A short history of the Fortune River

This is our river, and these are our stories.

Islanders have long known that above all else, we are bound to the waters which surround us, for it is these waters which over the course of our history have shaped our lives and forged our futures. There is no Island community which has not, at one time or another, found itself to be inextricably linked to the oceans, bays, and rivers which surround this incredibly place we call home, and Bay Fortune is no exception.

From one generation to the next the Fortune River has come to define us as a place and a people of the river, by the river, and from the river. And while much has changed in the countless years since we have first plied these waters, what has remained the same is the indomitable spirit of those who call this place home, whose stories, just like their river, flow endlessly on.

It is the goal of Fortune River Charters to help you explore these historical waters and leave you with an experience like no other in Eastern Prince Edward Island.

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 Lobster Fishing

As was the case in many of our small harbours, the establishment of a breakwater was necessary in order to facilitate any sort of fishing industry, for the breakwater was required to keep the wrath of the sea at bay. With the establishment of a breakwater, the mouth of Fortune River was calmed into a fine and sturdy harbour, one that now offered the potential to support a vibrant lobster industry.

Fortune Harbour, 1941.

Fortune Harbour, 1941.

Much of the lobster industry in Fortune revolved around the Johnston’s lobster cannery, which was located right on the shore, and was so close to the water that it was subject to the rising tide and had to be elevated on piers to accommodate shifting sea levels. Twice a day when the tide came in the water would flow right under the building, giving it the appearance that it was floating. It was inside this building that the lobster was actually prepared and treated.

But more than anything, the true miracle which allowed the lobster industry to flourish in Fortune was the development of the technology which permitted lobster meat to be successfully canned and preserved on a large scale. Prior to the large scale accessibility of industrial canning equipment, lobster had posed a uniquely troubling problem which prevented it from being sold on a large scale. Unlike other types of fish, it could not be shipped and preserved merely in salt, due to the nature of its shell and the fragility of its meat. And so, unless one was eating fresh lobster, they would not be eating it at all; a problem which in those days eliminated almost the entirety of the North American population.

Carrying lobsters into the factory for processing. 1941.

Carrying lobsters into the factory for processing. 1941.

However, with the advent of affordable and accessible lobster canning equipment, lobster meat could now be shipped anywhere in the world without spoiling, a development which opened whole new markets for the industry, and which in turn cemented the lobster canneries of the Island into powerhouses of economic production around the first half of the twentieth century.

  Then, as now, lobsters would be hauled up from the seabed in lobster traps, and then they would be dumped into wooden crates aboard the boat. Back then lobster fishing was constrained to a great degree to inshore fishing, due to the technological limitations of the boats and their trapping supplies and capacity in a time when all lobster boats were built by hand. Notable, also, was the fact that most of these men were unable to swim, being farmers at heart, and deep water posed a real and significant threat to their own lives.

       But once the crates on the boats were filled, the men would  take their catch back in to the wharf, where the lobster was then weighed and measured, before being transferred to the holding area by the factory, where it would wait to be taken into the cannery.

Johnstons Cannery, Fortune Harbour. 1933

Johnstons Cannery, Fortune Harbour. 1933

     There, their catch would be cooked and packed in sealed cans, frozen, or occasionally shipped live to many other parts of Canada and the United States, with a great deal of the lobster being caught ultimately destined for Boston.

Today, lobster fishing is still an integral part of the Fortune economy, and almost two dozen fishermen continue to ply their trade out of Fortune harbour, many of them descendants of those who worked so hard so many years ago to establish the first breakwater which formed the harbour as we know it today. There are four lobster buyers here as well: Ocean Choice, Ocean Pride, B.A. Richard, and Mariner Seafood.

 History of the Fortune Bridge

Fortune’s First Permanent Bridge. Date Unknown.

Fortune’s First Permanent Bridge. Date Unknown.

