Crossing the Northumberland Straight – An Adventure On and Over the Sea
Most travellers to Prince Edward Island will either arrive in or leave the province by driving across the Confederation Bridge.
The Confederation Bridge is a wonder of modern engineering with a fascinating history. Prior to its construction islanders and visitors went back and forth to mainland New Brunswick on a ferry. This connection between PEI and the rest of Canada was appreciated by many, because it provided a break from driving, allowed social interaction and encouraged passengers to appreciate the beauty of the Northumberland Straight. In a way the existence of the ferry was thought to protect the unique qualities of island life from the influence of mainland Canada.
In the 1980s when the idea of a fixed link to the mainland was proposed there was considerable heated debate among islanders. Many were concerned about the impact such a direct route to the mainland might have on island society. Everyone weighed in. Some spoke quite emotionally and others attempted to sway the decision by rational economic argument. Eventually a vote was held. The fixed link was approved by a slight majority. Construction began in October 1993 and the bridge was opened in the spring of 1997.
The Confederation Bridge is 12.9 km (8 mi.) long. It is the longest bridge in the world crossing ice-covered water. The curves in the bridge were included in the design so that drivers would stay alert. The highest span of the bridge is 60 m (197 ft.) above the water allowing the largest ocean going vessels to pass beneath. The engineering techniques developed for the construction of the Confederation Bridge contributed to current skills in the building of mega-structures around the world. The story of the construction of the bridge is told in an exhibit in the Exposition Pavilion in Gateway Village at the PEI end of the fixed link.
Travellers to Prince Edward Island from May to December can get a taste of what it was like to sail to and from the mainland by taking the Northumberland Ferry that connects Wood Islands, PEI with Caribou, Nova Scotia. On the 75 minute voyage one can leisurely walk the decks, take in a concert of Maritime music in the summertime or relax over a meal. The ferry, which is sometimes quite busy in the summer months, offers an experience quite unlike that of the bridge. The views of the red cliffs and beaches of Prince Edward Island and the rocky granite shores of Nova Scotia prepare travellers for the very dissimilar scenery in both provinces.
Near the ferry terminal at Wood-Islands is an Information Centre called Plough the Waves. Here you can stop, plan your PEI vacation and pick up some souvenirs and have an ice cream. Stop in at the adjacent liquor store for some locally produced beverages.
Right next to the Wood Islands terminal is a lighthouse surrounded by a park. This site has a popular play area for children. It’s a good place to draw out your relaxing stay on PEI if you have some time to put in before the next ferry sailing. There is a beach where you can swim, collect sea glass and shells or dig clams at low tide.