Tag Archives: Trinidad

The unfulfilled promise of a Montreal to Charlottetown steamer connection

The mid-1850s were a period of optimism in Prince Edward Island. Population had increased, responsible government had been put in place, a free education act was in operation and in Charlottetown, the incorporated city had replaced the town.  In the harbour, communication with the mainland had become reliable with a steamer connecting with Pictou on a regular basis. There was a sail packet between Charlottetown and Boston. In 1857 there were even two competing ships on the route, the schooner Eglantine and the clipper brig Gelena, and in 1858 a new schooner, the Carrie M. Rich, 129 tons engendered the enthusiasm of the Examiner newspaper “We have never seen anything destined to walk the waters that appeared to us better calculated for her work than she is.”  There were also vessels that plied the direct route between Charlottetown and English ports. All looked positive on the communications front – with one exception.

The Island was less well-connected with Canada. In the early 1830s the Royal William, later to be one of the first vessels to cross the North Atlantic under steam power, made several stops in Charlottetown while operating between Pictou and Quebec. Another false start occurred in 1852 when the steamer Albatross, ostensibly owned by B.W.A. Sleigh made two voyages between New York and Quebec with a stop in Charlottetown but the attempt was unsuccessful, if not fraudulent.  Direct connection with Montreal was more of a problem as the shallow Lake St. Pierre in the St. Lawrence River between Quebec and Montreal had restricted passage to vessels drawing less than eleven feet. However, under the direction of the Montreal Harbour Commission a program of dredging had been begun, and by 1853 a channel had been deepened to 16 feet allowing direct passage of ships of up to 500 tons. This opened Montreal to the world, but not necessarily with Prince Edward Island  

While several steamship lines were established at this time to exploit the possibility of direct connection to England, the advantage of links to what at the time were called “the Lower Provinces” was also given attention. In 1858 the Montreal Gazette noted:

We are glad to observe, that our rising trade with the Lower Provinces is attracting attention. An effort is being made to obtain the advantages of direct steam communication … This could be efficiently secured by a line of three strong steamers adapted for steam navigation with good passenger accommodation and of sufficient power to make a weekly trip from Montreal to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and vice versa, touching at Riviere du Loup and Rimouski, and thus securing and accommodating the large Canadian travel to the watering places of the Lower St. Lawrence, then at Gaspe, affording outlet to the important trade of that district, and and next at ports in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia before arriving at the terminus of Prince Edward Island. Such a line would command a large and remunerative business. It would attract a tide of ocean pleasure travel and it would develop and build up our interprovincial trade.  Besides the passenger traffic, it would have down freights of flour and provisions, and return cargos of fish, sugar, and molasses. With the legitimate businesses that would speedily be developed, and subsidies from the Lower Provinces and Canada to foster it until self supporting, the interprovincial line would be a feeder in the ocean line of steamers, and would do much to advance the interests of all the provinces.   

The editorial opinion was picked up by other Montreal and Quebec newspapers and was re-printed in Charlottetown’s Islander, and the idea of Charlottetown as a terminus of interprovincial trade was no doubt attractive and would provoke the attention of Island merchants and shippers. However there was at the time little trade between the Island and Quebec, and the limited cargos of oats and other produce moving west, and even less from Canada to Prince Edward Island. Halifax and New England provided adequate outlets for Island surpluses and the Island’s merchants were serviced by direct shipment from the United Kingdom or New England. Moreover passenger traffic from Canada to the Island was slight at best, and Island family links with Montreal, later to increase significantly, were limited.    

The idea of a direct steamer service between Prince Edward Island and Montreal was not sufficiently attractive to attract the investment of the Montreal capitalists who were funding a number of new steamship lines such as the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company and the Canadian Steam Navigation Company. The former company, under the direction of Hugh Allan was the most successful, becoming known as the Allan Line and later as Canadian Pacific Steamships and it was for many years a serious competitor to the Cunard and White Star lines on the profitable North Atlantic route. 

Examiner 6 September 1869

In 1860 the steamer Lady Head, owned by the government of Canada and operated as the Royal Mail Line began a subsidized regular service between Quebec and the Maritimes but the terminus for the service was Pictou and the vessel only rarely stopped at Prince Edward Island.  Instead, the smaller cross-strait steamers such as the Westmorland, and later the ships of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company; the Saint Lawrence and the Princess of Wales provided connecting services for Island-bound passengers and freight at Pictou and Shediac.  It would be almost ten years after the Montreal Gazette writer wrote about the promise of direct steam communication between Prince Edward Island that it became a reality. The Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Company established a regular service in 1869 with vessels such as the Miramichi, and Secret, and later the Campana , Orinoco, and the Trinidad. links were considerably strengthened with the Island entering the confederation in 1873. Other passenger and freight lines provided service even after the Quebec-based company creased operation.  The steamer links would endure into the second half of the 20th century.        