From the very beginning, the residents of the Fortune area have understood that their future successes or failures would ultimately be dependent on a bridge, and so, they began what has come to be a never ending pursuit to establish, build, and maintain the lifeline of the community, the Fortune bridge.

Crossing the Fortune River has never been easy, but the wintertime provided an option, for one could simply walk across on the ice. This did provide some hazards, as there was always the risk of falling through the thin shell ice if it was not sufficiently frozen. So too was there the issue of freshwater springs which flowed year round and could weaken the ice or prevent freezing entirely. But such was the benefit of crossing on the ice that crews of men would voluntarily set out to ‘bush’ or mark the best path across the river, placing small bushes or trees to indicate where safe crossings could be had. Ice crossings provided only a temporary solution, and a risky one as well; for as the spring thaw came and the ice broke up, people were once more left without a method to cross.

Fortune Bridge looking towards Fortune School. Date Unknown. photo: janice farrell

Fortune Bridge looking towards Fortune School. Date Unknown. photo: janice farrell

In the summertime, when conditions were more favorable, passage could be found across Rollo Bay flats near Abel’s Cape, where one could cross over the extensive sandbars and flats at low tide and come up in Rollo Bay, near the present day Rollo Bay Church, and carry on to Souris that way. This too proved to be risky, for the tides there return quickly, and fill in in a reverse manner, growing deeper from the shoreline outward and leaving small sand islands which can result in people becoming trapped out on the sand. Furthermore, the tide waits for no man, and if people did not time their trips to Souris exactly right, they would find themselves stranded and without passage until the low tide returned again in eleven hours, meaning they would have to sit and wait, or make the long and lonesome journey back around through Dingwells Mills.

Fortune river looking north from the bridge, 1948. Photo: Ivan K. Mitchell

Fortune river looking north from the bridge, 1948. Photo: Ivan K. Mitchell

  With such temporary options people weren’t satisfied, and as the records show, as early as 1806, local residents began to petition the government for a more permanent solution. One of the first bridges built was a floating bridge which could be removed as needed in order to permit ship traffic to pass through. Other details about this bridge is sparse, however, and what is thought to be the first permanent bridge in the area was constructed in 1834. This was a wooden bridge, and was made of simple materials. On these early bridges it is interesting to note that the planks had to be removed and replaced as often as every two years, due to the deterioration in them caused by the force of the horse’s shoes that traveled over them.

A wooden bridge was maintained in the area until 1913, when that summer construction was begun on a steel framed bridge. The bridge had originally been designed for use as a span in Quebec, but due to some error it was found to be unsuitable for its initial purpose. The planners of Fortune bridge learned of this situation, and opted to purchase this bridge from Quebec and install it across Fortune river.

View from Fortune River Charters launch site. Date unknown. photo: Janice farrell

View from Fortune River Charters launch site. Date unknown. photo: Janice farrell

Work began on a more modern bridge around 1959. During the time that this bridge was being built the steel bridge remained in place, located immediately to the southeast side of this newer 1959 bridge. Even into the 1960s photographs show that the steel bridge remained in place, despite the installation of the newer bridge, and it is unclear when the steel bridge was removed entirely. The pilings and some of the wharfage from the steel bridge remained in place until 2017, and was often a popular spot for young people to jump and dive off of.

A newer, much larger bridge was installed throughout the fall of 2017, and now stands as the present day bridge. It is by far taller than any other bridge which has ever spanned the river, and provides a much greater clearance between the bridge deck and the river.

 Acadians

  Regarding the Acadians of Bay Fortune, one need look no further than the Provincial Department of Tourism, which in 1893 issued its leaflet titled “Prince Edward Island as a Summer Resort”, an advertising booklet intended to entice visitors to our Island. It contained within a description of the Acadian people’s of our Island, which read as follows:

Acadians potrayed in 1751, Annapolis Royal.

Acadians potrayed in 1751, Annapolis Royal.

