Tag Archives: Shediac

“A Sea-cook is a Peculiar Character …”

Anyone who sails will tell you of the importance of having someone aboard who can cook. Food achieves an importance aboard that is barely contemplated on land – especially on a long voyage.   This was perhaps more true in the 19th century that it is in the 21st.

In 1884 Samuel Greene Wheeler Benjamin, an American author, took an extended cruise of the Gulf of St. Lawrence which began in Charlottetown. A year later his book, The Cruise of the Alice May was published in New York and contains an account of his experiences and observations on the region. Benjamin was a prolific writer who had  a varied experience as a diplomat to Persia, an art historian, a marine artist and a travel writer. His work was published in several popular magazines and he produced a number of books on varying topics including two which contain early descriptions of Prince Edward Island 

Benjamin and his three companions arrived in Charlottetown without having secured a ship for their cruise in advance of their arrival. Rather than embarking on a sleek yacht (of which there were few in Charlottetown)  for the two-month exploration they instead engaged the captain and crew of the Alice May, a trading schooner out of Miminegash. The ship was a fifty-six ton vessel, fifty-nine feet long and sixteen wide. Lacking passenger accommodations the travellers took over the hold of the vessel to make a snug cabin. The crew, however, lacked a cook and Benjamin in the course of describing the preparations for the adventure detailed the void that this left in the arrangements and the steps taken to correct the omission:

It is needless to go into the details of the provisions stored in the schooner for a cruise of two months. Everything was ready, the rigging overhauled, the last nail pounded in: the winds were favorable and yet we were detained at Charlottetown day after day, unable to sail. It was a cook that we waited for: What was the use of having provisions, fuel, or galley, without a cook? A sea-cook is a peculiar character, requiring a special training. He must know how to prepare a sea hash out of salt horse flavored with onions, incrusted with the variegated browns of polished mahogany, and savory enough to create an appetite in a stomach that the tossing waves have rendered as sensitive as the needle of a compass. He must also understand how to make eatable bread, and take his duff out of the kettle on Sunday as light as cotton and as delicate as sponge-cake. Besides this, he must know how to economize in the use of water and provisions; and, more difficult yet, he must contrive to keep the crew satisfied with the mess he cooks for them, while at the same time he looks out sharply for the interests of his employer and the captain. He must also be proof against the worst weather, and undeviatingly punctual to the hours of meals. It goes without saying that it is not an easy thing to find such a paragon in the galley; but when he is there, he is, next to the captain, by far the most important character on board. We had made up our minds that it would be difficult to find a cook in Charlottetown, combining such exalted qualifications, who would be willing to go for such a brief cruise, and were prepared to take up almost any one that offered. But we were not prepared to meet such a gang of shiftless, shuffling, vacillating, prevaricating, self-complacent, exorbitant, and utterly good-for-nothing varlets as those who applied for the position, or whom we discovered after chasing through the lanes, sailors’ boarding-houses, and purlieus of Charlottetown. Over and over again we thought we had engaged a man; but when the time came to sail, he was not to be found. At last, out of all patience with the whole business, we telegraphed to a friend in St. John, New Brunswick, to send us a cook, and that we would pick him up at Point du Chéne. No reply had arrived to the telegram when we sailed, and thus we started without a cook, in a sort of vain hope of stumbling across one at some port.

While the self-catered trip to Shediac was not without its adventures, including a grounding at the entrance to the harbour, there was a delay at the port.  The cook arrived in Shediac from Saint John before the Alice May arrived. He then took the steamer for Charlottetown to meet the sailboat. Meanwhile the schooner was bound for Summerside (described by Benjamin as “mere naked cluster of warehouses and uninteresting, cheaply-constructed dwellings”) and then, failing to find the cook which they had been told to expect, across the Strait. They were forced to wait in Shediac, which Benjamin noted “offers few attractions to the tourist,”  for several days until the cook retraced his steps and joined the crew to Benjamin’s great relief;

With no end of inventive culinary resources; he was indefatigable in the discharge of his duties, sober and faithful to the interests of his employers. Happy the ship that sails with such a cook, and happy the diners who batten on his beefsteak and onions, hash, roly-poly and tea.

An on-line text of the full Voyage of the Alice May, including line-drawings by one of the crew, is available through Google Books and can be found here

 

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P.E.I. Ferry Terminal was a Major Infrastructure Project

Ferry Terminal Pier at Carleton Head. Note the third rail on the pier. There was no need of a roadway as everything went back and forth by rail. Several temporary buildings of the construction camp can be seen on the point.

In 1912 Carleton Point was little more than the sea-side edge of a farm located a mile or so to the north and west of Cape Traverse. The latter community was the jumping off point for New Brunswick. The undersea cable of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company landed at Cape Traverse and the community was also the Island end of the winter ice-boat route. It boasted a pier that extended into the Strait and in 1885 a branch line had been added to the Prince Edward Island railway to join the pier to the Island’s rail system.

Pier-head during storm conditions. At least one of the pier cribs can be seen through the spray.

