Tag Archives: West River

Crosby’s Mills was popular boating destination

On almost every Island stream where the tide reached furthest inland there was once a mill and a millpond. Many have disappeared but on the West or Eliot River the site of Crosby’s Mill can still be found.  The Green or Tryon Road which was cut through in the earliest years of the 19th century crossed the West River at the head of tide and in the early 1840s a mill site was developed just above the bridge. The steepness where the road dipped into the valley from the heights of Strathgartney was a difficult climb for heavily laden wagons and carts and in 1841 an alternate and more gradual route was developed just to the south at Bonshaw.

Green Road Bridge

Green Road Bridge at Crosby’s Mills before 1907

A new steel bridge was placed on the crossing in 1907 and the hill cut down but by then the road through Bonshaw was clearly the favoured route and there was little further improvement on the Green Road.

Green Road Bridge after 1907. PARO Accession 3466.

Green Road Bridge after 1907. PARO Accession 3466.

The steel span was in place until 1962 when it was washed away and floated down to Bonshaw. A temporary foot bridge using decking over two telephone poles provided access to the eastern bank of the river.


New footbridge under construction November 2014

Bonshaw was effectively the head of navigation and a wharf was soon established there. Most pleasure boats, including early craft such as the Houseboat Doris and later those from the Charlottetown Yacht Club could go no further than the Bonshaw Bridge but smaller motorboats and canoes could, at high tide, go right up to Crosby’s.  Mac Irwin took many photos in the area and it appears to have been a popular camping and excursion spot in the 1910s and 20s. One resident reported that in the 1920s upwards of 25 boats might come up the river on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  It was also a popular fishing spot. At the turn of the 20th century Indian guides could still be hired to help anglers find the best spots on the upper West River.  Possibly the largest fish caught in recent years was a 6 1/4 pound monster taken from the pool below the mill  in 1942 by Lloyd Weeks of Charlottetown. In the late 1940s it was not uncommon for trout weights to be up to 3 1/2 pounds.  Changes in the upper river arising from the partial blockage of the river by the West River Causeway in the early 1960s had a dramatic and damaging effect on siltation and flushing of the river which is only now beginning to change.

SCH2Charlottetown Architect Charles B. Chappell sketched the busy operation on a visit to the spot in 1907. A huge pile of slabs bark and sawdust from the mill spilled into the river and no doubt contributed to the silting up of the stream, a problem which persists to this day in spite of efforts by the local watershed group to improve the flow.

Bonshaw millIn 1937, after the death of Hugh Crosby the property was put up for sale. At the time the operation consisted of a grist mill with a four stand roller process flour mill, machinery for making oatmeal, and English wheat burrs for crushing grain; a sawmill with rotary bandsaw, planer and  shingle mill; an electrical generator which provided power to nearby house; 100 acres of land, 12 of which were cultivated the remainder in wood; and a two-storey house with plumbing and electric lights. The mill itself was in operation into the mid-20th century but has since crumbled into the ground leaving only a few foundation stones. The dam has been altered and the spillway and mill race removed, replaced by a by-pass channel.

In 1936 the area was promoted by local residents as the site of the new national park proposed for the province. A public meeting in Bonshaw adopted a resolution  “most earnestly and humbly craving their representatives in Parliament and all others interested in this matter to make an honest and earnest effort to secure to site of the proposed national park at Bonshaw.”  The reasons were made clear at the meeting

The scenery is rugged, almost sublime; lofty hills, sheltered valleys, with nice stretches of level spaces, splendid forests comprising almost all the trees native to the province; a large and smooth mill dam well sheltered by hills and forest, which gives a perfect reflection; pure spring water flowing steadily from the rocks, insuring a perpetual supply of good water for all culinary and laundry purposes, a very strong water power that can be easily utilized for making electricity and for other purposes; an abundant supply of fuel consisting of good hardwood, even the good sugar maple; the moss in some parts of this locality is wonderful, reminding a person of rich, green carpet. This would be an ideal home for a few deer and pheasants. The mill dam above mentioned is navigable for quite a distance for motorboats, canoes etc.   

The park was eventually located elsewhere. However, in the 1960s much of the Strathgartney estate and land on the east bank of the river above the Bonshaw bridge was acquired through the Cotton Trust and became two provincial parks although once-popular camping and picnic facilities and services are no longer provided at Strathgartney. Recent acquisition of additional land for a new highway alignment has meant that the park or wilderness area has been much expanded and much of the river frontage has been protected.  A log footbridge on the site of the old road bridge is being replaced by a more permanent structure and a new network of  hiking trails is planned for the area.

