Tag Archives: St. Peter’s Island

“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.

First description of Charlottetown Harbour and Hillsborough Bay 1752

Contrary to common belief Samuel Holland was not the first to make a detailed study of what is now Prince Edward Island, although he was the first to measure it accurately.  During the French period a number of visitors left accounts. One of the most important of these was by Sieur de la Roque who carried out a detailed census in 1752, twelve years before Holland set foot on the Island.  De la Roque left an account of the communities and all the families encountered on the  visit. He was not however alone on his expedition. With him were Jean-Louis Raymond, Governor of Louisburg, and Raymond’s secretary Thomas Pichon. The party travelled along the north shore as far west as Malpeque, crossed to Bedeque, back to Port La Joie then to Vernon River (Grand Ascension),  to Pisquid (possibly overland) and then down the Hillsborough River.

Eight years later Pichon published his account from which the following is excerpted.  Originally published in French the English translation has some irregularities; “ance” is translated as “creek” when really cove or bay would have been more appropriate.  There are also a few irregularities or errors regarding direction  Readers should be aware that a league is about three miles and a fathom is six feet.

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Detail from a French map of Ile Saint Jean ca. 1722

We are now returned to Port de la Joye, of which I shall give you a sketch. This harbour, called the creek [bay] of Point prim, is formed by a point of this name, situate on the lands south south-east of the entrance of the port and by the north-west point situate on the lands north north-west of the said entrance. These two points are the south-east and north-west. The distance from one to the other in a direct line is seven leagues and a half, with two in depth and seven in circumference.

The channel is situate north north-east, and south south-west of the entrance, and runs up to Port de la Joye. The depth is general from seven to eight fathoms at low water, and in some places nine. The breadth, though variable, a reckoned a quarter of a league.

The most skillful pilots of the country affirm, that when you are in five fathoms water, you have not yet entered the right channel, but that you should sail near the wind, according to what direction you are in. Upon your entrance you leave the Governor’s island to the right, but take care of the shoals, which run out considerably into the main, and are large cluster of rocks. The Governor’s island is of a round figure, about a league and half in circumference and half a league in breadth. There is a great deal of timber of different sorts and vast plenty of game.

Detail from place name map by Georges Arsenault 2008. Copyright Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island.

Detail from place name map by Georges Arsenault 2008. Copyright Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island.

To the left also upon your entrance you leave the island of the Count of St. Peter, which is much more accessible than the Governor’s island, the shore being very level. It is a quarter of a league long, and four hundred fathoms broad, being covered with pine and fir trees. You may even wade over the bar, as it is quite dry at low water, beginning from the north-west point. Upon this bar and all along the banks of the island, there is a prodigious quantity of bustards, crevans, and woodcocks.

Port de la Joye is situated at the bottom of the creek [cove] of La Joye, five leagues from Point prime, making the circuit from point to point. It is formed by the Rasberry point, situate on the lands to the eastward, and by a point A la flame, situate on those to the west. These two points lie east north-east and west south-west. The distance between them is but a quarter of a league. The channel that runs just in the middle between the two points, may be three hundred fathoms, where it is widest at low water.

The road [anchorage] is a quarter of a league from the entrance, between those two points, distant one from the other  a quarter of a league,. There is good holding ground in nine fathoms and a miry bottom. Three rivers disembogue themselves into this road, from the west, north and north-east.

The mouth of the west river is formed by one of the latter points, situate to the left ascending, and by the north point at the distance of a quarter of a league. This river runs four leagues into the land and is almost everywhere of the same breadth.

The mouth of the north-east [north?] river is formed by the north point of the west river, and by the east point of this north river, distant from each other about a quarter of a league. It runs four leagues up the country

The north-east river is formed by a point towards the entrance to the right, and by the east point of the north river. These points are north west and south east and the distance from one to another is nine hundred fathoms. This river runs nine leagues up the country. It is one of the best planted [settled] streams and not without good reason, for the soil being light and somewhat sandy, is the more proper for culture.

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Title page from English edition of Pichon’s account 1760

After taking  view of all those places, we arrived at the river of the Grand Ascention, three leagues south [south-east] of Port de la Joye. It is formed by the west point and that of the birch-trees, situate on the lands to the eastward. They are distant from each other by a quarter of a league. This river divides itself into three branches, which run east, north and west, about three quarters of a league. They are navigable for small vessels. At the further extremity of the north-west branch, a little rivulet joins this stream, and is of sufficient rapidity for erecting a sawmill upon this spot, especially as there is plenty of wood at hand. All these places are more or less inhabited, in proportion to the goodness of the soil; but as the people live some distance from one another, as well as from Port de la Joye; when I have concluded my account of such places as merit attention I shall give you our calculation of the number of inhabitants. After surveying the rivers above mentioned , we went into the little river of Peugiguit, and thence to the river of the Saw-mill and thence to the River of Whites, and in each place we took notice of the habitations till at length we arrived at the Bush-creek, situate on the river to the north-east, and from thence to the Dead-creek, to the Little Ascension, and to the Pirogues.

Leaving the Pirogues, we set sail for the Count of St. Peter’s creek [cove], doubling the points of Marguerite and Framboise, and arrived there in half an hour. The country round this place is pretty good, but there are no pasture grounds, consequently no cattle. They have the same want at the creek of the Pirogues, which is supplied from the Little Ascension.

At a small distance from Count St. Peter’s creek we found that of the Seamen. They are both situated on the south side of the Bay of Port de la Joye. I do not intend to send you a description of them , since they are remarkable only for their popularity.

Pichon continues along the shore of the bay, then around Point Prim and to Pinette. He then moves to a discussion of the climate of the Island. Following his tour of Cape Breton and Ile St.–Jean, Pichon was stationed at Beausejour and turned traitor by sharing secrets with the English. Following the war and the fall of Louisburg he lived in London. The full text of his book of travels can be found here

St. Peter’s Island Light

 St. Peter’s Island does not have the same mysterious aspect as does the other island in Hillsborough, Governor’s Island.  Although St. Peter’s is larger (about 1.5 nautical miles by half a nautical mile)  it does not seem quite so isolated.   In fact, at low water it is possible to cross from Rice Point on the sand bar.

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 St. Peter’s does not have the colonies of seals and cormorant, blue heron and eagle rookeries and is, for the most part thickly wooded. But St. Peters may have more human history for unlike Governor’s it had a long history of a resident population. In fact up to the middle of the 20th century there were homes and farms on the Island and the inhabitants numbered in excess of thirty in the 19th century.  Most of these were members of the Taylor and Lund families.  The Taylors, especially were associated with the marine history of the area. They operated a lobster cannery on the Island and served for three generations as keepers of the St. Peter’s Island light.

IMG_2886There was a light on the island from at least 1866 with the current building dating from 1881.  The tower stands 38 feet with the light 48 feet above high water.  The lighthouse originally stood at the western tip of the island marking the long reef  extending into Northumberland Strait  but in the winter of 1883-1884 it was re-located to its present site on the south side of the Island.  The light required a keeper until October  of 1947 when it was replaced  by an unwatched electric light. Like other lighthouses on the Island it faces an uncertain future as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is determined to get rid of as many lights as possible as St. Peter’s does not have a community or organization to take over responsibility for the light.

navionicsWhile one can visit the Island by crossing the bar  at low tide it is not easy to visit by boat.  The St. Peter’s reef extends more than a mile to the east and west of the Island and the north side has a wide area of shallows.  In most parts of the shore it is necessary to anchor well off and row ashore.  However to the south deep water can be found right up to the cliffs on which the light sits.  However this is the unprotected side of the Island and there are no coves or anchorages which are sheltered from the prevailing south-west winds.  On returning from Victoria earlier this week (3 July) I was becalmed off the St. IMG_2889Peter’s Light and took the opportunity to go ashore.  There is a small indentation in the cliff just west of the light which allows an easy climb to the cliff-top.  There is no sand in the cove  and I was forced to haul my dinghy up on the rocks which were being uncovered by the falling tide.   The cove had trapped more than ten mussel buoys and other flotsam  but was hardly a welcoming location. Climbing the cliff I looked back at Ebony to make sure that the anchor was not dragging and I dragged myself up to the grass at the top

As can be seen from the Google earth view the southern part of the Island is open. At one time herds of cattle were driven over from the mainland to graze for the summer. Sine the IMG_2895practice was discontinued the spruces are taking over what were open fields. What remains is a magnificent wildflower meadow with several varieties of field plants all in bloom.  In the midst of this stands the light tower, still in relatively  good condition.  Unlike other lighthouses in Prince Edward Island this one is scarcely visited and the  vegetation is unmarked by paths, ATV tracks and discarded beer tins and bottles.

IMG_2894  The best view from the light is to the east towards Spithead.   The light overlooks both the meadow and the spruce woods and cliffs beyond.  The meadow promises evidence of the century and half of habitation of the Island as there are flowering shrubs which must have been part of farmsteads  and there are no doubt cellars and wells if one knows where to look.  Somewhere too, is the foundation of the Taylor lobster factory and of the school which served the isolated community.  But this is private property so one treads lightly and not for long. Another visit may be called for – perhaps earlier or later in the season when the mosquitos  relent somewhat. As it is the only souvenir I took back to Ebony was a cloud of dozens of the biters which took the best part of two hours to track down and eliminate.

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