Wednesday 20 May 2015

Ferry Magic

One of the great pleasures of life in Kings County is the network of cable ferries that are a regular part of travel in this area. Ferry boats, in particular cable ferries, are Kings County’s answer to connecting communities separated by a myriad of rivers and their tributaries. The ferries are modern constructions with powerful engines but something about them hearkens to the past. As you drive on board and pull away from shore the pace of life – no matter how frantic – has no choice but to slow down for the duration of the crossing.

Gondola Point Ferry (image courtesy Tourism New Brunswick)
The earliest settlers in this area operated private ferries, offering crossings at various high traffic points for a fee. In fact, the town of Hampton (in particular the area by the iron bridge) was once known as Hampton Ferry in recognition of the ferry crossing there operated by the Loyalist Nicholas Pickle. These ferries were as various in size, shape and function as the waters they crossed and the communities they served. Some were simple rowboats to ferry people, others scows that could hold horse and wagons and all manner of passengers and beasts. 

The Minutes of the Kings County Municipal Council, 1861 note the rules and fees for various crossings within the county, including those below for a ferry that used to run at the lower end of The Mistake (an apt name for a notorious bit of water on the St. John River), and also for the Gondola Point Ferry on the Kennebecasis. The fee structure for passengers and the expectations of the ferry operator are clearly spelled out:

One wonders how often these ferries would have traversed the river each day – and what sort of adventures would be had on board these small craft with hogs, sheep and horned cattle as passengers!

Within our collection, we also hold a ticket book for passage on the Belleisle Ferry. There is no date on the booklet but it would have been used prior to 1944 as the Department of Highways did not charge a fare after January 1944. The rates include fees for cars, trucks, and teams of horses, which gives a bit of an idea of its age, but nothing exact. A modern Belleisle Ferry still runs today – free of charge whether you are driving a car or on horseback (we're not sure about any possible fees if you are driving your flock of sheep to market).

The Belleisle Ferry is one of seven cable ferries highlighted in a new brochure by the St. John River Society, showing travelers the way through the Lower River Passage on board these wonderful gems. Visit their site for a look at the Cable Ferry Route map – and maybe plan your own adventure for a bit of ferry magic!

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