Getting around by boat
For many years, lake boats were main form of transport
Have you ever heard of “lake boats” in Sydney Harbour? And, just what does the term “lake boat” mean?
It was commonplace in the past for small freight and passenger boats to frequent Sydney Harbour and the Bras d’Or Lake.
As Elva Jackson says in her book, “Windows On the Past,” “It was natural that Sydney and North Sydney should become the home ports of vessels which would ply these waters carrying passengers and freight to places in northern Cape Breton and throughout the Lakes.”
From roughly the 1850s to the 1950s, many boats served to carry passengers and freight to the lakes and the northeastern coast of Cape Breton, namely the New Glasgow, the Banshee, the Lady of the Lake, the Neptune, the Clyde, the ferryboat Elaine, the Peerless, the Pawnee (a North Sydney to Sydney ferry), the Marion, the May Queen, the Weymouth, the St. Pierre, the Bras d’Or, the Lakeview and finally the three Aspys.
Just where did they stop over? Many places in northern Cape Breton and on the Bras d’Or Lake were ready to receive them, namely St. Peter’s, Baddeck, Whycocomagh, Christie’s Wharf in Little Bras d’Or, Mulgrave, Port Hawkesbury, Pictou, sometimes connecting with the trains at the Strait, Big Bras d’Or, New Campbellton, Boularderie Centre, Ross’s Ferry, Big Harbour, Nyanza, Little Narrows, Grand Narrows, Marble Mountain, Johnson’s Harbour, Irish cove, Big Pond, Northside East Bay, Southside East Bay, Castle Bay, Arichat, Port Hood, Margaree Harbour, Grand Etang and Cheticamp.
Along the coast in northern Cape Breton these boats stopped at Neil’s Harbour, South Ingonish, North Ingonish, Dingwall, White Point, Bay St. Lawrence and Capstick.
The Lakeview was a popular ferry, and later the Aspys. There were three Aspys, Aspy I, Aspy II and the last one Aspy III. Some of these I remember seeing in the harbour on the Northside.
There are people on the Northside who worked on Aspy III: Alex Bugler and Mabel Benoit, brother and sister, for example. Alex worked in the engine room and Mabel was a stewardess. Alex said at that time Henry Holland was chief engineer and Clayton Eavis was captain. Mabel said that they would stay overnight at Dingwall and pick up the freight in the morning.
And just why did these ships exist and why were they there? Well, to start, the roads at that time in the history of Cape Breton were very poor, in fact, they were terrible.
A second important reason is that there was very little medical attention available.
A third reason is that most people didn’t have cars, and in those days it took a long time to go by horse and buggy to see a doctor.
Finally, the fact that most medical sources were between the Northside and Sydney brought many passengers from the northern communities.
So you see this story comes full circle: those people arrived from the north by boat for the many amenities available here. Then they’d take one of the ferries back home.
Basically, if you didn’t have those ships and ferries, you’d have nothing. These marine craft were the link between the industrial area and the rest of the island.
As Reg Jobe says, “It wasn’t just convenient, it was downright essential!” When he travelled those roads around the early1950s for the telephone company, the roads weren’t paved and were in bad shape. He said they were covered with gravel which eventually would pile up in the centre of the roads making driving very dangerous. And if you moved to the side for an oncoming car, you could be thrown off course.
Usually the ships sailed from May to December following the weather patterns, so people had to adjust their trips and purchases accordingly.
Pictured above is the Lakeview at the dock in North Sydney.
Here is the artist’s conception of one of the Aspys at the dock.
In this artist’s conception of the Lakeview, the people on the dock are yelling to the passengers aboard. Reg Jobe photo
Here we see the Lakeview approaching Ingonish Ferry where it stopped over regularly. In this artist’s conception of the Lakeview, the people on the dock are yelling to the passengers aboard. Reg Jobe photo