Tancook Hospitality

A quote by Maya Angelou says “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

Three years ago, we had the pleasure and privilege of catering a lobster dinner to Andriy Shevchenko, Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada, as well as his wife and friends. Last week, his friend Phil Hunt shared these words with me: “Just had lunch in Ottawa with my friend, Tom. He invited a surprise guest: the Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada. He told us that after 3 ½ years in Canada, the visit that they made to Tancook has been far and away their most memorable experience while visiting Canada. He says he has told the story hundreds of times at gatherings both here and in the Ukraine. Only a few weeks ago, he was at an international military security conference in Halifax. At a fancy dinner, someone tried to show him how to crack his lobster. He said, ‘I already know; they taught me how to do this on Tancook’.”

We must be doing something right!

“Tancook 101- Everything you need to know about life on Big Tancook Island”

The “Tancook 101” booklet (link below)  was developed to provide island residents with important information about health service providers who will travel to Tancook when needed.

For newcomers and people interested in exploring Tancook as a place to live, this booklet includes other pertinent information.

We are grateful to the Nova Scotia Department of Seniors “Age-friendly Communities Grant” program for funding our “Big Tancook Island: Creating a Community of Care” project as submitted by the Big Tancook Island Emergency Response Association (BTIERA).

Tancook 101 Booklet 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Boaters – We’re planning a trip to Tancook and want to dock and explore the island. Can you help us understand docking privileges in Northwest Cove?
A: Once Lobster season closes on May 31, boaters are welcome to tie up along-side the lobster boats docked at the main wharf. As a courtesy, you can contact David Baker, Harbour Authority of Tancook Island representative to advise of your docking location and expected length of stay – Phone 902.299.0035.

Q: How do you get supplies to the island?
Almost everything is shipped by way of the ferry. Groceries and small items get loaded from our mainland vehicles into large freight boxes that the ferry crew load by crane onto the boat. Larger items, such as building supplies, appliances or furniture, get loaded onto wooden trays or in cattle boxes. Cattle boxes are so named because years ago when there were many farmers on the island, cattle would be shipped to the island in these boxes.

When the ferry reaches the island, the boxes and trays are unloaded from the boat. Each person gathers their supplies from the boxes and loads them into their island vehicle to take home. Many people use large plastic tote containers or large bags, with their names written on them, to put their groceries in for transporting because it makes it easier to keep all of the groceries together.

Gas may be transported in small plastic jugs, although there is a limit to the amount that the ferry can take on passenger runs. A special trip is made on the last Saturday of each month to transport gas in larger amounts.

Q: Do the children go to school on the island?
We have an elementary school where children from grade primary to grade five are taught. When the students reach grade six, they travel each day on the ferry to attend school in Chester.

Q: Are there walking trails along the shoreline ?
Much of the road is along the shoreline. There are trails in the woods but they are sometimes overgrown with brush and blocked with fallen trees. Much of the shoreline is cliff which makes passage challenging but not impossible.  Southeast Cove is generally easy to walk with some rocky areas.

Q: Where can we go if we encounter bad weather ?
The Recreational Centre will be open to visitors this summer with a tourist ambassador there to help you with any questions you have. Wishing Stones  Gallery, Museum & Library has an area for reading, playing a game, or mingling with other folk. Also, there is a building on the government wharf that would shelter you while you wait for the ferry departure.

Q: Can I bring my bicycle ?
Yes, A bike is a great way to get around on Tancook. Ask the ferry crew to help you get it on the ferry.

Q: Can I bring my car ?
The Tancook ferry is not a car ferry but is able to carry a vehicle provided the deck is not full of other cargo. Tides also influence whether you are able to load a vehicle so chances are you would have to do some planning with the ferry crew to organize this. (Ferry phone # 902.275.7885)

Q: Do people live here year round ?
A: There are about 120 people living full time here.  When you count the part-timers and weekend residents you can double that number.

Q: What are winters like on the island?
The island doesn’t get as much snow as the mainland, probably because we are surrounded by the sea. When we do get snow, it usually doesn’t last very long. We get a lot of high winds in the winter months, particularly January through March. They can be fierce and raw and really make a lot of island residents thankful for their woodstoves. When there is a long cold snap, the ponds freeze enough for us to ice skate on and there have been rare occasions that the bays and harbours freeze over with thick pads of sea ice.

Q: What kinds of wild animals live on the island?
We have white-tailed deer, muskrats, rabbits, mice, snakes and many birds. Once in a while an otter will be seen coming out of the sea to enjoy a swim in one of the ponds. As well, seal pups are occasionally spotted in Northwest Cove near the wharf. The mother seal drops her pup off for a few hours to bask in the sun while she swims out to sea to feed.

