Tag Archives: Morris

Gilbert and Billy’s Excellent Adventure Afloat

The incident came to the public’s attention innocuously enough through a report of a stolen yacht. On the morning of 17 June 1933 Frederick Morris looked out of the window of his large house on the Dundas Esplanade on the Charlottetown waterfront and saw something was amiss. It was what he didn’t see that bothered him. Normally his racing yacht, the Zenith was moored just off the shore. The Zenith was painted white and was sixteen foot overall, seven foot beam and a twenty foot mast. She carried a single mainsail and no jib. Fred Morris was a keen yachtsman and one of the stalwarts of the sailing scene in Charlottetown. He was to become one of the longest serving commodores of the Charlottetown Yacht Club.

Satisfying himself that the boat has not simply broken off her mooring he reported the theft of the boat to the R.C.M.P. and arranged for a search of the harbour area to be made by motor boat.  Later that day it was learned  that the missing boat had been was spotted in Northumberland Strait off Point Prim by the ferry steamer Hochelaga and was reported to be heading to Nova Scotia with two aboard.  

Charlottetown Guardian 19 June 1933 p.1

The minor theft became page one news over the next few days. By the following day the police, after discarding the suggestion that the thieves had been a couple of Nova Scotia vagrants who had been noticed in the city and had previously been housed in the city’s lock-up, began to connect the disappearance of the yacht with the report of two boys reported missing from their homes. Gilbert Moore, aged 14, and Billy Dowling, 10, had last been seen on Wednesday the 16th and Gilbert’s bicycle was also missing.  It was suggested that the boys had gone off on a fishing trip and a misadventure had taken place but they would soon return. Over the weekend the two boys and a bicycle had been traced to Borden where they had been overheard inquiring about the next boat to Nova Scotia. It was presumed that they had snuck themselves and the bicycle onto a boxcar and had secretly gotten across the Strait on the ferry.  By this time the Zenith had been found  near Cape John on the Nova Scotia shore across from Charlottetown. Two boys, one short and one tall, had been seen going ashore from the boat.  

Charlottetown Guardian 17 June 1933 p.1

Several days later, notwithstanding the speculation about crossing on the ferry or the presence of Nova Scotia vagrants, the mystery was solved as the two missing boys were found in Port Elgin and sent home by the R.C.M.P. 

However the story that emerged told of an odyssey which stretched over five days and saw the boys cover several hundred miles over three provinces and Northumberland Strait.  On Wednesday afternoon the boys decided “to get out and see the country” and set out for Borden with Moore pedaling and Dowling on the handlebars, but on reaching the ferry terminal they learned that last crossing of the day had already departed for Cape Tormentine. Returning to Charlottetown they abandoned the bicycle at Crapaud and accepted a ride on a truck going to town. Instead of returning to their homes they set out for Victoria Park and spotted Morris’ boat about 1 a.m. 

Charlottetown Guardian 20 June 1933 p.1

Neither boy had ever sailed before.  When asked how he did it, Moore said he had read about it and he just held the rope and kept heading into the wind so the boat would not turn over.  After making their way in the dark to the harbour mouth they spotted the Point Prim light and headed toward it reaching it about dawn. With the hills of Nova Scotia visible on the horizon they began to cross the strait but with a wind shift and rising tide they were carried west and reached a point near Bay Verte, New Brunswick before they were able to head back they way they had come.  They spent Thursday night aboard the yacht sailing along the Nova Scotia coast and at about 11 o’clock in the morning on Friday they beached the craft at Long River, near Cape John. They began hitchhiking toward New Brunswick and spent nights and bummed meals at farmhouses along the way, giving fictitious names and claiming to be from Cape John.

On Monday their luck ran out and both boys, who by this time had become separated, were found near Port Elgin by the R.C.M.P.  They were put on the boat at Cape Tormentine, arrived back in Charlottetown on the 6:30 train, and were sent back to their families a little more than five days after their adventure had begun. There is no record that charges were brought against them. 

