Tag Archives: Holland Cove

Fake News of a Phantom: The Ghost of Holland Cove

Camping at Holland Cove ca. 1895.

A legend is defined as “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.” What then are we to make of “The Legend of Holland Cove?” It is certainly unauthenticated but is it historical?

The tale is a rambling account of the death of Samuel Holland’s mistress and her re-appearance when time and tide are perfectly aligned. It is overlaid with the adventure of a group of campers who just happen to be at the locale at the right time. But as usual with such stories not all is what it seems to be.

To be successful ghostly accounts must have just the right mix of the known and the unknown. The tale is grounded in the residence of Captain Samuel Holland at Observation Cove, now called Holland Cove, in the winter of 1764-1765 while he was engaged in the survey of the colony. With the exception of that single fact, the rest of the tale is fiction. It tells of how Samuel had a mistress, “… a magnificent woman…tall, strait as an arrow with a lovely womanly grace of figure and motion, yet endowed with as much strength as most men; her dark skin, scarcely so dark as to betray the Indian blood in her veins; her hair wound in dark coils round a perfectly poised head, and a face grandly beautiful – a French woman with the added stature of the Micmac race.”  The teller of the tale gives her the name “Racine.” While anxiously waiting for Samuel to return from a winter surveying expedition she wandered out on the ice of the Cove, fell through and drowned.  Her birthday and the day she met Samuel for the first time was on the 14th of July.  This dramatic event is but the pre-amble to the ghost story. In actual fact Samuel was hardly in a position to have mistress while on the Island. He shared the cramped hut built in the woods at Observation Cove with his Quebec-born common-law wife Marie-Josephte Rolet and an infant son.

The highly fictionalized account moves suddenly to midnight, July 14 1776. Holland is away. (He really was away as he lived on the Island for only just under a year in the winter of 1764-1765 and he seems never to have returned. By March 1776 he was far from Holland Cove and was attached to the British forces in New York and he did not leave there until 1778.)  However to return to the story – his lieutenant was asleep on the beach at Holland Cove while two of his crew were in the house. One is awakened by voices and sees Racine in the room. She exits, leaving wet footprints, and walks to the cove and across the surface of the water until suddenly she plunges through and is seen no more. The awakened men return to the house and ponder the inexplicable wet footprints left behind.

The story then lurches forward to the late 1890s where a party of holiday campers are under canvas at Holland Cove. The ghost story is told and a young man of the party stays up until midnight. He sees the ghost – or perhaps he doesn’t. The end. So the alleged ghost story is about a group of teenagers and their chaperones reacting to the “legend” then a century old. As ghost stories go it is a pretty lame affair. What is more interesting is the source and after-life of the tale.

“The Legend of Holland Cove” first appeared in Vol VII of The Canadian Magazine, published in 1896. It is clearly identified in the magazine index as fiction. The author is F. Gerald, a name unassociated with any other publications and, as they say, “not an Island name.”   Yet the author clearly has knowledge of the Island.  A clue to his identity can be found in the Prince Edward Island Magazine for June of 1899 where a story titled “The Smugglers of Holland Cove” has many similarities of style including a party of campers at the Cove cast  as the main characters. This story too, is published over the name of “F. Gerald.”  However in the index to the volume the author is listed as “Justice Fitzgerald.”

Judge Rowan Robert Fitzgerald (1847-1921) was from a prominent family. He trained as a lawyer and was called to the bar in 1869. He was appointed a Judge of the P. E. I. Supreme Court in 1892 and served more than 25 years on the bench.  He was very much aware of Holland Cove as he and his family were among the earliest residents of Charlottetown to holiday at the Cove, initially tenting and later building summer cottages.

Two years after the publication of “The Legend of Holland Cove” Fitzgerald’s story was rewritten and included in Myths and Legends Beyond Our Borders by Charles M. Skinner. Skinner was an American journalist and author whose previous book had dealt with myths and legends of the United States. In casting his net for stories from elsewhere he had obviously spotted Fitzgerald’s recent publication.  However Skinner shortened the story and stripped it of its multiple layers setting the whole thing in 1765 and making Holland himself one of those present at the ghostly re-appearance.

