Tag Archives: Pugwash

He came over on the Mayflower

The steamship service between Prince Edward Island and the mainland had two primary routes: from Pointe du Chene or Shediac to Summerside, and from Pictou to Charlottetown. There was however, no lack of proposals for alternate ports.  The primary driver for port choice after the 1860s was the proximity to rail connections once the mainland was reached. Shediac was connected with a system that went to Saint John in time for the Prince of Wales visit in 1860 and that connection eventually extended right through to Boston.

The extension of the Nova Scotia Railway to Pictou Landing in 1867 gave steamers access to the rail service to Halifax and with the completion of the Intercolonial Railway following Confederation the route offered an all-rail service to Quebec and the Canadian heartland.

The little community of Brule on the shore near Tatamagouche was touted well into the 20th century as another possibility for the “trans-strait” passage, one which was promoted long and hard by Charlottetown’s member in the House of Commons.  Its success would have been dependant on the creation of a new branch of the Midland Railway from Truro to Brule but the road was never built and the route was hypothetical at best.

Location map showing Pugwash location and steamer route (blue). From I.C.R. timetable ca. 1905.

There was another route which actually was tried, and once again the connection with the rails was the basis for the proposal.  By 1891 a “short line” had been constructed which left the main line of the Intercolonial at Oxford Junction and skirted the Northumberland Strait shore before terminating at Pictou.  Prior to its construction, Pictou was linked to the rails by a ferry to Pictou Landing and thence by a branch line to New Glasgow and the Intercolonial line between Truro and Cape Breton.

Inter Colonial Railway Steamer Mayflower in Pictou harbour photo:http://haggis.mccullochcentre.ca/document/2503

The ferry, named the Mayflower, had been built in 1875 in Montreal. She was 125 feet long by 23 feet wide and displaced 377 tons. Her main salon provided accommodation for sixty passengers. By 1879 the Mayflower had been replaced by a new boat on the run across the harbour. In that year the Dominion authorized a loan of the ferry to the P.E.I., Government for the purpose of linking Georgetown and Montague by a steamer service on the Montague River which would provide access to rails services for the rapidly developing town of Montague. It does not appear, however, that the offer was taken up.

Charlottetown Guardian 29 December 1891. p. 3

In 1887 the Pictou Town Branch finally saw rail connections established between the Intercolonial at Stellarton and the town of Pictou making the Pictou Landing ferry redundant and the Intercolonial put the Mayflower up for sale by tender.  The twelve year old vessel was acquired by J.O. Reid of Pugwash. The ship was rebuilt with new boilers in early 1891 and a published report gave her capacity as 300 passengers and 400 barrels of freight.  It appears she was purchased with the intention of establishing Pugwash as a third mainland connection with Prince Edward Island with steamer service linking the Nova Scotia port and Charlottetown.  In promoting the service its owners asserted that the staunch, twin-screw vessel had ice-cutting capacity and would be able to run a month later and begin service and a month earlier than the steamers of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company.  A further benefit would be better timed connections with the I.C.R. trains both coming and going so that passengers and mails would reach Charlottetown nine hours earlier.  A better connection with Pugwash had been supported at the annual meeting of the Charlottetown Board of Trade and the Guardian editor noted that the new route would “put the Steam Navigation Company on its mettle.”

Service was scheduled to begin on 1 October 1891 and advertisements for the Pugwash and P.E. Island Steamboat Company continued to appear in the Charlottetown Guardian through December 1891 showing service three days per week and pledging that “This is the, shortest, most direct, and cheaper than any other route to or from Prince Edward Island.”

True or not, it seems that the Mayflower failed to pry business away from the Steam Navigation Company and there is no further word of the Pugwash to Charlottetown Service. It is not clear if the ship’s previous experience as a ferry across the mile-wide harbour of Pictou may have been limiting factor in the minds of potential passengers. Later she may have been used elsewhere in the region and served for a time in 1892 as a ferry at Canso. In 1895 it was rumoured that the Mayflower was to run between Summerside and Cape Tormentine connecting with the New Brunswick and P.EI. Railway which ran between the Cape and Sackville but it seems to have remained nothing more than a rumour.

