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Report 1902: A Quick Scamper Round Nova Scotia
By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2010
Page 2 of 16: To Louisbourg via St Peter's Canal
St Peterís Canal
It was a full days drive from Halifax to Louisbourg. We headed to Canso Causeway along routes 102 (fast dual carriageway) and 104. This ran out of the trees into a pretty landscape of open farmland with scattered wooden farmhouses and a few trees. All the settlement was well off the road and nucleated.
After New Glasgow we began to run back into forest of mixed deciduous and coniferous trees. There was a lot of birch, which was beginning to change colour, yellows and browns, as well as some other deciduous trees which were turning pink/brown. It needed another 1-2 weeks before the colours would be at their height. There were still plenty of Michaelmas daisies along the verges and some golden rod.
There were few services on route 104 although there were a lot of billboards advertising accommodation and restaurants in places many kilometers ahead. By the time you got there you would have forgotten which one ... Tim Hortonís at Canso Causeway was doing a roaring trade.
Canso Causeway is a long stone structure with a bridge at the far end, which connects Cape Breton Island to the rest of Nova Scotia.
We picked up route 4 which took us through Port Hastings, which had a definite centre with shops and plenty of cafes. (Coming back the road by passes the centre). We stopped on route 104 (fast) through woodland to St. Peter's, a small pretty settlement around a sheltered bay with old wooden houses.
St. Peter's Canal National Historic Site and Battery Provincial Park are on either side of the canal. There were advanced warning signs for both but no sign on the actual junction. Both are tight turns on opposite sides of the bridge. We drove in to the National Historic Site where there is a large park alongside the canal with interpretive boards.
In 1650 a fur trading post was established in the area trading with local members of the Mi'kmaq Nation. A haul road was constructed across the isthmus so small sailing ships and canoes could be transported by oxen or horses between Bras d'Or Lake and the Atlantic Ocean. This was a much shorter and safer voyage to Sydney than traveling around the exposed southern coast of Cape Breton Island.
Work began digging the canal in 1854 and took 15 years. The canal is about 800m long and 30m wide. It cuts across the narrowest point of land through a solid granite hill, 20m high. Two sets of substantial double lock gates were built at either end of the canal as there is a tidal difference of 1.4m between Bras d'Or Lake and the Atlantic Ocean. Each gate has four swinging doors which form a diamond shape when closed.
St. Peter's Canal saw relatively heavy use by commercial shipping up to the early 1900s, but was too small for modern ships and is now mainly used by pleasure boats.
The original plan had been to pick up the Fleur de Lys Trail from St Peterís to Louisbourg but we had been warned this was a narrow lonely road with little settlement and no cell phone coverage. We were also told that the drive was through trees all the way with few views of the coast and would be boring.
We decided to take route 4 which would be faster and went along the side of Bras D'Or Lake. There were a lot of road works and it was slow as there were long stretches where we had to wait for a pilot vehicle to take us through. There was quite a bit of traffic including lorries.
Most of the drive was through woodland, although we got a few nice glimpses of the lake through the trees and an occasional short run along the shore. There are a lot of settlements marked on the map but most are just a few houses with no shop or other facilities. All in all, we werenít particularly impressed by the scenery along the route. It was proving to be a long drive, made worse by long stretches of road works.
Signs were in English and Gaelic and many of the place names were Scottish. French doesnít extend this far.
It became increasingly built up and busy as we got near Sydney but we lost the settlement on route 22 to Louisbourg.
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