St Peters Canal

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St Peters is a pleasant, small coastal settlement around a sheltered bay with well kept old wooden houses.

In 1650, a fur trading post was established by Nicholas Denys, a Frenchman, for trade with local members of the Mi’kmaq Nation. Fish, mainly cod, was dried before being exported to France. The Mi’kmaq supplied a range of pelts in exchange for European goods. A haul road was constructed across the isthmus so small sailing ships and canoes could be transported by oxen or horses between Bras d’Or Lake to the Atlantic Ocean. This was a shorter and safer voyage to Sydney than travelling around the exposed southern coast of Cape Breton Island.

The trading post grew to become a thriving commercial centre and important military post called Fort Toulouse. The remains of this fort can be seen in Battery Provincial Park. Fort Toulouse was destroyed by the New England expedition which captured Louisbourg in 1745.

The area was resettled by Laurence Kavanagh when the English gained control of Cape Breton Island. Fort Dorchester was built on the highest bit of land to command the area.

In the 19thC it was decided to replace the haul road with a canal. Work began in 1854 and took 15 years. The canal is about 800m long and 30m wide. It cuts through the narrowest point of land, through a solid granite hill which is 20m high. The passage was shored up with timbers and planking. Two sets of substantial lock gates were built at either end of the canal. Because of the tidal difference of 1.4m between Bras d’Or Lake and the Atlantic Ocean, each gate has four swinging doors which form a diamond shape when closed.

St. Peters Canal saw relatively heavy use by commercial shipping up to the early 1900s, but became too small for modern ships and is now mainly used by pleasure boats.

St Peter’s Canal National Historic Site and Battery Provincial Park are on either side of the canal. There are advanced warning signs for both but no sign on the actual junction. Both are tight turns on opposite sides of the bridge.

The canal is now a Parks Canada National Historic Site and operates from May to October. There is a large car park alongside the canal with information boards and the Nicholas Denys Museum has an exhibition on building the canal and artifacts from the area. There is a footpath along the side of the canal.

Battery Provincial Park is on the opposite side of the canal and has a campsite, small picnic site and walking trails around the site.

This makes a pleasant break on the drive from Halifax to Sydney and Louisbourg.

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