Tag Archives: Rocky Point

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.




Solving a Postcard History Mystery


Three Miles From Charlottetown. Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard #5248. Photo by W.S. Louson

The plain-looking sepia-coloured postcard is cryptic to say the least. The caption simply says “Three Miles from Charlottetown” but it doesn’t say where the photo was taken. There is a pond framed by trees and a rowboat with three aboard, and strangely what appears to be a fence in the water.  The card is simply one of what may have been as many as 500 different postcards depicting P.E.I. scenes that were published before the Great War. This card was from the Toronto firm of Warwick Bros & Rutter which created over 7000 postcards during the period – about 150 of which contained Prince Edward Island scenes.

We don’t know how many of the cards were published but an Island firm, Carter and Company boasted in 1907 that they had 500,000 cards in stock.  Postcards had become a mania. Changes in postal regulations in the late 1890s allowed for the cards with a scene on one side and address and message on the other, and people immediately began collecting. While some of the cards were used for postal communication thousands were gathered into albums.

Unlike most of the cards from the period we know the photographer for this one. The picture was taken by William S. Louson. a travelling sales agent for a Montreal dry-goods company who lived in Charlottetown. Louson played a very important role in P.E.I. history as he was one of the leading “boosters” of the Island as a tourism destination. His images appeared in leading American and Canadian magazines and his photographs were printed on hundreds of thousands of postcards. Louson has a habit of eschewing locating his images, instead he provided titles like “Rustic Scene.” “A Morning Walk,” and “Border of the woods.”

We know who. We can imagine why. But can we determine where?  There appears to be some sort of pond and my first thought was that it was one of the many creeks flowing into the rivers near the city. Several of these had been dammed to create millponds. If we look at the three mile distance from the city (or even somewhat beyond), we have Wrights (Bird Island) Creek, Gates Mills at Ellen’s Creek, Hermitage Creek and on the Southport side of the river there is the Hatchery Dam on the way to Keppoch but nothing seemes to fit the topography shown in the postcard .

The penny did not drop until I had another look at my recent posting on Range Lights and looked closely at the photo below:

Looking across Warren Pond to Warren Rear range light ca. 1910.

Looking across Warren Pond to Warren Rear range light. Raphael Tuck Postcard ca. 1910. photographer unidentified.

Here we have a lighthouse, a boat and a pond, and behind the boat what could be the rails of a fence in the water. This caused me to look much closer at the initial post card image. Although the cards are the product of two different publishers could they be taken in the same location and by the same photographer?

Enlarged detail of "Three Miles from Charlottetown" Lighthouse can be seen above boat bracketed by tree branches.

Enlarged detail of “Three Miles from Charlottetown” Lighthouse can be seen above boat bracketed by tree branches.

And then I spotted it! One tiny detail and the matter was resolved. Just above the horizon is a small dark rectangle and beneath it a barely perceptible shape that can only be a lighthouse.  When you know what you are looking at you can even see a window in the building. But this lighthouse is seen from the rear and it is definitely not the same as the one in the coloured postcard. What does look suspiciously the same is the boat and also the fence line in the water.  Both photos seem to be taken from the Ringwood side of the creek flowing into Warren Cove. The coloured postcard shows the rear light clearly and the sepia card positions the front range just behind the boat.

One thing that makes the photo difficult to locate is the fact that there is no pond at Warren Cove now, nor does it appear to have been one there for some time. A 1734 drawing shows a small pond behind the beach but it is not clear how long it lasted. None of the charts or maps of the area show a pond and yet it clearly exists in the photographs from about 1910. The 1935 aerial photograph of the area shows the place looking much as it does today with a small spring-fed creek barely trickling through a swampy area and seeping out onto the beach of Warren Cove.  One possible interpretation is that through winter storms or some other reason the outlet for the creek became blocked, or perhaps the cottagers at the Cove dammed it up  and this pond was temporarily created.  That would account for the fence line which appears in the pond. Under normal water conditions a lane may have followed the edge of the creek but as the water rose it overtopped the bank and captured the fence.

So “Three Miles from Charlottetown” is not along the banks of the Hillsborough or North River but instead the scene is across the harbour just below Fort Amherst. And it is not so surprising as Rocky Point and the Fort Lot was a popular day trip for ferry excursionists – one of whom took his camera along.

Location of Louson photo today.  Front range Light is not visible but lies behind trees on south shore of marsh.

Location of Louson photo today. Front Range Light is not visible but lies behind trees on south shore of marsh.

Today standing at the point from which the photos were taken one is greeted by a swampy marsh and a wall of White Spruce trees which block any sight of the range lights.  An area which was one of the first cleared of trees in the early settlement of the Island is reverting to the forest.