Asked by the police why he would want to take a ten-year-old along Moore simply stated that he had wanted to come along.  Moore’s explanation reason for the exploit was that he had an urge to see the country. 

It was generally conceded by experienced sailors that the boys had been very, very fortunate in the weather they encountered.  



Red rocks – Black Gold pt. 2


Governors Island rig seen from the deck of the service launch 1944. PARO photo #3466.78.95.7

[The search for oil at Governors Island …continued from previous posting]

Hugh MacKay, the Oklahoma-based geologist who first led the Cities Service corporation to the rocks beneath Governors Island believed in the existence of oil at that location. In 1936 he renewed his 10-year prospecting rights stating “We got just a few smells of oil when we drilled in 1926 but there is little doubt that petroleum wells exist somewhere beneath Northumberland Strait. We know that marine rock formations favouring the presence of oil lie beneath Prince Edward Island coast from geological studies, but 10 years ago we did not know how far down they lay”.

The outbreak of World War II forced a greater emphasis on oil resources closer to the North America markets. Cities Service had done more seismic testing on the Island in 1941 and 1942 and they decided to have another look at Governors Island. They were joined as partners by the Socony Vacuum Oil Company in the exploration. They formed a new corporation, the Island Development Company, and in 1943 the companies took the decision to drill a deep well to test the oil bearing potential of the anticline.

Scow Foundation Mersey which was used in building the oil rig and cribs

Scow Foundation Mersey which was used in building the oil rig and cribs

The new well site was to be at the crest of the anticline, some 7200 feet south-west of the 1926 well. This placed the wellsite off-shore on the Governors reef in a low tide depth of sixteen feet of water and necessitated the construction of a rock-filled log crib with concrete foundations for the drilling rig. At the outset it was acknowledged that the well might have to go down more than two miles. The conditions to be faced were, up to that time, unique in the history of drilling with difficult conditions of open water, ice, tide and wave action to be faced.


PARO accession # 2608/8a

The crib and base for the rig was constructed by the Foundation Maritimes Company and Loffland Brothers of Tulsa were contracted to do the drilling.  Cores of bedrock were obtained by boring through the ice in February 1943 and construction of the crib took from May till September 1943. The cribs were built up to a height of 22 feet at the Railway Wharf and then towed to location where they were filled with rock and sunk in place. Eight more feet were added to the height once on site.  There were three sections of crib, the largest of which was the footing for the derrick and was 56 feet square. The total deck area of the platform was 9000 square feet and used 11 miles of logs held together by 7 miles of bolts and spikes. A waterline ran from Governors Island to the well site and a telephone cable ran underwater from the rig to Seatrout Point.


Looking up the derrick 1944. PARO photo #3466.78.95.5

The derrick itself was erected by Loffland Bros. in late 1943. It reached 146 feet above the concrete and 179 feet above the rock of the reef with a weight of 38 tons. The draw-works which hoisted and lowered the drill pipe in the hole had a load capacity of 300 tons.  Power for the drilling rig was supplied by two eight-cylinder diesel engines, each with 350 horsepower.  An additional 100 horsepower diesel and a oil-fired steam boiler supplied further power for general purpose pumping and heating.  14,000 feet of drill-pipe weighing 126 tons was racked on the pipe crib.  The rig required a total of 20 fully loaded railway freight cars to move the equipment from Louisiana and Texas the 2,550 miles to Charlottetown. The equipment also included a 40 ton steel service vessel called the Socony used to carry supplies to the well site, and a motor launch called the Elizabeth. [This may have been the cruiser later owned by Commodore Morris]. In addition a 44 foot scow was constructed in Charlottetown to hold tanks and pipe.

The official start of drilling took place on 11 October 1943 and included the same ceremonial activities as the first well seventeen years earlier. This time it was Lieutenant Governor B.W. LePage who turned the wheels but as in 1925 the drill platform was littered with provincial and civic worthies and local business leaders.


