John Skerry


From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin:

This is John Skerry (1764-1838), one of the builders of early Dartmouth. Before steamboats came, he conducted the Dartmouth-Halifax ferry by means of rowboats and scows from the foot of Ochterloney Street. Skerry’s Inn, nearby, was probably the first hotel in Dartmouth. Accordingly as Mr. Skerry prospered, he employed his money in assisting others, lending large and small sums especially to property purchasers. He became a sort of “town-banker”. At his death, he possessed (or was encumbered with) considerable real estate, but comparatively little cash. His estate was valued at about £4,000.

Of a philanthropic and altruistic nature, Mr. Skerry was long remembered in Dartmouth for his many deeds of charity and humanity. Often he risked his life on the stormy harbor. “Skipper” Skerry is paid a high tribute in Mrs. Lawson’s History of Dartmouth, written in 1893.

This photo is from a large painting owned by Mrs. J. M. Vaughan. See the family tombstones in the plot north of main path near entrance of St. Peter’s cemetery.

From History of the Townships of Dartmouth, Preston and Lawrencetown, by Mrs. William Lawson (Mary Jane Katzman):

About the year 1797, John Skerry began running a public ferry, and continued so employed until after the advent of the steam boat company. He was familiarly known as “Skipper” Skerry, and a few of the oldest inhabitants still remember the man and speak of him in words of praise. The Dartmouth terminus of his ferry was directly at the foot of Ochterloney Street, and the Halifax landing was at Market Slip. He occupied the building which still stands, on the south-east corner of Ochterloney and Water Streets, and there kept a small bar. The second lot from the north-west corner of Quarrel and Water Streets, likewise belonged to him, together with the water-lot immediately in the rear. His ferrymen, previous to leaving the landing, cried “Over! Over!”, and then blew a conch as a signal of departure. The boats were large. They were either sailed or rowed, according to the wind, and occupied about thirty or forty minutes in crossing from shore to shore. (According to a note on page 48, Skerry charged about the same rates as Joseph Findlay who took over the Creighton Ferry in 1825 – four-pence for an ordinary traveler, and from one to one and a half penny for each [black] person.)

Another ferry ran to a wharf at the foot of the Old Ferry Road, at Dr. Parker’s, near Dartmouth Cove. It was known as Creighton’s or the Lower Ferry. James Creighton, Esq., was the proprietor. He is said to have owned all the lands which are now the property of J.P. Mott and Dr. Parker, and also the tract known as Prince Arthur’s Park. These lands had been originally granted in 1752 to Capt. William Clapham, Samuel Blackden, and John Salisbury, (Vide Lib.2, fol. 157.298. and 161, Registry of Deeds, Halifax) and were either purchased by, or else escheated and regranted to, Creighton. The period at which the Lower Ferry was started, is uncertain. It was chiefly for the accommodation of persons coming from the country to the eastward of the town. The Nova Scotia Royal Gazette of March 19th, 1817, contains an advertisement, signed by James Creighton, which offers to let “that very eligible situation called the Dartmouth Ferry, now in the occupation of Mr. Peter McCallum,” The notice states that on the premises are a good house, outhouses, an extensive barn and stable, with a wharf for the use of the ferry (Parker’s wharf is built on the site of this wharf. The old wharf did not run at a right angle to the shore.), and the place is “conveniently situated for a house of entertainment.”

When the team-boat Sherbrooke made her first trip on November 8th 1816, both Mr. Creighton and Skerry must have known that their boats would ultimately have to cease running. Up to this time, the only manner of crossing the harbour, was in open boats propelled by oars. These boats were often heavily laden, and with adverse winds, it is said they were frequently hours in making the trip across. From their size and style, they were poor conveyances, not only for passengers, but also for the increasing amount of produce which was coming from the eastern settlements to the Halifax market.

A struggle for existence now took place between the rival lines. The team-boat wanted exclusive right, and the old ferries asked that they be not disturbed by the new company. On 26th February, 1818, James Creighton and John Skerry presented a petition for relief to the House of Assembly, stating that for a number of years each had been in possession of a ferry which had been maintained at considerable expense, and that they were likely to be much injured in consequence of the Steam Boat Company being about to employ boats of a small description. (These must have been the boats known as “Grinders”.) Another petition was presented by Skerry, in January, 1821. The company retaliated by asking for the sole privilege of running a ferry, which was refused by the House.

Skerry finally sold his boats to the company, and retired from business. He died on September 1st, 1838, aged 74 years, and was buried in the old Catholic Burying ground to the west of the Dartmouth Common. He is said to have been an excellent man – one who was praised by all who knew him.

See also:

Terrence M. Punch, “SKERRY, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 24, 2022,