Tag Archives: Pinette

“The Shipping Season in the Fall is Short…”

Loading schooners at Montague about 1905

Loading schooners at Montague about 1905

While the tradition of the harvest being a busy time on farms on Prince Edward Island continues the availability of storage facilities for grain, potatoes and other crops has meant that our harbours seldom see a rush of shipping. Today a steady stream of tractor trailers crossing the bridge has dulled the frenzy of getting the harvest to market and the harbours are empty of shipping. There is excitement in Charlottetown if two cruise ships and a gravel barge are in port at the same time.

Poplar Island Bridge ca. 1890. The view is from North River towards Upton Farm. Bridges often served as wharves for loading and unloading small schooners.

Poplar Island Bridge ca. 1890. The view is from North River towards Upton Farm. Bridges often served as wharves for loading and unloading small schooners.

A century and  half ago it was a different story. The trade from Prince Edward Island was carried on scores of small sailing vessels; brigs, brigantines and schooners with a handful to full-rigged ships. Some higher value commodities such as eggs and oysters made their way to market on steamers but bulk goods, mostly oats and other grain, and potatoes were hefted aboard vessels at every small port on the Island. And they had to be loaded and on their way before the rivers and strait froze over. Visiting some of these shipping places today it is hard to believe that it was possible to even bring an empty vessel to the wharf let alone load it with produce. In some cases the boats were loaded from bridges or were grounded at low tide and were filled directly from carts or be goods carried on the backs of the farmers.

The extent of the trade can be glimpsed from newspaper reports although the shipping frenzy was too common to be remarkable.  The following is simply the report from one week at the beginning of November 1873 as it appeared in the Patriot. The activity had begun in September and would continue until the snow fell or the rivers froze. The wharves mentioned are almost all ones close to Charlottetown. The picture would have been mirrored all across the Island.

Shipping News

Capt. Samuel McRae Lot 49, is loading a schooner with produce in Southport, H. beer Esq. is preparing for another, and the “Glynwood” is being loaded by Haszard  & Longworth; and Richard Smith Esq. Pownal, has one of Capt. Richard’s brigs taking up oats at Pownal. A schooner went up the East River on Monday for a cargo of potatoes, oats &c. The shipping season in the fall is short, and this year we hope our farmers will make the best of it.

Seven or eight schooners are being loaded at Mount Stewart Bridge; two were ready for sea at Hickey’s Wharf yesterday and there is one at Cranberry Wharf , and another at McConnel’s Wharf, taking in produce. The “Fanny” built by David Egan Esq. at Mt. Stewart for Messrs Welsh & Owen, is laden with oats, potatoes, oysters &c. for Newfoundland and may sail to day or tomorrow. Mr. Neil Currie has a schooner loading at McEwen’s wharf, West River, and Messrs Welsh & Owen have a 600 ton ship at Cardigan; one at Montague; one at Vernon River, one at  Grand River; one at Mt. Stewart; one at Summerside, and one ready to go at Pinette – all for oats for the English market. Three or four are loading at Crapaud, and Mr. Walter Mathewson, of Alberton, is about sending the “Prince Bismark,” there for a cargo of oats.  

The price of produce is without material change. Pork has a downward tendency, and may be quoted at from 6 to 7 cents. O. Connolly is the principal purchaser at present. He takes in about 40,000 lbs. weight per week.

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New Lobster Factories at Pinette – 1878

1880 map of Pinette River area showing location of Moore Shudd & Co. lobster factory. Fraser factory is noted in the map cvlose to the tip of Point Prim.

1880 map of Pinette River area showing location of Moore Shudd & Co. lobster factory. Fraser factory is noted in the map close to the tip of Point Prim. [not seen in this view]

Sailing into the tiny port of Pinette today you approach the shore near the site of the Boy Scout camp of happy memory and follow a buoyed channel along a shore populated with summer homes and fields reaching from the Point Prim road down to the beaches and low cliffs.  It can be a tricky narrow passage between the sand bars and spits up to McAulay’s wharf and the Pinette wharf where the highway crosses the river.  There is little sign that this stretch of shore was once home to the infrastructure of a rapidly developing fishing industry.

Lobsters only began to be a major resource for P.E.I. into the 1870s. Advances in processing techniques were refined as canning became common and shipping options became available. There was no shortage of lobsters. The impediment was that the small oar-powered boats could operate only a mile or so from shore at most and processing had to be done near the fishing grounds. On the other hand the small boats could be launched from every shore and did not require harbours or infrastructure. Factories (as the processing plants were called) could be built anywhere – and they were. From only a few in the late 1870s there were hundreds a decade later, providing much-needed seasonal employment along the coasts.

The new industry soon caught the eye of the press and the following report from the 6 June 1878 Patriot is one of the earliest accounts of the fishery that we have.

LOBSTER FACTORIES – Last week we visited Shed Moore & Co. lobster factory in Pinette. It is quite a large establishment. There is a well-built breastwork on the beach for the foundation for the preserving and boiling house, cooling room, tin shop, bath department, paint room, and carpenter’s shop. Thirteen boats are employed and 1200 traps are set at present. The want of good bait is much felt.   The fish are brought in twice a day – morning and evening. To keep the place clean and sweet the establishment is “flooded” every twenty-four hours. In the can shop six men are employed, and they waste no time loafing. Busier and more active workmen we never saw. The room where the young women work – some of them children – pleased us most. Neatly dresses, clean and active, we noticed some twenty female hands busy; and judging from appearances the lobsters from this factory may be eaten without misgiving. Sweeter and better tasting fish we never tasted.

