Long bridge over ice covered waters

Back when I was a young swimmer (a very long time ago), I had a swim meet in Summerside, PEI. I can barely remember it because I was very young.

What I do remember is having to take a ferry to the island. It was a miserable experience with delays, rough sea, and massive chunks of ice. I remember the captain regaling me with stories of icebergs… stories that have become foggy and blurred with time.

In the 1980s (and earlier), this was the only way you could get to/from the island. Many Islanders liked the isolation and protested the idea of a bridge; however, in 1993 they lost their fight and a swarm of six thousand construction workers and one enormous floating crane named Svanen arrived to make the bridge a reality.

On a historical scale, the Confederation Bridge is relatively new; it was opened to the public in 1997 and is still considered one of Canada’s top engineering achievements.

It’s an 8km marvel that spans the Northumberland Strait between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Parts of it are tall enough to allow cruise ships to pass underneath. (Note: you can’t just pass under the bridge… you have to apply for permission.)

The bridge is privately owned. To cross you have to pay a toll; as of 2018, it’s a whopping $47 to leave the island (arriving is free). There are plenty of jokes/memes about people who arrive on the island but can’t afford to leave. However, this is still cheaper than a $78 ferry fee.

Line-ups to leave the island can be quite long depending on the season. Many people aim to leave early in the morning (for those who stay overnight) or late in the evening (for those who visit the island for a day).

We were only on the island for a day and as we crossed the bridge (early in the morning), we met periodic waves of RVs, trailers, cars, and buses leaving the province.

Later, I wondered if this was because of impending bad weather and the risk that the bridge could shut down (there’s an app, webcam, and site that gives you a moment by moment status).

On the PEI side of the bridge, there is a small park where you can stop and take pictures. Here you’ll find the Port Borden Front Range Lighthouse, which was put into service in 1917 to help guide the ferries to the port.

The ferry service started running between New Brunswick and P.E.I. in October 1917 at Cape Traverse / Carleton Point. This is the shortest distance between the island and the rest of Canada.

Before the ferry service, people, mail and goods were transported to/from P.E.I. via ice cutter and spread to the rest of the island via rail (motor vehicles were banned on the island until 1919). A reduced fare meant you had to help workers with the ice cutting during the crossing; an enhanced fare meant you got to sit in the hold with the mail.

Drive through the town to the east of the visitor center to get the best views of the bridge and lighthouse.

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