Tag Archives: Miramichi

From hub to spoke: Charlottetown as a transportation centre

Today we tend to think of Prince Edward Island as being at the end of something – a long drive, a flight, a ferry crossing. In the world of hubs and spokes we are clearly a spoke. You don’t go to Prince Edward Island on your way to anywhere. It is a destination.

However, for one period in the Island’s history this was not the case. In the mid-19th century especially, Prince Edward Islanders saw themselves as, if not the centre of the world, then at least the centre of something.  And looking at a map of the region it is not hard to see why.  A case in point is the outlook of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company. In an economy of wood, wind and water, sea transportation was the most effective (and in some cases the only) way to move goods and people. The Island sat in the centre of a large basin from northern New Brunswick in the west to Cape Breton in the east. Northumberland Strait touched the long shorelines of three provinces and Charlottetown was the largest port on the Strait.

Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company – ports of call 1865-1869. The Company also had services to Orwell and Crapaud.

The Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company’s steamers did much more than connect Prince Edward Island to the mainland. They were the moving parts of a communications web and Charlottetown, rather than being at the end of a spoke, was in fact the hub. Most voyages began or ended at Charlottetown and by passing through the port one could travel aboard ship from one end of the Strait to the other.

Until the railway lines in the region took their final shape the most effective way to get from Saint John to the Miramichi was to cross the Bay of Fundy, travel through Nova Scotia to Pictou and take a steamer up the Strait, touching at Charlottetown and Summerside. The same was true of travel to Cape Breton. A requirement of the earliest subsidies sought by the first Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company from the colonial governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia was that western and eastern ports in those colonies would be served.

Early photo of the Princess of Wales in Charlottetown Harbour. the building behind the funnel is the Methodist Church

In the 1860s the Steamers Princess of Wales and Heather Belle were tried on a variety of routes to accommodate the changing transportation patterns. When the railway reached Shediac in 1860 Point du Chêne  became much more important for transshipment of goods and passengers destined for points south and west such as Boston and Montreal.

Heather Belle

In 1865 the Princess of Wales and the Heather Belle were both providing service across the Strait four days a week.  Besides two trips to Pictou the steamers also went to Brule, directly across from Charlottetown, twice. From there the express wagon carried mails on a shorter road to Truro.  A year later the Princess of Wales sailed weekly from Charlottetown to Summerside, Shediac, Richibucto and Miramichi, with service to Pictou and Shediac more often.

The following year the schedule published in the Island’s newspapers revealed the full extent of the Company’s attempt to provide a full regional transportation service.

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Steam Navigation Company schedule. Summerside Journal 8 July 1869

On Mondays one of the company’s larger steamers, the Princess of Wales or the new-to-the-Strait St. Lawrence, left Charlottetown for Pictou, then on to Port Hood in  Cape Breton returning to Charlottetown via Pictou on Tuesdays.  Wednesday morning saw a steamer leave Charlottetown for Pictou then on to Port Hawkesbury on the Gut of Canso, returning on the same route the following day.  Another boat sailed Thursdays from Charlottetown to Pictou, Georgetown and Souris and the next day from Georgetown to Pictou and back to Charlottetown. Tuesdays and Saturdays had a steamer from Charlottetown sailing to points west; Summerside and Shediac, returning the following day. The company’s third boat, the Heather Belle, sailed Mondays for Crapaud (soon to become the port of Victoria), Tuesdays for Port Selkirk (Orwell Brush Wharf) and on other days back and forth to Mount Stewart Bridge.

Sailing times at Pictou and Shediac were determined by great measure by the arrival of the trains from Halifax and Saint John. Integrating passenger traffic with both mainland rail services and the Prince Edward Island Railway timetable was a sound business decision – even if waiting for a late train resulted in late sailings.  The service to smaller ports on the island such as Crapaud could vary according to the tides.

