Tag Archives: Paoli’s Wharf

Pownal Wharf: The Pier that Moved

Today we tend to think of wharves as public facilities, owned and operated for the public good with major investment from the state. However, until well into the Twentieth Century the opposite was true. Wharves were, by and large, privately owned. They were built on water lots which were associated with shore front property and which extended into the harbour.  The exceptions existed where water lots did not. The extensions of the public streets to the channel were public lands and it was there that the government of the colony of Prince Edward Island had the ability to invest in the commercial success of the community.

A New Wharf for the Growing Town

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Charlottetown waterfront in 1842 prior to the building of the Pownal Wharf. Detail from George Wright’s Chart of Charlottetown Harbour

The first of these was the Queen’s wharf but by the 1840s this was inadequate for the increasing business in the port.  To the east was Great George Street but there was a steep haul from the shore to the top of the knoll and businesses had tended to be developed on the western part of the waterfront where the ground was flatter.  West of Pownal Street the waterfront land was still owned by the Imperial crown and was held by the Ordnance Department. In 1843 there was still disagreement as to the best site for the next public wharf with some advocating for the foot of Prince Street or Great George Street. The advantages advanced for the Pownal street location included a reduced distance from the bank to the channel and hence reduced cost, the reduced distance to the harbour mouth and the existence of existing commercial buildings on Pownal Street. A a year later the Palladium newspaper noted the construction of a “lengthy and substantial wharf at the foot of Pownal Street. “This wharf, from the great facility of approach, and the safety of loading and unloading it possesses, has as many, if not more advantages than the Queen’s Wharf to commend it to a general preference.” In 1847 the ordnance lot south of water street and west of Pownal Street was sold to James Purdie by the crown and it was noted at the time that the angle of the Pownal wharf caused it to encroach slightly on this property. The pier seems to have strayed to the west.

The Rose at Pownal Wharf ca. 1849 from a painting by George Hubbard in the collection of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation

The Rose at Pownal Wharf ca. 1849 from a painting by George Hubbard in the collection of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation

The Wharf Moves West

Five years later, in October 1852, the Island was hit by a massive storm which wrecked dozens of ships and heavily damaged the new public wharf. The schooner Ellen, owned by William Sneeston had been lying at the east side of the wharf was driven right through the wharf destroying three blocks of cribwork and the connecting bridges and shifting the structure even further to the west and on to the adjacent water lot owned by James Purdie. Although re-built the alignment of the wharf to the west was to cause difficulties later on.

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Chart showing Charlottetown wharves about 1860. This fails to show the angle of Pownal Wharf which was to cause problems a decade later.

Maintaining the wooden wharves was a continuing problem. In 1864 there were reports of people and even horses breaking through the planking. The condition of the wharf was a constant irritant for the City.

Two major legal cases in 1870 and 1871 tested the rights concerning the wharf. Pownal Street had been used by travellers crossing the ice from the West River and even after the building of the wharf they traveled along the west side of the wharf to join the land.  The Ordnance property and the water lot had passed from Purdie to merchant J.S. Carvell who tried to block use of the passageway and to take control of the encroaching wharf. The City contended that a right of way had been established but the court ruled that no right existed and that Carvell was entitled to ownership of a portion of the wharf which was on his water lot. This effectively meant that the west side of the wharf could not be used for public purposes.

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Western section of the waterfront in 1863. Detail from Lake Map. Note how the structure veers to the west rather than in line with Pownal Street.

The location of the wharf made it ideal as a viewing area for the yacht races in the harbour and in 1878 the Hillsboro Boating Club petitioned to the city to be allowed to build a grandstand on the wharf to view aquatic activities.  If it was allowed it did not last long for there is no mention of it in the extensive coverage of the wharf in the following year.

1879 was perhaps the finest year in the history of Pownal Wharf. It had been selected as the landing spot for the vice-regal visit of the Marquis of Lorne and Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. Besides renovations which included an addition to the west side of the wharf and planking the wharf to level it up with an extension at the end of the wharf, it was the site of two decorative arches erected by the City Corporation, one at the end of the wharf and one opposite Rankin House at the head of the wharf. The structure at the end of the wharf had three Moorish arches sheltering landing stairs enabling the vice-regal party to enter the city. The dirt and debris normally found on the wharf was removed and an unsightly weed-covered lot at the head of the wharf was screened from view by a whitewashed fence.  Whitewash also covered the dilapidated barrel factory and its broken windows had been boarded up.

