Tag Archives: S.S. Aranmore

All the world’s a pier

 All the world’s a pier,
And all the sail and steamers merely vessels;
They have their arrivals and their sailings;
And one ship in its time sees many ports,
With apologies to the Bard.
Some ships lead a solitary existence barely straying from the ports of their launch and their end – either dramatically through wreck or peacefully by reason of scrapping.  That certainly is the case with many of the steamers such as ferries for which Charlottetown was almost the only port. Other vessels played a multitude or roles in their visitation to the port. Such is the case with the S.S. Aranmore which over a forty year period was a frequent and sometimes regular visitor to the harbour but for many different  reasons and under the management of several different owners and operators.
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S.S. Aranmore

The Aranmore was built in 1890 by the W,B. Thompson & Co. yard in Dundee Scotland. It was a general cargo steamer of 1170 gross tons, 500 net tons and was built for the Clyde Shipping Company of Glasgow.  Besides its cargo capacity the Aranmore also was a passenger steamer with accommodation for 75 first class passengers, 20 second class and 100 steerage and deck passengers. Clyde Shipping had developed a regular coastal service to Cork and Waterford and to Galway Bay, the Shannon estuary and Limerick. A service to Plymouth was later extended to Southampton, Newhaven and London. From 1888, the deep-sea tramping trade saw the company heavily involved in the guano, nitrate and copper trade in the Pacific islands. After fifteen years serving the Irish Sea ports the Aranmore was purchased by the Holliday Brothers  company of Quebec which had been awarded a five-year mail contract for ports on the Quebec North Shore and the vessel also extended service to Charlottetown and Sydney. In the fall of 1905 the Aranmore was chartered from Holliday’s by the Plant Line to replace the S.S. Halifax  sailing from Charlottetown to Boston. The following year, still owned by Holliday’s, she was sailing under the Dobell Line operations and again regularly stopped at Charlottetown, this time on a passage from Montreal to St. John’s. During this period the ship was occasionally charted by the Dominion government for lighthouse supply.   
At the end of 1913 Holliday Brothers ended their steamship operations and sold their vessels, the Aranmore being acquired by the Dominion Government and re-registered as a government vessel in 1915. As the C.G.S. (Canadian Government Steamship) the Aranmore was primarily engaged in the lighthouse and buoy service, although on several occasions the vessel was chartered by Clarke Steamships for their Quebec North Shore service. 
In 1916, pending the opening of the car ferry service a the Capes,  the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company had sold the steamer Empress to the C.P.R and the Canadian Government acquired the company’s Northumberland, attaching it to the Canadian Government Railways. The following year the Island had a bumper crop of ships carrying freight and passengers across the Strait. The Northumberland mainly served on the Summerside to Point du Chene route. Construction of the ferry terminals at the Capes was still underway and so the rail ferry was crossing from Charlottetown to Pictou but its capacity was limited as freight had to be transferred from rail cars to the ship and then unloaded by hand at the other end of the crossing. Rail shipping became backlogged at both ends of the crossing and early in 1917 the Government advised that P.E.I. Railway that the Aranmore would be detached from other duties and put on the Charlottetown – Pictou route to assist.  Throughout the 1917 season the Aranmore was a regular sight in Charlottetown harbour supplementing the voyages of the S.S. P.E.I.  One trip in July 1917 showed a glimpse of the Island’s future as the steamer carried 60 passengers, one motor truck and nine new automobiles for dealers including Bruce Stewart, Horne Motors and Grant & Kennedy.  In addition the load also included one railcars worth of paper, one of bran, two cars of corn and 1,200 sacks of cement.    
By the end of 1917 the ferry terminals had been completed and the S.S. Prince Edward Island was in full operation at the Capes. Although the Aranmore continued on the Pictou route until freeze-up it was clear that the carferry would be able to handle the traffic in the future. Government operated steamer service from Summerside to Point du Chene was halted and the Charlottetown-Pictou route was handled by subsidized private operators. (see the Constance, Magdalen and Hochelega)  
The Aranmore was then moved to the Yarmouth to Boston route where the vessels had been taken off the service for wartime duties. It was leased to Eastern Steamship Lines to meet a demand from Nova Scotia shippers for a continuation of the New England connection.  When Eastern Steamships was able to secure new vessels for the route the Aranmore was returned to lighthouse duties.  

Belle Isle North End Lighthouse. One of the facilities serviced through the 1920s and 1930s by the Aranmore from the Charlottetown base.

