Tag Archives: Rocky Point Ferry

Another last word on the Rocky Point Ferry

Morning News and Semi-Weekly Advertiser 14 October 1843 p. 43

Morning News and Semi-Weekly Advertiser 14 October 1843 p. 43

One of the problems with history is that there is just too much of it.  Just when you think you have got it sorted another little wrinkle appears in the fabric.

Such is the case with the Rocky Point Ferry. The wrinkle in this case is a listing of steamer services in the Daily Examiner for 7 July 1893. Amidst the listings for services to West River, Southport Ferry, the Steamer Jacques Cartier and the Steamer Electra is the service for the Rocky Point Sailboat. Leaving Charlottetown for Rocky Point on Monday and Thursday at 9am, 11am, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm  and on other days at  11 am, 4 pm and 6 pm.

That same year the good people of Rocky Point also had service from the Steamer Southport at least twice a day with four crossings on Saturday and Sunday. One presumes that the sailboat carried only passengers and small parcels while those wanting to transport livestock or waggons had to wait until the steam ferry called.

There had been some sort of sail ferry to the Rocky Point area at least since William Hubbard advertised the services of the Charles in 1843 as noted in above notice. It was certainly in place in 1850 when the ferry sank in a squall throwing the ferryman, his lad and two passengers into the water where one of them drowned inspite of the dispatching of Tremain’s steam boat Isla to the site of the disaster.  Although the wharf and roads connected Rocky Point to the south shore of Lot 65 and traffic increased, especially on market days, the service was probably less than satisfactory – especially since the crossing to Southport was by steam by the 1850s. This seems to have changed in 1874 as seen by the following note in the 30 May Semi-weekly Patriot. “The people of Rocky Point have now got what they desired in the shape of a steam ferry. The contract for the old sail boat having expired the steamer Eljin [sic] commenced to make trips between Connolly’s wharf and Rocky Point, yesterday.” 

Detail of Rocky Point area from 1869 edition of Bayfield's Chart of Charlottetown Harbour

Detail of Rocky Point area from 1869 edition of Bayfield’s Chart of Charlottetown Harbour

The trips to Rocky Pointy may have been incidental to the Eflin’s primary role of crossing between Charlottetown and Southport and it appears that the services of the sailboat were continued for a number of years.

Although Hubbard’s boat probably landed on the beach at Warren Cove and no wharf is shown on the 1839 George Wright Chart of Charlottetown harbour it was apparently not long before a wharf was built at Rocky Point.  The wharf extended into Canceaux Cove angled a little to the west of the later wharf now crumbling into ruins and its footprint on the bottom of the cove can be seen in some of the aerial photos taken in the 20th century. With the coming of steam service the Rocky Point wharf was kept dredged and the channel marked by buoys but keeping pace with the crumbling of the wharf the dredged channel is filling in. The ferry boats have long since gone and soon all that will remain will be a rockpile extending from the shore.

 

 

 

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Pownal Wharf: The Pier that Moved

Today we tend to think of wharves as public facilities, owned and operated for the public good with major investment from the state. However, until well into the Twentieth Century the opposite was true. Wharves were, by and large, privately owned. They were built on water lots which were associated with shore front property and which extended into the harbour.  The exceptions existed where water lots did not. The extensions of the public streets to the channel were public lands and it was there that the government of the colony of Prince Edward Island had the ability to invest in the commercial success of the community.

A New Wharf for the Growing Town

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Charlottetown waterfront in 1842 prior to the building of the Pownal Wharf. Detail from George Wright’s Chart of Charlottetown Harbour

The first of these was the Queen’s wharf but by the 1840s this was inadequate for the increasing business in the port.  To the east was Great George Street but there was a steep haul from the shore to the top of the knoll and businesses had tended to be developed on the western part of the waterfront where the ground was flatter.  West of Pownal Street the waterfront land was still owned by the Imperial crown and was held by the Ordnance Department. In 1843 there was still disagreement as to the best site for the next public wharf with some advocating for the foot of Prince Street or Great George Street. The advantages advanced for the Pownal street location included a reduced distance from the bank to the channel and hence reduced cost, the reduced distance to the harbour mouth and the existence of existing commercial buildings on Pownal Street. A a year later the Palladium newspaper noted the construction of a “lengthy and substantial wharf at the foot of Pownal Street. “This wharf, from the great facility of approach, and the safety of loading and unloading it possesses, has as many, if not more advantages than the Queen’s Wharf to commend it to a general preference.” In 1847 the ordnance lot south of water street and west of Pownal Street was sold to James Purdie by the crown and it was noted at the time that the angle of the Pownal wharf caused it to encroach slightly on this property. The pier seems to have strayed to the west.

The Rose at Pownal Wharf ca. 1849 from a painting by George Hubbard in the collection of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation

The Rose at Pownal Wharf ca. 1849 from a painting by George Hubbard in the collection of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation

The Wharf Moves West

Five years later, in October 1852, the Island was hit by a massive storm which wrecked dozens of ships and heavily damaged the new public wharf. The schooner Ellen, owned by William Sneeston had been lying at the east side of the wharf was driven right through the wharf destroying three blocks of cribwork and the connecting bridges and shifting the structure even further to the west and on to the adjacent water lot owned by James Purdie. Although re-built the alignment of the wharf to the west was to cause difficulties later on.

