A long thin ribbon of sand, gravel and rocks make up part of Cape Breton’s shoreline on the north end of the Strait of Canso.
This gravel/rock bar of approximately three kilometres is quite a natural feature that can be found on many of the coastlines of our island.
In fact, if you follow the old railway line north just past the Canso Canal, it would lead right onto this parallel bar.
This is Ghost Beach. These long natural bars that form parallel to the shoreline are known as parallel bars. Starting from small land points or headlands, they develop alongside and parallel to the coast, sometimes enclosing a slightly indented bay.
Inside Ghost Beach is the quiet waters of Long Pond which is really a lagoon. The still waters of a lagoon are usually less salty than the open ocean. Small streams from the land face dump their fresh water into the lagoon producing sort of brackish water conditions.
Very often sheltered bodies of water such as these lagoons become zones that are rich in sea life adding to the uniqueness of our coastal environments. In fact Mill Brook is the largest stream flowing into Long Pond. Many times while passing down the hill at Mill Brook I have noticed men fishing for eels on the winter ice on Long Pond.
A little farther north a similar bar, not quite as long, has formed at Hefferman Point. Along the Cabot Trail near Indian Brook there are a number of very well developed parallel bars. On the low-lying coastline of Cape Breton, from Cape Gabarus to Framboise Cove, many parallel bars and lagoons are strung out. These very same beaches and coastlines were severely affected by the breakup of the oil tanker, the Kurdistan and subsequent oiling of the beaches and salt marshes took place.
How do these parallel bars form? Sediments are constantly moving along our shorelines by wave action, tidal movements, and long-shore currents. Sediments that are carried parallel to the shore are dropped when waters become deeper and gradually the bars build from a headland or a curve in the shoreline.
Until 1954 and the building of the Canso Causeway, strong tidal currents moved back and forth through the Strait of Canso from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Atlantic Ocean. These tidal currents had a powerful influence on the development of sand and gravel bars along the coastline. Once the causeway was completed, these tidal currents changed their patterns completely.
In the late 1890’s MacKenzie and Mann pushed the Inverness Railway through from Point Tupper to Inverness, and Ghost Beach became the rail bed for about three kilometres of the new rail line. A small tidal opening at the south end of the bar was bridged with a railway trestle.
Ghost Beach, with its low profile and northwest exposure, was often bombarded by violent winds, the raging surf of November and December and then by the abrasive action of the winter’s big ice. Apparently washouts were common, as well as the occasional derailment.
Lots of questions have been asked about the origin of the name of Ghost Beach. As yet I haven’t got any real answers, but it sure is fun dabbling with the possibilities. Some folklore suggests that prior to the coming of the railroad, ghostly persons waving warning lanterns were seen on several occasions. Perhaps a small island in Long Pond contains an old burial site which might account for prowling ghosts?
Throughout Cape Breton many landscape features such as this one are probably related to local folklore. What a shame that so much of the place name history has been lost.