Tag Archives: Princess of Wales

April on the waterfront 1891

Charlottetown’s Busy Waterfront. Detail from a Panoramic View of Charlottetown 1878.

Although by 1890 the days of busy ship yards on Prince Edward had long since past the industry did not vanish overnight. The Island still possessed a large fleet of sail and steam providing services and connections between the Island and the mainland, as well as overseas. Besides the building of ships the industry had a large suite of related trades whose importance would continue for many years.  The waterfront was still the place of industry as a report from the waterfront in 1891 will show. Shipyards gave rise to related businesses which continued to operate and serve the fleet. In the 1890s we still had sailmakers, ships carpenters, chandlers and boatbuilders. Once the shipping season ended many of the warehouses were taken over by boatbuilders and shipwrights. There was also a large inshore fishery which had strengthened by the lobster industry. While it was sill almost exclusively sail powered by the end of the decade engines were beginning to make their appearance. Small steam engines, some built by local engineers, were just beginning to appear in steam launches and small yachts.

In the spring as the ice deteriorated into cakes and floes smashed and tossed about by the tides and waves the warehouse and boat-building shops were opened to reveal a winter’s labour and an assertion that while the harbour was asleep its craftsmen had been busy.

Here is what was happening on the waterfront in April of 1891:  Extensive repairs had been completed on Ronald McMillan’s steamer William. The ship was raised up on the ice between the wharves and a number of iron plates replaced and the whole bottom re-riveted, a task which kept eleven men employed for the winter.  The P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company paddle steamers; Princess of Wales and St. Lawrence were overhauled and completely re-painted over the winter and the St. Lawrence received new 2 inch deck sheathing. By mid-April both ships were loaded with cargo and were waiting for the ice to clear from Hillsborough Bay. The ferry steamers Southport and Elfin were also overhauled and the Inland Steam Navigation Company’s Heather Belle had also been prepared for the 1891 season.  Numerous schooners had also over-wintered in the harbour of Charlottetown and were repaired and overhauled by their crews and Charlottetown shipwrights.

On the pleasure boat side three steam yachts had been completed over the winter. One, for Jefferson Gardiner was 56 feet overall and 11 feet wide and had a 20 horse power steam engine built by the McKinnon & McLean of Charlottetown. It was estimated she could reach speeds of 10 knots. The hull had been constructed by McPhee Bros. of Souris and had 1 1/2 inch planks and had two sleeping berths and seating for fifty people.  Another steam yacht, also boasting an engine from McKinnon & McLean was built by H.H. Crossman for a buyer in Newfoundland. She was 38 feet overall, was  half decked and also had sleeping accommodation for two and seating for 20. A third yacht was completed by builder Angus McDonald. She was also 38 feet long  and would be fitted with an engine built by White & Sons.

McPhee Bros also completed eight fishing boats for the Portland Packing Company to be used in the lobster fishery. These were of an identical design with 17 1/2 foot keel and 20 1/2 overall length. The three boats were completed in less than three months.

Another local boat builder, James Griffin, had a busy winter. He completed a four-oared lapstreak boat for John Collins intended to be used for the boy’s crew at the rowing club. Griffin had built seven or eight four-oared boats over the last several winters. The is one was 32 feet long and had a beam of 3 feet. The previous fall he had completed a rowing craft 34 feet long and 3 feet 8 inches wide, copper fastened throughout and reported to be the finest boat he had ever produced and was offered for sale. He also complete two pleasure rowing boats which had already been sold.

Today once the last cruise ship leaves, the sailing yachts and powerboats are snatched from the water and the ice begins to close in Charlottetown turns its back to the water. In the 1890s however, winter was a time when harbour-life continued, although to a different pattern. It was a time when shore-based marine trades barely paused in their quest to ready the harbour for its next season.

 

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.

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.