Tag Archives: Summerside

Murder on the Not-so High Seas

Bedeque Harbour in 1841 from a chart by Capt. Bayfield. Note that Summerside does not yet exist and the wharf shown is at Green's Shore .

Bedeque Harbour in 1841 from a chart by Capt. Bayfield. Note that Summerside does not yet exist and the wharf shown is at Green’s Shore .

The Capture of the Perpetrator

When the Island Steam navigation Company’s steamer St. George left Charlottetown for Pictou on the second of November 1844 she had on board a couple of extra passengers who had been charged with a dangerous and urgent task.  A week earlier an altercation between one William Hiscox, the captain of an oyster boat called the Dart, and officers of the law has resulted in shots being fired leaving one constable, Harry Green, slightly wounded, another man, Isaac Scales struggling for his life, and a third, George Tanton, dead.

On Board the St. George were  T. Heath Haviland and John Morris who had been dispatched to Pictou to see if any news was to be had of the oyster schooner which had fled from the scene of the tragedy. It had last been seen when it closely escaped a night-time collision with the steamer St. George on her way to Miramichi a few nights earlier and the expectation was that it had escaped and was well on its way to the Gut of Canso or some other safe harbour. Haviland and Morris were to make inquiries at ports up and down the strait but there were many places in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick where the Dart could be hiding.

However, as the Morning News and Semi-Weekly Advertiser reported it appeared that “the hand of Devine Providence was pointed at the arrest of the offender and that a more severe punishment should not at present overtake him; but that he should be placed before the justice and mercy of the civil law.”

No sooner had the St. George cleared Point Prim when a suspicious boat was seen and confirmed to be the escaping villains. The St. George’s Capt. Mathewson came close aboard and ordered the vessel but it dodged back and forth in front of the steamer heading for shallower water where the St. George could not follow. To prevent this it was decided to go aboard the sailing vessel, ramming her if necessary. Given warning of the plan Hiscox replied “If you do I shall go down with her.” Finally the St. George was able to dash into the Dart and carried away the smaller boat’s main mast. Haviland jumped aboard and seized Hiscox and another man found on board. They were taken onto the St. George and secured.  The steamer then proceeded to Pictou and the next day returned to Charlottetown with the English mails and the prisoners aboard and the Dart in tow.

Oyster Scarcity, a Boarding Party, and death in the Bay

In the first half of the nineteenth century the oyster fishery was a profitable one but without re-seeding techniques it was also fragile. Overfishing could wipe out beds and exhaust the supply. Worried about the  need to supply the local market in 1843 the Island legislature passed legislation limiting the exportation of oysters to quantities of less than 10 bushels. At the time Bedeque Bay was a prime location for harvesting oysters.

The following year found a Halifax Oyster Schooner, the Dart in Bedeque harbour. On reports she was buying oysters in excess of the limits, a boat with a constable aboard was dispatched  to board her but he was warned off.  Seeking more force to arrest the schooner’s captain the boat returned later with the Under Sheriff of Prince County, a Justice of the Peace, two constables and two other men aboard.  Shots rang out as the row-boat neared the schooner and three of the boats passengers were wounded, one of whom later died from his wounds.  With no local constabulary the nearest force was in Charlottetown and after a hurried ride to the capital a ship’s boat from the Survey Vessel Gulnare with an armed party was sent to Bedeque on a somewhat futile mission as they were unable to find the Dart which had fled in the darkness.  Given the size of Northumberland Strait and the number of available ports the chance encounter between the Dart and the St. George almost a week later was indeed a slim possibility and a matter of luck.

Trial and Resolution

Island newspapers were quick to convict Hiscox for what the Morning News called a “Daring Outrage” and the Islander took consolation from “the fact that the perpetrators of this vile and inexcusable act are not inhabitants of the Island.”  In order to deal with the matter in a prompt fashion the court issued a hasty commission of Oyer and Terminer for Prince County for 3 December 1844 but even in the short period between arrest and trial some doubts were beginning to creep in.  The Halifax Times suggested that Hiscox was unaware that he was taking oysters illegally and that those attempting to arrest him acted unlawfully.

At the trial there was colourful testimony about the events of the fateful day but as the trial progressed Hiscox’s skillful lawyers, Charles Binns and Charles Young were able to introduce evidence and argument undermining the oyster legislation itself as well as the right of the constables to board Hiscox’s ship.  Although Hiscox had been indicted for murder the jury returned a manslaughter verdict and he was sentenced a three years hard labour.  About a year into the sentence he escaped and was rumoured to have had made his way to Boston.


Several PEI newspapers in December of 1844 provided detailed information concerning the trial evidence. The matter is also noted in John Mollison’s chapter on the history of Prince County in Warburton and MacKinnon’s Past and Present on Prince Edward Island.


The Challenge of “the Strait Challenge”


Route of the Strait Challenge

With the harbour in  Charlottetown still solidly frozen and with at least two of the nearly five metres of this winter’s snow still on the ground it is hard to imagine that there are just four months until the start of this year’s premier sailing race in the region.  Faced with declining interest and the need for a new race format the Northumberland Strait Yachting Association (NStYA) has torn up the schedule and developed a whole new approach.

