Causeway History

Since the original discovery and settlement of Cape Breton Island, the only access to Mainland Nova Scotia was by boat, crossing over a narrow body of water called the Strait of Canso. In later years, a system of railway and highway ferries were used for transportation and communication. The first railway service across the Strait was a steam powered ferry and a train barge known as the S.S. Mulgrave. As traffic volumes increased in the early 1900's, another ferry, the Scotia I, was introduced to the area. But with an established and growing rail network and flourishing mining and steel industries, the need for a permanent link between Cape Breton and Mainland Nova Scotia was obvious.

Before deciding to build a causeway across the Strait of Canso, there were several other ideas and options explored by politicians and leading engineers of the time. One of those ideas was a high bridge running from the top of Cape Porcupine to MacMillan’s Point in Port Hastings. The Canso Bridge Company was established to complete the bridge project, but missed its six year deadline in 1908 imposed by the federal government. Plans and efforts continued, but the project was abandoned after World War I was announced. The onset of the war created a shift in the government’s spending priorities and also created an influx of traffic problems in the Strait Region. Another ferry was put into service to alleviate the increased volume, but shared the same faults as the original ferries, including running off course in high winds and jamming in the ice in spring. These problems led to delays in traffic and shipment of goods to Cape Breton Island.

Discussions about a permanent crossing continued throughout the 20's and 30's. With the start of World War II, the Strait of Canso became a bottleneck of huge volumes of traffic both on land and water. After the war, the federal government placed high priority on the construction of a link across the Strait. These efforts received solid backing from the Honourable Angus L. Macdonald, Premier of Nova Scotia at the time.

When Newfoundland was granted confederation status, additional stresses were felt by the area with traffic volumes continuing to increase as citizens and businesses expanded and/or relocated. In 1949, an engineering committee recommended that a low level bridge be constructed at a cost of $135,000. The governments of the day approved the recommendation and insisted the project be completed as soon as possible. However, another group of engineers doubted the feasibility of a low level bridge, arguing that the fourteen feet high pillars were too weak to withstand the extreme pressure of shifting ice and high winds during winter months. The debates continued amongst engineers until a Board of Engineers appointed to the project confirmed the pillars were not safe. At that time, it was decided that a causeway be built to connect Cape Breton Island to Mainland Nova Scotia.

The Causeway Project was estimated to cost $23 million in total, including a navigation lock and bridge on the Cape Breton side which would allow vessels with a 30 foot draught to pass through the Strait. In May 1952, the first contract for the project was awarded. Work officially began on September 16, 1952 and to this day the project is considered the biggest engineering feat in the area. After 10 million tons of rock, Cape Breton was permanently connected to the Mainland on Friday December 10, 1954. An official opening only took place several months later on August 13, 1955. Vehicle and rail traffic were permitted to use the causeway during the months before this official opening, which was attracted thousands of pedestrians, drivers, politicians, business leaders and the men and women whose helped make the link a reality.

Click Here to view footage from the official opening ceremony in 1955.

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Canso Causeway 50th Anniversary

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