Tag Archives: Rankin House

Charlottetown’s waterfront hotels

The great want of the city is good hotel accommodation. The pubic houses are all small, the tables rather poor, and are all so much alike that it will be of little use to mention the names of any. Frank Clark – Our Vacations. Where to go, how to go, and how to enjoy them Boston 1874

For most of Charlottetown’s history its waterfront was the welcome mat to Prince Edward Island.  The major wharves served the sailing ships and later the steamers that brought visitors – at first only those with business here, and then casual visitors and tourists –  who were arriving for business or pleasure to the city and the colony.  Water, Queen and Great George Streets were the first business district for the city and it is not surprising that many of the early hotels were located only a short walk from the wharves.

The hotel business, then as now, is a precarious one owing to the seasonal trade. Prior to reliable winter steamers, the port was essentially closed for four months each year and even internal travel within the Island reduced business to only a few hotel guests. In such an environment the hotel trade was a difficult one. Early hotels were often simply taverns or private homes with a few rooms on offer and early visitors spoke often about the difficulties of finding a suitable place to stay.

By the 1870s this was becoming a point of concern for those interested in the development of the city. Even before then there had been many editorials and letters in newspapers bemoaning the lack of proper accommodation.  The views of early visitors, especially American journalists, mirrored (or perhaps gave rise to) the public airing of the matter.

…  the accommodations [are] in no respect first class. One good hotel, in Boston style, would be worth the whole score or more of little martin boxes which are scattered throughout the city  Boston Globe 1872

The erection of a good hotel in Charlottetown is absolutely necessary. It is the great centre for travel, and such an establishment must soon make its appearance, not to be superintended by a down-east pork and beans vender, but by a purveyor whose experience in large cities will enable him to appreciate the situation. New York Herald 1873

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The Revere (#44) was right at the head of the Stream Navigation Wharf. Most of its competitors were only a short walk away. Detail from the Panoramic View of Charlottetown 1878.

In the 1878 Panoramic View of Charlottetown several hotels are noted almost all of them were either at the head of the city’s wharves or on Water Street, near the steamer wharf. Rankin House was at the Head of the Pownal Wharf, the Revere House was on the Steam Navigation Wharf at the foot of Great George Street, Nearby were the Osborne, and the St. Lawrence. The only listed hotel not adjacent to the waterfront was the Rocklan House on Kent Street – far from the action.

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Revere House in 1880, Colonial Building in background. Meacham’s Atlas 1880.

The Revere House had been opened in 1871 on land owned by the Steam Navigation Company and in 1875 was offering the land and building for sale in hopes of having a large new hotel build at the corner of Great George and Water Streets.  A new building does not appear to have been erected but by 1879 an addition to the east of the original building brought the accommodations up to 40 rooms along with dining hall,  parlors, sitting rooms, sample rooms and baggage rooms — “all the accommodations necessary for a first class hotel.” However increased size did not result in year-round business and the hotel was soon advertising for a few permanent boarders over the winter season.   The hotel accommodated passengers from various ships and was quite successful, which makes it surprising when we learn that in 1886 the hotel closed and the building was sold to the Charlottetown Hospital. They planned to enlarge the building and convert it for use as a hospital. It is not clear why the plan did not come to fruition but in 1890, the building was advertised for sale. Prominent architect, William Critchlow Harris purchased the Revere House and had it moved to its present location on Brighton Road where it was converted into two large double tenements still standing on Brighton Road between Ambrose Street and Greenfield Avenue.

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Rankin House, corner of Water and Pownal showing Rankin House 1894.

The Rankin House stood at the head of Pownal wharf at the South East corner of Pownal and Water Streets . It was larger than the Revere with fifty rooms to the forty of Revere House. In 1878 it was managed by John J. Davies who would later take over the St. Lawrence Hotel. Rankin House operated into the twentieth century but it had ceased to be identified as one of the city’s better hotels and was operating as little more than a boarding house. The building was torn down 1908.

Hotel Davies

Hotel Davies, Water Street near Great George, formerly St. Lawrence Hotel showing enlargement to the east.

Just to the east of Great George on Water Street stood the St. Lawrence Hotel, opened in 1869.   There were changes of ownership and refurbishments of the hotel in 1881 and again in 1883. It was offered for sale 1887 and was taken over by John J. Davies, the son of the former proprietor of the Rankin. It reopened as the Hotel Davies the same year. The hotel was a busy spot and its dining room, was the site of many meetings and receptions. Sometime before 1900 a large addition was built to the west of the original building featuring a five-story turret which soon became a city landmark. The hotel closed suddenly in December of 1903, apparently a victim of prohibition as the owners claimed it was impossible to run the hotel at a profit without liquor sales.

