“It’s a hazard and an eyesore,” a local businessman observed recently about the old Port Williams wharf.
Perhaps so, but the wharf also is historic and at one time it was the lifeblood of the local farming community. In the 1880s potatoes were being shipped out of the wharf to New Brunswick, Boston, and New York. There are records of even earlier shipments of potatoes to New Brunswick, but we don’t know how much earlier since the date when the wharf was first built isn’t known.
Over the decades the wharf was repaired and rebuilt several times. In 1930 the government replaced the old wharf with a 230-foot-long structure, and a 310-foot steamer berth. There came a time, however, when shipments of produce such as potatoes and apples declined due to loss of markets, and apparently the wharf was allowed to deteriorate.
Actually, before the wharf reached a state of being totally unsafe, efforts were made several times to repair it and make it viable. This was in the 1960s and 1970s. In my collection of historical papers is a letter written in 1971 that was a last-ditch effort to save the wharf. The letter, written by a prominent farmer/politician Angus A. Elderkin, included a brief history of the wharf, but basically it was an appeal for federal funding for repairs.
Dated August 2, 1971, the letter was addressed to the Hon. Allan J. MacEachern in his capacity as President of the Queen’s Privy Council. “The first major repairs to the wharf were made about 1926,” Elderkin wrote. “Between 1926 and 1939 this port became known as the biggest little port in the world. By 1938, more than 500,000 barrels of apple and 70,000 barrels of potatoes… were shipped over this wharf in one year.
“Since the outbreak of World War 1, this port has gone down in importance; no apples to England, no potatoes to Cuba or Argentina. The main use of this port has been for the shipment of pulpwood, (but) even this has declined.”
In the meanwhile, Elderkin wrote, the wharf had deteriorated to the point that the Department of Public Works decided it was beyond repair and had to be replaced at the cost of $200,000. In the meanwhile, the Department of Transport declared the wharf was no longer safe for navigation.
Elderkin pointed out in his letter that that “local people who were experienced in wharf repair (estimated that) all necessary work (to make the wharf useable again) could be done for $20,000.” Eventually the federal government spent $100,000 on wharf repairs, but as we know today, the wharf was never replaced. For a time, efforts by local entrepreneurs to make the wharf the shipping point for pulpwood were successful for several years, but this soon declined.
The Port Williams history (The Port Remembers) records that in the early 1970s shipments of apples were again leaving the wharf. In 1973, notes the history, shipments of apples, carrots, and canned goods were being made to Barbados and Trinidad. In 1975 the “widest ship ever to dock” at the wharf brought a cargo of 6,000 tons of soybean meal from Chicago.
Were these last hurrahs? The Port Williams history is silent on this point. We know today that the old wharf is no longer being used. Oddly, a decade or so ago a local real estate firm put the wharf up for sale. The for-sale signs didn’t stay up very long.