Tag Archives: trade

M.V. Eskimo – Walter Jones’ one-ship merchant marine

With the exception of ferries which were an essential part of the colonial and later provincial transportation system the Government of Prince Edward Island was generally content to let ownership of shipping reside with the private sector. There were handsome colonial subsidies for some of the coastal routes but after Confederation interprovincial traffic was more the responsibility of the Dominion government and the province was to great extent off the hook. Traditional trade with Newfoundland dated back to the end of eighteenth century.  In the late 1940s the service was being provided by a number of small and irregular shippers and by the Inter-Island Steamship Company’s vessel Island Connector.  However the Island Connector was taken off the route at the end of 1949.

M.V. Eskimo in Montreal with a deck load of lumber. Photo: Mac MacKay collection - Shipfax.blogspot.ca

M.V. Eskimo in Montreal with a deck load of lumber. Photo: Mac MacKay collection – Shipfax.blogspot.ca

With the entry of Newfoundland into Confederation all that changed.  Farmer-premier J. Walter Jones was an advocate of increased trade for the Island, especially for the province’s agricultural products.  He had some success in the Newfoundland trade which up until 1949 was with a separate country and vessels were eligible for international trade subsidies from Ottawa.  However these ended when Newfoundland became part of Canada.  During the war P.E.I. had developed the export market –  the American bases in Newfoundland had become consumers of Island beef, chicken, milk, potatoes and vegetables and sales had increased elsewhere across the colony as well. Premier Jones had ambitious plans to displace British sources which had supplied the colony before the war.

Although a number of small private companies were shipping to Newfoundland this was not enough for Jones vision. In 1949 his government created the Prince Edward Island Industrial Corporation and one of the first activities of the crown corporation was to purchase a ship for the Newfoundland trade. Jones had hoped to obtain a cheap war surplus vessel from the Dominion government but was not successful and they had to search elsewhere on the open market.  Thus the province came to be the owners of the M.V. Eskimo.

The Eskimo was built in the Smith and Rhuland yard in Lunenburg in 1942.  She was part of a war-time drive to produce more wooden vessels to preserve steel for strategic purposes. The spruce and birch vessel was 168 feet long with a beam of 30 feet and drew almost 14 feet. She was powered by a 540 hp Fairbanks-Morse diesel and could accommodate twenty on board – a dozen or so crew and room for 8 passengers in double staterooms.  She was built for W.L. Sweeny of Yarmouth and was originally called the Laurence K. Sweeney (sometimes noted as Lawrence K. Sweeney). By the end of 1942 she appears to have become the property of the Royal Canadian Air Force who used her as a supply vessel for installations in the region including RDF bases used for marine and air navigation.  Under military control she was armed and her name was changed to the Eskimo, possibly because Lawrence Sweeny was an engineer on another RCAF vessel but more likely to conform with RCAF naming conventions. She made several northern voyages and in 1944 she travelled to Iceland.

RCAF Eskimo ca. 1945

RCAF Eskimo ca. 1945

In 1947 the Hudson Bay Company bought the ship for $65,000 and operated it supplying northern posts for two years. The company obtained a good return on its investment in 1949 when the Prince Edward Island Industrial Corporation paid almost $75,000 to purchase the Eskimo. One of the selling features was that the ship had a cargo refrigerator compartment of 900 cubic feet and her two cargo holds had a capacity of 13,000 cubic feet.

The ship went into the P.E. I. – Newfoundland service in June 1949 and a 10 day schedule of trips to Canada’s new province was planned. The Industrial Corporation had a novel approach to the trade. Normally goods had been shipped to wholesalers in St. John’s and distributed to the outport communities by them. The M.V. Eskimo would call at smaller communities along the southern coast between Port-aux-Basques and Argentia and at St. Pierre and promised more direct delivery.  She was the only vessel serving the south coast that had refrigeration facilities.  On her inaugural trip she visited 12 different ports. During the winter it was planned that the Eskimo would sail between Halifax and St. Pierre.

Initial response was encouraging. Potatoes, produce and hay were much in demand and the capacity for refrigerated perishable cargo was welcomed by the smaller communities. However, even in the first year the problem was one of return cargo.  The smaller Newfoundland communities had little to offer that was not already available in the Island.  Bulk cargos such as limestone and newsprint would require visits to other ports on Newfoundland’s west coast and the coat of shipping to P.E.I. and then transferring cargo to ships bound for Halifax or Montreal made the operation uneconomic.

J. Walter Jones the Premier who backed an aggressive shipping policy

J. Walter Jones the Premier who backed an aggressive shipping policy

Early in 1950 the Eskimo became the subject of political disagreement with acrimonious debates in the legislature. The opposition seized on the fact that the ship had operated at a loss and demanded answers. Both the Liberals in the legislature and the staff of the Industrial Corporation defended the operation and promised that business would increase and that P.E.I. would soon get a bigger share of the $12 million that Newfoundland was spending on imports from the rest of Canada. They claimed that the ship represented a half million dollar benefit to the Island. In 1950 the ship began loading at Summerside as well as Charlottetown and began to stop at Corner Brook as well as the south coast. That year it made eighteen trips to Newfoundland.  Late in 1950 the Premier floated the suggestion that the Eskimo could become involved in the three-cornered trade between the Island, Newfoundland and the West Indies but this was not followed up.

During the legislative session in the spring of 1951 the operation of the Eskimo was again subject to heavy criticism. The opposition charged that the money-losing provincial operation had meant that private shippers could not compete and that services to Newfoundland had actually decreased. The outport visits stopped and most of the voyages were to St. John’s and St. Pierre. After defending the decision to purchase the ship the Premier un-expectantly announced that the government intended to sell the Eskimo to “private capital” and that the ship would be used for trading between the Island and the North Shore of the St. Lawrence, competing with Quebec shippers.  He blamed some of the financial losses of the previous year on the fact that as a crown corporation the Eskimo was not eligible for Dominion government subsidies.

