A poem: The Ice Boat Crew Jan. 27, 1885, Cape Traverse.

And P.E.I.'s Ice Boats!

"PEI's Ice Boats"

Public Archives and Records Office, Accession # 2301/273.

Long before the Confederation Bridge, and before the institution of regular year round ferry service, ice boats served the Island's mail service and passenger needs during the long winter months. The Cape service was instituted in 1827 when Donald McInniss and Neil Campbell crossed from P.E.I. to Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick demonstrating the feasibility of this crossing. In 1829 the government entered into an agreement to begin the service on a regular basis.

This service continued even after the steamer service began, the ice boats supplementing the steamer service during the mid-winter months, when ice often interrupted the steamer service. The last crossing was in 1917, when the ferry Prince Edward Island began service, providing dependable, year round service, ending an era of transportation which was unique to our Island.

The ferry service continued till 1997, when the Confederation Bridge opened for traffic. A private company, Northumberland Ferries Ltd. still maintains ferry crossings from Wood Islands to Pictou, Nova Scotia, the route of P.E.I.'s first ice boat runs.

Ice Boat Contractors 1829-1861:

1829-1832 David Lang, Jacob Gouldrup.
1833-1834 Phillips and Montague Irving.
1834-1835 Phillip Callbeck and T. R. Lea.
1835-1838 William Lord.
1839-1840 Alex Gould and David Lang.
1840-1855 Phillips Irving.
1855-1861 Samuel and William McRae, Lewis Muttart.
1861-1863 Athur and Phillips Irving and Edward Warren.

The ice boats were small (5 m. long, 2 m. wide avg.), and made as light as possible while maintaining their strength. They were equipped with runners on each side of the hull to allow them to be dragged across the ice flows and snow. Straps attached to the boats and to the crew allowed them to haul the boat, and acted as a safety harness should they break through the ice. Many accidents happened over the years, one of the better known described below.

In 1885 three ice boats were lost for two days, and their crews and passengers almost died.

Philip W. Farrell was born November 11th, 1857 in Georgetown, P.E.I., a son to William Farrell and Catherine Murphy. On November 17, 1885 he married Joannah Nelligan, daughter of John Nelligan and Mary McIntyre. The winter before he married, he was one of the survivors of the saga, and wrote about it in an unforgettable poem. The crew and survivors will be listed following the poem. Few Islanders did not have ancestors on this journey, several were related distantly to me.

More about Philip Farrell - Notes from Tom O'Connor

The Ice Boat Crew

You sturdy landsmen, one and all
Pray listen unto me,
Likewise you hardy sailors bold
That plow the stormy sea.
I want your kind attention
While I hereby do relate
The hardships of the ice boat crew
Upon the frozen Strait.

The month was Winter's coldest one,
As you presently shall hear,
The twenty-seventh of January,
and eighty-five the year.
Our ice boats three in number
With fifteen of a crew,
And seven more as passengers
Which numbered twenty-two.

Our friends conveyed us to the shore,
And there we bid adieu.
The dismal fate which lay in wait
was hidden from our view.
The wind north-east, the frost increased,
A raging storm prevailed,
Through blinding snow we were forced to go
And breast the blinding gale.

The afternoon was soon advanced,
we took no note of time,
With weary step and eager glance,
We looked for Cape Tormentine,
The blocks of ice were magnified
by piles of drifted snow,
And oft deceived our anxious eyes
For Uncle Tom's abode.

To reach the capes with light of day,
It was our hope and prayer
Our hopes were turned to bitter doubts,
Our doubts to grim despair.
Alas! the naked fact is out,
What now must be our fate?
For lost we are, without a doubt
Upon the frozen strait.

The wind was now at north-east
The frost below eighteen,
And bravely now we tried to breast
The driving blast so keen.
Imagine our condition,
And with me you'll agree,
Our thoughts will not be pleasant ones,
Upon the frozen sea.

We held a consultation,
then agreed were all our boys,
Since now we had no other course
To camp upon the ice.
And then a rude construction
With our boats we did prepare,
To serve us for a shelter
Through this night so bleak and dreare.

Our sufferings through all that bitter nite
No tongue can e'ver explain.
We hoped to see the morning light
And friends at home again.
We battled with the raging frost
and with the blinding smoke,
was a night of horror
Till the dawn of morning broke.

Our waterkegs were frozen hard
Since early in the day
And thirst and hunger side by side
Were come with us to stay.
We had not tasted food nor drink
Since six o'clock that morn,
And travelled on our aimless way
Beneath a blinding storm.

One of our crew showed symptoms
Of his reason giving away
Brought on by mental anguish
And the hardships of the day,
Exhausted now for want of food,
Our strength began to fail,
Our clothes were wet and frozen hard,
Just like a coat of mail.

The welcome dawn appeared at last,
And keen the wind did blow,
The frost intense kept sweeping past,
At twenty two below.
The sun came out and then went back,
As if it came to see,
Or mock our sad, forlorn state
In doleful misery.

