By: Yvonne Fox

Anniversaries are a time to remember, a time to share stories, a time to celebrate, and also to leave a legacy. The 65th anniversary of the official opening of the Canso Causeway and Canso Canal will be Thursday, August 13, 2020.

The Port Hastings Historical Society invited people in 1978 and again in 2001 from the communities to begin to get organized for the 25th anniversary in 1980 and the 50th anniversary in 2005.

Photos courtesy the Port Hastings Historical Society
Pictured are Jim and Rilla McLean at the May 2009 Historic Sites and Monuments Board designation of the construction and opening of the Canso Causeway as an historic event.

Rilla McLean, who is from New Brunswick originally, had only been living in Port Hawkesbury for three years in 1979, but she responded, became an active member in the Port Hastings Historical Society and served on the organizing committees for both anniversaries (as well as the 100th anniversary of the town in 1989).

Her first idea for the 25th birthday was to get a special stamp to recognize the milestone, the problem was it takes a few years to prepare the necessary documentation to meet Canada Post’s requirements for a postage stamp. Rilla did manage to get a “First Day Cancel” stamp to be used at the Port Hastings Post Office. She and her husband Jim then spent hours responding to the requests from avid stamp collectors.

Rilla continued as an active member of the Port Hastings Historical Society so was ready after we got the ball rolling in June 2001 preparing for the 50th anniversary. Eventually the Canso Causeway 50th Anniversary Society was formed under the capable leadership of Bob MacEachern.

The Canso Causeway 50th Anniversary Society included (from the left): Joyce Oliver-Snair, Beryl MacLeod, Rilla McLean, and Bob MacEachern.

With her background and access to the Port Hastings Museum and Archives (renamed Strait Area Museum a year ago), Rilla chaired and or served on many of the 50th anniversary’s education and legacy committees along with Joyce Oliver-Snair.

A few of the 50th anniversary legacy projects were a special stamp from Canada Post, mounting several interpretive plaques in Mulgrave, Point Tupper, Port Hawkesbury, and Port Hastings, as well as a “Crossing the Causeway” video in a free-standing kiosk at the Port Hastings tourist bureau.

It wasn’t until May of 2009 that the recognition and ceremony by Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada that the construction and opening of the Canso Causeway as an historic event finally took place. The actual plaque reads: “The foundation of this massive stone structure rests 66 metres below the Strait of Canso, creating the world’s deepest causeway.

“More than 9 million tonnes of rock fill were dumped into the strait between 1952 and 1955, using innovative construction techniques to overcome strong tidal currents and severe ice conditions. This project proved the feasibility of deep-water construction on an unprecedented scale.

“The ‘Road to the Isle’ now linked Cape Breton physically, economically and symbolically with the rest of Canada.”

Bernie and Allister MacAskill worked on the construction of the Canso Causeway.

This is the final in a series of columns from the Port Hastings Historical Society that celebrated the 65th anniversary of the opening of the Canso Causeway, and marked the closure of the ferry between Mulgrave, Port Hawkesbury and Point Tupper.