Tag Archives: Island Connector

M.V. Eskimo – Walter Jones’ one-ship merchant marine

With the exception of ferries which were an essential part of the colonial and later provincial transportation system the Government of Prince Edward Island was generally content to let ownership of shipping reside with the private sector. There were handsome colonial subsidies for some of the coastal routes but after Confederation interprovincial traffic was more the responsibility of the Dominion government and the province was to great extent off the hook. Traditional trade with Newfoundland dated back to the end of eighteenth century.  In the late 1940s the service was being provided by a number of small and irregular shippers and by the Inter-Island Steamship Company’s vessel Island Connector.  However the Island Connector was taken off the route at the end of 1949.

M.V. Eskimo in Montreal with a deck load of lumber. Photo: Mac MacKay collection - Shipfax.blogspot.ca

M.V. Eskimo in Montreal with a deck load of lumber. Photo: Mac MacKay collection – Shipfax.blogspot.ca

With the entry of Newfoundland into Confederation all that changed.  Farmer-premier J. Walter Jones was an advocate of increased trade for the Island, especially for the province’s agricultural products.  He had some success in the Newfoundland trade which up until 1949 was with a separate country and vessels were eligible for international trade subsidies from Ottawa.  However these ended when Newfoundland became part of Canada.  During the war P.E.I. had developed the export market –  the American bases in Newfoundland had become consumers of Island beef, chicken, milk, potatoes and vegetables and sales had increased elsewhere across the colony as well. Premier Jones had ambitious plans to displace British sources which had supplied the colony before the war.

Although a number of small private companies were shipping to Newfoundland this was not enough for Jones vision. In 1949 his government created the Prince Edward Island Industrial Corporation and one of the first activities of the crown corporation was to purchase a ship for the Newfoundland trade. Jones had hoped to obtain a cheap war surplus vessel from the Dominion government but was not successful and they had to search elsewhere on the open market.  Thus the province came to be the owners of the M.V. Eskimo.

The Eskimo was built in the Smith and Rhuland yard in Lunenburg in 1942.  She was part of a war-time drive to produce more wooden vessels to preserve steel for strategic purposes. The spruce and birch vessel was 168 feet long with a beam of 30 feet and drew almost 14 feet. She was powered by a 540 hp Fairbanks-Morse diesel and could accommodate twenty on board – a dozen or so crew and room for 8 passengers in double staterooms.  She was built for W.L. Sweeny of Yarmouth and was originally called the Laurence K. Sweeney (sometimes noted as Lawrence K. Sweeney). By the end of 1942 she appears to have become the property of the Royal Canadian Air Force who used her as a supply vessel for installations in the region including RDF bases used for marine and air navigation.  Under military control she was armed and her name was changed to the Eskimo, possibly because Lawrence Sweeny was an engineer on another RCAF vessel but more likely to conform with RCAF naming conventions. She made several northern voyages and in 1944 she travelled to Iceland.

RCAF Eskimo ca. 1945

RCAF Eskimo ca. 1945

In 1947 the Hudson Bay Company bought the ship for $65,000 and operated it supplying northern posts for two years. The company obtained a good return on its investment in 1949 when the Prince Edward Island Industrial Corporation paid almost $75,000 to purchase the Eskimo. One of the selling features was that the ship had a cargo refrigerator compartment of 900 cubic feet and her two cargo holds had a capacity of 13,000 cubic feet.

The ship went into the P.E. I. – Newfoundland service in June 1949 and a 10 day schedule of trips to Canada’s new province was planned. The Industrial Corporation had a novel approach to the trade. Normally goods had been shipped to wholesalers in St. John’s and distributed to the outport communities by them. The M.V. Eskimo would call at smaller communities along the southern coast between Port-aux-Basques and Argentia and at St. Pierre and promised more direct delivery.  She was the only vessel serving the south coast that had refrigeration facilities.  On her inaugural trip she visited 12 different ports. During the winter it was planned that the Eskimo would sail between Halifax and St. Pierre.

Initial response was encouraging. Potatoes, produce and hay were much in demand and the capacity for refrigerated perishable cargo was welcomed by the smaller communities. However, even in the first year the problem was one of return cargo.  The smaller Newfoundland communities had little to offer that was not already available in the Island.  Bulk cargos such as limestone and newsprint would require visits to other ports on Newfoundland’s west coast and the coat of shipping to P.E.I. and then transferring cargo to ships bound for Halifax or Montreal made the operation uneconomic.

J. Walter Jones the Premier who backed an aggressive shipping policy

J. Walter Jones the Premier who backed an aggressive shipping policy

Early in 1950 the Eskimo became the subject of political disagreement with acrimonious debates in the legislature. The opposition seized on the fact that the ship had operated at a loss and demanded answers. Both the Liberals in the legislature and the staff of the Industrial Corporation defended the operation and promised that business would increase and that P.E.I. would soon get a bigger share of the $12 million that Newfoundland was spending on imports from the rest of Canada. They claimed that the ship represented a half million dollar benefit to the Island. In 1950 the ship began loading at Summerside as well as Charlottetown and began to stop at Corner Brook as well as the south coast. That year it made eighteen trips to Newfoundland.  Late in 1950 the Premier floated the suggestion that the Eskimo could become involved in the three-cornered trade between the Island, Newfoundland and the West Indies but this was not followed up.

