Tag Archives: Pownal Wharf

1964 – A Banner Year in the Charlottetown Yacht Club history

In Prince Edward Island “the centennial” meant only one thing. Notwithstanding how many other 100 year anniversaries were held there was only one year that really mattered – 1964.  The whole of Canada partied in 1967, and in 1973….. well 1973 was a bit of an afterthought and the shouting and tumult had died.

Charlottetown Yacht Club in 1964 showing changes and improvements - photo courtesy Ron Atkinson

Charlottetown Yacht Club in 1964 showing changes and improvements – photo courtesy Ron Atkinson

While the rest of the province celebrated the activities of top-hatted politicians, the Charlottetown Yacht Club was having the biggest and perhaps most important year in its history.  A late October storm in the fall of 1963 had shown how vulnerable and fragile the club facilities were.  Already for 1964 the Club was committed to running a brand new junior sailing program, serving as the finish location for the inaugural Shediac-Charlottetown overnight race,  and hosting a national Boy Scout Regatta . Major repairs were required for both Lords Wharf and Pownal Wharf  which were in poor repair, the last major repairs having been undertaken more than 25 years earlier.

Post 1964 air photo of Club area showing moorings. More than 50 boats can be counted at anchor.

Post 1964 air photo of Club area showing moorings. More than 50 boats can be counted at anchor.

At the time the Club was home to 13 sailing craft and 63 power boats and had more than 100 families on the membership roll. With hardly an exception the boats were on moorings in front of, and to the west of the club.  At the time the club was blessed with a very progressive board who undertook bold steps to move the club forward. The new commodore was a youthful Ron Atkinson but he was able to call on a host of experienced members including, but not limited to, Honorary Commodore Mac Irwin and  Past Commodore Percy Simmonds as well as Clive Stewart, Art Love, Murray Lusher, Bill Rix, Don Smith  and Ian Rankin.   Atkinson and other board members made a direct approach to K.C. Irving, then still very much leading the Irving Oil Company.   They presented a detailed proposal which included cost estimates provided by engineer Clive Stewart. A copy of the proposal can be found here CYC Irving001.  The ask was for a loan of $20,000 and a grant of $8,000  (a total of nearly a quarter of a million dollars in todays funds). In exchange Irving was to get repayment of the loan over 20 years and exclusive right to provide a marine fueling facility at the club. By 11 May the deal was done and after approval of the mortgage agreement by the club members work commenced.

Detail from construction plan drawn by Clive Stewart.

Detail from construction plan drawn by Clive Stewart.

Completed by 7 August 1964, in time for the finish of the Shediac – Charlottetown race, the work saw the club transformed.  Lords Wharf was capped with steel piling, filled and leveled. A float at the head of the wharf was supplemented by a new float and launch ramp for the junior sailing fleet on the east side of the wharf. On Pownal wharf a new gas dock was built giving deep-water access. The wharf was squared off to the west with concrete fill and a new launching slip was added to the west side of the wharf. A dinghy ramp with rollers was available at the top of the basin between the wharves.  The club grounds were cleared up and covered with white chip gravel. The assemblage of lockers which had long been an eyesore and were mostly used by the outboard fleet was moved behind the clubhouse and the whole area surrounded by a neat white picket fence.

CYC movers and shakers I'm the mid 1960s. L-R Ian Rankin, Mac Irwin, Art Love, Ron Atkinson.

CYC movers and shakers from the mid 1960s. L-R Ian Rankin, Mac Irwin, Art Love, Ron Atkinson.

A major change was also made to the clubhouse where a 15 foot addition was built to the west end of the building for a ladies lounge,  men’s and ladies’ locker rooms, renovated washrooms and an outside sun-deck. The kitchen was completely re-built giving, in the words of the commodore; “a facility that any housewife would be proud to own.”   Much of the work on these projects was done by club members.

