Tag Archives: Plant Line

Cruising to New York – The S.S. Trinidad

Postcard showing the Trinidad ca. 1910. Phil Culhane collection. http://www.peipostcards.ca/collection/

In spite of the extreme difficulties associated with winter travel across Northumberland Strait, in the other three seasons of the year Prince Edward Island was reasonably served with the “continuous steam navigation” sought in the  confederation agreement.  With direct services to the mainland across Northumberland Strait, to Montreal and Quebec through the Gulf, and to New England via Halifax and Boston one could get from the Island to just about everywhere served by steamship and rail – if you weren’t in a hurry.

Most coverage of P.E.I.’s international connections has centred on the “Boston Boat”, the regular steamer service provided by at least one, and often more, steamship lines. These links pre-dated confederation and lasted until the Great War and served the trade links and flow of population between the Island and New England.

What is less well-remembered is that the province had direct steamer service to New York for several years early in the twentieth century. The Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Line, later the Quebec Steamship Line, had run a service between Montreal , Quebec and Pictou, stopping at Summerside, Charlottetown and Gaspe for several years.  At the same time the company  had regular sailings between New York and Bermuda, a service which had begun in 1874 and continued for more than forty years.  One of the vessels used on this route was the steamer Trinidad.

SS Trinidad at Bermuda ca. 1890 before being lengthened. Note the single funnel.

The Trinidad was built for the Quebec Steamship Company in 1884 at Deptford on the Wear River in northern England. She was 270 feet long and the 2100 ton ship operated primarily as a freight vessel with limited passenger accommodation.  She had been built specifically for use on the crossing between New York and Bermuda but also travelled elsewhere in the West Indies. The run was profitable and nine years later the Trinidad was sent back to the Wear and was rebuilt in Sunderland. Forty feet were added to her length and tonnage increased to 2600 tons. A new engine was installed and the look of the vessel was significantly changed with the addition of second funnel. More importantly cabins and saloon were overhauled and renovated and new accommodation added.  She was now capable of carrying 170 first class passengers.  The New York Times stated she looked like a miniature liner.

Stern view of the Trinidad

In 1908, the tercentenary of Champlain’s voyage of Quebec the company began a summer service using the Trinidad to travel from New York to Quebec stopping at Halifax and Charlottetown.  Following the stranding and loss of the Campana the Trinidad took over her duties on the subsidized Quebec to Pictou Service and the further use of the vessel to go to New York was suspended for the rest of the season although it resumed the following year.  A review describing the vessel appeared in the Quebec Chronicle in June 1909

SS Trinidad at Gaspe

[She is] fitted up in the most modern style as a passenger steamer. Her salon, a handsomely furnished apartment is situated amidships, and has accommodation for nearly 200 passengers. Immediately forward of the salon is the ladies sitting room, most tastefully fitted up and furnished …[and aft], a cosy smoking room, where gentlemen can enjoy a quiet smoke of their favourite brand … while discussing topics of the day. There is also a music room in  which both sexes can meet and listen to the music of a first class piano … staterooms are lofty, well ventilated, and comfortably furnished. The passages to them are wide and lofty, being richly carpeted. On the upper or boat deck is a promenade extending nearly the full length of the steamer. This deck is covered with canvas awnings and is well supplied with chairs.  

In the winter season the Trinidad returned to the Bermuda run which became increasingly popular and the ship turned from being mere transportation to a cruise experience. In 1911, for example,  advertising notices appeared such as one in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle touting the Quebec cruise which covered 1500 miles over five days. “The voyage during the summer months is a veritable yachting trip, and the rates of passage so low that it is brought within the  reach of the most moderate income. “

In fact there were great differences between the New York Service and the Boston Boat. The former  was primarily a cruise line. Charlottetown was a port on the route rather than the terminus and the main business was the tourist. For those wishing to get from New York to Quebec there were much quicker rail connections.  The Trinidad made the round trip only once every two weeks and only in the high summer season  while the Plant Line had a regular weekly or semi-weekly service which began in the spring and extended into the fall.  While the Plant Line Steamers did have a major cruise component it was still very much a shipping line.  Some Islanders did travel to New York on the Trinidad but it never did have the same intimate connection with the Island as the Boston Boat.

