formerly the Archives and Collections Society
Early shipping in Prince Edward County
The beginnings of Prince Edward County as a permenent settlement can only be dated back to 1784 when Loyalist ancestors chose to forsake the comfort of a settled abode for the rigours of a pioneer wilderness
Transportation in Prince Edward County for many years depended upon the waterways, and all shipping and travel was done by boats. This county has had a great history as far as water transport is concerned. It is a history that involves many boats, and many men, whose names are almost legendary. And so numerous were the boats, particularly in the days of sail, that the names of many have been lost in the mists of antiquity.
From the middle of the nineteenth century, the vigor which had been in the blood of the early Loyalist pioneers seeking difficult tasks rather than easy acceptance of conditions as they were, manifested itself in the building of merchant schooners. These were vessels of sail, destined to make the name of the County known over more than Lake Ontario alone, as the builder and the leading builder of sailing vessels in this province. There was hardly a cove or an inlet on the county shore-line that did not launch a vessel for the cargo trade.
During the days of the barley and hop trade here, many local men owned their own boats, and used them in the barley trade, taking loads across the lake to Oswego. These were not only privately owned, but in most cases were sailed by the owners, with members of the family as crew. To furnish a detailed list of all these boats would be well-nigh impossible.
With the passing of the barley days, a number of the smaller boats passed out of use, and as trade widened larger boats were called into service. Several of these were county owned and county built.
Gradually steam power came to supplant the slower and less commodious sailing vessels, and for many years, Picton and all Bay of Quinte ports were popular places of call for many of the larger boats. Although steamboats made their appearance as early as 1866, a reference having been found in an old newspaper to two side-wheeler boats operating here at that time, the sailing vessels did not disappear from the Bay for over sixty years thereafter. Even as late as 1927, occasional loads of coal were brought across from Oswego by sail. The last of the sailing craft to operate here was the Lyman M. Davis, which was burned at Sunnyside, as a spectacle for the multitude at the Toronto Exhibition in 1933.
Although it is impossible to give a list of the sailing vessels of outside the district build and register, which called at the Bay of Quinte ports, the names of a few have been preserved. They are for the most part the larger vessels. To name several: Kathryn of Hamilton, Nellie Hunter, Fabiola, Annie Minnes, Acacia, Katies Eccles, Wm. Jamieson, Bertie Calkins, Oliver Mowat, Persia, Olivia, Lyman M. Davis, Maggie L. The last named was a survival of the barley days, a blunt-nosed, single-masted craft, which had been used as a grain vessel, and later was used in the coal trade.
Many of the earlier vessels were of a similar type to the Maggie L., and were used exclusively in the grain trade, and with the failure of the barley trade they passed into oblivion. Many of them were built here in the county by their owners, and were staunch, seaworthy craft, and weathered many a heavy sea with holds filled with grain, and even with huge deck loads. The "Pacific", built at Roblin's Mills, Sophiasburgh, carried a cargo of bones to Liverpool.
The first power boats introduced here seem to have arrived around 1866 and were the old side-wheelers. The first two mentioned in early records were the St. Helen of Montreal and the Bay of Quinte. They were captained by Capt. E. D. Smith and Capt. Frank A. Carroll respectively. The first screw propeller boat to be introduced here appears to have been the Flight, with Capt. Louis Collier on the bridge. Another early boat was the John Greenway, which had originally been built as a private yacht, and which did not survive the new use for very long, but was later built over.
Following is a partial list of passenger, freight and steam boats which for many years plied these waters: Caspian, North King, Ella Ross, Reindeer, Aletha, Brockville, Deseronto, Varuna, Lamonde, Quinte Queen, Algerian, Corinthian, Magnet, Spartan, Bay of Quinte, Corsican, Niagara, Alexandria, Passport, Argyle, Shannon, Norfolk, New York, Belleville (first a passenger steamer, then cut down to a barge).
Early barges included the Belle Wilson, Saxon, W. M. Egan, Fairfax, Porter, Aberdeen (burned on the ways near Glenora; a few timbers may still be seen in low water), and the Waterlily.
