Strait Steamers on Cards

One of the more popular areas for topical postcard collection is the depiction of ships on cards. While the ports of Prince Edward Island were hardly major destinations for steamers the fact of being an island meant a dependence on vessels for connection to the mainland and there are a number of interesting cards showing these essential vessels.

One group of cards centres on the unique needs of the province for “continuous steam communication” sought by the Island Government in 1873 as a condition for confederation. The struggle for links across the winter ice-bound Strait of Northumberland gave rise to a series of ice-breaking steamers and later car-ferries whose images are captured on early postcards. Ships such as the Stanley, Minto and Earl Grey are frequently shown imprisoned in the ice. The irony is that many of these cards were sent by summer visitors who had no direct knowledge of the difficulty and boredom of the winter passage.

These tourists and residents were much more likely to have reached the Island on one of the ships of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company which provided service while the strait was ice-free, usually between April and December of each year. The Company had been incorporated in 1890 but was successor to the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company, formed in 1863, and so had a near-monopoly for decades before the postcard boom.

One of the earliest cards showing Steam Navigation Company steamers was one printed in Summerside by the Journal Publishing Company

At the turn of the 20th century the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company had two vessels; the S.S. Northumberland, launched in 1891 and the S.S. Princess, built five years later.  Increased passenger travel and freight led to the sale of the Princess in 1905 and the launch a new vessel, the S.S. Empress the same year. The Northumberland normally served the Charlottetown-Pictou route while the Empress travelled between Summerside and Point de Chene  New Brunswick. Schedules of both vessels were linked to railway timetables to provide good communication to Halifax, Boston and Montreal. On my companion marine history blog, Sailstrait, I have provided details about the Princess, Northumberland, and Empress.

Although the Princess may well have been the subject of a postcard as it was still in the service in 1905 I have not been able to find any examples and indeed any photographs of the vessel are scarce. This was not the case with regard to the Northumberland and the Empress.

Although built fifteen years apart the two ships were of a similar appearance and size. Indeed, as shown below, in at least one case a card shows one ship incorrectly identified as the other. A clue to help determine the correct identification may be found by examining the smoke patterns of the two ships in the galleries below. One additional key to sorting them out is that the Empress had more lifeboats than the Northumberland.

Anticipation at Summerside P.E.I. Photo by W.S. Louson, Garden of the Gulf Series. Warwick Bros. & Rutter card#2620

Almost all the major publishers that had cards of Prince Edward Island had at least one showing a ship of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company and some publishers such as Valentine and Warwick & Rutter had images of both. Often the cards drew on the same photographic imagery although the photographer is not identified – with one exception. The Summerside image of the Empress at dock is noted as a W.S. Louson image on a Warwick Bros. & Rutter card and although the ship is not identified in his card titled “Anticipation” the Empress was the steamer servicing the Prince County port.

“S.S. Empress” Summerside, P.E. Island C.& Co. [Carter]
The identification is confirmed by a Carter & Co. “red letter” series card showing the same scene and undoubtedly taken at the same time (there are differences in the placement of the boy fishing and the spectator). These two cards are also an excellent illustration of the different treatment given to similar images by publishers. Title, cropping and most particularly shading, clarity and colour can result in cards that initially appear to be quite different  but in reality are almost identical.

An action photo of the Empress steaming is the most commonly seen image as it is used in cards from at least three publishers. Indeed Warwick Bros. & Rutter uses the same image on two cards with different titles. The image is also used on a card by McCoy Publishing and another produced for Maddigan.

Publishers with Northumberland Strait steamer cards to their credit include Kennedy, McLellan, McCoy, Maddigan, Valentine, Journal Print, Pugh, Stedman and Warwick & Rutter. I have been able to find only one card showing both vessels, the Stedman card #2572 probably published for J.D. Taylor and shown to the right.

The cards depicted in  following galleries do not exhaust the possible varieties of Northumberland Strait steamer cards but offer a representative sampling of the cards most often seen. Clicking on any of the cards will show an enlarged image.

