Tag Archives: Halifax

“Life on Our Harbor” 1899

As one looks out on Charlottetown Harbour today, empty except for the occasional oil tanker or gravel boat, it is very difficult to imagine how busy the port would have been at the end of the Victorian era. Even in a normal year with cruise ships entering and leaving there is not real sense of a busy port except for the crowded streets and souvenir shops. In the late 1800s it was a different story as everything and everybody coming to or leaving the Island had to come by boat. Charlottetown was connected by passenger steamers to Boston and Halifax, to Montreal and Quebec and across the Strait to Nova Scotia. Freight boats visited with cargos to and from Montreal, Sydney, St. John’s and other Atlantic Canadian ports. Smaller steamers also linked Charlottetown to other Island ports such as Orwell, Montague and Souris. And almost unnoticed among the steamers were scores of schooners visiting ports all along the Atlantic seaboard and into the Caribbean. These visits were seldom the subject of front page news coverage but every now and again we get a hint of how busy the port could be. Following is a story from the Charlottetown Examiner from 5 August 1899.

Life on Our Harbour

Seldom do so many steamers enter Charlottetown Harbor on one day as came in on Thursday afternoon and evening.  Those who were out in the park on that day, in addition to watching the cricket match and tennis playing had the pleasure of seeing an unusually large number of steamboats coming in.

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S.S. Jacques Cartier at harbour mouth

First of all came the Electra, and as she was coming in the Jacques Cartier was going out crowded with excursionists — all bound on enjoying the beautiful sail to Orwell. The the little government launch Sir Louis came in and shortly after her the City of Ghent, whose coming was not only known to those looking on  — her delightful sirene [sic] whistle proclaimed to all the city she was here on her regular weekly visit. Closely following the Ghent was the Sentinel, that trim little American Yacht which attracted the admiration of all that saw her.  Many were the suppositions as to what her name could be, but as she was not expected no-one knew until she got close to the wharf.

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Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company’s Princess

After her the familiar form of the Princess was seen coming in at full speed until she was almost up to the wharf. Just as onlookers adjourned for something to eat, last but greatest of all, the Halifax steamed in at a lively rate, sending side waves to wards the shore, and bringing to the Island tourists, who came to enjoy the refreshing breezes of our summer clime. 

HalifaxThis number of steamers, in addition to our regular ferry boats, tugs and steamers, coming in, is for Charlottetown Harbor something out [of] the ordinary.  After tea it still kept up, the Jacques Cartier returning from Orwell shortly after eight o’clock and she neared her berth the old time strains of “Home Sweet Home” could be herd across the water with pleasing effects, being sung by upwards of one hundred and thirty excursionists who crowded her deck.

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Black Diamond Steamship Company’s Bonavista in Montreal

At ten o’clock the Bonavista, of the Black Diamond Line arrived from Montreal and she was the last one for Thursday night. At Friday morning at five o’clock, the Campana, that splendid steamer owned by the Quebec Steamship Company arrived from Quebec and Montreal with one hundred and twenty five passengers, and as she came in the Electra sailed for Montague. 

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S.S. Campana in Pictou ca. 1903. Warwick & Rutter postcard

It is enjoyable to watch the steamers as well as sailing vessels coming and going. But those who had the luck to be about the wharves or park at 7 o’clock on Friday morning might see a sight not often equalled in our harbor.  First of al the City of Ghent left her wharf, immediately after her the yacht Sentinel glided out and following the Sentinel the Princess started. One behind the other they steamed out the harbor and just as they were going out the three-masted schooner Evelyn, with every stitch of canvas set, was coming in sixteen days from Barbados. That was a sight which would make many a confirmed land lubber wish that the were a sailor, with “a life on the ocean wave and a home on the rolling deep.”

The yacht Sentinel which was noted above was also the subject of an enthusiastic report . Described as “A thing of beauty in the sailing line” it certainly caught the attention of the Examiner’s reporter. At the time the vessel belonged to Chicago millionaire C.K.G. Billings who had made a fortune in gas and electric utilities.

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Sentinel under a previous owner. Chicago Tribune 24 June 1895

She probably leads anything that has ever entered Charlottetown Harbor  — she’s so trim, so neat and so spotlessly clean. Everything about her is got up in the costliest manner. She is lighted with electricity, has a powerful searchlight, all the woodwork is  of mahogany and the fittings of brass and her naptha launch  and small sized cannon came in for not little share of attention from the number who who had the pleasure of seeing her as she lay at Poole & Lewis’ Wharf. Her length is 124 feet and she maintains a cruise speed of 10 knots. Her owner is Mr. Billings, who is now in Boston, and two friends of his on board. While at the wharf she was supplied with water, with ten tons of egg anthracite coal by C. Lyons & Co. and with a quantity of fresh provisions by Blake Bros.  

S.S. Halifax – Charlottetown to Boston and Return

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S.S. Halifax preparing to leave Charlottetown. A visiting warship can be seen in the background

By 1890 the wooden steamships Carroll and Worcester which had provided the direct Charlottetown – Boston connection since 1872 were more than twenty-five years old and in 1892 their owners, the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company became bankrupt. Fortunately another company, the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company, which had previously operated between Boston and Halifax, was able to begin service to the Island, and better still had a modern vessel for the route.

