ST. PETER’S: The St. Peter’s Canal National Historic Site is set to mark a milestone anniversary this year.

After a 15-year construction phase, preceded by years of studying its feasibility, the canal opened for the first time on August 13, 1869. Built on an isthmus, the canal connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Bras d’Or Lake.

To celebrate its 150th anniversary season, Parks Canada, which operates the canal site, has planned a season of celebrations with the communities of St. Peter’s and Potlotek.

Years before French trading merchant Nicolas Denys arrived in the area to build a trading post in 1650 and saw the potential for a “haulover” road for trade purposes, the site was well-used by the local Mi’kmaw population.

Photos by Dana MacPhail Touesnard — As rain forced the start of the St. Peter’s Canal anniversary celebrations to change and move indoors to the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn on May 18, George Marshall (back), who offered a ceremonial blessing to the Parks Canada staff responsible for the canal, also noted that, while inconvenient at times, rain is also a blessing.

“The site of St. Peter’s Canal is a significant part of the Unama’ki’s history as our ancestors used this site as a portage route for many years. We’re pleased to be a part of this year’s anniversary as we celebrate the history and contributions of Indigenous Peoples at St. Peter’s Canal,” noted Potlotek chief Wilbert Marshall in a press release.

With an increase in trade came plans for the canal and its double-gated tidal lock, a rarity in North America, noted lock operator Janine Mombourquette at the launch event at the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn.

Madeline Harvey, National Historic Site and Visitor Experience Manager, offered her thanks to the communities of St. Peter’s and Potlotek and local organizations like the St. Peter’s Economic Development Organization, the St. Peter’s Village Commission, and the Village on the Canal Association for their assistance and support in celebrating the 150th anniversary of the St. Peter’s Canal.

Mombourquette, who planned for a lock demonstration before rain brought the event indoors, also noted the addition of hydraulics in 1977 and that there have been five swing bridges over the years. In 2017, it became a double-lane bridge.

Boaters who travel through the canal during this special anniversary season will be presented with a unique souvenir that was unveiled at the season launch event.

“These commemorative boating certificates will be available to all those travelling through the lock during the 150th anniversary season. What’s included on the actual certificates is the date that the vessel comes through the canal, the vessel’s name, the corresponding log book line number – so you can tell if you were the first to come through or the 50th – and of course there’s the signature of the lockmaster,” Mombourquette said before taking a friendly jab at lockmaster Robbie Mann.

Parks Canada mascot, Parka, was a big hit with Simon Mombourquette at the launch event for the 2019 season of the St. Peter’s Canal.

The canal typically sees about 1,000 boats each season, approximately 300 of which require swinging the bridge open for their passage.

The St. Peter’s Canal was named a National Historic Site in 1929. The historic area also includes the long-vacant lockmaster’s house, which was built in 1876, on the same property that once included Nicolas Denys trading post.

Denys’ contribution to the area is memorialized in the museum that bears his name, located on Denys Street, and in the community’s week-long festival Nicolas Denys Days which begins on July 29.

Special 150th anniversary celebrations are planned for the St. Peter’s Canal on August 10.

St. Peter’s Canal Lockmaster Robbie Mann and lock operator Janine Mombourquette unveiled a certificate they will be presenting to boaters who pass through the 800-metre canal, and its unique double-gated lock system, in honour of the 150-year anniversary of the official opening of the canal on August 13, 1869.