Tag Archives: Plant Line

S.S. Halifax – Charlottetown to Boston and Return

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S.S. Halifax preparing to leave Charlottetown. A visiting warship can be seen in the background

By 1890 the wooden steamships Carroll and Worcester which had provided the direct Charlottetown – Boston connection since 1872 were more than twenty-five years old and in 1892 their owners, the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company became bankrupt. Fortunately another company, the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company, which had previously operated between Boston and Halifax, was able to begin service to the Island, and better still had a modern vessel for the route.

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S.S. Halifax at Canso

The steamer Halifax was built on the Clyde at the Govan Middleton Yard of the London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Company and was launched in July 1888. She was rapidly completed and began service between Boston and Halifax 20 October 1888. The single-screw vessel was 230 feet long by 35 feet wide and drew some 21.5 feet.  In spite of her width she had a somewhat ungainly and top-heavy appearance emphasised by a high prow and passenger decks running the full length of the steamer.  However there are no reports of instability and the passages were usually without incident

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S.S. Halifax at the Plant Line Wharf in Port Hawkesbury

The new vessel was owned by the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company which had been incorporated in Halifax the previous year by a number of leading merchants from the Nova Scotia city including James E. Chipman who appears as owner in the registration.

In a listing of port connections from Halifax in the 1892 Canadian Guide Book by Charles G.D. Roberts the steamer was particularly noted;

…the fine, new, steel steamer Halifax of the Canada Atlantic Line to Boston. This is a most desirable route to Boston. The fare [from Halifax] is $7; return ticket, $12. Staterooms $1 to $1.50 extra. The streamers sail from Halifax every Wednesday at 8 A.M. arriving in Boston Thursday at 1 P.M.; from Boston every Saturday at noon, arriving in Halifax Sunday evening at 6 P.M. Through tickets are issues in connection with this line, over most important railways and baggage checked through. The boat is very steady and safe, and most comfortable in her equipments [sic]. 

Up until 1892 the Halifax appears to have travelled on the Halifax –  Boston route but in that year the Canada Atlantic line was combined with Henry Plant’s, Plant Line and during the ice-free season the steamer began to run as far as Charlottetown stopping at Port Hawkesbury en route. From Port Hawkesbury steamers connected through the Bras d’or lakes to Sydney. From Charlottetown passengers could transfer to other steamers to connect with Quebec and Montreal  

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S.S. Halifax at the Plant Line Wharf, Charlottetown ca. 1893

The Halifax was one of the first cruise ships to operate in the Caribbean. In 1891 she was reported to have carried a group of American excursionists from Boston to Kingston, Jamaica. Following the 1892 merger of the Canada Atlantic and Plant lines the Halifax was again pressed into the off-season cruise business. In early 1893, she provided three 10-night experimental winter cruises between Tampa, Nassau and Jamaica. Her first cruise left Tampa with 89 passengers on February 16, 1893, with Henry Plant himself aboard to make sure that all went well.  Thereafter the Halifax was a regular on the winter service between Tampa, Key West and Havana operated in conjunction with the Peninsular and Occidental Steamship Company.

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The Plant Line Wharf Charlottetown, Great George Street in background

While continuing to provide an important freight and passenger service between the Island and Boston, the Charlottetown – Hawkesbury – Halifax connection enabled the Plant Line to begin advertising the Boston – Charlottetown trips – not just as passage, but as cruise. The service thus was a precursor to the dozens of cruise ships which visit the harbour today.  By 1904 the company was advertising the return passage in a popular magazine under the heading “Plant Line Ocean Trips”

“‘One Night at Sea’ or Six Days’ Cruise 1400 miles for $18. From Union Wharf, Boston, every Tuesday and Saturday, 12 noon for Halifax, Hawkesbury and Charlottetown. Good board. Cheapest rates. Best trout and salmon fishing, and shooting. Beautiful scenery. This doesn’t half tell it. Send stamp for booklet ‘Looking Eastward,’ maps, etc.”

The $18 round trip fare looks a bargain but it did not include accommodation or meals.

screen-shot-08-25-16-at-07-57-pmDuring a thick fog  in August of 1901 the Halifax struck a rock near Minot’s Light south-east of Boston while on passage from Halifax to Boston. The 250 passengers were safely taken off after the captain had beached the sinking vessel close to shore.  Although reported as wrecked the vessel was floated to dry-dock in Boston and was able to be repaired and later returned to the route.  She was temporarily replaced by the chartered Dominion Atlantic Railway steamer Yarmouth  which had been operating on the Plant Line’s Boston to Sydney service. The Halifax was repaired and was back on the route the following year.

