Tag Archives: Governor’s Island

Blockhouse Point Lobster Hatchery

Today Blockhouse lighthouse stands alone on the headland on the western side  of the channel leading into Charlottetown Harbour but from 1904 until 1919 it shared the site with the Dominion Government lobster hatchery.  Chart 2037 (2)Toward the beginning of the twentieth century the lobster industry which had developed seemingly overnight in the 1880s with improvements in canning and packing was facing a crisis. A  glut of lobster which would see thousands of the animals cast onto beaches after storms and which had resulted in the establishment of packing plants across the region was coming to an end. Overfishing and use of increasingly smaller and younger crustaceans forced the gradual introduction of regulation and closed seasons but they were both opposed by the industry.  In 1899 there were 240 canneries across the province and 4,600 fishermen were employed in 2300 boats. In the next decade 60 canneries closed but increased trap numbers meant that the haul continued to increase. Prices were falling and the lobsters were becoming scarce.

One of the responses was the introduction of hatcheries where the “seed lobsters” could be developed.  In this process eggs were removed from the swimmerets under the body of the female lobsters. The “berried” females were acquired from the canneries through regular visits by a tug to areas near the hatchery such as Governor’s Island and Canoe Cove. The eggs were kept in controlled conditions until they hatched, a process that could take from 24 hours to fifteen days depending on water temperature.  Because the young fry were so fiercely cannibalistic they had to be planted almost at once.  They were taken a few miles off-shore and simply scattered in the water. The process seemed to have met with success at a hatchery at Caribou Nova Scotia and in 1904 the decision was taken to build a hatchery at Blockhouse point. The sole photograph I have been able to find shows an extensive wharf, the hatchery building and a keeper’s or staff house. It was under the same management as the trout and salmon hatchery at Kelly’s Pond in Southport.  First reports were encouraging. In 1905 100 million young lobsters were distributed along the coast. The following year weather and other conditions resulted in a shortage of spawn lobsters and only 40 million fry were put into the water.  In 1908 another hatchery was built attached to Queen’s Wharf at Georgetown and eventually its production numbers exceeded those of the Blockhouse hatchery.

Detail from Chart of Hillsborough Bay showing light and hatchery wharf

Detail from Chart of Hillsborough Bay showing light and hatchery wharf

In 1911 a new, stronger wharf was built at the Blockhouse to replace an earlier one damaged by ice. This is probably the one shown in the postcard above. The second wharf was carried away by the ice in the spring of 1916 and was likely not replaced as the usefulness of the hatcheries was beginning to be questioned.  The mind-boggling number of fry produced masked the hatchery’s actual results. American studies estimated a fair survival rate of the lobster fry to maturity was only 2 in 30,000.  The real issue was the extent to which female, egg-bearing lobsters were being taken from the water and put into the cooking and canning process. Leaving the females in the water and not removing their eggs would yield just as many, or perhaps even more young lobsters.  If the lobster industry was to survive there would have to be conservation of the existing stocks rather than stepped up hatchery activity.

1913 saw the report of the Canadian Shellfish Commission presented to the Department. Besides recommendations for further limiting the lobster season and the establishment of a minimum size the Department cautiously noted that as the hatcheries “not having proven an unqualified success” they would be building no more until their benefits were better demonstrated.

Five years later the Minister of Marine and Fisheries stated that efforts had shifted to conservation and that the hatcheries would be closed but that none would be offered for sale…. at this time.

Finally in September 1919 a decision was taken for the government to get out of the hatchery business and tenders were called for the sale or removal of all the lobster hatcheries on the east coast. Besides the two on P.E.I. there were five in Nova Scotia, one in New Brunswick and one on the Gaspe coast.  Unlike other locations the land at the Blockhouse was not sold as it was part of the lighthouse property but the buildings were moved or torn down and the ice at the harbour mouth probably made short work of what was left of the wharf. The great lobster breeding experiment was at an end. Aside from the odd artifact in the waters off the point, all traces of the operation have disappeared.

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First description of Charlottetown Harbour and Hillsborough Bay 1752

Contrary to common belief Samuel Holland was not the first to make a detailed study of what is now Prince Edward Island, although he was the first to measure it accurately.  During the French period a number of visitors left accounts. One of the most important of these was by Sieur de la Roque who carried out a detailed census in 1752, twelve years before Holland set foot on the Island.  De la Roque left an account of the communities and all the families encountered on the  visit. He was not however alone on his expedition. With him were Jean-Louis Raymond, Governor of Louisburg, and Raymond’s secretary Thomas Pichon. The party travelled along the north shore as far west as Malpeque, crossed to Bedeque, back to Port La Joie then to Vernon River (Grand Ascension),  to Pisquid (possibly overland) and then down the Hillsborough River.

Eight years later Pichon published his account from which the following is excerpted.  Originally published in French the English translation has some irregularities; “ance” is translated as “creek” when really cove or bay would have been more appropriate.  There are also a few irregularities or errors regarding direction  Readers should be aware that a league is about three miles and a fathom is six feet.