Pumping machinery. PARO photo #3466.78.95.6

By mid December the drill bit had reached 3,500 feet but as winter set in a number of problems developed. The waterline running from Governors Island to the drilling platform had frozen up forcing the use of salt water in the drilling operations which was unsatisfactory. As well the boats carrying crews the seven miles to Charlottetown were encountering lolly ice which made travel difficult. Early in 1944 a “capes” ice boat was pressed into service to get men to the rig and as more of the bay froze a small half-track vehicle with skis on the front was used. However, the colder weather also revealed a greater problem. Drift ice moved by the wind and tide was causing damage to the cribs and drilling was temporarily discontinued. In addition a fire had damaged one of the electric motors which could not be replaced until navigation opened up.  Although in March ice remained in place between Tea Hill and Governors Island the mile from the Island to the rig was broken up and difficult to cross. Drilling did not start again until the navigation season re-opened in April and the Socony once more resumed her trips. A generator burn-out in August halted drilling at 7,878 feet until the unit could be trucked to Montreal and repaired.

In July 1945 the well had reached a depth of 13,000 feet, more than twice the depth on the 1927 attempt but problems were encountered as the drill passed through a layer of gypsum which threatened to set like plaster of Paris and the hole had become “sticky.”   By August the 14,000 foot mark had been passed with the bit moving quickly through a salt layer several hundred feet thick which allowed an increase of 350 feet in one week alone. Earlier  company officials had said that they would stop at 14,000 feet but they continued in order to obtain a rock sample from the layer below the salt. Finally early in September the drill was stopped at 14,696 feet. It was a dry hole.

At the time the Governors Island hole was the deepest ever drilled in the British Empire. A Texas well had reached over 16,000 feet but it was drilled on land and so the 1945 Island well was likely the deepest off-shore well drilled anywhere in the world up to that date. The uniqueness was heightened by the fact that the drilling platform was located in tidal and ice conditions.

Dismantling and removal of the rig took most of the month of September 1945 and the equipment was moved to the next site. Left behind was an artificial island 60 by 150 feet which was already battered by two winters of ice and tides.  In 1946 the Province paid a dollar for what was left.Tthe remains included a quantity of sheet steel piling which it was hoped could be used as a retaining sea wall across three of the City’s crumbling wharves and backfilled to create a new waterfront. Dismantling had to wait for ice to thicken enough to bear the weight of salvage machinery. Minister of Public Works George Barbour stated that the province hoped to salvage 50,000 feet of large dimension timber, most of which was douglas fir. The wood was to be used for construction and reinforcement of Island bridges. Another of the province’s dollars purchased the scow used at the operation.


Chart showing the rig site in relation to Governors Island. The oil island was located at the edge of deeper water about 1/2 mile from the end of the exposed reef. [click on image for a larger view]

What the salvagers left behind the ice and tides took care of and soon nothing remained above the surface of the water. Today the site appears as a hazard on navigation charts and is marked by a yellow can buoy.  I first visited the spot on an extraordinarily calm day some fifty years ago while out in my family’s aluminum skiff. Knowing nothing of the story I was drawn to the buoy by curiosity and gazing down through the flat waters was amazed to see that the bottom was littered with timbers and pilings and what appeared to be steel pipe. Clearly something big had once sat on this spot!

Postscript: In 1971 I was working in the Pembina Oil Field offices of Cities Service Canada in Alberta. With little to do at lunch time I often thumbed through Oilweek Magazine which carried a regular old photo contest. One week the photo was of a Cities Service rig on Prince Edward island. I contacted Bill Mooney who was then president of the Canadian operations and he dug out the old file on the rig and sent it to the PEI archives. The file is now accession 2608 and includes background geological information, sample well logs, photos and newspaper clippings. Some of that material has been used in this blog entry

CYC 1937 Clubhouse has its own history


Charlottetown Yacht Club – first club house ca. 1940. Note vacant area where City Works barn was later located

When the Charlottetown was re-organized in the mid 1930s one of the objectives was to have a club-house. The social aspects of the yacht club were important and in the absence of other facilities for dances and banquets in Charlottetown this was an important consideration for the club leaders. Lords’s Wharf at the foot of Pownal Street was crumbling and under urging from boating enthusiasts the area became the site one of the City’s works projects for depression relief. With work on the wharf completed and with assurance from the City that the property would be made available, the clubhouse project proceeded with funds being provided by club members. Even before the Charlottetown Yacht Club was incorporated in the spring of 1938 work on the building had been almost completed.