In 1903 the president of the Canada Atlantic and Plant line sold out. M.F. Plant turned over the line, the S.S. Halifax, the Plant wharf in Halifax and leases of wharves in Charlottetown and Hawkesbury as well as the charter of the Steamer Olivette to a group of investors from Boston and Halifax.

With the declining fortunes of the Plant Line and the economic difficulties caused by the Great War the line was wound up. The Halifax was sold to a group of New York investors. She was last sighted leaving St. Michael’s in the Azores on a passage from New Your to Bordeaux on 11 December 1917 but was never heard from again.

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Warwick & Rutter patriotic postcard featuring the S.S. Halifax

For anyone wishing more information about steamers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence I can highly recommend Kevin Griffin’s on-line history of the Clarke Steamship Company found here. He also contributes to a blog featuring cruise information called the Cruise People.

 

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Another chapter in the story of the Boston Boat

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Plant Line Steamer Halifax led a dual existence as the Boston Boat in summer and a cruise ship in winter.

I have previously written about the Plant line and the ships that provided a Charlottetown-Boston link. In that article I briefly noted that Henry Plant also was a pioneer in the development of winter cruising (not forgetting the pioneering effort of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company’s steamer Northumberland ).

The Evangeline was another of the Plant Line steamers which operated in the waters off Florida

The Evangeline was another of the Plant Line steamers which operated in the waters off Florida as well as in Northumberland Strait.

This week Kevin Griffin, who works with a company called the Cruise People has written an extensive and interesting history of the cruise activities of the Plant Line  in his daily cruising-business blog. The Plant cruises provided a winter use for several of the Charlottetown-Boston steamers when the Strait iced up and the Boston traffic fell off.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the Plant Line operations. Griffin may be familiar to regular readers of this blog as I have referenced his very useful and entertaining history of the Clarke Steamship company, ships of which were regular visitors to Charlottetown well into the mid-twentieth century.

As we are still watching the snow slowly recede and waiting for winter to end in fact as well as in calendar it is tempting to think that one could do much worse than taking a cruise in warm climates just now.

A Short History of a Short Wharf

Today it exists only as a short stub of a wharf, one of two sheltering the Charlottetown Yacht Club’s junior sailing fleet. The name Lord’s Wharf has all but disappeared along with the wharf itself but the latter survives in an abbreviated state and serves as a reminder of a depression works project which gave employment to dozens of Charlottetown men and helped see their families through the late 1930s.

Mr. Lord comes to Charlottetown

William W. Lord moved to Charlottetown from the Tryon area in the early 1840s. He acquired the property at the south-east corner of Water and Pownal Streets which had a water lot which gave him rights over the seabed out to the channel marking the edge of the harbour.  The lot was not a deep one and the waters of the harbour lapped at the rear of the property not far from Water Street.

Rankin House at the corner of Pownal and Water Streets 1894

Rankin House at the corner of Pownal and Water Streets 1894

One of the early improvements was the erection of a building on Water Street across from the corner where Samuel Holman was to run West India House. Lord’s building was originally a house but it was shortly turned into a hotel called the Rankin House which served as a landmark at the head of the wharf for many years. W.W. Lord achieved success in business and politics and was a director of the Union Bank, the Bank of Prince Edward Island and a number of insurance companies. His son, Artemis Lord, was, for many years, agent for the Department of Marine and Fisheries.

Business on the Wharf

Advertisement from Frederick's Directory 1889

Advertisement from Frederick’s Directory 1889

The wharf was also the home of a number of other businesses. In the later part of the nineteenth century.  John F. Worth was a sail maker with a loft on Lord’s wharf. As a private wharf the site did not attract the same sort of notice as came to the wharves owned by the colony or by the City of Charlottetown such as Queen’s, Pownal Wharf or the Prince Street Ferry Wharf.  Nor was the wharf the home to shipping companies such as the Island Steam Navigation Company or the Plant Line. Occasionally there would be advertisements for cargos landed such as herring from Newfoundland in 1854 or coal in 1891 and lumber in 1909.

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The waterfront about 1860. The closeness of Lords and Pownal wharves can be clearly seen.