The physical work on the club was only one chapter in the year’s annals. The hosting of events such as the finish for the Shediac Charlottetown race (where 1000 chicken dinners were served), the first junior sailing program which provided training for 60 youth and the National Boy Scout Regatta all depended on participation and contribution from club members.

In future postings I hope to provide more information on these events.  Thanks to Ron Atkinson for providing much of this background.

 

 

 

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Charlottetown Yacht Club – A History in Five Photos

Last month I had the opportunity to sit down with Ron Atkinson who was a Yacht Club Board Member for several years and was Commodore in 1964 – one of the most exciting years in the history of the club.  Besides his memories of the Club activities Ron has a collection of materials which he willingly shared with me.  The following photos were ones that I had not seen before but which cover a forty-year period in the Club’s history and which Ron allowed me to copy.

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Although this photo was taken in 1959 it shows a structure which pre-dated the Yacht Club by many years.   Remembered by Ron as “Carvell’s salt shed”  the building which shows up in few other photos sat on Pownal Wharf  where the Club parking lot now stands. Carvell’s had leased the wharf in the 1920s but the building may be older than that. Probably used for the storage of salt which was sold for fish preservation, the building was typical of the waterfront structures which received little or no maintenance after shipping dropped off in the late 1930s.  Before that Carvell’s Wharf was a busier spot and the regular steamers using the wharf included Clarke Steamships Gaspesia.  By the time this photo was taken the wharf had crumbled with only the rock pile visible to the right of the picture.

CYC001aThis photo was taken sometime before 1937 when the Yacht Club clubhouse was built on the stub of what had been Lord’s Wharf. Work undertaken through the depression works program had made a great job of clearing the site and restoring the pilings and infill for the wharf. The float which was the boarding point for boats was already in place and anchored yachts were beginning to fill the basin.  To the left of the picture, moored at Carvell’s, or Pownal wharf, are two of the boats essential to the history of the Club; Hal Bourke’s Restless and Mac Irwin’s Roamer.   The wharf had an extension running east and west to enable large steamers to tie up and given the perspective this photo must have been taken from the deck of one of the steamers.  The wharf would have provided excellent shelter from to south-east winds for the yachts in the basin. Note that the area to the north of the Club is almost empty with neither the City Barn nor the Eastern hay and Feed warehouse yet constructed.

CYC002aProbably copied from a newspaper this picture can be dated between 1938 and 1940. the new architect-designed clubhouse overlooks the snipe fleet and a small schooner. The ground is still almost empty between the Club and Water Street. In June 1940 the City of Charlottetown let a contract to Albert MacKinnon for a new City Barn to be built just north of the Club. The design for the structure had been drawn by architect James Harris.  The building was to house the city’s public works equipment and horses.  CYC003a

With a group of members launching one of the club’s Snipe fleet changes to the club’s surroundings can be spotted in the background. The City Barn, very recently built but already looking old, is in place and visible behind it is the Eastern Hay and Feed warehouse, later Atlantic Wholesalers. The photo is probably from the early 1940s. Several of the participants seem to have military-style dress and the Club was a popular spot for airmen training at the R.A.F. and R.C.A.F. facilities at what is now the Charlottetown Airport. Although not absolutely clear it is likely that the gentleman in the leather jacket to the left of the boat is Mac Irwin who was involved in almost every Club activity.

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Jump ahead about thirty years. With the fleet at anchor in what must have been a very high tide the changes that time has brought can be seen. Several additions (clearly without the influence of an architect) have been made to the clubhouse to add to the facilities and increase the bar revenue. The scotch derrick which served as the mast crane is to the right of the building and a number of finger piers extend east from Lords’s Wharf.  The City Barn and the Atlantic Wholesale warehouse still stand and the various sheds, barns and warehouses on Pickard’s wharf all seem to be awaiting demolition and redevelopment as Harbourside. Experienced club members will recognize many of the boats afloat and ashore; Plumb MacDonald’s boat is in what is now the ‘hood, Mac Irwin’s last Roamer is moored just west of Pownal wharf, and that looks like the Hunk A Dory in the parking lot. It is amazing to see how much the view is dominated by the bulk of St. Dunstan’s Cathedral.

 

Pownal Wharf: The Pier that Moved

Today we tend to think of wharves as public facilities, owned and operated for the public good with major investment from the state. However, until well into the Twentieth Century the opposite was true. Wharves were, by and large, privately owned. They were built on water lots which were associated with shore front property and which extended into the harbour.  The exceptions existed where water lots did not. The extensions of the public streets to the channel were public lands and it was there that the government of the colony of Prince Edward Island had the ability to invest in the commercial success of the community.

A New Wharf for the Growing Town

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Charlottetown waterfront in 1842 prior to the building of the Pownal Wharf. Detail from George Wright’s Chart of Charlottetown Harbour

The first of these was the Queen’s wharf but by the 1840s this was inadequate for the increasing business in the port.  To the east was Great George Street but there was a steep haul from the shore to the top of the knoll and businesses had tended to be developed on the western part of the waterfront where the ground was flatter.  West of Pownal Street the waterfront land was still owned by the Imperial crown and was held by the Ordnance Department. In 1843 there was still disagreement as to the best site for the next public wharf with some advocating for the foot of Prince Street or Great George Street. The advantages advanced for the Pownal street location included a reduced distance from the bank to the channel and hence reduced cost, the reduced distance to the harbour mouth and the existence of existing commercial buildings on Pownal Street. A a year later the Palladium newspaper noted the construction of a “lengthy and substantial wharf at the foot of Pownal Street. “This wharf, from the great facility of approach, and the safety of loading and unloading it possesses, has as many, if not more advantages than the Queen’s Wharf to commend it to a general preference.” In 1847 the ordnance lot south of water street and west of Pownal Street was sold to James Purdie by the crown and it was noted at the time that the angle of the Pownal wharf caused it to encroach slightly on this property. The pier seems to have strayed to the west.

The Rose at Pownal Wharf ca. 1849 from a painting by George Hubbard in the collection of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation

The Rose at Pownal Wharf ca. 1849 from a painting by George Hubbard in the collection of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation

The Wharf Moves West

Five years later, in October 1852, the Island was hit by a massive storm which wrecked dozens of ships and heavily damaged the new public wharf. The schooner Ellen, owned by William Sneeston had been lying at the east side of the wharf was driven right through the wharf destroying three blocks of cribwork and the connecting bridges and shifting the structure even further to the west and on to the adjacent water lot owned by James Purdie. Although re-built the alignment of the wharf to the west was to cause difficulties later on.

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Chart showing Charlottetown wharves about 1860. This fails to show the angle of Pownal Wharf which was to cause problems a decade later.

Maintaining the wooden wharves was a continuing problem. In 1864 there were reports of people and even horses breaking through the planking. The condition of the wharf was a constant irritant for the City.

Two major legal cases in 1870 and 1871 tested the rights concerning the wharf. Pownal Street had been used by travellers crossing the ice from the West River and even after the building of the wharf they traveled along the west side of the wharf to join the land.  The Ordnance property and the water lot had passed from Purdie to merchant J.S. Carvell who tried to block use of the passageway and to take control of the encroaching wharf. The City contended that a right of way had been established but the court ruled that no right existed and that Carvell was entitled to ownership of a portion of the wharf which was on his water lot. This effectively meant that the west side of the wharf could not be used for public purposes.

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Western section of the waterfront in 1863. Detail from Lake Map. Note how the structure veers to the west rather than in line with Pownal Street.

The location of the wharf made it ideal as a viewing area for the yacht races in the harbour and in 1878 the Hillsboro Boating Club petitioned to the city to be allowed to build a grandstand on the wharf to view aquatic activities.  If it was allowed it did not last long for there is no mention of it in the extensive coverage of the wharf in the following year.

