For much of the first half of the twentieth century Prince Edward Island’s main link with the rest of Canada was through Montreal. Toronto was hardly on the horizon. Montreal had succeeded Boston as the metropolis for the Island. Transportation links through the Intercolonial Railway were supplemented by an increasing sea connection through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and several companies were involved in the transportation of passengers and freight.
One hundred years ago saw the ending of one of the long-time marine connections between Charlottetown and Montreal and Quebec. In March of 1917 shippers and agents for the S.S. Cascapedia were given notice that the service linking Montreal and Quebec with Pictou was being withdrawn. For more than a decade the ship made stops at Charlottetown and Summerside.
The Cascapedia had been launched under the name Fastnet for the Clyde Shipping Company. Although sharing its original name with an earlier Pickford and Black vessel which had Island connections this vessel operated for five years from the port of Glasgow and across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Waterford and also made trips up the English Channel to London. The ship and several others owned by Clyde Steamships were named for lighthouses on the Irish Coast.
She was built in Dundee at the Thompson & Co. Lillybank yard and launched in 1895. Described in the Marine Engineer as “a beautiful model of what a passenger and cargo boat should be” the steamer was 255 feet by 35 feet and 1,160 register tons. In addition to three large cargo holds served by steam cranes and winches she had accommodation for between 40 and 50 first-class passengers on the after part of the poop deck.
The Fastnet was purchased by the Quebec Steamship Company to replace the ill-fated Campana which had sunk near Quebec in 1909. Modifications were made which significantly changed the appearance of the vessel. Additional cabins were built forward and behind her mid-ships structure which increased her capacity to 108 berths in 51 cabins, almost the same number as the Campana. The new cabins were built over the cargo holds and the ship now depended on side-ports for loading and unloading. Initially the remodeled ship was to have been named the Ungava but a name recognizing the Gaspe salmon river was selected instead, possibly to help attract excursion passengers.
Together with the S.S. Trinidad the two ships provided a weekly service, the Cascapedia leaving from Montreal and on alternate weeks the Trinidad would leave from Quebec. The latter ship’ route extended to Halifax and New York while the Cascapedia completed its voyage at Pictou with rail links to Halifax.
Besides serving as a freight and passenger carrier the Cascapedia continued the tradition of the Quebec Steamship Line and the Campana by serving as a cruise vessel. In a brochure issued by the line the route was described in the following glowing terms. “The novelty and many attractions of the route, the excellence of the accommodation and the cuisine on the Cascapedia, and the convenient connections at either end make this an ideal summer trip.”
The decision to take her off the Gulf of St. Lawrence service may be connected with declining business brought about by the effect of the Great War on travel or on reduced freight traffic but is most probably connected with the beginning of the S.S. Prince Edward Island ferry service and integrated rail access to the Island. The spring of 1917 found the Cascapedia in New York under the management of the Furness Withy line providing service between New York and Bermuda as the larger vessels formerly on that route had been need for troop transport as the U.S. entered the war. It was reported in Canadian Railway and Marine World that she would be back of the Montreal, Gaspe, Prince Edward Island service later the year. However, although the Cascapedia was not suitable for the Bermuda run she did not return to the Gulf service. Instead, the Quebec Steamship Company, which had been taken into Canada Steamships Line ownership sold her to a new company, Nova Scotia Steamships Limited, which was establishing a service between New York and St. John’s Newfoundland calling at Boston and Halifax. This service partially replaced the operations of the Plant Line which has ceased operation the previous year.
Her time with the new company was short. In mid-November 1917, while the vessel was between ports the area was swept by a severe storm with winds approaching hurricane strength. A radio message reported the vessel in a sinking condition off Cape Race. A fire had broken out aboard and the 35 crew members and three passengers abandoned the vessel . They were picked up by a vessel bound for England and landed safely in Falmouth.
The Cascapedia was not replaced by Canada Steamships which gradually withdrew from passenger services in the Gulf but other firms, most notably Clarke Steamships, continued to provide services to Charlottetown for many years.
The primary resource for the history of shipping in the Gulf and Northumberland Strait continues to be K.C. Griffin’s excellent St. Lawrence Saga: The Clark Steamship Story. Additional details have been added from several newspaper files and the journal Marine Engineer.