A Beautiful Autumn – Somewhere in Canada

Autumn in Canada. Warwick Bros. & Rutter, Publishers #0533

Earlier this year a sepia toned card was offered on the sales market. It was one of several cards published by the Toronto firm of Warwick Bros. & Rutter which could be described as “generic” in that it did not specify location and was an all-purpose card which could be sold representing several locations across the country. Where exactly in the country had Warwick & Rutter chosen to represent Canada’s fall season?

The mystery appears to be revealed in the message on the card back. The correspondent has written: “This avenue is in Charlottetown in Park.” The message is almost right. This indeed was in Charlottetown but the writer is mistaken as to the specific location. In this generic card the photographer is not identified. Another Warwick Bros. & Rutter card  revels the name of the photographer and helps point to the site of the photo.

Beautiful Autumn. Prince Edward Island. Warwick Bros. & Rutter #2668

This card, not so closely cropped, uses the same negative image enhanced with publisher-chosen colour and it not only identifies the province but, more importantly, the photographer.  It is the work of talented amateur photographer William S. Louson whose name appears on more than forty Warwick & Rutter cards. Three additional cards, one from Warwick & Rutter and two  Carter & Co. cards provide even more details, although the location is variously named as Lovers Lane, Sydmount Avenue, and Avenue near Charlottetown. The two Carter images appear to have been taken on the same day.  [click on any card for enlargement to show details]

The common element in these cards is the line of mature linden trees bordering the roadway to the north and birches to the south. Although it might be mistaken for the road bordering Victoria Park, this was,and still is recognizable as, Sidmount Avenue, a street formed from the roadway leading from Charlottetown’s North River Road to Sidmount House.  A non-postcard photo of the same scene from a souvenir book of Louson’s images is seen below.

Sidmount was one of the estates created in the Charlottetown Common which in the early 19th century had become the preferred location for the homes of the great and good. Although the house is  hidden from view in the postcards the fence surrounding the buildings  can be seen peeping out from between the trees.

Sidmount House. Public Archives and Records Office Accession 2702

Sidmount was built by Charlottetown merchant Sidney Dealey about 1845. The house and 41 acre estate was advertised for sale at public auction in the 4 April 1846  and featured “a much ornamented cottage, newly erected of wood, by a skillful artisan, in imitation of the Gothic style of architecture.” Forty-three feet by thirty-four feet, this “cottage” featured a frost-proof cellar, a ground floor with dining room, drawing-room, hall, store-room and office and a second floor with two bedrooms, a dressing room, bath and library. An addition to the rear of the building contained a large kitchen, laundry and servants’ bedroom accessible by the back stairs of the main building.

The estate was purchased by lawyer, and later judge, James Horsefield Peters (1811-1891) and his wife, Mary (1817-1865). Mary was the daughter of Samuel Cunard, the founder of the Cunard Steamship Line, who owned large tracts of land on Prince Edward Island. Peters was the Cunard family agent on Prince Edward Island.

Sidmount was influenced by the Gothic Revival architectural style. The style is seen most often in rural areas, but a few examples still exist in Charlottetown. Wood framed houses in this style were decorated with lacy trim and scrolled ornamentation. As an example of the Gothic Revival style in the City, Sidmount has changed very little since its construction, and remains an important link to the history of Charlottetown.

Like Victoria Park, not far to the south, Sidmount Avenue was a favourite location for Louson photographs. He, himself, lived at Birchdale, in the Brighton neighbourhood only a few blocks from Sidmount. It is almost certain that the children in two of the photos are Louson’s children.

Today the few remaining linden trees still scatter their leaves on Sidmount Avenue each fall. While Sidmount House still survives in relatively good condition, recent years have not been kind to the property. While the house is included on the Canadian Register of Heritage Places the property has been chipped away over the years by encroaching suburban development. It has gradually shrunk with the final indignity rendered by need or greed through the disposal of the front yard to create building lots for rather large but undistinguished homes which totally obscure the fine façade of Sidmount House, now hardly visible from the treed avenue.