In the 1920s Charlottetown was the primary depot for the Gulf of St. Lawrence with responsibilities extending to the Strait of Belle Island and beyond as well as a number of Newfoundland lighthouses. The Aranmore saw lighthouse duties along the north shore of the Gulf and into the Strait.   Late in 1919 the Aranmore had been stranded in an attempt to carry  supplies to marooned and starving wireless operators at Battle Harbour and two crew members spent the winter ashore in shacks maintaining the ship. It was  not pulled from the shore until September of 1920.  Throughout the 1920s the Aranmore was normally attached to the Charlottetown Marine Agency during the season and was laid up in Halifax over the winter, occasionally making voyages to Sable Island.  A large number of the ship’s crew were from Prince Edward Island.

The lighthouse work continued through the 1930s but in 1938, as the Aranmore was approaching almost 50 years of age the Government announced that the ship, along with two other vintage vessels; the Bellechase and the Lady Grey would be scrapped and a new combination icebreaker and service vessel would be built. However with the outbreak of World War II scrapping of a ship that was still operable would not have been a wise decision and early in 1940 the ship was sold to the Halifax-based salvage company Foundation Maritimes, then engaged in essential war work. The ship was re-named the Foundation Aranmore and served throughout the war in the Foundation fleet along with the better-known salvage tug Foundation Franklyn. At the conclusion of the war she was purchased by Wentworth MacDonald of Sydney who had owned a number of other vessels, such as the Constance, with P.E.I. connections. He held onto the Foundation Aranmore for only as year and it was sold to Cuban interests and was stranded, salvaged and sold in 1946. 
Like an actor playing different parts the Aranmore had been in P.E.I. waters for many years as a part of operations of Holliday Bros., Clarke Steamships, Dobell, and Plant Steamships and the Dominion. It had served as a passenger carrier, a ferry, a buoy tender, lighthouse supplier and general marine spear carrier.   Often crewed by Islanders it was a familiar sight in Charlottetown Harbour, a reminder of how much of a port Charlottetown once was.  

Henry Plant and The Boston Boat

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S.S. Halifax at the Plant Line Wharf about 1893

For more than half a century the arrival and departure of the Boston Boat were regular occurrences on the Charlottetown waterfront. Although one could, by using a combination of Northumberland Strait Steamers and the rail lines across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, travel from Charlottetown to New England through Halifax, Saint John or Yarmouth the benefits of a direct, no-transfer passage were obvious.

The north-south coastal links between PEI and New England were, for most of the period, far stronger than any relationship with Quebec and Ontario and the trade and opportunity offered in the “Boston States” meant that many Islanders travelled back and forth on a regular basis and many families had links to Massachusetts.

One of the first companies to capitalize on this relationship was the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company which began a regular service in the 1860s and which operated as the Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Line.  Although this firm served the Island for more than twenty years it is its successor, the Plant Line, that is more often associated with the term “Boston Boat”

Plant line001With round trip fares as little as $10.00 and little more than an overnight trip, Boston was much easier to reach than central Canada. The booming New England economy was a real draw for Islanders who developed a noticeable presence in Boston and communities such as Lynn.  There were thousands of Islanders in New England. Some went for seasonal employment others put down roots and formed an expatriate community. It seemed that almost every Island household could boast of cousins in the Boston States and for those cousins a regular vacation back home was an important part of maintaining the connection.  The Boston Boat was their link to the Island.


S.S. Halifax in Charlottetown

In 1892 Henry Bradley Plant had acquired control of the Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Line.  Plant  had a large railroad and shipping conglomerate in Florida competing with Henry Flagler.  Flagler operated on the east coast of Florida while the Plant lines serviced the west coast. They competed with one another on the service to Cuba. Meanwhile the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company had been formed in 1888 and commissioned the S.S. Halifax from the London and Glasgow Shipbuilding Company in Glasgow Scotland.  This 250 foot vessel had a beam of 31 feet and her triple expansion engine provided 390 horsepower. The Halifax was to stay on the Charlottetown – Boston route until 1915.  Initially cooperating with one another to reduce competition, the two shipping companies were combined early in 1893 to form the Canada Atlantic and Plant Steamship Company, usually referred to as the Plant Line.

