The Bridge Spanning Indian Sluice
Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, July 25 1989
Indian Sluice is the channel between Sluice Point and Surette's Island over which was installed a bridge in 1909.
According to a legend, the name comes from the fact that a young Indian groom and his newly wedded wife from Surette's Island, whom he was taking back with him in his canoe to his wigwam on the mainland, drowned while crossing the sluice. The waters here are very treacherous. The tides along the shores of Yarmouth County rise very high; when the rising water reaches the sluice, it rushes through it, towards the many inland bodies of water, with an enormous force of six or seven miles an hour. At times, an embarkation which would venture to cross from one side to the other would become completely out of control.
Nevertheless, at first the only way to get to or from Surette's Island was by water. To avoid the sluice, people at times would make a detour, although the sluice could be easily crossed at high tide or low tide. Before the bridge was erected, there was for a number of years a ferry which would ply from one side to the other. I do not have the date when it was established but it could have been approximately at the time that a ferry for foot passengers was established across the Tusket River, between "La Pointe-des-Ben" (Muise's Point, Sluice Point) and Wedgeport, at the so-called "le Cap des Corporons", to which leads the Cape Road. Jean Boutier (now written Boucher) of "La Pointe-des-Ben", and Benjamin Bertrand, alias Muff, of Wedgeport, were licensed ferryman Nov. 20, 1856. At the same time was established a ferry for foot passengers across Pubnico harbour. And we know of many other ferries in Yarmouth County, especially those crossing the Tusket River.
As early as 1885, a request was made to the Provincial Government for a bridge over Indian Sluice. The Government even sent its engineers to study the matter, but the project was dropped "on account, no doubt, of the great cost".
The idea resurfaced in 1897, the year after the arrival of Fr. Dupuis as pastor of Surette's Island, of which Amirault's Hill was then a mission. A petition was circulated home and abroad to gather signatures from as many people as possible. Being afraid of a refusal if a steel bridge was asked for, the petition requested a wooden bridge. William Law, M.L.A. for Yarmouth, wrote to Fr. Dupuis, Nov. 71, 1897: "I think it is a mistake asking for a wooden bridge, as I thing the people should have asked for a steel bridge. Wooden bridges as a rule do not last over seven or eight years before they require repairs".
A first estimate of the cost for a steel bridge was given as $8,000; then at least from $10,000 to $12,000. If the navigation of the sluiceway was to be closed up, it was calculated that a saving of $3,000 would be effected. This idea was abandoned, on account of too many objections. As the discussions lingered on, the yearly subsidy for the ferry was increased in 1902 from $60 to $80. In the meantime, at about this date the question arose of having a drawbridge; the corps of engineers answered that such a bridge would cost the prohibitive sum of over $20,000 at a minimum estimate. It seems that what delayed its construction was the fact that the Councillors of the Municipality of Argyle did not consent to the project, which consent was vital to put it on its way. Even, by law, the request was supposed to come from no one else but the Councillors themselves. It seems that they were afraid that the Municipality would have to absorb most of the financial burden.
In 1903, another plan was put forward, I quote: "A Bridge could be erected at a place near the Church on Amiro's Hill, called Beach Point to Morris Island, and with the Bridge already connecting Morris with Surette Island, would connect the two Islands with the Mainland". It seems that this plan was short lived. Useless to say that politics played a major role in this affair.
As years went by and as the people's petitions were getting nowhere, the idea of a ferry scow was brought up. This was in 1907. The description of such a ferry scow, with many details, given by the Deputy Minister (Ottawa) is most interesting.
I do not have the written permission of the Government giving the go-ahead for the construction of the bridge, but I have what the Provincial Engineer wrote March 9, 1908, to Hon. H.S. LeBlanc (Pubnico) of the House of Assembly, telling him that the timber was being ordered and that just a few details remained to be ironed out regarding the span. And he concludes: "We will try and finish the bridge this season and think there will be no difficulty unless it will be delayed regarding the iron work.."
Between the abutments on each side, there is a distance of 300 feet. Thus a 300-foot span was needed, "which is 100 feet longer than we have yet put in." writes the Provincial Engineer. He mentions two spans of 150 feet each, which would require a pier in the centre. But this idea was abandoned.
The abutments were built at their location itself. With regard to the massive central span, it was built up river. In October of the following year, 1909, at high tide, it was brought on two pontoons and put into place with absolute precision, the great bolts fitting exactly into place. This was considered then as one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the time.