Cruising to New York – The S.S. Trinidad

Postcard showing the Trinidad ca. 1910. Phil Culhane collection. http://www.peipostcards.ca/collection/

In spite of the extreme difficulties associated with winter travel across Northumberland Strait, in the other three seasons of the year Prince Edward Island was reasonably served with the “continuous steam navigation” sought in the  confederation agreement.  With direct services to the mainland across Northumberland Strait, to Montreal and Quebec through the Gulf, and to New England via Halifax and Boston one could get from the Island to just about everywhere served by steamship and rail – if you weren’t in a hurry.

Most coverage of P.E.I.’s international connections has centred on the “Boston Boat”, the regular steamer service provided by at least one, and often more, steamship lines. These links pre-dated confederation and lasted until the Great War and served the trade links and flow of population between the Island and New England.

What is less well-remembered is that the province had direct steamer service to New York for several years early in the twentieth century. The Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Line, later the Quebec Steamship Line, had run a service between Montreal , Quebec and Pictou, stopping at Summerside, Charlottetown and Gaspe for several years.  At the same time the company  had regular sailings between New York and Bermuda, a service which had begun in 1874 and continued for more than forty years.  One of the vessels used on this route was the steamer Trinidad.

SS Trinidad at Bermuda ca. 1890 before being lengthened. Note the single funnel.

The Trinidad was built for the Quebec Steamship Company in 1884 at Deptford on the Wear River in northern England. She was 270 feet long and the 2100 ton ship operated primarily as a freight vessel with limited passenger accommodation.  She had been built specifically for use on the crossing between New York and Bermuda but also travelled elsewhere in the West Indies. The run was profitable and nine years later the Trinidad was sent back to the Wear and was rebuilt in Sunderland. Forty feet were added to her length and tonnage increased to 2600 tons. A new engine was installed and the look of the vessel was significantly changed with the addition of second funnel. More importantly cabins and saloon were overhauled and renovated and new accommodation added.  She was now capable of carrying 170 first class passengers.  The New York Times stated she looked like a miniature liner.

Stern view of the Trinidad

In 1908, the tercentenary of Champlain’s voyage of Quebec the company began a summer service using the Trinidad to travel from New York to Quebec stopping at Halifax and Charlottetown.  Following the stranding and loss of the Campana the Trinidad took over her duties on the subsidized Quebec to Pictou Service and the further use of the vessel to go to New York was suspended for the rest of the season although it resumed the following year.  A review describing the vessel appeared in the Quebec Chronicle in June 1909

SS Trinidad at Gaspe

[She is] fitted up in the most modern style as a passenger steamer. Her salon, a handsomely furnished apartment is situated amidships, and has accommodation for nearly 200 passengers. Immediately forward of the salon is the ladies sitting room, most tastefully fitted up and furnished …[and aft], a cosy smoking room, where gentlemen can enjoy a quiet smoke of their favourite brand … while discussing topics of the day. There is also a music room in  which both sexes can meet and listen to the music of a first class piano … staterooms are lofty, well ventilated, and comfortably furnished. The passages to them are wide and lofty, being richly carpeted. On the upper or boat deck is a promenade extending nearly the full length of the steamer. This deck is covered with canvas awnings and is well supplied with chairs.  

In the winter season the Trinidad returned to the Bermuda run which became increasingly popular and the ship turned from being mere transportation to a cruise experience. In 1911, for example,  advertising notices appeared such as one in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle touting the Quebec cruise which covered 1500 miles over five days. “The voyage during the summer months is a veritable yachting trip, and the rates of passage so low that it is brought within the  reach of the most moderate income. “

In fact there were great differences between the New York Service and the Boston Boat. The former  was primarily a cruise line. Charlottetown was a port on the route rather than the terminus and the main business was the tourist. For those wishing to get from New York to Quebec there were much quicker rail connections.  The Trinidad made the round trip only once every two weeks and only in the high summer season  while the Plant Line had a regular weekly or semi-weekly service which began in the spring and extended into the fall.  While the Plant Line Steamers did have a major cruise component it was still very much a shipping line.  Some Islanders did travel to New York on the Trinidad but it never did have the same intimate connection with the Island as the Boston Boat.

In 1913 the Quebec Steamship Company became part of Canada Steamship Lines and the following year the Quebec to New York service was cancelled. During the Great War the Trinidad was used to carry supplies across the Atlantic and between England and France. Prior to the United States entering the war in 1917 the Trinidad was known to have travelled under a false name and neutral registry port. The ship was sold in 1917 and was torpedoed in March 1918 while travelling between Rouen and Liverpool and sank in the Irish Sea.


