Tag Archives: Rocky Point Ferry

Putting the “Port” in Southport

The photo below  shows that Southport Ferry Wharf at Minchin’s Point. Dating from about 1912 it shows the wharf in poor repair. The ferry service had stopped in 1905 and deterioration was rapid. The ferry service and its wharf had been the primary reason for the establishment of a community and the fortunes of the community to great measure mirrored those of the wharf itself.   

Southport Notman

Photograph | Charlottetown from Southport, PE, 1910 | VIEW-4820

 

1839 Wright 2

Detail from George Wright’s chart of Hillsborough Bay and Charlottetown Harbour 1842.

Yes. there really was a port at Southport – well, at least there was a wharf. Best known as the ferry landing for the Hillsborough Ferry, the wharf eventually was responsible for the creation of a village on the southern shore of the Hillsborough River opposite Charlottetown.  As it was on the route between Charlotte Town and  Georgetown the ferry was likely a feature from the earliest days of the colony.  The wharf, and the beginnings of the tiny settlement, first appear in George Wright’s 1842 chart of Hillsborough Bay and Charlottetown Harbour. 

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Detail from Capt. Bayfield’s chart of Charlottetown Harbour 1847

However the wharf was not at the high bluff, known as Minchin’s Point or Murphy’s Point but a little to the west avoiding the steep climb up the bank.  The wharf at Minchin’s Point was built following a call for tenders in 1842 and appears on Capt. Bayfield’s chart of Charlottetown Harbour which appeared in 1852.  In early years the wharf had a floating jetty to make it easier to access the ferry in spite of changing tides.  Thereafter there are a long series of extensions and re-buildings of the wharf to accommodate the succession of ferries which were used on the route. Steam powered vessels such as the Ora, the Ino, the Arethusa the Elfin, the Hillsborough and the Southport were familiar and regular visitors to the wharf at Minchin’s Point.  

The ferry traffic gave rise to the need to hotels and taverns as well as businesses serving the travellers. It also became a service centre for communities such as Keppoch Kinloch, and Cross Roads for those wishing to avoid having to cross the Hillsborough in order to meet their needs. By 1863 the community was well-established and the alternate names “Southport” and Stratford” appeared to both have been in use. 

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Stratford or Southport. D.J. Lake’s Topographical Map of P.E.I. 1863

An article in the 20 November 1878  Semi-Weekly Patriot documents further growth of the community.

Passing by the Church, Smithy and Schoolhouse at Alexandria, and the Church at the cross roads, we reach Southport, destined to be one of the fashionable and health-bearing adjuncts of Charlottetown. It is now quite a business centre , and when the new road is opened it will become still more important. The day is coming when the seaside from Farquharson’s point to the Harbour’s mouth will be studded with villas. Charles Haszard Esq., by the ferry facilities which he so obligingly affords, is doing much for Southport as well as for the health and pleasure seekers from the city. The Honourable the Speaker of the Assembly is a citizen of this place  – where he and H. Bovyer, W.H. Farquharson, and John Kennedy carry on mercantile business. An Episcopal Church, a school-house, a Tannery, two line kilns, a Post Office, three forges, two Houses of Entertainment, seven Brick Kilns, a Tailor’s Shop, one Harness and Saddlery establishment and two weigh scales are among our Southport notes. Beer, McIntosh, McKenzie, Alex. and Neil Stewart, Flood and Son, and the two Cardiffs manufacture Brick extensively; the blacksmiths are Allan Stewart, Allan Ham and Charles Walker; and the Carpenters and Carriage Builders are Angus and John McInnis, John Godfrey, James Wood, Isaac Turner, and James Costello. 

Notwithstanding the glowing 1878 report that the community was destined to be a “fashionable and healthy adjunct” it was clear that growth of the village had slowed if not stopped. There are scarcely more houses shown in the area in the 1880 Meacham’s Atlas than there had been 17 years earlier.  Although landowner John Picton Beete had ambitiously subdivided the property and laid out a street network the anticipated growth failed to arrive.  The area did, however had become the centre for brick making with a large number of brick yards and as the newspaper account above notes a large number of brickmakers had establishments near Southport. While most of the brick manufactured  would have been carried by ferry or across the winter ice to Charlottetown it is probable that some export of brick took place at the ferry wharf.    

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Detail from manuscript map of Lot 48 by C.R. Allen, prepared for Meacham’s Atlas 1880. Public Archives and Records Office.

The short-lived brick boom came to an early end as supplies of brick-clay were exhausted  and the community once again lapsed into a quiet stagnation. Comparing the plan above with the 1935 air photo below it is clear that Southport in the 1930s  was still stuck in the 1870s. Over the years the ferry wharf had been extended and re-built but the construction of the Hillsborough Bridge, which was completed in 1905, and the opening of new roads to the east, meant that traffic no longer stopped at Southport. The railway by-passed the hamlet and what services that were provided by merchants were for locals only.  There was a frisson of excitement in 1913 when construction of a marine railway large enough to carry the S.S. Prince Edward Island was begun close to the ferry wharf but work ceased in 1915 and was never completed. 

