Note: This is part one of our on-going series about the shipwrecks of Northeastern Prince Edward Island. The first three in our series will focus on those ships wrecked during the November Gale of 1906.
The November Gale of 1906 is well remembered by those who still live alongside the northeastern coast of Prince Edward Island. It was this gale that was responsible for the infamous wrecks of the Turret Bell, The Sovinto, and The Olga, among others. Within a twenty-mile span, from Priest Pond to Cable Head, four ships alone were wrecked in the storm.
It was a storm that could not have been predicted, for The Guardian of 5 November 1906 wrote that "even weather vanes were deceived. The barometer gave no warning; the weather possibilities conveyed no hint of more storms..." Despite this, the November Gale raged on for almost two weeks, and dumped eight inches of rain upon the area. It is in these conditions that we turn to the story of our first wreck.
The Wreck of the Turret Bell.
Built in 1894, it was of the “whaleback design” which had evolved out of necessity of shipping on the Great Lakes during the 1890s. Bulky and off-putting, these whaleback steamers were renowned for their unconventional design.
However, it was to be the case that this very design would be the thing to put the wreck of the Turret Bell on the map.
An Unexpected Occurence.
The Turret Bell’s story began on an unremarkable day in the late autumn of 1906. Her Captain, a Mr. Murcassen, was guiding her down the St. Lawrence river, en-route for Cape Breton to retrieve a load of coal.
But as she entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Turret Bell sailed straight into one of the worst storms in Island history.
High winds quickly developed as the ship sailed along, and it was in little time that the Turret Bell was blown far off her course. Visibility was low, and navigation nearly impossible.
The Captain did his best to keep his ship on course, but the storm had other plans for her on that fateful day, and before Captain Murcassen knew it, the Turret Bell had been wrecked upon a rocky ledge, her bow pointing landward, 150m offshore at Cable Head, near St. Peter’s Bay.
There were 22 souls on board.
Their only salvation was that the broad bulk of her whaleback hull was enough to keep her upright in the shallow water, despite the whipping winds and raging seas. It was early Friday morning, 2 November 1906.
Islanders Discover the Wreck.
News of the wreck spread across the Island as that day’s edition of the Daily Examiner ran the headline: "ASHORE AT CABLE HEAD. BIG LINER TURRET BELL ON ROCKS. DOUBTFUL IF SHE WILL BE ABLE TO GET OFF."
The account continued, describing the severity of the wreck:
“The steamer is firmly wedged upon a bottom of rock and is resting on an even keel. She is lying about 150 yards out from the shore and does not appear to be pounding.
A very heavy sea is still running and, although there seems to be no danger of the steamer breaking up, yet the distance to which she has been driven in to the shore makes it look doubtful if she can be floated again.
Owing to the heavy sea on, no communication has yet been made with the steamer from the shore and it has been impossible to launch a boat.... A large number of men went from Souris to Cable Head this morning but were unable to render assistance owing to the severity of the weather...”
A Rescue Attempted.
Efforts were put underway to send a tug-boat to rescue the doomed steamer, but it quickly became apparent that to do so would be impossible, and that the Turret Bell could not be tugged out, as it was “lying well within the sandbar.”
Up to this point, it had remained impossible for any communications to be made from the shore to the men trapped onboard the ship.
The storm had worsened that night, and a high tidal surge had washed her further inward toward the shore, leaving her about 20m offshore.
Despite the ship's proximity to land, strong winds and currents prevented any means of escape for those trapped on board, and although they were closer than ever to safety, the hope of a rescue still evaded them.
Questions soon arose as to the safety and conditions of the men, and as to whether they had adequate food stores.
To remedy this, Captain Murcassen cleverly established communications with those on shore by sending dispatches in a bottle.
This one way communication system was not ideal, but it was enough to serve the purpose. He advised those on land that the crew were dry and comfortable, and that they had sufficient provisions on board.
Those on board remained there for the weekend, and by Monday morning, as the weather grew calmer, it was possible to bridge the 20m span with a cable.
Through the use of this cable the Captain came ashore that morning, and later that evening his wife, who it was revealed had been a passenger on the ship, came ashore as well.