SS Olivette in Florida

SS Olivette in Florida

Plant contributed his steamer Olivette that ran in the winter between Tampa, Key West and Havana to the enterprise. The Canadian service initially ran only between Boston and Halifax but was extended to Charlottetown when the English-built 1786 ton ship Florida joined the fleet. The Florida had begun life in 1889 as the S.S. Hondo  operated by the Honduras and Central America Steamship Company.


S.S. Florida

After being acquired by Plant the 230 foot long ship underwent extensive re-building with much of the passenger accommodation being relocated to the spar deck and large saloons built in their place on the lower deck. Equipped with electric lights the ship was well finished to serve in its role as both a passenger and freight vessel. The Florida operated on routes of the Plant Line on both the New England – Maritimes service and in the Florida – Gulf of Mexico service.   Most of the Plant vessels vessels ran to Charlottetown (usually via Port Hawkesbury), others served Sydney.  The ships ran only  in the summer season and were transferred to Florida and Cuba routes for the winter season.

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Newspaper illustration for La Grande Duchesse’s first visit to Charlottetown – Guardian 3 July 1899 p. 3

In 1896 Plant ordered a new boat for the fleet.   At 404 feet, La Grande Duchesse was larger than any other boat serving the port of Charlottetown. Luxurious accommodation was provided for 700 passengers and she was one of the first boats to be provided with telephone service for every stateroom.  She was designed to travel between New York and Charleston in the winter and link with the Plant Railway system to Florida and Cuba. Her 6300 horsepower engines were expected to drive the vessel at 20 knots. Unfortunately the design was unsatisfactory and she did not perform as expected. Returned to the builders for modification she did not run to Charlottetown until June of 1899 and was sold out of the fleet soon after. Following a number of changes of name and ownership she was lost when sunk by a German submarine in 1918.

SS A.W. Perry

Plant Line Steamer A.W. Perry

Henry Plant died in 1899 and the firm came under the control of Alonzo W. Perry and other Boston investors who continued the service to Charlottetown with the Halifax and the S.S. Beverly, a former 1600 ton fruit carrier re-named the A.W. Perry (after the president of the company), described by at least one writer as “a very inferior boat.” In 1906, the same summer that the A.W. Perry began service, the company also ran the 3300 ton, 350 foot, Pretoria, giving twice weekly service to the port. Over the years the Plant Line ran other boats to Charlottetown including the S.S. Aranmore which was later purchased by the Canadian Government and was for many years  a frequent visitor to Charlottetown in her role as a Dominion Government buoy tender.

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S.S. Evangeline

Increasing freight and passenger traffic on both the northern and Florida routes resulted in the company ordering two almost identical new ships, the Evangeline and the Yarmouth, from a Glasgow shipyard in 1912. The Evangeline was added to the Charlottetown – Boston  service and was easily the most luxurious and fastest ship to cover the 660 mile route. She had 260 staterooms for her 580 passengers and carried a crew of 95. Like most of the other Plant Line ships, the Evangeline led a dual service existence sailing in southern waters in the winter and returning north each year like a migratory bird. The Plant Line ships were pioneers in the southern cruise trade which continues today.  Kevin Griffin’s Cruise People website tells the story.

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S.S. A.W. Perry ashore at Chebucto Head 1915

The outbreak of the Great War brought almost immediate changes.  Traffic numbers plummeted, costs, especially for steam coal, climbed and by 1916 the submarine menace had become a real threat.  At the end of that year the Plant Line announced the suspension of its Canadian services.  The Evangeline was taken out of service and eventually sold to the French Government. The A.W. Perry had been wrecked at Chebucto Head owing to navigation errors in 1915. The Halifax had carried on until the end of the 1915 season and the next year came only as far as Halifax. In 1917 she was sold and disappeared with all hands on a voyage from the Azores in 1918.

The loss of the service was keenly felt although with the new Rail Car Ferry S.S. Prince Edward Island there were alternative all-land using routes using through train connections as well as continuing services to meet steamers at Halifax, Yarmouth and Saint John.  However the business never returned to pre-war levels.  It is perhaps telling that in her last trip in December of 1915 the Halifax carried her largest freight load ever -20,000 bushels of potatoes and turnips – but not a single outward passenger.  The Charlottetown Board of Trade and individual merchants lobbied for a reinstatement of the service and as late as 1925 there were rumours that express passenger steamships would return to the Boston, Halifax, Hawkesbury and Charlottetown route. It was not to be. The Plant Line vessels had provided a level of luxuriousness and efficiency which was never to return to the harbour. Charlottetown’s Boston Boat was another casualty of the Great War.