Cards showing the S.S. Northumberland


Cards showing the S.S. Empress

The activity of the two vessels coincided with the golden age of the postcard. With the beginning of the ice-breaking rail-car ferry service in 1917 both ships were sold and the company wound up. Henceforth postcards detailed the loading, unloading and sailings of the S.S. Prince Edward Island and her successors.

Postcard of the Northumberland on Lake Ontario after WWI.

Both of these vessels continued to be the subject of postcards after they left Prince Edward Island waters. The Northumberland sailed on Lake Ontario until destroyed by fire after World War II and there are many cards showing the vessel. An excellent history of her life on the lake can be found here. The Empress was put on the Saint John to Digby route across the Bay of Fundy and there are a number cards of her in this role.

As always, I would be interested of learning of other postcards which show the Northumberland Strait steamers, especially the Princess.




Victoria Park in Early Postcards

Visiting naval vessel seen from Victoria Park. Bathing huts can be seen just to the right of the seated figure. R.F. Maddigan postcard.

Charlottetown’s Victoria Park was established in 1875. It was carved from a property on the western side of the city designated as the Governor’s Farm.  When Charlottetown was laid out it had five squares: Queens, Kings, Pownal, Hillsborough and Rochford. By the mid 1800s these were becoming inadequate to the city’s needs. Queens Square was occupied by the market and other public buildings, Pownal Square housed the city jail. A chance to set aside public space on the waterfront was lost when the Imperial government gave up the ordnance grounds at the west end of Water Street. The colonial authorities decided to auction the lots off instead of establishing a park. The possibility of turning over part of the Governor’s Farm for a park was raised in 1869 and was discussed during the negotiations leading to the Island’s entry into Confederation.

Finally in 1875 40 acres constituting the westernmost part of the farm  were handed over to the city. The grant excluded the Prince Edward Battery which was retained for military uses. By 1880 the field nearest the harbour was identified as a cricket ground and one near Brighton Road (now Memorial Field) became a parade ground for the several military units in the city.  Access to the park was from Brighton Road because the proposed roadway extending Kent Street in front of Government House was opposed by various Lieutenant Governors until 1896. The roadway to the Battery was completed a year later and was extended to join Brighton Road in 1899. In 1905 additional land was carved out of the Government House Farm and the Park reached the size it has today.

As the premier recreational space the Park was the subject of many postcards highlighting the natural setting and the activities which took place there. First and foremost it provided a vantage point of the harbour with the open channel to Hillsborough Bay.

Charlottetown Harbour from Victoria Park. This view appears to pre-date the completion of the park roadway. R.F. Maddigan postcard

An extremely popular postcard subject was the view from the Prince Edward Battery (usually misidentified as Fort Edward) back toward the city. A single image was used by a number of publishers and others appeared which were only slight variations of the view.

In the early 1900s the military installation was still very much in use. The main army drill hall and other structures were on the east side of Governor’s Pond. The Battery was used by the artillery for both training and ceremonial uses. The 4th Artillery Regiment was particularly successful in Dominion competition and frequently led the country in the national results.

The new Park Roadway in front of Government House opened the Park to easy access from Kent Street. This image or a slight variation of appear on cards from a half-dozen or more publishers. This is a Haszard and Moore postcard.
Fort Edward, Victoria Park MHF
The Prince Edward Battery site continues to be used for ceremonial salutes to this day. Taylor’s Book Store postcard.

The annual Militia camps took place in the park until the Great War and provided an entertainment for visitors and residents of Charlottetown. Militia groups came from across the Island to set up camp in the Park and engaged in drills and competition while under canvas. The patriotism of the Boer War period made membership in the militia a popular form of comradeship and interest in civilian soldiers continued through to the Great War.

3 Among the big guns
Visitors at Camp Brighton. Carter & Company postcard.
Heavy Battery No. 3 Camp Brighton MHF
The horse artillery drawn up on the Park Roadway. The white board fence bordering the Government House grounds can be seen to the east of the encampment. Pugh postcard #42-7.

But military camps were not the only users of the park. Although there were limitations on the use of the park for shows and commercial activities which had a paid admission charge, community groups were frequent users.

YMCA Camp Victoria Park MHF
YMCA Camp, Victoria Park. There were close relationships between the military and groups such as the YMCA. The latter organization frequently had a support presence in military camps. Taylor’s Book Store postcard.

