A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PORT WILLIAMS WHARF (September 23/05)

It lies dormant today but there was a time when the Port Williams wharf linked Valley apple growers with markets around the world.

In fact, it was the apple industry seeking cheaper access to markets that led to the wharf being constructed. Several history books tell the story about the conflict between fruit growers and the shipping lines, among them Anne Hutten’s Valley Gold, W. C. Milner’s The Basin of Minas and Its Early Settlers and the community-written history, The Port Remembers.

These and other histories document that Valley apple growers, threatened by exorbitant rates of shipping lines that apparently reduced farm profits to zero, lobbied the government to build a wharf at Port Williams. On the conflict and the important role played by the Hon. J. L. Illsley in having the wharf constructed these histories agree; they differ, however, on exactly when the wharf was opened and who was behind the movement to have the wharf built.

Anne Hutten writes, for example, that “with characteristic Valley independence, George Chase decided to fight the shipping monopoly.” Hutten said that Chase, a prominent local farmer and entrepreneur, exerted pressure on Illsley, then Minister of National Revenue, to have a wharf built at Port Williams.

Hutten indicates that the wharf at Port Williams was operational by 1930 but gives no firm date for its construction. In The Port Remembers the editors write that apples were being shipped out of Port Williams in the late 1920s, indicating there was some sort of meagre wharf at this time, and that a larger wharf was built in 1930. “A new 230 foot wharf was built in 1930,” they write, “and along with it a steamer berthing bed, 310 feet in length and 43 feet in width.” This book also credits George Chase as the moving force behind the move to build the wharf.

W. C. Milner, who was chief archivist of the province at one time, tells a slightly different story on the origin of the Port Williams wharf. He credits Planter descendant William H. Chase with bringing the wharf to Port Williams. “Believing that the railway toll on apples, enroute to England, was excessive,” Milner writes, “(Chase) secured wharf extension at Port Williams and contracted with steamship companies to load with apples at Port Williams.”

Within a year of the wharf being completed Valley growers were shipping half a million barrels of apples out of Port Williams. “Vessels from abroad were… able to come in on the highest tides in the world, right past Valley orchards laden with fruit,” Anne Hutten writes, saving “millions of dollars in freight charges over the long haul.”

The wharf at Port Williams was constructed by Canard native Charles Wright, a Valley builder who is the subject of a soon-to-be-released book by Daphne Frazee. The wharf probably was completed around 1926 or 1927. These years are arrived at by talking with Edgar Bezanson of Aldersville. Mr. Bezanson remembers working on the wharf when he was about 17 years old; he is 97 and will be 98 next March.

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