Tag Archives: Magdalen

Steamer Lovat was a regular Souris and Charlottetown visitor

S.S. Lovat docking at Grindstone (Cap au Meules) 1938. Photo: Office du film du Quebec (P25169)

The steamship service between the mainland and les Iles-de-la-Magdalene was established after confederation. Although the islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence lacked the promise of “continuous steam communication” that Prince Edward Island had obtained as a term of Confederation, the interprovincial steamer route received a subsidy from the Dominion government. The Magdalen Islands were a part of the Province of Quebec but the nearest mainland port was Pictou and since the route ran right past Souris, the P.E.I. town was a regular port of call. The steamers provided access for goods and passengers and several Souris businesses, especially merchants Matthew and MacLean, did a good business with the Islands.

Beginning in 1874 a series of shipping companies and vessels, some more efficient than others, received the contract. The one on the run for the longest period was the S.S. Lovat.

In 1921 a company called the Magdalen Transports Limited won the tendered contract. One of the owners of the enterprise was William Fraser of Pictou and in 1923 he incorporated a new company, the Lovat Steamship Company Limited which took over the responsibilities for the service. Fraser had a steamer, the Lovat, built especially for the Magdalen run. The new ship was launched in April 1924 and arrived in Halifax in July. She had been built on the Clyde by Bow, McLachlan & Co. at their Paisley Yard. She was 175 feet long by 29 feet wide, drew 19.7 feet and was 441 register tons.  Her coal-fired, three-cylinder engine generated 141 horsepower and drove a single screw propeller.

S.S. Lovat leaving Grindstone 1938. Photo: Office du film du Quebec (P25168). Note vehicle on rear deck.

Her initial schedule provided for twice-weekly round trips between Pictou and the Magdalen Islands,  calling at Souris each way and a weekly trip between Pictou and Charlottetown as well. The schedule was linked to rail service with the ship departing Pictou after the arrival of the evening train, reaching Souris in time to meet the Eastern Train from Charlottetown, and arriving at Grindstone at an early morning hour.  She called at the ports at Amherst, Grindstone and Entry Islands although with the passage of time improvements in communication within the Island group meant fewer stops. Over her tenure on the run she also put into Halifax and Cape Breton ports.

After a series of barely satisfactory (and often unsatisfactory) vessels the Lovat received excellent reviews and was popular with her passengers. The ship had a large cargo capacity and was capable of carrying up to five automobiles as deck cargo. The Charlottetown Guardian hailed the ship as “one of the finest” to ever run on the service:

A personal inspection of the vessel can alone do justice to her beautiful interior and luxurious appointments, which class the Lovat as a passenger boat of the most comfortable type. A commodious salon off the main deck has immediately below it has the large and roomy first class dining saloon, beautifully finished in mahogany and oak. Corridors lead to fifteen first class staterooms which have accommodation for forty passengers. Further forward are the second class cabins with accommodation for fifty-five passengers, and the second class dining saloon.

The name Lovat came from the Chieftain name of the Fraser clan and the ship carried a large scotch thistle on her funnel as an identifier and first class cabins were decorated with Scottish pictures.

S.S. Magdalen preparing to leave Pictou ca. 1955. Autos can be seen on both the foredeck and aft.

In 1945 the Lovat Steam Ship Company was acquired by the Magdalen Islands Transportation Company, a subsidiary of the Clarke Steamship Company and her registry port was changed to Montreal.  The ship was sold for $150,000 to the new company and the vessel’s name was changed to S.S. Magdalen. As a Clarke steamship the livery of the vessel was changed. The thistle symbol was removed and the funnel was repainted as a black funnel with four white bands.  Owing to changing transportation patterns for shippers and an increase in air travel for passengers  the route was changed to include Charlottetown rather than  Souris. The ship operated under the Clarke banner until its last voyage to Pictou in December of 1960. She was broken up in Sydney Nova Scotia and she was replaced by Clarke’s diesel-powered S.S. North Gaspe.  The Lovat/Magdalen, which had been in service for thirty-six years,  was the last coal-fired steamship to operate in the region. The subsidized steamer service was later replaced with a passenger and vehicle ferry between Souris and Grindstone.

More about the Magdalen Island steamers can be found in Byron Clark’s excellent volume The Pictou-Magdalen Islands Run 1874-1960, The Days of the Coal-Burners, published by the author 2018. Information about Clarke Steamships services to both the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island can be found in Kevin Griffin’s history of the company found here.



D.G.S. Constance – customs patrol boat and Charlottetown-Pictou steamer


D.G.S. Constance early in her career

Of the various vessels that served as steamers linking Prince Edward Island and the mainland on the route between Charlottetown and Pictou one of the most unusual was the Dominion Government Steamer Constance.  The Constance was built in 1891 at the Polson Iron works in Owen Sound Ontario and was probably named for the grand-daughter the shipyard owner.

The ship was of composite construction with an elm keel, steel frames, steel watertight bulkheads, rock elm hull planking and pine deck planking.  While this was part of the developing shipbuilding technology the design was what set the vessel apart. She had a reverse stem and a bulbous underwater bow giving the false impression that she was designed for ramming other vessels. A steel turtle back at the bow gave protection to the forecastle and enhanced the odd appearance.  This was an advanced design for the period and the model was followed for two other ships the Curlew and the Petrel  although the later boats had different dimensions and deck houses.