A year later the farm at Carleton Point had been converted to the site of a work camp for the building of the ferry pier. After years of agitation and delay the Dominion Government had committed to the development of an ice-breaking rail ferry service to the Island. Even before the issuing of a contract for construction of the vessel government engineers had been examining options for the route. On the New Brunswick side the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Railway ran from Sackville to Cape Tormentine and as this was the narrowest part of the strait the choice of the Cape was a foregone conclusion.

Winter scene at Cape Tormentine with barges and tugs. The existing rail line and wharf made construction here easier than on the Island side

On the P.E.I. side it was not as clear. Although Cape Traverse had a pier and rail connection the waters of Traverse Cove were shallow and unprotected. In fact, there was little protection on the Island side at all and the decision was made to create a new port where deep water could be reached fairly easily.  However the prevailing south-west winds and strong currents meant that the exposed shore would have to be well-protected by artificial means.

Strom waves at Carleton Head. The inner tower of the tramway can be seen on the still-wooded point.

Carleton Point (Carleton Head on some maps) had been named in 1765 by Samuel Holland for Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester and for the next 150 years appears to have escaped notice. It was here however that in 1913 work began on what was to be a massive project. The contract for the Island side construction was awarded to the Roger Miller Company of Toronto.  At a time when there were no services in the area everything, telephone lines, roads, wells, housing for workers and the building of construction  equipment had to be undertaken at the site. The nearest rail access was three miles away and no wharf or breakwater stood on the exposed shore. Transport of goods and equipment was hampered by the ban on automobiles and trucks on the roads from the main port at Summerside.

Outer tower of the tramway. It had its own steam power station with two boilers and an engine as well as generators to provide lighting. The stone blocks were positioned using the cable and then dropped into place.

One of the first tasks was the building of a powerhouse to supply electrical services and the electric generators and the steam machinery were continuous consumers of coal. On of the most evident pieces of equipment was a cableway carrying the huge stone blocks making up the pier and breakwater.  An island was created 1800 feet from shore and one end of the cableway built there with a 110 foot tower, the other end was on shore. At the peak of operations eighty railcar loads were put in place each 24 hour period.  The stone was brought on scows shuttling between Carleton Head and a quarry on the Scoudouc River near Shediac.  Work continued day and night lit by 43,000 candlepower searchlight on the top of the high cable tower. At a time when the brightest light was an oil lamp the light from the towers could be seen for miles around.

Derrick placing stones on the breakwater at Carleton Head.

The Carleton terminal structure was just over 1/2 mile long; a 2,000 foot pier and the landing slip of 740 feet.  The slip consisted on nine concrete cribs 100 x 30 feet joined together on site.  The cribs were built in Shediac and towed to Carleton where they were put in place and filled with quarry stone.  By the time the terminal was completed over 250,000 tons of quarry stone, some weighing as much as 10 tons,  had been put in place.  The transfer platform linking the rails on shore to the rails on the ferry itself was built by the Dominion Bridge Company  of Montreal and erected on-site. The mechanism raising and lowering it to adjust to the tide was powered by another steam powerhouse located on the wharf.

Tugs hauling cribs from Shediac where they were built. Once positioned they were filled with rock to form the actual terminal structure.

By the close of operations in December of 1914 the breakwater had been constructed up to low water and the pier had reached some 1500 feet from shore.  The new branch line connecting with existing Cape Traverse subdivision, a distance of 2 1/2 miles had been constructed but grading had been almost completed and the rails had been laid. In September 1915 tenders were called for the building of the rail facilities at the shore end of the terminal. A station, water tank, engine house, transfer platform, standpipe, ash-pit and turntable foundations were built to accommodate rail operations. Initially all tracks had a third rail to carry both narrow-gauge PEI Railway cars and the standard gauge Intercolonial Railway cars which would come across on the ferry.  A transfer station allowed goods to be moved between one type of car to the other.

Carleton terminal structure as it neared completion. Dredges and derricks are still at work but the apron for loading cars onto the boat is in place along with the steam powerhouse which controlled its movement.

The turning basins at both piers had been dredged to a depth of twenty feet at low tide but as the S.S. Prince Edward Island drew that much there was little margin for error and continuous dredging became an almost permanent part of the operation of the port for the next few years.

Completed pier as seen from the breakwater.

In August 1916 a Guardian writer foresaw a fine future for the town. Beautifully situated in the midst of a prosperous farming district, possessing natural attributes as a summer resort with a broad sandy beach, excellent sites for a golf course and summer cottages, having the potential to be a warehousing and distribution centre for the province. By November a decision had been made by the Dominion Government about the name for the town to be built on the cliff overlooking the ferry terminal and rail yard. It was to become Port Borden, named after Robert Laird Borden, the country’s Prime Minister.  Carleton Point became Borden Point at the same time.

When the regular ferry service began in October of 1917 the outlook was bright but town failed to fulfil its earliest expectations.  Rather than stopping at Borden travellers lost little time passing through to Charlottetown, Summerside and tourist destinations. Although planned using modern design principles, possibly by leading town planner Thomas Adams of the Canadian Conservation Commission it did not develop its potential as a regional centre and was primarily a dormitory town for the ferry workers. The busy work of being a distribution centre and transfer point disappeared when the standard gauge rails were extended across the province.

