Tag Archives: Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company

The Island City: yet another Civil War blockade runner comes to P.E.I.

On 21 June 1865 a “very neat little paddle-wheel boat” arrived in Charlottetown Harbour from Boston. It was to become the flagship of the North Shore Steamship Line, a new service which included Charlottetown in its list of ports of call. It is another in a long list of steamers calling at Charlottetown which had seen service in the U.S. Civil War which had ended a little more than a month earlier.

Daily Examiner 11 September 1865

The Civil War had seen as many as two hundred Islanders involved on both sides of the conflict. Greg Marquis in his article “Soldiers of Liberty: Islanders and Civil War” which appeared in The Island Magazine No. 36 Fall-Winter 1994 pp.2-8 tells the story of many of these men but the legacy of the war had several other impacts on the Colony.  During the war there was a good market for shipping as both sides rushed to meet transportation and defence needs but at the war’s end there was suddenly a glut of ships on the market, especially for steamships.

The South had engaged hundreds of ships to bring in supplies and to export cotton to pay for them after the Union set up a blockade of the southern ports only weeks after the beginning of the war in 1861. About 400 of the blockade runners were sunk and 1,100 of them were captured, many of which were added to the Union naval forces or sold on the market. At war’s end most of the blockade runners used by the Union were also put on the market. Whether this surfeit of ships had an impact on the Island’s already weakening ship-building industry has yet to be studied.

One of these blockade runners was the Caledonia, an iron paddle steamer built on the Clyde by Tod & MacGregor of Glasgow in 1856. Unlike later vessels the Caledonia was not built for use as a blockade runner and was operated in British waters by the Glasgow and Stranraer Steam Packet Company.  By 1862 however a series of sales to mask her changes of ownership and operations had begun and she was pressed into service running through the Union blockade into the Southern States. She made at least one successful voyage but her luck ran out on the second.

USS Keystone State

She was captured on 30 May 1864 south of Cape Fear after a two hour chase by the USS Keystone State, herself a previously captured blockade runner. The Caledonia was taken to Boston and was taken over by the US Quartermaster-General for transport duties. The following year she was sold, apparently to the Boston firm of Franklin Snow & Co. They had interests in the Boston and Colonial Steamship line which ran from Boston to Charlottetown via Halifax. The company was soon in negotiations with the Government of New Brunswick for a subsidy which would establish a feeder line serving northern New Brunswick and meeting with the company’s Boston steamers at Charlottetown.

The Protestant newspaper in Charlottetown waxed eloquent as to what this would mean for the Island’s capital:

Her ample accommodations, her carrying capacity, her steady and even tread upon the heavy sea the gentlemanly courtesy of her officers, excited the warmest admiration of our New Brunswick brethren, for whose benefit, and under the liberal policy of whose Government she is specially engaged to run. It is to be hoped that her proprietors will be able to continue her route as proposed, to this place, and so open for our business and trade direct and speedy communication with the New Brunswick Bays; and thus furnish not only stimulus to our enterprise, but facilities for recreation, health and travel.

It is not clear exactly when the service started, but by mid-September the ship had been re-named the Island City and weekly return trips from Charlottetown to Shediac, Richibucto, Chatham, Newcastle, Caraquet and Dalhousie were advertised under the banner of the North Shore Steamship Line. The Northumberland Strait service connected at Charlottetown with Snow’s Boston and Colonial steamers the Commerce and the Greyhound giving a single transfer access to the “Boston Boats”  for those from northern New Brunswick.  However the line does not appear to have been a success because the Island City was on a coastal route from Halifax to Yarmouth the following year and the ship also made voyages to Boston. There were additional changes of ownership and by 1870 registration had been transferred to Boston.

But in 1867 there was still unfinished business with the Island City left over from the 1865 service. In that year the Government of New Brunswick had also been in discussion with the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company for a $3000 subsidy to provide service to the northern Northumberland Strait ports using their steamer the Princess of Wales. There was disagreement as to whether an agreement had been concluded with the Island company who had provided the service for most of the season but the New Brunswick government declined to pay indicating that the official who had negotiated did not have full authority to bind the province and the subsidy had gone instead to the Island City.  It seems as if the Steam Navigation Company was out of luck although they did get the contract for trips between Shediac and the Island in 1865.

Unfortunately I have been unable to locate any images of the Caledonia.

Built for the Crimea – Broken up at Charlottetown: The Long Life of the Steamer M.A. Starr

Today warships are rarely converted for commercial use but up until 1900 many naval vessels were not much different in design from their civilian counterparts.  One ship with a naval beginning was a regular sight in Charlottetown harbour for more than twenty years – and may still be resting beneath the harbour’s sand and mud.