Club-to-club Strait racing goes back some eighty years when there was competition between boats heading for the annual regattas of the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Strait. However it was not until 1964 with the inauguration of the annual Shediac to Charlottetown Race that there was a formal entry on the race calendar.   Over the years that race ran on a number of formats – day race, night race, a reversed course of Charlottetown to Shediac and while interest continued for many years, with over 100 boats competing in some races, the most recent period has seen diminished participation.  Most sailors saw the race as a rite of passage and it was a source of pride to have taken part but by definition a rite of passage happens only once. However, at least one skipper had been in the race fifty times and many others can count their participation in more than a score of years.  However, with the recent exception of a peak in the 50th anniversary year, the number of boats had steadily declined. Last year, the race was canceled owing to storm damage at the Charlottetown Yacht Club but as well there was a distinct lack of interest.  Other NStYA races in the region were also facing challenges. Many of the races in the program had become little more than club races open to visitors while the cross-strait races such as Shediac – Summerside and Pictou – Charlottetown were also suffering from low participation.  It was not just the NStYA races that were suffering as regattas and club races also saw reduced numbers on the start line. Blame could be attributed to aging skippers, the need for larger crews, time pressures and boats that seemed unable to sail beyond the harbour mouth.

At the same time new races such as week-long Race the Cape, (with a huge amount of public funding) centred on the Bras D’or Lakes and the interest generated by the one-time 150 Challenge a two-leg race from Charlottetown to the Magdalene Islands and back to Souris in 2014 suggested that a different format to the plethora of NStYA  races in the harbours of participating clubs, on a seemingly bi-weekly basis, might generate more interest.

The Strait Challenge is actually a series of four races linking the clubs active in Northumberland Strait inter-club racing. They are all day-long races with an average length of just over thirty nautical miles.  Some follow the routes of traditional NStYA races while the course for others is new. They will have the usual spinnaker and white sail classes but in addition there is a cruising rally which will follow the fleet without the pressures of actually racing.


Leg 1 – Shediac to Summerside

Leg 1 beginning on Monday 27 July follows the course of the traditional Shediac – Summerside race beginning at the Pointe du Chene Yacht Club  and a quick start to the Shediac fairway buoy.  From there depending on winds and currents boats  can follow the rhumb-line, head for the Island’s Acadian shore,  or skirt along the New Brunswick coast before striking out for the Summerside fairway and then up the narrow harbour channel to end at the Summerside Yacht Club – total distance of about 33 nautical miles. Celebrations at the SYC to follow.


Leg 2 – Summerside to Charlottetown

The next morning the longest leg of the race begins as boats leave Summerside Harbour and passing the fairway buoy head for the imposing Confederation Bridge leaving the Seacow Head Light to port. With tidal currents of up to four knots navigating the narrow Abegweit Passage provides an element of strategy and a knowledge of current patterns. Keeping out from the Tryon Shoals the boats head around the reef at the west of St. Peter’s Island, down the St. Peter’s Island shore to Spithead Buoy then into the narrow harbour mouth of Charlottetown where the finish of the 47 nautical mile leg is off the Charlottetown Yacht Club.   Charlottetown is the site of a lay-over day and boats will be able to take part in the regular Wednesday evening in-harbour race.


Leg 3 – Charlottetown to Barrachois

On Thursday it is a quick (we hope) trip almost due south to Barrachois, home of the Barrachois Harbour Yacht Club .  Sailing through Hillsborough Bay and leaving Spithead to Starbord the course for Leg 3 is set to Amet Island, thorough Amet Sound with the finish line in Tatamagouche Bay.  Although this is the shortest leg with just over 30 nautical miles as the seagull flies, it still promises a full day of sailing and the course crosses the tidal flow so there is one more factor to add to the course plotting.  Knowledge of the tide is important here for another reason, not so much for the currents created as for the fact that the entry to the marina has reduced access at low water.  There’s lots of water in the marina but one has to time when to enter and leave.

The final day of racing is Friday 31 July with the destination being the Pictou Yacht Club.  Boats will leave a start line in Tatamagouche Bay and head down the Nova Scotia Shore for Gull Rocks which mark the entrance to Caribou Channel  Leaving Pictou Island to port and close aboard the route of the Caribou – Wood Island’s Ferry the boats last major turning mark is at Pictou Road at the entrance to Pictou Harbour. Proceeding up the channel the fleet will finish the 33 nautical mile race just off the Yacht Club with the last social activity and presentation of awards.

The route down the Strait from Shediac to Pictou takes advantage of the prevailing westerly winds but experience on several of the legs suggests that  periods of calm may be experienced and most racers, especially on the Strait between Charlottetown and Pictou have memories of “holes” when the wind blew everywhere around them but would not fill their sails – that too, is racing.


Leg 4 – Barrachois to Pictou

It will  be very interesting to see if the change in format brings more of the casual sailors back to Strait racing.  Some folks are just tired of the same race courses year after year and to actually compete in the Northumberland Strait Championship has traditionally meant a commitment of almost every second weekend over the entire season.  Compacting the racing into a single week changes the level of commitment and has arguments both for and against.  Yes, competing in all the races  could mean a week of vacation time but it replaces having to take Thursdays and Fridays for delivery for every race and is probably less of a commitment overall.  Opting in or out of legs is also attractive for those with less time or interest.  Travelling with a fleet and having social opportunities at all of the yacht clubs may bring back some of the camaraderie that marked the beginning of the Association.  I especially like the idea of the cruising rally which can be a good introduction for those who would like to do more sailing but don’t want to be out in the Strait alone.

As always, this requires a commitment on the part of the Clubs themselves. In the recent past arrangement for starts and finishes at some clubs have left something to be desired and while several clubs hare noted for their hospitality others pretty much ignored the racers. Besides boats, skippers and crews the Strait Challenge will need the whole-hearted support of the Clubs across the region, and even more importantly a dedicated cadre of volunteers. Also needed are champions to promote the race in each of the five yacht clubs involved.

What ever your role –  skipper or deck fluff, racer or cruiser, race finisher or bar-tender (or bar attender),  mark your calendar for 27-31 July and tell your friends. It promises to be a great week of sailing.