Tag Archives: Harland

Up the creek or variations on a stream – More photos from the Irwin albums

In the late 1930s the West or Eliot River was the playground of the Charlottetown Yacht Club’s motor boaters.  The sailboats had the harbour and the bay with their races and regattas.  Powerboat racing had come and gone in the first decade of the century (and would come again with the advent of powerful outboards in the 1950s and 60s) and motorboaters were for the most part more interested in comfort than speed.

On the river itself there was little traffic and still less commerce. The regular trips of the Harland to Westville had ended in 1936 and the motor boat packet service of sorts which extended as far as Bonshaw with boats such as the Derry, Dolphin and the Hazel Ruth came to a halt about the same time because road travel had become more popular.   The wharves along the river at Shaws, Westville and further west were seldom used.

Above Dunedin the Bonshaw hills pinched the river  which had carved out large “S” bends as it wore its way through the soft sandstone. As the crow flies from Dunedin Bridge to Bonshaw is just over four kilometers but as the river flows it is about double the distance. With banks too steep for cultivation the upper part of the West River retained (and still retains) the appearance of a virgin forest, although the woods have been logged continuously since the early 1800s. A few massive pines and hemlocks on the steepest slopes give a taste of what the shoreline might have looked like in earlier years.


Upper reaches of the West river 2005. While the serpentine course of the river can plainly be seen the steepness of the banks is less obvious.  Image from Google Earth.


Green Road Bridge at Crosby’s Mills

There were a few spots on the inside of the meanders where the ground was flat enough for fields and these had been used by the adventurous from Charlottetown as camping and fishing spots since the time of confederation.  While large power cruisers such as Mac Irwin’s Roamer were stopped by the bridge at Bonshaw the head of navigation was a mile or so up-stream at Crosby’s Mill.  Just before reaching the mill the steel girder bridge over the river at Green Road made another barrier for larger boats.   At high tide this could easily be reached by rowboats or by the outboard powered runabouts.


Bentley’s Mae West emerging from under the Green Road Bridge.

The Irwin album has a large number of photos featuring one of these runabouts in particular. The Mae West was owned by Charlie and Eileen Bentley, a couple who were among the early members of the Charlottetown Yacht Club.  They appear to have been particular friends of Mac Irwin and often accompanied him on his excursions up the West River.  Charlie kept the Mae West in immaculate condition.  The Irwin albums attest to the fact that within the group there was at least one avid photographer. Although the quality of the photos is not always studio standard there is no mistaking the level of interest.  The photos were widely shared and copies of some of them appear in the Fred Small Collection and in the photos which once were displayed in the old Yacht Club building. Some of the latter have been transferred to the Yacht Club collection at the Public Archives and Records Office.

The Bentley family have a large number of photos of the West River activities and I am indebted to Eric Bentley for giving me access to his collection and for supplying identification for a number of the vessels and people.

The selection below represents some of the West River activities documented in the Irwin albums.  Click on any image to see the photos as a slide show.


Port Selkirk – A Model Commmunity

In the 1880 Meacham’s Atlas of Prince Edward Island there are two planned towns. One was Victoria which continues to be a viable community albeit a little empty of residents in the winter owing to the high percentage of summer landowners. The other is Port Selkirk in lot 57, just down the road from Orwell Cove.

Port Selkirk from Meacham''s Atlas, 1880

Port Selkirk from Meacham”s Atlas, 1880

Neatly laid out with 76 lots on five blocks, carved up by five streets, only some of which carried names, Port Selkirk was never to fulfill the landowner’s expectations.

What it shared with Victoria was an easy point of access  to the sea. Orwell Brush Wharf was the best quay serving the farmers and merchants of the Orwell and Belfast districts.  The port was on the Orwell River just below where the Vernon River flowed into it.  The deep channel, which still shows depths of more than thirty feet, was well sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds. There was a tee-shaped government wharf at the end of the road which linked the port to communities such as Orwell Corner, Kinross, Uigg, Vernon and Newton.  There was an established ferry crossing to China Point and in winter it was a good point to cross the ice on the way to town.  But being at the end of the road was a bit of a problem because only a mile or so to the East was another community which was already established as a service centre for the area. Orwell Cove was never more than a rural cross-roads but it had all that Port Selkirk would like to provide.