“It has been said of the Acadians, “they are still to a great extent a people set apart from the rest of the population, living in their own villages, intermarrying early with their own race, speaking the French tongue, and keeping up in dress, traditions, customs, etc. the simple, hospitable, kindly traits depicted in Evangeline… peaceful, economical, industrious, in a way belonging to a past age, these Acadians are a peculiar people, full of interest to every traveller fresh from the feverish press of business, or the artificial but onerous demands of modern society”.

  And while this description no doubt sounds idyllic, it makes no acknowledgement of the very real historical struggles faced by the Acadian peoples, and in fact, serves to erase the legitimacy of their hardships, and this, more than 100 years after their first expulsion. Far from the rosy picture painted above, the story of the Acadians in Fortune, not unlike the story of the Acadians as a whole, is one of hardship, disenfranchisement, and a search for identity, all of which is centralized around their deportations from this land.

  The deportation of the Acadians of Prince Edward Island took place between 1755 and 1762, and as Lockerby explains, “deportation is a defining event in Acadian history and has played a profound role in shaping Acadian identity. For Acadians, deportation was a tragedy resulting in the devastation of their society, the dispersal of close-knit families and the destruction of communities. At the same time, the travails of an uprooted pastoral people during deportation and its aftermath, and the extraordinary odyssey experienced by many of them, produced a shared heritage which has helped the Acadian community”.

  Like much of the Acadian population on the Island at the time, their homes and possessions were seized, destroyed, or forcibly abandoned, in an attempt to eradicate the people and their way of life. From here, the exact fate of these early Acadians is unknown, however, it is known that many “Island Acadians were deported to France. Of these, only about 35% survived this terrible ordeal.  Two-thirds of the deportees died, either by drowning when ships that were transporting them sank, or following epidemics on board other ships”.

  Our story is then resumed after the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians of Grand Pre in Nova Scotia, when several families of Acadians fled by canoe to Prince Edward Island, to land at Point Prim. Among them were Bourques, Pitres, Leblancs, and Chaissons. But feeling that they were still susceptible to the whims of the British, they made their way northeastward, landing ultimately at Bay Fortune, where they were joined by several families from St. Peter’s Harbour.

  These people were then left to rail against the elements in their plight for survival. According to de la Roque, however, the development of the Acadian farms was limited greatly by their inability to receive adequate supplies. This was a problem not unfamiliar to the Acadians of the Island, and as a result, they were forced to adapt clever methods of farming and agriculture in order to survive, given their circumstances.

  It was then to the salt marshes that the Acadians turned, for from the marshes could be obtained all that was necessary to sustain life on this Island. As Hatvany relates, “contemporary accounts indicate that the salt marshes were especially prized for the ease by which geese, ducks and other waterfowl could be obtained there. Eels, shrimp, smelt, herring, alewives, flounder, lobsters, mussels, oysters and other fish were like a “manna from heaven” that could be scooped up in nets by the bushel.” This natural bounty was, as one commentator wrote, “of great assistance to the inhabitants, and in particular new settlers, before they have time to raise food from the produce of the land.”

Making-Marsh-Hay-Robert-Harris-768x639.jpg

 The Acadians of the area did see some success from their farming labours, and as a result some of the women of this group were determined to overcome their oppressors and were industrious enough to hide away some reserves of stores in the forest, to secure enough for the winter. But even these efforts weren’t enough to support themselves, and after several years of dire conditions, around the year 1764 they agreed to take the oath of allegiance to the British, and in return they would receive the undisputed possession of “the fruits of their labour”. The one provision which was made by them, however, was that they should “never take up arms against the King of France”.

  Such was their lot in life until 1798 when the proprietor of Lot 43, William Townshend, arrived to exercise his to claim the lands surrounding Bay Fortune. It was his intent to evict the Acadians living there in order to establish a Protestant colony of Dingwells and others who were at the time settled at St. Peters, but who were covetous of the farmlands of Fortune.