CrosbysOn the eastern side of the valley there was still a farmstead accessed by the Green Road into the 1960s. However, in 1962  the bridge was swept downstream in a storm-created flood  and was not replaced. The road, which was steep and easily eroded, was abandoned and gradually became overgrown. Today it is all but impassable but its route can be easily found owing to the deep cutting through which it passed. The farm buildings were abandoned and torn down.

By the time of the 1976 aerial photographs the steep hillside was becoming overgrown and traces of the farms were disappearing. Forty years on the fields have become mature field spruce stands and in the steeper forested areas mature hardwoods stand over a hiking trail which goes up the eastern side of the valley to the old bridge site.

Crosbys Mill 1958

Today few boats make it up as far as Bonshaw, even at high tide, and it is rare indeed to see any craft above the Bonshaw Bridge.  However the rationale for the siting of a national park in the area in 1937 still holds. The Green Road bridge and Crosby’s Mills are still worth a  visit:  The scenery is rugged, almost sublime; lofty hills, sheltered valleys, with nice stretches of level spaces, splendid forests comprising almost all the trees native to the province.


This entry started when I discovered the postcard view of the unidentified “Pastoral Scene” looked very much with the tide head of the West River.  Bill and Elizabeth Glen’s 1993 book on the history of the area “Bonshaw: A Stroll through its Past” is most easily accessed at the UPEI Robertson Library’s Island Lives site.  Many of the references are from to PEI newspapers.  Air photos can be found at the Government of PEI map site

Red Gap


Roamer at Red Gap ca. 1920

About a mile up the West River from Rocky Point a number of brooks run into the river from the south creating coves in the low river bank.  The largest of these brooks,  Ferguson’s Creek,  has a sandy bar at its mouth and provides a fine river beach.  The gap in the low sandstone cliff gave the name “Red Gap” to the area.

Red Gap 1938

Red Gap 1938

Early in the 20th century the area became a destination for boaters from Charlottetown.  The coves provided shelter and the water was deep enough for boats to get close to shore. The sandy beach was an attraction in itself.  On the land side a grove of trees at the bottom of the farm located on the point formed by Webster’s and Ferguson Creeks soon became a camping area for those seeking more than simply a day trip.  In 1915, for example, the site was used by Archibald Irwin, proprietor of the Irwin Printing Company and sometime Kings Printer to host his annual staff picnic. Chaperoned by Mrs. Irwin the event was, according to the Guardian “…ideal in every way. ”


Boats at Red Gap ca. 1920. Runabout closest to shore at left is Hal Bourke’s “Flirt”. Large Cruiser is “Roamer”

The more social aspects of the site can be learned from a detailed account from the 7 August Guardian of the same year…

Red Gap, situated on the Wet River was last  night the theatre where was staged a thoroughly enjoyable Clam bake and lawn party of truly gigantic proportions.  Fully fifty or sixty people from the city journeyed to this resort which a large party has turned into an ideal camping site. The “Vineo” owned by Mr. Stentiford, the “Flirt” by Mr. Bourke, and the “Mutt” by Mr. Schurmnan were utilized to convey the party to the grounds. Arriving there they found Chinese lanterns strung around among the trees and a huge bonfire lighting up the scene, and –  best of all perfectly unlimited quantities of clams. Then consensus of opinion seemed to be that, to be appreciated to the full the clams should be eaten only under such circumstances and in such surroundings. A large table under the trees and lighted by Chinese lanterns was used to seat most of the party for the latter part of the evening where the more conventional fare of the lawn party made its appearance.  Mr. Malcolm Irwin’s phonograph and the mouth organ of “Bobs” McKinnion furnished the music.  “Bobs” imitation of the bag pipes being particularly good.  All the-party expressed themselves as delighted with the arrangements and entered thoroughly into the spirit of the evening. An ideal night added materially to the pleasure of the evening, the calm surface of the water being unruffled by the slightest breeze.  Small wonder that when the party broke up about eleven o’clock many expressions of regret at the necessity of departing.  It is hoped that one more gathering may be arranged  the camp breaks up. The campers are to be  upon their appreciation of the beautiful I having picked such an ideal spot for their outing. An evening under such  brings most forcefully to mind the many advantages of the Island as a resort  where such enjoyments may be had for the taking. 