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Chart showing Charlottetown wharves about 1860. This fails to show the angle of Pownal Wharf which was to cause problems a decade later.

Maintaining the wooden wharves was a continuing problem. In 1864 there were reports of people and even horses breaking through the planking. The condition of the wharf was a constant irritant for the City.

Two major legal cases in 1870 and 1871 tested the rights concerning the wharf. Pownal Street had been used by travellers crossing the ice from the West River and even after the building of the wharf they traveled along the west side of the wharf to join the land.  The Ordnance property and the water lot had passed from Purdie to merchant J.S. Carvell who tried to block use of the passageway and to take control of the encroaching wharf. The City contended that a right of way had been established but the court ruled that no right existed and that Carvell was entitled to ownership of a portion of the wharf which was on his water lot. This effectively meant that the west side of the wharf could not be used for public purposes.

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Western section of the waterfront in 1863. Detail from Lake Map. Note how the structure veers to the west rather than in line with Pownal Street.

The location of the wharf made it ideal as a viewing area for the yacht races in the harbour and in 1878 the Hillsboro Boating Club petitioned to the city to be allowed to build a grandstand on the wharf to view aquatic activities.  If it was allowed it did not last long for there is no mention of it in the extensive coverage of the wharf in the following year.

1879 was perhaps the finest year in the history of Pownal Wharf. It had been selected as the landing spot for the vice-regal visit of the Marquis of Lorne and Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. Besides renovations which included an addition to the west side of the wharf and planking the wharf to level it up with an extension at the end of the wharf, it was the site of two decorative arches erected by the City Corporation, one at the end of the wharf and one opposite Rankin House at the head of the wharf. The structure at the end of the wharf had three Moorish arches sheltering landing stairs enabling the vice-regal party to enter the city. The dirt and debris normally found on the wharf was removed and an unsightly weed-covered lot at the head of the wharf was screened from view by a whitewashed fence.  Whitewash also covered the dilapidated barrel factory and its broken windows had been boarded up.

Pownal Wharf 1880. From Meacham's Atlas

Pownal Wharf 1880. From Meacham’s Atlas. At this time there appear to be no buildings on the wharf.

Earlier that year the wharf had briefly been the landing-place for the Rocky Point Ferry when the city rented it to the Province for $324.00 per year but the arrangement was short-lived as the government was soon complaining that the landing slip was inadequate and the ferry was shifted to Prince Street. In 1880 the total revenue from the wharf was only $140 and the City offered the lease for the wharf for five years with the possibility of purchase. By this time there were a dozen several other wharves and harbour traffic was beginning to decline. There appears to have been limited interest but it is known that the Carvell firm did have control of the wharf early in the 20th century.  Although newspapers report the occasional schooner unloading at the wharf  it was hardly a bustling place and much of the traffic seems to have consisted of stone for the crushing plant as the city streets became macadamized.

Decline and Fail

In 1900 a stone crushing shed was erected on the wharf and afterwards the city operated a works yard on Pownal Wharf, a use which continued into the 1970s.  The wharf was also home to a several warehouses and coal yards  For a number of years in the early 1900s it was also used for winter storage for several harbour vessels such as the dredge Prince Edward, tugs Rona and Islander and the ferry Hillsboro which would be hauled onto the wharf using horse winches.

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Pownal Wharf 1917 from Charlottetown Fire Insurance Atlas

Air photos from the mid-1930s show a collection of warehouses on the wharf but only small pleasure craft are tied up to the pilings. 1936 saw 15 men working to re-build the old city wharf and they put down new foundations to give the wharf a width of 52 feet.  The area around the wharf was to be dredged so that a depth of six feet of water would abut the wharf at low tide. The commercial potential of the wharf had almost disappeared by this time and the Guardian noted the new focus. “”This will no doubt great interest in boating and will be a place where visiting yachts can be moored and looked after properly, with good landing facilities and the proper protection that visiting pleasure yachts should get.” Soon after that the Charlottetown Yacht Club developed plans for the new club house at the head of the adjoining Lord’s wharf.  Pownal Wharf continued to deteriorate and ceased to be a harbour facility. Gradually the timbers rotted away leaving only the rock cribs which had anchored the wharf in place.

After the Second World War there was a brief flurry of interest in Pownal wharf as the possible site for a new naval barracks for the city. Fred Large, himself an ex-navy man and Attorney General of the province urged the Board of Trade to press for a new facility but when it was finally built it was on the nearby Paoli’s Wharf.

In 1964 the City had had enough. Repairs to the wharf would cost them at lest $15,000 (about $115,000 in today’s dollars) and a timely approach from the Charlottetown Yacht Club resulted in a motion to convey the wharf to the club on completion of repairs by the Club volunteers . A proviso on the agreement, which continues to this day, is that if use of the facility by the yacht club would cease, the property would revert to the City.