 The Acadians refused to recognize any claim that Townshend had to the land, on the grounds that they possessed a letter of recognition from the British officer who had sworn them their oath of allegiance, indicating their own claim to the land. This matter was soon taken to the courts, and Townshend won, which meant that the Acadians were once again being forced to leave Fortune.

The monument to the Acadians, on the bank of the Fortune River.

The monument to the Acadians, on the bank of the Fortune River.

  Many of these newly disenfranchised families made their way to Cape Breton, however those who could afford the purchase of land made their way to Rollo Bay, to settle on land purchased from the late John Cambridge. This group numbered approximately fourteen families, including Bourques, Pitres, and Chaissons. This settlement took place in the year 1801 or 1802. From there, they established a community that still retains its French roots today. As for Fortune, it is noted that the old burial ground of these Acadian families is still extant on the property of Mr. Charles Aitken, of Fortune. Today, there stands a cairn and historical memorial, which bears testament to the arduous lives of these, our Acadian ancestors.

Pearce and Abel

 The story of Pearce and Abel is one which has long ignited the imagination of Islanders, particularly in the Souris area, for it conjures in the mind a timeless sense of drama and intrigue, of justice and corruption, and of moral ambiguity. It is a true parable and testament to the hardships of life faced by our earliest settlers, and it is a constant reminder of the threat of bureaucratic overreach and what it can do to a man. We as Islanders have always seen ourselves as something of an underdog in the greater scheme of things, and so, most of all, the story of Pearce and Abel resonates with us because it serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when an innocent man is pushed to his breaking point.

Early map of the Bay Fortune Area. Date unknown.

Early map of the Bay Fortune Area. Date unknown.

 Whether through fate or fortune, ownership of Lot 43 eventually fell upon Lord James Townshend, who entrusted one Edward Abel (also spelled Abell) “a farmer and merchant” to act as his agent. Abel was well-to-do by the standards of his day, however he was not a popular man among the people of the area. Captain Frederick Marryat, an English sailor and novelist who met Abel on the Island in 1811, wrote of him, “this fellow called himself the steward, and from all I could see of him during our three week’s stay, he appeared to be rascal enough for the stewardship of any nobleman’s estate in England.” And by all accounts it seems that Abel’s wife, Susannah Hubbard, was cut much from the same cloth. She was described as being “a selfish and unscrupulous woman who goaded him on to acts of harshness and injustice.

  Renowned as cruel and exacting, Abel was the antithesis to the the new arrival of one Patrick Pearce. Pearce was born in 1789 in Ireland, and it is believed that he immigrated to the Island in at 1811 after the near wreck of the frigate, the Aeolus at the age of 22. Like many other settlers in the area at that time, had established and developed homesteads in the area surrounding Fortune Harbour, near Abel’s Cape.

  In exchange for the use and cultivation of the land, it was expected of tenants that they pay quitrents to Lord Townshend, at “a yearly rental of one shilling sterling per acre or five pounds, eleven shillings and two pence Island currency per 100 acres equal to about three pounds fourteen shillings British sterling”, which is approximately equal in today’s terms to somewhere between $150-$200 per acre.

Drawing of Abels Cape. Date unknown.

Drawing of Abels Cape. Date unknown.

 By the summer of 1819 Pearce had been living in his home for some twelve or fifteen years, and he evidently farmed reasonably well, as there is no indication that he ever had any prior conflicts with the law, nor was he evicted. And as some measure of his farming success, it was around this time that he came to be in possession of a beautiful black horse, one which soon came to be known as the finest horse around.

 This did not sit well with jealous Mrs. Abel, who looked on with a covetous eye, “and tried in vain to induce Pearce to sell him”. Pearce was not to be persuaded, and so, “failing in that, she prevailed upon her husband to demand immediate payment of the rent.” Despite the fact that Pearce was not owing on any rent at that precise time, Mrs. Abel was certain was that if she could force him to be owing, he could be persuaded to surrender the horse in exchange for the debt he owed. But poor Pearce was not to be trifled with so easily, and sought out support of his neighbours to pay the amount.