Constance  was 125 feet long but less than 20 feet wide. Her 50 horse power engine gave a top speed of 11.6 knots.  The ship, along with her sisters, was built for fisheries patrols in the Great Lakes but the Constance was transferred almost immediately to the Department of Customs and attached to the Customs Preventive Service to help address the problem of smuggling in the Lower St. Lawrence and Gulf areas.  She was based for several years in Quebec where the photo above was probably taken but by 1900 was operating in the lower Gulf of St. Lawrence and along the Atlantic shore. In 1912 the Constance, along with the Curlew and the Petrel (both of which had also been transferred to the east coast)  were fitted with minesweeping gear and on the outbreak of war the three vessels were taken into naval service.  H.M.C.S. Constance, armed with three machine guns, was used throughout the war for patrol and examination duties.


In 1919 she was sold to Wentworth MacDonald of Sydney. He was owner of the Margaree Steamship Company which had a number of vessels operating in the region, including services to Prince Edward Island ports.  With the winding up of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company and the sale of its vessels Empress  and Northumberland  the Charlottetown-Pictou route was open. In early May of 1921 the Constance completed her first trip of the daily schedule with 29 passengers and twelve crew members.  The Guardian reported that three automobiles had been scheduled to be taken on the ship but that the loading equipment had not been completed in time for the first trip.  The Charlottetown agent for the service was Bruce Stewart and Company.  Although designed for a crew of twenty-three when it was a customs patrol vessel the boat had limited accommodation for passengers. The deck houses were small and used for functions such as the chart room and galley. At the after end of the vessel, below the main deck was a saloon and a number of staterooms.

CGS Constance (Gorham)After a year it was apparent that the Constance had not proven satisfactory and in 1922 the route was awarded to the S.S. Magdalen although it was later complained that that vessel was not as good as the former customs cruiser. Wentworth MacDonald maintained his interest in the Pictou service and he was one of the founders and major shareholders in Northumberland Ferries which began the Wood Islands service in 1941.  In 1922 the Constance, along with the Curlew (which MacDonald had also acquired) was operating on a service to Labrador.

The Constance continued to operate from time to time in Prince Edward Island waters. By 1923 she was being used by the New Glasgow Tramway Company and was hauling barges from Nova Scotia to Charlottetown and Summerside with coal for use by the PEI Railroad. The following year the Constance performed moonlight excursion duties and carried the League of the Cross Band at the Charlottetown Yacht Club decorated boat parade.

Constance 3

S.S. Constance, probably in the 1930s

In an ironic twist the Constance, which had been Canada’s first Customs cruiser and declared surplus to requirements, was chartered back to the Customs Protective Service between 1926 and 1929 and was active in the fight against rum-running.  Her history after 1929 in not known but the registry was not closed until 1966 although it is unlikely that ship was still afloat at that date.




S.S. Magdalen

In my blog entry yesterday I briefly mentioned the S.S. Magdalen which preceded the Hochelaga on the Charlottetown-Pictou route.  Now, thanks to Brenda Wheeler’s fine website on the history of Liscomb Nova Scotia I have found a photo of the vessel.

S.S. Magdalen at Liscomb N.S.

S.S. Magdalen at Liscomb N.S.

In 1922 the steamer was owned by the Georgetown Steamship Company of Pictou, N.S. She had been built in Shelburne in 1906 at Joseph McGill’s yard which was to launched the S.S. Harland two years later. There appear to be similarities in the Harland’s design and that of  the Three Rivers Steam Navigation Company’s Enterprise, built in 1907. The 134 ton Magdalen was 98.5 feet long with a beam of 21.5 feet and drew almost 9 feet. Her two-cylinder engine provided 28 horsepower to the single screw and she was capable of 10 knots.  Passenger accommodation was rated at forty persons and she was rated to carry 80 tons of freight.

The Magdalen was definitely a step down from the S.S. Northumberland. The Dominion Inspector of Subsidized Steamships considered her to be “more suitable” than the S.S. Constance which had been on the route the previous year.  On the other hand the Charlottetown Board of Trade said that the Magdalen was “not considered as suitable or satisfactory a boat as the S.S. Constance”  but that neither boat was good for the run. The next year they asked for “a much better class of steamer.” In explaining the shortcomings of the vessel M.P. J.E. Sinclair told the House of Commons that part of the problem had been the change of the kind of traveller using the Pictou to Charlottetown service and that the inability to carry automobiles was a serious deficiency.

S.S. Magdalen in unidentified Nova Scotia Eastern Shore port. Photo courtesy of Wendy Vaughn

By 1930 the Magdalen was being operated by R.W. Hendry’s Magdalen Company, probably on one of the subsidized Nova Scotia coastal services. It was recorded as “sunk” in the 1935 Lloyd’s Register.

The S.S. Constance (which was owned by Bruce Stewart and Company) continued to sail from Charlottetown but not as part of the subsidized service.  She was noted in several excursion advertisements and in 1924 was hauling coal barges from Pictou to Charlottetown, an activity probably taken over by the S.S. Amla (formerly the D.G.S. Brant) after 1929.