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A Brief History of The Strait of Canso Communities

Early Days in the Strait of Canso

Cape Breton Island was a separate colony from mainland Nova Scotia from 1785 to 1820 which was around the time the Strait of Canso, then known as the Gut of Canso, began to be settled . Nova Scotia was one of the four original provinces which joined in 1867 to form the new country of Canada along with New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Prince Edward Island would join Canada in 1873 but it wasn’t until 1949 that Newfoundland became a part of the relatively new country.

The Strait of Canso, then known as the Gut of Canso, was 20 km(12 miles) long and up to 1.5 km. (1 mile) ( and less in some places) wide. The communities of East Havre Boucher, Auld’s Cove, Mulgrave, Pirate Harbour, Steep Creek, Melford and Sand Point were located on the western shoreline of the Strait of Canso . Creignish, Troy, Port Hastings, Port Hawkesbury, Point Tupper, Port Malcolm and Bear Island were on the Cape Breton Island side of the Strait of Canso.

The original inhabitants of this part of the province were the Mi’kmaq Indians. European fishermen were probably the first Europeans to visit our shores on both sides of the Strait , drying their catches of fish before returning home. There are also many local stories about buried treasure being left by visiting pirates – one we know of at Long Pond or Ghost Beach just north of the present day Canao Canal and another below Mulgrave at Pirate Harbour.

Guernsey and Jersey Channel Island merchants were the first as far as we know to settle on the Cape Breton side of the Strait establishing businesses by the 1780’s. Captain Philip Balhache and his wife Douce in the area of the present day Canso Canal. This headstone (which is now beside the Canso Canal lighthouse replica) is of Douce Elizabeth Balhache , six year old daughter and only child of Captain Philip and Douce Balhache who had been granted 200 acres of land in 1788 from the shoreline in Plaister Cove (later renamed Port Hastings).

Jim St. Claire in the August 2001 Participaper for Inverness County wrote, ”Arriving from the Isle of Jersey along with other Channel Islanders engaged in the cross- Atlantic cod trade, Douce Balhache lost her only child and husband within the decade of 1795 to 1805. She became the first woman entrepreneur of Cape Breton Island – a trader in cattle and sheep, a developer of a gypsum quarry, and a developer of a weaving business in what was then known as Plaister Cover(renamed Port Hastings). After a long life, she was buried in the tiny graveyard overlooking the body of water from which her husband had sailed away to his watery grave. “

After the American Revolution, a boatload of Loyalists who sailed from St. Augustine, Florida arrived on the Guysborough County (mainland) side of the Gut of Canso in the fall of 1784 . A lot of them settled primarily from Sand Point to Steep Creek .

Sand Point or Eddy Point was settled in 1784. A postal way station was opened at the Alex Fox residence in 1842 according to Colin Purcells book, “The Story of Mulgrave”.

Some of the Loyalist family members relocated to the Cape Breton Island side of the Strait around 1793 and settled along the shoreline. A number of these families still live in Port Hastings.

The largest number of settlers came directly from Scotland especially after 1802. These families settled throughout the area on both sides of the Strait.

Hugh MacMillan was one of the leading pioneers who immigrated from Invernesshire, Scotland. He and his descendents would carry on a ferry boat service between Auld’s Cove and Plaister Cove (Port Hastings) for the next eighty years. The telegraph cable also came into his home up on the hill above the present day Canal.

Immigrants of Irish origin who mainly settled on the Mulgrave (mainland) side of the Strait of Canso and in Point Tupper and Bear Island along the Cape Breton Island shoreline Captain John Peeples had come from Windhall, County Donegal, Ireland and settled in the Pirate Harbour area down below Mulgrave on the mainland side of the Strait of Canso . For many years , the Peeples family ran the Postal Services. In 1880, there were 10 families of Peeples living in Pirate Harbour. It appears that most of them emigrated to the United States, as did many families in the Strait area.

McNair’s Cove (renamed Mulgrave ) Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Canada is on the mainland shore of the Strait of Canso just 2 ½ miles southeast of the Causeway and Auld’s Cove. By 1905, all traffic to and from Cape Breton Island passed through Mulgrave. The train ferry crossed to Point Tupper and passenger and other traffic crossed to Port Hawkesbury. Mulgrave was a port community with many businesses on the main street.

The community of Mulgrave experienced unprecedented economic growth with the coming of the railway in the early 1880's. Many young men from Mulgrave, like their fathers, found jobs working on the train ferries,telegraphers at the train station, in the freight shed, drivers and engineers on the Canadian National Railway freight and passenger trains, railway section workers, in the round house, operators of the ferry apron (ramp) and seasonal work as snow shovelers in the rail yard .

