Residents of Gagetown and Jemseg, N.B., can wave to each other across the St. John River, but they needed to make a round-trip drive for a couple of hours to get any closer without their beloved river ferry for the last four years.
The free-of-charge, 15-car ferry linking the two communities went back into service Sunday for the first time since being cancelled as a cost-cutting move by a previous government in 2016.
Now the trip takes just about five minutes.
“It’s a big day,” said Wilf Hiscock, who led the Save the Ferry committee.
“For the economy, it’s ultra important. We’ve noticed a steady drop in revenues for small businesses. In tourism, we really received a huge hit,” he added as he described the impact felt when the service was cancelled.
Gagetown Mayor Mike Blaney said the ferries are more than just part of the road system, they’re also part of the fabric that connects families and farming in the region.
“Farming along the lower St. John River Valley does not remain strictly to one side or the other. There are farmers that own land and graze their cattle on both sides of the river,” he said.
Hugh Harmon is one of those farmers and said the loss of the ferry meant a huge cost and inconvenience when it came to tending to livestock and fields.
“From my home, it’s about a 17-minute trip with the ferry ride. Without the ferry it’s a two-hour round trip,” he said.
Harmon said with the resumption of the Gagetown ferry, he’ll be able to move hay and cattle much easier.
“The ferries are there for lack of a bridge, but they are much more quaint and it’s a fun way to travel. For tourists it’s access to the river,” he said.
There are currently six ferry crossings on the St. John and Kennebecasis Rivers, operating free of charge and serving more than 3.5 million passengers each year.
Invented in New Brunswick by Capt. William Abraham Pitt, the ferries – which use an underwater cable to guide the vessels – were first put into use in 1903.
Myra Boyd, 83, from Queenstown, N.B., said she has been travelling on the river ferries her entire life.
“It’s history. It’s an asset for tourism,” she said with a smile.
From the ferry, passengers can observe wildlife along the riverbanks and large fish, such as sturgeon, in the water.
Sarah Makepeace, of Gagetown, said she uses three of the river ferries on a regular basis to get from one community to another. She said tourists often comment on the ferries as a unique and relaxing way to travel the secondary roads and avoid the highways.
Hiscock said with all the bad news recently concerning COVID-19, the resumption of the Gagetown ferry is welcomed news.
“2020 has been nothing but a year of doom and gloom. This is a good new story. We’re a small rural area and it’s nice that government listened to us,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2020.