The Strait of Canso is seen in this view to the northwest from Point Tupper (just across the Richmond County line) after turning down Henry Point Street. Mainland Nova Scotia is at the left (Guysborough County is in the foreground and Antigonish County is in the distance); the Canso Causeway and the Canso Canal swing bridge are in the far distance; Port Hastings and Port Hawkesbury are on Cape Breton Island (in Inverness County) at the right of the photo. The marina is off Granville Street in Port Hawkesbury; while bereft of larger craft this day, it is not uncommon to see big boats moored at the quais here. The waters in the right foreground are those of Ship Harbour, a name that was used until 1860 for the community of Port Hawkesbury itself.
Unless you arrive on Cape Breton Island by air or by boat (including the ferry from Newfoundland), you have passed across the Canso Causeway, constructed from 1952 to 1955 and opened to vehicle traffic on 20 May, 1955 (it opened to railroad traffic a few days earlier on 14 May, 1955). Prior to its construction, both vehicles and railroad cars were transported across the strait by ferries. Today, the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 105) crosses its “S” shape, which is 1,385 m long (4,544 ft) and sits atop a base of rock fill that is more than 65 m (213 ft) tall. The Canso Canal allows ships up to the maximum size allowed to use the St Lawrence Seaway locks, viz., 224 m (735 ft) in length with a draft not exceeding 8.5 m (28 ft), to cross from Chedabucto Bay to St Georges Bay or vice versa. Since the water used to flow freely where the causeway now sits, an enormous amount of water with a strong current requires the canal to use tidal locks to restrict the flow in order to allow boats to pass safely through the canal. The swing bridge passes over the top of the canal and is opened, closing down vehicular and train traffic, whenever a ship needs to transit the canal. The Canso Causeway has resulted in the creation of a generally ice-free harbour on the east side of the causeway (the west side is now nearly always covered with ice in late winter, as is St Georges Bay), though I am informed by a local who knows the area well that once about every ten to fifteen years or so, with “the right combination of winds”, ice around the islands of Chedabucto Bay will break free and evenually drift up against the causeway, forming an ice cover strong enough to hold a deer.
While the usual first-time visitor to Cape Breton will see this view from the causeway looking towards Point Tupper, it is an iconic view in either direction. In spite of the many evidences of man’s industry that are visible in this part of the Strait of Canso, its natural beauty and indomitable grandeur still impress.