In the spring of 1899 the Mayflower appeared on the Pictou-Souris-Magdalenes service but when it was discovered that the ship had been condemned by authorities as unseaworthy for transportation of passengers it was hastily replaced. Later that year the vessel was reported to be owned by F.P. Ronan of Halifax and was slated to run between Summerside, Cape Tormentine and Crapaud.  Another report noted the planned formation of a steamship company in Summerside to purchase the Mayflower and operate it between Summerside and West Cape winter and summer.  Neither proposal seems to have reached the action stage and the vessel was under Ontario ownership by 1901. It was re-built in 1904 and last operated on the Great Lakes in 1910.

Today large freighters seeking cargos of salt still visit Pugwash but to dream of being the main link between the mainland and Prince Edward Island died when the Mayflower left the port for the last time.  In addition, the rails which were so important for determining which ports would serve the Island have vanished from all the harbours on Northumberland Strait.  Shediac, Cape Tormentine,  Pugwash, Tatamagouche, and Pictou – none have rail links that survived the end of the 20th century.

The Houseboat “Doris”


Invariably referred to as the “Houseboat Doris” this craft was one of the most recognizable pleasure craft in Charlottetown harbour before the Great War. She had arrived in late June 1911 after a nine-hour trip from the builder’s yard in Souris where L and N. Paquet had a  thriving business which they later moved to Baddeck Nova Scotia.  The following year the Paquets used the Doris’ hull design for a smaller twenty-two foot launch for Malcolm Irwin who planned to mount a five horsepower motor.

The forty-foot houseboat was a practical design. Within the ten-foot beam was a dining saloon, a cooking room, the engine room, a toilet and lavatory, two staterooms and a forward saloon which could be converted into a stateroom if necessary.  A two and a half-foot passageway ran the length of the boat. The engine room housed one of the latest engines from the works of Messrs Bruce Stewart and Co. – a two-cycle, 12 horsepower Imperial – which gave a speed of nine miles per hour when tested in Souris Harbour.  The design of the boat was by  E.E. Griswold of Long Island, New York who had also designed several runabouts, all called the Imperial, for Bruce Stewart.

Unlike the runabouts the Houseboat Doris had bilge keels which would allow her to be run ground without straining the keel.  A more visible feature was the railing around the upper deck which allowed the cabin roof to be used as a viewing platform.

Houseboat Doris at Bonshaw Bridge

Houseboat Doris at Bonshaw Bridge

The Houseboat Doris was built for J.P. Hood, publisher and owner of the Charlottetown Guardian from 1896 to 1912. It is likely that connection that is responsible for our knowledge of the boat and its activities.  She was very much at home on the West River and was a fixture at the annual Guardian staff picnic carrying Guardian staff to the picnic grounds at T.A. Stewart’s property at Westville.  Hood made a number of improvement over the span of ownership. The engine was increased to 15 horsepower, electric lighting was added. The interior fit-out allowed for sleeping accommodation for twelve with springs and mattresses.

Although hardly a racer the Doris participated in the 1912 Georgetown regatta with Malcolm Irwin as captain. Entered in the cruising motorboat class she was reported as making good speed for the first five miles before an obstruction in the cooling tubes and an overheated engine forced her retirement from the race. In July 1914 the Houseboat Doris was taken on a major excursion. Again under the command of Malcolm Irwin and with Engineer Freddie Bourke aboard, the Doris took a number of young ladies and Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Hood on a tour of Northumberland Strait with stops at Tidnish (only seven hours from Charlottetown via Cape Tormentine), Pugwash and Tatamagouche.  And that was only the beginning. As the Guardian reported:

Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Hood have closed their residence on Bayfield Street, and with the other members of their family will spend the remainder of the summer in their comfortable and well-appointed houseboat, Doris, in cruising on the beautiful West River. With exception of the two Misses Hood , who drove up in their carriage, the family left Charlottetown yesterday on the Doris on the initial trip of the cruise. The Misses Hood who drove will join the Doris at an appointed rendezvous, and for several weeks the family will make the houseboat their home with the prospect of a time of considerable pleasure. 

Doris 2

Hood sold the Guardian to the Burnett family in 1912 and in 1916 he was planning to leave the Island. The Houseboat Doris was offered at tender but when that process did not yield the expected results she was sold at auction. In August of that year the Doris was making regular semi-weekly trips between Bonshaw and Charlottetown. However in 1917 the Bonshaw service was advertised using the motor launch Hazel R.

In 1917 the Doris was noted as being available for excursions to Bonshaw but her later history is not known.

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.