The card shows a stretch of beach curving in an arc toward a point. The card title reads “North Shore, Prince Edward Island.” There is a lot of shore on the north side of Prince Edward Island and it could be almost anywhere, but it certainly isn’t. Just where was this scene?
In many years of exploring the backroads and beaches of the Island I have become a bit of a geographical nerd and an image without a location is just the sort of challenge that I savor. To have a postcard location, even one more than a hundred years old, that I could not find, made my internal compass spin. Where was this nameless beach?
I began with what I could see on the postcard. Assuming that the information in the title is correct I could eliminate a lot of coastline which is either broad sandy beaches or rocky cliffs. This is a shore that has not been shaped by the full brute force of northern gales. The fact that the trees seem to grow almost to the narrow beach suggests that this is a more protected shore. The beach itself has a different character from those at Cavendish or Dalvay or Kildare. Even in the uncertainty of an undated black and white photo one can tell that this is not the pristine white sand of a coastal barrier beach. Colourized editions of the post card give the shore a brown or grey tone but this is a product or artists who have never seen the red soil of the Island. It looks more like a protected shore such as one might find in a bay or along a river. But there are no shortage of those spots on the Island’s north shore either. Cascumpec, Malpeque, New London, Rustico, Tracadie and St. Peters bays and the streams flowing into them are all candidates for placing the image.
One of the more important clues lies in the background to the image. In the distance there are farmsteads on the horizon atop a gentle slope and it is probable that they are adjacent to a road running along the slope. However buildings can appear or disappear over time and while useful they are not always the final determination of a location. In addition there is a thicket of woods on the slope above the shoreline. Again, woods can be harvested and made into fields and the reverse process of fields growing up into woods must always be a possibility. As is often the problem with shore views, the passage of a century often means that both the views and the viewpoints can be altered through coastal erosion. Even the loss of a few inches a year can add up to a substantial change over time. Lacking specific land marks one must look toward more general land forms.
The postcard series in which this image appears, published by Valentine and Sons, dates from 1906, more than 110 years ago, and it could have been an even earlier photo used by the publisher so a change in the view since then is a real possibility. That being the case I began to look for likely locations. There are surprisingly few photo images of the north shore area. Because of travel limitations folks did not visit the shore as casually as they do today. As early as the 1860s a few spots began to be developed but as all-inclusive destination resorts rather than day visit locations. There were a few farm-house inns in areas near spots such as Malpeque and Brackley and full blown summer hotels were constructed at Stanhope and Tracadie.
One of the earliest of these hotels was at Rustico where John Newson operated the Seaside Hotel. The hotel faced across the mouth of the Clyde River towards the fishing port of North Rustico and had its main bathing beach just across the channel at Robinson’s Island where bathing houses were located. The hotel had been opened in the 1860s but really began to thrive after 1874 when the railway opened a station in Hunter River which meant that the resort was only a short carriage ride away along the Clyde River road which was crossed the river at New Glasgow and continued to Anglo Rustico.
While there seem to be few photos of the hotel itself there are photographs from the surrounding area dating from the early 1900s. The route from Hunter River to Anglo Rustico is seen in a photo taken was one approached New Glasgow which dates from the first years of the 20th century. Showing neat stone walls and trimmed spruce hedges it is a superb example of tourist promotional material of the period. Another image from the period which also appears in a Valentine & Sons card is from a little further along the road between New Glasgow and Anglo Rustico where the Clyde River can be seen meandering in the background of a striking farmhouse high atop a hill on the south side of the river.
The location of this image was hard to determine until Phil Culhane, another PEI postcard collector posted a question on-line and the crowd-sourced responses showed the building was still standing and is easily recognizable in size and shape (albeit with some unfortunate window replacement) and is located on the Dickeson property near what was in 1880 called Doironts Creek. Although the trees around the property now obscure the view of the river it is without doubt the same property as in the Valentine postcard. This photo continued to be published in both black and white and colour versions for many years and served as the quintessential Island farmstead image.
There was another postcard image from the same series actually taken from the Seaside Hotel looking north over a white rail fence looking toward the fishing stations on the sandbar at the entrance to what was then Grand Rustico Harbour. (Little Rustico harbour was at the other end of Robinson’s Island.)
The Seaside Hotel was totally consumed by fire in January of 1906 and had not been in operation for the previous two years but before that it had been regarded as one of the most significant and successful of the Island’s summer resort destinations. Could the mysterious “North Shore” postcard be related to the three other postcard images in the series which came from the same general area?
There were a few possible clues in the postcard image itself which relate to the site of the Seaside Hotel. If, instead of looking north towards Rustico one turned to the west what would one see? There was a slight indentation in the shoreline in the middle of which in 1880 a trackway came through the Benjamin Buntain farm down to the shore and around the point to the hotel wharf. In the North Shore card a similar trackway can be seen emerging from the woods. Further, if one looked across the point towards the north shore of the Clyde River a number of farms could be seen near the crest of the hill.
In the 1936 aerial photo of the area, taken some thirty or more years later, the wooded land is similar to the postcard image with woods following the slope towards the unwooded point of land. There even seems to be a small outcropping of rocks in the same location in both views.
A recent visit made to the point where the Seaside Hotel once stood to the point shows many changes. The previously open fields and wooded areas of the Buntain farm have been built over with cottage lots and there has no doubt been some erosion of the points at both ends of the stretch of beach making it impossible take a photo from the exact same location as the postcard image. Even the state of the tide can make views of the same spot seem unalike.
That being said, the present-day photograph shown below still shows some striking similarities between the view today and the postcard image from more than century earlier. The pattern of vegetation, with a surviving thicket of spruces coupled with a treeless point seems to have persisted over a century. That along with with the view across the river toward the north shore of the Clyde, the similar curve of the beach and cliffs, and the existence of other photos from the same tourist region popular in the 1900s make it highly probable that the site of the postcard image has been located as South Rustico, Lot 24, 46.44.56 North, 63.29.18 West. Prince Edward Island.
North Shore. Prince Edward Island. March 2021. Photo by the author.