  Pearce did find the money, but when he returned home he found that Mr. Abel was already sitting on his woodpile waiting for him, with Constable John O’Donnell beside him, holding the coveted horse by the bridle. Pearce offered Abel the money, but to Abel the outcome was already a foregone conclusion: he was there to seize the horse. This incensed Pearce, and what happened next was recorded at the time in the Prince Edward Island Register of 8 September 1819:

Restored Queen Anne’s musket, same style of weapon used in the murder of Abel.

Restored Queen Anne’s musket, same style of weapon used in the murder of Abel.

  “Abell… sent his bailiff to some person living in the settlement to witness his proceedings; and the bailiff, upon his return, heard a loud altercation between Abell and Pearce, and saw the latter enter his house and take down a musket and fixed bayonet which he placed upon the floor, and then taking off his jacket, took up his gun and proceeded to the spot where Abell was seated and made a lunge which pierced Abell’s arm, and immediately making a second charge the bayonet passed through the back part of the thigh into the intestines. He was then seized by the bailiff, who wrested the gun from him and held him fast, while Abell crawled to the house. The bailiff (who is also a servant to Abell) was sent for to attend his master and Pearce absconded”.

 Despite his injuries, “Abel managed to crawl to the next house, occupied by Valentine Needham, another of the emigrants, from whence he was taken to his own house. Abel made his will on August 26, 1819, two days after he was stabbed. He left to his “dear beloved wife” all “houses, land, stock in trade, stocks, livestock, farming utensils, books, bonds, vessel, household goods, ready money, debts, jewellery, plate, and wearing apparel…. ” He died two days later, on September 7, 1819 where he died after lingering for a week”.

  Meanwhile, Patrick Pearce became a fugitive, taking shelter among his fellow tenants, many of whom sympathized with him. His neighbours were putting themselves at great risk by harbouring Pearce, but for them it was well worth while. The precise machinations of his escape are unknown, for as O’Grady explain, “one hundred and eighty-five years after the event it is not possible to establish all the details, but a composite version of traditional accounts indicates that Pearce managed to hide in the woods or with sympathetic friends during the winter of 1819.

 First, a family named Burke sheltered him in their cellar, then Joseph Brown and John Black took turns concealing him at Cape Spry. In the spring of 1820, Pearce “swam across Blackett’s Creek and stayed the night in the attic of George Banks’ home in Annandale. The next day the young Banks girls, Mary and Elizabeth, dressed the fugitive in their mother’s clothes and rowed him out to a vessel anchored in Grand River”. From there, an American sea captain, Nicholas Falla, transported him to safety. After that, Pearce simply disappeared. As Harry Burke said, “No one ever heard of him after.”

Shipbuilding

 During its peak in the nineteenth century, shipbuilding was one of the key industries on Prince Edward Island, and the local shipbuilders which dotted our provincial landscape ranked amongst the best in the world.

Building a ship in Fortune. Date unknown.

Building a ship in Fortune. Date unknown.

  And Bay Fortune, not unlike much of this area of the province, was once a booming locale for shipbuilding, employing many dozens of men in the industry and building countless ships which sailed the world over, with many of them carried “away before a free west wind for Britain”. In fact, as was noted in the Island Patriot on 5 September 1874, “from 1845 to 1859, Bay Fortune was one of the most productive shipbuilding parts on the Island.” In Fortune just as elsewhere, shipbuilding reigned supreme, and the course of our people’s lives, both then and now, has been irrevocably shaped by the rise and fall of the shipbuilding tide.

  Shipbuilding as an industry rapidly swept over the province as the need for sturdy ships, both for transportation and the delivery of goods, grew increasingly high as the nineteenth century marched onwards. With humble beginnings around the middle of the eighteenth century, the industry saw nothing but growth until 1865, where by that time it had become, “per capita, twice the size of its counterpart in New Brunswick, and three times of that in Nova Scotia”. In fact, by the year of Canada’s Confederation, 1867, the shipbuilding industry on the Island was contributing around $2,000,000 to the provincial economy.