There were occasional reports of other vessels using the Southport wharf to load cargo. For example, in 1886  the steamer M.A. Starr crossed the harbour to Southport after unloading at Charlottetown in order to load potatoes for Halifax. Small schooners continued to load produce at the Southport Wharf into the 1930s, and the wharf was dredged n 1937.  The Dominion Department of Public Works used the wharf as a place to tie up scows used in dredging and construction but by the end of the Second War even this seems to have ended. With the end of activity the wharf soon eroded. A caution buoy marked a spot where a sunken scow rested on the bottom but even that marker was removed in the last few years. 

Southport 1935

Today few, if any, traces remain of the ferry wharf and it is no longer even buoyed as a hazard to navigation as no boats except those of oyster fishers have a reason to visit the Southport shore. However one part of the Patriot’s 1878 forecast has become true. The shores all along the edge of the Hillsborough, right to the harbour’s mouth and beyond are today “studded with villas.”   

 

“most suitable for an afternoon’s enjoyment” Excursions in the Bay – 1877

On hot summer days it is refreshing to think that for many of us getting to the beach is only a matter of jumping into a car and heading out. This ease of access to the sea shore is a relatively recent phenomena for Charlottetown. In spite of being a port the shoreline is remarkably inaccessible as there is not a really good beach within the city limits. There was bathing at Victoria Park and Kensington Beach and for the uninhibited there was always the attraction of swimming off the wharves. But this was hardly a family or social activity. Accessing a real beach meant a train ride to Hunter River or Bedford and then by wagon to Rustico or Tracadie where there were summer hotels, a round trip that could easily take all day.  Or one could take the Southport ferry and then go by carriage to Keppoch or Langly Beach.

What was accessible however, was a mini-ocean voyage or cruise to the mysterious Islands in Hillsborough Bay.  There was no regular steamer service but vessels were available and for a moderate expense a party could charter one of several boats to go beyond Charlottetown’s Pillars of Hercules (Blockhouse Point and Seatrout Point) to the Bay beyond, an area marked in the townsfolk’s mental map with the warning “here be dragons.”

The exotic realm beyond the Harbour’s Mouth was popular with groups of all sizes. Pooling of resources for a sports club, fraternal lodge, or Sunday school put the cost of a charter within almost everyone’s grasp and these sorts of excursions were a popular fund-raiser.

An article in the 25 August 1877 Semi-Weekly Patriot details the attractions of the islands of the bay. Of the two islands St. Peters was the more hospitable with four farmsteads and a fish stage (later a lobster factory). It would soon have  schoolhouse and a lighthouse.  Today it is uninhabited and slowly reverting to forest and marsh and the extensive reefs make landing difficult for all but shallow draft boats. The lighthouse had been decommissioned by 2020, but it still has an attraction. Venturing to the interior will expose you to significant danger from the champion mosquitos raised on the island.

St. Peter’s Island 1880. Meacham’s Atlas

Very few of our people  have ever been on either Governor’s or St. Peter’s Island, or know that the latter is well cultivated and contains over 400 acres of land, divided into four farms, has good water, diversity of scenery, sheltering trees, good beach, fine lookout on the strait, and is in every way most suitable for an afternoon’s enjoyment. If you wish to take a party over forty, get the Southport, with her fine deck for dancing; leave the city about 2 p.m.: Capt. Mutch will land you on the Island dry-footed, and unharmed in an hour and a half. Spread the cloths. “do” the Island; there are obliging residents who will boil the water for tea or coffee, and whose horse and cart you can get to haul the heavier baskets &c. to land from the boat.

St. Peter’s Island 2020. Google Earth.

Three hours can be pleasantly spent on the Island and should you have chose a moonlit night the steam home will be most enjoyable, the music on the water, fast flitting feet, happy faces and voices, and the perfect safety, thanks to the obliging captain and crew, will make one think that the landing at the pier at 9 p.m.is too early. Should you desire to go in a smaller party, say eight, fourteen or 25, then Batt’s Tub [sic] Boat will run down and back for about $10, or the Daisy, if not occupied by her owners, will do it for half the money but carries fewer people than the Tug. The Southport will cost you about $25, which is certainly very little for a boat capable of carrying 1,200 people.

More isolated and without a resident population Governor’s Island is even less visited although seal watching draws quite a few to the shores but few brave the rocks land on the beaches. The downwind stench of an extensive cormorant rookery which is gradually killing off any of the trees of the Island is a further deterrent to visits. The moaning of the hundreds of seals on the island’s eastern sand spit and reefs at low tide is  a bizarre accompaniment to the visual desolation.

Governor’s Island about 1970.

Governor’s Island is a little farther outside the harbour’s mouth, is unsettled, but cuts a good deal of hay. Along its shore is good snipe shooting and mackerel fishing. On the reef looms the fog alarm while over all rests a deep calm and hush unbroken by passing steamers that pass too far “on the other side” and everything tends to rest the eyes and ears, and soothe the weary mind.

Even more accessible and cheaper,  but still carrying the hint of an ocean adventure was the ferry to Rocky Point with its several attractions for the day visitor.

Perhaps you choose rather to take a basket of picnic varieties step on board the Rocky Point Ferry Boat, enjoy the ten minutes run across, spread and appreciate the lunch on the bluff overlooking the Elliott or West River, and return to town in the cool of the evening, having some hours study of the everchanging scenes upon our harbour, with spirits greatly lightened for city work and life, and purse almost untouched.

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.