The story has one further version. In May 1935 the Charlottetown Guardian published a tale under the title “The Ghost at Holland Cove”  by F. Fitzgerald. The judge was dead by this time so it is unclear just who this was. In this telling the heroine of the story is Captain Holland’s wife whose ghost returns at midnight on the anniversary of her death in 1765, now conveniently dated in the summer, when the Cove had its full complement of summer visitors, most staying at the Summer Resorts. (In reality Holland’s wife lived until 1825.) Curiosity about the ghost led to the visitors to stay up until midnight when one of the party was frightened in the woods by another. No ghost sighting. The end. It was hardly confirmation of a longstanding ghostly tradition.

The story with its fragile foundation was continued with the establishment of a Y.M.C.A. camp at Holland Cove after WW2.  By the time I attended in the late 1950s and early 1960s it was a regular feature of the camp activities that one night of each camp session the juvenile campers, after suitable mood-setting around the campfire, would be led to the shore of the cove to watch for Lady Holland’s ghost.  If the tide was high on the chosen night one of the camp councillors (often “Bones” Likely) would row a boat across the cove with a lantern which would be mysteriously snuffed out, signaling that Lady Holland had met with her fate.  If the tide was low the drama would play out on the sandbars. The event was reckoned a success if first-time campers were kept awake by bad dreams.

So when is a legend not a legend?  The clearly fictional account, much copied and modified, hardly counts as something regarded as historical but unauthenticated.  Simply calling something a legend does not make it so. The tale has become part of a completely ersatz history grounded in nothing but Rowan R. Fitzgerald’s imagination but it lives on in ghost story collections assembled by anthologizers catering to nothing more than curiosity.

Those wishing to read the story in its original form can find Fitzgerald’s tale here, Skinner’s 1898 version can be read here, and the 1935 version is found here. The true story of Samuel Holland and his mistress and wife is told in Samuel Holland, His work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island by Earle Lockerby and Douglas Sobey, published in 2015. The truth is far more interesting than the fiction.

For another nearby location which, in the hands of a latter-day Fitzgerald,  might serve as the locale for a ghost story see the posting here.

The Fort Lot: One of the Island’s Special Places


Detail from A Map of the Island of Saint John in the Gulph of St. Laurence divided into Counties and Parishes and the lots as granted by government [published 1775]. The name Fort Amherst does not appear.

On the port side as you sail into Charlottetown Harbour the land rises and you pass under the site of both the French and English military and civil headquarters for the Island in the 18th century. Today, much of this area is set aside as a National Historic site of Canada with an unwieldy hyphenated name reflecting the three cultures with which the site is associated – Skmaqn-Port-La-Joye-Fort Amherst.  What is not so well-known that from the very beginning of the English colonial period this land had always been set aside and earmarked as a special piece of property.

When Samuel Holland made his survey of the Island in 1764-1765 he lived at nearby Observation Cove (now Holland Cove) while the other staff lived in the location he had rejected – the decaying Fort Amherst, whose earthworks are at the centre of the present National Historic Site. “Fort Amherst,” he wrote, “…is only a poor Stockaded Redoubt with Barracks scarcely sufficient to house the Garrison and the houses that were near it was All pulled down to get the materials to built it.”

Holland famously divided the Island into 67 lots of about 20,000 acres along with reservations for county towns at Princetown, Georgetown and Charlottetown.  He also provided for one other reservation of land – The Fort Lot.  In a detailed description of the survey written on 5 October 1765 Holland notes

There is 520 acres preserved for the Fort Lott, having 1000 Yards to the North South and West from the Center of Fort Amherst and to the East as far as the Waterside, but it must Also be remarked that the Fort Lott takes up Almost all the cleared Land at Port Joy.     

In addition in a table attached to the report which enumerates certain features of each lot, the following is noted for Lot 65

Well situated for Agriculture it has a fine communication by Elliot River, but at present most of the Cleared Lands are about the Fort and taken up for the Fort Lott which has 1000 Yards, South and North and West from the Centre of the Fort and contains 520 Acres. 

One of Holland’s enduring legacies was his naming of Prince Edward Island.  He ignored aboriginal names, except a few which were adopted by the French and replaced most French names through an elaborate system of honouring British worthies.  The name Fort Amherst does not appear on the original manuscript Holland map although later printed versions of the map do name the fortification  A table on Holland’s manuscript map describing the townships does, however, note the Fort Lott.