In contrast to the old joke, if your destination was up or down Northumberland Strait “you could get there from here,” and most likely how you did it was on a Charlottetown-based steamer. With confederation and the completion of the intercolonial railway from Halifax to Quebec the trains began to displace ships as the most common carrier. The rail line ran up the shore to northern New Brunswick and there was a falling-off of water traffic to that area and so the Steam Navigation Company ceased its western service, while at the same time maintaining its connections with Point du Chêne, now even more important for its links with both the New England and Canadian rail lines.  Confederation also brought the subsidized Pictou to Magdalen Islands steamship service which stopped at Souris. One result was that vessels based in Pictou rather than Charlottetown were used on new routes to Cape Breton and the Strait of Canso. Increasing Island demands for daily round-trips between Charlottetown and Pictou and Summerside and Shediac meant that the steamers were unable to continue their routes to other ports and they were gradually abandoned.  By the late 1870s the extended routes of the Steam Navigation Company and been subsumed by what had become a shuttle service across the Strait which continued until 1916. What traffic that existed between the eastern part of P.E.I. and Cape Breton enabled the local service of the Three Rivers Steamship Company to continue from 1892 to 1917.

In an ironic twist the improvements in transportation between 1860 and the Great War meant that in some ways Prince Edward Island became more isolated than it had been at the beginning of the period.

 

 

 

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U.S. Civil War left a Legacy on P.E.I. Marine History

Steamer at Plant Line Wharf 1893. Public Archives and Records Office. Sterling Collection Accession 3218/70.

The image is a striking one. A handsome two-funnel paddle steamer is tied up to the Plant Line wharf in  Charlottetown.  In the album where the image is found, a date of 1893 is attached to the picture. However there is no name given and no name can be found on the ship. What could it be and why was it in Charlottetown harbour?

By 1893 the day of the side-wheel paddle steamer was long past.  Screw steamers had proven to be more powerful and, more importantly, cheaper to run.  As passenger and freight boats they had long since been supplanted by newer models, except perhaps in England where paddle-wheelers continued to be used as tugs for many years.  So it is likely that the mystery boat is an older vessel. It appears to be of iron or steel construction and seems in good condition.

Without more clues it seemed that the ship was destined to remain nameless and then a reader of this column gave me the answer. He was, and continues to be, an inveterate researcher and genealogist and has probably viewed more miles of microfilm than anyone in the province.

The ship, he suggested,  was the S.S. Miramichi and like so many of the vessels coming in and out of Charlottetown there was a story to tell.

I have several times remarked on the amazing number of times that the Island steamers were associated with the American Civil War. The Boston boats; Oriental (Minna), Greyhound, and St. Lawrence (General Whiting) all had been blockade runners while the Worcester, Carroll, Somerset,  Westmorland and Lady LeMarchant all had roles on the Union side. The Miramichi was also engaged in the conflict but not under that name.

S.S./U.S.S. Bat. Drawing by Erik Heyl from Early America Steamers, 1953.

The Liverpool shipbuilding firm of Jones, Quiggins & Co. built a large number of blockade runners for either private owners or the government of the Confederacy. In 1864 four identical sister-ships; Bat, Deer, Owl, and Stag were launched from their yards between June and August.  Built of steel, they were all 230 feet overall, 26 feet wide and were relatively shallow draft drawing only 6 feet 6 inches when fully loaded.  Although schooner rigged their primary propulsion was from 180 horse-power twin vertical oscillating Watt engines fired by two boilers driving side paddle wheels.  The fine straight lines were surmounted by two funnels.  One of the outstanding features of this class of blockade runners was the speed of the vessels. She reached 14 knots in trials but was capable of higher speeds when loaded as the paddles were then deeper in the water. These ships were each designed to carry from 800 to 850 bales of cotton through the Union blockade and provide revenue for the beleaguered south. On return trips they would carry necessary supplies and materials for the war effort.

