Have you ever visited the beautiful Nellie’s Landing in Murray Harbour? A quaint marina in the scenic village and home to around 20 fishing boats. Its close proximity to the Northumberland Strait makes for a convenient overnight stay for many boaters. It is owned by the vibrant couple, Jen Smith and Calvin Fraser, who took over the marina in 2021 when they were searching for a way to move to their happy place in Murray Harbour permanently. After taking over the marina, they took it the extra mile and set up two houseboats and two wine barrels that were turned into accommodations right on the water. I couldn’t help but laugh hearing Calvin talk about Jen finding the first houseboat on marketplace and hearing her plans for it, you can tell these two aren’t lacking creativity. You spend the night floating on the water in a cozy nautical themed room in a big, cozy bed with a window overlooking Nellie’s Landing. The barrels have docks built off of them where you can enjoy a drink and the views with your loved ones. If you have been to Nellie’s Landing, maybe you have wondered where the marina actually got it’s name from.
Do you remember the stories of the Rum Runners and bootleggers back in the day? In 1926, the Nellie J. Banks was bought by two men who thought it would be a great idea to smuggle alcohol over on the boat as PEI was under prohibition at the time. PEI was the first province in Canada to keep such strict rules surrounding alcohol. In 1901 Prince Edward Island made it illegal to manufacture, sell or be in possession of any alcohol. Doctor’s could prescribe it to patients in need but it was strictly illegal outside of the doctor’s office. Many people considered having access to alcohol a necessity of life and that’s when Rum Runners and smugglers came into the scene. Financial struggles were real and people were always looking for different ways to make money.
The Nellie J. Banks was a well known ship with an equally well known captain, Captain Edward Dicks. She was a two-masted Schooner that was built in 1910 by Alfred Banks in Nova Scotia and was first launched on October 21, 1910. The Schooner was designed and used for fishing up until 1926 but Captain Edward Dicks had other plans for the vessel, he thought it would be perfect for rum running.
The ship would make sure to stay 3 miles from the shore, just outside of the islands limits. They would be sure to perform this mission in the darkness of the night and had their customers sail out on row boats to the ship to avoid getting too close to shore and entering the limits. Hiding the cargo was equally as important as bringing it in. People would hide rum in the woods and in empty kegs that were used to salt mackerel in. They would hide the cargo under the cod on the ships as well as in the furrows of a ploughed field. Many kegs were also hidden around farms in pig sties and under the barn boards of the bull’s stalls. Anywhere that the police wouldn’t think to look, they thought of it all.
This secretive business continued until 1938 when the government changed the limit to twelve miles without informing anyone in the public. The ship was about 6 miles off the coast of PEI so the Nellie J. Banks didn’t see it coming. The ULNA hoisted the international Signal “OL” which means, “STOP.” The whistle on the RCMP Cutter ship sounded 3 times. A blank shot was fired and the Nellie J. Banks was towed to Charlottetown and it was the last time that she was confiscated. The ship and all it’s cargo was seized.
The Nellie J. Banks was eventually sold and the name was changed to Leona G. Maguire in 1941, after the new captain’s daughter. In 1947 she was permanently tied up in Murray Harbour and a few years later it was said that the schooner was too much of an eyesore so Maguire decided it was time to pull the schooner out of the water and rebuild her. He wanted to bring the infamous ship back to life again.
A man named John MacDonald was chosen as the man to do this job. The schooner was pulled out of the water and placed near his home in Murray River, PEI. Unfortunately the money didn’t come fast enough to do all the repairs that were needed and the ship’s condition worsened over time. The land on which she was propped up on awaiting her makeover was sold and the new land owner, Joe Bell, received permission from Captain Maguire to burn the boat as she was falling apart. A heartbreaking thing to have to do after hearing the tales of the adventures that the Nellie J. Banks had been on but it was a rather large and unsightly lawn ornament left to rot.
In 1953 Joe Bell went out with oily rags, newspapers and matches to put the old girl out of her misery. Although the schooner died as Leona G. Maguire, she was born and well known as the Nellie J. Banks. So well known that she actually had a catchy song written about her by Prince Edward Island singer/songwriter Lennie Gallant himself!
“On an August night in the pale moonlight,
With the Banks off Short Point shore;
A shot rang out and a voice began to shout,
“Heave to, or we’ll fire more!”
And the morning light saw a terrible sight,
As the Banks was towed away;
No more will the Nellie J. Banks run rum,
No more will the fishermen say:
There’s rum in the hold of the Nellie J. Banks,
Prince Edward Island bound;
Late on a night when the moon shines bright,
You can find her off to Georgetown.”
Today sitting on the edge of the marina rests an old clawfoot tub. Seeing the antique, rusted tub sitting there you may not think anything of it but it’s actually accompanied with a very special story.
I connected with a woman named Valerie MacNeill who actually gave the marina the beautiful, old tub. In 2004 Valerie and a friend of hers had the chance to view the home of Captain Edward Dicks as it was up for sale in Georgetown, Prince Edward Island at the time. There were a lot of items in the home that had been original to the house, one of them being the tub. As Valerie explored the old house, she came across the upstairs bathroom. There sat the beautiful, old tub that resided in a little nook off the back of the room and it instantly caught her eye. The woman selling the home explained to her that the tub was the original that the Captain himself would have used.
The woman selling the house was selling a few of the items in the home and although buying the house itself fell through, the tub was offered to Valerie and she jumped on the opportunity. She didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do with it at the time, she thought about using it in her own home because she had already added a clawfoot tub to her oceanfront rental property at the beautiful Victorian Dejavu Beach House in Belle River, PEI. She knew that she would know the right place for it in due time.
For many years it rested in her basement, unused, but she held on to in incase it was something that her son wanted in his home. Although he found the history very interesting, these tubs are not light and he had no plans on what he would do with it so he told Valerie she didn’t have to hold on to it anymore as it was taking up a lot of space.
Valerie pondered on what she was going to do with the old tub as she wanted it to be used, she thought about selling it in a yard sale 10 years after purchasing it but had a hard time doing so knowing the tubs interesting history. That’s when the idea popped into her head. Valerie and her husband, Danny, actually dock their boat at Nellie’s Landing and live there in the summers. Jen and Cal named Nellie’s Landing after the Nellie J. Banks, the connection was almost too perfect! That is where the tub belonged, it’s home in a way. Valerie reached out to the couple and offered the tub to them. They didn’t know what they were going to do with it but of course they couldn’t pass it up!
Nellie’s Landing hosted Harmonies on the Harbour for the Fall Flavours Festival in October where they showcased the unique culture of the island through local talent, food and drinks. On the menu they offered a true PEI spread of lobster, oysters, mussels and beef that were prepared by a local chef. Guests walked to each station and filled their plates and bellies with the delicious food and local brews. Valerie and Danny actually attended the Festival and were smiling ear to ear when they saw what the couple did with the tub. The tub was filled with ice and held beverages and oysters for all to enjoy. I can’t ask him myself but I have a good feeling that Captain Edward Dicks would have definitely approved!