Q: Many of the island vehicles don’t seem to have license plates. Do the island vehicles need to be registered or inspected?
Many of the island vehicles are not inspected or registered. Because of the dirt roads and salty air, vehicles deteriorate much more rapidly here than on the mainland, so many islanders look for very inexpensive vehicles that will hopefully last for a couple of years. These vehicles may not be road-worthy on the mainland, but are fine for getting you around the island. 

Q: What do you do if you run out of bread or toilet paper or any other necessary grocery item?
Borrow from your neighbour or plan a trip to the mainland for some shopping.


Your Island Visit

During the summer months of July and August, our Tourism Ambassador will be on the wharf to welcome you to Tancook upon your arrival. At that time, he/she will be pleased to answer any immediate questions you may have about your visit. He/she will also have island maps and general visitor information on hand to help you begin your adventure.

We hope you’ll also take some time to visit our Tancook Tourism Center for more detailed visit information. Our center is located in the Tancook Island Recreation Center which can be found on the school road just a short walk from the wharf.

Please visit out Rentals page for places to stay.

Washrooms are available on board the ferry. On the island,  visitors are welcome to make use of the public washrooms located inside the Tancook Recreation  Center during regular hours of operation. Outside of these times, public outdoor toilets are available at the far end of the Recreation Center field.

What you should know as a visitor
It is important to remember that we are a rural coastal community in the truest sense of the word. This means that you should come prepared to walk or bike if you plan on exploring the island. We also sometimes experience sudden changes in weather due to our ocean proximity, which means you should pack for your visit accordingly.

Emergency information
Should a medical emergency arise, you should dial 911 as usual. Emergency Health Services will dispatch the Big Tancook Island Emergency Response Association’s Medical First Responders to assist you. Depending on the assessment of a patient’s condition, departure happens by ferry and ambulance, or LifeFlight Helicopter (in extremely rare circumstances).


The Tancook Island ferry runs daily year-round on a predetermined schedule. The William G. Ernst vessel transports passengers from the mainland to the islands. The ferry departs from Chester and services both Little and Big Tancook Islands. Visitors should arrive at least fifteen minutes before the scheduled departure time. If you have any questions regarding your sailing be sure to ask one of our friendly ferry crew for assistance.
Please Note:
To all the day care operators and teachers that use the ferry for day trips and class trips to the island. Our policy is a minimum 1 adult chaperone for every 6 children that come onboard.

Day Departs Tancook Departs Chester
Monday to Friday 6:00 am 7:00 am
8:00 am 10:20 am
1:30 pm 3:40 pm
4:30 pm 5:30 pm
Friday Evening 6:30 pm 8:30 pm
9:30 pm 11:00 pm
Saturday 9:00 am 1:00 pm
6:00 pm 7:00 pm
Sunday & Holidays 9:00 am 10:00 am
5:00 pm 6:00 pm

* Ferry Contact: 902.275.7885

The Sailing
The ferry usually sails first to Little Tancook and then on to Big Tancook. You will know you’ve arrived on Big Tancook because of our cement wharf (Little Tancook’s wharf is wooden). The duration of your sailing will be approximately 50 minutes. There will be lots to see during your trip, including many of Mahone Bay’s 365 islands. You’ll notice that some are even privately inhabited. Past visitors have been lucky to see sea birds, seals, porpoises and even the occasional whale on their journey.

Passengers are invited to make themselves comfortable on either the top deck of the ferry, or in the passengers’ cabin. A ferry crew member will collect payment once the sailing is underway. The cost of an individual round trip is $7 per person (kids under 12 travel for free). Depending on the size of your group you may also want to consider purchasing a ticket book which contains 5 tickets at a cost of $17.50 or 10 tickets at a cost of $35 these ticket books do not expire. The ferry collects cash only.

Vehicles and parking
The William G Ernst is primarily a passenger ferry, which means you will need to park your vehicle in Chester for the duration of your visit. There is limited parking available directly across from the wharf, and passengers can alternatively park on the harbour side of the Water Street just past The Rope Loft Restaurant, and in the parking lot for island residents located on Valley Road. Visitors should be careful not to park in front of private wharf entrances. Parking is not permitted directly on the government wharf.

Visitors are welcome to keep carry-on size baggage with them in the passenger cabin. Any additional belongings should be placed in the large silver freight boxes. These boxes will be sitting on the wharf prior to departure, and are hoisted onto the ferry by crane for the sailing, and then off on the island side. Visitors should check with a ferry crew member before loading belongings, to ensure the box you are using is destined for Big and not Little Tancook.

Bikes and strollers
Passengers are welcome to bring larger items like bikes and strollers aboard the ferry. These items should be carried on by way of the gangplank, and stowed in the freight area. Please ask a ferry crew member for direction on where to stow these items.