All of these jobs generated income which was being spent in large part in the ever expanding Main St. business community. This area of our town which catered to consumer demands included fashionable clothing stores owned and operated by the Kawaja and Mansour families, grocery store owners such as Carl Reeves, Andy Anderson and Ira Daley’s meat shop.

Main St. also included the services of a telephone office, a post office, Cochran’s Drug Store, a doctors office, Webb’s Barber Shop and a Sweet Shop Restaurant. During this time, the demand for accommodations by the travelling public resulted in the establishment of the Seaside Hotel, the Victory Inn and the Idyle Whyle Hotel.

Mulgrave’s Golden Age of Transportation came to an end with the opening of the Canso Causeway in 1955.This negatively impacted on the the economy of the Town with a large out migration by railway workers and their families, the closure of many businesses and a greatly diminished tax base to provide municipal services.

However, amid this drastic economic down turn, there was renewed hope with the organization of the Four Counties Development Association under the capable and determined leadership of former mayor, Leonard O’Neil. The long struggle to establish a pulp mill at the Strait came in large part to the efforts of this associationand for which we owe much for making this mill the catalyst which continues to attract industry to the Strait area. Out of all this has emerged a proud attachment to Mulgrave with a greater understanding of our sense of place within the wider Strait area.

Knowing that Mulgrave’s posterity which had relied on the ferries and railroad would come to an end with the opening of the Canso Causeway in 1955, Mayor Leonard O’Neil took action in 1953. He brought business and political men together to form the Four Counties Development Association that year. He was relentless for the next six years in his mission to replace the jobs lost after the construction of the Causeway. To him ,we owe a debt of gratitude because by 1959, Nova Scotia Pulp Limited would invest $40 million constructing their paper mill in Point Tupper, Richmond County.

Point Tupper-

Ship Harbour (renamed Port Hawkesbury) initially served as a fish curing station for Channel Island merchants from Jersey and Guernsey who then established businesses which provided goods and services for the ships which frequented this sheltered harbour. Fishing and boat building were important industries in the 1800 and 1900’s which lead to the development of wharves, warehouses, sail lofts, tanneries, fish plants and general merchandise shops. There were scheduled stops of the ‘Boston Boats’ and other coastal ships at the Port Hawkesbury wharf which was operated by the Plant Line .

Private ferries operated between Port Hawkesbury and Mulgrave in the early years but eventually larger car ferries were required and their docks were located just south of the Plant Line wharf. Other businesses developed on the waterfront and Granville St.- hotels, harness maker, banks(including the Walker Financial Co., the last privately owned bank in Canada), a printing shop, barbershop, grocery stores, a creamery, drugstore, telegraph office, etc.

Ferry and rail service were important to the Town until the opening of the Canso Causeway in 1955. Although this was the end of an era, the Causeway resulted in an ice free, deep water port, and the beginning of new development in the area. With the coming of such industries as Nova Scotia Pulp Ltd. In 1962. Others would follow and Port Hawkesbury today continues to grow

Port Hastings - By 1905, the Inverness and Richmond Coal Pier had been in operation for four years. The telegraph cable came across from the mainland to Cape Breton. That wasn’t effective so the cable soon came across under the water.

Auld’s Cove, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia,Canada

Auld’s Cove, on the western side of the Strait of Canso, was first known as Porcupine Cove . In the early years fishing was the main industry and the shoreline was dotted with wharves. A lobster canning factory was built in 1903.When the Canadian National Railway added cold storage boxcars to their services, fresh fish were able to be shipped greater distances.

With the construction of the Canso Causeway between 1952 and 1955, many of the Auld’s Cove residents worked with the various companies involved in the construction and some stayed on as company employees even after it was completed. Cape Porcupine provided slightly more than 10 million tons of fill to build the deepest man made causeway in the world at the time to bridge the gap between Cape Breton Island and mainland Nova Scotia.

Once the Causeway became a reality, a number of new businesses opened in Auld’s Cove -service stations, restaurants, gift shops, a motel, a machine shop, stores, and a lobster pound and seafood store. Wharf??????A few men still make a livelihood fishing on the north side of the Canso Causeway.

The toll booths on the Auld’s Cove side of the Causeway also created jobs between 1955 and December 1991 . They were unceremoniously torn down on Friday, December 13th, 1991 . This put 10 full time and 5 casual employees out of work with absolutely no advance warning.

In 1978 the Fraser family who owned Cape Porcupine sold it to John Chisholm of Antigonish.He set up two new companies in Auld’s Cove-Construction Aggregates Ltd., -a stone crushing operation and Concrete Services Ltd., a ready-mix concrete plant which provided a number of jobs for area residents.

The Auld’s Cove Fire Department was formed in 1969, and they have a very active brigade and Ladies Auxiliary. There is also a ballfield/ recreation park in the community. All traffic to and from Cape Breton Island has always passed through this picturesque community on the shores of the Strait of Canso whether to the ferry across to Port Hastings in the 1800’s, then through to Mulgrave to the train and car ferries and now to the Canso Causeway .

