Thursday, December 9, 2021

Service Disruption

The relentless to-ing and fro-ing of the Halifax harbour ferries was disrupted for a few hours today as heavy snow forced the shutdown of municipal services such as transit and refuse collection. With schools, colleges and unversities also closed and many businesses shuttered, at least for a time, the ferries would not have had much business had they been operational for the morning commute.

Unlike ferry services in less sheltered waters, the harbour ferries are rarely effected by weather, and then only in the most extreme conditions. They often run when all other means of transportation grind to a halt.

Today's interruption was short lived as the boats began to run again in the late morning once some roads were clear and it was safe for passengers (and crews) to reach the three terminals. Credited as the oldest (and continously operated) salt water ferry service in North America, and the second oldest in the world* after the Mersey ferry in England, the service dates back to the founding of Halifax in 1749. The first municipally chartered service began in 1752, and has relied on several means of propulsion including horses turning paddle wheels. They were double ended, with two wheelhouses.

 In the early 20th century, the boats were steam powered and carried automobiles until 1956 when the Angus L. Macdonald bridge was built connecting Halifax and Dartmouth. It was then that the noted naval architect William Roue (of schooner Bluenose fame) designed a pair of wooden hulled, diesel powered, pedestrian only, boats that established the basis for future designs.

The little double enders with a centre wheelhouse, did not need to turn around as they travelled  back and forth across the harbour, as they were built with propellors at bow and stern, and operated in forward or reverse mode.They also used the old docking slips at each end of the run. They operated until 1978 when a second generation of boats came into service. These new boats were steel hulled and were sideloading.  New floating terminal structures, gave passengers somewhat more shelter in bad weather.

Named Halifax III and Dartmouth III, they used the Voith - Schneider propulsion system, allowing the engines to change direction and speed by altering the pitch of the vertical prop blades. Otherwise they were remarkably similar in concept and appearance to their Roue-designed predecessors.

Designers E.Y.E. provided a virtually identical design when a third ferry was added to the fleet in 1986 when a second terminal was added on the Dartmouth shore at Woodside. The newest boat was named,  perhaps predictably, Woodside I.

The new route was longer, but all three boats were interchangeable and did take turns, sometimes confusing patrons. All three vessels were built by Ferguson Industries in Pictou, NS.

The current fleet numbers five boats. All were built by A.F.Thériault in Meteghan River between 2014 and 2018 to an upgraded E.Y.E. design, but which still has the distinctive profile given by Roue.

Having five boats in the fleet allows for two vessels on each route and a spare to cover maintenenace periods or breakdowns. All boats are named for people, and each boat carries an interpretive panel explaining that person's role in history. 


The Wikipedia page on the ferry service gives a brief bio of the namesake for each boat. 

See: Ferry and namesakes

When the current boats came into service the three previuous boats were sold. Dartmouth III made its way to Toronto where it was to run to a waterfront amusement park. So far it has not entered service. Dartmouth III and Woodside I, were acquired by the same owners, but at last report were laid up in Lunenburg, NS.

*I am always wary of "firsts" and "biggests" and "oldests". Our Eurocentric version of history normally excludes a lot of (perhaps) unrecorded events that happened far from western eyes. There have been salt water ferry services as long as there have been bodies of salt water to cross (real or imagined or even flaming). See: Charon

The current boats' "rooster tails" when underway give a bustling appearance, which is entirely appropriate. There is also a hardy breed of passengers who ride "outside" on the weather deck whenever possible. (Sometimes the crew closes the upper deck for safety.)


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