sleighs were boys skating – some indeed, so close as to be within hail of the steamer. Steadily we cleft our way amid a shower of feathery snow flakes that betokened the breaking of the “cold snap.” Through piled ice, through flat ice, ice stationary and ice floating, the Stanley moved with equal placidity making Pictou wharf before noon.

 

Your Mission: Protect the Fishery … and Win the Three-Legged Race

Before the creation of the Canadian navy in 1910 the nation depended on Great Britain’s Royal Navy to patrol Canada’s off-shore waters. But the waters of the Dominion were also home to a home-grown fleet of smaller patrol ships. Charged with excise duties and controlling the fishery these small ships played an important role along Canada’s Coasts.

CGS Acadia. A competitor at the Georgetown Fisheries Protection Field Day.

Some vessels like the Constance, the Curlew and the Petrel were transferred back and forth between the Customs Preventive Service and the Fishery Protection Fleet as needs required but they also seem to have had a broad range of duties no matter what service they were attached to.  The fishery patrol vessels were more frequently seen in Prince Edward Island waters, especially late in the season.  In the 1890s  there was still a large American fleet (referred to as “hookers”)  following the mackerel and herring schools which moved up the Nova Scotia shore and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Souris and Georgetown were regular ports of call for the American schooners and were also used as the stations for the cruisers charged with watching the American s for infractions of fishing regulations.

One of the vessels for which the King’s County ports was a base was the Kingfisher. Unlike almost all the other vessels in the Fishery Protection Service Fleet she was sail-powered.  Initially chartered  in 1891 from her builder Joseph McGill of Sherbrooke, N.S. she soon proved her worth and sometime after 1893 she seems to have been purchased by the Department of Marine and Fisheries. McGill was a major builder and was responsible for a number of vessels later built for the New Burrill-Johnson Iron Company of Yarmouth.  Some of these vessels, including the Magdalen and the Harland also saw service on P.E.I.

CGS Curlew. One of the Fisheries Prtotection Service fleet

The Kingfisher was a small schooner of 107 tons but was a relatively speedy sailer and as the American herring fleet was still sail-powered she was an effective vessel for patrol duties.  The vessel was kept busy. In 1896 for example, she sailed 7,117 miles, spending 1,762 hours at sea. During this time she recorded 416 boardings for inspection purposes.  Although that was not a particularly busy year for the fishery some 60 hookers were on the grounds off East Point where they were shadowed by the Kingfisher until they began to follow the fish schools south. In addition to the Americans, the vessel also had to keep an eye on the illegal lobster fishery, mostly from Island-based fishing craft.

With her extra duties as a customs and excise cruiser the Kingfisher had a number of successes. In 1894 she seized a vessel off East Point and confiscated a cargo of liquor.  October of 1898 saw her off Rollo Bay where a schooner from St. Pierre had suspiciously anchored over night. Landing a shore party from the Kingfisher a cache of 200 gallons of whisky was located through the keen sense of smell of one of the ship’s crew.

However, based on the amount of newspaper coverage the greatest success for the Kingfisher was not on the fishing grounds but on the sports field at Georgetown. For several years in the late 1890s the entire East Coast Fisheries Protection Fleet gathered there for a sports day. In mid-October 1898 the crews of the cruisers La Canadienne, Acadia, Curlew, Osprey and Kingfisher competed for cups and awards.

Some of the events were as one might expect – contests of strength and speed; the hammer throw, shot put and 100 yard dash. However there were also a few events not known to the Olympics (and a few not known to me) . These included the smoking race, potato race, sack race, and the egg and spoon race.  In addition there was a rifle shooting competition and a community concert in the Court House  put on by the ships’ crews for the people of Georgetown. A tea party was held in the drill shed  in conjunction with the sports day and a “snug sum” raised for the community. In return the ladies of the town provided a free lunch for the officers and men. The Kingfisher seems to have punched well above its weight as the small crew captured trophies in a number of events

Louis Henry Davies. Minister of Marine and Fisheries 1896-1901

The Minister of Marine and Fisheries for the period 1896-1901 was Island M.P. Louis Henry Davies – later to be Chief Justice of Canada.   He appears to have had a particular interest in the Fisheries Protection Service and attended several of the group’s sports days. His interest was noted in the annual report of the Commander of the fisheries service. “He takes great interest in our ships, and always on leaving the grounds has a word of praise for the officers and men.” In addition to this praise of the Minister the continuing success of the Kingfisher in the sports days  was mentioned in the Departmental Annual Reports tabled in Parliament.  The report certainly supports a mutual admiration between the Minister and the crews.

After a decade the shortcomings of a sail-powered vessel mounted and in 1905 the Kingfisher was sold to Harold Bartlett of Birgus Newfoundland. Her replacement was the Petrel whose story has been told in an earlier blog entry.  Unfortunately I have not been able to find any images of the Kingfisher, probably the last Canadian Government patrol vessel to be completely sail-powered.