Tag Archives: Murray Harbour

Home port of Georgetown – the Three Rivers Steamship Company

 

Steamer Enterprise at Montague. Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard #6045 (detail). The card is erroneously titled “New Steamer “Empress”

Historians sometimes bemoan the apparent inability of P.E. Islanders to move from the success of Island wooden shipbuilding and trade to the new realities of steamships and iron. The failure of the Island’s Ocean Steamship Company in the 1880s is seen as the end of the province’s efforts to keep pace with changing technology.  This analysis ignores the relatively successful attempts over an eighty-year period by the owners of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company (and its successor, the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company) to have Island control of intercolonial and interprovincial shipping.

It also ignores another initiative which saw success at the turn of the 19th century, an initiative which did not originate in the capital, Charlottetown, but from the eastern part of the province. The Three Rivers Steamship Company was incorporated by provincial statute in 1892 and successfully operated for a quarter of a century. Capitalized at only $20,000 several of the major owners and officer of the company had close ties to Kings county. Alexander Martin was a merchant in Valleyfield, Donald A. MacKinnon was a Georgetown lawyer later to serve as an MLA and MP and eventually becoming Lieutenant Governor, George Whiteman was a Montague merchant and shipper, G.A. Thompson a later president of the company, was a merchant with the firm of Poole and Thompson of Montague.

By mid-May of 1892 the Three Rivers Steamship Company was in operation. The steamer Electra, built in 1887 near Yarmouth, had been launched as a fish tug but was refitted a year later for passengers and freight and operated on the Nova Scotia coastal service before being purchased by the P.E.I. company for $7,500.  She was small by steamer standards – 86 feet long by 17 feet wide and displacing only 111 gross tons. Her engine generated only about 25 horsepower. The steamer was a regular visitor to ports in south-eastern P.E.I. such as Montague, Georgetown and Murray Harbour linking them with Charlottetown and Pictou. Service to some ports such as Murray Harbour South and Annandale depended on the tide as the wharves were not accessible at low water.

Prior to the completion of the Hillsborough Bridge and the Murray Harbour Branch line in 1905 southern Kings county had no railway connections to the rest of the province and the branch line to Montague was not completed until 1906.  Local schooner and steamer service continued in these areas long after the rest of the province and the locally based Three Rivers Steamship Company met a need for the area.

The company invested in new boilers for the ship early in 1900 but that fall experienced a close call in which the ship was nearly lost. In mid-October the Electra was returning to Georgetown from a trip to Pictou when she was caught in a major storm which caused damage all across King’s county. The ship took on so much water that the fires in her boilers were extinguished. Under her experienced captain the crew were able to rig canvas and the Electra made it into the port of Georgetown under sail.  However before the end of the decade the amount of trade dictated that a newer and larger ship was required. The completion of the branch rail lines was providing a competitor for freight haulage but was also bringing new cargos and passengers to the Kings County ports.  After being replaced the Electra was sold to Captain William A. Beattie of Pictou and continued to visit P.E.I. Posts. She was wrecked at Margaree Harbour Cape Breton in 1911.

Enterprise under construction at McGill Shipyard, Shelburne 1907. Photo PARO Acc.2554/25

In April of 1907 a new steamer was launched from the McGill Shipyard at Shelburne Nova Scotia for the New Burrell Johnson Iron Company of Yarmouth who were to install her machinery before turning her over to the Three Rivers Steamship Company.  The Yarmouth company was also responsible for a several other vessels with P.E.I. connections including the tug William Aitken and the steamers Harland  and Magdalen.  The new wooden ship was christened the Enterprise.  At 120 feet she was half again as long as the Electra with a beam of 25 feet and displaced 211 tons, almost twice that of the older ship. Her engines produced 42 horsepower and carried her at 12 knots.

S.S. Enterprise with schooners at Murray Harbor. Photo: PARO Acc.2689/92

On 1 July 1907 she began her service and one of her first trips was a one-day round trip excursion from Montague to Pictou calling at Lower Montague, Georgetown and Beach Point. As with other steamers and ferries of the period these excursions continued to be a regular feature and added to the popularity of the vessel. More important to her success however was the annual $6,000 Dominion subsidy owing to the interprovincial service she provided. Beginning in 1907 her route consisted of two round trips each week from Montague to Pictou calling at Georgetown and Murray Harbour and one round trip beginning at Montague calling at Georgetown, Souris, Port Hood, Port Hawkesbury and Port Mulgrave.