Detail from A Plan of the Island of St. John with the divisions of the Counties Parishes and the Lots as granted by Government Printed and Sold by A. Drury [1775]

In early printed copies of the Holland map the 520 acre Fort Lot (or Fort Lott) is both named and delineated.  In some later additions of the map the name Fort Amherst has been added.  Neither feature is named on J.F.W. DesBarres’ Atlantic Neptune sheet showing the area.

In John Stewart’s 1806 volume which is the first published history of Prince Edward Island he notes the Fort Lot with its cleared land at the mouth of the harbour and how it had been coveted by Governor Patterson in the 1780s.

There is a reservation of a tract of land called the Fort Lot on the west side of the harbour, extending from the entrance of the Narrows almost to the mouth of the Elliot River, on this tract Fort Amherst formerly stood on an elevated spot three hundred yards from the water, it was erected immediately after the conquest of the Island…   The Fort was dismantled and destroyed by Governor Patterson soon after his appointment to the government, and there being near three hundred acres of fertile cleared land within the reservation, extremely beautiful in point of situation, the governor was tempted to make a grant of the whole to a person who re-conveyed it to himself and on this place built a handsome farm house and extensive offices, and laid out large sums in its improvement.

Patterson was married to Hester Warren and the farm built on the Fort Lot became known as Warren Farm. The name was adopted for the area and the cove on which the farm faced was called Warren Cove or Warren Farm Cove. After Patterson’s fall from grace the Fort Lot appears to have reverted to the Crown. In December 1798 a memorial was received from the Abbe de Calonne, a well-connected French émigré whose brother had Island property seeking a lease of the Fort Lot. The Secretary of State for the Colonies wrote to Lieutenant Governor Fanning, who had succeeded Patterson, directing that the Fort Lot be leased to Calonne. In June of the same year Fanning wrote that the lease had been executed for the Fort Lot and that Calonne had been put in possession but that the buildings were much out of repair. After Calonne gave up the property it was eventually sold or leased to a number of others who farmed the valuable property. One worthy who lived there was Captain (later Colonel) H. Bentinck Cumberland who acquired a considerable estate adjacent to the Fort Lot in what is now the community of Cumberland. His own residence was named Ringwood and it was located on the Warren Farm property but was in ruins by the late 1890.        

Dark lines show the boundaries of the Fort Lot imposed on the 1880 Atlas sheet for Lot 65. Note that the Fort Lot includes the site of Blockhouse Light.

A table in Joseph Bouchette’s 1831 volume on the British Dominions in North America showing the extent of parishes shows Hillsborough parish being composed of Township 29, 30, 31, 65 and Fort Lot, suggesting that the Fort Lot was not considered to be part of Lot 65.  It appears however that by the latter part of the century the 520 acres was consistently included within the acreage of Lot 65.  An undated map at the Public Archives shows 470 acres (all but the northern tip of the Fort Lot) in the name of John Newsom.  The cadastral atlas of 1880 does not show a specific Fort Lot, the acreage having been broken up into a number of landholdings but at this time (and still)  the property lines of the original Fort Lot are evident on the map and the name Warren Farm appears referencing the whole area.

The Fort Lot was the site of the battery at the mouth of the harbour which pre-dated the Blockhouse Light which took its name from the defensive building which was built on the site of the battery.  Other noteworthy elements on the Fort Lot included the ranges, originally on Canseau Point and later relocated as range lights of the south edge of Warren Creek;  the landing place for the first ferry at Ringwood; the later site of the Rocky Point Ferry Wharf; and the Indian Reserve at Rocky Point.

The Fort Lot in 2018. Google Earth image

Today, however, the Fort Lot itself is a forgotten designation. The 520 acres has been carved up but the remaining land now protected as a National Historic Site still provides the sweeping view of the harbour which made it the best site for French and English fortification and references its early and subsequent life as a handsome farm property well into the mid-20th century.


Fairview was the Rocky Point Ferry until 1958

Diesel Ferry Fairview

Diesel Ferry Fairview

Early in January 1936, before the harbour iced over, the paddle steamer Hillsborough made its last trip. Replacing it was a boat that was new in many ways.  True, it retained the double ended configuration which enabled vehicles to drive on and off without having to turn around but in many ways it was a new design.

This boat on the ways at Fitzgerald's shipyard in Georgetown has been mis-identified as the Fairview. It is more likely the Montague or the Newport.

This boat on the ways at Fitzgerald’s shipyard in Georgetown has been mis-identified as the Fairview. It is more likely the Montague or the Newport.

