Reduced Hours of Operation of St. Peter's Canal Affecting Cape Breton Marine Businesses

Parks Canada's reduction of the hours of operation of the St. Peter's Canal is impacting marine tourism on Cape Breton Island. St. Peter's Canal allows passage from the Atlantic Ocean to Cape Breton Island's Bras d'Or Lake.

Parks Canada has reduced the summer operating hours of the canal from a 12-hour day in 2012 to a 10-and-a-half-hour day this year. Later in the year, from September 9 to 22, the canal will only be open for two weekends (four days total), Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The canal will also close for the season about a month earlier than last year.

St. Peter's Marina, which is the first marina available to boaters after entering the canal from the Atlantic Ocean, is feeling the affects of the reduced hours on its transient dockage business. The marina, which has been operating on Bras d'Or Lake since 1975, is dependant on visiting boaters, with one third of its 64 slips dedicated to transient traffic.

"It takes a half hour to get through the locks and get the bridge open to allow boaters through,' says Gerry Gibson, Manager of the marina. "It's going to have a big impact, for us especially, because the people coming in at that last hour or hour-and-a-half I'm going to lose. They'll stay on the canal wall for the night and once they come through in the morning, they may come to us for fuel if they have a powerboat. Sailboats will just continue on down the lake. So I'll lose that docking. Once this summer plays out, and I know how many people spent the night on the opposite side of the canal wall each night, I'll have a better idea of the impact to our business. I expect to lose 15 percent of my business this year.'

Gibson says he's photographing boats tied up on canal wall once canal closes for the day to keep track of the potential business he's losing. He estimates that about 1,000 boats pass through the 800-metre long canal each year. "I'd like to see [the hours of operation] go back to what they were,' says Gibson. However, he remains skeptical that this will happen and believes Parks Canada will try to reduce the canals hours of operation further as well as introduce new user fees.

"What are they up to?' laughs Gibson in derision.

Looking for support in addressing his concerns, Gibson already brought the issue to the attention of two local Liberal MPs, Rodger Cuzner, MP for Cape Breton-Canso, and Mark Eyking, MP for Sydney-Victoria.

Stewart Germani, President CEO of Baddeck Marine, a full-service marina on the northern shore of Bras d'Or Lake, shares Gibson's concerns. Germani says about 80 percent of the marina's summer traffic comes from boaters utilizing the St. Peter's Canal at the lake's southern entrance. "Boaters are going to find difficulties entering the lake and they'll end up going elsewhere. Right now we're making due. But we've been trying to contact Parks Canada trying to get them to reconsider their position.'

Stewart's son Tyler Germani, Manager of Baddeck Marine, says he found the canal's new operating hours troublesome already. "It's hard to plan boat deliveries around such short hours,' says Tyler Germani, "I have to deliver a boat down to Halifax and it's not easy. To have to take a weather window that's just right. And if your window doesn't land on [Parks Canada's] operating hours it ruins your whole delivery.'

St. Peter's Canal Hours of Operation 2013:
May 17 to June 23
Open Friday to Sunday
8:00 a.m. — 4:30 p.m.

June 24 to June 27
8:00 a.m. — 4:30 p.m.

June 28 to August 11
8:00 a.m. — 6:30 p.m.

August 12 to September 8
8:00 a.m. — 4:30 p.m.

September 9 to September 22
Open Saturday and Sunday
8:00 a.m. — 4:30 p.m.

The canal closes no later than 6:30 p.m. during the summer period. However, boaters must arrive 30 minutes before the canal closes. The canal closes down completely on September 23, about a month earlier than in 2012.