Enterprise at Montague. Photo: PARO Acc.2947/1

In 1908, her first full year of operation she made 98 round trips and carried over 1300 passengers and almost 3,400 tons of freight including 137 livestock. The return trip from the Montague to Pictou was $2.50 and the Cape Breton ports were a dollar more.  In the years before the beginning of the Great War  numbers for both passengers and freight increased.  The Cape Breton stops were dropped before 1912 and in that year the ports served were Montague, Lower Montague, Georgetown, Beach Point, Pictou, Murray Harbour North, Murray Harbour South, and Charlottetown. Cardigan and Newport were added  by 1914.  While some of these ports saw almost daily service, others such as Cardigan and Charlottetown were visited only once per week.

Enterprise at Murray Harbour Photo: PARO Acc.4466/1

In April of 1916 the Guardian reported that Three Rivers Steamship’s G.A. Thompson was travelling to Quebec and Halifax to try to find a replacement for the Enterprise which had been sold to parties in Newfoundland. Although the sale did not go through, at a meeting of the Charlottetown Board of Trade at the same time it was noted that the vessel was unlikely to be replaced. Thompson was obviously unsuccessful or abandoned the search for a new vessel as in 1917  the company once again had the Government of Canada contract and $6,000 subsidy. The ship made 84 round trips carrying 1500 passengers and almost 6,000 tons of freight. The subsidized service was at an end that year as in 1918 the subsidy was eliminated, probably reflecting that fact that the S.S. Prince Edward Island was now providing service across the strait. The Three Rivers Steamship Company appears to have been wound up and the Enterprise sold.

That however, was not the last that the Enterprise was seen in Prince Edward Island waters.  In 1918 she appears to have been owned by the Western Steamship Company of Nova Scotia and was leased to J.A. Farquhar & Co. who had secured the contract for the service between Pictou and the Magdalen Islands, stopping at Souris. She was not a popular vessel on that run as it was believed that the ship would not be able to cope with the conditions in the Gulf and she was replaced the following year.

Enterprise, probably at a Nova Scotia port ca. 1930. The vessel shows modifications made to the upper deck after it was sold by the Three Rivers company.  Photo: Maritime Museum of the Atlantic – MP20.14.1

The Enterprise operated elsewhere in the Atlantic region for a number of years but in 1933 she was the property of W.N. MacDonald of Sydney and he developed a weekly service which saw the Enterprise sailing from Georgetown to Port Hawkesbury, Mulgrave, Isle Madame, Bras d’Or Lake Ports and Sydney. Promising the cheapest and fastest freight and passenger service between Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton the ship offered “the most delightful sail on the Atlantic Seaboard ” through the St. Peter’s Canal and lakes to Sydney. The round trip fare was $18.00 including stateroom and meals.  The regular service was advertised again in 1934 but it is not clear if it continued after that.  The ship was destroyed by fire in Cape Breton in 1936.

Loading potatoes on the Enterprise Ca. 1933. Photo PARO Acc.2799/7

While trade between the Island and Cape Breton continued for many years there seem to have been no further attempts at a scheduled service. It continues to be a dream that occasionally recurs in the form of a proposal for a ferry between the two provinces. MacDonald had a continuing interest in Prince Edward Island shipping and was one of the principals connected with the creation of Northumberland ferries in 1939.

 

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“As the bottles were emptied the hearts and minds of the gentlemen expanded…” An 1865 Excursion to the East.

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

In the 1860s the colony of Prince Edward Island was isolated, not just from the mainland but also within the territory itself. This was before the building of the railway and at the time roads were poor. Many folks seldom went beyond the area circumscribed by their nearest church, school, and general store. Even in the capital, cosmopolitan Charlottetown, there were many who barely left the city.  When they did the easiest transportation was through the mouth of the harbour rather than the roads leading north and east from the city.  The steamers of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation company crossed the Strait and skirted the shore as far as Victoria and Belfast, but beyond that the slow-moving and unpredictable coastal schooners touched at harbours along the shore and deep in the bays and inlets.