During the legislative session in the spring of 1951 the operation of the Eskimo was again subject to heavy criticism. The opposition charged that the money-losing provincial operation had meant that private shippers could not compete and that services to Newfoundland had actually decreased. The outport visits stopped and most of the voyages were to St. John’s and St. Pierre. After defending the decision to purchase the ship the Premier un-expectantly announced that the government intended to sell the Eskimo to “private capital” and that the ship would be used for trading between the Island and the North Shore of the St. Lawrence, competing with Quebec shippers.  He blamed some of the financial losses of the previous year on the fact that as a crown corporation the Eskimo was not eligible for Dominion government subsidies.

However it was not until the end of March of the following year that the government, in response to questions in the legislature, admitted that it had exited the ship-owning business by selling the vessel some weeks earlier to Alphonse Beauchemin of Matane Quebec. He used the ship for cargos up and down the St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and into Hudson Bay where the ship was lost near Moosonee Ontario in the spring of 1958. The Newfoundland trade was continued by the Newfoundland-owned Blue Peter Steamships which put their American-built Blue Prince on the route.

An extremely useful source for this article is Mac MacKay’s blog Shipfax which details current and historical shipping activities in Halifax.  For more on the background of shipping between Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland see Corey Slumkowski’s article titled “Let them Eat Beef” in Acadiensis 2006


The Island Connector and the Inter-Island Steamship Company

The Clarke Steamship Company had a long history of linking ports in the Gulph of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland with Montreal. Clarke ships were frequent visitors to Charlottetown and their story is a small part of Kevin Griffin’s extensive research into the company which is presented in his WordPress blog titled St. Lawrence Saga: The Clarke Steamship Story. (I am indebted to Mr. Griffin for information he provided and for the photo of the North Coaster which I have used in this write-up.) Many Islanders will remember the Clarke Steamships name but what is less widely known is that a small group of Island business men were involved in one Clarke venture just after World War II.

As the war drew to a close the Island became eager to capitalize on the long-time trade links with Newfoundland that had been strengthened after 1939. Premier Walter Jones bombarded Ottawa with requests to develop direct and subsidized shipping links to carry Island produce and livestock and even considered having his government enter the steamship business.

Island Connector

The Inter-Island Steamship Company’s “Island Connector” pictured after it had been sold to Canadian Pacific and re- named the “Yukon Princess”. The photo shows the vessel after the derrick configuration had been changed to suit West Coast requirements.

In 1946 the Dominion Government agreed to continue an existing war-time subsidy for an additional four years and, without competition, granted the $4,500 per trip concession to  Clarke Steamship Company.  In April of 1946 Desmond Clark visited the Island, met with the business community and with Premier Jones and announced that service would begin shortly. While in Charlottetown he announced the creation of the Inter-Island Steamship Company capitalized at half a million dollars. Of the nine company directors five were from the P.E.I. business community: H.C. Bourke of Carvelle Bros – leading wholesale merchants , Walter Hyndman – Hyndman & Company marine insurers, Walter Pickard – Coal merchant, J. Andrew Likely of the DeBlois wholesale firm, and L.H. Poole merchant and shipper of Montague. The Guardian noted the youth of the Directors:

It is a matter of satisfaction to find the younger generation taking an active part in the development of the trade and commerce of the Province, as exemplified by the directorate of the new Inter-Island Steamship Company.  

The new company was, in all likelihood, somewhat of a shell or holding corporation as the vessel operated as a direct part of the Clark fleet. Inter-Island may have been created in order to forestall other Island interest in the service.

EPSON scanner Image

“Island Connector’s” sister ship “North Coaster” showing the original configuration of the cargo cranes.

The company’s vessel, the Island Connector was designed and built as a China Coaster to be a supply vessel in the war against Japan. Launched Vancouver in late 1945 as the Ottawa Parapet it was renamed and reconfigured as the Island Connector by the Pacific Dry Dock Company and was completed in April 1946 when it set sail for the East Coast. With dimensions of 224 feet by 37 feet  it was one of three 1,300 ton, nearly identical ships acquired by Clarke for their Gulf and North Shore Services.  Its two cargo holds could accommodate 75,000 cubic feet of cargo and the ships had accommodation for twelve passengers.  Clarke offered “Vagabond Cruises” return from Montreal to P.E.I. and Newfoundland ports for a fare of $200.

Mount St. Vincent History Professor Corey Slumkoski has explored the Island – Newfoundland trade connection in a number of articles the most accessible of which is “Animals on the Hoof”  published in the Island Magazine in 2006. However in this article and in a number of others on related subjects he identifies the Island Connector as a “diesel schooner” which certainly was not the case as it had an Allis-Chalmers triple expansion  reciprocating steam engine giving a speed of 10 knots.

island connector rppc

S.S. Island Connector while engaged in the Newfoundland trade. Real Photo Postcard ca. 1948  

The subsidized service continued from April through November for four seasons, ending in 1949. By this time Newfoundland had become part of the Dominion and the trade was no longer international but inter-provincial. Clarke kept the Montreal – St. Johns route using the Island Connector through 1950 but Charlottetown was no longer a regular stop. The ship was sold to Canadian Pacific for their West Coast Service and re-named the Yukon Princess. It was laid up in 1956, sold to the Westley Shipping Company. Later re-named the Rosita it was wrecked off Nicaragua in 1963 and scrapped the following year. Shipping between Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland was continued by the P.E.I. government owned M.V. Eskimo.