What was left of the old wharf provided at least one bit of amusement for the Yacht Club verandah gang for several years.  A large rock pile remained just under the water off the stub of the wharf and it was the source of sadistic amusement to watch as speeding motorboaters unfamiliar with the obstacle learned what happened when their outboards encountered the unforgiving rock.   Today the rock pile has been dredged out of existence and fingers in the Club’s marina float where the Pownal Wharf once stood.

The Forgotten York Point Ferry

When Samuel Holland selected the location for the Island’s capital he was influenced by the ease of access afforded by the rivers flanking the site. The Hillsborough, Elliott and York Rivers provided easy water access to the hinterland and before the development of a road system water was the main highway.

However as the land became settled and the economy shifted to agriculture the three rivers  became an impediment (except in winter) to getting access to to the growing town. The first of the rivers to be bridged was the York (North) River where a bridge at Poplar Island was, and continues to be, the route of access from the south and west. However, for pedestrians and horse and cart traffic from York Point, Cornwall and the South Shore it was still a detour well to the north of the shortest route which lay across the harbour.

York Point Wharf in 1935. Note the characteristic forked form of the ferry wharf.

York Point Wharf in 1935. Note the characteristic forked form of the ferry wharf.

By the 1850s there appears to have been some sort of ferry crossing from York Point to Charlottetown sailing from the end of what is now the Ferry Road but it did not have the regularity or importance of the Rocky Point or Southport routes and it does not appear as a regular government ferry in the 19th century. Even by 1880 the Meachams Atlas shows the road as the “Old Ferry Road”. Possibly the investment required for a steam-powered craft was not justified by the amount of traffic generated on the route.  In the second decade of the 20th century a new technology emerged which made the venture more possible. The gasoline motor boat required less investment and could be accommodated in smaller craft. At the same time an expanded road network meant that more farmers were trying to get goods to Charlottetown and increasing leisure time resulted in the construction of a number of cottages on the North River Shore so there was a greater potential for business.

Guardian 21 July 1914 p. 7

Guardian 21 July 1914 p. 7

In September 1912 the Dominion government called for tenders for a wharf at Franklyn Point almost opposite Victoria Park. The wharf was to extend over 658 feet including the approaches  115 feet of this length to be two guide piers suitable for the ferry.  Initially the service used a motor boat but on completion of the wharf the Steamer Hillsboro made stops two days a week in addition to its Rocky Point service. The Hillsboro also provided service early in the spring and in the fall of the year.  However there appears to have been congestion at the Prince Street Wharf and a landing for the York Ferry was negotiated further west on the waterfront. After 1914 and into the 1920s there were calls for tenders for ferry operation on the route.  The first vessel noted on the route was the motor launch Dolphin which provided  four or five round trips each day from the York Point Wharf to Pownal Wharf – not the Prince Street Ferry wharf as was the case for the Rocky Point ferry. The 40 foot Dolphin had been built for the government the previous year for the route from Charlottetown to Bonshaw. She could carry up to 50 passengers with cabin accommodation for half that number.  However, she could carry only limited amounts of freight and was ill-suited to the transport of livestock.  Two years later the schedule for the Motor Boat Dolphin showed four trips on Monday (Market Day) and only two round-trips daily for the rest of the week. The exception was on Sunday when afternoon trips, possibly for picnic visits, were added.  The Dolphin was replaced by the Hazel R. (sometimes identified as the Hazel Ruth), which had been used in the motor boat service up to Bonshaw in 1917, and was running to York Point three times each summer day in 1919.  The Hazel R. was offered for sale in 1920 and in 1924 was once again reported on the Bonshaw service but it is not known if she continued to visit York Point. However, the service seems to have continued through the 1930s although the name of the boat is not recorded. A correspondent noted in April 1932 that the boat was “a great convenience” when the roads were almost impassable. The last newspaper reference I have been able to find was in 1935 when the LOBA (Ladies Orange Benevolent Association) held a picnic which included “a delightful sail on the York Pont Ferry”. In the late 1930s the yearly subsidy was reduced from $700 to $500 and it is not clear if it was paid past 1937. Whether for ferries or other purposes the wharf continued to be used and was dredged by the Dominion Government in 1944.

Google Earth view of York Point Ferry site. The wharf site is just barely visible at the foot of the light-coloured field.

Google Earth view of York Point Ferry site. The wharf ruin is just barely visible at the foot of the light-coloured field.

Although the 1935 air photo of Franklyn Point shows a forked wharf it is unlikely that after the early years when the Hillsboro operated, the ferry carried more than passengers and light freight as the Pownal wharf end of the run had no such docking accommodation.   At any rate after the 1940s the wharf fell out of use and gradually eroded.

Today a yellow harbour buoy is visible marking the outer end of the rock pile of the wharf ruin just under the water and the shore area is used by oystermen to launch their boats.  Along the shore the cottages are gradually being supplanted by permanent residences.

With paved roads the route to the capital via the North River Bridge is hardly a barrier and the York Point Ferry is barely a memory. Bill and Elizabeth Glen’s comprehensive history of Bonshaw has a photo of the Hazel R. but to date I have not been able to find photos of other boats on the route or of the wharf when it was still active. I would be pleased to hear of any more information about this almost-forgotten part of the harbour history.