Tuesday, December 7, 2021

New ferry makes a splash

Official launch reflects importance of rural infrastructure

  • November 17 2021
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

ISAAC’S HARBOUR – “To tell you the truth, there’s no comparison,” said James Harpell, captain of the cable ferry that runs from Port Bickerton to Isaac’s Harbour, Guysborough County, of the new ferry officially launched Nov. 13.

And he should know; he’s been captaining vessels across this harbour for 30 years.

Harpell, who also captained the recently retired ferry, Stormont II, is not the only person impressed by the 15-car cable boat now plying the water near Country Harbour. Representatives from all levels of government were on hand for the launch ceremony, at the Goldboro Interpretive Centre, and christening of the $6 million vessel in Isaac’s Harbour.

Municipality of the District of Guysborough Warden Vernon Pitts emceed the ceremony, introducing Greg Morrow, Minister of Agriculture and MLA for Guysborough-Tracadie; federal MPs Mike Kelloway and Sean Fraser; the shipbuilding team of A. F. Theriault & Son Ltd., from Meteghan; and Claude O’Hara, great-grandson of the vessel’s namesake, the first lighthouse keeper in Port Bickerton, Theodore O’Hara.

Morrow told the approximately 40 people assembled that the ferry was a vital transportation link for the communities along the Eastern Shore, adding, “It’s often said the ferries pick up where the highways end.”

Addressing the generations of Theodore O’Hara’s family in the room, Morrow said, “Your great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather took his duties seriously; between 1901 to 1931, his shining light provided safe passage to the many ships and crew in search of safe harbour.”

Morrow also congratulated Alivia Mansfield, a Grade three student at St. Mary’s Education Centre, for her winning submission to the contest held last spring to name the new ferry.

Fraser commented on the investment in the ferry, stating, “$6 million in rural Nova Scotia can go a long way … This is the kind of project, when you invest in infrastructure, it creates jobs in the short term in rural Nova Scotia and it creates a lasting economic impact in the long term.”

The investment in the ferry and the commitment to the area that the investment represents, said Fraser, helps people see the area, “as a viable place to live.”

Kelloway said the boat, commonly referred to as the Country Harbour ferry, serves to connect people and communities and facilitates social, safety and economic connections.

Kelloway went on to highlight the cooperation between levels of government, business and the school, that brought this project to fruition. He said, “This project is a beacon of partnership … connecting communities for the better, and that’s what infrastructure should be about; helping people, helping communities grow, helping opportunity emerge.”

“This is a very important day for our family,” said Claude O’Hara, who began his remarks by recognizing and thanking Alivia Mansfield for her “research and determination that made this day possible.”

O’Hara continued, “Long before automated lights … lightkeepers kept their lights shining brightly ensuring safe passage … Theodore took his duties very seriously. We are confident that his spirit will shine brightly on the motor vessel Theodore O’Hara, bringing good fortune and safe passage to the vessel, the crew and the passengers that travel on her.”

From the centre in Goldboro, a convoy of vehicles headed to the harbour for the christening of the Theodore O’Hara. Captain Harpell was onboard, excited as a child on Christmas morning as he talked to The Journal about all the advances found on the vessel.

Below the wheelhouse is a crew room complete with lunch area, desk, fridge and water cooler.

“The other one was just a basic ferry of the day and with no luxuries at all,” said Harpell, gesturing around him, “We had nothing like this room.”

Up the narrow stairs in the wheelhouse, Harpell explained that, on the Stormont II, the wheelhouse “had a chair in the middle of it and that’s where we’d sit, and you had a hard time putting your arms out without touching the side. This one is unbelievable; the technology that’s in it.”

The safety features are impressive, too: easier to handle lifeboats, cameras streaming from all over the ship to the wheelhouse and numerous sensors and gauges that ensure little problems are noticed before they become big problems.

“Our ramps go up extra high because of a couple of instances that we had, one in Englishtown and another in Digby Neck, where people just drove out over the end of them. When that’s fully up,” said Harpell, pointing to the ramp, “you can’t get a car up; you wouldn’t even think about it.”

For the crew an important safety feature is the sound. “The noise level is way down compared to what it was before,” said Harpell.

Another important aspect of the new ferry and all similar provincial ferries in Nova Scotia is the elimination of fees that was announced last June. Harpell said he expects, when word gets out, more tourists will head for the ferry, and locals are already taking advantage of the free ride, “Because when they want to go to Antigonish, they’ll come across this way [through Country Harbour],” he said.

The Theodore O’Hara ferry from Isaac’s Harbour to Port Bickerton runs year-round. The sailing schedule and location for all provincial ferries can be found at https://novascotia.ca/tran/hottopics/ferries.asp.