The Gerald LC
by Diane Crooks
During years earlier than 1935 some government subsidized vessels were contracted to make a weekly scheduled stop at Tancook Island as part of specified routes serving areas of Mahone Bay to Halifax. However, prior to 1935 there was no daily public transportation to and from the mainland which was dedicated solely to the needs of the residents of Big Tancook, Little Tancook and Ironbound islands. To meet their daily needs islanders reached the mainland and returned home by way of their privately owned boats. 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 in private boats all but ceased.
The residents of Tancook Island along with Chester merchants worked together to gain the support of the various branches of government, including municipal, provincial and federal levels to establish a ferry service for the peoples of the islands in the winter months. Big Tancook Island was 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 f 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 D. Crooks (1900-1985), also of Tancook Island, to build a 48.6 foot Tancook Schooner. Once completed, the vessel was christened the Gerald L. C. in honor of Willis’s son, Gerald LeRoy Crooks. Willis outfitted his boat as a sword fishing vessel. Sword fishing was a seasonal industry so this allowed the vessel to be available for other duties during the winter 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 Tancook ferry is named, was instrumental in working with Captain Crooks to ensure that the Gerald L. C. was modified to meet regulations necessary to serve as the ferry. Captain Crooks was willing to make the changes to the Gerald L. C. needed 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 L. C. 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 in all kinds of weather.
When the changes were made to the Gerald L. C. to comply with government regulations, the first contract was signed for the vessel to become the first ferry serving Big Tancook, Little Tancook and Ironbound islands during the months of December, January, February and March for the winters of 1935 through 1939 with a crew of three. The contract spells out the particulars of the agreement. As Captain Crooks did not have his official 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 official Captain Papers was hired by Willis to serve as the Captain.
It is of interest 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 Minister of Trade and Commerce of the Dominion of Canada.”
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, recording weather, number of passengers, freight carried, who paid their fares and who didn’t, costs, repairs, stops at Little Tancook, Ironbound and the wharf at Southeast Cove, arrivals and departure times at the home wharf at Northwest Cove and Chester. Special trips were also recorded as to the reason for the trip, individuals involved, who was brought on or off the islands, and the identity of the Doctor, if one was on board. One of the logs, the first signed contract and the flag from the Gerald L. C. can be viewed at the Wishing Stones Gallery and Museum, if you are interested in viewing a sample.
Ferry records for the month of Jan, 1936 show there were a total of 324 passengers transported between the islands and Chester, 12.3 tons of freight carried to and from and 2 livestock, one in and one out. There was recorded a monthly total of 26 regular round trips and 2 special round trips for medical reasons. Round trips often included trips to the Southeast Cove wharf, Little Tancook and Ironbound.
On December 31, 1935, the end of the first month in operation, the ferry log reads: “Begin with fresh 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. 1 gramophone and records down. Leaves Chester at 2:00 P. M. Calls at Northwest Cove, Little Tancook, Southeast Cove, Ironbound. Arrives back at Northwest Cove at 3:00 P.M. Fresh northwest winds. Clear sky. Cold.”
The log entry for January 14, 1936 is an interesting read. “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 at 2:00 P.M. Heavy northwest gales. Comes to Quaker and turns back. 4:45 P.M. Leaves Chester and arrives at Northwest Cove 5:20 P.M. 1 bag down, 3 barrels apples, groceries. Day ends with heavy northwest gales.”
An unusual day occurred on February 6, 1936. “Begins with strong southwest 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 back of Ironbound. Leaves Ironbound at 12:15 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 the 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.
The Gerald L. C. ferry records are intact except for the last winter the Gerald L. C. was in service. The contract has survived but the logs and other documents for the 1940-41 ferry season were inadvertently destroyed during a spring housekeeping frenzy at Willis’s Halifax home.