Tancook is dog friendly, and so is our ferry. We do ask that you keep pets outside of the passenger cabin unless they are in a carrier.

Things to Do and MAP

About Tancook
Come and explore Tancook Island – a true Nova Scotian treasure just waiting to be discovered.

We are a unique community located approximately 6 miles off Chester, Nova Scotia – where vibrant artistry, a pristine natural environment, and a history rooted deeply in strong fishing traditions intertwine.

We invite you to leave your cares on the mainland and take a relaxing hour long ferry ride to visit us across beautiful Mahone Bay – or feel welcome to sail into our protected cove and stay awhile.

Come breathe in the sea salt air. Explore by hiking, biking, or beach combing for sea glass and shells. Enjoy a snack or meal at one of our eating establishments. Take a walk or rent a bike and ride to our museum where you will discover stories of days gone by.

Make Big Tancook your destination of choice to explore Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, Chester and Peggy’s Cove. There is no place better to allow the pace of life to slow than Big Tancook Island.

You may find this map helpful when planning your visit to Tancook.

Tancook Map (Click on link then click on map to enlarge.)

On your visit please stop in at the Recreation Centre – a short walk from the ferry. Our island ambassador will answer any questions you may have.

Summer hours are:
Sunday 11:00am – 4:30pm
Monday to Thursday 11:15am – 4:15pm
Friday 11:15 – 6:15
Saturday CLOSED

The pepper sand of Southeast Cove Beach is warmed by the tides rising over the sand bars that extend 200 meters from shore into the ocean. The water temperature can reach up to 18 C.  This is our largest and most popular beach.

Just past Southeast Cove is an interesting rocky beach called “Gravel Cove” where the rounded stones pop and gurgle as the waves wash in and out. On the way to Gravel Cove, check out the intriguing tubular and bubble-like formations in the flat, rocky outcrops that stretch into the ocean.

Additionally, a fossil beach is located very close to the wharf where the ferry docks. On this beach you may be lucky enough to find a treasure from long ago.  There is also a quiet, secluded shingle beach on the other side of the island at Little Kaffel, which offers a lovely spot to have a picnic lunch, fly a kite or just spread a blanket and enjoy the sounds of the sea.

In shoreline tidal pools you’ll find crabs, eels, minnows, starfish and other small sea creatures. The beaches are also home to numerous shore and wading birds, such as herons, gulls and sandpipers. While walking the beaches you’ll also find many treasures including shells, drift wood and various colors of beach glass. Keep in mind that the most common colours of glass found on our shores are brown, green and white – if you’re lucky you may also find rare colours like blue, purple and red, which you should consider very special – as we do.

(Photos by Adam Cornick)

Hiking and Biking
Tancook offers an interesting and scenic eco-environment in which to hike and bike. Because our ferry is for foot passengers only, most visitors tour our island by foot or bike. This will allow you to take in all the richness of this tranquil setting, as well as experience the slower pace which exists on Tancook.

We are home to only dirt roads, which offer smooth walking or wheeling. Around each winding corner you’ll find scenic surprises and panoramic places to rest. Our relatively untouched natural environment offers beautiful oceanscapes, big skies and green spaces to enjoy. Bike rentals are available through  Carolyn’s Restaurant.

Bird Watching
Seventy-seven species of resident, seasonal and migratory birds can be found on Big Tancook Island. Some of the rare and exciting birds occasionally seen here include the Indigo Bunting, the House Wren, Tanagers and the Northern Parula. Other, more commonly seen birds include Crossbills and Blue Jays, Chickadees and Nuthatches, Warblers and Kinglets, Pheasants, Mourning Doves, and Robins. There are also Hummingbirds and Swallows in summer.

The history of Tancook can be understood in a very real way by visiting our cemetery. Many families make journeys to the island to research their family genealogy, or find long-lost family members. With headstones dating back to 1855 there is certainly lots to learn about our unique past. Reading the stones and following the family lines provide family historians with exciting and valuable information.

There have been geocaches on Tancook Island since 2006. Since then, many geocachers have made the day trek to seek out the caches. Our first geocaching event was hosted in 2012 and we have had several since then.

There are currently 40 caches on the island, many offering more unique challenges to test the most seasoned of geocachers. We have many kid-friendly caches and caches to get you hooked! You’ll learn about the history of Tancook while visiting some of our cache listings. Our caches will help you discover areas of our island that the regular visitor may not get experience.

To find our listings, go to geocaching.com, enter our postal code “B0J 3G0″ to search our listings. Cache listing pages are also available at the Tourism Centre.

Look for fossils at the beach below the gravel parking lot at the land-end of the Tancook Ferry wharf. Here you will find fossilized corals and shells, some of which contain glittering bits of “fools gold”, also known as pyrite.