The closure of the hotel triggered a rash of proposals for the erection of a new and modern hotel  but in spite of support from the Board of Trade and the City funds could not be found. In April 1904 the hotel was purchased by J.G. Sterns proprietor of Sterns Livery Stable and the name changed to the Hotel Victoria.  The hotel continued to operate until 1929 when it was destroyed by fire. For more information and photos of  the Victoria and the Davies hotels click here.

Queen Hotel

The Queen Hotel, Water Street at Great George, formerly the Osborne House ca. 1900

The Osborne House was also located near the intersection of Great George and Water Streets and had been opened sometime prior to 1858. In 1877 a three story addition with seven or eight new bedrooms had been made to the building and James Davies (whose family was later to be involved with the Rankin and St. Lawrence hotels) was able to welcome “an additional number of transient and permanent boarders.”  After James’ death in 1879 the hotel, now with seventeen bedrooms,  was offered for sale but owing to low offers was retained by Davies heirs.  By 1880 the hotel, now owned by Cyrus V. McGregor,  had 25 rooms. In 1882 a further addition to the building and the addition of a third story made it one of the largest hotels in the province. Sold again in 1890 the new owner, P.P. Archibald, had the hotel completely refurnished, re-painted and refurbished and announced that the hotel would operate on temperance principles with no liquor served. He also changed the name of the establishment to become the Queen Hotel.

Like bookends to Great George Street the Queen and the Victoria were the city’s biggest and best hotels and in 1919 came under the same ownership. With the loss of the Victoria by fire in 1929 Charlottetown found itself without adequate visitor accommodation until the opening of Canadian National’s Charlottetown Hotel in 1931, but the new structure had followed the business district away from Water Street.  The Queen Hotel did not age well and when it burned in 1965 it was a mere shadow if its former self. The lasting legacy of the Queen Hotel is perhaps as the subject of one of Charlottetown’s oldest (and worst) jokes – How is the Queen Hotel like a pair of tight trousers? – No ball room.

A trip of the hat to Ian Scott, author of the Vintage Charlottetown Facebook page, who suggested that the hotels of Charlottetown might make an interesting posting.

A Short History of a Short Wharf

Today it exists only as a short stub of a wharf, one of two sheltering the Charlottetown Yacht Club’s junior sailing fleet. The name Lord’s Wharf has all but disappeared along with the wharf itself but the latter survives in an abbreviated state and serves as a reminder of a depression works project which gave employment to dozens of Charlottetown men and helped see their families through the late 1930s.

Mr. Lord comes to Charlottetown

William W. Lord moved to Charlottetown from the Tryon area in the early 1840s. He acquired the property at the south-east corner of Water and Pownal Streets which had a water lot which gave him rights over the seabed out to the channel marking the edge of the harbour.  The lot was not a deep one and the waters of the harbour lapped at the rear of the property not far from Water Street.

Rankin House at the corner of Pownal and Water Streets 1894

Rankin House at the corner of Pownal and Water Streets 1894

One of the early improvements was the erection of a building on Water Street across from the corner where Samuel Holman was to run West India House. Lord’s building was originally a house but it was shortly turned into a hotel called the Rankin House which served as a landmark at the head of the wharf for many years. W.W. Lord achieved success in business and politics and was a director of the Union Bank, the Bank of Prince Edward Island and a number of insurance companies. His son, Artemis Lord, was, for many years, agent for the Department of Marine and Fisheries.

Business on the Wharf

Advertisement from Frederick's Directory 1889

Advertisement from Frederick’s Directory 1889

The wharf was also the home of a number of other businesses. In the later part of the nineteenth century.  John F. Worth was a sail maker with a loft on Lord’s wharf. As a private wharf the site did not attract the same sort of notice as came to the wharves owned by the colony or by the City of Charlottetown such as Queen’s, Pownal Wharf or the Prince Street Ferry Wharf.  Nor was the wharf the home to shipping companies such as the Island Steam Navigation Company or the Plant Line. Occasionally there would be advertisements for cargos landed such as herring from Newfoundland in 1854 or coal in 1891 and lumber in 1909.

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The waterfront about 1860. The closeness of Lords and Pownal wharves can be clearly seen.