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S.S. Halifax at Canso

The steamer Halifax was built on the Clyde at the Govan Middleton Yard of the London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Company and was launched in July 1888. She was rapidly completed and began service between Boston and Halifax 20 October 1888. The single-screw vessel was 230 feet long by 35 feet wide and drew some 21.5 feet.  In spite of her width she had a somewhat ungainly and top-heavy appearance emphasised by a high prow and passenger decks running the full length of the steamer.  However there are no reports of instability and the passages were usually without incident

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S.S. Halifax at the Plant Line Wharf in Port Hawkesbury

The new vessel was owned by the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company which had been incorporated in Halifax the previous year by a number of leading merchants from the Nova Scotia city including James E. Chipman who appears as owner in the registration.

In a listing of port connections from Halifax in the 1892 Canadian Guide Book by Charles G.D. Roberts the steamer was particularly noted;

…the fine, new, steel steamer Halifax of the Canada Atlantic Line to Boston. This is a most desirable route to Boston. The fare [from Halifax] is $7; return ticket, $12. Staterooms $1 to $1.50 extra. The streamers sail from Halifax every Wednesday at 8 A.M. arriving in Boston Thursday at 1 P.M.; from Boston every Saturday at noon, arriving in Halifax Sunday evening at 6 P.M. Through tickets are issues in connection with this line, over most important railways and baggage checked through. The boat is very steady and safe, and most comfortable in her equipments [sic]. 

Up until 1892 the Halifax appears to have travelled on the Halifax –  Boston route but in that year the Canada Atlantic line was combined with Henry Plant’s, Plant Line and during the ice-free season the steamer began to run as far as Charlottetown stopping at Port Hawkesbury en route. From Port Hawkesbury steamers connected through the Bras d’or lakes to Sydney. From Charlottetown passengers could transfer to other steamers to connect with Quebec and Montreal  

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S.S. Halifax at the Plant Line Wharf, Charlottetown ca. 1893

The Halifax was one of the first cruise ships to operate in the Caribbean. In 1891 she was reported to have carried a group of American excursionists from Boston to Kingston, Jamaica. Following the 1892 merger of the Canada Atlantic and Plant lines the Halifax was again pressed into the off-season cruise business. In early 1893, she provided three 10-night experimental winter cruises between Tampa, Nassau and Jamaica. Her first cruise left Tampa with 89 passengers on February 16, 1893, with Henry Plant himself aboard to make sure that all went well.  Thereafter the Halifax was a regular on the winter service between Tampa, Key West and Havana operated in conjunction with the Peninsular and Occidental Steamship Company.

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The Plant Line Wharf Charlottetown, Great George Street in background

While continuing to provide an important freight and passenger service between the Island and Boston, the Charlottetown – Hawkesbury – Halifax connection enabled the Plant Line to begin advertising the Boston – Charlottetown trips – not just as passage, but as cruise. The service thus was a precursor to the dozens of cruise ships which visit the harbour today.  By 1904 the company was advertising the return passage in a popular magazine under the heading “Plant Line Ocean Trips”

“‘One Night at Sea’ or Six Days’ Cruise 1400 miles for $18. From Union Wharf, Boston, every Tuesday and Saturday, 12 noon for Halifax, Hawkesbury and Charlottetown. Good board. Cheapest rates. Best trout and salmon fishing, and shooting. Beautiful scenery. This doesn’t half tell it. Send stamp for booklet ‘Looking Eastward,’ maps, etc.”

The $18 round trip fare looks a bargain but it did not include accommodation or meals.

screen-shot-08-25-16-at-07-57-pmDuring a thick fog  in August of 1901 the Halifax struck a rock near Minot’s Light south-east of Boston while on passage from Halifax to Boston. The 250 passengers were safely taken off after the captain had beached the sinking vessel close to shore.  Although reported as wrecked the vessel was floated to dry-dock in Boston and was able to be repaired and later returned to the route.  She was temporarily replaced by the chartered Dominion Atlantic Railway steamer Yarmouth  which had been operating on the Plant Line’s Boston to Sydney service. The Halifax was repaired and was back on the route the following year.

In 1903 the president of the Canada Atlantic and Plant line sold out. M.F. Plant turned over the line, the S.S. Halifax, the Plant wharf in Halifax and leases of wharves in Charlottetown and Hawkesbury as well as the charter of the Steamer Olivette to a group of investors from Boston and Halifax.

With the declining fortunes of the Plant Line and the economic difficulties caused by the Great War the line was wound up. The Halifax was sold to a group of New York investors. She was last sighted leaving St. Michael’s in the Azores on a passage from New York to Bordeaux on 11 December 1917 but was never heard from again.

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Warwick & Rutter patriotic postcard featuring the S.S. Halifax

For anyone wishing more information about steamers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence I can highly recommend Kevin Griffin’s on-line history of the Clarke Steamship Company found here. He also contributes to a blog featuring cruise information called the Cruise People.