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Traversiers, vélos et
Grand Manan

La possibilité de prendre son vélo au lieu d'un véhicule à bord des traversiers est un des plus grands avantages de ce type de transport. Pas de réservations, pas de files d'attente, et moins de pressions sur le porte-monnaie et surtout sur le climat. Vous pouvez marcher à bord et voguer vers une autre terre. Et peut-être verrez-vous une baleine comme prix de présence!












Ferries, Bikes
and Grand Manan

Mark Woolsey
Fundy Environmental Action Group
April 2003

outhern New Brunswick boasts an abundance of ferryboats in all sizes. Some cross beautiful reaches of river, and others carry you to islands in the sea.

photo: Kenyon Fairey <>
(photo: Kenyon Fairey)

The great thing about ferryboat rides is that you can take a bicycle with you instead of a car. No reservations, no waiting, easy on the pocketbook and the climate. You walk aboard and sail away to another land. Maybe see a whale in the bargain!

This summer an opportunity opened for us, a silver lining so to speak. Our business of renting canoes and kayaks to tourists had been shipwrecked on the reef of soaring insurance rates. Being both employed by the school system for ten months of the year, we found ourselves anticipating a vacation that would be long on time for adventures, but somewhat short of funds. Our planning centered on bicycle tours combined with ferry crossings.

The map was our menu of land / water connections--Saint John to Digby to Briar Island, at the mouth of Fundy Bay; Gondola Point to Harding's Point to Evansdale, on the Saint John River; Letete to Deer Island to Campobello; and of course, Black's Harbour to Grand Manan, the island in the sea. These previews led, in the course of our summer, to a series of trips. Each lasted between two and four days. Sometimes we carried camping gear. More often than not, we sought lodging at night. The last of these vacation trips, in the bright eye of memory, seems to have happened only yesterday.

This past summer, when August smog and high temperatures made all physical exertion seem unreasonable here on the mainland, we bestirred ourselves one morning to go in search of cooler air.

Bikes are loaded into the van, and we drive to the ferry landing at Black's Harbour. A long line up of cars and trucks, all hoping to board the modest sized vessel Grand Manan V, extends inland from the terminal. Considering ourselves exempt from their predicament, we park the van and proceed to seek out a ticket. Anxiety arises when we fail to discover an official entry to the terminal. Then a crew member waves us down the ramp to the vehicle deck, and we park the bikes against the inner hull of the ferry. We will pay for the round trip (photo: Coastal Transport Ltd.) when we board for the return passage. (The total cost for two will be less than twenty five dollars.)

Hazy morning sunshine puts a glow on dark rocks and wooded islands as we leave the mainland. Fishing vessels and herring weirs (giant corrals for trapping schools of fish) abound in the waters surrounding Black's Harbour. This is the sardine capital of the world and, unapologetically, the company town of Connors Bros. Ltd.

As land slips away behind us, fog closes in and our dream of breathing cool air comes true. The crossing will last an hour and a half--plenty of time to relax, read a paper, look at maps and brochures of Grand Manan. The cafeteria serves coffee in real mugs, a definite touch of class.

"Porpoises!" calls Peggy from the upper deck. Even in this fog her eyes are sharp for signs of life in the water. Our cousins in the sea and we mammals from the land keep sight of each other for several miles.

Suddenly, out of the grey void, cliffs and a lighthouse appear. The fog begins to disperse. Sunlight gilds an outline of wooded hills. Boats, a harbour, and houses come into view. This time, we'll get to see something of Grand Manan!

We are carrying no camping gear and, in this peak season, we've made no reservations. Once ashore, we are torn between our need to nail down a bed for the night, and the more immediate enticements of the harbour. Fishing vessels, schooners and tour boats are all preparing for their day's adventures.

Hastily, we sign on to a waiting list for a whale watch excursion, to begin in one hour. Mounted on our wheels, we roll through the small village at Flagg's Cove. "No Vacancy" signs greet us on both sides of our route. Our urgent quest takes us in separate directions.

Mark spots a "Vacancy" sign and swings into the motel just as two cars simultaneously arrive. It doesn't take him long to park his bicycle by the office door, and Mark gets to the head of a lineup for the last available room.

Meanwhile, across the road at the Information Bureau, Peggy is booking a reservation at the Marathon Inn. Reunited, we compare notes, and the Marathon is our choice. Now, we are free to explore.