Suddenly they’re everywhere

There seems to be a thing with four-leaf clovers. When you start looking you can’t find them anywhere. So you stop looking. Then you find one. Suddenly there are four-leaf clovers everywhere.
The same phenomenon occurs with post cards.
When I first stumbled across a reference to the large Nerlich & Co. output of post cards I knew of not a single one with a P.E.I. image. Then a fellow collector suggested I look at some Summerside cards he had found and I started finding Nerlichs all over the place. By the same token it was a long time before I made the connection between drug stores and postcards in Summerside but when I discovered it there seemed to be a lot of examples that had been right under my nose.
Now these occurrences have converged. This time it is in relation to a card depicting the High School in Summerside. The school itself had been opened in 1879 as the Davies School. Louis Henry Davies (later Chief Justice of Canada) was premier at the time and among his accomplishments was the passage of a Public Schools Bill which created a provincial Board of Education and non-sectarian schools. The eight-classroom structure in Summerside offered grades one to ten.  Ten years later the school was renamed as the “Summerside High School” and provided only the upper grades.  The building was enlarged in 1915 and again in 1932 when it was renamed o0nce more as “Summerside High School and County Academy.” A fire in 1935 destroyed the part of the building shown on the early postcards.

The first postcard showing the building that I had seen was a Warwick Bros. & Rutter card showing the front of the school.

High School Summerside, Prince Edward Island. Published for W.H. Jardine. Warwick Bros. & Rutter # 3617

This black and white card was printed for Summerside merchant W.H. Jardine and may actually have been a later image as the cards noted below do not show several small trees seen in the picture.

As well as the Jardine card, there was another showing the school in the Warwick Bros. & Rutter line. This was one which had probably been published earlier and bore the name of well-known amateur photographer W. S. Louson. It is one of the few cards identified as Louson’s work which depicts a civic structure. Most of his cards are of rural scenes with more of an emphasis on “artistic” settings.

High School, Summerside, P.E.I. Warwick Bros. & Rutter #2641S

The card shows the building with more of a side view as seen from the top of Summer Street.

However the same photograph is used for two other cards which appeared at about the same time (dating the sequence of these cards is all but impossible). Neither of these cards give credit to Louson but the images actually show more of the scene with additional foliage seen on the left side of the card so they were not derived from the Rutter card which has different cropping owing, in part, to the characteristic title band on the card bottom. (click to enlarge images)

While these two images have slightly different cropping, different titles, and different clouds and colouration the real difference is on the card back and this is where we get back to the clovers. Not only is there another addition to the list of Nerlich cards but there is the name of yet another drugstore in Summerside that was in the card business.

The P.N. Enman card (left) clearly shows the Nerlich wordmark

Detail from the back of the Enman postcard

…and on the left side of the back the publication notice

Detail from the back of the Enman postcard

The Kennedy card (right) likewise has significant information on the back of the card. However Mr. Kennedy has proved to be a little more elusive that others in the drug business in Summerside as I have been unable to find information about his business, or about him for that matter.

Detail from the back of the Central High School postcard

I expect, however, that there are a few more four-leaf clovers in the field yet to be found and that this exploration will not end with the postcards of the Summerside High School.

Seasonal Rarities – P.E.I.’s Iceboat Postcards

If there is one commonality between current postcards of Prince Edward Island and those created prior to the Great War it is scarcity of images taken in winter. The postcard collector might be excused if, based on the subject matter of the cards, they though that there were only three seasons on the Island – summer, spring and fall – and very little of the latter two.

Winter scenes are scarce if not rare. Even with the photographic advances with dry-plate negatives, winter photography could be difficult. While winter photos of Prince Edward Island are not common, postcards with winter scenes are even less so. With only a few exceptions those photographs that can be found mainly show ice-bound winter steamers.

Crossing Northumberland Strait by Ice Boats. Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard #2675. This images was probably taken close to shore where the ice was pushed by the tide changes up on the Island shores. This card was also published in an uncoloured edition.

As an island in the northern latitudes the winter posed unusual challenges for transportation and the bulk of visitors (and postcard purchasers) never experienced the barrier that the Strait became in winter. From Confederation in 1873 until near the end of the Great War Prince Edward Island’s relations with the Dominion Government seemed to follow a predictable pattern. The Island would complain that the Confederation promise of continuous steam communication was not being met by Ottawa. A new and more powerful steamer built to tackle the ice would be promised and eventually built. The steamer would fail the test posed by Northumberland Strait’s tide-packed ice. The Island would complain. Another steamer would be built and then another and another. Some of the most attractive postcards of the period are shots of these vessels in the icy grip of winter, stuck between Prince Edward Island and the mainland.   An account of the steamer passage in winter can be found on the Sailstrait blog site.

Ice Boat Service003
Ice Boat service from P.E.I. to Mainland. Haszard & Moore postcard. This card more accurately depicts the struggles to wrestle the boats across the uneven ice surface.