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Detail from a French map of Ile Saint Jean ca. 1722

We are now returned to Port de la Joye, of which I shall give you a sketch. This harbour, called the creek [bay] of Point prim, is formed by a point of this name, situate on the lands south south-east of the entrance of the port and by the north-west point situate on the lands north north-west of the said entrance. These two points are the south-east and north-west. The distance from one to the other in a direct line is seven leagues and a half, with two in depth and seven in circumference.

The channel is situate north north-east, and south south-west of the entrance, and runs up to Port de la Joye. The depth is general from seven to eight fathoms at low water, and in some places nine. The breadth, though variable, a reckoned a quarter of a league.

The most skillful pilots of the country affirm, that when you are in five fathoms water, you have not yet entered the right channel, but that you should sail near the wind, according to what direction you are in. Upon your entrance you leave the Governor’s island to the right, but take care of the shoals, which run out considerably into the main, and are large cluster of rocks. The Governor’s island is of a round figure, about a league and half in circumference and half a league in breadth. There is a great deal of timber of different sorts and vast plenty of game.

Detail from place name map by Georges Arsenault 2008. Copyright Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island.

Detail from place name map by Georges Arsenault 2008. Copyright Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island.

To the left also upon your entrance you leave the island of the Count of St. Peter, which is much more accessible than the Governor’s island, the shore being very level. It is a quarter of a league long, and four hundred fathoms broad, being covered with pine and fir trees. You may even wade over the bar, as it is quite dry at low water, beginning from the north-west point. Upon this bar and all along the banks of the island, there is a prodigious quantity of bustards, crevans, and woodcocks.

Port de la Joye is situated at the bottom of the creek [cove] of La Joye, five leagues from Point prime, making the circuit from point to point. It is formed by the Rasberry point, situate on the lands to the eastward, and by a point A la flame, situate on those to the west. These two points lie east north-east and west south-west. The distance between them is but a quarter of a league. The channel that runs just in the middle between the two points, may be three hundred fathoms, where it is widest at low water.

The road [anchorage] is a quarter of a league from the entrance, between those two points, distant one from the other  a quarter of a league,. There is good holding ground in nine fathoms and a miry bottom. Three rivers disembogue themselves into this road, from the west, north and north-east.

The mouth of the west river is formed by one of the latter points, situate to the left ascending, and by the north point at the distance of a quarter of a league. This river runs four leagues into the land and is almost everywhere of the same breadth.

The mouth of the north-east [north?] river is formed by the north point of the west river, and by the east point of this north river, distant from each other about a quarter of a league. It runs four leagues up the country

The north-east river is formed by a point towards the entrance to the right, and by the east point of the north river. These points are north west and south east and the distance from one to another is nine hundred fathoms. This river runs nine leagues up the country. It is one of the best planted [settled] streams and not without good reason, for the soil being light and somewhat sandy, is the more proper for culture.

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Title page from English edition of Pichon’s account 1760

After taking  view of all those places, we arrived at the river of the Grand Ascention, three leagues south [south-east] of Port de la Joye. It is formed by the west point and that of the birch-trees, situate on the lands to the eastward. They are distant from each other by a quarter of a league. This river divides itself into three branches, which run east, north and west, about three quarters of a league. They are navigable for small vessels. At the further extremity of the north-west branch, a little rivulet joins this stream, and is of sufficient rapidity for erecting a sawmill upon this spot, especially as there is plenty of wood at hand. All these places are more or less inhabited, in proportion to the goodness of the soil; but as the people live some distance from one another, as well as from Port de la Joye; when I have concluded my account of such places as merit attention I shall give you our calculation of the number of inhabitants. After surveying the rivers above mentioned , we went into the little river of Peugiguit, and thence to the river of the Saw-mill and thence to the River of Whites, and in each place we took notice of the habitations till at length we arrived at the Bush-creek, situate on the river to the north-east, and from thence to the Dead-creek, to the Little Ascension, and to the Pirogues.

Leaving the Pirogues, we set sail for the Count of St. Peter’s creek [cove], doubling the points of Marguerite and Framboise, and arrived there in half an hour. The country round this place is pretty good, but there are no pasture grounds, consequently no cattle. They have the same want at the creek of the Pirogues, which is supplied from the Little Ascension.

At a small distance from Count St. Peter’s creek we found that of the Seamen. They are both situated on the south side of the Bay of Port de la Joye. I do not intend to send you a description of them , since they are remarkable only for their popularity.

Pichon continues along the shore of the bay, then around Point Prim and to Pinette. He then moves to a discussion of the climate of the Island. Following his tour of Cape Breton and Ile St.–Jean, Pichon was stationed at Beausejour and turned traitor by sharing secrets with the English. Following the war and the fall of Louisburg he lived in London. The full text of his book of travels can be found here

Tanker fire was scarey waterfront event

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If the word “Seekonk” means anything to you then you probably were in Charlottetown in June of 1963.

