Tag Archives: history

Searching for Black Gold beneath the Red Rocks

Today Governors Island appears as a flat pancake of land barely surfacing from the waters of Hillsborough Bay. Its modest height is slightly supplemented by a small grove of spruce slowly being killed off by nesting blue herons and cormorants.  However twice in the first half of the twentieth century the skyline was broken by towers apparently reaching for the sky but which in reality were reaching far beneath the Island. They were hunting for oil at Governors Island.

Governors Island. Google Earth

Governors Island. Google Earth. The 1925-1927 well was located in the North-West part of the Island near the shore. Note the reef running from SW to NE.

Prince Edward Island is blessed with many resources but abundant minerals are not among them. The sandstone strata dates from the late Carboniferous and the Permian eras but contains few surprises. Some writers speculated that the formations which contained coal seams in Nova Scotia continued under the Strait but although coal traces had been found in some deep wells it was not exploitable. The exposed rock of Governors Island, although still sandstone, was much older than rock underlying other parts of the Island and the visible formations showed that the Island and its reef running east and west was near the top of a fold in the rock layers called an anticline. Such a fold had been shown elsewhere to be likely to trap oil seeping up through more permeable rock below.

In 1920 Hugh MacKay, a geologist from Oklahoma, then the centre of the U.S. oil industry, obtained a charter from the provincial government to prospect for oil and gas across the whole of Prince Edward Island and after further work in 1924 persuaded the firm of Henry L. Doherty & Co. that Governors Island represented the most promising site for drilling. Henry Doherty was the founder of the Cities Service Corporation which had moved from control of utilities across the USA to major involvement in oil operations. Armed with an oil rights agreement from the Province the Company began moving drilling equipment to Governors Island in the fall of 1925.

Snapshot of the 1920s rig on Governors Island. Duchemin album PARO accession # 3860.96.79

Snapshot of the 1920s rig on Governors Island. Duchemin album PARO accession # 3860.96.79

With the newspapers following the progress of the construction the official start to the boring was a big event for the Province. On 1 December 1925 sixty dignitaries including Premier James Stewart, Chief Justice John Mathieson, other judges, R.H. Jenkins M.P., and the American Consul A.M. Gonsales  were ferried on three motor launches to the Island to join the thirty men working on the rig.  Besides representatives of the press the party also had a “moving picture machine” recording the event. The Guardian gave a detailed account of the machinery which had been erected on the Island, joining the several buildings of the Judson lobster factory. Most obvious was the eighty-four foot tower standing on a twenty-one foot square which held the mechanism for raising and lowering the drill stem and the pipe sections which would be added as the drill bit ate into the rock beneath. The whole operation was driven by a steam-powered walking beam engine

The camp included the “dog house” next to the drilling floor and, further away, living quarters for the camp. the latter had the luxury of a radio and gramophone for those off duty. The Island held few other diversions, especially in winter when communication with the mainland was cut off by drifting ice and ice boats had to be used.  Beyond the worker’s quarters was the engine house which was expected to burn about a thousand tons of coal over the winter.

Guardian 11 December 1925

Guardian 11 December 1925

After the visitors had risen from a hearty lunch which included speeches from all and sundry, the ceremonial crowning of  the Doherty company Field Manager R.M. Stuntz as “King of Governors Island”, and the turning on of the steam by the Premier, the real work began and the launches with the lunchees returned to Charlottetown.

Things did not always go smoothly on the Island. In May 1926 it was reported that as the drill reached the 1300 foot mark the drill column broke and three months were spent recovering the bit.  After 1507 feet the first well was abandoned and another started. Drilling continued through 1926 but was halted at 4200 feet when the team ran out of pipe casings and they had to wait until more could be shipped and brought across the Hillsborough Bridge and then across the ice by double horse teams early in 1927.

In August 1927 a less geological activity on Governors Island was uncovered by a raid by officers of the Customs Preventative Service when a Sunday raid resulted in the seizure of thirteen gallons of mash and a still in a house adjoining the lobster factory. The Guardian took pains to clarify that the seizure was in no way connected with the oil drilling operations (no matter what the rumours said).

Sometime after August 1927 the drilling ground to a halt. The drill had reached 5965 feet, more than a mile beneath Governors Island, but no quantity of oil had been found. They might have gone further but the limits of the drilling equipment had been reached. If there was oil there it was deeper down.  The rig was disassembled and moved elsewhere.

It was to be sixteen years before the drillers returned.