A fully built locally made ship heads to sea. Date unknown.

A fully built locally made ship heads to sea. Date unknown.

  As Fischer explains, by the middle of the nineteenth century, “all of the prerequisites for a major shipping industry were present on the Island. Local shipwrights and shipbuilders, such as the Dingwells in Bay Fortune, the Orrs in New Glasgow and Rustico, the Coffins at St Peters, the Duncans and James Peake in Charlottetown, and James Yeo and his master builders at Port Hill, had accumulated sufficient expertise and capital to construct durable yet inexpensive vessels for overseas sale.

  As mentioned above, Bay Fortune and the surrounding area was no stranger to the development of this lucrative industry. As indicated in The Island Register, in the year 1876 alone there 11 ships built and launched on the Fortune River. Many of these recorded ships came from the shipyard of Daniel Flynn, which was located on the southwest side of the present-day Fortune bridge, directly across the Paddles on Fortune River boat launch. One such ship, launched by Flynn’s shipyard in 1858 and lauded in the Examiner, was the “Comet”, which was built for the Newfoundland seal fishery, and another, the “Seaflower”, a brigatine of 120 tons.

The process of shipbuilding itself was far from advanced, and as is related in Westcountrymen in Prince Edward’s Isle, “it took only a few skilled men, a few simple tools, a lot of knowhow; and a sheltered sloping beach with deep water close inshore to build a wooden ship of 200 to 300 tons, perhaps 100 to 120 feet long…Shipyards were less shipyards in the modern sense than sites where a master builder could put a vessel together and rig her, working slowly with the aid of a few less skilled than himself. It is said there were two to three hundred workers employed in the various shipyards at one time on Souris River, and it is within reasonable conjecture that at this time similar numbers were to been on the Fortune River as well.

  The completion of a ship was not merely a matter of economics; it was just as much a cause for celebration. As Townshend explains, a launching of a ship was always an occasion for a party, and it was often the case that locals would gather from all around to celebrate the achievement. Parties would last long into the night, and an account of one such party, in this case of the launching of the “Limelight”, has been passed down thus: “Eddie Donald McCormack was the fiddler at the party at Tom Warner’s. He kept on bravely making music while many strong men slumped to the floor but finally the fiddle dropped from his hand though the bow kept sawing the air but not for long, as Eddie too was thoroughly relaxed on the floor”.

The Raven. Date unknown.

The Raven. Date unknown.

 However they were built, they were built with skill, and the ships of Bay Fortune sailed the world over, from the mouth of the Fortune River and across the world’s oceans. Many ships saw their genesis in the shipyards which lined the River, and many “schooners, brigatines, and barques were built near the site of the present bridge, then launched and sailed down the Fortune River to continue on to their destination

  But the good times could not last forever, and as the nineteenth century came to a close it was readily becoming apparent that shipbuilding, and the economic boom that had once accompanied it, was fast disappearing. What once been a juggernaut of an industry, the confidence of many, was now beginning to sink. “Sailing vessels, large and small, built and managed primarily by Islanders, were visible symbols of a vital economy, but these symbols were readily slipping away.

 As Fischer writes, “Hindsight, of course, allows us to see how misplaced that confidence was. By the late 1860s the shipping industry had begun to founder; despite a brief renaissance in the mid-1870s, and the age of the wooden sailing vessel was rapidly drawing to a close, at least in North America. None of this, however, was obvious to people of the day. In fact, given the information available, the assumption that the shipping industry would continue to serve as the bedrock of the Island economy was quite reasonable.

There were two substantial reasons for this rapid decline, “over which the residents of the province have no control, for this state of things is namely caused by the introduction of steam together with iron and steel ships, and the exhaustion of the timber once plentiful for shipbuilding purposes.