1879 was perhaps the finest year in the history of Pownal Wharf. It had been selected as the landing spot for the vice-regal visit of the Marquis of Lorne and Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. Besides renovations which included an addition to the west side of the wharf and planking the wharf to level it up with an extension at the end of the wharf, it was the site of two decorative arches erected by the City Corporation, one at the end of the wharf and one opposite Rankin House at the head of the wharf. The structure at the end of the wharf had three Moorish arches sheltering landing stairs enabling the vice-regal party to enter the city. The dirt and debris normally found on the wharf was removed and an unsightly weed-covered lot at the head of the wharf was screened from view by a whitewashed fence.  Whitewash also covered the dilapidated barrel factory and its broken windows had been boarded up.

Pownal Wharf 1880. From Meacham's Atlas

Pownal Wharf 1880. From Meacham’s Atlas. At this time there appear to be no buildings on the wharf.

Earlier that year the wharf had briefly been the landing-place for the Rocky Point Ferry when the city rented it to the Province for $324.00 per year but the arrangement was short-lived as the government was soon complaining that the landing slip was inadequate and the ferry was shifted to Prince Street. In 1880 the total revenue from the wharf was only $140 and the City offered the lease for the wharf for five years with the possibility of purchase. By this time there were a dozen several other wharves and harbour traffic was beginning to decline. There appears to have been limited interest but it is known that the Carvell firm did have control of the wharf early in the 20th century.  Although newspapers report the occasional schooner unloading at the wharf  it was hardly a bustling place and much of the traffic seems to have consisted of stone for the crushing plant as the city streets became macadamized.

Decline and Fail

In 1900 a stone crushing shed was erected on the wharf and afterwards the city operated a works yard on Pownal Wharf, a use which continued into the 1970s.  The wharf was also home to a several warehouses and coal yards  For a number of years in the early 1900s it was also used for winter storage for several harbour vessels such as the dredge Prince Edward, tugs Rona and Islander and the ferry Hillsboro which would be hauled onto the wharf using horse winches.

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Pownal Wharf 1917 from Charlottetown Fire Insurance Atlas

Air photos from the mid-1930s show a collection of warehouses on the wharf but only small pleasure craft are tied up to the pilings. 1936 saw 15 men working to re-build the old city wharf and they put down new foundations to give the wharf a width of 52 feet.  The area around the wharf was to be dredged so that a depth of six feet of water would abut the wharf at low tide. The commercial potential of the wharf had almost disappeared by this time and the Guardian noted the new focus. “”This will no doubt great interest in boating and will be a place where visiting yachts can be moored and looked after properly, with good landing facilities and the proper protection that visiting pleasure yachts should get.” Soon after that the Charlottetown Yacht Club developed plans for the new club house at the head of the adjoining Lord’s wharf.  Pownal Wharf continued to deteriorate and ceased to be a harbour facility. Gradually the timbers rotted away leaving only the rock cribs which had anchored the wharf in place.

After the Second World War there was a brief flurry of interest in Pownal wharf as the possible site for a new naval barracks for the city. Fred Large, himself an ex-navy man and Attorney General of the province urged the Board of Trade to press for a new facility but when it was finally built it was on the nearby Paoli’s Wharf.

In 1964 the City had had enough. Repairs to the wharf would cost them at lest $15,000 (about $115,000 in today’s dollars) and a timely approach from the Charlottetown Yacht Club resulted in a motion to convey the wharf to the club on completion of repairs by the Club volunteers . A proviso on the agreement, which continues to this day, is that if use of the facility by the yacht club would cease, the property would revert to the City.

What was left of the old wharf provided at least one bit of amusement for the Yacht Club verandah gang for several years.  A large rock pile remained just under the water off the stub of the wharf and it was the source of sadistic amusement to watch as speeding motorboaters unfamiliar with the obstacle learned what happened when their outboards encountered the unforgiving rock.   Today the rock pile has been dredged out of existence and fingers in the Club’s marina float where the Pownal Wharf once stood.