Pownal Wharf 1880. From Meacham's Atlas

Pownal Wharf 1880. From Meacham’s Atlas. At this time there appear to be no buildings on the wharf.

Earlier that year the wharf had briefly been the landing-place for the Rocky Point Ferry when the city rented it to the Province for $324.00 per year but the arrangement was short-lived as the government was soon complaining that the landing slip was inadequate and the ferry was shifted to Prince Street. In 1880 the total revenue from the wharf was only $140 and the City offered the lease for the wharf for five years with the possibility of purchase. By this time there were a dozen several other wharves and harbour traffic was beginning to decline. There appears to have been limited interest but it is known that the Carvell firm did have control of the wharf early in the 20th century.  Although newspapers report the occasional schooner unloading at the wharf  it was hardly a bustling place and much of the traffic seems to have consisted of stone for the crushing plant as the city streets became macadamized.

Decline and Fail

In 1900 a stone crushing shed was erected on the wharf and afterwards the city operated a works yard on Pownal Wharf, a use which continued into the 1970s.  The wharf was also home to a several warehouses and coal yards  For a number of years in the early 1900s it was also used for winter storage for several harbour vessels such as the dredge Prince Edward, tugs Rona and Islander and the ferry Hillsboro which would be hauled onto the wharf using horse winches.

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Pownal Wharf 1917 from Charlottetown Fire Insurance Atlas

Air photos from the mid-1930s show a collection of warehouses on the wharf but only small pleasure craft are tied up to the pilings. 1936 saw 15 men working to re-build the old city wharf and they put down new foundations to give the wharf a width of 52 feet.  The area around the wharf was to be dredged so that a depth of six feet of water would abut the wharf at low tide. The commercial potential of the wharf had almost disappeared by this time and the Guardian noted the new focus. “”This will no doubt great interest in boating and will be a place where visiting yachts can be moored and looked after properly, with good landing facilities and the proper protection that visiting pleasure yachts should get.” Soon after that the Charlottetown Yacht Club developed plans for the new club house at the head of the adjoining Lord’s wharf.  Pownal Wharf continued to deteriorate and ceased to be a harbour facility. Gradually the timbers rotted away leaving only the rock cribs which had anchored the wharf in place.

After the Second World War there was a brief flurry of interest in Pownal wharf as the possible site for a new naval barracks for the city. Fred Large, himself an ex-navy man and Attorney General of the province urged the Board of Trade to press for a new facility but when it was finally built it was on the nearby Paoli’s Wharf.

In 1964 the City had had enough. Repairs to the wharf would cost them at lest $15,000 (about $115,000 in today’s dollars) and a timely approach from the Charlottetown Yacht Club resulted in a motion to convey the wharf to the club on completion of repairs by the Club volunteers . A proviso on the agreement, which continues to this day, is that if use of the facility by the yacht club would cease, the property would revert to the City.

What was left of the old wharf provided at least one bit of amusement for the Yacht Club verandah gang for several years.  A large rock pile remained just under the water off the stub of the wharf and it was the source of sadistic amusement to watch as speeding motorboaters unfamiliar with the obstacle learned what happened when their outboards encountered the unforgiving rock.   Today the rock pile has been dredged out of existence and fingers in the Club’s marina float where the Pownal Wharf once stood.

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An Iceboat in Charlottetown Harbour – Not for Winter Sport

Not the Rocky Point Iceboat. A view of the Capes crossing from Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly 1887.

Not the Rocky Point Iceboat. A view of the Capes crossing from Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly August 1887.

The term “iceboat” usually means one of two things on Prince Edward island. It refers either to the winter mail service between Cape Traverse and Cape Tormentine that operated for almost a century before the implementation of a successful winter steamer service with the S.S. Prince Edward Island in 1917 or to the sport of iceboating which continues to this day.  There is a third meaning that is unique to Charlottetown harbour.

