Tag Archives: Lower Water Street

A. Kennedy & Co., Ship Chandler and Sailmaker

Advertisement in Duncan Campbell’s History of Prince Edward Island, 1875

Robert Harris drawing of lower Queen Street ca. 1875. Confederation Centre Art Gallery CAGH-122

A few months ago I posted an entry which featured a drawing of the lower part of Queen Street by artist Robert Harris which probably dated from the 1870s. The drawing featured a number of buildings long since gone. At the time of the posting I lamented the fact that there did not seem to be any photos of the area. There were, of course, and they were hiding in plain sight at the Public Archives and Records Office. Once I tripped over them again I realized that they helped tell the story of an important feature of the waterfront and a tale of mercantile longevity on the Charlottetown waterfront extending almost a century and a half.

An essential part of any town with a nautical connection was a chandlery. The word is seldom encountered today with the decline of shipping, but until the middle of the 20th century it identified a business dedicated to supplying the wants and needs of those on the seas. This included materials and supplies for shipbuilding such as ironwork, blocks, tackle, ropes, chain, wire rigging, and anchors. The shops also supplied navigation equipment and charts, paint, tar, provisions, clothing and the like. Fishing supplies for the hundreds of fishers operating out of the small harbours of the Island were also a significant part of the chandlery businesses. They often advertised “everything from a needle to an anchor.”  The chandleries usually included the supply of canvass and many had in-house sailmakers or worked closely with a local sail loft. There was no such thing as a standard sail size at the time and each sail was custom made and cut and stitched by hand.  Sail making was one of the dozens of skilled crafts that accompanied the age of sail.

There were a number of chandleries and sail lofts on the Charlottetown waterfront. Small’s at the head of Pownal Wharf was one but one of the most long-lived was A. Kennedy and Company. The “A” in A. Kennedy was Archibald, was born in Greenock Scotland in 1816. He appears to have commenced business as a sail maker at the head of Peake’s Wharf in Charlottetown in 1846 as an 1866 advertisement thanks patrons for twenty year’s patronage. In that year he opened his chandlery under the name A. Kennedy & Co. in the location at the head of Queens wharf in the building formerly occupied by P.W. Hyndman.   This is probably the structure pictured below.

A. Kennedy & Co. corner of Queen and Lower Water Street ca 1875. Public Archives and Records Office item 2320 p-3

His building was at the corner of Queen and Peake Street  (later Lower Water Street) and is clearly the building which can be seen in the centre of the Harris sketch mentioned above. The building pre-dates the great file of 1866 which destroyed more than four blocks of buildings north of Water Street.   Besides the chandlery business Kennedy also owned shares in a number of sailing vessels (frequently in partnership with F.W. Hyndman) and a 1/64 share in the steamer Prince Edward. A long-time director of the St. Lawrence Marine Insurance Company In 1876 he was named President of the company.  He was also a city councilor, member of the school board and a director of the Prince Edward Island Hospital.  His several business interests and investments appear by and large, to have been successful and at the time of his death in 1903 his estate was valued at $47,500, about $1.4 million in 2020 dollars.  He and his wife had no children and his properties and the chandlery were left to his wife’s brother, Robert McLaurin.

Charlottetown Examiner 14 February 1910 p. 7

Robert McLaurin died in 1909 and the business was put up for sale by his executors. At the time it consisted of the store on  Queen Street as well as a separate sail loft on Lower Water Street. Although the age of sail was nearing and end with few new boats being launched there were still dozens of small schooners plying Island waters. Even with care, sails wore quickly and the sail loft business continued to be a niche service.

Ownership passed to Bruce Stewart and Company which had developed another of the waterfront business at the head of the Steam Navigation Wharf servicing the marine interests with a foundry and manufacturing business which was soon producing gasoline engines for small craft as well as a variety of machine and boiler skills for larger vessels including the steamers of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company. The name over the door of the store was changed to Bruce Stewart & Co. but the sign also stated “successors to A. Kennedy and Company.” The firm advertised itself as “The Ship Chandlery Men” indicating that the good will of the Kennedy company was an important asset.

Bruce Stewart chandlery (A. Kennedy & Co.) ca. 1914. Lower Water Street at right of photo. Public Archives and Records Office item 3466/HF76.124.4

Charlottetown Examiner 1 April 1910 p. 8

Under the Bruce Stewart name, and reflecting the decline in nautical trades, the business evolved to more fishery supplies such as nets and ropes and equipment for the increasingly important lobster industry. At the same time the owners also began to advertise extensively as a supplier of farm and hardware needs such as paint and building supplies although they do not seem to have been involved in the lumber trade.

The separate identity of A. Kennedy & Co. seems to have been retained and the business may have been spun-off from Bruce Stewart as a separate company as the store operated into the 1950s on Queen Street, although not at the corner of Lower Water Street as that property had been demolished with the building of the large new warehouses for wholesalers DeBlois Brothers in the 1930s. Instead they re-located a block north to the NE corner of Queen and Water Streets The company’s slogan in the 1950s was “The Fisherman’s Friend”  In the 1960s the nature of the business changed and the chandlery operations were taken over by Atlantic  Netting Rope and Twine which is still in the marine supply business.  A. Kennedy & Co. became an auction house and antique dealer on Dorchester Street. In the current century the business was moved to Hampton and the sign for A. Kennedy & Co. could be spotted in a former general store along the highway. Both the store and the sign have since disappeared.