When the British entered the Crimean War in 1854 it provided an incentive to expand the Royal Navy. The extended siege of Sebastopol, the chief Russian Naval base on the Black Sea, showed a need for shallow draft gunboats and within three years more than 120 vessels of this type were added to the fleet. Ninety-eight of these were of the Albacore class, 106 feet long and drawing under seven feet. One of these was the HMS Delight, begun while the conflict still raged but launched in 1856 from Money, Wigram & Sons yard on the Thames only a few days after the war had ended.

Builders sketch of HMS Delight

HMS Raven an Albacore class sister ship to HMS Delight

In 1864 the Delight she crossed the Atlantic serving at naval stations in Bermuda and Jamaica and in 1867 she was in Halifax. By this time the hastily-built wooden gunboats had become obsolete and the majority had already been sent to the breakers yards.  The Delight was decommissioned, stripped of her valuable copper bottom, and sold to J. Knight of Halifax in November 1867. She was re-named the M.A. Starr. She was sold again in 1869 and was registered at the Port of Halifax under the ownership of F.W. Fishwick.

Daily Examiner 7 June 1886 p.2

Fishwick’s Express Line, an overland shipping company was founded in 1856, had routes throughout Nova Scotia.  The addition of the M.A. Starr in 1869 and another steamer five years later gave the firm capacity to serve ports from Yarmouth to the Strait of Canso, Pictou and Prince Edward Island.  By linking Charlottetown to Halifax the company gave Island shippers direct access to trans-Atlantic services and American ports such as New York. The ship was a regular visitor to Charlottetown with a weekly round trip schedule to Halifax via Bayfield (near Antigonish), Hawkesbury, Mulgrave, Port Hastings, Arichat, Canso and Sheet Harbour.

In 1888 the Halifax firm of Pickford and Black created a new company, the Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company, which was incorporated the following year to serve the run from Halifax to the Island, stopping a places such as Sheet Harbour, Canso, Hawkesbury, Port  Hood and Charlottetown – exactly the same ports as the M.A. Starr – but which would be served by a newer and larger vessel purchased in the United Kingdom, the Princess Beatrice. Mrs. E. Fishwick, who had taken over after the death of her husband, amalgamated her operations with the new firm and in early July 1889 the M.A. Starr was withdrawn from service.  A few days later she was on a Fishwick’s Express route along Northumberland Strait which included Charlottetown, River John, Wallace, Pugwash, Buctouche, Bay Verte and Crapaud. In August she also called weekly at Montague, Georgetown, Cardigan and Murray Harbour. However early in September the Charlottetown Daily Examiner noted that the owners were unable to keep her on the route and the ship was offered for sale by tender. She was acquired by the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company (and its successor company the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company) and for the next two years served as an assistant to the Princess of Wales and the St. Lawrence.  Primarily running between Summerside and Point du Chene she was primarily dedicated to carrying freight, relieving the two freight and passenger side-wheel steamers and allowing them faster turn-around. When the company took delivery of the new steamer the S.S. Northumberland late in 1891 the M.A. Star became surplus to requirements, was sold to a group of P.E.I. shipowners (John Ings, L.C. Owen and William Richards) and appears have operated in 1892 on routes which included Victoria, Orwell and Mt. Stewart. She also made at least one trip to St. John’s Newfoundland late that year and another the following year.

Exactly when the M.A. Starr ceased operations in not clear. Steamboats required an annual inspection and the reports of the steamboat inspector provide a few clues. The vessel was not inspected in 1893 as it was noted she was “out of port.”  For the next two years she is listed but was not inspected as she fell into the “broken up or laid up” category. A footnote in the official register states simply “broken up 1894.” The nearly  forty year-old M.A. Star was one of just a handful of the wooden Crimean gunboats to survive into the 1890s.  Unless turned into a barge or burned for the iron in the hull she may still lie beneath the waters near the wharves in Charlottetown Harbour.

From hub to spoke: Charlottetown as a transportation centre

Today we tend to think of Prince Edward Island as being at the end of something – a long drive, a flight, a ferry crossing. In the world of hubs and spokes we are clearly a spoke. You don’t go to Prince Edward Island on your way to anywhere. It is a destination.