Rocky Point has been served by a communication link across the harbour to Charlottetown since the mid 1800s; in summer by a ferry (first powered by sail and later by steam), and in the winter by a bushed road across the ice.  As travel between the South Shore and the capital became more and more important interruption to the route became more of a problem and there was no greater interruption than the times between the development of enough ice to stop the ferry and the thickening of the ice to support pedestrians and sleighs.  The problem was reversed in the spring as the ice road became too fragile but still posed a barrier for the ferry. This was compounded by mud season when alternative land routes were impassable.  In 1937, for example a mild winter kept the ice road form forming anytime over the winter and the ice boat was in daily use for several months. The return of the S.S. Hillsboro “was hailed with delight by the residents of Rocky Point.”

We have several accounts of the crossing at the Capes and in the history of the service lives were lost as storms came up and the boats were swept down the strait. Among the best of the traveller accounts is by B.W.A. Sleigh in his Pine Forests and Hacmatack Clearings, a copy of which can be found in Haszards Gazette for 6 July 1853 .

The crossing to Rocky Point is less documented but a report in the 12 April 1950 Guardian gives a snapshot of the boat and its users.  At that time the service had been in place for about 45 years but the design of the boat used was similar to that used on the Capes route. About 20 feet long, the boats were modeled on a Norwegian pram but had runners on the keel to allow the boat to be pulled across the ice. The boat in use in 1950 had first seen service in the oil drilling on Governor’s Island in 1925 when to was used to take supplies to the drillers over the winter. For much of the history of the Rocky Point route Augustus McMahon and Aretmus McKinnon were the operators of the service but in 1950 the captain was Howard Smith and the crew included Oswald Gorvette and Harold Mackinnon.  The Guardian reporter was at the Charlottetown end of the run at Paoil’s Wharf:

Eleven people in addition the the crew of three made the trip over and back yesterday. There were 300 additional passengers on the way back, however as Mr. Allison MacMillan took home a batch of spring chicks. He also piled three or four bags of feed in the boat, some of it probably chick starter for the trip. This was too much for mailman Wendell Gorvette, who, with a companion grabbed the mailbag and started walking….

Run over the ice on two sleigh-shoe covered runners about eight inches apart on the bottom the boat is dragged across the ice by the men with ropes attached to it. The passengers walk beside the boat so that if they strike holes they may have safety and may also drag the boat to the water. When the water is reached the passengers and crew take to the boat. The captain steers her from the stern while three men man the oars Only ten people are supposed to get in the boat but frequently sixteen or eighteen make the trip.

During the past few days they have gone through into ice holes three times. They felt no concern yesterday afternoon however as they stated that Captain Smith now knew where the holes were and would steer around them…

Leaving time from Charlottetown is 2 P.M.. This schedule is not too strictly adhered to, however, as many of the passengers are late in returning. For those who do return on time it means they must wait around until then. Some of the men expressed regret about their inability to bring cattle into the city for the breeders sale last Saturday. They were also prevented from buying any cattle. …     

Unlike the Capes route where passengers paid one fare to sit in the boat and another to help pull it there was no charge at all for crossing Charlottetown Harbour, however passengers were still expected to help the crew with the pulling. The ice boats probably continued in operation until the opening of the West River Causeway in 1958.  Although for a number of years after the causeway opening the track across the harbour continued to be “bushed” and the summer operation of a motor boat was continued for passengers, the ferry Fairview was taken off the route. It is unlikely that the iceboats were launched after the new route across the West River near New Dominion was in operation.

“Every citizen should be a member.” The Guardian and the founding of the Charlottetown Yacht Club

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Charlottetown Guardian 14 September 1922

Whether planted in the mind of the editor by yachting enthusiasts or arising spontaneously from the editorial pen the editorial for the Charlottetown Guardian on 2 September 1922 centred on the harbour of the city;

Strangers visiting the Island this summer expressed surprise that so little use was being made of our waterfront and magnificent harbours and rivers for aquatic sports. With the most picturesque rivers on the continent, beautiful stretches of sandy beaches for bathing, it is surprising even to our selves, that aquatic sports, motor-boating, swimming contests and similar entertainments are not indulged in more than they are. An effort should be made before another season comes around to organize a yachting club, a swimming club or some sort of club for the promotion of aquatic sports. They would prove most attractive to visitors, especially to visitors from inland points to whom the sea is always a source of mystery. They can have the motoring and driving they want at home.  They go to the seaside for seaside enjoyment and in a place like Charlottetown, situated as it is beside safe and attractive sea surroundings they are disappointed if they do not find such enjoyment.

