Today I keep things brief. Honestly. I do so mostly because it’s Film Friday and that’s the point of Film Friday; and also because I’ve been plagued by a bout of insomnia for most of the week now, and if I let myself ramble too much, I’ll start spewing sleep-deprived gibberish at you. And nobody likes gibberish. Especially of the sleep-deprived variety. Sort of like what I’m doing right this very moment.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the Island as of late has been something of a sauna, and so on Wednesday, with humidex values rising into the mid-30s, my girlfriend and I got the hell out of dodge (Charlottetown) and made our way to Chelton Beach. If you don’t know it, it’s a provincial park on the Island’s south shore, just west of Borden-Carleton. The first thing you notice as you step foot on the beach is the Confederation Bridge – it’s pretty hard to miss, really. Sitting in view of it, we began to reminisce a bit about when it was built and, because we’re both historically minded, got to thinking about life before it even existed (that’s going back 20-23 years now, which is hard to believe). You know, back when the Island was actually an island and not physically connected to anything. Those were the days.
Anyway, when you think about life before the bridge – if you think about life before the bridge – you most likely think MV Abegweit. The question is, which one? The original? The successor? Both? Or are you just plain confused now, because you thought there was only ever one to begin with? The answer depends in large part on when you were born.
The first MV Abegweit, or the ‘Abby’, as most everyone lovingly called it, was an icebreaking railway, passenger, and car ferry, one of the biggest and most powerful out there in its day. Owned by the Canadian National Railway, it was begun in November 1944, commissioned in June 1947, and put into service that August. For 35 years, it plied the waters of the Northumberland Strait, from Borden to Tormentine (New Brunswick), back and forth, endearing itself to just about everyone and becoming a quintessential part of the Island way of life.
But of course, all good things must eventually come to an end, and when it came time to replace the ‘Abby‘, it was the MV Straitway due to succeed; however, there was a problem: People, including CN Marine, owners of the new vessel, couldn’t bear to part ways with the hallowed name…so they didn’t. While still under construction in 1981, it was decided to scrap the name Straitway and register the new vessel as the MV Abegweit, made possible by renaming the original by its nickname, the MV Abby. Don’t worry – to this day, it’s a switcheroo that still trips people up.
So in honour of the original MV Abegweit, here’s a two-minute National Film Board clip. I have no idea when it was taken, but based on some of those fine automobiles seen in the beginning, I’d have to say late 1950s. I also don’t know the context – the first few scenes appear to have been shot on the Island, but those toward the end were clearly filmed elsewhere. If you have any insights, feel free to comment.
Enjoy the show!
PEI History Guy
P.S. – If you ever want to see the original MV Abegweit, in person, you can. All you need to do is make your way to Chicago, where it sits, permanently moored, as the floating clubhouse of the Columbia Yacht Club. The group purchased the vessel in 1983, shortly after it was taken out of service, and had it relocated to the Windy City. While it would be great to have it here, at least it is alive and well and loved. And as it stands, it has fared far, far better than that its successor, whose retirement following completion of the Confederation Bridge would ultimately see it scrapped somewhere in India in May 2004.