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When Amherst was a port – Part 2

A photo of Amherst’s harbour from the late 19th century.
A photo of Amherst’s harbour from the late 19th century. - Submitted

Happenings at 150 Church with Gordon Goodwin

How the port was constructed.

Once the port was established by order in council at the mouth of the Amherst/LaPlanche River, work soon began on wharves and other public works that soon made Amherst a shipping centre, well and favourably known in the shipping world. Captains and ship owners, who did not believe in this possibility of this port, soon became the loudest in its praise as a safe harbour.

Port upgrades

Two range lights were constructed near the entrance and in constant service during the months the harbour is open for service.

Pier 1 was enlarged and sheathed. A new railway trestle was built and double tracked on this pier. Buoys were been placed at the entrance to aid the successful navigation of the port.

Pier 2 was finished. This was one of the largest piers in the Bay of Fundy and required large number of workers to complete the construction. Railway tracks have been laid on it.

New freight houses were erected to handle the increase in traffic.

The railway was re-ballasted and improved, from the main line of the ICR down to the piers.

There were more than 1,200 feet of wharf frontage available for docking and loading. Also, extensive improvements were made to the surrounding shores and the connection the Inter Colonial Railway.

All these improvement were combined to make Amherst harbour one the best equipped in Nova Scotia. A large number of vessels were docked there, and a much larger number including a few steamers are scheduled for the next year.

The providing of these water facilities not only meant cheaper water rates for freight, but had the effect of lower freight rates via rail due to the competitive water shipping. Expected was a regular steamship service between Amherst, River Hebert, Joggins and Saint John N.B.

Following this was a hydrographical survey of Cumberland basin costing $10,000. This brought the outlay by the government of Canada through Public Works, Railways and Marine departments to about $75,000 to $85,000. The Public Works Department has also completed the Amherst Point Wharf and constructed ferry slips at Amherst Point and Minudie.

Utilizing a subsidy, one Capt. Downey placed a large gasoline ferry with a tow scow between the two points, resulting in a large section of the county at Minudie and Barronsfield to be within six or seven miles of Amherst, as opposed to 26 miles via River Hebert.

The main road running between Amherst Point down to the piers was repaired, and a stable was built to house the team taxi running between the Amherst Point Wharf and the Town of Amherst – a distance of four miles.

One of the finest stations on the Inner Colonial Line was built at Amherst. The cost of this depot, plus widening of Station Street, cost of paving, including furnishing the old ICR dining saloon as a bonded ware house soon reached $50,000.

Secured from Parliament was $2,500 for improvements to the Amherst Post Office including a four-dial face clock, installed in the high tower.

Most citizens of Amherst are probably unaware of the fact that they are residing what was at one time seaport; but early historical records accord Amherst this distinction. Today however, it would be a weird sight indeed to see a tanker or a container ship tie up to Pier No.2 at the Amherst Docks.

In the late 19th century and the early part of the 20th, Amherst was well known as a port town, being duly recorded in the pilotage lists of the province. This was of course, in the days of sailing ships and water transportation.

With the decline of the sailing vessel, new methods of transportation by rail and truck saw the end of activities at Amherst Harbour.

Historically, Amherst employed water transportation for approximately the first 150 years of its existence. The Customs House in the early days was situated at Fort Lawrence and here provisions were brought by water to the fort and the surrounding area.

One of the ways to travel to Halifax in this period was by ferry to Minudie, over the Boar's Back to Parrsboro, then by packet to Windsor and finally by stagecoach into Halifax.

The other alternative was to take the stage-coach for the entire journey, a trip of about 24 hours. Even when train accommodation was available from Halifax to Truro only, the stagecoach trip over the mountain took 16 hours.

Note: The Museum activities: Nov. 17, is the big roast beef dinner at the curling club with members of the Four Fathers attending. The doors open with happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m., and the dinner and silent auction beginning at 6 p.m.

Tickets are fast approaching sold out, so get your ticket now at the museum.

A visit to the Museum will provide a complete viewing of all the wonderful historical photo, displays and artifacts, for a minimum visit fee.

The museum fall/winterhours are now 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.

To gain public access, please contact Natasha Richard, Curator/Manager at 902 667 2561.


Gordon Goodwin is a Director of the Museum and is the retired President and CEO of the G&G Group of Companies.


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