Tag Archives: Quebec Steamship Company

A Harbour Full of Sails

Charlottetown wharves about 1910. Even though sail was in decline, masts of about 10 vessels (including one full-rigged ship) can be seen in this image. Pugh postcard #898-8. Private collection.

It is hard to appreciate how different Charlottetown’s harbour is today from the scene that would have greeted observers a century ago.  With a dozen wharves still in operation and the Island almost wholly dependant on shipping for imports and exports the vessels were as important to commerce as is the tractor-trailer today.

However even by 1913 there had been a change from the days of wooden ships and iron men.  Much of the commerce was being carried by steamers which connected the province with Sydney, Halifax, Boston and Montreal as well as carrying goods and passengers across the Strait to Pictou and Shediac.  What was left for the aging fleet of wooden schooners was the high volume, low value bulk cargo such as limestone, wood, and especially coal.  The same vessels carried away agricultural goods – potatoes, turnips, wheat, oats and livestock – to nearby ports and to Newfoundland.  Higher value goods such as tinned lobster, oysters, eggs and the few manufactured goods  usually went to more distant markets and they increasingly went by steamer.

Like many declines, the change was gradual.  However once in a while an event occurred which moved perspective beyond the day-to-day.  In late October 1913 the Island was visited by an extended period of unusually high winds and as time passed eyes began to turn toward the harbour.  While not exactly a front page story, the Guardian felt that the phenomenon  was worthy of note.

23 October 1913 – AN INTERESTING SPECTACLE – In the Charlottetown Harbour yesterday morning was witnessed a spectacle of great interest and of a like unequaled in recent years. The rough weather that has prevailed during the past week has caused a number of small and large sailing craft alike to seek shelter within the haven afforded by Charlottetown’s splendid harbour, and also there were a number of vessels that had discharged and loaded here that would not venture out in the heavy seas and high winds that were reported to be raging in the Strait. There was one vessel indeed which entered the harbour under bare poles, a condition in which she had driven before the wind for many hours previous to her seeking the shelter of Charlottetown. Thus there was quite a fleet anchored within the mouth of the harbour awaiting the abatement of the stormy weather outside. Yesterday’s fine weather gave them an opportunity they awaited. Taking immediate advantage of the fine spell, the whole fleet set sail early in the morning. There were between twenty and thirty of them and they made sail almost simultaneously; the scene of so many vessels sailing out of the harbour at practically the same time being exceptionally animated and interesting.

It was probably the last time that so much working sail was seen in the harbour although the schooners, and even some rigged ships continued to visit until the 1940s.  The commonplace had become the interesting and then the unusual.

The future was also to be seen in the harbour of Charlottetown. In the same month when schooners sheltered from the wind the port saw a steady stream of regular steamers paying monthly or even weekly visits: Furness Lines’ Swansaea Trader, Black Diamond Shipping’s Morwenna, the Plant Line steamer A.W. Perry, the Cascapedia of the Quebec Steamship Line and the daily Northumberland owned by the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company. By the mid-point of the century working sail was completely gone.

Although we have a romantic notion of the age of sail the reality of worn ships with patched sails barely surviving on the edges of commercial traffic is perhaps more realistic. Working schooner in Charlottetown Harbour about 1900. Photo – Public Archives and Records Office.


The Campana – A two-part ship


S.S. Campana in Pictou ca. 1903. Warwick & Rutter postcard

With the attention given by historians to the problem of “continuous steam communication” and the connections between Prince Edward Island and Boston and across the Strait it is often forgotten that there was regular steamship service between Charlottetown and Quebec and Montreal for much of the 19th century and well into the 20th century.   Although links with New England remained strong after confederation there was increased trade with Quebec both through the Intercolonial Railway and the several steamship companies that served the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

One of the most important of these was the Quebec Steamship Company. In 1895 their ship on the route for more than twenty years, the Miramichi, was retired and was replaced by the Campana. This vessel had an interesting history. Built in 1873 on the Clyde at the Glasgow Scotland yard of Aitkens & Mansell it was configured as a freighter.  A large vessel for the time, it was 240 feet long, 35 feet in breadth and drew more than 20 feet.  It had a 225 horsepower, two-cylinder engine which turned two separate screw propellers. Originally named the S.S. North its first owner was an Argentinian. The new name, Campana, may have referred to a community near Buenos Ayres.