In 1913 the Quebec Steamship Company became part of Canada Steamship Lines and the following year the Quebec to New York service was cancelled. During the Great War the Trinidad was used to carry supplies across the Atlantic and between England and France. Prior to the United States entering the war in 1917 the Trinidad was known to have travelled under a false name and neutral registry port. The ship was sold in 1917 and was torpedoed in March 1918 while travelling between Rouen and Liverpool and sank in the Irish Sea.

 

First Cruise Ship Visited more than a Century Ago

In recent years the residents of Charlottetown have become accustomed to the seasonal visits of cruise ships emptying their hundreds or thousands of passengers on a city hungry to sell meals, tours and Anne of Green Gables effigies. While this may seem to be a recent phenomena the first visit of a purpose-built cruise ship to the port took place more than a century ago.
There had been earlier vessels fitted out for winter cruising but their chief role was as passenger and freight carriers and the cruising role was incidental. The Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company’s Northumberland was one of the first in the Florida-Bermuda trade with its freight deck temporarily fitted with partitions to create additional cabins and several of the Plant Line Steamers such as the S.S. Halifax and Olivette had winter charters in the Caribbean Sea when ice ended their seasonal work as the Boston Boat.

S.S. Evangeline by marine artist Antonio Jacobsen

On 7 June 1913 the new Plant Steamships liner docked in Charlottetown for the first time. According to the Guardian its arrival eclipsed the excitement around the visit of H.M.S. Cumberland the previous week which had brought a “real live Prince” to the city in the personage of Prince Albert, son of King George and Queen Mary. Docking to a “rousing and hearty welcome” the Evangeline was probably the most luxurious and up-to-date ship to visit Charlottetown before WW 1. The S.S. Evangeline was designated as a “tourist passenger steamer”  and already had experienced a season of winter cruising between Key West and Panama, Cuba, and Jamaica advertised as “Winter Outings on Summer Seas”.  Her winter work was under charter to the Peninsular and Occidental line, not to be confused with the British Peninsular and Oriental (P&O) company which operated to the far east. The Peninsular and Occidental was a joint venture between the Plant line and Henry Flagler and the Evangeline voyages were the first cruises from a Florida port. For the Evangeline, in a reversal of the role of other Plant Line vessels, the summer was the “off-season”

Launched from the London and Glasgow Engineering shipyard on the Clyde in the summer of 1912 the new ship was 350 feet long, 46 feet wide and drew 22.6 feet. She was a powerful vessel with her twin 6,000 hp engines and twin screws giving a speed of 16 knots. She had capacity for 700 passengers and also could carry 1,500 tons of cargo. She had all the accommodation features of the finest and largest ships of her day.  On the promenade or boat deck canvas awnings allowed for strolls. Inside, this deck housed a large smoking room paneled in oak and with morocco upholstered chairs and settees, the entrance hall with a stairway to the decks below, 50 staterooms with direct access to the deck and a number of suites. The awning deck was completely devoted to passenger services with a music room or social hall, deluxe staterooms, the purser’s office and 80 more staterooms. The main deck forward of the grand staircase was devoted to the dining saloon with seating for 150 and the kitchens and pantries. This deck had another 80 staterooms several of which were fitted up as “bridal rooms de luxe”.  As a reminder that this was a ship of the early 1900s the report also noted that this deck also housed the lavatories and bathrooms suggesting that these facilities were not available in even the deluxe passenger cabins. And not all the accommodation was deluxe for on the lower deck near the waterline there were 25 family staterooms, a ladies’ cabin with 50 berths and the second class men’s cabin with 80 berths.

Plant Steamship Line’s S.S. Evangeline

For the Guardian writer, the arrival of the vessel was heralded as “A New Era in Tourist Traffic” and advance bookings  suggested that the Island would see the largest stream of summer visitors in its history.  Whether true or not the arrival of the large vessel re-kindled the debate over the need for increased hotel accommodation to meet tourist needs. Unlike today’s visitors who arrive and vanish in a single day it was anticipated that the passengers on the Evangeline would see Prince Edward Island as a destination and not simply as one of a series of day stops.

EPSON MFP image

Plant Line steamer S.S. Evangeline. Postcard image courtesy of Phil Culhane.