Under the headline “ATTRACTIVE QUARTERS FOR YACHT CLUB” the details of the new club building were published in the Charlottetown Guardian 0n 30 October 1937 – 77 years ago.

Much public interest has been shown in the construction, now nearing completion, of the club-house for the Charlottetown Yacht Club, situated on the re-conditioned property formerly known as Lord’s Wharf at the foot of Pownal Street.


J.M. Hunter – CYC Club-house architect

The building, designed by Mr. J. M Hunter and constructed by Mr. Leo F. Doyle, is a fine example of club-house architecture, combining modern and traditional features with pleasing effect. It is roofed and shingled with fire-proof material and has a water frontage of 60 feet with a verandah 50 feet in length opening upon the main club-room and capable of accommodating twenty chairs, where the view and breeze from the harbour can be enjoyed luxuriously.

The club-room, 45 by 33 feet is lofty and commodious, suited ideally for dancing and other social functions. A nautical effect is achieved by specially designed lighting fixtures, and a cozy touch is added by the large stone and cement fire-place. This fine piece of craftsmanship is the work of Mr. James Gormley.

Ample provision is made for a ladies card-room and cloak-room, stove-heated; a ladies dressing room with shower and other conveniences for bathers; a similar room for gentlemen; a kitchen and washroom and an up-stairs office for club officials.

The land surrounding the club house has been enclosed and leveled off in preparation for seeding next year. The finished effect will be that of a lawn with gravelled pathways to the gate and street entrance, to the west side of the wharf where an apron with shed roof will be built for the accommodation of row-boats, and to the landing stage at the head of the wharf. There a flood-light is being erected, which will illuminate the float and platform and surrounding waterfront.

The construction of the wharf by the civic authorities, and the dredging of the basin by the Dominion Public Works Department were carried out in a very satisfactory manner. Nine feet of water at low tide at the landing stage insures safe and convenient accommodation at all times.

Although no membership campaign has yet been conducted, Commodore Fred E. Morris reports the Club membership be already over fifty, with prospects of it exceeding the hundred mark next spring.

It is planned to open the club house next June, and to hold a regatta in the latter part of July, in which yachtsmen from Halifax and other mainland clubs are expected to compete. This gala event should prove of great Maritime interest and attraction.

In addition to its yachting membership, the club is planning to open an associate membership for swimmers, the facilities provided being equally well-suited to this popular sport.

The Commodore glowed with enthusiasm as he conducted a Guardian representative over the club premises yesterday.  He expressed warm appreciation of the courtesy and cooperation received from the civic and federal authorities, as well with the work of the architect, the contractor and others concerned. Everything, he declared has gone smoothly and satisfactorily; and now, at long last, it seems that the hopes of yachting enthusiasts are to be realized, and facilities provided which will be a credit to the city and the province.

Although no press coverage of the official opening has been found the building was in use in the spring of 1938. It was made available for the use of the sea scouts and the 1938 regatta did take place.

By the 1970s the building was beginning to feel its age. An extension had been built to accommodate a bar which was a favourite summer retreat for members and guests. When the building was replaced the general design of the club was reproduced however the bar was greatly expanded and soon became a commercial operation on which the Club grew to depend for revenues. One feature which has been retained is the verandah where still, in the words of the Guardian reporter, “the view and breeze from the harbour can be enjoyed luxuriously.”


CYC Club-house ca. 1960