Although built later than Pownal wharf which dates from the 1830s, Lord’s wharf had a major challenge as it was very close to the earlier construction and the basin between them was scarcely wide enough to accommodate two vessels abreast. Although there was 16 feet of water at the end of the wharf it shoaled quickly.  The wharf had been built by the common method of sinking timber cribs with rock and then bridging the cribs until the desired length or depth was achieved.  Unless maintained the wharves deteriorated quickly. Lord’s wharf was narrow and there was little room for warehouses on the wharf itself although buildings were found on the landward end.

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As the age of wooden ships came to a close derelict vessels could be found next to several of the Charlottetown wharves.

By the turn of the 20th century the wharf had fallen on hard times and it seems to have been rarely used. In 1901 docking at the wharf was hampered by the hulk of an old schooner which had been dragged by a storm to the west side of the wharf. Rankin House, formerly a building of note on Water Street, was likewise “neglected and dilapidated” and its removal in 1907 was applauded by the Guardian.  In 1909 the wharf was purchased by “well-known junk dealer” Louis Block who undertook some repairs. Pyne and Hyde’s Star Foundry occupied one of the buildings on the wharf but it had ceased business by 1911 when Block purchased the equipment. He maintained a warehouse and junk yard on the wharf gathering hair, skins, old cloth and metals. The site was plagued with a number of fires.

Elevators and Rolled Oats

In 1913 Lord’s Wharf was the preferred location for a proposal to construct a large Rolled Oats Factory on the waterfront. The Colonial Corporation of Halifax had created the Price Edward Island Cereal Company and told City council that it was planning a large concrete dock, mill, grain elevator, box factory, cooperage and powerhouse on the Lord’s Wharf property with planned investment of more than a $600,000. The wharf would be served by an extension of the railway along Lower Water Street. The proposed mill would produce 300 barrels of rolled oats each day, primarily for the export market.  An interview by an enthusiastic reporter with one of the proponents of the scheme appears in the 11 November 1913 Guardian and reads remarkably like economic development proposals floated across the local government desks on a regular basis to this day. The economic spin-offs would be huge for the city and the province, employment would be created, a market would be provided for local products, value would be added to the surplus oat production, etc. etc. etc.  The proposal was missing only the impact on tourism that a five-story grain elevator on the waterfront would provide.  All that was required by the company was a tax exemption, free site, free rail connection, a subsidy from the federal government for the construction of the elevator, a grant from the province, and for Islanders to purchase stock in the corporation. However, unlike today, none of the levels of government were seduced by the promised benefits and the proposal died. It would be 60 years before a grain elevator was built in the province and it would be far from the waterfront.

A Wharf Cut Short

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Lords and Pownal Wharves in 1919. The rockpiles marking the remains of Lord’s are not shown but extend almost to the channel.

The wharf fared scarcely better than the proposal. The hulk of the schooner had been raised and floated away when the east side of the Pownal Wharf was dredged in 1915. Six years later the remains of much of Lords Wharf were removed by the dredge. For years it had been judged an impediment to the navigation of vessels using the Pownal and Plant Line wharves to the east and west of Lord’s. What was left was barely half of the original length of the wharf.

By this time the wharf property had become the property of the City of Charlottetown and it was one of a number of locations where works projects took place to provide employment during the height of the depression.  Over $6000 was spent in 1936 and 1937 improving what was left of the wharf and making work for the city’s unemployed. As early as July 1936 City Council was looking into a proposal to rehabilitate the wharf and turn it over to the Charlottetown Yacht Club. In August 1937 the City Recorder was authorized to enter into a lease for the wharf.  By the end of October of that year the new club house on the wharf was nearing completion.

The corner lot at Water and Pownal became the site of the Eastern Hay and Feed Company’s new Charlottetown warehouse which was opened in November 1940. The opening was celebrated by a huge dance in the three empty floors of the  building featuring  both square dancing with Don Messer’s orchestra and modern music by the Blue Dome orchestra. Advertising advised couples to  “Swing and sway at Eastern Hay.” Eastern Hay and Feed later became Atlantic Wholesalers. Part of this structure still serves as P.E.I.’s Supreme Court building. Between Eastern Hay and Feed and the Yacht Club the City of Charlottetown works department had a large barn that was probably had been one of the warehouses on the wharf.

Since taking over the responsibility for Lord’s Wharf the Charlottetown Yacht Club has maintained the resource but once again deterioration of the wharf is taking its toll and siltation caused by discharge from the City’s storm water drains and by the change to currents from developments elsewhere in the harbour is creating problems at the wharf. This time it is unlikely that make-work employment projects will hold the solution.