Day 11 on the Trans-Canada, Sackville, NB


Trans-Canada distance: 1,392 km

Actual distance driven:  2,817 km

THEN: There are many who still keep fond memories of the old ferry that linked Prince Edward Island to New Brunswick, and which was officially a part of the Trans-Canada Highway.

MV Abegweit

MV Abegweit

The original Abegweit ferry could carry almost a thousand passengers (though only 60 cars) while it also broke ice during the winter on the Northumberland Strait. It was replaced in 1981 by a much larger ship that could carry 250 cars; it was also called Abegweit, the local Mi’kmaq word for Prince Edward Island, meaning “cradled on the waves.” However, as journalist Walter Stewart observed in his book “My Cross-Country Checkup,” ferrygoers often preferred to call the ship “A Big Wait,” which was frequently appropriate.

The newer ship was disposed of when the 1997 completion of the 13-kilometre Confederation Bridge made a ferry service redundant. According to Wikipedia, the ship was sold to a broker in Texas who eventually sold it to a buyer in India, and it was sailed across the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean on its last voyage, to be scrapped in India in 1994 2004.

Abby in Chicago

Abby in Chicago

But the older ship found a much better fate. It was bought by the Chicago Columbia Yacht Club in Chicago, which had been refused permission by the city to construct a clubhouse on its stretch of waterfront. The club bought the ship, now called the Abby, and moored it permanently at its property to serve as its clubhouse.  She was even given a fresh paint job a couple of years ago, so she looks good as new.

NOW: The ferry may still be remembered fondly, but Islanders won’t trade their Confederation Bridge for anything. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering that turned 15 years old on June 1.

Confederation Bridge

Confederation Bridge

It took four years to build the bridge, and at 13 kilometres long, it’s officially the longest bridge in the world that crosses ice-covered water. Among other bridges over water, though, it doesn’t even make the top 15 – it’s dwarfed by the longest bridge of them all, the Qingdao Haiwan bridge in China, which stretches almost 43 kilometres, followed closely in the stakes by the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge in Louisiana, at more than 38 kilometres.

The bridge is 40-to-60 metres high and 11 metres wide, with one lane each way and no overtaking allowed anywhere. Pedestrians and cyclists must travel by shuttle bus, but the guardrails are just 1.1 metres tall, giving enough space to still allow drivers a view of the strait.

It was built by the private consortium Strait Crossing Development Inc. at an estimated cost of $840 million dollars – $210 million over its initial budget. The federal government still has to pay for it, though, sending annual cheques to the consortium of $41.9 million until 2032, at which time it takes over ownership. And the consortium gets to keep the tolls till then, too.

Mark of Green Gables

Mark of Green Gables

SOMETHING DIFFERENT …  When tourists think of Prince Edward Island, they think of beaches and potatoes – and Anne of Green Gables. When Japanese tourists think of Prince Edward Island, they don’t even bother with the beaches and potatoes.

Anne is huge here, and there are thousands of potential mementoes of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s red-haired, freckle-faced creation. As Walter Stewart also wrote in his book, “we have been able to avoid Anne vibrators and Green Gables garbage bags,” but pretty much everything else is available, including straw hats with built-in pigtails.


Day 11 on the Trans-Canada, Sackville, NB

  1. If the ship was scrapped in India in 1994, and the bridge wasn’t completed until 1997, what did they do in the interim?

    • Hey, 2Jenn: I grew up in Sackville NB (not sure why the author references it in the title when he’s not made it there yet) and we used to hop over to PEI for a Sunday family outing now and then. There were more than just the Abegweit ferry that served that route — I remember taking the John Hamilton Gray, and there were likely others over the years. So while one was crossing one way, another was going the other way.

      We LOVED that ferry ride and while the Confederation Bridge is amazing, I always feel a little out of sorts once we get out to the middle. A little scary out there.

      • Ah. Thanks for that explanation, Patchouli. I want to speak to you offline if you agree. Are you on Facebook?

      • Hi Patchouli:
        Just to clarify about the dateline, I wrote the post from Sackville, which is why the dateline says Sackville. But just because I’m there doesn’t mean that’s the town I’m writing about – it’s just where I’ve ended up for the night. I drive a certain distance each day and write about things, people, places along the way, not just about the destination.

    • Sorry – typed it in wrongly from Wikipedia. It was 2004. I guess I’m still stuck in the ’90s, so thanks for the catch.

  2. I appreciate that the intent of your blog is to amuse and as such is not fueled by investigative reporting. Sometimes readers deserve light reading and you deliver – nothing wrong with that. However, your Day 10 blog took a very dark turn when you claimed “6.1 kms of the THC on PEI is dangerous” and that, “more accidents occur along the 6.1 km stretch near New Haven than anywhere else.” Regardless as to the intent of your blog – you have made a critical claim that implies investigative reporting. After all, well over 16 million tax-payer dollars are at stake, not to mention the environmental impacts. I cannot fathom that such a claim can be reported and blithely left behind as you move on down the road.

    Factually, thousands of Islanders question the safety claims that enable this expenditure; we also question the ethics behind the project. Many academics and professionals (including professional drivers) hold the position that this project should not move forward. Yet your blog seems to support the Minister’s position that opposition to the project is simply due to Islanders not being able to accept change – implying, perhaps, that we’re a tad “slow”.

    I am not sure how or why you became involved in this issue, it seems so out of character with your other blogs. Were you invited to write about this by the Minister of Transportation – or did you just find that section of the THC so obviously dangerous that you had to slam on your brakes and seek out more information? Even more bewildering, why you would restate the Transportation Minister’s position so unquestioningly? After all, don’t all reporters, even those with the intent of entertainment, have journalistic responsibilities?

    • Hi Walter:

      To answer your questions, I had no idea when I met with PEI’s Minister of Transport that the section of road in question was due to be rerouted. He and staffers in his office told me that piece of road was more dangerous than other stretches and provided statistics to back up their claims. At that point, I went back to the portion of road in question and knocked on the doors of a bunch of houses that would be affected. Everybody told me that accidents are frequent – note the man whose house is being demolished telling me that people knock on his door several times a year to say their car is in the ditch, and Alex Calder telling me of the safety issues. So I saw no reason at that time to question the government’s statistics. Still don’t actually, aside from your own warnings.

      The next day, I returned and knocked on some more doors, and I drove the stretch of road again several times in each direction as well as the surrounding roads. In fact, I’m putting together a video that shows the drive, so that readers can watch it and make up their own minds.

      I could stay a long time in PEI and investigate this further, but I have eight more provinces to visit before the middle of August. Would you prefer that I never even mentioned the rerouting of the road?

      • Nope, the decision to spend 16+ million dollars is a fact that ought to discussed; in this I thank you. Are you meeting with each Minister of Transportation as you travel the TCH?

        • I’m trying to, and anyone else who seems interesting.

  3. One point of clarification – the ship is now actually home to the Columbia Yacht Club in Chicago, not the Chicago Yacht Club. She does look great with the new paint though!

    • Thanks Laura. I’ve updated the entry to reflect this.

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