The Bat was launched on 1 August 1864 and within a few days was pressed into service. On her first trip for the Confederacy she carried a cargo of shoe machinery across the Atlantic. Stopping for coal at Halifax she headed south to try and sneak into the port of Wilmington North Carolina. She evaded several of the blockade ships but was spotted by the patrol vessel U.S.S. Montgomery. The Bat was unable to get up to speed before she was fired on. A single shot hit the Bat’s deckhouse fatally wounding a crew member and the ship surrendered immediately.  The Bat was sent to Boston where she was condemned as a war prize and purchased in November 1864 by the U.S. Navy for $150,000. As the U.S.S. Bat she saw out the rest of the war without incident.

Auctioned in New York following the end of the war she was sold for less than $30,000 and renamed the S.S. Teazer. She may have operated between Boston or New York and New Orleans but in 1872 she came to Quebec having been purchased by the Quebec & Gulf Ports Steamship Company and was renamed the S.S. Miramichi.

The Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Company had the Royal Mail contract for voyages between Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia running several iron paddle-wheel steamers. Passengers and freight connected at Shediac and Pictou for Prince Edward Island although after Confederation the line, renamed the Quebec Steamship Company in 1880, often made regular stops at Charlottetown.  By the 1890s the  Miramichi was also a regular visitor to Summerside as well. In 1895 the Miramichi was replaced by the S.S. Campana and the thirty-year-old Miramichi, ed-Teazer, ex-Bat, continued on routes on the St. Lawrence and the Gulf. In 1902 she became the property of the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Company but appears to have been scrapped shortly after.

The preponderance of former civil war vessels seeing service in P.E.I. waters raises the question of the effect of the war on the economy of the region. Up to the mid 1860s P.E.I. had a strong shipbuilding industry but it disappeared in the following years. Was a contributing cause the large number of ships built for both sides in the American conflict which were released on the market after the war’s end?  Hundreds of vessels at cheap price were suddenly available.  Certainly we have seen how inexpensive and modern steamers on both the Atlantic coastal services and in the Gulf came from surplus vessels built or purchased for war shipping and naval activities.

With the exception of the photo shown above there appear to be no pictures of the Bat or any of her three sister ships so this picture is a valuable artifact, not just of the history of Prince Edward Island, but for the remarkable story of the blockade runners and the navy of the Confederate States.

More detailed accounts of the Bat’s short war-time history are found in a number of published accounts but is most easily accessed in a Wikipedia article found here.  As usual Kevin Griffin’s history of the Clarke Steamship Company contains invaluable information about the shipping in the Gulf of St. Lawrence including services between Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

I am indebted to champion researcher Gary Carroll for providing the key to unlock the mystery of the unknown paddle-wheeler.

The Campana – A two-part ship

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S.S. Campana in Pictou ca. 1903. Warwick & Rutter postcard

With the attention given by historians to the problem of “continuous steam communication” and the connections between Prince Edward Island and Boston and across the Strait it is often forgotten that there was regular steamship service between Charlottetown and Quebec and Montreal for much of the 19th century and well into the 20th century.   Although links with New England remained strong after confederation there was increased trade with Quebec both through the Intercolonial Railway and the several steamship companies that served the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

One of the most important of these was the Quebec Steamship Company. In 1895 their ship on the route for more than twenty years, the Miramichi, was retired and was replaced by the Campana. This vessel had an interesting history. Built in 1873 on the Clyde at the Glasgow Scotland yard of Aitkens & Mansell it was configured as a freighter.  A large vessel for the time, it was 240 feet long, 35 feet in breadth and drew more than 20 feet.  It had a 225 horsepower, two-cylinder engine which turned two separate screw propellers. Originally named the S.S. North its first owner was an Argentinian. The new name, Campana, may have referred to a community near Buenos Ayres.