 By the dawn of the twentieth century the shipbuilding industry, as it were, had faded almost entirely, and left in its wake only the small builders who continued to eke out an existence from what little local demand was still available. The world had moved on, leaving in its wake the remnants and legacy of Island ingenuity and fortitude on the world stage.

Bay Fortune Actor’s Colony

  Bay Fortune, it seems, has had its fair share of fame and celebrity in its past, stretching all the way back to the infamous case of Pearce and Abel. But Fortune’s connections to such memorable moments in history are not merely a thing of the past, for they live on today in the remaining artifacts and stories which the colorful characters who once called the area home have left behind.

  And when it comes to fascinating remnants of the past, nothing stands as such a regal testament to the area’s heritage as the beautiful Inn at Bay Fortune, and its inexorable connection to the Bay Fortune Actor’s Colony.

The Inn at Bay Fortune, as it appears today.

The Inn at Bay Fortune, as it appears today.

  It may still be remarked upon as a puzzling development as to how this Colony came to be, for despite the beauty of the Bay it was a long and distant journey for these American “colonists” to find their way here. But as Peake writes, Fortune “was a perfect retreat for these actors, actresses and writers of the American stage who required the renewal of peace and tranquility”

 In order to uncover the specific genesis of this Colony, we would be remiss to overlook Charles Coughlan, for it is the case that this story too begins (and seemingly ends) with him. Charles Coughlan was initially brought to the Island after seeing a leaflet advertising it in New York. He was an avid sports fisher, and this led him eventually to Fortune, where he was immediately smitten by the place. There was, at this time, already extant a small cottage on Abel’s Cape, as is alluded to above, one which he rented immediately and spent the summer in with his wife and daughter. By the conclusion of the summer he was so enamored with Bay Fortune that he purchased the “Cape House” outright.

Picnic in Fortune. CA. 1928

Picnic in Fortune. CA. 1928

  The next summer, with tales of the wonderful Island alight in his mind, Coughlan returned to Fortune, having extended invitations to many of his theatrical friends, thus laying the groundwork for the future actors colony. Attracted by Coughlan’s own residence, C.P. Flockton soon followed him to Fortune and purchased three different properties in the Fortune area.

  Flockton, or “Flockie” as he was known by his friends at the time, was an amiable and sociable character, who had risen to prominence first in England, and then in New York City. It is said that Oscar Wilde wanted Flockton to be in his first play, “Vera the Nihilist”, and he was noted as being “among the best stock actors in America”.

C.P. Flockton (Flockie). (NYU Archives)

C.P. Flockton (Flockie). (NYU Archives)

  Under Flockton, the colony was truly something to be remarked upon. It became an intricate collection of cottages and houses rented by some of the most notable actors of the American east coast. Further pamphlets were printed to attract others, highlighting some of the features of the area. This included an illustration of what is now known as Fortune Back Beach, under the name of “Sea Gull Beach”, and advertised trout fishing, deep sea fishing, and sun bathing, as well as row boats for hire and a schooner, the “Stroller”, for rent, permitting his guests to go sailing

  One of the most notable actors at the colony was Mr. Henry Warwick (often known as Harry), who came to Fortune with his wife Elsa in the late 1800s. Henry was an American actor, while Elsa was originally from Stockholm, Sweden. They were initially guests of C.P. Flockton, but before the turn of the century they had acquired property in the area and built a summer home. At this time Henry belonged to the Vitagraph Company of New York, and Elsa had been a Gibson Girl and a dancer

Early promotional photo of Elsa Warwick. CA. 1905.

Early promotional photo of Elsa Warwick. CA. 1905.

  But above all others, Fortune was most shaped by the famous playwright Elmer Harris, whose legacy continues to resound in the community to this day. As was noted in The Guardian in 1918, Elmer Harris was well known at that time as a “celebrated author and playwright from New York” . And while this undoubtedly earned him a certain degree of respect in the Fortune area, it is not always this that he is remembered for, but instead as the owner of “the largest and most beautiful summer home on the river, on which he has spent thousands, and continues to improve and add to from year to year”.

