Transportation and communication in the history of Richmond County is predominantly the story of how the various communities maintained connection to the rest of the world by sea. This applied particularly to Isle Madame which had no bridge connection to the mainland until 1919.
Although postal service was established at Arichat by 1824, mail was conveyed largely by ships like the SS Rimouski which was one of the earliest to transport passengers and goods on a triangular route from Arichat to Mulgrave to Canso. In time, Mulgrave became a railway destination so that travelers from Arichat and Canso could sail there to make rail connections on the Intercolonial Railway.
As time went on, the Rimouski was replaced by other ships plying the Arichat-Mulgrave-Canso corridor. Some of these operated on a daily schedule while others ran on a tri-weekly basis. These vessels were the SS John L. Cann, SS Percy Cann, SS Robert Cann, SS Malcolm Cann, SS Magdalene, and SS Tussle.
Early postal service in West Arichat and area was provided by the coastal schooner Malcolm Cann which collected mail at the railway station in Mulgrave and transported it to Arichat from where it was distributed. In winter, mail was carried by coach to Whiteside, collected there by horse-drawn sleigh, conveyed across Lennox Passage by ferry to Martinique, then to Arichat for delivery.
An essential feature of early transportation was a ferry service connecting Isle Madame to the mainland via D’Escousse and St. Peter’s. One familiar ferryman on this run was Anthony MacKenzie of St. Peter’s who would entertain his passengers with his fine tenor voice. The D’Escousse side was operated by Captain and Mrs. Isidore Poirier who ran a boarding house in conjunction with the ferry service.
In early days, the ferries depended on sails and the vagaries of the wind to transport their passengers. Later the ships were upgraded to steam power and finally to gasoline motors.
Another ferry ran from Grandique Road on the Isle Madame side, across Lennox Passage, to Grandique Ferry near Louisdale on the mainland. In 1872, the provincial government granted a subsidy to W.R. Cutler of Arichat to provide ferry service using the steamer Richmond at Lennox Passage. In 1883 G.M. Shaw won the subsidy. He continued to utilize the Richmond until it burned in 1885. John Murchinson of Grand River, the warden of Richmond County, commissioned a new vessel, the Lennox, to replace the Richmond. It was registered in Arichat in 1887, but it too fell victim to fire not long after.
From that time on, scows were used, either propelled by manpower or hauled by a motorized rig. This particular service was necessary to convey animals or wagons, and eventually, automobiles.
G.M. Shaw, Steward McPhie, and J.V. Shawshared the subsidy consecutively until the bridge opened in 1919. Those who received the subsidy did not necessarily actually work the ferries, as was the case with the Cavanaghs for many years.
In 1911 the first automobile to Isle Madame made its way via the ferry across the passage. This vehicle belonged to J.A. Gillies, a lawyer from Sydney who took up residence in Arichat. Parked in front of the American House Hotel, this miracle of technology attracted a great crowd of curious on-lookers.