The crew remained on the ship until the next morning.
Salvaging a Colossus.
With all those who had wrecked upon the Turret Bell present and accounted for, the skeleton of the doomed steamer became a phenomenal tourist attraction for those in the surrounding area of Eastern Kings County.
As Townshend remarks, “People came on foot and on horseback, by horse and carriage, and (a very few) by car.”
This curiosity, the sense of inquisitiveness which is at the heart of every Islander, too gave way to create an enduring part of this story, as it was from these numerous visits that the Turret Bell Road, a road which remains in use to this day, became developed as it is.
Initially, curious onlookers travelled north on the Greenwich Road towards the dunes area on the seaward side of the St. Peters peninsula, and then made their way across the beach. This route to access the site proved to be tedious and ineffectual.
Later, when efforts to re-float the ship got underway, “a new road was cut through the woods on the Sutherland farm, at right angles to the Greenwich Road, to provide a more direct route to the site of the wreck.”
This clay road, which was intended only for those working on the reclamation of the ship, became a popular shortcut for those wishing to see the wreck, and hence its legacy remains even today.
Even with the facilitation of the Turret Bell road, the salvaging of the Turret Bell proved to be difficult business. The sheer size and weight of the vessel, coupled with its proximity to shore, offered a foreboding challenge to those who sought to right it.
Furthermore, salvage machinery was, at the time, in short supply, and the window of favorable weather in which to conduct such operations was deceptively short.
After two long years a crew had managed only to dislodge her from her holdings, and to float her 700 feet from shore.
This was seen as good news, but Winter was upon them, and so the Turret Bell was pumped full of water to anchor her in place, and a man was assigned to live onboard her over the winter.
Recovery efforts resumed in the spring time, and by the summer of 1909 she was prepared to be hauled to Charlottetown by a tugger, and to the surprise of everyone she was able to assist in her own propulsion, as her steamers still remained operational after all that time.
Amazingly, after three years (and three winters) at Cable Head, the Turret Bell was in sound and sturdy condition after her time at Cable Head, aside from being outwardly rusted.
On 13 August 1909, the Turret Bell, again under tow, left Charlottetown for Quebec. She was due for repairs, but after maintenance and restoration would was to be put back at sea, a successful end to a memorable wreckage.
To discover more about the Island's hidden history, from shipwrecks and rum-runners, wishing wells and ghost stories, visit the Red Rock Adventure Company home page, and learn about all the touring opportunities which we offer.
This project is made possible through a partnership with the Red Rock Adventure Company and the Sourispedia Project.
1. Townshend, Adele. "Survivor: The Wreck and Salvage of the Turret Bell." The Island Magazine.
2. St. Peter's Bay Community Community. stpetersbaycommunity.com
Every summer, tourists from around the world descend upon Prince Edward Island in order to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and to enjoy a slice of country living.
However, it seems that each year many of them seem to make the same mistake:
They spend their time on vacation the same way they spend their time at home: rushed, stressed, and dissatisfied.
Why is that?
It seems to me that people simply forget to slow down. They forget that they’re on Island time now, and that things just happen at a different pace here.
So how can people get out of that busy, stressful rut?
It’s simple. Grab a bicycle.
There’s no better way to relax and unwind than on a bicycle, and Prince Edward Island is the ideal place to do it.
And so, in that spirit, we’ve created for you a list of the Top 5 Reasons to Explore PEI by Bicycle, which are certain to inspire.
Reason #1: The Island's Incredible Scenery
Anyone even remotely familiar with Prince Edward Island already knows that it is an incredibly gorgeous place, however, its beauty shines even brighter when you explore the Island by bicycle.
As Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables wrote about PEI, “you never know what peace is until you walk on the shores or in the fields or along the winding red roads of Prince Edward Island in a summer twilight.”
And while that held true even in Montgomery’s day, it remains just as relevant today.
My favorite memories of Prince Edward Island all revolve around the scenic beauty of the great outdoors, whether it be climbing on the rocks in Sheep Pond, watching the sun rise at East Point, or exploring an old wood road in the Glen.
