ST. MARY’s – The chance to christen the new Country Harbour ferry, connecting the municipal districts of St. Mary’s and Guysborough, is bringing history alive for hundreds of school children and renewing community hopes for smooth sailing ahead.
With only days to go before the April 21 deadline, pupils in every grade at St. Mary’s Education Centre/Academy are busy finishing their submissions to the Name the Country Harbour Ferry Campaign. According to the school’s principal, Mike MacIsaac, the response has been extraordinary among the 200-plus student body.
“The entire school is involved, from the teachers to students in Primary to Grade 12,” he said. “There’s been a lot of interest, and we’re getting a lot of submissions.”
A new cable ferry to replace the 40-year-old Stormont II has been under construction at A.F. Theriault and Son Ltd. in Meteghan River since May 2019, when the Government of Canada and Nova Scotia announced a joint initiative to continue the decades-long service between Country Harbor and Port Bickerton. At the time, Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie MLA and Transportation (now Transportation and Active Transit) Minister Lloyd Hines said, “Ferries have long been a part of Nova Scotia’s transportation system. Today’s funding will help ensure a safe and reliable service to residents and travelers at Country Harbour.”
The soon-to-be-christened vessel – which will be able to carry 15 cars, compared with the Stormont II’s 12 – is expected to cost roughly $3.6 million. The additional site work will add about $1.5 million bringing the overall price tag to about $5 million.
“There has been a tremendous amount of work underway on both the vessel and on the slips where it comes ashore on both sides,” Hines said. “We’re also improving the approached to the ferry. That means new signage. We’ve already paved the road on the Country Harbour side … It’s a very important link.”
James Harpell, Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s District 8 councillor (Port Bickertion and Harpellville Area) and the captain in charge of ferry operations there, concurred wholeheartedly. “Am I looking forward to this? Oh definitely, for sure I am,” he said. “This vessel is going to be quite a bit larger. It will have separate crew quarters. The engine room will be on top.”
When fully operational, the service will take about seven minutes per crossing, a substantial time-saver for motorists otherwise forced to navigate roads in the vicinity.
In terms of the new name, a panel of judges at the provincial transportation and active transit department will choose the winning entry by the end of the month. Its author will be invited to attend the new ferry’s official christening expected sometime in May.
“We felt this was a very interesting project for all our kids,” MacIsaac said. “The Country Harbour ferry resonates so well here with so many families. It links our communities together, and that’s important, especially now.”
Neil Black, chairman of Heritage Goldenville Society and a self-described ‘community activist’, couldn’t agree more. “The idea of having local school children involved in naming our new ferry is just wonderful,” he said. “I applaud any activity that will involve these future community leaders in present day affairs.”
The idea originated, by all accounts, with Hines.
“We thought what better way of getting a good name than by going to the community and asking the kids at the St. Mary’s school to come up with one,” he said about the initiative launched early last month. “We put a little campaign together and gave them a few guidelines. Then, it was off to the races.”
The guidelines are straightforward. According to the entry form, “Pick a name that means something to your community. Don’t use words already used on a Nova Scotia vessel – like Princess, Petit, Scotian, Caolas Silis, or Casey. Don’t use a name that is the same as another vessel registered in Canada. Don’t use a trademark or refer to a business.”
The rules also say, “Explain why this name is a good choice for the Country Harbour ferry,” and “give your ballot to your homeroom teacher.”
“What has evolved from this is a very neat way to incorporate the history of the Country Harbour ferry into the outcomes that students are learning in each of their classes. The teaching staff has really embraced this opportunity and have [tailored] a variety of their lessons and activities around this initiative,” MacIsaac said.
Grades 1 to 6 students, for example, are examining how the ferry is connected to the communities it will serve geographically. “There’s even a math piece,” MacIssac said. “How many cars will the ferry carry? How many tractor trailers? How does the whole thing work? Does it turn around each time it crosses? [It’s] that kind of stuff.”
He added: “Grade 3 had a very neat idea to build models of the ferry, because ‘construction and building’ is a component of their science unit [curriculum]…. In Grade 10, the Options and Opportunities program is very career-laden, so this initiative [gives students] the chance to discuss the kind of credentials that are needed for marine [employment].”
For now, though, the first order of business for students of St. Mary’s Education Centre/Academy is to generate a name that reflects the excitement and sense of hope the project is now inspiring among members of the community.
“We have to have it named before we get it out of the shipyard. It has to be properly registered with Transport Canada before it goes into service,” Hines said.