Paddle Steamer Princess of Wales. The funnel seems to be removed in this photo

When the two-year old Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company announced an excursion on their steamer Princess of Wales, launched only the year before, it was cause for excitement. What was more, the excursion was to be from Charlottetown to the mysterious east — Murray Harbour, Georgetown and Souris, ports that had never been visited by a steamship.  The impending visit created interest ashore at those locations and several hundred tickets appear to have been quickly sold – in spite of the fact that the Princess of Wales would leave the capital at 2:00 in the morning in order to visit the eastern ports and still be able to return the same day. Fortunately for us, one of those aboard was a correspondent for the Charlottetown newspaper, Ross’s Weekly, which published the following account:

 

Ross’s Weekly – 10 August 1865

Princess of Wales (mis-named) in Summerside Harbour 1878. Detail From Panoramic View of Summerside 1878

EXCURSION IN THE STEAMER PRINCESS OF WALES – On Monday last citizens of Charlottetown and their [guests?] were treated to a grand Excursion on the Princess of Wales. Some 200 or more were, we should suppose, on board invited by ticket, when, at 2 o’clock in the morning, she started from Pope’s Wharf to visit the Harbors of Murray Harbor, Georgetown and Souris. The wind was blowing pretty strongly, causing many the unhappy feeling of seasickness. The morning was beautiful, and as we neared the wharf or breastwork at Murray Harbor, crowds of people of both sexes, could be seen on the beach awaiting our arrival. Some enthusiastic individuals expressed their pleasure at this the first visit to a steamer to their harbor by firing off an old instrument originally intended to resemble a cannon. It got an awful fright as the powder exploded and burst, injuring one man pretty severely in the leg. Here we took on board about 100 people more and started for Georgetown. The sea was pretty heavy causing the Steamer to roll very much, so that when the bell rang for breakfast but few, comparatively, were able to partake. Whether it was that our appetite was not sharp or that we had risen on the wrong side of the morning, we know not, but the breakfast did not seem to us to be in that style which we expected on such an occasion, in fact we were much disappointed at it. On arriving at Georgetown, most of the Excursionists went on shore, ourselves among the number, and the Steamer took on board a fresh lot from Georgetown and went off again for a few hours sail. The Georgetonians were very kind and hospitable, so that the short time there passed most agreeably. We noticed that the Harbor there was filled with American fishing vessels, and a very pretty sight they presented. We should think that they must create quite a trade and only wish we had our share in Charlottetown. We again collected on board and started, shaping our course for home, it being considered rather too boisterous to allow of our proceeding to Souris. We [regret?] this very much as we had set our mind on visiting Souris, having never been there by water and having heard that the scenery along the shore was among the most beautiful on the Island. We had however to forego that pleasure and proceeded back to Charlottetown where we arrived about 9 o’clock PM having first called at Murray Harbor and landed the passengers previously taken on there. We had almost forgotten to mention that Mr. Clements and several of the leading gentlemen, of Murray Harbor, treated the Excursionists to a champagne dinner – – The dinner was served up by Mr. Chandler, in capital style, to which all who sat down did ample justice. As the bottles were emptied the hearts and minds of the gentlemen expanded and everything passed off harmoniously. Several short speeches were made in responding to a few toasts proposed, and altogether the hours seemed to pass very pleasantly, a small party of “young un’s” enjoyed themselves by singing some of the popular airs of the present day, and afforded pleasure not only to themselves but to a large party of listeners. We think they enjoyed themselves as well if not better than any of the others. – – On the whole the trip was a pleasant one, and we feel sure that the Company will not be the losers in thus treating the public to such a pleasant excursion.

An accident happened at Murray Harbor, on our way back which might have been serious. Shortly after dinner several gentlemen were standing against the rail of the Steamer, and whether the champagne was strong , or the Railing weak, we do not know, but some of them managed to take a cool bath in the Harbor, we suppose by way merely or refreshing themselves. The water fortunately was not deep and they waded ashore looking rather disconsolate, one of them who was smoking took the matter very cooly, and kept on puffing at his cigar, much to the amusement of the onlookers.

I am indebted to researcher Gary Carroll who transcribed this item from Ross’s Weekly and posted it to Dave Hunter’s very useful Island Register  genealogy website.

Post script added 8 June 2017

Gary Carroll has added another account of cannon incident during the visit of the Princess of Wales to Murray Harbour in 1865. Following is an excerpt from a letter from Robert Harris, who would later become a nationally-known portrait artist, to his brother Tom written on 28 August 1865.

My dear Tom
I hope this will find you safe and sound, and that you have had a pleasant passage. I went up to Murray harbour shortly after you left here. My greatest fun there was shooting pigs. I made a bow and arrows. I put nails in the tips of the arrows, and you would have laughed to see the pigs running squealing about with the arrows in them for hours after. While the steamer P of W was there we fired a salute out of Davey Hughes venerable swivel gun. Dick Huddy was the gunner. She made a great explosion and in doing so burst to bits flying in all directions and hurting some two or three. The reason why she burst was I think because Dick rammed in a large piece of fat pork as he said to make the load slip out. Jackson and Dick and lots more were dead drunk after. …

The full letter can be found at the Island Register site