Westville Ferries


Westville Ferries:

                For the early settlers of the West River, transportation along the river was absolutely vital for survival. The distance separating Westville from Charlottetown, was approximately forty miles; a distance much too far to travel with freight of any size.  Scows operated on the river as early as 1836, tenders were called and the regulations insisted the boat must be flat bottomed and no less than 16 feet in length and not less than a 16 foot keel for passengers, luggage and cattle. The scows were to be manned by two able and steady men, and to only operate between sun up and sun down. It has been noted, the scows have operated between Meadowbank at MacEachern’s, and MacEwen’s at Westville for approximately 85 years.

                Steamers operated on the Elliot River on a scheduled basis as early s 1863. An ad in the Islander on May 27, 1863 stated: “On Monday, Thursday and Saturday, the steamer would make stops at Rocky Point, McEachern’s and MacEwen’s wharves.” Steamers also made excursion trips along the Elliot as early as 1856. One steamer in particular, the Rosebud, transported passengers to the picnic grounds at Westville. Other memorable steamers to ply the West River included the SS Southport, constructed in Summerside in 1875. This vessel was 102 feet long and 27 feet wide. She spent 21 years plying this route, although service times were never reliable.[1] The SS City of London was the largest steamer to serve the Westville Wharf with a length of 120 feet and a width of 27 feet. The City of London was leased from Quebec for a period of five years, and operated on the river from 1903-1908. The steamer carried a crew of nine men, and included a carpeted cabin complete with a piano and the capacity to transport up to 500 passengers.

    City of London Ferry c. 1905

          The SS Harland made runs up and down the West River from 1908 to 1938, carrying passengers and cargo. The steamship had a length of 113 feet, and width of 27 feet. She was owned by the Island Tug Co., and bore twin 33.3 horsepower engines. She served for 27 years straight with the exception of the year 1918, when she was put into service on a Nova Scotia Route. The Harland was the main public passenger ferry which ran up the river each Saturday with Captain John MacLaine at the helm. The steamer was capable of holding up to 200 passengers on its two passenger decks.[2] The Harland made her final trip in the fall of 1935 and was the last steamer to operate in Westville. In November of 1936, the Harland was sold to Straits Shipping & Contruction Co. in Sydney, Nova Scotia. [3]

                                                  The Harland Ferry, PARO 

Below is a text taken from a newspaper clipping, reminiscing about the Harland and other ferry boats written by Joseph Devereux - no date. Notes are taken directly from the clipping

The West River provided a convenient alternative route - via the ice in winter and by boat in summer. For years a succession of steamers had carried passengers and freight between Charlottetown and West River Bridge with stops at MacEwan’s Wharf, but this service was unsatisfactory in that it was limited to one weekly trip which was made on Saturday. Although the people of the area had long attempted to have the schedule changed to a market day, their efforts had always fallen short of success.         

My first memory of a steamer at West River Bridge is of a paddlewheeler which, I believe, was on loan from the Rocky Point Ferry service. Somewhere about that time, the Almeds, a conventional type craft, took over the run and remained until replaced several years later by the City of London, a much more larger and more ornately-appointed packet.

                I recall a day when Robert MacPhail of New Haven brought down a half dozen steers for shipment to a Charlottetown dealer. The animals were perfectly docile, and went aboard without protest to their tie-ups on the lower deck. As the City approached MacEwan’s Wharf, her whistle broke into its familiar earth-shaking blast, to which the steers responded by snapping their tie-ropes and plunging over the side. The last of the six was rounded up several weeks later in the vicinity of Bonshaw.

                At the expiration of her contract the City returned to the mainland and her place was taken by the Harland, a smaller, plainer, and much more serviceable boat.

                For most country people, a trip to town by steamer was, in part, a business matter; to a greater degree it was a pleasurable outing. Especially was this true of the first spring run, after the ice had cleared out of the river. This event was eagerly anticipated by the younger male adults members of the community who, with a long, drab winter behind them, were agog for the excitement of a day in the city before settling down to the labour of spring planting.

                It was significant that seldom, if ever, were ladies to be found among the passengers on this initial voyage of the season; experience had taught them that the return trip was likely to be something other than peaceful or serene.

                Shortly after the advent of the Harland, gasoline-powered launches began to come into use. These ran from Bonshaw to Charlottetown, with stops at several intermediate points. The public, long resentful of the steamer’s Saturday schedule, was quick to shift its patronage to the newcomers. With rapidly dwindling revenues, the Harland soon became a financial liability and was sold to a Cape Breton concern.



[1] The Island Register, Ship Data, www.islandregister.com/ship_data5.html

[2] Violet MacEachern & Arlene MacDougall, Our West River Heritage, 1996


In Partnership with