NOTE – Photographs used in this posting are from the Robinson Collection at the P.E.I,. Public Archives and Records Office Accession 3466/74.91

 

 

 

Flying Boats Made Shediac an Air Hub

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Boeing 314 Clipper at Pointe du Chene wharf, probably in June 1939. Photo from Mac Irwin Album. Photographer unknown.

In 1939 sailing enthusiasts from Prince Edward Island were given another good reason to visit Shediac. In June of that year the harbour became one of the links in a chain that crossed the Atlantic and giant flying boats landed and took off from the sheltered bay. It was the wonder of the age. The photo above was probably taken on the occasion of the first flight.

For a few brief years in the late 1930s it looked as if the future of trans-Atlantic transportation lay in both the sea and the air, and Shediac was near its centre.  The flying boat, with its promise that any relatively calm body of water could serve as an airport, trumped the limited range  of the aircraft of the day. Shediac had been one of the ports of call of the Italian “airmada” which brought 24 Italian air force flying boats across the Atlantic in 1933 and when trans-Atlantic passenger flights were planned Shediac was positioned on the arc of flight which saw flying boats leave Long Island Sound near New York, fly up the Atlantic coast, across the Gulf of St. Lawrence  to Newfoundland and then take the long flight to stop in Ireland before reaching Southampton, England. The boats could have easily flown directly from New York to Newfoundland but the Canadian government demanded a landing in Canada in exchange for the rights of overflight.

Postcard view of Pan Am Clipper at Shediac 1939

Postcard view of Pan Am Clipper at Shediac 1939

The port did have some advantages in addition to the political trade-off. Besides its sheltered harbour Shediac was also close to the railway leading to central Canada and still had rail links to New England. Canadian mail could be added to the cargo during the brief stop. The wharf at Pointe du Chene served as the air harbour and a customs house, passenger terminal, maintenance facilities and administration offices were constructed. The first schedule saw the Clippers leave New York on Saturday morning, touch down briefly at Shediac, for another stop in Botwood, and arrive in Ireland on Sunday.  By 1945 the service operated three flights per week.   Poor weather could result in overnight stays in Shediac, the inaugural flight was held up there for three days owing to fog in Newfoundland.

The route which included Shediac, Botwood Newfoundland and Foynes Ireland as intermediate stops between New York and Southampton had been tested in 1937 but it was not until 1939 that the service was inaugurated. The first flight carrying mail left New York on 24 June 1939 and the passenger service began on 8 July. The delay had allowed Pan American Airways to use the latest aircraft and peak of flying boat design, the Boeing 314 Clipper, on the route.

The Boeing Clipper was a huge for its time, 106 feet long with a 152 foot wingspan (3/4 that of a 747). It could cruise at 188 miles per hour and had a range of almost 3,700 miles. Pan Am’s “Clippers” were built for “one-class” luxury air travel, a necessity given the long duration of transoceanic flights. The seats could be converted into 36 bunks for overnight accommodation. The 314s had a lounge and dining area, and the galleys were crewed by chefs from four-star hotels. Men and women were provided with separate dressing rooms, and white-coated stewards served five and six-course meals with gleaming silver service. The standard of luxury on Pan American’s Boeing 314s has rarely been matched on heavier-than-air transport since then; they were a form of travel for the super-rich, priced at $675 return from New York to Southampton (comparable to a round trip aboard Concorde). Transatlantic flights to neutral Lisbon and Ireland continued after war broke out in Europe in September 1939 (and until 1945), but military passengers and cargoes necessarily got priority, and the service was more spartan.  While in the deluxe sleeper layout there were 36 beds and a private suite the planes could carry up to 74 passengers along with a total of 10 crew.

b-314-cutaway-interior-174-webThe Clippers in theory could land in the Atlantic in case of mechanical problems but more intriguing was the fact that any of the four engines could be serviced or repaired in flight as engineers had access to the engine compartments through walkways inside the wings.  It was not uncommon for in-flight engine repairs to be carried out by flight engineers.

The winter icing-up of the harbours in Shediac and Botwood made the service a seasonal one. Pan Am maintained a number of southern routes via Bermuda and the Azores, or down to South America and across to Africa and back up the coast, both routes terminating in Lisbon. The shorter North Atlantic route had the time advantage but prevailing headwinds had a negative impact on cargo capacity.

Although flying boats were near the peak of aeronautical technology in 1939 rapid advances were made during the war. The ferrying of more than 9000 land-based long-range aeroplanes  by RAF Ferry Command led to practical use of such planes for passenger service and by war’s end the flying boats with their relatively low capacity and high cost had been made obsolete.  By 1946 when the last Clipper was taken out of service, 455 trips had passed through Shediac. However with the closure of the Pan Am flying boat service Shediac’s role in aeronautical history came to an end.

In a collection of photos belonging to the Bentley family additional photos of the clipper visit to Shediac were located. Thanks to Eric Bentley for permission to post these shots: