Tag Archives: Halifax

An 1890 trip from Charlottetown to Halifax on the S.S. Worcester

The Boston, Halifax, and Prince Edward Island Steamship Line’s S.S. Worcester in Charlottetown Harbour ca. 1893.

The steamship connection between Charlottetown and Boston (the Boston Boat) was begun in 1864, continued until the Great War, and was revived in the 1930s.  Although many steamers served the route the most famous were the vessels Worcester and its twin the Carroll, both from the civil war era, which for more than twenty-five years regularly made the passage back and forth between the Island and New England, stopping at Port Hawkesbury and Halifax.

Thousands of Islanders made the trip, many tasking the passage scores of times. Because it was such a common shared experience, accounts of the trip are rare. The following is a report from one “Viator” (Latin for traveller) published in the Charlottetown Examiner on 22 September 1890.  The delayed start from Charlottetown was on a Friday.

The early part of the lovely month of September is, to my mind, the ideal time for a holiday trip either by land or sea. Then it is that the weather is not sufficiently warm to be oppressive, nor so cold as to be unpleasant. … I went from Charlottetown to Boston of the steamer Worcester, of the Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Line and made the journey from Boston to New York via Providence by rail…

Owing to the fact that some of the ship’s firemen had indulged rather freely in the exhilarating fluids so openly and unblushingly dispensed in the Scott Act city of Charlottetown and were consequently unable to satisfactorily discharge their duties, necessitating the engagement of new men, the Worcester was almost three hours late in leaving port on the occasion of my taking passage in her. …

As the steamer passed out by the Block House the decks were lined with passengers. Some were in groups conversing and here and there a couple could be seen sitting rather closely together, as is quite natural when people are leaving home and happen to be of the opposite sexes

Passing out by the Black Buoy the water now became rough, and from the Bell Buoy until Point Prim was reached the “old reliable” made things so interesting for the before mentioned groups and couples that within half an hour the decks were deserted save by a poor seasick passenger unable to get away from the lee rail, and a few veterans … who made themselves popular by assisting the others, especially the females, to less exposed quarters. After passing Point Prim the sea was more aft, and the steamer went along more gently and quickly before the wind, and all was quiet for the night when the writer retired.

By daylight the next morning the steamer was well in between Cape George Promontory and the Straits of Canso, and the passengers were afforded a magnificent view of one of the most picturesque sights to be seen in North America. The high land of Cape George trending away to the south-west lost itself among the fertile valleys of Antigonish, only to reappear again in greater elevation as it spread out before us and touched the water at Cape Porcupine, Straits of Canso. Then a small gap and the loftier hills of Cape Breton stretch themselves before our vision, varied here and there by sharply-defined and precipitous buffs, which seemed away in a blue distance to almost touch the heavens. Port Hood Island showed out as a clearly-marked spot to the left, while just a shadow on the water astern gave mute evidence of the one spot every man cherishes – “Our native land.” As it lies peaceful and quiet on the very verge of the horizon, one is reminded of the many souls that have left its shores, how few, alas, of whom return to enjoy the peace and tranquility they so much desired before “passing to that bourne whence no traveller returns.” But the breakfast bell cuts short one’s musings, and, fully alive to the importance of the occasion, I made my way in the direction of the dining saloon. While we were at breakfast the steamer was made fast to the wharf at Port Hawkesbury.

After breakfast and ascertaining that the steamer would have to await the arrival of the Sydney boat which was likely to be late owing to the fresh westerly wind prevailing and having Mr. Sawyer’s guarantee that we would not be left behind Capt. Bernard, Mr. Wright and myself started off to see the sites of Port Hawkesbury…..

Delayed by the late arrival of the connecting steamer from Sydney, Viator and several other passengers took a tour on the Canso Strait area which coincided with the passage of part of the Royal Navy’s North Atlantic Fleet on its way to Quebec. The description of this part of the trip has been omitted but can be found in the full newspaper account.

We also saw the Neptune with our Sydney passengers passing along so we dropped our inspection of the railways and warships and hastened back to our boatman who soon landed us on the Worcester… In the meantime, the Neptune had tied up to the wharf, and by noon the passengers and their baggage were transferred to the Worcester, and we were off again.  As the boat left the harbour we met a beautiful steam yacht flying the stars and stripes and as we went by both steamers dipped their flags with marine courtesy. Now all was life and animation aboard. Everyone was busily engaged admiring the rough scenery of “the Gut” — quite a change to most of our passengers from the low land and red clay of P.E. Island. … As the steamer passed down Chedabucto Bay we began to get evidence of the sea roll, and by the time she rounded Cape Canso and was fairly headed up the shore for Halifax, a good many of the now familiar faces had disappeared to be seen no more until our arrival in Halifax. The sea was not rough, but it kept up a constant motion not to be borne by new beginners. Still, however, there was quite a number of passengers around the decks till night, after which only a few couples kept possession of the benches until ten, at which hour the steward and stewardess made their rounds as usual and gathered in the stragglers. About four o’clock in the afternoon we passed the Carroll — the sister ship of this line — bound east. All the afternoon and evening Nova Scotia was a blue line off the fight hand side (perhaps I should say starboard side) and every hour or two we could make out a new lighthouse and after dark the lights.

Next morning when I came on deck there was every appearance of rain, and the steamer was abreast of Devil’s Island Light, with Chedabucto Head stretching out away across our bows. By nine o’clock we arrived at the wharf in Halifax. All hands are on deck again anxious for a run on shore after the tedium of seasickness, and soon the Worcester is almost deserted. As she has a large freight to take in for Boston the stevedores and crew are soon hard at work. While the loading is in progress the passengers start off to “do” the city.

Halifax was reached on Sunday morning. Viator toured the city and re-boarded the Worcester to complete the trip to Boston which was reached on Monday afternoon.

“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.