The vast majority of the early postcards images of Victoria Park deal with the natural views in the park.  A number of carriage lanes, some still in use as pathways today, had been opened in the predominantly birch forest and the striking groves of white birches served as both subject and background for Charlottetown photographers. W.S. Louson, whose photos were used by the Toronto postcard firm Warwick Bros. & Rutter was particularly enamoured by the park as a photo venue. [click an image to enlarge or begin slide show]

Today Victoria Park continues to be the site of postcard views and increased use of the park had led to more and more structures; fieldhouses, a bandshell, and changing rooms. During the Edwardian era the only buildings were the battery magazine, the tennis pavilion and the keepers house. Now it becoming overbuilt and is harder and harder to pretend, as our ancestors did in the beginning of the 20th century,  that the park represents a bit of the country in the city.



Groceries, Soft Drinks and Postcards; R.F. Maddigan & Co.


Victoria Park001
Victoria Park, Charlottetown, P.E.I.

During the golden age of postcards national printers, publishers and distributors blanketed the country with penny  images. National firms such as Valentine, Stedman, and Warwick & Rutter made sure they had postcards from every province and territory.  But there were scores, or perhaps hundreds, of others who got in on the game at a local level.  On Prince Edward Island firms such as Haszard & Moore and Carter & Company had an easily understandable link to the cards; the former as a printer and publisher and the latter as a stationer.  However there were also less obvious connections and some merchants gave posts cards a whirl even though it may have been somewhat removed from their core business. Until recently these local publishers or distributors have attracted little attention from collectors and it is difficult to find information about them.

One such businessman on Prince Edward Island was Richard F. Maddigan.  Born in 1867 Maddigan worked in the grocery business with W. Grant and Company in Charlottetown and in 1900 he took over the operation on the west side of Queen Street between Dorchester and Sydney streets changing the business name to R.F. Maddigan and Co.  He operated a conventional grocery business but by 1906 had branched out into the manufacture of “Temperance Beverages” (soft drinks) and advertised that he could supply “everything required for fitting out saloons.”  The following year he took over the rival Ferris and Frederickson Aereated Water Business.  Today bottles from both of these companies are greatly sought by collectors.

Charlottetown Guardian 26 August 1911.

Four years later an advertisement appeared suggesting thatMaddigan had once again expanded his interests.  Directed at country post offices and stores he advertised that he had 80 varieties of cards available.  Richard Maddigan had gone into the postcard business.   It is not clear if the 80 varieties referred only to view cards or to other cards which might have been comical or topical in nature.  I have been able to identify about 25 cards with the Maddigan name and there are no doubt others about. I would be interested in hearing of other Maddigan titles. The cards show images from a number of different Island communities.

Victoria Park Back002
Detail of one of several different Maddigan card backs
St. Dunstan’s Cathedral. Warwick Bros. & Rutter card published for Maddigan

Maddigan seems to have purchased his cards from a variety of suppliers. Many of the images appear on cards identified with other publishers and in several cases these names appear on the cards along with that of Maddigan.

The card backs indicate at least 5 different designs appear suggesting a variety of printers/publishers were used.  One of the more common of the designs has a unique card number in the format XXX-XX on the lower right bottom edge of the card back which may give a clue as to the printer. The same card backs and number system are found on cards from the Pugh Manufacturing Company, recently the subject of new information on the Toronto Postcard Club site. Some other cards are noted as “Printed in Great Britain”, others are from printers in Saxony.  Because of the variety of images and printers and lack of consistency in type faces on the card captions it is difficult to identify a typical “Maddigan card”.  Images of a number of cards bearing the Maddigan imprint are shown below to illustrate the design and colour ranges. Click on any image in enlarge. A more complete catalogue of known Maddigan cards can be found here.

After the postcard boom died away there is no indication that Maddigan continued in the card business. He no doubt eventually sold off his stock and returned to concentration on the grocery lines. Richard Maddigan died on 24 February 1928 and by the end of April the shop fittings and equipment in his store had been auctioned off.

Note:  The Toronto Post Card Club web site has a number histories of Canadian postcard publishers as well as checklists of cards from some of them.