Orwell Cove about 1907

Orwell Cove about 1907

While Orwell Cove was not actually on the water – the cove itself is shallow and some distance from the cross-roads –  the community was already recognized as the commercial centre of the area and it had the district school.  Merchants and tradesmen were already living there and if someone was to build on the small village lots of Port Selkirk it would be have to be these folks – farmers didn’t live in towns.

Port Selkirk (Brush Wharf) 1935

Port Selkirk (Brush Wharf) 1935

Port Selkirk simply failed to develop. Although it was visited by the ships of the steamboat fleet such as the City of London and the Jacques Cartier in the late 19th and early 20th century the shore-side potential of the site was not realized. The period after 1880 was a bad one for the Island with  economic reversals and in the following decades many left the Island to the Boston States or the West . Population had dropped by almost 20% by the Great War and the greatest loss was in farming areas where lower quality soils and steep slopes made agriculture un-economic. One of the areas hardest hit was in the southern part of Kings and Queens Counties.  In addition the building of the Murray Harbour Branch of the PEI Railway and the building of a station at Uigg gave farmers and travelers an alternative to Brush Wharf for getting their goods to market.

By 1935 it was clear that Port Selkirk had ceased to be anything but a dream.  Although the field pattern which can be seen in the aerial  photograph mirrors the 1880 plan, the streets, lots and busy businesses were conspicuously absent. What few houses and buildings that had been there earlier had been mostly abandoned and it is doubtful if any of the streets were actually laid out.

Harland leaving Halliday's Wharf ca. 1910. Michael Costa photo

Harland leaving Brush Wharf ca. 1910. Michael Costa photo

Brush Wharf, however, continued to be used. It was a port of call for the Harland into the 1930s but after the end of the regular steamer service and the improvement of the road network little shipping activity was seen. Even the occasional schooner loading potatoes or grain became a rare event. However, between steamer visits it was likely a lonely place.

The development of the mussel industry meant that the wharf was saved unlike so many others such as the one across the river at China Point which is now nothing but a rock pile at the edge of the channel. Thanks to a large and thriving mussel operation using the Orwell River and Bay Brush wharf is today a very busy spot even if it stands alone at the end of the road. There are no steamers or schooners but the oddly shaped specialized craft designed to service the cultivation of the blue mussel shuttle back and forth from to the beds to the pier and the large processing facility on the shore is a major employer in the area.

I visited China Point and the Orwell River on one of my sailing excursions and found it to be an exceptional anchorage. With the sun rising the next morning over what would have been Port Selkirk it was easy to imagine what might have been.

Time has not been kind to many of our small Island communities. Compare this photo taken today of Orwell Cove with the postcard image seen above:

Orwell Cove May 2016

Orwell Cove May 2016

I am indebted to Dave Hunter, one of the few residents of Port Selkirk, and to followers of his several facebook and web pages for information in identifying the exact site of the 1907 postcard image.  He was able to provide background historical information for every one of the structures seen in that photograph.



The Forgotten York Point Ferry

When Samuel Holland selected the location for the Island’s capital he was influenced by the ease of access afforded by the rivers flanking the site. The Hillsborough, Elliott and York Rivers provided easy water access to the hinterland and before the development of a road system water was the main highway.

However as the land became settled and the economy shifted to agriculture the three rivers  became an impediment (except in winter) to getting access to to the growing town. The first of the rivers to be bridged was the York (North) River where a bridge at Poplar Island was, and continues to be, the route of access from the south and west. However, for pedestrians and horse and cart traffic from York Point, Cornwall and the South Shore it was still a detour well to the north of the shortest route which lay across the harbour.

York Point Wharf in 1935. Note the characteristic forked form of the ferry wharf.

York Point Wharf in 1935. Note the characteristic forked form of the ferry wharf.