The deep waters of the Gut of Canso, now referred to as the Strait of Canso, have played a defining role in the lives of the residents of this part of Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia since the beginning .

Some activities carried on under - Some activities under -

TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATION -TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATION -

EARLY YEARS –Ferries, Mail Service Link, Telegraph Offices,

Railroads,EARLY YEARS – STAGE COACH LINES, FERRIES, MAIL

SERVICE LINK, TELEGRAPH

EARLY YEARS – STAGE COACH LINES, FERRIES, MAIL SERVICE LINK, TELEGRAPH Boston Boats and

Coastal Freighters, American Consular

OfficesBoston Boats and Coastal Freighters, American Consular Offices, Railroads

LATER YEARS – Canso Causeway and Canal completed in 1955,

Railroads, Nova Scotia Vocational School, Nautical School/ Community College, Pilot and Tug boats, Port Hawkesbury Airport,Call Centre COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY – COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY – EARLY YEARS – Ship Building and Repairs, Coal Pier, Fishing and Fish Plants, General Stores providing supplies and water for ships, Cutting pit props

LATER YEARS- Pulp and Paper Mill, Oil Refinery, Heavy Water Plant,Gypsum Mining and Exporting, Manufacturing Wallboard, Power Generating Plant, Ship and Oil Rig maintenance and repairs, Rock Quarrying and Shipping, Concrete and Paving Plants, Transshipping of oil, Ship Building, Service Centre, Strait of Canso Superport Corporation

Ship Harbour (renamed Port Hawkesbury) initially served as a fish curing station for Channel Island merchants from Jersey and Guernsey who then established businesses which provided goods and services for the ships which frequented this sheltered harbour. Fishing and boat building were important industries in the 1800 and 1900’s which lead to the development of wharves, warehouses, sail lofts, tanneries, fish plants and general merchandise shops.There were scheduled stops of the ‘Boston Boats’ and other coastal ships at the Port Hawkesbury wharf which was operated by the Plant Line .

Private ferries operated between Port Hawkesbury and Mulgrave in the early years but eventually larger car ferries were required and their docks were located just south of the Plant Line wharf. Other businesses developed on the waterfront and Granville St.- hotels, harness maker, banks(including the Walker Financial Co., the last privately owned bank in Canada), a printing shop, barbershop, grocery stores, a creamery,drugstore, telegraph office, etc.

Ferry and rail service were important to the Town until the opening of the Canso Causeway in 1955. Although this was the end of an era, the Causeway resulted in an ice free, deep water port, and the beginning of new development in the area. With the coming of such industries as Nova Scotia Pulp Ltd. In 1962. Others would follow and Port Hawkesbury today Port Hawkesbury continues to grow

Auld’s Cove, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia,Canada

Auld’s Cove, on the western side of the Strait of Canso, was first known as Porcupine Cove . In the early years fishing was the main industry and the shoreline was dotted with wharves. A lobster canning factory was built in 1903.When the Canadian National Railway added cold storage boxcars to their services, fresh fish were able to be shipped greater distances.

With the construction of the Canso Causeway between 1952 and 1955, many of the Auld’s Cove residents worked with the various companies involved in the construction and some stayed on as company employees even after it was completed. Cape Porcupine provided slightly more than 10 million tons of fill to build the deepest man made causeway in the world at the time to bridge the gap between Cape Breton Island and mainland Nova Scotia.

Once the Causeway became a reality, a number of new businesses opened in Auld’s Cove -service stations, stores, restaurants, gift shops, a motel, a diving shop, a machine shop, and a lobster pound and seafood store. A few men still make a livelihood fishing on the north side of the Canso Causeway.

The toll booths on the Auld’s Cove side of the Causeway also created jobs between 1955 and December 1991when they were unceremoniously torn down on Friday, December 13th, 1991 . This put 10 full time and 5 casual employees out of work

In 1978 the Fraser family who owned Cape Porcupine sold it to John Chisholm of Antigonish.He set up two new companies in Auld’s Cove-Construction Aggregates Ltd., -a stone crushing operation and Concrete Services Ltd., a ready-mix concrete plant which provided a number of jobs for area residents.

The Auld’s Cove Fire Department was formed in 1969, and they have a very active brigade and Ladies Auxiliary. There is also a ballfield/ recreation park in the community. All traffic to and from Cape Breton Island has always passed through this picturesque community on the shores of the Strait of Canso whether to the ferry across to Port Hastings in the 1800’s, then through to Mulgrave to the train and car ferries and now to the Canso Causeway .

Compiled by Port Hastings Historical Society staff Summer 2004

Web Page provided by Meghan J. Shannon


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