The Campana – A two-part ship


S.S. Campana in Pictou ca. 1903. Warwick & Rutter postcard

With the attention given by historians to the problem of “continuous steam communication” and the connections between Prince Edward Island and Boston and across the Strait it is often forgotten that there was regular steamship service between Charlottetown and Quebec and Montreal for much of the 19th century and well into the 20th century.   Although links with New England remained strong after confederation there was increased trade with Quebec both through the Intercolonial Railway and the several steamship companies that served the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

One of the most important of these was the Quebec Steamship Company. In 1895 their ship on the route for more than twenty years, the Miramichi, was retired and was replaced by the Campana. This vessel had an interesting history. Built in 1873 on the Clyde at the Glasgow Scotland yard of Aitkens & Mansell it was configured as a freighter.  A large vessel for the time, it was 240 feet long, 35 feet in breadth and drew more than 20 feet.  It had a 225 horsepower, two-cylinder engine which turned two separate screw propellers. Originally named the S.S. North its first owner was an Argentinian. The new name, Campana, may have referred to a community near Buenos Ayres.

The ship first saw service in the South Atlantic and had a South African owner until 1881 when it was sold to the Canada Lake Superior Transit Company. The ship was too large to fit through the existing locks on the St. Lawrence River and the ship was cut into two parts in order to pass through the Welland and St. Lawrence canals.  At the shipyards in Collingwood the sections were rejoined and passenger accommodation was added to the freighter. The cutting and re-joining of vessels was not unusual but in most cases it was because  a vessel had been built in Great Lakes shipyards but destined for ocean service. Another legacy of the Great Lakes period for the Campana was the placement of the wheelhouse well-forward on the vessel. She was one of the earliest twin screw vessels on the lakes  and was used for four years by Cornelius Van Horne’s Canadian Pacific Steamship Line between Toronto and the Lakehead. She later travelled between Kingston and Chicago but this was not successful and she was taken out of service.


McCord Museum M930.50.1.52 | S.S. Campana

On the sale of the ship to the Quebec Steamship Company it had to come back down the canal route to Montreal  so the ship was once again cut into two parts to transit the locks and then re-assembled in Montreal with a number of improvements including replacement of bow bulwarks with railings, removal of her sailing rig and additional deckhousing.  A report in the Quebec Chronicle newspaper described her on her arrival in the city in July of 1895:

Handsomely furnished; the staterooms, which are on the upper deck, are light and airy, and fitted with every modern improvement. One advantage of the large saloon is that it is clear from the fore to the after part of the vessel, thus leaving plenty of room for those dining there. Her commander, Capt. Baquet, is an experienced and popular St. Lawrence trader, and he was heartily congratulated on obtaining command of such a fine vessel, which is undoubtedly an acquisition to the lower port trade, for she is not only able to take more cargo than her predecessor, but the accommodation for the passengers is also superior, and this, combined with making a much faster trip, should make her a valuable boat for shippers and a popular boat with the travelling public.    

SS Campana in Summerside. Phil Culhane collection

The routing followed by the vessel included Montreal, Quebec, Pointe au Pere, Gaspe, Perce, Summerside, Charlottetown and Pictou. At Charlottetown passengers could transfer to the Plant Line Boston Steamers for an all-sea trip to New England or at Pictou join the railway  to cross to Halifax. The combined fare from Montreal to Boston was $29.00   For more than a decade the Campana was a regular visitor to Charlottetown harbour, usually stopping once every ten days or two weeks usually on her way both up and down the Strait.  Although the trip was slower than by rail,  the Campana passengers were spared a number of transfers between the railway and the Steam Navigation Company cross-strait ships and changes of trains in Summerside, Shediac, Moncton and Quebec.  Island shippers were able to ship directly to the Quebec and Montreal markets and the cargo manifests included cheese, oysters, and potatoes.


Campana in the harbour at Gaspe

In 1908 the Campana was joined on the run by a new and larger ship, the Trinidad, but the next year was her last. On an early June trip from Summerside to Montreal she went aground a few miles below Quebec City. The passengers were safely removed but she could not be pulled off and as bottom plates gave way as she settled and broke in two – a legacy perhaps of her history of double cutting and stitching.  She was abandoned to the underwriters and never sailed again. Besides the loss of the 36-year old vessel it was noted that the cargo of several thousand bags of potatoes worth between $15,000 and $20,000 could not be recovered.

Campana 4

This image appears to be a version of the coloured Warwick & Rutter postcard shown above but with more detail visible.

Because the Trinidad was too large to enter Summerside harbour it lost its regular steamer service. The company also lost the link to New Brunswick through the severing of the connection with the Summerside-Shediac steamer.

The Quebec Steamship Company later became part of the large Canada Steamship Lines.  CSL ships still come into Charlottetown but instead of passengers they bring gravel and they take nothing with them when they leave.


Once again I am indebted to Kevin Griffin for his fine work on the Gulf of St. Lawrence shipping history found in his blog on the history of Clarke Steamships. Other sources are from Prince Edward Island and Quebec newspapers.