Panoramic Postcard Reveals the Other side of Charlottetown

As a city, Charlottetown looks south. The town was built to face the harbour and as the ground gently rose to the few modest hills given grand names by country estates such as Mount Edward and Sidmount the well-planned street pattern began to break up.  In the ideal of Charles Morris’ plan the town lots were edged by a common and then, further out, the royalty which was a band of country lots. Perhaps it was envisioned that each of the 500 town lots would also have a 12 acre royalty lot to provide for crops and grazing for the town residents.  The system soon broke down as there was ample space within the slow-growing town for gardens and pastures. The colonial officials sold off the common and royalty lots and farms were created at the edge of the town.   When the City of Charlottetown was incorporated in 1855 it was comprised of the Town and Common. The royalty was beyond the fringe.

Prince Street School (right) was the site from which the postcard view was taken. Raphael Tuck postcard. Murray Collection.

Almost all postcards of the Edwardian era follow the harbour based approach. If there is a an overall view from the tall building the view is toward the harbour. This is the case for a Haszard and Moore postcard showing the view from the Colonial Building noted in an earlier posting.  But there was an exception. One tall building was located in the north part of the City. Prince Street School, built by the Methodists, was a four-story structure which peered out over the residential area.

Overlooking Experimental Farm, Charlottetown. P.E.I. Valentine & Sons postcard #111402. Because the eastern part of the card is often detached and has no postcard markings on the reverse it is often lost.

This rare double card published by Valentine & Sons shows the view to the north as the city bleeds out into the countryside.  The school was built in the northern part of the Common and the view goes beyond the city limits. The vista runs from the Newlands Estate in the west to St. Avards in the east.

The left half of the card shows a cluster of houses, many still standing, at the north end of Prince Street.  Malpeque Road can be traced extending out past St. Dunstan’s College, whose brick mass is seen squatting on the horizon.

This no-man’s land of mainly modest houses, tiny lots and narrow streets was Gaytown. It had been settled by those who sought the lower costs and lower taxes outside the city limit which ran just to the north of Gerald Street.  Businesses sprang up along Malpeque Road and Allen Street.  The area acquired its name when J.J. Gay, who had a market garden and nursery in Pownal moved to the area in the 1890s to better serve his town customers both at the downtown market and directly from the nursery.  Gaytown became a neighbourhood and then a community. Although administratively linked to the Village of Spring Park it had an identity all its own. By the 1930s the area had a number of sports teams playing hockey, baseball soccer and volleyball. The newspapers mentioned the Gaytown Rovers, Gaytown Ramblers, and Gaytown Hawks.  The fields at the edge of the community included the grounds of the Charlottetown Athletic Association near Allen Street.

The right half of the card looks out from the school roof to the grounds of the experimental farm with its thicket of woods around Ravenwood and Ardgowan. Many of the houses on Gerald and School Street (now Walthen Drive) are still standing.  A hint of industrialization can be spotted by the presence of oil tanks bordering the P.E.I. Railway line as it headed out of the city.

As the area outside the city grew so did the problems.  Without the benefits of municipal water and sewage systems and dependant for the most part on Charlottetown for fire protection the area was seen as a health and safety risk. As late as the 1950s there was still a public well at Spring Park.  In 1957 the Village of Spring Park amalgamated with Charlottetown and became ward 6 of the city. Parkdale continued on its own for several more years.

Although in common use well into the 1950s the name “Gaytown” has all but disappeared. While other neighbourhoods such as Brighton and Parkdale are still identifiers only a one block long street – Gay Avenue, where the nursery was located – remains to remind us of the settlement.

A postcard depicting the fields of the experimental farm which almost accidentally captured the view of rooftops may be the only view we have of a vanished community.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.