The Fairview (named for a community near Rocky Point) was built in Georgetown at the shipyard of Captain Charles Fitzgerald. There were few ship yards left on Prince Edward Island in the mid-1930s and Fitzgerald had also built the ferry Newport (1928) which crossed the Cardigan River and the Montague (1930) which ran to Lower Montague. These two boats linked Georgetown with the communities in Eastern Kings County and enabled the county capital to continue as a commercial centre. The building of the new ferry provided work for about twenty men, many of whom had worked in the disappearing shipbuilding trade for years.

The new steamer was launched in December 1935  and was 115 feet long, 28 ferret wide and drew 7 feet.  The ferry had a gross tonnage of 227 tons. The main difference between it and its predecessor, the Hillsborough,  was in the means of propulsion. The Fairview was powered by a five-cylinder Canadian Fairbanks diesel engine which produced 175 horsepower which could drive the boat at 8 1/2 knots. The engine was supplied and installed by Bruce Stewart and Co. of Charlottetown  The ferry was wood throughout; the frame being American oak and pine and the planking was 3 inch hard  pine fastened to the frame using the traditional “trenails”, wooden pegs about 20 inches long and an inch in diameter driven through the planks and frame and wedged at both ends. The vehicle deck, which could carry up to eighteen automobiles, was spruce covered with asphalt plank. Unlike the Hillsborough, the Fairview had a deck covering most of the vehicle area from the elements. The passenger cabins, one of which was identified as the ladies cabin,  were finished in Douglas Fir. An additional line of inch and quarter hardwood planking along the waterline protected the hull from ice. Noteworthy equipment included 2 lifeboats and forty life belts.

The vessel was towed to Charlottetown for final fitting out at the Bruce Stewart wharf. By the 26th of March 1936 it had completed its test runs and was put into service.  Running from the period when the ship could be navigated through the spring ice until the winter closure of the harbour which could be as late as January the vessel continued on the route for twenty-two years. Service was interrupted when the Fairview went to Pictou for its annual overhaul. The boat was replaced on the run by a gasoline-powered launch.  In the winter a bushed road was marked for crossing the harbour.

For the most part the crossings were uneventful. An exception took place in August of 1944. As the ferry approached the Prince Street Wharf the horses hauling a truck wagon with potatoes and turnips were startled and backed up. Unfortunately the chain closing the gap at the stern snapped and the wagon slipped off the end of the Fairview dragging the horses, cart,  and a seven-year old boy, Delbert Muirhead of Canoe Cove, into the water. His father managed to jump clear as the wagon went off the stern of the boat into the water.  A passenger on the ferry dove into the water and saved the boy but the team, wagon and produce was lost. Howard Muirhead valued the team at $300, the wagon at $540 and the load of potatoes and turnips at $20.

In the days before automobile ownership was common the Fairview, like the other ferries before it, provided an easy and pleasant way for residents of Charlottetown to escape the city. Some times, on summer weekends two or three hundred people would cross the harbour on the boat to Rocky Point to use the beaches, visit the Indian encampment or the “Fort Lot” where the ruins of Fort Amherst were visible. Some even went farther to Holland Cove.

I have a recollection from about 1957 of being delivered by my family to the Ferry Wharf where the campers at the Holland Cove YMCA camp were assembled. After crossing the harbour on the Fairview we loaded our camping gear onto a waiting jeep and walked the dusty road from the Rocky Point wharf to Holland Cove where the cabins awaited us.

The Fairview after conversion to barge. Tied to Buntain & Bell wharf about 1960. Photo - Ron Atkinson

The Fairview after conversion to barge. Tied to Buntain & Bell wharf about 1960. Photo – Ron Atkinson

With improved roads and pavement gradually being extended into the countryside there was agitation for a permanent link between the communities of the South Shore and the City.  Various bridge proposals and routes were advanced and in 1958 a causeway was constructed across the West River between Meadowbank and New Dominion, just east of the steamer wharf at Westville.  Although a passenger service was continued into the early 1970s using the Fairview II and MacDonald’s 3, the converted fishing boats carried no cargo or automobiles.  The Fairview itself was sold off and used as a construction barge. Noted as “unseaworthy” the registry for the ship was canceled in 1963.

In spite of the fact that the Fairview was a fixture in the harbour for more than two decades photos of the ship are scarce. I would be pleased to learn of any that are available.