Tag Archives: North River

A Wide River and a Short Bridge: The Poplar Island Bridge Fiasco

Most people crossing the bridge over the York River (or North River as it is more commonly known)  barely give it a second thought. Today’s sailors seldom venture up the York River even though it carries a good depth of water in its narrow but twisting channel, upstream travel ends at what is known as the North River Causeway at Poplar Island.  The building of the bridge here in the 1830s is an interesting tale of bungling and incompetency.

York River bridge about 1890 with Upton Farm in the background. Like many Island bridges the crossing was also used occasionally for loading coastal schooners with produce from surrounding farms. Note that the vessel’s gaff is being used to hoist loads from the farm cart on the bridge. Photo: Public Archives and Records Office.

In some ways Charlotte-Town was ideally placed to take advantage of the rivers which cut deep into the Island from the town’s placement at the point formed by the York and Hillsborough Rivers.  At the same time the rivers were barriers to land travel. From Charlotte-Town roads went east along the Hillsborough River and north towards the settlements on the northern coast with the Princetown Road being among the earliest constructed.  However the settlements to the south-west were cut off from the town by the York River. Although the York does not penetrate as far into the hinterland as the Hillsborough and Elliot its width and depth were obstacles. There seems to have been an irregular early ferry at York Point (hence the Ferry Road) but it seems to have been a private venture and it was put out of operation by the Poplar Island Bridge if not before. For details on the later ferry from York Point see here.

The Anderson Road which cut across the middle of the Island towards Bedeque, provided an easier route to the capital but it still had to cross the York River somewhere.  By the early 1820s a bridge had been established connecting this route with the roads leading north out of Charlotte-Town including the Lower Malpeque Road. This bridge, the first to cross the York River, crossed near what is now known as Sleepy Hollow, about 2 nautical miles or 3.7 km north from the present bridge. No trace of that bridge or the roads leading towards it exist today.

York River area in 1852. Although the upper bridge is not shown the roads leading to it are on the map. Note that the road leading from the crossing to the head of tide at Milton Station (where a mill is depicted with an asterisk)  has not yet been constructed.

This route, while shortening the distance to Bedeque, did little to serve the growing population of communities along Northumberland Strait from Tryon to Pye’s Tavern, now Cornwall, and in 1825 a petition with over 300 names was tabled in the House of Assembly calling for a bridge at Poplar Island. Although £300 had been spent the previous year on improvements to the North River Bridge further up-river the legislators recommended to the Lieutenant Governor that an inquiry be made as to the expediency of a bridge at Poplar Island.  Nothing appears to have been done as five years later another petition from the inhabitants of Elliot River and the west side of York River seeking a bridge at Poplar Island.  This petition appears to have pledged  that at least a portion of the funds would be raised by public subscription. Although the House found that “the erection would be of great public utility” the lack of available public funds meant that they could not recommend it. They did ask the Governor to obtain a estimate of the expense and specifications to be brought back the following year.

Approximate location of first York (North) River Bridge and approaches superimposed on the present Google Earth view. Route plotted from an early cadastral map at the PEI Public Archives and Records Office.

In 1831 specifications, plans, and estimates were provided to the Legislature. A Mr. Crerar of Pictou had been engaged to plan the intended bridge and over £500, an enormous sum for the time, was set aside for construction.  That summer a contract was entered into with William Crosby and he began work immediately. In February of the following year a report on progress was tabled. The 194 foot western abutment for the bridge had been completed and the whole bridge was expected to be finished by August of 1832. In addition to the wood and stone abutment the bridge across the 404 foot channel was carried on piles. However one tiny problem had been noted. Mr. Crerar appears not to have noticed that Poplar Island was indeed an island and that the planned bridge would link the island with the western bank of the York River.  However it seems that no provision had been made to link the little island with the eastern shore and the resulting construction would be a bridge to nowhere.  A small sum would be needed to provide for a bridge from Poplar Island with the end of the Royalty Road. Perhaps somewhat sheepishly the  House of Assembly agreed that, yes, another contract would have to be funded.

The House was informed at its 1833 sitting that the bridge(s) were now complete with a contract granted to pay John Scott £250 for the eastern Poplar Island bridge and the link with Royalty Road.  There was, however, one tiny problem.  William Crosby’s contract had specified a bridge of 848 feet, which was generous when one considered that Mr. Crerar had measured the crossing of the river at 810 feet. Unfortunately the bridge was actually 900 feet and so there was a scramble to find the money to compensate Crosby for the additional cost of £61 to build a bridge that actually crossed the whole width of the river. And oh, there was actually another tiny problem.  Although the petitioners had pledged to raise public funds from the area to cover about £100 of the total cost that money had not yet been secured. The neat solution was to authorize Crosby to take his additional payment for completing the project from the money to be publicly subscribed but not yet collected. The impossibility of this proposal was later raised and it was finally agreed to pay Crosby an additional £80 for the work he had done. The public enthusiasm for the bridge was not matched by a willingness of individuals in the area to pay and it seems that most, if not all, of the cost of the new bridge had to be borne by the taxpayers across the colony.

Regardless of the financial arrangements, the bridge, which had been one of the largest construction projects in the colony to that date was finally in place. It shortened the distance to Charlotte-Town for those to the south and west of the town by more than 7 kilometers, a not inconsiderable distance on foot or a cart or driving herd of slow-moving cattle or sheep to market.  It was so successful that the upper bridge ceased to be maintained and by the early 1850s was no longer in use.

