Canso Causeway

From Academic Kids

The Canso Causeway is a 0.57 km (1870 ft) long rock-fill causeway in eastern Canada.

The Canso Causeway crosses the Strait of Canso, connecting Cape Breton Island to the mainland of the province of Nova Scotia. Measuring 24 m (80 ft) in width, the causeway carries the 2-lane Nova Scotia Highway 104 (the Trans-Canada Highway) and the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway.

The Canso Canal is located at the eastern end of the causeway to allow ship traffic to transit the Strait of Canso. There is a 93 m (308 ft) long swing bridge which carries the road and railway line across the canal.

Canso comes from the Mi'kmaq word kamsok, which means "opposite the lofty cliffs."



Before the construction of the causeway, Cape Breton Island was connected to the mainland by ferries for carrying railway cars and motor vehicles.

In 1880, the Intercolonial Railway (ICR) was opened between Mulgrave on the Nova Scotia side, west to New Glasgow. In 1890, the ICR built a line from Point Tupper on the Cape Breton side, east to Sydney. As a result, a rail ferry service was necessary so that rail cars from Cape Breton Island could be interchanged with the mainland North America rail network. Initially a small 2-railcar barge was used, however the growth of traffic from Industrial Cape Breton soon mandated that a dedicated rail ferry service be established. This service was operated by the ICR until 1918 when the ICR was merged into Canadian National Railways (CNR). CNR operated the ferries from 1918 until the causeway opened in 1955. Vessels used included: Mulgrave (1893-1901), Scotia I (1903-1955), and Scotia II (1915-1955).

Various private passenger and horse-drawn carriage ferry services operated between Point Tupper or Port Hawkesbury or Port Hastings to the Nova Scotia side. By the 1930s, the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation took responsibility for providing the automobile ferry service. By the 1940s, as a result of war-time travel growth, as well as the growing popularity of automobiles, the service was expanded to 24 hours/day. Toward the end of the service in the 1950s, vessels included the George H. Murray (?-1955), John Cabot (?-1955), Ponte de Canseau (?-?), and Sir Charles Tupper (?-?), .


The Canso Causeway was built at a narrow location on the Strait of Canso, several miles northwest of Port Hawkesbury and Mulgrave, crossing from Cape Porcupine near Auld's Cove on the Nova Scotia side to Port Hastings on the Cape Breton side. Approximately 10,092,000 tons of rock for building the causeway was quarried from a mountain on Cape Porcupine.

Contracts were awarded, beginning in May, 1952 to build approach roads and rail lines for the causeway construction and the project was officially started at a ceremony on September 16, 1952 attended by Minister of Transport Lionel Chevrier and Premier of Nova Scotia Angus L. MacDonald.

The Strait of Canso was permanently blocked on Friday, December 10, 1954, however construction continued through the winter on building the roadway and railway line, as well as finishing the Canso Canal and its swing bridge. Construction was finally completed on April 13, 1955 when the railway line and roadway were finished at a cost of $22 million (CAD).

The first train across the causeway was a Canadian National Railways work train, led by steam locomotive #2639 on April 18, 1955. The railway line across the causeway entered active service on Saturday, May 14, 1955 when the first revenue train was a 10 car passenger train led by steam locomotive #6014, after which the rail ferry service from Mulgrave to Point Tupper was discontinued. The roadway across the causeway opened to vehicle traffic on May 20, 1955 after which the vehicle ferry service was discontinued.

Official opening

The official opening of the Canso Causeway took place on August 13, 1955 when several thousand people attended ceremonies which included a gala parade of 100 bagpipers heralding Cape Breton's connection to the North American mainland.


Upon the causeway's completion, the eastern end of the Strait of Canso became ice free during the winter. Several industries were attracted to the Strait Area, including the Stora pulp and paper mill, a Gulf oil refinery and a heavy water plant.

From 1955 to the early 1990s, the Canso Causeway charged a toll to motorists, however the toll was discontinued after the construction costs were paid for.

In 1993, CN Rail sold its Truro-Sydney railway line which crossed the Canso Causeway to the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway. Today, CB&CNS employees operate the swing bridge across the Canso Canal.


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