Island Stories: Northumberland Ferries Limited
Connecting Provinces and People since 1941
If the walls of these vessels could talk… oh, what stories they’d tell! The history of Northumberland Ferries is a rich and colourful one, bearing all the tales of what it took for the first ship to set sail to the journeys of all the crew members and passengers the ferry has carried for over 80 years. There’s the soldier coming home to be with his family again, the deckhand eventually becoming the captain of the ship, young men and women heading off to university, the breadwinner crossing the sea for greater opportunity, a couple on their honeymoon to the east coast, the grandparents meeting their grandchildren for the first time after being separated by the pandemic, the group of friends eager to get away for the weekend, the motorist itching to explore the Island’s rugged coasts, and countless others with stories of their own to tell.
Though the ferry is now an established mode of transport for many locals and visitors alike, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. It all began in 1939. It was said that a ferry service between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia “couldn’t be done,” but a group of investors called that bluff. They pooled their resources together and purchased a boat in 1939. However, it was eventually purchased by the government and recommissioned for the war. The same thing happened when they decided to purchase another. Finally in 1941, the long-awaited ferry service officially started with the purchase of the MV Prince Nova. As with many businesses, it took a while for the ferry service to become profitable, but in the late 50s there was enough demand for a second vessel. Today, Northumberland Ferries operates from May to December with two vessels in the peak summer season making frequent trips across the Strait.
The future of the ferry service was also called into question on several occasions throughout the years, and every single time, Islanders and Nova Scotians alike banded together to keep the ferry afloat. From its very inception, Northumberland Ferries has always been about connection. Not only does the service connect the Island to the mainland, it also connects people from all walks of life through shared experiences — the rush to reach the terminal early to secure a spot on board, the boredom from the long wait that followed, the feeling of excitement traveling somewhere both new or familiar, the pride felt catching that first glimpse of “home,” all the sunsets witnessed off the deck, and many more.
The ferry is more than just a means to get from Point A to Point B. The 75-minute journey is an experience all on its own. On the ferry, you can strike up a conversation with a fellow traveller, exchanging last-minute trip ideas and discussing places you’ve been. You can grab a bite of to eat at the Salt Water Café, and if you’re lucky, tap your toes to some live local music. It’s a time to sit back and relax, marveling at the beauty of the sparkling Northumberland Strait, breathing in that fresh sea breeze, and letting your mind quiet for a moment. Whether you’re on your one-hundredth crossing or your very first, magic is tantamount in every journey.