Small016-2Red Gap continued to be a destination for the first half of the century. Like Holland Cove its shallow water and sand beach made it excellent for both children and adults.  It was here that many later members of the Charlottetown Yacht Club learned to  swim and sail and row and the many photos in the Weeks, Bourke and Irwin family collections at the Public Archives and Records Office attest to the popularity of Red Gap.  For many young members of the Yacht Club a trip to Red Gap was their first nautical outing. In addition, its position of shelter in a south-west  gale resulted in its being known as a safe “hole” to park a boat when the winds rose.

Ferguson and Webster's Creeks - Google Earth 2011

Ferguson and Webster’s Creeks – Google Earth 2011

Today the creeks flowing into Red Gap run less quickly and the channels are less clearly defined as the water threads over the sand and mud bars.  The shores have becoming populated with cottages and homes and the quiet and isolation that made Red Gap a “nearby wilderness” have been eroded.  While there is still good sand near the shore the bottom of the cove at low tide is now mostly mud carried down from the fields. When I went over the side of the boat two years ago my leg measured more than two feet of dark thick mud studded with razor-sharp oyster shells which cut me badly.  And, like most areas near the more populated centres the clams, if they can be found, are now no longer recommended for consumption.  Yet Red Gap, especially at high tide, remains pleasant spot to throw over the anchor and take lunch or a nap.  It is still one of my favourite Charlottetown Harbour destinations.


Up the River

Restless in the West River PARO HF.87.109.32

Restless at rest in the West River
PARO HF.87.109.32

The construction of a causeway across the West River in the early 1960s resulted in a major change in the way that river was used for recreational purposes. The Rocky Point Ferry, once an essential link in the network was eventually discontinued and the transportation to several features at the harbour mouth was limited with those with access to automobiles.

A more important change was on the river itself as the causeway ended access to the upper part of the river for all but the smallest powerboats.   With changing transportation patterns the river, for the most part, had ceased to be the commercial highway it once was. Small wharves at the bottom of farms eroded and cannot now be seen. Schooners which had carries the agricultural produce up and down the river and across the Strait were abandoned on the shore.

Schooners ashore near MacEacherns Wharf, West River PARO HF.87.109.33

Schooners ashore near MacEacherns Wharf, West River
PARO HF.87.109.33

The ferry at Westville came to an end after the building of the Dunedin Bridge about 1900.  The era ended when the construction of the causeway across the West River at Meadowbank in the early 1960s resulted in a real detriment to the use of the river for pleasure purposes which had existed for more than sixty years.

There are 7.3 nautical miles of waterway above the present causeway before the tidehead is reached at Bonshaw and for many years this was a preferred destination for pleasure boaters from Charlottetown.  The steamship service offered by the City of London and the Harland ended at Westville. Further up there was a bridge at Dunedin which barred to river to sailboats but a humped-back bridge there made it possible for motorboats to go through, especially at low tide. Even the stout Houseboat Doris was able to get up the river as far as Bonshaw. The hamlet was also the terminus of a regular motorboat service. Bonshaw also was home to a number of stores, a post office and several churches.  Small outboards and skiffs could reach Crosby’s Mills just above the Green Road bridge. westriver3Above the Dunedin bridge the river took on a serpentine shape flowing between high banks of bonshaw3the hills at Strathgartney.  There were several camping spots along the river and photo albums from the Bourke, Weeks and Irwin families at the Public Archives and Records Office are filled with photos of boats and tents and families on the river.  The Restless and the Roamer feature prominently in these pictures but smaller boats and canoes owned by Fred Small and others can be seen. Mac Irwin Bonshaw2exercised his photographic skills and took some wonderful shots of boats at rest and in action. The scenic views also gave rise to a number of postcards depicting the views along the river.

In addition to ending excursions, the West River Causeway also had a damaging effect on the river itself.  The tidal flow of the river was obstructed by the new roadway with its narrow spillway and the river above Meadowbank failed to flush in the same volumes as before. Mudbanks appeared and the edges of the river became clogged with marshes. Fish

The upper West River Google Earth

The upper West River
Google Earth

populations almost disappeared from popular “holes”. In some cases the old channels silted up.  The widening of the spans two years ago has resulted in a beginning of the  return to the old river but it may be many years before the full changes are seen.  On a more positive note, as can be seen in the image above, the steep banks and lack of easy access have kept the river area from being developed and it remains a river through the forest for much of its length. Although I cannot get my boat Ebony above the causeway I hope to row the course of the river during the summer and find the sites of some of the photos taken a hundred years ago.