A ferry across the North or York River was in use before 1830, probably as a private operation. However the construction of a bridge at Poplar Island, the site of the current crossing, in that year meant that there was limited interest in making improvements to the ferry wharf which appears to have been at or near the end of what is now the Ferry Road but it did not have the regularity or importance of the Rocky Point or Southport routes and it does not appear as a regular government ferry in the 19th century. Even by 1880 the Meachams Atlas shows the road as the “Old Ferry Road”. Possibly the investment required for a steam-powered craft was not justified by the amount of traffic generated on the route.  In the second decade of the 20th century a new technology emerged which made the venture more possible. The gasoline motor boat required less investment and could be accommodated in smaller craft. At the same time an expanded road network meant that more farmers were trying to get goods to Charlottetown and increasing leisure time resulted in the construction of a number of cottages on the North River Shore so there was a greater potential for business.

Guardian 21 July 1914 p. 7

Guardian 21 July 1914 p. 7

In September 1912 the Dominion government called for tenders for a wharf at Franklyn Point almost opposite Victoria Park. The wharf was to extend over 658 feet including the approaches  115 feet of this length to be two guide piers suitable for the ferry.  Initially the service used a motor boat but on completion of the wharf the Steamer Hillsboro made stops two days a week in addition to its Rocky Point service. The Hillsboro also provided service early in the spring and in the fall of the year.  However there appears to have been congestion at the Prince Street Wharf and a landing for the York Ferry was negotiated further west on the waterfront. After 1914 and into the 1920s there were calls for tenders for ferry operation on the route.  The first vessel noted on the route was the motor launch Dolphin which provided  four or five round trips each day from the York Point Wharf to Pownal Wharf – not the Prince Street Ferry wharf as was the case for the Rocky Point ferry. The 40 foot Dolphin had been built for the government the previous year for the route from Charlottetown to Bonshaw. She could carry up to 50 passengers with cabin accommodation for half that number.  However, she could carry only limited amounts of freight and was ill-suited to the transport of livestock.  Two years later the schedule for the Motor Boat Dolphin showed four trips on Monday (Market Day) and only two round-trips daily for the rest of the week. The exception was on Sunday when afternoon trips, possibly for picnic visits, were added.  The Dolphin was replaced by the Hazel R. (sometimes identified as the Hazel Ruth), which had been used in the motor boat service up to Bonshaw in 1917, and was running to York Point three times each summer day in 1919.  The Hazel R. was offered for sale in 1920 and in 1924 was once again reported on the Bonshaw service but it is not known if she continued to visit York Point. However, the service seems to have continued through the 1930s although the name of the boat is not recorded. A correspondent noted in April 1932 that the boat was “a great convenience” when the roads were almost impassable. The last newspaper reference I have been able to find was in 1935 when the LOBA (Ladies Orange Benevolent Association) held a picnic which included “a delightful sail on the York Pont Ferry”. In the late 1930s the yearly subsidy was reduced from $700 to $500 and it is not clear if it was paid past 1937. Whether for ferries or other purposes the wharf continued to be used and was dredged by the Dominion Government in 1944.

Google Earth view of York Point Ferry site. The wharf site is just barely visible at the foot of the light-coloured field.

Google Earth view of York Point Ferry site. The wharf ruin is just barely visible at the foot of the light-coloured field.

Although the 1935 air photo of Franklyn Point shows a forked wharf it is unlikely that after the early years when the Hillsboro operated, the ferry carried more than passengers and light freight as the Pownal wharf end of the run had no such docking accommodation.   At any rate after the 1940s the wharf fell out of use and gradually eroded.

Today a yellow harbour buoy is visible marking the outer end of the rock pile of the wharf ruin just under the water and the shore area is used by oystermen to launch their boats.  Along the shore the cottages are gradually being supplanted by permanent residences.

With paved roads the route to the capital via the North River Bridge is hardly a barrier and the York Point Ferry is barely a memory. Bill and Elizabeth Glen’s comprehensive history of Bonshaw has a photo of the Hazel R. but to date I have not been able to find photos of other boats on the route or of the wharf when it was still active. I would be pleased to hear of any more information about this almost-forgotten part of the harbour history.