In quest of adventure, we come upon a bakery. Gourmet coffee and organic flour are boasted of in the signage. Also, non-acceptance of plastic cards for payment is mentioned. With a jolt, we realize that we've landed on this shore unencumbered by ready currency. We scrape together enough change for a snack, which largely compensates in delectability for what it lacks in volume. We learn that the nearest (and only) bank machine is ten kilometres away, on the main road running the length of the Island. We have acquired a mission.

At home, the radio had advised us to stay indoors, and to breathe as little as possible. Here, the air feels and smells fresh. Such hills as we encounter are easy to surmount. Traffic is not heavy, and includes other cyclists, most of whom seem to be from here. Roses, cat-tails, and a panorama of sea islands attend our route, as we pedal by the broad Castalia Marsh.

Lawn ornaments are highly evolved on Grand Manan. Lighthouses and wind driven ducks abound. We are brought to an astonished halt by two miniature schooners chasing each other around a horizontally mounted bicycle wheel. Their sails jibe and tack in perfect accordance with the wind that propels them, and neither boat ever gains an inch on the other. This marvel of art and ingenuity is watched over by a black retriever. Mark constrains his desire to reattach a cord trailing from one of the schooners.

Seagull on Grand Manan Island
(photo: Mary Ellen Nealis)

The Museum of Grand Manan is in the village of Grand Harbour. There we learn that by continuing immediately on our road, we can catch the next ferry to a place called Whitehead Island. We hope to return to the Museum in time for an evening program about shipwrecks. A free boat ride to yet another island is not to be missed if we can help it.

Our bank stop is next, followed by a fifteen minute dash to the boat landing on Ingall's Head. We are right on time, and we can hear the horn of the approaching ferry. Twenty minutes later it arrives. We are soon traveling through the fog to a place that one hour ago we had never heard of. The boat is small (room for twelve cars) and we are heading toward open ocean. We wonder what it must be like in rough weather.

Even tiny Whitehead Island occasions a rift in the fog. Visibility brightens as we approach the wharf. A surprising number of homes are located on this spot of land, which is named for the quartzite ledges found at one end. There is an elementary school, a store, a church and a large graveyard. Interestingly, the store has no sign. We discover it by looking in the door, to see shelves offering groceries.

We've come here, it seems, to pick berries! Raspberries and blueberries abound by the road. People who live here are also out picking berries. It occurs to us to wonder how welcome our foraging is.

At one end of this island's eight kilometre loop of road, is a campground, and a ruggedly beautiful beach. The facilities are neatly maintained by island residents, and are $10.00  of charge (at least during the summer months). It would seem that visitors are not unkindly thought of. As we ride the ferry back to the main island, we talk of returning someday to camp on Whitehead.

We are retracing our route too late to visit the Museum in its regular hours, and we are too early for the evening program. We pause to marvel before a huge weather worn spar on display outside. It is the main yard from a sailing ship wrecked a century ago. It consists of two massive trees, spliced intricately at their butt ends, and tapering outward nearly forty feet in each direction. The Museum will get its due from us on our next visit.

The Marathon Inn is an elegantly rambling old wooden building, on a hill over looking Flagg's Cove. From here, we'll have no trouble swooping down to catch an early morning ferry for home. Let the motorists worry about lead time to get aboard. Tonight, we bask in the casual ethos of the hotel lounge. Here, islanders and tourists mingle while owner-bartender Jim Leslie entertains, with anecdotes and snatches of song. The reasonable price of our room serves as encouragement for us to splurge on a bottle of wine.

Jim is also our breakfast cook. As we survey the morning activity in the harbour below, we are treated to further samples of his tuneful repertoire. Well fed now, and thoroughly awake, we make our winged descent to the ferry landing and quickly proceed to the head of the lane for boarding.

Long Eddy (Whistle) lighthouse, 
Grand Manan

Long Eddy lighthouse
(photo: NB Lighthouses)

Nearby, in the anchorage, whale watching schooners are hoisting sail. Their captains have assured us they use their motors as little as possible. For this too, we will come back!

Porpoises escort our ferry as we draw away from Grand Manan. We think of many reasons why we are certain to return, to this place so near to home, yet so removed from the routine demands of our lives. Not the least of these reasons is that we can go there without a car.