No sight of land could yet be seen,
The storm did not abate
We moved our camp on safer ice
And patiently did await.
Until the hours of evening came,
It might be three or four,
The welcome land appeared at last,
Which proved the Crapaud shore.

Fond hope again, fresh courage came,
Within our sinking breast.
Our boys, though weak for want of food,
Desired to do their best.
Our baggage then we tumbled in,
Without a sigh or mourn,
And something like a sigh was heard,
Come home! it cries, Come home.

Our battle now for life began,
Despair was cast aside,
And bravely struggled every man,
His feelings for to hide.
No food or drink for fourty hours,
Exposed in our sad state
To one of Winter's fiercest storms,
The oldest can relate.

No wonder now our tottering steps
Were growing weak and slow,
We left our boats and grappled with
Our last and deadly foe.
This proved to be a strip of marsh
Tween us and solid land,
Where piles of snow were drifted high
From off the frozen Strand.

This was the saddest time of all
The trials that we went through,
For some so much exhausted were
Could not get through the snow.
But some got to the neighbouring woods
Were sheltered from the gale,
The rest got to the friendly roof
Before Mr. A. McPhail.

The neighbours soon assembled,
A thorough search was made
And those poor fellows left behind
To shelter were quickly conveyed,
A sorrowful sight we did present
To those good people's view
What hardship, cold, and hunger left
Of the hardy ice-boat crew.

The mother's loving kindness
Which in this home prevailed,
Bestowed on these poor sufferers,
By Mrs. A. McPhail.
A greatful heart shall treasured be
And like a star resplendant shine
Where time can n'er efface
To light her resting place.

Beneath the hospitable roof
The frozen ones remained
Till willing hands conveyed them
To their homes and friends again.
But long will faithful memory
Assist us to relate
The hardships of the ice-boat crew
Upon the frozen strait.

Phillip W. Farrell

Our thanks to Tom O'Connor for passing this poem along to the Register!

Memorial commemorating the Ice Boats and their Crews!

Crew and Passengers Involved in the 1885 Incident:

Boat one: In command of Captain Muncey Irving
Alex (Sandy) Stewart
Blucher Robinson
William Howatt
William Campbell.

Boat 2: In command of Newton Muttart
Hector Campbell
Mont Campbell
Eph Bell
James A. Howatt.

Boat 3: In command of Captain Hanford Allen
George Allen
John Allen
Edward Trenholm
Daniel McGlashen.

The passengers were Dr. Peter A. McIntyre, M.P. from Souris, James A. Fraser and Aaron Wilson from Summerside, Albert Glydon of Tignish, Philip Farrell of Sturgeon (author of the ode above), and James A. Morrison and T. S. McLean of Halifax, N.S.

Albert Glyddon was found by his rescuers in a barn, exhausted and frozen, later he would suffer the loss of both feet and the fingers of both hands.

Sandy Muttart, who had become delirious on the second day on the ice, was found in the swamp, clinging to the branch of a tree. Rescuers found it necessary to cut the branch from the tree to carry him to a house. He, too, lost fingers and toes as a result of the ordeal.

As a result of this disaster, regulations were soon passed requiring that each boat be equipped with a compass, at least two paddles, food, axes, and fire-making materials, and required that, in the future, there not be fewer that three ice boats accompanying each other.

For further information on this misadventure, including the accusations, recriminations and other details, see the Jan 31 - Feb 4th issues of The Daily Examiner, 1885.

A Earlier Ice Boat Incident:

From Campbell's "History of Prince Edward Island", pg. 14: "In the month of March, 1855, a distressing occurrence took place. The ice-boat from Cape Tormentine to the island, with Mr. James Henry Haszard, Mr. Johnson, son of Dr. Johnson, medical students, and an old gentleman - Mr. Joseph Weir, of Bangor - as passengers, had proceeded safely to within half a mile of the island shore, when a severe snow-storm was encountered. The boat, utterly unable to make headway, was put about, drawn on the ice, and turned up to protect the men from the cold and fury of the storm. Thus they were drifted helplessly in the strait during Friday night, Saturday, and Saturday night. On Sunday morning they began to drag the boat towards the mainland, and, exhausted, - not having tasted food for three days, - they were about ceasing all further efforts, when they resolved to kill a spaniel which Mr. Weir had with him, and the poor fellows drank the blood and eat the raw flesh of the animal. They now felt a little revived, and lightened the boat by throwing out trunks and baggage. Mr. Haszard was put into the boat, being unable to walk; and thus they moved towards the shore, from which they were four or five miles distant. On Monday evening Mr. Haszard died from exhaustion. They toiled on, however, and on Tuesday morning reached the shore, near Wallace, Nova Scotia, but, unfortunately, at a point two miles from the nearest dwelling. Two of the boatmen succeeded in reaching a house, and all the survivors, though much frostbitten, recovered under the kind and judicious treatment which they received."

Dave Hunter and The Island Register: Source Code and Graphics© 1997

Last Updated: 06/25/2000 10:40:15 AM

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