The Road to the Isle – The Canso Causeway

July 8, 2009

Crossing the Strait of Canso before the Causeway was built was sometimes difficult but always a beautiful experience when raveling from the mainland back to the Island. Nonetheless, crossings were determined by the weather. Ice conditions sometimes caused a delay of two days.

1883 In 1883 a steam tug boat lashed to the side of the barge “Mulgrave” a railway car ferry, was the means by which goods were transported across the Strait of Canso connecting Cape Breton Island to the mainland.Acording to the Canso Crossing Association it was a publicly owned utility operated by the federal government.

1901 The struggle to build the causeway went on and on for many years In 1901 the municipality of Victoria County passed a resolution recommending the construction of a bridge. Instead the government said they would improve transportation across the Strait. To do this the ferry boat “Scotia” was built. It’s advantage over the “Mulgrave” was that it was self-propelled.

1914 – 1918 During the time of the First Great War the supply line for the Allied forces ran to the seaports at Sydney and Halifax. The railway was successful in carrying men and materials to Atlantic ports but the situation on both sides of the Strait was poor to say the least. Urgently needed supplies of materials and perishable goods were piled up on both sides of the Strait

1915 In 1915 another ferry boat the “Scotia11” was built. For the next forty years that was the means of transportation for citizens of Cape Breton, visitors to the Isle and transportation of goods.. The inefficacy of transportation caused great loss to the coal industry. The cost of stockpiling coal in the winter months was overwhelming causing the coal industry to be seasonal. This in turn was reflected in seasonal unemployment on the Island and the inability to compete with Americans in the Canadian market.

In 1920, 40,000 railway cars were ferried across the strait.
From 1946 to 1950 traffic averaged 113,000 each year.
Statistics from the Department of Mines report read; “The daily volume across the strait averages 311 railway cars. The capacity of the ferry boats is 18 cars a trip. The newest ferry boat makes 17 trips in a 19 hour day.”

1939 – 1945 The situation was even worse. The urgent need for coal and steel from the Cape Breton mines was once again met with the stock piling of materials on both sides of the Strait. These vital necessities were slowly ferried across the strait or in some cases when necessity demanded, goods were carried across the submarine infested Gulf waters.

1947 It was reported by M. R. Chappell that in 1947 fearing that the government planned to improve the ferry service once again the Associated Board of Trade sent W.S.Wilson, John E. McCurdy, and he, M. R. Chappell himself, to accompany Premier Angus L. MacDonald to Ottawa to promote a permanent crossing at the Strait.
Mr. Lionel Chevrier was determined to replacing the ferry with new ones. It had already passed through legislature. Millions of dollars had been appropriated to have new ferries at the Strait.
Mr. Chappell spent years fighting for what the people in Cape Breton wanted; A causeway built connecting the Island to the mainland. His interest and involvement reached back to 1910 at which time he attended a meeting with his father on the subject. Mr., Chappell traveled to Ottawa as well as several trips to Vancouver to promote the cause, spending thousands of dollars out of his own pocket. Years later when he was interviewed on the subject he was asked if he would do it again. His reply was a definite “yes”. He went on to say he would next go to work on getting a causeway built to Prince Edward Island however, he was 93 years old and felt he was getting a little too old for that ‘foolishness’.

Chairman of the Canso Causeway Association, was Dr. Harold Devereaux. The Association reached out to all avenues for help. The Association was backed by the Board of Trade, The United Mine Workers, The Steel workers, Service Clubs, Church groups, Business communities and the general Cape Breton public at large.

1950 Harry MacKenzie wrote to O. J. McCulloch in October 1950. He stressed the importance of secrecy and went on to ask if he (Mr. McCulloch) would take the job as resident engineer on the Canso Causeway project which was soon to be announced by the Premier and the Minister of Transport. Mr. McCulloch wasn’t quite sure what finally moved the project forward. However, he felt Premier Angus L. MacDonald may have been the person Instrumental in finally pushing it through.

Mr. McCulloch went to the site in the latter part of October 1951 and the causeway was finished on December 10, 1954 with the locks being put in around 1955 – 1956.

C.C.F. Member of Parliament Clarie Gillis said the Canso Causeway was the last mile in the old Intercolonial Railway.

Information compiled by J. Stubbert and collected from: Article “How We Got The Canso Causeway” writer unknown and the “Cape Breton Magazine”


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