It was anything but smooth sailing for the return of the Gagetown ferry.
The service between the village and Lower Jemseg was restored by the provincial government earlier this month.
It had been eliminated in early 2016 by the previous Liberal government as a cost-cutting measure but hadn’t actually been in service since the fall of 2015.
The ferry was due for its maiden voyage at 8 a.m. Sunday, but the launch was delayed nearly two hours due to a dead battery.
A hydraulic problem halted service again for an hour, around 12 p.m.
Wilf Hiscock, who spearheaded a committee dubbed Save the Gagetown-Jemseg Ferry, says he was disappointed at the start but joked that another few minutes or hours would be nothing compared to not having it at all.
He says the ferry had serviced the region for a century before it was cut, and its return was a welcome sight.
“The economy took a hit, a big hit,” Hiscock says.
“We did a survey and some businesses were down anywhere from 10 per cent to 47 per cent. All of a sudden, you go up through the village here, you can see sort of an awakening of the whole thing. People are more optimistic.”
Hiscock says not having the ferry meant a 35-kilometre drive to get to the other side. He says the fastest way to go is on the TransCanada Highway, which farm vehicles cannot use.
Many nearby residents were also pleased with the return.
Gagetown-native Jake Reid says his parents have a cottage on the Jemseg side. A 15-minute drive turned into 45 or more, he says, adding his parents weren’t using the recreation property as much, because of the extra travel.
“It’s not just about transportation,” Reid says.
“It’s sort of a culture. It’s a way of living and it was a part of living here in Gagetown, is having that ferry operating. So I think it’s more than just about cutting off the commute, too. I think it’s about a sense of culture, and rural Canada,” he says.
“As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t make one bit of difference because I’ve been going around for a year and I’m used to it now,” laughed Melbourne Calhoun, a resident of Jemseg.
“It seems funny to have a ferry, but it is nice to have it here. They need it here in Gagetown.”
Hiscock runs an apple orchard mere minutes from the ferry on the Gagetown side and says his business from Jemseg plummeted after the ferry was gone.
He says Gagetown residents also had concerns about safety, recalling a forest fire in the 1980s when the community was evacuated using the ferry.
“Gagetown is bordered by the St. John River and the military,” Hiscock said. “The back area here is owned by the military. You can’t go either way unless you’ve got a boat. We really felt hemmed in here. This is a way out for most people.”
To pay for the ferry, Gagetown-Petitcodiac MLA Ross Wetmore, also the Minister of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, says the government decided not to renew a $900,000 contract to run a ferry to Kennebecasis Island.
Instead, he says, they developed a new plan to run the Kennebecasis Island and Gagetown ferries for less money.