At the same time a unique and more interesting mode of transportation was forced on the Island. The nine mile distance between Cape Tormentine in New Brunswick and Cape Traverse on the Island was the shortest passage across the strait although the fast running tidal currents could also create towering ice-jams. In the mid 1880s the ice-boat service which had begun as contracted passage of the mails was improved by the Dominion government following a disaster on the ice which saw passengers and crew marooned on the ice by storm conditions.  As the passage of the strait was seldom a simple stroll across the ice the boats had to contend with open water, slush, slurry, small ice cakes, floes, pans and board ice.  Using a locally-developed design special ice-boats had been developed. The heavy boats had two iron runners on the boat bottom so that the boats could be hauled and pushed across both flat ice pans and wrestled over pressure ridges with the crew linked to the boats by leather straps which allowed them to pull but also served as a primitive safety mechanism when they slipped or fell through the ice. As well the boats had to be seaworthy to cross open water that might exist almost the whole distance one day and disappear the next.  Professional ice-boat crews manned these boats.  However the addition of passenger traffic to the handling of the mails introduced a new element. There was a two tier pricing system. A premium price allowed the passenger to sit in the boat all the way across battling the bitter cold. A lesser price required the passenger to help haul the boat, usually at some considerable risk of getting wet.

Striking Board Ice, Crossing at the Capes from Prince Edward Island to the Mainland. Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard #2669. Board ice is the ice which attaches to the shore and is not normally moved by wind and tide. In this image open water can be seen beyond the boats.

To date I have found only three postcard images of the iceboat crossing.  Two are carefully posed photos, quite possibly taken by W.S. Louson and used on Warwick Bros. & Rutter cards printed in Toronto.  The other was printed in Belgium and published under the Haszard & Moore imprint. This is more of an action shot and is a rare image in itself as it shows the small sails which were sometimes used when conditions allowed.

Even after more powerful ice-worthy steamers were developed the ice boats were called on from time to time as the ships did not always battle with the ice successfully.  The service did not end until 1917 when the powerful railcar ferry S.S. Prince Edward Island began service at the Capes. The iceboat postcards soon became images of an obsolete response to the winter isolation of Prince Edward Island.


The Three Sisters

In my youth when I began work at the Public Archives of P.E.I. I spent a lot of time on the reference desk.  It seemed as if every second genealogical inquiry began with the words “There were three brothers…”  In the world of postcard collecting the catch phrase seems to be “the three sisters”.

I was intrigued by a Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard (#5700) with this title. It seemed to be one of a number of their series of sepia cards, but it was far from clear where it was from.  There was no indication if it even showed a scene from Prince Edward Island as there was no other locational information on the card. From the look of the card it could be almost any shoreline or even a river bank.

It was therefore a stroke of luck that the copy of the card that I possessed had a message even though the card itself was not sent through the mail – unless it was sent in an envelope as there was no postmark or stamp. What is remarkable is that the card was dated 3/7/28 which could be as much as 16 years after the hey-day of the Warwick and Rutter postcard publishing came to an end.  The message helps locate the card.

Last Sunday I visited this shore near Campbelltown, P.E.I. The banks are quite high and these points of rock jutting out into the Gulf are called The Three Sisters, evidently taken when the tide was low.

A week later I stumbled across a second Three Sisters card. The card was a Pugh Specialty card and was postmarked 1915. The message on the card was certainly less explicit as to place, but it did reference “all the sights of O’Leary”. The face of the card however, left little doubt that The Three Sisters was a nearby attraction in western Prince County.


On Prince Edward Island the phrase “graven in stone” has much less meaning than in the rest of the country. The constant erosion shapes the shoreline relentlessly and once famous formations such as Elephant Rock, Cavendish’s Lone Rock, Wolfe’s Rock and Pulpit Rock have all disappeared.  The same fate was likely in store for The Three Sisters.

But even on Prince Edward Island the name has other dimensions and other locations. A W.G. MacFarlane card of Victoria Park in Charlottetown shows another application of the name but once again fame is fleeting and the park’s white birches are disappearing. This grouping is long since gone.

Three Sisters Victoria Park no. 51 MHF

There are “Three Sisters” groupings all across the postcard world; images of peaks near Banff Alberta, and other set in Central Oregon, in Hell’s Half-Acre in Wyoming, overlooking Glencoe in Scotland, a range in the Blue Mountains of Australia, a group of islands in Lake Superior and dozens of other geographical phenomena.

The main difference between these locations and the rocks and trees of Prince Edward Island is that a century later our Three Sisters have disappeared while the others are truly  set in stone.