Tag Archives: Georgetown

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.



“As the bottles were emptied the hearts and minds of the gentlemen expanded…” An 1865 Excursion to the East.

Early photo of the Princess of Wales in Charlottetown Harbour. the building behind the funnel is the Methodist Church

In the 1860s the colony of Prince Edward Island was isolated, not just from the mainland but also within the territory itself. This was before the building of the railway and at the time roads were poor. Many folks seldom went beyond the area circumscribed by their nearest church, school, and general store. Even in the capital, cosmopolitan Charlottetown, there were many who barely left the city.  When they did the easiest transportation was through the mouth of the harbour rather than the roads leading north and east from the city.  The steamers of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation company crossed the Strait and skirted the shore as far as Victoria and Belfast, but beyond that the slow-moving and unpredictable coastal schooners touched at harbours along the shore and deep in the bays and inlets.

Paddle Steamer Princess of Wales. The funnel seems to be removed in this photo

When the two-year old Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company announced an excursion on their steamer Princess of Wales, launched only the year before, it was cause for excitement. What was more, the excursion was to be from Charlottetown to the mysterious east — Murray Harbour, Georgetown and Souris, ports that had never been visited by a steamship.  The impending visit created interest ashore at those locations and several hundred tickets appear to have been quickly sold – in spite of the fact that the Princess of Wales would leave the capital at 2:00 in the morning in order to visit the eastern ports and still be able to return the same day. Fortunately for us, one of those aboard was a correspondent for the Charlottetown newspaper, Ross’s Weekly, which published the following account:


Ross’s Weekly – 10 August 1865

Princess of Wales (mis-named) in Summerside Harbour 1878. Detail From Panoramic View of Summerside 1878

EXCURSION IN THE STEAMER PRINCESS OF WALES – On Monday last citizens of Charlottetown and their [guests?] were treated to a grand Excursion on the Princess of Wales. Some 200 or more were, we should suppose, on board invited by ticket, when, at 2 o’clock in the morning, she started from Pope’s Wharf to visit the Harbors of Murray Harbor, Georgetown and Souris. The wind was blowing pretty strongly, causing many the unhappy feeling of seasickness. The morning was beautiful, and as we neared the wharf or breastwork at Murray Harbor, crowds of people of both sexes, could be seen on the beach awaiting our arrival. Some enthusiastic individuals expressed their pleasure at this the first visit to a steamer to their harbor by firing off an old instrument originally intended to resemble a cannon. It got an awful fright as the powder exploded and burst, injuring one man pretty severely in the leg. Here we took on board about 100 people more and started for Georgetown. The sea was pretty heavy causing the Steamer to roll very much, so that when the bell rang for breakfast but few, comparatively, were able to partake. Whether it was that our appetite was not sharp or that we had risen on the wrong side of the morning, we know not, but the breakfast did not seem to us to be in that style which we expected on such an occasion, in fact we were much disappointed at it. On arriving at Georgetown, most of the Excursionists went on shore, ourselves among the number, and the Steamer took on board a fresh lot from Georgetown and went off again for a few hours sail. The Georgetonians were very kind and hospitable, so that the short time there passed most agreeably. We noticed that the Harbor there was filled with American fishing vessels, and a very pretty sight they presented. We should think that they must create quite a trade and only wish we had our share in Charlottetown. We again collected on board and started, shaping our course for home, it being considered rather too boisterous to allow of our proceeding to Souris. We [regret?] this very much as we had set our mind on visiting Souris, having never been there by water and having heard that the scenery along the shore was among the most beautiful on the Island. We had however to forego that pleasure and proceeded back to Charlottetown where we arrived about 9 o’clock PM having first called at Murray Harbor and landed the passengers previously taken on there. We had almost forgotten to mention that Mr. Clements and several of the leading gentlemen, of Murray Harbor, treated the Excursionists to a champagne dinner – – The dinner was served up by Mr. Chandler, in capital style, to which all who sat down did ample justice. As the bottles were emptied the hearts and minds of the gentlemen expanded and everything passed off harmoniously. Several short speeches were made in responding to a few toasts proposed, and altogether the hours seemed to pass very pleasantly, a small party of “young un’s” enjoyed themselves by singing some of the popular airs of the present day, and afforded pleasure not only to themselves but to a large party of listeners. We think they enjoyed themselves as well if not better than any of the others. – – On the whole the trip was a pleasant one, and we feel sure that the Company will not be the losers in thus treating the public to such a pleasant excursion.

An accident happened at Murray Harbor, on our way back which might have been serious. Shortly after dinner several gentlemen were standing against the rail of the Steamer, and whether the champagne was strong , or the Railing weak, we do not know, but some of them managed to take a cool bath in the Harbor, we suppose by way merely or refreshing themselves. The water fortunately was not deep and they waded ashore looking rather disconsolate, one of them who was smoking took the matter very cooly, and kept on puffing at his cigar, much to the amusement of the onlookers.

I am indebted to researcher Gary Carroll who transcribed this item from Ross’s Weekly and posted it to Dave Hunter’s very useful Island Register  genealogy website.

Post script added 8 June 2017

Gary Carroll has added another account of cannon incident during the visit of the Princess of Wales to Murray Harbour in 1865. Following is an excerpt from a letter from Robert Harris, who would later become a nationally-known portrait artist, to his brother Tom written on 28 August 1865.

My dear Tom
I hope this will find you safe and sound, and that you have had a pleasant passage. I went up to Murray harbour shortly after you left here. My greatest fun there was shooting pigs. I made a bow and arrows. I put nails in the tips of the arrows, and you would have laughed to see the pigs running squealing about with the arrows in them for hours after. While the steamer P of W was there we fired a salute out of Davey Hughes venerable swivel gun. Dick Huddy was the gunner. She made a great explosion and in doing so burst to bits flying in all directions and hurting some two or three. The reason why she burst was I think because Dick rammed in a large piece of fat pork as he said to make the load slip out. Jackson and Dick and lots more were dead drunk after. …

The full letter can be found at the Island Register site