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.

 

 

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Five Views of Edwardian Queen Street

The building of the Charles B. Chappell designed Stamper Building at the south-east corner of Queen and Richmond Streets in Charlottetown created vantage point overlooking the prosperous businesses which looked east onto Queen Square. A series of postcard images showing the street scene reveal changes on the street over a period of ten or so years. They also tell us a lot about what postcards do and do not show and how sometimes all that exists is not to be seen.

All of the images are from the roof of the Stamper Building looking north up Queen Street toward the 1888 City Hall with its impressive bell tower. However, in the previous statement “all” should really read “both” as close examination of the cards, although they are from five different publishers, shows they actually share only two photographic images.  What is the earliest of the series is a card printed in Belgium for Taylor’s Book Store in Charlottetown.

Looking at details we can date this card as being from an image before 1909. That year the Fancy Grocery store of Jenkins and Sons on the north-west corner of Queen and Grafton Streets was demolished and was replaced by the columned façade of the Bank of Commerce, which had recently bought out the Merchants Bank of Prince Edward Island. Prominent in the foreground of the picture is a telephone or electrical pole with dozens of insulators. The wires, for the most part, have been re-touched out of existence.  The buildings fronting the square are almost all three-story brick structures. There is one exception – next to Weeks “People’s Store” a 19th century wooden building still remains. On the right of the card the shadow cast by the W.C. Harris designed Market Building falls on market square.

The same image is the basis of the card from  Charlottetown stationers Carter & Company.  But this card has little of the quality evident in the first.

Re-touched almost to the point of becoming merely a sketch of the scene, its photograph origins are obscured to the extreme.  The subtle details of the storefronts and signage are blurred. The utility pole has disappeared as has the shadow of the market building, replaced by the retoucher by a green sward surrounded by a neat hedge. Although the figures on the street, including a horse-drawn “sloven” in the middle of Queen Street, have been allowed to remain, they have almost become stick figures. In a clumsy but easily missed detail the sign of Haszard’s Bookstore on the building to the right to the sole wooden structure has been changed from the original in the photograph to read “Carter & Co. Ltd.” The overall result is a card showing a poorly coloured sterile streetscape devoid of shadows and details.  North of Grafton Street the lack of detail is even more noticible.

A card from Toronto’s Pugh Manufacturing Company looks at first glance to be merely a copy but it is a different and later image although also taken from the top of the Stamper building.  The chief difference is the 1909 Bank of Commerce which has replaced the wooden building on the corner of Queen and Grafton Streets.

But that is not the only change. S.A. MacDonald’s store with its distinctive arched second-story show window has taken the place of the wooden store.  Streetlight standards line the western side of the street.  In this photo even some of the wiring of utility poles seems to have been left in although the large pole in the centre of the card has either been re-purposed or decapitated.

A fourth card, like many cards of the period has neither a publisher or printer identified and being unused does not even have a postmark to date it although it clearly is the same image as the one used in the Pugh card shown above.

It is more closely cropped on all sides. The offending utility pole has been re-touched out of existence but a festive line of seven flags has been added in a patriotic flourish.

The final card is from Raphael Tuck and Sons, an English firm that had been appointed official printers to Queen Victoria. The firm’s cards were printed in Germany and the output included both photographic images and a wide variety of artistic cards.

The publishing quality of the Tuck cards is extremely high with subtle colouration.  Yet this card too has been altered from the original. In this case it is not the addition of flags that is most evident but the complete removal of every utility pole in the photograph giving the appearance of a broad street unspoiled by poles, wires, or other defacing 20th century street furniture.

After the Great War Queen Street continued to be a popular scene for postcards, several of which were from the Stamper’s Corner vantage point. While there was little change in the buildings lining the streets the horses, carts and slovens were soon replaced with automobiles and trucks.

These cards are a reminder that much of what we see has been “improved” in the printing process and that postcards, like all documentation, should be viewed with a critical eye.