 Mr. Harris was no stranger to the Bay Fortune area around the turn of the century, having been persuaded to visit the area by Flockton. In little time Harris had soon fell in love with it, and in 1908 he bought a piece of property overlooking the Fortune river, and set about the construction of his summer residence, a residence that would one day become the Inn at Bay Fortune.

Elmer Harris, right, in 1921

Elmer Harris, right, in 1921

  Just as it is today, Harris’ cottage was a magnificent accomplishment, one which elicited fanfare and admiration from all of those in connection with it. An anonymous letter to the editor of The Guardian, written in September of 1918, and signed only by the pseudonym “Angler”, relates to us that this spectacular home rests upon the most charming of sites, and is, in fact, one of the most extensive modern summer homes in Eastern Canada. To the present reader’s favor, this letter-writer tells us that the home featured a water tower, baths, and hot and cold running water throughout. He also indicates to us that the home was by no means finished, and, as we have read above, received ongoing upgrades and renovations on a yearly basis.

Another curious tale developed in regards to Harris’ cottage, and in particular to the tower. It is said that during the war-time era of World War II, from aloft in the tower on the property one was able to spy military vessels and submarines out in the Northumberland Strait, and that on one occasion, through some method of signalling, communication was established between the tower and a vessel at sea.

Not long after construction of his cottage, Harris was married in 1913 to Willamino Hennessey. They had two children together, and once these children were grown both he and his wife moved to the Island permanently in the 1950s.

 It was also around this time that Harris wrote the script for “Johnny Belinda”, the play that would go on to be one of his most famous. Telling the story of Johnny Belinda, based upon the real life of Lydia Dingwell, of Dingwells Mills, the plot delves into the complexities of rape and innocence in early Canadian life. The title resonates to this day through the naming of Johnny Belinda Creek, on Route 2 in Dingwells Mills.

Promotional poster for “Johnny Belinda”.

Promotional poster for “Johnny Belinda”.

  After the illness and death of Harris’ wife, the property changed hands several times, before being sold to Colleen Dewhurst, an actress who performed with John Wayne, and who was famously known for her role as Marilla Cuthbert in the movie versions of Anne of Green Gables. Dewhurst and her family summered at the Harris property for many years, enjoying the beauty of Bay Fortune. In 1989 the property was purchased by David Wilmer, who began the process of converting the property into an Inn.

 It is through process that the Inn at Bay Fortune came into existence, and its current owners, Michael and Chastity Smith, have upheld its historic tradition and fortitude.

  Just as in the years and decades prior, Bay Fortune has always been an attractive draw from people all over the world who seek to find the ‘idylls of a summer night’, and for those who have spent any time in Fortune in a calm summer’s evening, it is easy to argue that there is no place one would rather be. The stately Inn at Bay Fortune still rests on the shore of Fortune River, just as Harris had first envisioned it, and, just as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was a resting place for travellers the world over. It is a splendid thing to see the lights and sights of the Inn abuzz, patrons mingling on its exquisite lawns as the teasing aromas of wood smoke and gourmet delights waft through the air as the sun sets and day turns to night.

Guests enjoying the Fireworks culinary experience at the present day Inn at Bay Fortune.

Guests enjoying the Fireworks culinary experience at the present day Inn at Bay Fortune.

Voices carry pleasantly over the water as Fireworks, the renowned restaurant and eatery which constitutes the very heart of the Inn at Bay Fortune, bursts to life, and it appears that all is as it should be: another day has drawn to a close, and the bold vision of a colony at Bay Fortune, one which rollicks with the dreams and visions of actors, writers, and visitors of all degree, is brought to life. The world is on our doorstep, and it is a beautiful thing. The Inn at Bay Fortune, and now also the Inn at Fortune Bridge, are living pieces of local history, ones which splendidly upholds the spirit and tradition of the Bay Fortune’s Actor’s Colony; a history which continues to be written to this day.