None of these boats now call in the Bay. In fact, most of them have either found watery graves in storms, or have been sold and wrecked. A few of the later boats have been taken off this run, sold and converted as tow barges, or the smaller ones have been converted for use on canal service.
The Hepburn Fleet
The Hepburn Fleet, built up by the late A. W. Hepburn of Picton, was at one time an outstanding means of transportation and for many years the Hepburn boats plied the bays and lakes and carried large cargoes of freight as well as many passengers. In its heyday the fleet comprised twelve boats-Alexandria, Empress of India, Geronia, Niagara, Argyle, L. S. Porter, Aberdeen, Water Lily, W. M. Egan, Fairfax, Rob Roy, Riccarton.
Some twenty-five years ago the fleet was sold out to the Canada Steamship Line, which now continues the water transportation facilities for heavy freight to and out of Picton during the summer season. During the rush of canned goods shipments, two and three of the C.S. Line call at Picton every week and load large cargoes of canned goods.
Prior to the disposal of the fleet, Mr. Hepburn was accustomed to laying his boats up in Picton Harbour for the winter, and a great deal of work was provided for local men in the repairing, refitting and painting of the boats.
Today there is only one locally owned freight boat, the Glen Allan, owned by the Bay Quinte Transportation Co. (Hepburn Bros.). And there are no passenger boats plying the Quinte waters, nor have there been any in a good many years.
Boats Built in County
In the earlier days when the water ways were the only means of transportation, Prince Edward gained a reputation as a boat building county, and there were a number of dry-docks in the county where many fine boats were built. Although it is impossible at this time to reproduce all the names of the boats built and launched from here, a fairly comprehensive list has been secured. There are undoubtedly several smaller craft which were privately built during the barley days, any record of which has been lost, except it be in the memory of some of the older of the county's residents.
Records show that shipyards were located at Case's wharf and mill near Point Traverse; at the old Cooper Bros. wharf and store on the north side of South Bay; at Black Creek Bridge; at McKenzie's Point on Smith's Bay; at the head of Picton Harbour, and at Roblin's Mills, Sophiasburgh, on the Bay below the hill. There were also shipyards situated at Rednersville, Wellington and Hillier. In the vicinity of fifty vessels of various types were built on these shipyards; today they remain only as a memory of those earlier pioneer days before the advent of the railways, and later motor transports.
The first boat built here, according to available records, was the Hamilton built at Minaker's Point, on the property of the original owner, John C. A. Minaker. Capt. Curran was in charge, when she entered the lumbering trade. Lady Hillier and Lord Wellington were built by James Pierson In Hillier township. Lord Wellington was launched Nov. 2, 1833.
During the late '50's, '60's and '70's, many boats were built along the shore lines of the county.
Many Sailing Craft Built Here
Following is a list of five sailing craft built at Case's wharf in the early days of the industry:
More data as regards date and place of building have been secured about the following sailing vessels.
Records for the following are not complete:
This last group of vessels were built in the earlier days of the trade at the dry-docks near Cooper's wharf.
At the Black River docks, beside those mentioned in the larger list, were the Gold Hunter and the Hibernia, both built by Tait. They were schooners.
The list should also include the names of the Phoebe Catharine by Tait; Steamer Belle and Arnunia, by Tait; Two Bros., Tait; Flora Varveth, Tait; Sea Bird, Tait.
Of the over seventy vessels listed here it will be noted that the majority of them seem to have been built by one Tait, who appears to have been a master ship builder. Redmond and A. W. Hepburn appear to have been the next largest builders.
At the present time, Picton is the main inland harbour for the Bay of Quinte area for the loading of water-borne cargoes for the markets of the world. Goods are brought to the local docks from an area of more than ffity miles. It is not uncommon to see ocean going vessels loaded at the Picton docks for overseas destinations.
[This document, author unknown, from a manuscript dated 1936. We have neither edited, nor corrected known errors]
Copyright © 2012
Revised: 31 March 2012