ST. PETER’S: As two lanes of traffic flow over the St. Peter’s Canal for the first time, current and former residents of the village are experiencing mixed emotions about the replacement and dismantling of the 81-year-old one-lane bridge that provided them with summer employment decades ago.
John Mancini recalled the hand-cranked system that swung open the bridge to allow marine traffic to pass through the canal, when he joined Parks Canada staff at the St. Peter’s Canal National Historic Site over 45 years ago.
“When we opened the bridge, back then [around 1970], you just put the shaft in the middle and you walked around – there were no electronics or anything like that, it was all hand-cranked,” explained Mancini. “It was fun to do – we had a great time.”
As a recent St. Peter’s District High School (SPDH) graduate preparing to take his industrial/electrical training at Port Hawkesbury’s Canso Regional Vocational School (CRVS), Mancini marveled at the engineering know-how involved in the canal’s lock system.
“The way the water levels changed as we opened the locks – we always knew that they opened, but we didn’t know the reason why when we were growing up, or we didn’t have interest,” Mancini reflected.
“But when you see that happening, it was very interesting, the way we opened it and let so much water in, and then we had to get the pressure off the locks to open them.”
Surrounded by the likes of Robert Boudreau, Harry Morrison, Jack Adams, Aloysius Burke, A.C. MacKenzie, Harold Gibson, and Tom Wamboldt during his time at the canal, St. Peter’s resident Bernie MacDonnell recalled the “interesting summer” that he spent as a canal bridge worker.
“We were getting paid $2 an hour, and we got paid every two weeks,” MacDonnell told The Reporter. “We worked 40 hours, so we’d get $160 for two weeks, which was a lot of money for a young kid [circa 1970].”
As a young iron worker employed by Robb Engineering in 1977, MacDonnell returned to the canal bridge to assist with the installation of a hydraulic operation system, and received another opportunity to work on the one-lane swing bridge the following decade as its creosote deck was replaced with the grating that remained until last month.
Today, while MacDonnell is pleased with the recent opening of the new two-lane bridge, he is one of several residents of St. Peter’s and the surrounding area who are still getting used to the removal of the traffic lights that accompanied the one-lane bridge for the past 26 years.
”I get to the bridge and think, ‘I should stop here’ – something kicks in, because you’re so used to seeing the [red] light there,” MacDonnell remarked.
Recalling similar memories of the “courtesy system” that existed among drivers approaching the canal bridge prior to the 1991 installation of traffic lights, Mancini admitted to having mixed emotions about the previous bridge’s replacement and dismantling.
“I’m sad to see it go, to be honest with you,” he told The Reporter from his home in Halifax.
“It was a great summer job, and [I enjoyed working with] everyone that worked with me. They were great people, great to work with, and I had lots of fun.”