The ship first saw service in the South Atlantic and had a South African owner until 1881 when it was sold to the Canada Lake Superior Transit Company. The ship was too large to fit through the existing locks on the St. Lawrence River and the ship was cut into two parts in order to pass through the Welland and St. Lawrence canals.  At the shipyards in Collingwood the sections were rejoined and passenger accommodation was added to the freighter. The cutting and re-joining of vessels was not unusual but in most cases it was because  a vessel had been built in Great Lakes shipyards but destined for ocean service. Another legacy of the Great Lakes period for the Campana was the placement of the wheelhouse well-forward on the vessel. She was one of the earliest twin screw vessels on the lakes  and was used for four years by Cornelius Van Horne’s Canadian Pacific Steamship Line between Toronto and the Lakehead. She later travelled between Kingston and Chicago but this was not successful and she was taken out of service.


McCord Museum M930.50.1.52 | S.S. Campana

On the sale of the ship to the Quebec Steamship Company it had to come back down the canal route to Montreal  so the ship was once again cut into two parts to transit the locks and then re-assembled in Montreal with a number of improvements including replacement of bow bulwarks with railings, removal of her sailing rig and additional deckhousing.  A report in the Quebec Chronicle newspaper described her on her arrival in the city in July of 1895:

Handsomely furnished; the staterooms, which are on the upper deck, are light and airy, and fitted with every modern improvement. One advantage of the large saloon is that it is clear from the fore to the after part of the vessel, thus leaving plenty of room for those dining there. Her commander, Capt. Baquet, is an experienced and popular St. Lawrence trader, and he was heartily congratulated on obtaining command of such a fine vessel, which is undoubtedly an acquisition to the lower port trade, for she is not only able to take more cargo than her predecessor, but the accommodation for the passengers is also superior, and this, combined with making a much faster trip, should make her a valuable boat for shippers and a popular boat with the travelling public.    

SS Campana in Summerside. Phil Culhane collection

The routing followed by the vessel included Montreal, Quebec, Pointe au Pere, Gaspe, Perce, Summerside, Charlottetown and Pictou. At Charlottetown passengers could transfer to the Plant Line Boston Steamers for an all-sea trip to New England or at Pictou join the railway  to cross to Halifax. The combined fare from Montreal to Boston was $29.00   For more than a decade the Campana was a regular visitor to Charlottetown harbour, usually stopping once every ten days or two weeks usually on her way both up and down the Strait.  Although the trip was slower than by rail,  the Campana passengers were spared a number of transfers between the railway and the Steam Navigation Company cross-strait ships and changes of trains in Summerside, Shediac, Moncton and Quebec.  Island shippers were able to ship directly to the Quebec and Montreal markets and the cargo manifests included cheese, oysters, and potatoes.


Campana in the harbour at Gaspe

In 1908 the Campana was joined on the run by a new and larger ship, the Trinidad, but the next year was her last. On an early June trip from Summerside to Montreal she went aground a few miles below Quebec City. The passengers were safely removed but she could not be pulled off and as bottom plates gave way as she settled and broke in two – a legacy perhaps of her history of double cutting and stitching.  She was abandoned to the underwriters and never sailed again. Besides the loss of the 36-year old vessel it was noted that the cargo of several thousand bags of potatoes worth between $15,000 and $20,000 could not be recovered.

Campana 4

This image appears to be a version of the coloured Warwick & Rutter postcard shown above but with more detail visible.

Because the Trinidad was too large to enter Summerside harbour it lost its regular steamer service. The company also lost the link to New Brunswick through the severing of the connection with the Summerside-Shediac steamer.

The Quebec Steamship Company later became part of the large Canada Steamship Lines.  CSL ships still come into Charlottetown but instead of passengers they bring gravel and they take nothing with them when they leave.


Once again I am indebted to Kevin Griffin for his fine work on the Gulf of St. Lawrence shipping history found in his blog on the history of Clarke Steamships. Other sources are from Prince Edward Island and Quebec newspapers.