However it was not until the end of March of the following year that the government, in response to questions in the legislature, admitted that it had exited the ship-owning business by selling the vessel some weeks earlier to Alphonse Beauchemin of Matane Quebec. He used the ship for cargos up and down the St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and into Hudson Bay where the ship was lost near Moosonee Ontario in the spring of 1958. The Newfoundland trade was continued by the Newfoundland-owned Blue Peter Steamships which put their American-built Blue Prince on the route.

An extremely useful source for this article is Mac MacKay’s blog Shipfax which details current and historical shipping activities in Halifax.  For more on the background of shipping between Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland see Corey Slumkowski’s article titled “Let them Eat Beef” in Acadiensis 2006


Direct to Liverpool – a last hurrah for Island shipping.

With the end of the wood wind and water economy in the mid to late 1800s Prince Edward Island lost much more than a market for Island-built ships. It also lost a link to what the province saw as its natural trading partner – Great Britain.  By the end of the century even the long-standing commerce with New England was placed in jeopardy by the Tories’ National Policy which attempted to make trade east-west rather than north-south.

For a while it looked as if the Island might make the transition to the new shipping technology. The creation of the Ocean Steamship Company of Prince Edward Island by a group of Island capitalists and the building of the steamer Prince Edward in 1873 meant that the ideal of direct shipping and trade with England persisted for a while but the Company was soon forced to send the vessel further afield for cargos and the idea of a regular Charlottetown-Liverpool trade was abandoned. (Boyde Beck has given a partial history of the vessel in The Island Magazine for Fall/Winter 1991). While communications and trade with the rest of the Maritimes and New England had improved with the arrival of steamers of the Island Steam Navigation Company and companies such as the Plant Line the direct shipping to England was sharply reduced.

Charlottetown Guardian 8 December 1901

Charlottetown Guardian 8 December 1901

In the meantime the Island’s chief exports shifted from shipbuilding to agriculture but that too had changed as the Twentieth Century arrived. Manufacturing of dairy products began in earnest in the late 1880s and processing of other foods such as meats and lobster resulted in the production of new commodities.  This shift, coupled with the belief of Island shippers that England represented an untapped market resulted in several attempts to revive the direct connection.  The Charlottetown Board of Trade took a leading role and Horace Haszard, a shipper and insurance broker who was president of the Board lobbied strongly for the direct connection. There were two direct shipments made in 1899 and the efforts were continued.

Late in 1901 the effort seem to be paying off again. Aided by a government subsidy the Furness Withy Steamship Company agreed to try a direct Charlottetown – Liverpool sailing.  Furness Withy, founded in 1891 was already providing steamers between Montreal and Liverpool and Halifax and Liverpool. It was to go on to be one of the largest shipping companies in the world and over its life as a company had over 1,000 ships under its control.  In November 1901 Haszard, and W.W. Clarke, shipping agent, advertised the expected arrival of the S.S. Ulunda but Furness Withy substituted the S.S. Dalton Hall (sometimes Daltonhall), a larger ship.  The change may have been the result of the high level of interest from shippers. Applications had been made for space for 3.000 sheep. thousands of boxes of cheese, 4,000 cases of canned meat as well as quantities of butter, eggs, bacon and apples.

S.S. Daltonhall 1899

S.S. Daltonhall 1899

The Dalton Hall arrived early in December and loading commenced. The ship was relatively new having been launched at Hartlepool on the Tees in 1899. It was  a large ship; 3539 tons, 337 feet long by 45 feet wide and drawing 25 feet of water.

When it sailed on 17 December its holds contained a full range of the agricultural and fishing products of the province: 2869 cases of tinned meat, 3970 boxes of cheese, 873 cases of tinned lobster, 268 cases of bacon, 4 barrels of oysters, 58 tons of hay, 90 barrels of apples, 100 cases of eggs and numerous other goods including one sleigh, and one barrel of chain. Livestock shipped (in the days before frozen meat) consisted of  54 boxes of poultry, 57 cattle and 1302 sheep. A notice for “those desiring to see the mother land without paying a fare” indicated that fifteen men would be required on the ship for the care of the animals. How they were to get back to the Island was not noted.

Horace Haszard

Horace Haszard

The vessels making the three Charlottetown – Liverpool direct trips between 1899 and 1901 resulted in a total of 3,204 sheep and lambs, 181 head of cattle, 120 tons of bacon, 5,500 bales of hay as well as other products being carried across the Atlantic. Boosters, including the Charlottetown Guardian took pains to remind readers that these shipments would not have been possible if the cargos had to be transferred in Halifax and that only a direct route would satisfy the need.  A few days after the Dalton Hall sailed the shippers of Prince Edward Island published a public testimonial to Horace Haszard in the Charlottetown Guardian thanking him for his efforts on behalf of the Charlottetown Board of Trade.  In 1903 he captured the Liberal nomination for Parliament and in 1904 was elected to the House of Commons in a by-election.

However successful the three trips had been, they were insufficient to create a lasting trade link.  Island farmers and shippers became more dependant on vessels making a stop at Charlottetown between other ports. Part of the problem may have been the scarcity of incoming goods as more and more of the Island’s goods were coming from central Canada and the United States rather than the mother country. While there were other goods crossing the Atlantic from P.E.I. it is probable the Dalton Hall was the last steamer to carry a full cargo from Charlottetown to Liverpool. Furness Withy maintained an Atlantic service but it called at Halifax and Montreal. It appears that the Dalton Hall never returned to Charlottetown Harbour.