ST. PETER’S: An official opening ceremony was held last week for a new piece of infrastructure in the community.

On November 16 in St. Peter’s, residents, government officials and elected representatives officially re-opened the new two-lane swing bridge at the St. Peters Canal National Historic Site.

Photo by Jake Boudrot
Parks Canada officials gave public tours of the St. Peter’s Canal facility after the official opening of the swing bridge last Thursday.

The ceremony celebrated the completion of the more than $16 million federal infrastructure investment. Public Services and Procurement Canada managed the project on behalf of Parks Canada. In 2016, work on the bridge began and included road realignment, widening from a one-lane to a two-lane bridge, an updated pedestrian walkway, and new signage. A unique feature is that the span now supports heavy loads of up to 1,100 metric tonnes. The completion of the project marked the end of a 14-month construction period.

Photo by Jake Boudrot
This is the modified control panel to open the new swing bridge at the St. Peter’s Canal.
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The one-lane swing bridge was built in 1936. Having reached the end of its 80-year lifespan, this project underwent a full bridge replacement to ensure vital throughway connection with Highway 4, as well as boat traffic on this important waterway to and from the Bras d’Or Lake and Atlantic Ocean.

The ceremony started with remarks from Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall, who spoke about the historic significance of the canal to his people. Mi’kmaq elder Bob Pictou then led a smudging ceremony.

Photo by Jake Boudrot
Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall takes part in the smudging ceremony which was led by Mi’kmaq Elder Bob Pictou during the official opening of the St. Peter’s Canal swing bridge last Thursday morning.

Other speakers included Blair Pardy, superintendent of Parks Canada’s Cape Breton Field Unit, who noted that the project stands on traditional Mi’kmaq territory. He also mentioned that the previous night, the project won a public works award in Ottawa as a result of the successful community partnerships that were formed.

Richmond Warden Brian Marchand thanked all partners and noted that the local economy benefitted from the use of local contractors and residents during the project and added that more traffic going through the canal will further help the local economy.

Photo by Jake Boudrot
The ribbon cutting officially opened the St. Peter’s Canal swing bridge on November 16.

Cape Breton-Canso MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Rodger Cuzner, also participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony. He called the consultation surrounding the project “fantastic” and gave special mention to the work of Parks Canada. Cuzner said the new swing bridge is a great addition to the revamped Route 4, which was been completely upgraded and is now a “spectacular” stretch of road.

“Through infrastructure investments at Parks Canada’s places, we are creating middle class jobs and driving economic activity while ensuring high-quality and meaningful visitor experiences for years to come,” Cuzner said in a press release.

“Working in partnership with the local Mi’kmaw community, new interpretive opportunities at this site will encourage the creation of new connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians and foster discussions on the histories, cultures, and realities of Indigenous communities.”

Photo by Jake Boudrot
Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner spoke on behalf of Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister responsible for Parks Canada, Catherine McKenna.

St. Peter’s was the site of Fort Saint-Pierre, a 17th century fortified trading post acquired by Nicolas Denys in 1650 to trade with the Mi’kmaq. Designated a national historic site in 1929, approximately 12,000 people visit the St. Peter’s Canal site each year. Thousands of vehicles cross the bridge each month and it swings open for more than a thousand boats each year.

The new interpretive panels currently being designed will allow Canadians and visitors to better understand the cultures and histories of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. These panels are being developed in collaboration with Potlotek First Nation and will signify aspects of the region’s history and culture with the nearby Mi’kmaw community.

Photo by Jake Boudrot
Pictured is the underside of the new swing bridge at the St. Peter’s Canal where interpretive panels will be installed highlighting Mi’kmaq history and culture.

Visitors will be able to draw from these panels the historic connection of when French fur trader Nicolas Denys acquired Saint-Pierre. He established a “haul-over road” across the isthmus so oxen could pull ships from one shore to another.

Photo by Jake Boudrot
These works of art by Mi’kmaq artist Dozay Christmas will be displayed at the bottom of the swing bridge for passing boaters to enjoy.
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A St. FX graduate and native of Arichat, Jake Boudrot has been the editor of The Reporter since 2001. He currently lives on Isle Madame.