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Cape Traverse second annual ice boat festival makes history


CAPE TRAVERSE – Paul Bogaard was among the crowd perched on the banks of Cape Traverse wharf Saturday afternoon, eager to see a replica of an ice boat roll in with the tide.

Until April 1917, small ice boats were used to cross from Cape Traverse to Cape Tormentine, N.B. They were the only means of communication and transportation from the Island to the mainland during wintertime for generations – carrying passengers, mail and supplies.

“The ice boats ran for 90 years, and there were three major disasters, as well as small ones,” said Bogaard, a historian with the Cape Jourimain board of directors. “One time, the boats got caught on the ice and they were stranded for days. Crew suffered from hunger, frostbite and some even died.

“There was a little dog that came with them and, suffering from cold and hunger, they ate it,” he said.

Elaine Monteith came to see the unveiling of the replica boat to honour the hundreds who worked on the ice boats, including her great-grandfather William Howatt, her grandfather Russell Bell, and his first cousin, Lem Rawson, who lost his life during an ice boat crossing.

“It all happened so fast. Lem fell overboard and through the ice. He grabbed my grandfather’s arm, but the current was too strong. It pulled him under and he drowned,” she said.

Bell lost a piece of his arm from the grip but, according to Monteith, that never bothered him.

“He was so upset that he couldn’t save his cousin. It was devastating for the family. But my grandfather loved the ice boats, it was in his blood. He would continue to work on the boats until they were laid to rest, and the ferry service was introduced, and then he worked on the MV Abegweit.”

The replica ice boat was painstakingly recreated by students of the Holland College heritage retrofit carpentry program using original blueprints. The work was carried out for Parks Canada and the Cape Traverse Ice Boat Committee.

During the ceremony Saturday, a horse-drawn wagon moved the vessel to a location off Route 10, where it will be installed as a historic monument. There are still a few final touches to be completed before it is returned to the site in two weeks. The monument will be maintained by the province and the college, with the hope that by next year a roof will be built to protect the boat from the harsh elements.

Desiree.anstey@journalpioneer.com.

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