Chedabucto Bay

Contributed photo Pictured is a maze of islands at the entrance to Chedabucto Bay near Canso.

Chedabucto Bay is a large body of water that separates the southeastern tip of Cape Breton from the mainland of Nova Scotia. It is bordered by Isle Madame and Richmond County on the Cape Breton side and Guysborough County on its western shores.

The Cape Breton shoreline is a maze of islands and passages with Isle Madame and Janvrin’s Island being the largest. From Canso, one can look directly across the bay to Petit de Grat. The largest rivers that flow into the bay are River Inhabitants, Salmon River, and Guysborough River. River Inhabitants is an old-age river that winds its way and empties into Inhabitants Bay.

From here, and down the coast of Isle Madame, many small islands cling to the shores. Most are the result of the depositional droppings of glaciers of the past. They are made up of sands and gravels that are easily eroded producing some weird and wonderful bars and beaches. Some connect to other islands, while others twist and turn as they grow with the changing ocean currents. Crichton Island, Delorier Island, Rabbit Island, Jerseyman’s Island, Evans Island, and Freeman Island are a few that make us wonder about the origin of their names. Lennox Passage separates Isle Madame from the rest of Cape Breton and provides an inside passage from Chedabucto Bay into St. Peter’s Bay.

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On February 4, 1970 the rest of Canada found out about Chedabucto Bay as the Liberian tanker, The Arrow, ran aground on Cerberus Rock in the middle of the bay. After grounding, the tanker split in two, releasing 11,000 tons of heavy Bunker C oil into the frigid water of the bay. As the prevailing winds shifted, the oil slick moved in many directions eventually oiling half of the 375 miles of coastline of Chedabucto Bay, its islands, and coves.

Canada was in its fancy in dealing with this kind of an environmental disaster. Efforts were made to clean up as much of the oil as possible. Tons of peat moss did its best to sop up the black oily mess. In the end, only 10 per cent of the oiled coasts were actually cleaned. As it was Canada’s first really large oil spill, mistakes were made, but some learning took place. In this day of oil and natural gas exploration off our coasts, what environmental disasters are just around the corner? Drilling platforms, production platforms, undersea pipelines, and shoreline industrial development all bring much needed employment to our area but sometimes not without environmental consequences and price tags.

The Strait of Canso forms a northern outlet for the bay and this is where The Arrow was headed. The entrance of the strait is marked by two prominent points of land that jut seaward, Sand Point and Bear Head.

The bay extends westward like a giant triangle and terminates at the mouth of Guysborough Harbour and the village of Guysborough. It was here that Wilma, the beluga whale, was a frequent summer visitor. This shoreline is relatively straight and forms one end of the Chedabucto-Cobequid Fault that cuts right across Nova Scotia separating the province into two distinctly different geological regions. Many of the features of the south shore are familiar to us in Stan Rogers’ song about the Queensport Light and Fogarty’s Cove.

Arichat, West Arichat, Guysborough, Petit de Grat, and Canso are the largest communities that line the shoreline of the bay. Like many other large bays on our coastlines, Chedabucto Bay is one of many contrasts. Different geology and coastal features, different settlement patterns, and different cultures all share one thing in common: the cool Atlantic waters of Chedabucto Bay.