All of these things seem so simple, and in fact it is their simplicity that makes them so wonderful; yet they all would have been missed had I not chosen to explore by bicycle. Moving under pedal power gives you the chance see that which would otherwise have been missed in the car, and allows you to truly experience what the Island has to offer.
Reason #2: The Island's Slow Pace.
There are plenty of times in life when things moving too slowly can be a problem. I think of traffic jams, slow internet, or even the mail!
But during your vacation on Prince Edward Island, you should always remember that a snail’s pace is something to be sought after.
When riding a bike on PEI, you permit yourself the time to enjoy things at a leisurely pace.
Look around you – Islander’s naturally take it slowly.
We didn’t even lift prohibition until 1948, and canned pop is still a radical new idea here! It only makes sense that a leisurely ride on a bicycle is ideal for Island life.
All of those people who speed down the main road, who race to catch the bridge or boat, are missing out on an entire dimension of their vacation.
The mantra on the Island is "don’t speed up here; slow down".
A bicycle is a beautiful way to do just that, and to enjoy the Island the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
Reason #3: The Confederation Trail
No discussion of cycling on PEI would be complete without a shout out to the magnificent Confederation Trail.
Built after the removal of the Island train system in the late 1980s, the Confederation Trail is Prince Edward Island’s contribution to the Trans Canada Trail system. It spans the entire length of the Island, and offer hundreds of kilometers of groomed, crushed gravel trails.
Best of all, the trail is entirely flat with almost no changes in elevation whatsoever, thanks to its train track heritage.
The Confederation Trail offers a safe, accessible, and scenic way to get around the Island, and includes stop at many (if not all!) of the Island’s towns and villages.
An experience not to be missed, the Confederation Trail is a must-do for any cyclist on Prince Edward Island.
Reason #4: The Opportunity to Explore
Some experiences simply cannot be replicated. I think back to my many runs and rides in Rollo Bay in the early morning, waiting and watching as the sun comes up over the horizon.
The calm surf rolled inwards at my side, and the cool sand still held shadows of the previous dew. Seals and gulls made their presence known, and at the right hour even the eagles could be spotted in their nests.
For anyone who rides a bicycle, you already know the feeling that I am trying to describe as I type these words. It is that feeling of discovery, of experience, that you can never find on the side of the highway or through a rear-view mirror.
It is a feeling of self-satisfaction, of self-knowing, that comes from those early morning rides through a breaking dawn.
The Island is rife with opportunities like these, but they exist only for those willing to seek them out, and a bicycle is that key component that permits such a pursuit.
Reason #5: The Island's "Hidden Treasures".
On that note, I’ve chosen to conclude this article by emphasizing the multitude of “hidden treasures” that the Island offers, that are only available by bicycle, or by straying from the beaten path.
Some of them are somewhat obvious, such as the famous “Roaring Springs” at Harmony Junction, or the waterfall on the Hermitage Road.
But others, innumerable and marvelous, are still waiting to be discovered. Those vista views, those setting suns, those wild waves; all of those snapshot moments in time that exist only for an instant before they disappear. They exist not on the roadways or in the city centres, but in the hedgerows, hay fields, and at the high tides.
It is a bicycle, and the adventurous spirit that so often accompanies it, that will lead you to their discovery, and I am certain that you’ll never once regret leaving the car parked where it is.
To learn more about cycling opportunities on Prince Edward Island, to explore a large variety of different routes and experiences, or to book a guided tour of any of the places pictured or described, visit our home page and discover why Red Rock Adventure Company is the Island's leader in guided bicycle tours.
People who are planning on visiting Prince Edward Island this summer already know this:
There’s no other place in the world quite like it.
But the most frequently asked question when tourists get here is "what is there to do on PEI?" In fact, we continue to hear that people are looking for adventures on PEI, but just don't know where to find them.
Well, you’re in luck, because we’ve collected a list of the top 5 recommended things to do in Prince Edward Island that will get you away from the crowds and off the beaten path.
From seal watching to beach combing, these things showcase the spectacular beauty that PEI is famous for, and are certain to be the highlight of your trip. From biking to hiking, we've got you covered.
#1: Sunbathing Seals at Rollo Bay.