The ship first saw service in the South Atlantic and had a South African owner until 1881 when it was sold to the Canada Lake Superior Transit Company. The ship was too large to fit through the existing locks on the St. Lawrence River and the ship was cut into two parts in order to pass through the Welland and St. Lawrence canals.  At the shipyards in Collingwood the sections were rejoined and passenger accommodation was added to the freighter. The cutting and re-joining of vessels was not unusual but in most cases it was because  a vessel had been built in Great Lakes shipyards but destined for ocean service. Another legacy of the Great Lakes period for the Campana was the placement of the wheelhouse well-forward on the vessel. She was one of the earliest twin screw vessels on the lakes  and was used for four years by Cornelius Van Horne’s Canadian Pacific Steamship Line between Toronto and the Lakehead. She later travelled between Kingston and Chicago but this was not successful and she was taken out of service.

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McCord Museum M930.50.1.52 | S.S. Campana

On the sale of the ship to the Quebec Steamship Company it had to come back down the canal route to Montreal  so the ship was once again cut into two parts to transit the locks and then re-assembled in Montreal with a number of improvements including replacement of bow bulwarks with railings, removal of her sailing rig and additional deckhousing.  A report in the Quebec Chronicle newspaper described her on her arrival in the city in July of 1895:

Handsomely furnished; the staterooms, which are on the upper deck, are light and airy, and fitted with every modern improvement. One advantage of the large saloon is that it is clear from the fore to the after part of the vessel, thus leaving plenty of room for those dining there. Her commander, Capt. Baquet, is an experienced and popular St. Lawrence trader, and he was heartily congratulated on obtaining command of such a fine vessel, which is undoubtedly an acquisition to the lower port trade, for she is not only able to take more cargo than her predecessor, but the accommodation for the passengers is also superior, and this, combined with making a much faster trip, should make her a valuable boat for shippers and a popular boat with the travelling public.    

SS Campana in Summerside. Phil Culhane collection

The routing followed by the vessel included Montreal, Quebec, Pointe au Pere, Gaspe, Perce, Summerside, Charlottetown and Pictou. At Charlottetown passengers could transfer to the Plant Line Boston Steamers for an all-sea trip to New England or at Pictou join the railway  to cross to Halifax. The combined fare from Montreal to Boston was $29.00   For more than a decade the Campana was a regular visitor to Charlottetown harbour, usually stopping once every ten days or two weeks usually on her way both up and down the Strait.  Although the trip was slower than by rail,  the Campana passengers were spared a number of transfers between the railway and the Steam Navigation Company cross-strait ships and changes of trains in Summerside, Shediac, Moncton and Quebec.  Island shippers were able to ship directly to the Quebec and Montreal markets and the cargo manifests included cheese, oysters, and potatoes.

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Campana in the harbour at Gaspe

In 1908 the Campana was joined on the run by a new and larger ship, the Trinidad, but the next year was her last. On an early June trip from Summerside to Montreal she went aground a few miles below Quebec City. The passengers were safely removed but she could not be pulled off and as bottom plates gave way as she settled and broke in two – a legacy perhaps of her history of double cutting and stitching.  She was abandoned to the underwriters and never sailed again. Besides the loss of the 36-year old vessel it was noted that the cargo of several thousand bags of potatoes worth between $15,000 and $20,000 could not be recovered.

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This image appears to be a version of the coloured Warwick & Rutter postcard shown above but with more detail visible.

Because the Trinidad was too large to enter Summerside harbour it lost its regular steamer service. The company also lost the link to New Brunswick through the severing of the connection with the Summerside-Shediac steamer.

The Quebec Steamship Company later became part of the large Canada Steamship Lines.  CSL ships still come into Charlottetown but instead of passengers they bring gravel and they take nothing with them when they leave.

Sources:

Once again I am indebted to Kevin Griffin for his fine work on the Gulf of St. Lawrence shipping history found in his blog on the history of Clarke Steamships. Other sources are from Prince Edward Island and Quebec newspapers.