Tancook Island’s First Ferry Service – The Gerald LC

Tancook Island’s First Ferry Service
The Gerald LC

by Diane Crooks

Prior to 1935 there was no public transportation to and from the mainland for the residents of Big Tancook, Little Tancook and Ironbound Islands which are located in Nova Scotia’s Mahone Bay. Islanders reached the mainland and returned home by way of the privately owned fishing boats belonging to the people of the islands. This mode of transportation proved adequate for the months of the year good weather prevailed but once the boats were beached and stored for the long winter months, transportation to and from the islands all but ceased.

The residents of Tancook Island along with local organizations worked together to gain the support of the various branches of governments, including municipal, provincial and federal levels to establish a ferry service for the peoples of the islands in the winter months with Big Tancook Island designated as its home port. The absolute necessity for a ferry was underlined and reinforced when in the early winter months of 1935 two residents of Big Tancook Island lost their lives because there was no vessel to either transport them to the mainland for medical care or to bring a doctor to the island to attend to their needs. The two deaths shocked the community and the politicians of the day.

In 1933 Wesley H. Stevens (1871-1967) of Tancook Island was commissioned by Willis Crooks (1900-1985), also of Tancook Island to build a 48.6 foot Tancook schooner. Willis was engaged in the sword fishing industry which was a seasonal one. This left the Gerald LC available for other duties during the months of December, January, February and March of each year. These were the months a ferry was sought to serve the people of the islands.

William G. Ernst, Member of Parliament, and for whom the present day ferry is named, was instrumental in working with Willis Crooks to see the Gerald LC was modified to be able to be put into service as the ferry. Captain Crooks was willing to make the changes to the Gerald LC necessary to meet the standards required by the government for the vessel to be used to carry passengers to and from the islands and Chester during the winter months. One of the two masts of the Gerald LC was removed for the ferry season and replaced for the sword fishing season, a “house” was constructed for the ferry season and removed for the sword fishing season, three dories were on the vessel to serve as “life” boats and an ice shield was adhered to the hull for protection through the waters when ice formed in the bay. A second engine was installed to ensure ample power. When the changes were made to the boat to comply with government regulations, the contract was signed for the Gerald LC to become the ferry during the months of December, January, February and March with a crew of three. As Captain Crooks did not have his Captain’s papers, he was unable to serve as the ferry’s official captain. He was designated as the Manager of the ferry and served as its Engineer. Ralph Hirtle, also a native of Tancook, was the crew member and an off island person with his Captain papers was hired by Willis to serve as the captain.

It is interesting to note that this ferry service was a privately owned service that was subsidized by the government and operated under contract between Willis Crooks, of Tancook Island, N.S. and “ the Honourable the Minister of Trade and Commerce of the Dominion of Canada.” The contract spells out the particulars of the agreement.

Always a seaman up to this point in his life, and having served on many vessels in many capacities on many voyages over the Atlantic since his teenage years, Willis kept meticulous records of each ferry crossing, stating weather, number of passengers, freight carried, who paid and who didn’t, costs, repairs, stops at Little Tancook, Ironbound and at the wharf at Southeast Cove, arrivals and departures at the home wharf at Northwest Cove and Chester. Special trips were also recorded as to the reason for the trip, individuals involved and who was taken on or off the island, and the identity of the Doctor, if there was one in attendance. One of these logs, a signed contract, and the flag from the Gerald LC can be viewed at the Wishing Stones Gallery and Museum, if you are interested in viewing a sample.

Records for January 1936 show there were 324 passengers transported between the islands and Chester, 12.3 tons of freight carried to and from, and 2 livestock, one to and one out. There was a total of 26 regular round trips, and 2 special round trips. Round trips often included trips to Southeast Cove, Little Tancook and Ironbound.

On December 31, 1935 the log records the following:
“Begin with fresh north northwest winds. Clear sky. Leaves Northwest Cove 8:00 A.M. Calls Southeast Cove and Little Tancook. 10 return passengers, 3 up, 2 down. 1 Ironbound. 2 Little Tancook return. 1 stove down, 300 pounds. 1 bag feed down. I gramophone and records down. Leaves Chester at 2 P.M. Calls at Northwest Cove, Little Tancook, Southeast Cove, Ironbound. Arrives back Northwest Cove at 5 P.M. Fresh north northwest winds. Clear sky. Cold.” ( Willis often ended the log with the words “and so the day ended.”)

On January 14, 1936 the log records the following:
“Begin with strong northwest winds. Light snow. Leaves Northwest Cove at 8:00 A.M. Arrives at Chester via Little Tancook and Southeast Cove at 10:00 A.M. 5 return passengers. 5 up. 2 down. Leaves Chester 2:00 P.M. Heavy northwest gales. Comes out to Quaker and turns back. 4:45 P.M. leaves Chester arrives Northwest Cove 5:20 P.M. 1 bag down, 3 barrels apples, groceries. Day ends with heavy northwest gales.”

Another interesting day occurred on February 6, 1936.
“ Begins with strong southwest winds. 8 A.M. strong northwest winds, clear and cold. 8:30 A.M. leaves Northwest Cove for funeral service at Ironbound. Arrives Ironbound via Blandford. 9:30 A.M. lands party. And proceeds to back of Ironbound. Leaves Ironbound at 12:15 P.M. for Southeast Cove with approximately 40 passengers. Heavy northwest winds, clear and cold. Arrives Southeast Cove at 1:30 P.M. with boat in tow carrying casket. Leaves Southeast Cove 5:20 P.M. Arrives Northwest Cove via Blandford 6:50 P.M. Strong Northwest winds, clear and cold. Day ends same.”

The Gerald L.C. served for 6 winters as the ferry of Tancook Island. During the winters of 1935-36, 1936-37, 1937-38, 1938-39, 1939-40, and 1940-41 she served as the ferry for the entire months of December, January, February, and March.

Unfortunately, all the records for the last winter the Gerald L.C. was in service, except for the contract, were inadvertently destroyed when the logs for 1940-41 ferry season were thrown in the garbage during a spring housekeeping frenzy at Willis’s Halifax home.

One Reply to “Tancook Island’s First Ferry Service – The Gerald LC”

  1. Thank you, Diane Crooks, for sharing this story and also to your Dad, Willis Crooks, for his wonderful record keeping. I must ask Mom when I talk to her later tonight if she was ever seen by a local GP as she was born in 1933, and Dad was born in 1929. My grandfather (board trustee) was involved with the School Board back in the day and was instrumental in helping to secure school teachers from India to teach on Big Tancook Island. We owe much to our ancestors. Blessings to all who continue to work to keep the islands recognized and for their commitment; you know who you are folks. Thank you.

    Belinda (Mason)

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