The lighting remained capricious as I travelled Highway 223 to Iona, so I took no photos of the gorgeous scenery along that lovely stretch of road, which follows the shores of the Bras d’Or Lake. I had plenty of time to spend before the concert, so I decided to explore some roads I had not previously travelled in the Christmas Island area. Before setting off over the Grand Narrows Bridge across the Barra Strait, I first drove down past St Columba’s Church to Iona Port, a wharf capable of servicing very large ships (though I’ve never happened to be there when one was tied up at the wharf). This is a wonderful vantage point for those interested in the Great Bras d’Or Lake, with unencumbered views of the lake and the surrounding lands for as far as the eye can see. Alas, the lighting resulted in less than stellar photos, but those selected for this page should give you a good idea of the wonderful and interesting scenery.
Photo #1 shows the two bridges at Barra Strait in the afternoon’s light: the nearer one is also the newer, opened in 1993 October, and carries motor vehicle traffic on Highway 223; prior to that date, a small ferry transported motor vehicles across the Barra Strait. The highway bridge includes a draw bridge at the second span at the far left of the photo; it opens to allow ship traffic that would otherwise be blocked to pass through the Strait. The highway bridge partially obscures the older bridge south of it, opened 103 years earlier on 1890 October 18, when Lord Stanley, then Governor-General of Canada and best remembered today as the donor of hockey’s Stanley Cup, personally drove his special five-car train across the new bridge. At the time, the railway bridge was an engineering marvel, not so much for its length (516.33 m (1694 ft)) although it is the longest railway bridge in the province, but for the manner and place of its construction:¹
Work was under way by 1889 when one of the principals of the firm, Robert Gillespie Reid, arrived on site and spent some three weeks testing sea bed sediments and measuring the currents running through the Barra Strait. This was necessary as the strait is deep, over 50 metres (164 ft) deep at its southern end and still over 28 metres (92 ft) deep at the site chosen for the new bridge at the northern limit of the strait between Uniacke Point to the west and Kelly Point to the east. Other complicating factors in the construction of the bridge were the very strong, erratic tidal currents in the strait, overburden on the bedrock, and the presence of ice during the winter and spring breakup.
Cofferdams, made of timber, were built on shore, ballasted, and floated out into the channel. These were then sunk in the locations where the bridge piers were to be built and sections were added to the tops until the dams reached from the surface to the bottom of the channel, resting on the floor of the strait. The dams were heavily ballasted around their outer walls, then pumped dry so excavation of the overburden could begin. Once bedrock was reached a flat area was quarried out and long anchor bolts were sunk into the rock below.
The seven cut stone bridge piers were then constructed inside the cofferdams, starting from bedrock, building up to a level about 4 or 5 feet above the surface of the water in the strait.
The bridge trusses had been prefabricated in Montreal by the Dominion Bridge Company, and were shipped to Grand Narrows. An iron forge was set up on the site for the express purpose of producing rivets, and assembly of the trusses was started, first onshore, and then completed on scows floating in the water. These completed trusses were then floated out into the strait, jacked up and lowered into their positions on the bridge piers.
Like the highway bridge, the railway bridge contains a mechanism to allow ship traffic to pass; in this case, it is a pivoting span that rotates 90° to open up a channel through which boats can pass. For a view from a different perspective in which both bridges are open to allow a boat to pass, see this photo.
According to this web page, the tidal flow through the strait is very complex “due to a combination of tidal influences, river input to the Bras D'Or Lake, barometric influences, the presence of stratified flow, and likelihood of internal waves.” It is currently unknown whether that flow can be tapped for tidal energy development.
¹ The extended quote is from this Wikipedia article. This paragraph also includes other information from the article and copies some of the wording.↩
Photo #2 looks nearly due east across the Barra Strait to the land on the other side; the houses seen here lie between Grand Narrows and Christmas Island along Highway 223. Notice the embankment that runs along the shore across the width of this photo; it holds the railway tracks, still in use if only once a week, that connect Sydney to Port Hastings and, via the Canso Causeway, to the mainland. Prior to the opening of the Canso Causeway, railway traffic, like vehicular traffic, was ferried across the Strait of Canso between Mulgrave and Point Tupper. Enough sun is present here to see that the fall colours here, as at Alba, are very slow in arriving.
Photo #3 looks towards the northeast along the eastern shore of the Great Bras d’Or Lake north of Christmas Island. The mountains one sees inland of this shore are the beautiful Boisdale Hills, none of the prominences of which, so far as I can ascertain, have names (other than Mount Cameron, north of Barrachois Harbour, which is outside the scope of this photo). This coast looks forbidding, but Highway 223 and the railway both run at the base of the mountains north along this shore. I have travelled some of the back country roads in the northern part of this area in recent years, but many still remain to be explored.
Photo #4 looks to the north across the Great Bras d’Or Lake to Kempt Head at the south end of Boularderie Island, which here occupies most of this photo. At the far left is Beinn Bhreagh with the Great Bras d’Or Channel separating the massif that runs north from Baddeck to Cape Dauphin from Boularderie Island. St Andrews Channel, the northern arm of the Great Bras d’Or Lake, lies to the right of Boularderie Island. As is very clear here, Boularderie Island has some very fine heights and the views from its coastal roads are correspondingly superb. Circumnavigating it is an excellent way to spend a clear and bright sunny summer afternoon (and it will take a whole afternoon, as the island is long and you will want to stop frequently to admire the varied scenes along the way.
Photo #5 looks due west to Plaster Cove, whose gypsum rocks gleam wherever the sun shines down. This deposit was mined at one time, but is now, I believe, no longer worked commercially. From the St Columba Road, one sees a rather different view of these rocks, looking across a freshwater cove that a long beach closes off from the lake. MacCormack Beach is a picnic park situated on the bluff at the far left of this photo; in addition to its fine view of Plaster Cove, it offers picnic tables located throughout a softwood forest and provides access the beach. This photo is also of note for it shows some fall colours in a more advanced state than seen elsewhere in the area.