I was standing on the bluff of the Chimney Corner road looking down on Margaree Harbour and the mouth of the Margaree River.
The new bridge loomed in the distance and the beach was covered with ice and snow. The “big ice” was so heavy that the mouth of the harbour and the breakwaters could hardly be made out. The ice was jammed in solid around two lines of armour stone that protect the entrance to the harbour.
At this time of the year, you might ask ‘what is the purpose of these lines of heavy stone that extend seaward’? They are found on almost every small harbour along the western side of Cape Breton, as well as some of the harbours on the east side of the island. They serve several purposes. They extend the mouth of the harbour seaward, deter silting of the harbour mouth, and give the small boats some protection from rough breaking seas.
Many small harbours such as Inverness, Margaree Harbour, and Little Judique have sandy beaches on both sides of their harbour mouths. Heavy wave action sets up long-shore currents that move parallel to the shoreline and easily transport great quantities of sand. Silting of the harbour mouth then becomes a major problem.
Even with breakwaters, many of the small harbour mouths must be dredged every few years. A few years ago, I was at Murphy’s Pond when dredging of the harbour entrance was taking place. The silt-laden barge loaded with dredged sediment was then towed seaward and unloaded.
A variety of materials have been used for the construction of the breakwaters over the years. Cribwork filled with stone, poured concrete, sandstone blocks, as well as poured concrete pyramid shaped blocks have all proved to be not as effective as huge blocks of igneous rocks. Granite boulders (igneous rock), six to 10 tonnes in size, are the best for breakwater construction. These boulders have a great resistance to erosion, and of course, are not easily moved by crashing ocean waves. Nearness to a good supply of granite materials is a major consideration when building the breakwater. Most of our hills have quarries where there is a good supply of granite. Cape Porcupine on the Strait of Canso is one excellent source of igneous and metamorphic rock.
The breakwaters are built from the shore seaward using smaller stone for the large equipment to operate on. On the outer edge, the larger armour stone is put in place to complete the final touches to the breakwater. In most cases, the breakwater walls are built six to 10-feet above the high water mark. In some cases, the harbour ends up as a man-made harbour with a small entrance for the boats to enter and exit.
I was impressed by the size and height of the breakwater walls that protect Pig Cove (on the Judique shore road) and Neil’s Harbour from the ravages and violence of the ocean’s storms.
Some of Cape Breton’s harbours have small, short breakwaters because they do not have the sandy beaches adjacent to them that others have. Bay St. Lawrence and Pleasant Bay do not have serious silting problems. And still others like Cheticamp and Englishtown have no need for breakwaters because of their deep, sand-free entrances.
In traveling around many of the small fishing villages of Newfoundland, I was impressed by the natural, deep, well-protected harbours that many of them had. The construction of breakwaters has changed over the years with methods and materials used.
With small natural harbour openings throughout Cape Breton, the need to actually construct man-made harbours with good breakwaters has given the fishermen and their equipment much needed protection from the power of the sea.