ST. MARY’S – The new, long-awaited Country Harbour ferry could be up and running as early as mid-August.
Guysborough-Eastern-Shore-Tracadie MLA Lloyd Hines confirmed the news with The Journal following the opening of the fifth annual Indigenous Arts Centre on July 25 in Sherbrooke.
“From what they are telling me, we’re looking at August 18,” he said of the Theodore O’Hara, commissioned more than two years ago to replace the Stormont II at a cost of $3.6 million. “We got the piece of equipment [that was missing].”
Port Bickerton & Area Planning Association President Don Dodge has heard the same news.
“If the ramps are ready, the ferry will be here,” he said. “She’s floating right now on the South Shore waiting to come. They put the winches in on Friday (July 23).”
The new cable ferry has been under construction at A.F. Theriault and Son Ltd. in Meteghan River, since May 2019, when the Government of Canada and the province announced a joint initiative to continue the decades-long service between Country Harbour and Port Bickerton.
The vessel, christened in honour of Port Bickerton Lighthouse’s first keeper in the early 19th century after local seven-year-old Alivia Mansfield won a school-wide naming contest, will be able to carry 15 cars, compared with its predecessor’s 12. 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.
For Dodge and others involved in the tourism and economic development of eastern St. Mary’s district, the timing is perfect. Badly needed repairs to the lighthouse’s access road were completed on July 16, but a functioning ferry is still the lynchpin to visitor traffic, he said.
“You see how quiet is around here? It’s not normally like this when the ferry is running. There’s constantly RVs and campers going up and down the road and motorcycles all over the place. And there are all kinds of people at the lighthouse. The ferry is the link to the whole Eastern Shore.”
While waiting for the delivery of the new ferry earlier this spring, Dodge’s first order of business was persuading the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s that it actually owned and was responsible for the lighthouse road, which had fallen into disrepair. “I’ve been involved with this project for 21 years,” he said. “And there was always this discussion among the three levels of government as to who owned this road.”
At the April 7 committee of the whole meeting, he told councillors, “If we’re going to promote tourism, we have to have a decent road to get down there. If this whale sanctuary ever comes to fruition, I think it will be a good marriage for this area along with everything else that’s here… It saddens me to think that with all the opportunities for tourism in place, they may not be accessible soon.”
According to Chief Administrative Officer Marvin MacDonald – who independently confirmed the municipality’s ownership – the road reconstruction involved supplying and placing armour stone “along approximately 500 feet of ocean frontage in sections where erosion occurred and repairs to the roadway. The contract was awarded to George F. MacDonald & Sons for $14,700 plus HST… [It] is a great improvement that should support tourism and increased usage of the hiking trails at the lighthouse.”
Indeed, Dodge said, “They banked all the rock down to the high-water mark, where before there was nothing there and the waves would just come in and crash underneath and wash out the shoulder… I think George McDonald clearly has a lot of experience doing this. They seem to be the go-to guys for erosion, and stuff like that.”
Over the years, the Port Bickerton Lighthouse has been a sturdy tourism and cultural anchor for the area. It contains an interpretive centre, offers a summer house rental, and even hosts an artist-in-residence program.
Regarding the road’s completion, Dodge said, “After I went down and took a look, I came home with a grin on my face you couldn’t get off with a broom handle. For the next two or three nights I slept like a baby.”
Still, he noted, “If a ferry wasn’t there, the lighthouse project wouldn’t be running. People would not drive that far just to go to the lighthouse and go back again.”