The editorial had enthusiastic support and within two weeks  a meeting was held to put the suggestion into action. Upwards of seventy-five individuals crowded into a room at the Navy League Building on Dundas Esplanade. After repeating the advantages for the people of Charlottetown and visitors alike (who in the past had been disappointed at the lack of sails in the harbour) a motion was unanimously adopted to form a yachting club in the city to be called the Charlottetown Yacht Club.

At the same meeting the first slate of officers was installed. Although the Guardian listed the head of the organization as “Commander” rather than “Commodore” it was an easy mistake as the person who filled the role was Commander W.G. Lewin, a newly arrived retired officer of the Royal Navy (about whom I will be writing more at a later date).  Vice “Commander” was T.B. Grady, superintendent of the P.E.I. Railway, with Louis J. MacDonald as secretary. The Committee consisted of Dr. A.D. Reid, Ivan Reddin, John Cameron, Malcolm Irwin, James Currie and George Buntain.  The Guardian congratulated those present on the formation of the club. “The splendid movement on the part of these gentlemen will fill a long felt want in our Province and is unquestionably deserving of generously support by our citizens.”

The organization was the latest of a long series of clubs that had existed with similar aims including the Charlottetown Regatta Club in the 1840s, the Hillsboro Boating Club  ca.1873-1925, the first (and short-lived) Charlottetown Yacht Club formed in 1903 and the Charlottetown Aquatic Club 1912-1915.  However the 1922 Club continued through the decade and was incorporated in 1938.

Although the sailing season for 1922 was drawing to a close at the time the Club was founded by the first annual general meeting held in May 1923 substantial progress had been made. By November of 1922 designs could be viewed at Reddin Bros. Drug Store for a proposed standard yacht for the club. The plans showed boats of about 21 feet in length with a sail area of five or six hundred feet of canvas. The Club believed this was the size of yacht which could be locally built at a low price. At the time the Club was considering tendering for the construction of one or more boats to be owned by the Club and sailed by its members. Included in the designs was one from William J. Roué, a Nova Scotia designer just beginning his career who had achieved fame with the schooner Bluenose which had won the first of its International Fisherman’s Trophies the previous year. Although there is no listing for a boat for the CYC in the Roué design portfolio it is known that he did design a Roué 20 which may be the designed referred to.  Over the winter nine boats were built but they appear to be of varying designs and it is not known if the Roué design was used for any of them.

Insurance Plan Connolloys wharves  ca. 1913. In the 1920s the firm of Alyward & Deegan had a coal yard on Connolly's Wharf

Insurance Plan Connolloys wharves ca. 1913. In the 1920s the firm of Alyward & Deegan had a coal yard on Connolly’s Wharf

By the spring 1923 meeting the Club had more than two hundred members. It was announced that the club had received permission to use the dock between Carvell Bros. and Alywards (part of Paoli’s wharf) as an anchorage. The area was to be dredged to form a basin and a night watchman would be placed on duty. A listing of motor boats willing to take visitors and tourists on motor boat outings was to be prepared by the Club. In addition the Club appears to have received the use of a part of the Navy League building for meetings and other activities.

The club was still pursuing the idea of Club-owned boats. A number of members had subscribed toward the funds for that purpose and a committee consisting of Messrs David Bethune, Walter Hyndman and Commander Lewin had been appointed to solicit merchants for contributions toward the purchase of two or three boats for Club members.

The Guardian noted the progress of the club with editorial approval:

When the fleet is out in full force, as is expected shortly, Charlottetown Harbour will once more present the lively appearance of those days, a generation or two ago, when white-winged pleasure boats vied with each other and with the elements for mastery in speed and skill. This new fleet will be an added attraction for Charlottetown, and we trust it will grow from year to year, both in numbers and in popularity.

The Charlottetown Yacht Club although but a young institution is growing apace. It already has a membership of about 250, with room for still more. For a city like Charlottetown, with its magnificent stretches of rivers, there are few organizations which have better opportunities to advertise and popularize the province than this Yacht Club and every citizen should be a member, and so help in carrying out a much needed work. 

The late spring of 1923 saw the first yacht racing in many years as at least fourteen boats from the Yacht Club participated….More on that in a future posting.