[To be continued]

“Every citizen should be a member.” The Guardian and the founding of the Charlottetown Yacht Club


Charlottetown Guardian 14 September 1922

Whether planted in the mind of the editor by yachting enthusiasts or arising spontaneously from the editorial pen the editorial for the Charlottetown Guardian on 2 September 1922 centred on the harbour of the city;

Strangers visiting the Island this summer expressed surprise that so little use was being made of our waterfront and magnificent harbours and rivers for aquatic sports. With the most picturesque rivers on the continent, beautiful stretches of sandy beaches for bathing, it is surprising even to our selves, that aquatic sports, motor-boating, swimming contests and similar entertainments are not indulged in more than they are. An effort should be made before another season comes around to organize a yachting club, a swimming club or some sort of club for the promotion of aquatic sports. They would prove most attractive to visitors, especially to visitors from inland points to whom the sea is always a source of mystery. They can have the motoring and driving they want at home.  They go to the seaside for seaside enjoyment and in a place like Charlottetown, situated as it is beside safe and attractive sea surroundings they are disappointed if they do not find such enjoyment.

The editorial had enthusiastic support and within two weeks  a meeting was held to put the suggestion into action. Upwards of seventy-five individuals crowded into a room at the Navy League Building on Dundas Esplanade. After repeating the advantages for the people of Charlottetown and visitors alike (who in the past had been disappointed at the lack of sails in the harbour) a motion was unanimously adopted to form a yachting club in the city to be called the Charlottetown Yacht Club.

At the same meeting the first slate of officers was installed. Although the Guardian listed the head of the organization as “Commander” rather than “Commodore” it was an easy mistake as the person who filled the role was Commander W.G. Lewin, a newly arrived retired officer of the Royal Navy (about whom I will be writing more at a later date).  Vice “Commander” was T.B. Grady, superintendent of the P.E.I. Railway, with Louis J. MacDonald as secretary. The Committee consisted of Dr. A.D. Reid, Ivan Reddin, John Cameron, Malcolm Irwin, James Currie and George Buntain.  The Guardian congratulated those present on the formation of the club. “The splendid movement on the part of these gentlemen will fill a long felt want in our Province and is unquestionably deserving of generously support by our citizens.”

The organization was the latest of a long series of clubs that had existed with similar aims including the Charlottetown Regatta Club in the 1840s, the Hillsboro Boating Club  ca.1873-1925, the first (and short-lived) Charlottetown Yacht Club formed in 1903 and the Charlottetown Aquatic Club 1912-1915.  However the 1922 Club continued through the decade and was incorporated in 1938.

Although the sailing season for 1922 was drawing to a close at the time the Club was founded by the first annual general meeting held in May 1923 substantial progress had been made. By November of 1922 designs could be viewed at Reddin Bros. Drug Store for a proposed standard yacht for the club. The plans showed boats of about 21 feet in length with a sail area of five or six hundred feet of canvas. The Club believed this was the size of yacht which could be locally built at a low price. At the time the Club was considering tendering for the construction of one or more boats to be owned by the Club and sailed by its members. Included in the designs was one from William J. Roué, a Nova Scotia designer just beginning his career who had achieved fame with the schooner Bluenose which had won the first of its International Fisherman’s Trophies the previous year. Although there is no listing for a boat for the CYC in the Roué design portfolio it is known that he did design a Roué 20 which may be the designed referred to.  Over the winter nine boats were built but they appear to be of varying designs and it is not known if the Roué design was used for any of them.

Insurance Plan Connolloys wharves  ca. 1913. In the 1920s the firm of Alyward & Deegan had a coal yard on Connolly's Wharf

Insurance Plan Connolloys wharves ca. 1913. In the 1920s the firm of Alyward & Deegan had a coal yard on Connolly’s Wharf

By the spring 1923 meeting the Club had more than two hundred members. It was announced that the club had received permission to use the dock between Carvell Bros. and Alywards (part of Paoli’s wharf) as an anchorage. The area was to be dredged to form a basin and a night watchman would be placed on duty. A listing of motor boats willing to take visitors and tourists on motor boat outings was to be prepared by the Club. In addition the Club appears to have received the use of a part of the Navy League building for meetings and other activities.

The club was still pursuing the idea of Club-owned boats. A number of members had subscribed toward the funds for that purpose and a committee consisting of Messrs David Bethune, Walter Hyndman and Commander Lewin had been appointed to solicit merchants for contributions toward the purchase of two or three boats for Club members.

The Guardian noted the progress of the club with editorial approval:

When the fleet is out in full force, as is expected shortly, Charlottetown Harbour will once more present the lively appearance of those days, a generation or two ago, when white-winged pleasure boats vied with each other and with the elements for mastery in speed and skill. This new fleet will be an added attraction for Charlottetown, and we trust it will grow from year to year, both in numbers and in popularity.

The Charlottetown Yacht Club although but a young institution is growing apace. It already has a membership of about 250, with room for still more. For a city like Charlottetown, with its magnificent stretches of rivers, there are few organizations which have better opportunities to advertise and popularize the province than this Yacht Club and every citizen should be a member, and so help in carrying out a much needed work. 

The late spring of 1923 saw the first yacht racing in many years as at least fourteen boats from the Yacht Club participated….More on that in a future posting.