In 1912 the old wooden structure was replaced with a modern 6-span steel truss bridge crossing 600 feet of open water. The later story of the Poplar Island Bridge is coupled with the drive for yet another bridge across the river. The story of the never-built Brighton Bridge can be found here.


The Forgotten York Point Ferry

When Samuel Holland selected the location for the Island’s capital he was influenced by the ease of access afforded by the rivers flanking the site. The Hillsborough, Elliott and York Rivers provided easy water access to the hinterland and before the development of a road system water was the main highway.

However as the land became settled and the economy shifted to agriculture the three rivers  became an impediment (except in winter) to getting access to to the growing town. The first of the rivers to be bridged was the York (North) River where a bridge at Poplar Island was, and continues to be, the route of access from the south and west. However, for pedestrians and horse and cart traffic from York Point, Cornwall and the South Shore it was still a detour well to the north of the shortest route which lay across the harbour.

York Point Wharf in 1935. Note the characteristic forked form of the ferry wharf.

York Point Wharf in 1935. Note the characteristic forked form of the ferry wharf.

A ferry across the North or York River was in use before 1830, probably as a private operation. However the construction of a bridge at Poplar Island, the site of the current crossing, in that year meant that there was limited interest in making improvements to the ferry wharf which appears to have been at or near the end of what is now the Ferry Road but it did not have the regularity or importance of the Rocky Point or Southport routes and it does not appear as a regular government ferry in the 19th century. Even by 1880 the Meachams Atlas shows the road as the “Old Ferry Road”. Possibly the investment required for a steam-powered craft was not justified by the amount of traffic generated on the route.  In the second decade of the 20th century a new technology emerged which made the venture more possible. The gasoline motor boat required less investment and could be accommodated in smaller craft. At the same time an expanded road network meant that more farmers were trying to get goods to Charlottetown and increasing leisure time resulted in the construction of a number of cottages on the North River Shore so there was a greater potential for business.

Guardian 21 July 1914 p. 7

Guardian 21 July 1914 p. 7

In September 1912 the Dominion government called for tenders for a wharf at Franklyn Point almost opposite Victoria Park. The wharf was to extend over 658 feet including the approaches  115 feet of this length to be two guide piers suitable for the ferry.  Initially the service used a motor boat but on completion of the wharf the Steamer Hillsboro made stops two days a week in addition to its Rocky Point service. The Hillsboro also provided service early in the spring and in the fall of the year.  However there appears to have been congestion at the Prince Street Wharf and a landing for the York Ferry was negotiated further west on the waterfront. After 1914 and into the 1920s there were calls for tenders for ferry operation on the route.  The first vessel noted on the route was the motor launch Dolphin which provided  four or five round trips each day from the York Point Wharf to Pownal Wharf – not the Prince Street Ferry wharf as was the case for the Rocky Point ferry. The 40 foot Dolphin had been built for the government the previous year for the route from Charlottetown to Bonshaw. She could carry up to 50 passengers with cabin accommodation for half that number.  However, she could carry only limited amounts of freight and was ill-suited to the transport of livestock.  Two years later the schedule for the Motor Boat Dolphin showed four trips on Monday (Market Day) and only two round-trips daily for the rest of the week. The exception was on Sunday when afternoon trips, possibly for picnic visits, were added.  The Dolphin was replaced by the Hazel R. (sometimes identified as the Hazel Ruth), which had been used in the motor boat service up to Bonshaw in 1917, and was running to York Point three times each summer day in 1919.  The Hazel R. was offered for sale in 1920 and in 1924 was once again reported on the Bonshaw service but it is not known if she continued to visit York Point. However, the service seems to have continued through the 1930s although the name of the boat is not recorded. A correspondent noted in April 1932 that the boat was “a great convenience” when the roads were almost impassable. The last newspaper reference I have been able to find was in 1935 when the LOBA (Ladies Orange Benevolent Association) held a picnic which included “a delightful sail on the York Pont Ferry”. In the late 1930s the yearly subsidy was reduced from $700 to $500 and it is not clear if it was paid past 1937. Whether for ferries or other purposes the wharf continued to be used and was dredged by the Dominion Government in 1944.

Google Earth view of York Point Ferry site. The wharf site is just barely visible at the foot of the light-coloured field.

Google Earth view of York Point Ferry site. The wharf ruin is just barely visible at the foot of the light-coloured field.

Although the 1935 air photo of Franklyn Point shows a forked wharf it is unlikely that after the early years when the Hillsboro operated, the ferry carried more than passengers and light freight as the Pownal wharf end of the run had no such docking accommodation.   At any rate after the 1940s the wharf fell out of use and gradually eroded.

Today a yellow harbour buoy is visible marking the outer end of the rock pile of the wharf ruin just under the water and the shore area is used by oystermen to launch their boats.  Along the shore the cottages are gradually being supplanted by permanent residences.

With paved roads the route to the capital via the North River Bridge is hardly a barrier and the York Point Ferry is barely a memory. Bill and Elizabeth Glen’s comprehensive history of Bonshaw has a photo of the Hazel R. but to date I have not been able to find photos of other boats on the route or of the wharf when it was still active. I would be pleased to hear of any more information about this almost-forgotten part of the harbour history.