Although built later than Pownal wharf which dates from the 1830s, Lord’s wharf had a major challenge as it was very close to the earlier construction and the basin between them was scarcely wide enough to accommodate two vessels abreast. Although there was 16 feet of water at the end of the wharf it shoaled quickly.  The wharf had been built by the common method of sinking timber cribs with rock and then bridging the cribs until the desired length or depth was achieved.  Unless maintained the wharves deteriorated quickly. Lord’s wharf was narrow and there was little room for warehouses on the wharf itself although buildings were found on the landward end.

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As the age of wooden ships came to a close derelict vessels could be found next to several of the Charlottetown wharves.

By the turn of the 20th century the wharf had fallen on hard times and it seems to have been rarely used. In 1901 docking at the wharf was hampered by the hulk of an old schooner which had been dragged by a storm to the west side of the wharf. Rankin House, formerly a building of note on Water Street, was likewise “neglected and dilapidated” and its removal in 1907 was applauded by the Guardian.  In 1909 the wharf was purchased by “well-known junk dealer” Louis Block who undertook some repairs. Pyne and Hyde’s Star Foundry occupied one of the buildings on the wharf but it had ceased business by 1911 when Block purchased the equipment. He maintained a warehouse and junk yard on the wharf gathering hair, skins, old cloth and metals. The site was plagued with a number of fires.

Elevators and Rolled Oats

In 1913 Lord’s Wharf was the preferred location for a proposal to construct a large Rolled Oats Factory on the waterfront. The Colonial Corporation of Halifax had created the Price Edward Island Cereal Company and told City council that it was planning a large concrete dock, mill, grain elevator, box factory, cooperage and powerhouse on the Lord’s Wharf property with planned investment of more than a $600,000. The wharf would be served by an extension of the railway along Lower Water Street. The proposed mill would produce 300 barrels of rolled oats each day, primarily for the export market.  An interview by an enthusiastic reporter with one of the proponents of the scheme appears in the 11 November 1913 Guardian and reads remarkably like economic development proposals floated across the local government desks on a regular basis to this day. The economic spin-offs would be huge for the city and the province, employment would be created, a market would be provided for local products, value would be added to the surplus oat production, etc. etc. etc.  The proposal was missing only the impact on tourism that a five-story grain elevator on the waterfront would provide.  All that was required by the company was a tax exemption, free site, free rail connection, a subsidy from the federal government for the construction of the elevator, a grant from the province, and for Islanders to purchase stock in the corporation. However, unlike today, none of the levels of government were seduced by the promised benefits and the proposal died. It would be 60 years before a grain elevator was built in the province and it would be far from the waterfront.

A Wharf Cut Short

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Lords and Pownal Wharves in 1919. The rockpiles marking the remains of Lord’s are not shown but extend almost to the channel.

The wharf fared scarcely better than the proposal. The hulk of the schooner had been raised and floated away when the east side of the Pownal Wharf was dredged in 1915. Six years later the remains of much of Lords Wharf were removed by the dredge. For years it had been judged an impediment to the navigation of vessels using the Pownal and Plant Line wharves to the east and west of Lord’s. What was left was barely half of the original length of the wharf.

By this time the wharf property had become the property of the City of Charlottetown and it was one of a number of locations where works projects took place to provide employment during the height of the depression.  Over $6000 was spent in 1936 and 1937 improving what was left of the wharf and making work for the city’s unemployed. As early as July 1936 City Council was looking into a proposal to rehabilitate the wharf and turn it over to the Charlottetown Yacht Club. In August 1937 the City Recorder was authorized to enter into a lease for the wharf.  By the end of October of that year the new club house on the wharf was nearing completion.

The corner lot at Water and Pownal became the site of the Eastern Hay and Feed Company’s new Charlottetown warehouse which was opened in November 1940. The opening was celebrated by a huge dance in the three empty floors of the  building featuring  both square dancing with Don Messer’s orchestra and modern music by the Blue Dome orchestra. Advertising advised couples to  “Swing and sway at Eastern Hay.” Eastern Hay and Feed later became Atlantic Wholesalers. Part of this structure still serves as P.E.I.’s Supreme Court building. Between Eastern Hay and Feed and the Yacht Club the City of Charlottetown works department had a large barn that was probably had been one of the warehouses on the wharf.

Since taking over the responsibility for Lord’s Wharf the Charlottetown Yacht Club has maintained the resource but once again deterioration of the wharf is taking its toll and siltation caused by discharge from the City’s storm water drains and by the change to currents from developments elsewhere in the harbour is creating problems at the wharf. This time it is unlikely that make-work employment projects will hold the solution.