CANSO — After two years without a ferry to one of Guysborough County’s iconic sites, the Parks Canada official in charge of Grassy Island Fort National Historic Site says he is “very confident” the service will be restored in time for the upcoming tourist season.
In an interview with The Journal this week, Matthew Cook – the acting national historic site manager attached to Alexander Graham Bell, Marconi, Canso, Grassy Island Fort and St. Peter’s Canal National Historic Sites – said Parks Canada is in the process of purchasing its own boat and finding a captain to pilot it.
“We’ve been working on getting a service and... we’re close to getting what we want. I am very confident that we will have a ferry service in the next visitor season... Parks Canada will own the boat and then we only have to find an operator, which we expect will be easier to find than an operator with their own boat.”
The news is a welcome relief to Bill MacMillan, president of the Canso Historical Society – the organization that’s federally contracted to maintain the site’s interpretive centre on the Canso waterfront.
“The boat has obviously provided the biggest challenge to Parks Canada,” he said. “I knew they had every intention of making sure we would have boat services this year, but I wasn’t certain where they were with that or how they were going to accomplish it... This is great news given the uncertainty and disruption over the past couple of years.”
Cook said the trouble began prior to the 2022 visitor season, when the local vessel that Parks Canada had been contracting for several years – a large, repurposed fishing boat, The Special K – had essentially aged out. “Besides being old and needing repairs, it required a [special] master’s [operator] license that was hard to find,” he explained. “We’re hoping to get a different type of boat so that the operator only needs a small vessel operating permit.”
As for why it’s taken so long to find a permanent solution, Cook said, “Unlike the private sector – which can put out a number of ideas at once to see which one works – we can’t do that; we have to try one idea at a time.”
Last year, one idea was to hire the owner of a large Zodiac to run the two-kilometre round trip between the mainland and the island. “We did have somebody successfully bid last year,” Cook said. “But, for whatever reason, they backed out... That being unsuccessful, we just decided that we’d like to replace the Special K [on our own].”
Grassy Island Fort – on one of a group of islands off the eastern tip of mainland Nova Scotia that comprise the Canso Islands National Historic Site of Canada – is one of Nova Scotia’s key historical touchstones. It was a crucial fishing base developed in the 16th century by the French and later by the British. It was also the scene of fierce combat between the British and the allied French and Mi’kmaq in the 18th century, and the launching point for English and colonial expeditionary forces against Fortress Louisburg in 1745.
According to Parks Canada’s website, “An interpretive center on the waterfront tells the story of ruined Grassy Island Fort. Plan slightly more than one hour to visit Grassy Island. It takes about 15 minutes each way by boat... Although the boat is usually available on demand, visitors are advised to call ahead.”
Said Cook: “There are still so many balls up in the air right now that we won’t have anything firm until likely after Christmas... But, I’m still very confident.”