At least one Island businessman felt that the visit would be the first of many. Grocer and postcard seller R.F. Maddigan quickly ordered an image of the ship from his card supplier and the image above is from a card posted in 1914

Unlike several of the Plant Line ships this one had been built specifically for the firm which was then operating under the name Canada Atlantic and Plant Steamship Company. A year later the ownership was transferred to A.W. Perry of Boston but this did not really constitute a change as Perry was then owner of the Plant Line.

The outbreak of the Great War did not have an immediate effect on the P.E.I. service. The Evangeline was taken off the route in late September as it had been the previous year but instead of the sailing to the Caribbean  she was laid up in Boston with a planned charter to San Francisco via the Panama Canal in March. When she did come back to Charlottetown in the summer of 1915  it was advertised she was “Under the American Flag”, a change no doubt to make her a neutral vessel in the face of increased German U-boat and surface raider activity.

It was the Evangeline’s last summer in Island waters.  In the winter of 1915-1916 she ran between New York and Bermuda and in June of 1916 was chartered to carry freight to Manchester. She never returned to Charlottetown.  In 1918 she became to property of the French Government and was converted from a passenger vessel to a freight carrier.  She was wrecked off the coast of Brittany in January 1921.

Delight in the Details; One Photo – Many Stories

The winter of 1905 was a long one for the Island. The ships of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company, faced with ice forming in the Strait, ceased crossing and were laid up on 12 December 1904. They would not begin to run again until 24 April 1905. Their cross-strait duties were taken over by the Dominion Government Steamers; the Stanley and the Minto, and crossings soon shifted from Charlottetown to Summerside and Georgetown although it was not long before the ice blocked the harbour of Summerside as well.  Government steamers without ice protection such as the survey vessels working on mapping the coastline of Newfoundland had tied up even before the Steam Navigation Company boats and their crews were discharged for the season.

The photo above, taken sometime in 1905, shows the wharves as completely ice-locked.  The unknown photographer is standing in the track of a horse and sleigh which has crossed from the Southport shore. In close-up bushing can be seen on the ice marking the safe routes which began at  the foot of Great George Street extended up the West River and across the harbour.

In this detail you can see the Plant Line terminal building with its characteristic truncated gables and moored alongside the Plant Line Wharf are the three-masted Royal Navy survey ship Ellinor and ahead of her the Canadian Government Steamship Gulnare. In winter ships were not tied tightly to the wharves to allow ice to form around them and ride up and down with the tide. What appears to be a canvas cover has been erected over the decks of the Ellinor to protect them from the snow. Ships boats and other removable equipment have been moved from the ships to indoor storage.   The scene is overseen by St. Dunstan’s Cathedral and the Christian Brothers School at the head of Great George Street. If you look closely you can see the spruce poles marking the bushed route across the ice.

Moored across the end of the Steam Navigation Company wharf is the S.S. Princess. Behind her are the shops and warehouses of the Bruce Stewart and Company foundry and factory. There appears to be a major overhaul of the Princess underway. The funnel has been removed from the ship and a derrick is in place over the boiler and engine room space. Annual re-fitting of steamers was a mainstay of the Bruce Stewart business.  Above the Princess the five-story tower of the Victoria Hotel at the corner of Great George and Water streets, and the spires of the Presbyterian and Anglican churches can be seen.

The easternmost section of the photo shows the area between the Steam Navigation wharf and the Prince Street Ferry Wharf.  In front of the bow of the Princess, the wooden City of London and the Steam Navigation Company’s flagship, the S.S. Northumberland, are lying in the basin between the two wharves.  The funnel of the Northumberland has been topped with a large cone to keep snow from filling the funnel and causing rust in the engine area. The two masts of a schooner show that another vessel is frozen in just ahead of the City of London. The huge roof of the Methodist Church (now Trinity United) looms over smaller buildings. Just visible to the right is the cupola of the roundhouse of the Prince Edward Island Railway at the south-east corner of Prince Street and Water Street.

Owing to the quality of the glass-plate negatives used to take photographs at the turn of the twentieth century and before, details can be found buried in the background of many period pictures.  While the overall scene and the beauty of the composition can be seen from a distance the real stories often require a magnifying glass.