Prince Edward Island is famous for its wildlife, and there is nothing more spectacular in the summer time than to witness a playful harbor seal.
And while there are many places around the Island to spot one of these creatures, the best kept secret on where to do so is without a doubt in Rollo Bay.
The warm waters of Rollo Bay are a paradise for people and seals, and when the water recedes at low tide it leaves a sprawling sand flat in its wake. It's here, out on these sand bars, that the seals are known to sleep, basking in the warmth of the summer sun.
They aren’t always the easiest to find, and changing tides and weather can hamper their discovery, but to stumble upon them is worth the challenge. If you do find these seals, be careful not to get to near, and you should never wake them up!
To access Rollo Bay beach, head down Route 330 and follow the first dirt road to the water.
#2: The Hermitage Waterfall.
When you think of Prince Edward Island, you probably don’t think of waterfalls. Right?
That’s because most people believe that there aren’t any waterfalls on PEI.
They would be wrong.
There is a waterfall on PEI, and its one of the Island’s best kept secrets. Formed by a chance combination of elevation and water pressure, the Hermitage waterfall is like no other.
Springing forth from a pool high above the river its waters careen downwards over centuries worth of mossed over rocks, tumbling ceaselessly into the Naufrage river below. A sight that must be seen to be appreciated, it is no wonder that the locals hold this place in such high regard.
In order to find this waterfall, you must head north on Route 308, until you come to the Hermitage Road. From there, you must find the river and follow it south. The trail is sparse and unmarked, but perseverance is certain to pay off when you spot this beauty!
#3: The Canopy in "The Glen".
While Prince Edward Island is famous for its beaches, it has a longstanding connection to its forests as well.
Many of the Island’s celebrated red dirt roads still wind their way deep into the wooded heartland of the Island interior, and in fact a number of these roads are designated on PEI as Scenic Heritage Roads.
And while each of these roads boasts something unique to offer, there is none quite like the New Harmony Heritage road.
Located in the north-east corner of the Island, the New Harmony Heritage road surges northward, connecting the Northumberland Strait with the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
And although just the beauty to be seen on the road itself is something noteworthy, it is truly remarkable for its nearly two-kilometre long enclosed canopy, consisting entirely of maple and birch boughs. To drive down this road is to step in the past, and it is one the last remaining remnants of “days gone by”.
To find the New Harmony Heritage road, head north of Souris on Route 305, veer immediately onto Route 335, and take your first left onto Route 303. From there simply follow 303 into the woods.
#4: Naufrage Harbour.
There is perhaps nothing more uniquely Island than the tiny fishing villages which have sprung up across the province.
Despite advances in technology that have elsewhere disrupted the fishing industry, it seems that little has changed in these quaint little villages. Dozens of them are still active to this day, but most remarkable is the harbor at Naufrage.
Named “naufrage” after the French word for shipwreck, it was here that shipwrecked sailors washed ashore and came to settle. From its very beginning Naufrage has shared a special connection to the sea, and this connection continues to be seen to this day.
Despite its size, more than a hundred fisherman sail from this harbor every day, and it still boasts a proud and active light house, one that continues to guide sailors home from their labours at sea.
To find Naufrage, head North from St. Peter's Bay along Route 16.
#5: Greenwich National Park.
When it comes to Prince Edward Island, the first thing that springs to mind is the beach. Warm water, waves crashing, and gulls overhead.
The Island has come to be known for its colorful sunsets and sprawling sandy shores, and if this is what you seek, you need look no further than Greenwich National Park.
Unlike the other parts of the Prince Edward Island National Park, Greenwich is in a world of its own, isolated from the rest of the Island on its own peninsula.
Here the crowds are thinner, the beaches calmer, and the scenery just that much more beautiful.
Greenwich boasts all of the favoured amenities of any other National park, but here you are free to enjoy all that it is offer in relative solitude, making the experience truly your own.
To find Greenwich, follow Route 313 from St. Peter's Bay.
The Red Rock Adventure Company is your number one destination for adventure tours on PEI. To learn more about any of these places, or to discover a multitude of other adventure opportunities, please visit our tours page. Follow this link to visit our reservations page and book a tour for yourself today.