On 7 June 1963 a small Irving Oil tanker called the Seekonk was moored across the end Railway Wharf in Charlottetown getting ready to take on a cargo of gasoline for Stephenville in Newfoundland. A fire broke out in the stern section of the ship housing the galley and crews quarters. The fire quickly overwhelmed the crew and the Charlottetown fire department was called to the scene. Although the vessel had not yet taken on its cargo the potential explosion of the vessel was a serious threat. Owing to the extreme heat of the blaze, cramped spaces below deck and a number of small explosions it could not be extinguished and as the firefighters tackled the blaze Deputy Fire Chief Gordon Stewart ordered an evacuation of Water Street from Queen Street to Weymouth as well as Notre Dame Academy.

Not wishing to expose the firefighters to undue danger he called for volunteers and soon had enough single men to make a dedicated assault on the fire. Flames on the deck were extinguished but below decks it was a different story. The hull grew so hot that the water around the burning section was boiling. After an hour and a half no progress had been made and fearing an explosion the Chief stood down the firemen and asked the Department of Transport vessel Tupper, also in port, to move the Seekonk away from the wharves.  After a session of bureaucratic dithering permission to act was received. The Seekonk’s anchor cables were cut with acetylene torches, harbour pilot Jack MacDonald attached towing cables to the bow of the tanker, and the Tupper slowly turned the Seekonk and pulled her through the harbour mouth and beached her on Governors Island. The evacuation order was lifted and life in the city returned to normal.

Mettawee_class__schematicAt the time of the fire in Charlottetown Harbour the Seekonk was just twenty years old but it already had a service record which saw it journey halfway around the world and back as part of the U.S. war effort. It was one of thirty-four small, single-screw aft-engine diesel powered gasoline tankers which were constructed for the U.S. Navy as the Mettawee class of ships. The ships in this class were all named for small rivers, the Seekonk running through Rhode Island. Launched on 24 May 1943  the Seekonk  was 213 feet long and 37 feet wide but drew only 17 feet, making it ideal for shallow harbours and multiple small ports. It carried about 1200 tons of cargo, usually gasoline or aviation fuel. Its war-time crew numbered 62 men under command of a naval lieutenant and as it was destined for use in combat areas it carried a number of armaments including a 3 inch gun and several anti-aitrcraft gun stations for defensive use.  In spite of carrying dangerous volatile cargos none of the Mettawee class were lost during the war.  .

Seekonk in wartime. Not armaments on the vessel

Mettawee class tanker in wartime. Note armaments on the vessel

After fitting out and shakedown training the Seekonk’s first voyage was in convoy to Aruba in the Netherlands West Indies where it loaded its cargo – aviation gasoline, and departed on 2 April for the Panama Canal en route to the South Pacific war zone. It arrived in New Guinea on 1 June  For the rest of that year it operated off the coast of New Guinea where it came under attack from Japanese planes and managed to shoot down some of the attackers. Early in 1945 the Seekonk was part of the armada of ships liberating the Philippine Islands. It provided fueling services for a number of the amphibious landing craft and other ships for several of the Philippine landings. The vessel remained in Philippine waters until the end of hostilities providing support to minesweeping activities. She provided a similar duty in waters off Vietnam as part of a mine sweeping task force which cleared Haiphong Harbour and the Hainan Strait.

Seekonk awaiting sale in San Francisco

Seekonk awaiting sale in San Francisco

The return of the Seekonk to American waters was plagued by engine failures and it took from 21 December 1945 to 26 February 1946 (part of the time under tow) to cross from Hong Kong to San Francisco where she was decommissioned, disarmed,  and made available for disposal in August of that year. There was a post-war glut of vessels on the market and it was not until January 1949 that the Seekonk was purchased. The buyer was Newfoundland Tankers Ltd., a subsidiary of Irving Oil, and the ship was subsequently transferred to Irving Steamships Ltd.

Seekonk under Irving ownership

Seekonk under Irving ownership. This photo shows her in Toronto in the early 1950s.

Under Irving ownership she was first used in 1951 on the Great Lakes on charter to the British-American Oil Company but by the mid-1950s she was being used to supply Irving facilities in the Maritimes and Newfoundland.  She was a frequent visitor to Charlottetown and Montague. In 1955, for example, early onset of winter saw the Seekonk being used to transfer fuel to the Railway Wharf from the larger Irvingbrook, anchored off St. Peter’s Island, which had been  unable to enter Charlottetown Harbour owing to ice conditions.

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Seekonk aground at Governors Island

After the derelict ship had burnt its self out on Governors Island the hulk was towed to Buctouche New Brunswick where there was an Irving facility.  In May 1964 the Charlottetown Guardian carried a story that the fishermen of  Canoe Cove had approached Irving for the burned-out hull to replace a breakwater which had been carried away by the ice. The 14 boats fishing out of the Cove were at the mercy of the elements. While Irving agreed to the proposal the costs of towing it into position and dredging and filling the hull with sand were considerable and the plan was abandoned. A month later the Seekonk was towed from Buctouche to Sydney Nova Scotia where she was scrapped.