A Puzzle at the foot of Queen Street

Some parts of Charlottetown are blessed with an abundance of historical images. The streets surrounding Queen’s Square are the subject of a large number of drawings, photographs and postcards, many from the viewpoint provided by the public buildings on the square. Other sections of the city are less well provided for. This is particularly true for the waterfront with no public buildings and the unsightly confusion of warehouses, workshops wharves and shops.

A drawing by Charlottetown artist Robert Harris is therefore a welcome addition to the iconography of the waterfront. Harris is best know as a portrait painter but the collection at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery also contains scores, if not hundreds, of small oils and landscape sketches. One of these (probably dating from the 1870s) shows the east side of the foot of Queen Street where it meets the waters of the harbour.

Queen St. Charlottetown by Robert Harris. Collection of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery

At first glance this seems obviously to be the block between King Street and Water with the large brick building at the corner and two similar buildings between it and the building on the corner of King Street.  A wharf (Bourke’s Wharf in the 1860 and later Peake’s Wharf No.2) can be seen south on the buildings and a slip with open access to the harbour where the street met the water.  A stroll down Queen would seem to confirm this.

Postcard view of Charlottetown waterfront ca. 1960 (detail)

The area in the sketch seems to look much as it did sixty years ago as can be seen in the detail from a postcard in the early 1960s with the familiar buildings in place. The exception is the southern mansard roofed building which was the site of Percy Vail’s Oyster Shop, a well known eatery. That building was destroyed by fire in 1976 and the gap remains unfilled except by an unattractive parking lot.

Closer examination of the Harris sketch however, raises a number of questions.  The drawing shows the  water lapping very close to the southern-most building. In fact there appear to be no room for Water Street at all. The buildings, with the exception of the three story block seem to be set well back from the street line which is not how the block looks now.

The most detailed and, for some purposes, useful  views of the area are not from photos or drawings but from plans of the city which show, in great detail, the buildings lining the streets. There are a number of these which show the lower Queen Street area.

Plan of City of Charlottetown 1863 (detail). Lake Map

One of the earliest of these is an inset in the 1863 topographical map of Prince Edward Island by D.J. Lake. Commonly referred to as the “Lake Map.”  This is a fine resource but need to be used with caution.  Firstly it gives only the footprints of the buildings with no indication of their height and secondly the cartographer seems more concerned with the neatness of the layout than with accurate depiction of the realities on the ground. For example he shows the wharves as exactly at right angles from the street grid when in reality things were a little more messy. Rather than being located right in the middle of Queen Street the Queen’s Wharf lay on the west side of the street allowance and was at a slight angle to the street.

The next image comes from the 1878 bird’s eye view of Charlottetown. This view is, unfortunately from the south west and does not show the street from the same perspective as the Harris drawing.  While seeming to be somewhat primitive close examination of the view and comparison with photographs shows that the drawing is remarkably accurate. Rooflines, window placement and out-buildings are all precise.

Panoramic View of Charlottetown 1878 (detail)

This view, some 15 years later than the Lake map, shows both the King-Water block and also the block below Water Street.  It is clear from this that the water’s edge at the foot of Queen is a full block south of Water street and that another street called Peake Street (later Lower Water Street), now long gone, intersected with Queen north of the wharf. Below this there is a collection of smaller warehouses and workshops including a three-story structure on the wharf.  The accuracy of the bird’s eye view is confirmed to some extent by the plan in the 1880 Meacham’s Atlas.

Plan of Charlottetown 1880 (detail) Meacham’s Atlas.

The Atlas plan again shows the distance between Water Street and the water which is at odds with the Harris sketch if it is of the King-Water block. However none of these resources aligns completely with the view on the sketch. Since we do not have a date for the sketch it is difficult to compare the views with precision. Further we may have to allow for artistic license which could allowed Harris to manipulate the scene for visual effect.

If the sketch dates from 1863 or before then the block in the Harris sketch cannot be between King and Water as there were gaps between houses and an empty lot.  By 1878 this had been filled in and the block has largely taken the appearance in still holds.

However, the 1878 and 1880 views hold the key as does closer examination of the sketch itself. At the extreme left of the sketch a rough drawing of a tall building appears. This is almost certainly the present brick structure on the north east corner of Water and Queen. What we have then in the sketch is the block between Water and Peake or Lower Water. There are three buildings, stores with dwellings above, which fit with the 1878 view and the 1880 plan.  Then comes Lower Water street and across that street we have a three story warehouse or shop.  Neither the view or the plan show any setback for the buildings on the street. What appears to be a set-back requires another explanation. We can see the side of the three-story building only because running between it and the three houses is the opening for Lower Water. This too is consistent with the view and plan.  What throws the viewer off is the assumption that what is seen is a single block. Now it becomes clear that the three story building is located on the south-east corner of Lower Water and Queen Streets, very close to the water’s edge. The buildings in this area survived into the late 1930’s, when the DeBlois wholesale operation (visible in the 1960s postcard) was constructed sweeping the last of them away.

So with the exception of a shadowy presence on the edge of the Harris sketch every building shown has now disappeared. Small wonder it can be difficult to see what is not there. As with many historical images we must resist the temptation to make the view fit what we see today and we must find other clues in order to see what is no longer there.