Ballastmaster, Wharfinger, Harbourmaster

The incorporation of the City of Charlottetown in 1855 meant changes in how many activities in the  city were managed. The wharves and harbour were no exception and one of the first by-laws published by the city was “A law defining the duties of Harbour and Ballast masters, and wharfingers and the rates of wharfage.”


Detail of Charlottetown in 1839 from “Chart of Hillsborough Bay and the Harbour of Charlottetown” by George Wright. Note that only Queen’s Wharf extends to deep water.

In the mid-19th century the development of the waterfront echoed the increase in population and importance of Charlottetown as a port.  The single Tatars Wharf near the foot of Great George Street had been joined at an early date by the Queens Wharf running toward the channel from Queen Street and Pownal Wharf at the foot of Pownal Street (not yet constructed at the time of the 1839 chart). Both of these wharves were built by the colonial government and were handed to the City at the time of incorporation. In addition there were a number of private wharves dating from the 1840s. These included Lord’s Wharf (now the east jetty of the Charlottetown Yacht Club), Peake’s wharf, and Reddin’s Wharf (to the west and east of the foot of Queen Street respectively).

Although initially administered by the colonial government, following the incorporation of Charlottetown in 1855, many of the duties connected with the harbour and its wharves were delegated to the city.  Because the wharves were the trade and industry centres for the new city the by-law gives us a glimpse of the concerns of the day and activity on the waterfront. The by-law identifies three important officers controlling the harbour.


In the days of sailing ships handling ballast was a necessary part of managing a ship.  A ship carrying heavy goods did not need ballast but if the load was light (as in the case of immigrant ships) or non-existent  when there was not an incoming or outgoing cargo, ballast was necessary to ensure that the ship did not ride too high in the water which made her difficult – or in some cases too dangerous – to handle.  A ship coming to Charlottetown to pick up a cargo of timber or oats might have tons of ballast which would have to be discharged before the cargo was loaded. On the other hand a ship arriving laden with cargo but no out-going manifest might have to pick up ballast to take her to her next port.

The early wharves in Charlottetown barely extended the channel and it was not unusual in the days before dredging for ships to have to lie aground at low tide.  In ports where ballast was not properly managed it was frequently simply dumped over the side reducing even further the amount of water at the wharf or, if dumped elsewhere in the harbour creating a dangerous shoal.  The official managing the handling of ballast, was, not surprisingly, the ballastmaster.

The Charlottetown legislation gave the ballastmaster the duty of boarding every ship coming into the harbour, informing the ship’s master of the regulations and

…diligently attend the delivery or discharging or delivery of all stones, gravel or other ballast… and shall not knowingly permit any portion thereof to be cast, thrown or let fall into the waters where navigable, but shall direct and to the utmost of his power cause all such ballast to be carried and laid on shore where it will not obstruct navigation…  

The ballastmaster was entitled to collect a fee from the shipowner for his services and, in addition,  had the duty of overseeing the removal of any wrecks or obstructions in the harbour.


The wharfinger’s duties related to the city’s wharves themselves. He was the collector of fees levied for the use of the city wharves and in addition was required to keep the wharves in “due preservation and repair.” The legislation directed him to

… take care that neither of them is encumbered with articles or things of any kind, to the prevention of vessels loading or discharging thereat, or of ordinary business being performed thereon – prevent their encumbrance with any shed or building of any description, and cause such erections now thereon to be moved away – prohibit any quantity or quantities of weighty articles to be laid on or remain on any of the blocks or bridges of said wharves to the injury of the same…

He also had considerable power over the vessels at the city wharves. He controlled mooring and unmooring and could move vessels obstructing the passage of the public ferries, could arbitrate disputes between competing captains regarding dockage rights, and compel yards, bowsprits and martingales to be struck or removed.  The wharfinger also policed  the driving of any “horse mare, gelding, or any other beast of burden in any carriage coach, wagon, truck, cart, sled, sleigh or other vehicle for the transportation of persons or goods or either of them” and for proceeding at anything more than a walk the wharfinger could commit an individual to jail for not less than forty-eight hours or more than five days.

The main business of the wharfinger was to collect monies levied on the goods loaded and unloaded at the public wharves.  The by-law has an extensive list of charges for in-coming goods but the fees for out-going shipments give a hint as to the main exports of the colony in the mid 1850s: produce, lumber, livestock, hay and straw.


While the harbourmaster might be considered the most important of the triumvirate of officials his role was really much more limited. The duties enumerated included control over the buoys in the part of the harbour under control of the city and management of beacons within the city.  In Charlottetown the sole aid to navigation depicted in the 1839 chart of the bay and harbour was a front range beacon near what is now Beaconsfield which when lined up with the steeple of St. James Church gave a safe course from Battery Point to the wharves.

Anticipating that the volume of business for these three offices could vary the by-law allowed all three to be filled by a single individual.  Today the role of ballastmaster has disappeared and the duties of wharfinger and harbourmaster have, in great part, been taken over by the Charlottetown Harbour Authority which created in 2005.