Tag Archives: Port Elgin

Gilbert and Billy’s Excellent Adventure Afloat

The incident came to the public’s attention innocuously enough through a report of a stolen yacht. On the morning of 17 June 1933 Frederick Morris looked out of the window of his large house on the Dundas Esplanade on the Charlottetown waterfront and saw something was amiss. It was what he didn’t see that bothered him. Normally his racing yacht, the Zenith was moored just off the shore. The Zenith was painted white and was sixteen foot overall, seven foot beam and a twenty foot mast. She carried a single mainsail and no jib. Fred Morris was a keen yachtsman and one of the stalwarts of the sailing scene in Charlottetown. He was to become one of the longest serving commodores of the Charlottetown Yacht Club.

Satisfying himself that the boat has not simply broken off her mooring he reported the theft of the boat to the R.C.M.P. and arranged for a search of the harbour area to be made by motor boat.  Later that day it was learned  that the missing boat had been was spotted in Northumberland Strait off Point Prim by the ferry steamer Hochelaga and was reported to be heading to Nova Scotia with two aboard.  

Charlottetown Guardian 19 June 1933 p.1

The minor theft became page one news over the next few days. By the following day the police, after discarding the suggestion that the thieves had been a couple of Nova Scotia vagrants who had been noticed in the city and had previously been housed in the city’s lock-up, began to connect the disappearance of the yacht with the report of two boys reported missing from their homes. Gilbert Moore, aged 14, and Billy Dowling, 10, had last been seen on Wednesday the 16th and Gilbert’s bicycle was also missing.  It was suggested that the boys had gone off on a fishing trip and a misadventure had taken place but they would soon return. Over the weekend the two boys and a bicycle had been traced to Borden where they had been overheard inquiring about the next boat to Nova Scotia. It was presumed that they had snuck themselves and the bicycle onto a boxcar and had secretly gotten across the Strait on the ferry.  By this time the Zenith had been found  near Cape John on the Nova Scotia shore across from Charlottetown. Two boys, one short and one tall, had been seen going ashore from the boat.  

Charlottetown Guardian 17 June 1933 p.1

Several days later, notwithstanding the speculation about crossing on the ferry or the presence of Nova Scotia vagrants, the mystery was solved as the two missing boys were found in Port Elgin and sent home by the R.C.M.P. 

However the story that emerged told of an odyssey which stretched over five days and saw the boys cover several hundred miles over three provinces and Northumberland Strait.  On Wednesday afternoon the boys decided “to get out and see the country” and set out for Borden with Moore pedaling and Dowling on the handlebars, but on reaching the ferry terminal they learned that last crossing of the day had already departed for Cape Tormentine. Returning to Charlottetown they abandoned the bicycle at Crapaud and accepted a ride on a truck going to town. Instead of returning to their homes they set out for Victoria Park and spotted Morris’ boat about 1 a.m. 

Charlottetown Guardian 20 June 1933 p.1

Neither boy had ever sailed before.  When asked how he did it, Moore said he had read about it and he just held the rope and kept heading into the wind so the boat would not turn over.  After making their way in the dark to the harbour mouth they spotted the Point Prim light and headed toward it reaching it about dawn. With the hills of Nova Scotia visible on the horizon they began to cross the strait but with a wind shift and rising tide they were carried west and reached a point near Bay Verte, New Brunswick before they were able to head back they way they had come.  They spent Thursday night aboard the yacht sailing along the Nova Scotia coast and at about 11 o’clock in the morning on Friday they beached the craft at Long River, near Cape John. They began hitchhiking toward New Brunswick and spent nights and bummed meals at farmhouses along the way, giving fictitious names and claiming to be from Cape John.

On Monday their luck ran out and both boys, who by this time had become separated, were found near Port Elgin by the R.C.M.P.  They were put on the boat at Cape Tormentine, arrived back in Charlottetown on the 6:30 train, and were sent back to their families a little more than five days after their adventure had begun. There is no record that charges were brought against them. 

Asked by the police why he would want to take a ten-year-old along Moore simply stated that he had wanted to come along.  Moore’s explanation reason for the exploit was that he had an urge to see the country. 

It was generally conceded by experienced sailors that the boys had been very, very fortunate in the weather they encountered.  



Plotting a course

Last week I had to be in Halifax for business and took the opportunty to return along what is called the Sunrise Trail running along the northern coast of Nova scotia and into New Brunswick.  I visited the part of the Trail from Brule shore, near River John and followed it to Port Elgin in New Brunswick. It was a sort of scouting operation for this summers cruising.

Northern Nova Scotia Coast

The area has no shortage of harbours for a boat as shallow draft as Ebony.  Generally the rivers have sand or mud bottoms and so hold reduced perils even if one does touch here and there. When I drove through it was a very low tide and I got a much better appreciation of the area than I would have from charts or Google maps (although using both together is a good plan).

Almost due south and about 35 kt from Charlottetown is Barrachois where a basin  has been dug and holds about 70 boats, some of considerable size.  This is remarkable as the low tide creates a bit of a sill which prevents coming and going except at high tide. Very common in European harbours but rare in Canada.  When I was there the Barrachois Harbour Yacht Club members were gathered in the warm afternoon sun . I thought it was a club picnic or other social activity but was told, no, they were just waiting for the water levels to come up so they could go for an afternoon sail.   I was assured however that there would be little difficulty getting into the basin with my 2’8″ Halman draft.

A few miles further along was Tatamagouche. It is at the head of a river that looks to have enough water for Ebony but with a winding channel.   There is no wharf just at the village but a landing space has been made about 1/2 mile down river.  This is a very touristy town and has obviously had a lot of ACOA development money pumped in to increase the visitor infrastructure.  I spotted several B&Bs which could be an alternative to sleeping on board.

I didn’t explore out as far as Malagash where a wharf is shown which I suppose at one time must have taken some larger ships as it is close to the Malagash Salt Mine.  Rounding Malagash Point it is westerly run to Wallace which is another town which still maintains a small fishing fleet with a well-protected basin with wharves on three sides. Wallace was formerly a popular cruising destination for Charlottetown Yacht Club members but is now rarely visited.

Salt is also the reason d’être for the large wharf and loading facility at Pugwash which is about 17 kt west of Amet Sound .  There is lots of water but a winding channel . The Pugwash Yacht Club    is a small operation on the south side of the river but there are private floats as well. While I was in Pugwash I got a very warm welcome from a number of club members who were getting a boat rigged. They urged me to return and stay at the club wharf.

It is another 20 kt along the coast to the Tidnish River but there are a couple of inlets, River Philip and Northport which had, or still have, fishing wharves and buoyed channels but it is not clear just how much water there is over the bar at these spots. Tidnish River which is right on the Nova Scotia / New Brunswick border is marked by withes and there appears to be a large powerboat population but the water can well accommodate a Halman even if there is no public wharf.

At the head of the bay Port Elgin has a good-sized river and a public wharf. The village was formerly much busier and there are traces of former prosperity which are long gone.

This then, is one of the potential cruising routes for the summer’s voyages. About 160 kt round trip to Charlottetown. Across the Strait and then against the prevailing wind creeping up the coast, but then a down wind ride along the PEI shore to home port.

I can hardly wait.