However, for one period in the Island’s history this was not the case. In the mid-19th century especially, Prince Edward Islanders saw themselves as, if not the centre of the world, then at least the centre of something.  And looking at a map of the region it is not hard to see why.  A case in point is the outlook of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company. In an economy of wood, wind and water, sea transportation was the most effective (and in some cases the only) way to move goods and people. The Island sat in the centre of a large basin from northern New Brunswick in the west to Cape Breton in the east. Northumberland Strait touched the long shorelines of three provinces and Charlottetown was the largest port on the Strait.

Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company – ports of call 1865-1869. The Company also had services to Orwell and Crapaud.

The Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company’s steamers did much more than connect Prince Edward Island to the mainland. They were the moving parts of a communications web and Charlottetown, rather than being at the end of a spoke, was in fact the hub. Most voyages began or ended at Charlottetown and by passing through the port one could travel aboard ship from one end of the Strait to the other.

Until the railway lines in the region took their final shape the most effective way to get from Saint John to the Miramichi was to cross the Bay of Fundy, travel through Nova Scotia to Pictou and take a steamer up the Strait, touching at Charlottetown and Summerside. The same was true of travel to Cape Breton. A requirement of the earliest subsidies sought by the first Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company from the colonial governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia was that western and eastern ports in those colonies would be served.

Early photo of the Princess of Wales in Charlottetown Harbour. the building behind the funnel is the Methodist Church

In the 1860s the Steamers Princess of Wales and Heather Belle were tried on a variety of routes to accommodate the changing transportation patterns. When the railway reached Shediac in 1860 Point du Chêne  became much more important for transshipment of goods and passengers destined for points south and west such as Boston and Montreal.

Heather Belle

In 1865 the Princess of Wales and the Heather Belle were both providing service across the Strait four days a week.  Besides two trips to Pictou the steamers also went to Brule, directly across from Charlottetown, twice. From there the express wagon carried mails on a shorter road to Truro.  A year later the Princess of Wales sailed weekly from Charlottetown to Summerside, Shediac, Richibucto and Miramichi, with service to Pictou and Shediac more often.

The following year the schedule published in the Island’s newspapers revealed the full extent of the Company’s attempt to provide a full regional transportation service.

SNC004

Steam Navigation Company schedule. Summerside Journal 8 July 1869

On Mondays one of the company’s larger steamers, the Princess of Wales or the new-to-the-Strait St. Lawrence, left Charlottetown for Pictou, then on to Port Hood in  Cape Breton returning to Charlottetown via Pictou on Tuesdays.  Wednesday morning saw a steamer leave Charlottetown for Pictou then on to Port Hawkesbury on the Gut of Canso, returning on the same route the following day.  Another boat sailed Thursdays from Charlottetown to Pictou, Georgetown and Souris and the next day from Georgetown to Pictou and back to Charlottetown. Tuesdays and Saturdays had a steamer from Charlottetown sailing to points west; Summerside and Shediac, returning the following day. The company’s third boat, the Heather Belle, sailed Mondays for Crapaud (soon to become the port of Victoria), Tuesdays for Port Selkirk (Orwell Brush Wharf) and on other days back and forth to Mount Stewart Bridge.

Sailing times at Pictou and Shediac were determined by great measure by the arrival of the trains from Halifax and Saint John. Integrating passenger traffic with both mainland rail services and the Prince Edward Island Railway timetable was a sound business decision – even if waiting for a late train resulted in late sailings.  The service to smaller ports on the island such as Crapaud could vary according to the tides.

In contrast to the old joke, if your destination was up or down Northumberland Strait “you could get there from here,” and most likely how you did it was on a Charlottetown-based steamer. With confederation and the completion of the intercolonial railway from Halifax to Quebec the trains began to displace ships as the most common carrier. The rail line ran up the shore to northern New Brunswick and there was a falling-off of water traffic to that area and so the Steam Navigation Company ceased its western service, while at the same time maintaining its connections with Point du Chêne, now even more important for its links with both the New England and Canadian rail lines.  Confederation also brought the subsidized Pictou to Magdalen Islands steamship service which stopped at Souris. One result was that vessels based in Pictou rather than Charlottetown were used on new routes to Cape Breton and the Strait of Canso. Increasing Island demands for daily round-trips between Charlottetown and Pictou and Summerside and Shediac meant that the steamers were unable to continue their routes to other ports and they were gradually abandoned.  By the late 1870s the extended routes of the Steam Navigation Company and been subsumed by what had become a shuttle service across the Strait which continued until 1916. What traffic that existed between the eastern part of P.E.I. and Cape Breton enabled the local service of the Three Rivers Steamship Company to continue from 1892 to 1917.

In an ironic twist the improvements in transportation between 1860 and the Great War meant that in some ways Prince Edward Island became more isolated than it had been at the beginning of the period.