Looking west from the Cape Breton side, the south cofferdam and the Canso Causeway are pictured.

By: Yvonne Fox

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

That was the attitude that the Mayor of Mulgrave, Leonard O’Neil, had in 1952 when he realized that all of the men who worked on the train and auto ferries, as well as for the Canadian National Railway (CNR) would lose their jobs as soon as the Canso Causeway was opened in 1955.

His challenge, as he saw it, was to work to find an industry that would fill the bill.

Photos by Port Hastings Historical Society
The Greek liner S.S. Neptunia is pictured sailing north down the Strait of Canso in November, 1953.

When in 1994, the president of Stora Forest Industries, Tom Hall, addressed the Mulgrave Memorial graduating class, he chose as his theme, “courage.” He went on to recognize O’Neil, the mayor of Mulgrave from 1950 to 1953, as an example. He said, “when you think about it, it takes courage to lead and accept responsibility. It takes courage sometimes to tell the truth, to act with integrity, to persevere, to believe in the impossible when no one else will, to follow your own dreams when no one else believes and courage comes from the mastery of yourself; an important goal of education.”

O’Neil’s courage, energy and enthusiasm convinced local businesses and political leaders in 1952 to form an alliance of representatives from the four counties bordering on the Strait of Canso. The 24-member Four County Development Association was made up of the mayors of Antigonish, Mulgrave and Port Hawkesbury, the wardens of Antigonish, Guysborough, Inverness, and Richmond counties, as well as political and business leaders.

The 24-member Four County Development Association was made up of the mayors of Antigonish, Mulgrave and Port Hawkesbury, the wardens of Antigonish, Guysborough, Inverness, and Richmond counties, as well as political and business leaders.

They had a vision that a pulp mill could operate here. To prove his point, O’Neil armed himself with scads of research material showing the feasibility of establishing a mill in the area. He often hopped on a train to Halifax and knocked on countless doors meeting with government officials trying to convince them the Strait area could accommodate such a massive project.

He spent days in the bush with engineers to get an accurate appraisal of the water potential in the Mulgrave area – one of the key determining factors for any pulp mill.

Tom Hall went on to say that, “leadership and the dogged persistence of one individual confronted with numerous personal sacrifices and political obstacles finally paid off. Leonard O’Neil fought against the odds and against those in government circles who were sceptical. He believed in the impossible, he believed in his abilities and he believed the Strait area had something to offer a company like Stora.”

Taken on June 29, 1953, these cofferdams were installed to keep out the water at Balhache Point in Port Hastings.

This is the eighth in a series of columns from the Port Hastings Historical Society celebrating the 65th anniversary of the opening of the Canso Causeway, and marking the closure of the Mulgrave ferry.