Scene inside Lobster Factory. Robert Harris 1882. from Picturesque Canada.

Scene inside Lobster Factory. Robert Harris 1882. from Picturesque Canada.

The men and girls know their business and attend to it. The daily catch here is about 3000. The company would like to double that number, and after a while they, no doubt will. The can making is worth seeing – it can’t be described. The way the tin is cut, rounded, and tossed from one workman to another is wonderful. One thousand cans each for a day is not bad work. A large quantity of dry wood is also on hand.  John Compton’s force-pump supplies water. It is some 200 yards distant from the factory and cast iron pipes connect it with the building. Mr. Compton’s [word unclear]. invention, and we must see himself before we venture on a description of it. [word unclear], however, and Mr. Compton deserves credit for its introduction. The industry of lobster packing is a comparatively new one, and those engaged in it deserve encouragement. They cause money to circulate, and give employment to men, women, and children who might be worse engaged. We wish them success.

Messrs. James Fraser & Co. are building a lobster preserving factory nearer Point Prim. The shore and anchorage are excellent. They have a fine lot of traps ready for use. They expect to employ some forty hands. Mr. Donald Gillis is putting up a boarding house not far off, and intends to accommodate all the men. The extension of this industry cannot fail to be productive of good.

The Fraser factory was up and running within days of the publishing of the article and by the end of July had already dispatched a shipment of the “preserved crustacea” on board the steamer M.A. Starr which had anchored just off the Point Prim shore to receive the cargo.

Pinette River area today. Sand spit where factory stood has moved. McAulay's wharf is at the right with Camp Buchan at the left.

Pinette River area today. Sand spit where factory stood has moved. McAulay’s wharf is seen at the right with Camp Buchan Boy Scout camp at the left.

Today lobster are still caught in the waters off Point Prim. In the season the often-deserted wharves at McAulay’s and Pinette Bridge are busy spots as the lobster boats land their catches but they venture far from shore into waters that the 19th century dories rarely visited.  The boats are bigger and the lobsters are fewer but the biggest change is the disappearance of the hundreds of factories which were once almost as numerous along the shore as the tourist cottages are today.  More lobsters are shipped live or are frozen but some still make their way to the several factories which still “put up” lobster in cans, a process much like the one which created a new industry on the Pinette shore almost a century and a half ago.

Where Am I?

Roamer at unknown location ca. 1920

Roamer at unknown location ca. 1920

I recently had the opportunity to copy a small collection of photographs which had belonged to Fred and Jean Small, pillars of the Charlottetown Yacht Club, and had been passed on to a current club member. The shots probably pre-date the creation of the current Charlottetown Yacht Club but they detail activities of some of the boats and people who formed the core of the Club. Central to the collection are photos of the boat above – the Roamer, owned by Malcolm (Mac) Irwin.  Mac, Hal Bourke and Fred Small spent a lot of time together on their boats. There are many shots of the Roamer at Red Gap (more about that in a later post), camping up the West River and on cruises such as one to Murray River.

There are two photos, both in the same location, that I had not been able to definitively place but I have a guess. The problem is that these are just holiday snapshots and detail is lacking. In addition, in the almost 100 years since the snaps were taken the shorelines have changed and roads and bridges have been moved.  Clearly this is a spot where there is a bridge and road are close to the shore.  It is a good-sized stream and a road with telephone lines (although that is not a good clue as there were many rural telephone companies and most of the province had phones by the 1920s)

Roamer in unknowl location

Roamer in unknowl location

It’s also a place that appears to be pretty exposed to the open sea as the second shot shows more clearly.   Given the sand exposed and the general lay of the land it’s also likely to be on the South Shore of the Island. Looking at a map there are very few places where bridges are so close to what seems to be a poorly protected shore.  However photos can be misleading because of what they don’t show.  If my guess is correct there is a body of land just to the left of the photos which is not shown and which would give a great deal of shelter for the boat tied up to the bridge.

After much head-scratching and peering at early and recent maps my guess is that this is the bridge over the north branch of the Pinette River.  In the late 1950s a new bridge was built east of the old bridge which eliminated a number of right angle turns, one of which can be seen in the top photo if you follow the line of the telephone poles.  The remains of the old bridge approaches and piers can still be seen as you drive down the Trans-Canada towards Wood Islands.

Detail of Lot 58 from 1928 Cummins Atlas

Detail of Lot 58 from 1928 Cummins Atlas

Detail from 1936 air photo

Detail from 1936 air photo

Note that this is not the bridge at Pinette Harbour which is just south of a little roadside park on the point between the north and south branches of the Pinette River.  The guess is strengthened by early aerial photographs. Maddeningly the 1936 series does not show the whole area but the north branch bridge is seen in the corner of one photo.  One can faintly make out the channel near the north end of the bridge and looking north-west from where a boat would be moored the view is almost identical to the scene in  the second photo. McAulays Wharf is not visible, either because the background of the photo is indistinct or it is masked by the trees on the point

Detail from 1958 air photo

Detail from 1958 air photo

The 1958 photo is badly over-exposed but both the new and old bridges can be seen. The spot where I believe the Roamer was tied up is just south of the section of woods highlighted as “FC” in the photo.

While the mystery may not be completely cleared up I am satisfied the I now know where this photo was taken however any other guesses or comments are certainly welcome .

Pinette continues to be a good spot for a day-sail or an overnight trip. I have been there a couple of times and aside from the tricky channel getting in it is a safe harbour in most winds.