Parks Canada has elected to dismiss more than two hundred years of human habitation on this site which would have left this area cleared of trees. The early Acadians and English settlers soon used the trees on the site for fire wood and building materials and turned the land to agriculture uses. Rather than maintain the agricultural aspect of the site  the balance of convenience for Parks Canada appears to have been to ignore the human history and dismiss the impact of settlers on the land.

Riding the Range(s) – Sailing a Safe Course in Charlottetown Harbour

Long before the modern lighthouse made its appearance, the use of ranges as aids to navigation had a long history  in Charlottetown Harbour.  A range is simply a line defined by two points and early sailors learned to find safe passages and avoid hazards by lining up points on the shore.  Both natural and man-made features could be and were used. Church steeples, flagpoles and prominent barns and houses provided reference points, as did prominent cliffs, rocks and trees. For example, ensuring that one kept to the east of a line formed by lining up Dockendorff’s barn on York Point with the headland below Fort Amherst meant that you were safely clear of Trout Rock, a shallow reef off Holland Cove.  Before charts were prepared captains exchanged information about these ranges to help one another and the information was later formalized in published sailing instructions. At a time when navigation buoys often drifted off location ranges were a safer method of knowing where you were.

Detail from 1843 Bayfield Chart showing Presbyterian Church range

Detail from 1843 Bayfield Chart showing Presbyterian Church range

When the first detailed charts of Charlottetown Harbour were prepared by George Wright in 1839 and Captain Bayfield in 1843 information concerning ranges was an important part of the information included on the charts.  The ranges established then are not exactly in the same location as the current ranges marked by the present range lights in Charlottetown harbour but they performed an identical function.

Take the 1846 Bayfield chart for instance:  Running into the harbour from Hillsborough Bay one was instructed to line up two white houses on May Point (now Lewis Point)  with the edge of the bluff at Brighton. That course kept you safely in the channel through the harbour entrance. When you were able to line up a red beacon on the shore near the southern end of West Street with the spire of the Presbyterian Church you should turn to follow that line until, looking behind you could see a white beacon on the shore of Canceau Point line up with Mckinnon’s House just west of Warren Cove.  That would bring you to safe anchorage off the town. A later edition of the chart suggests that lining up the flagpole of Government House with St. Dunstan’s College would be a better line, the red beacon on West Street apparently being no longer in place.

Some Charts included small sketches of what to look for as you approached the harbour. The detail below from the 1843 Chart shows the location of Dockendorff’s barn lined up with Canceau Point as seen from the harbour mouth.

Detail from 1843 Bayfield Chart

Detail from 1843 Bayfield Chart

Detail from 1980 chart showing new range lights at Brighton

Detail from 1980 chart showing new range lights at Brighton

The modern siting of the ranges and the erection of dedicated range lights began in 1889 when two structures housing lights were built in Brighton. Known as Brighton Beach Front Range (at the west end of York Lane) and Brighton Beach Rear Range slightly further north on what had been the grounds of the Asylum the initial structures were simply masts with a lantern. These rudimentary aids to navigation were soon replaced by skeleton towers and later by more familiar lighthouse towers.   The rear tower was burned in a fire in June 1933 suspected of having started in some defect in tBrighton Beach rearhe light apparatus.  Firemen were unable to save the building from the flames that also threatened nearby cottages owing to a lack of water at the site. A temporary tower (shown in a 1950s photo) marking the rear range was erected and survived until 1968 when the current concrete tower, an “apple core” design, was built.  Over the years the front tower has been slightly re-located at least twice to deal with coastal erosion and has recently undergone renovations which recognize its heritage character. Since the lamps were first installed the quality of the lights installed in to towers has been steadily improved and the Brighton Range lights can now be seen well out in Hillsborough Bay although the development of the area has meant that there are now a great many competing lights along the shores of the harbour.


Tuck postcard ca. 1913

Brighton Beach Front Range light. Raphael Tuck postcard ca. 1913.

Meanwhile, across the harbour the range at Mackinnon’s Hut was relocated from Canceaux Point to Warren Cove in 1907 with two identical buildings constructed.  Using the new locations meant that only two ranges were required rather than several when only natural features or privately owned structures established the lines of safe passage.  The new miniature lighthouse structures were quickly adopted as another attraction for cross-harbour excursions. Although when built the small buildings were located in open fields and were visible from several vantage points the growth of trees has meant that they are not easily seen unless one is directly on the line of the two lights in the towers. (Click on any image for larger display)

A century after being put in place many of the range structures are in danger of being replaced by steel towers or eliminated completely. While GPS equipment and electronic navigation have made the task easier there are few better ways to ensure a safe passage into a port than riding the ranges.