The biggest concentration is run by BC Ferries, North America’s largest passenger ferry line: it has 36 vessels running on 25 routes amid 47 terminals. I’ve been on the one between the mainland and Vancouver Island, and visited the charming terminal at Horseshoe Bay, where boats connect not only to Vancouver Island but also to the Gulf Islands and Inland Passage, Haida Gwaii.
Major cities in Canada also have incorporated ferries as part of the local transportation system: Toronto runs three ferries, two seasonally, to the Toronto Islands, crossing the harbour fed by Lake Ontario; Vancouver runs regular ferry service between Vancouver and North Vancouver; Quebec City has a ferry between the old city on the north shore of the St. Lawrence and Lévis on the south shore; and a harbour ferry connects Halifax and Dartmouth. I’ve been on all four of these, noting before someone else does that Toronto’s Island ferries are woefully inadequate in terms of the number of people who want to board them, versus the capacity provided, on high-demand summer weekends.
These are short ferry rides, like the charming cable ferry across LaHave River in Nova Scotia that loads up cars and passengers and then crosses the river, guided by steel cables. Some can be quite lengthy, such as the ones connecting P.E.I. to the mainland (which I took before the “fixed link” Confederation Bridge opened in 1997) or the six-hour ferry connecting North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. There are even ferries between Canada and the U.S.: on one Maritime trip, we travelled by ferry from Bar Harbor, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia (although it was hard to find a quiet spot — the boat was filled with gaming machines). That ferry apparently has now been replaced by a seasonal one between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth.
The Canadian Ferries Association (yes, there is such a thing) says that more than 54 million passengers and 19 million vehicles were carried by ferries operated by association members.
Many holiday memories are entwined with ferries as they get vacation-goers to places otherwise difficult to reach. You need to take the ferry to Ontario’s most southern community on Pelee Island. The Chi-Cheemaun, once run by Ontario Northland Transportation Commission and now operated by Owen Sound Transportation Company, connects the storied Tobermory harbour at the north tip of the Bruce Peninsula to Manitoulin Island. Other passenger boats connect Tobermory to water-access-only attractions amid the distinct blue-green waters of Fathom Five National Marine Park, including the remnants of many shipwrecks (the harbour was tricky to navigate) and the unusual topography of Flower Pot Island.
Travelling on a ferry, when there’s not racket from gaming machines or other noisy forms of amusement, can be relaxing when the weather is fine and you can be outdoors for some or all of the journey. I’ve never been on an ocean liner or cruise ship, but I surmise that the effect of moving, seemingly slowly, along the expanse of water has a similar soothing, mesmerizing quality. We’re doing something. We’re travelling across the water to get to our destination. And in the meantime, we can lean back, check out the birds, and watch the distant shore oh-so-slowly loom into view.
All photos: Chris Moorehead. Main photo shows the Chi-Cheemaun ferry docking at Tobermory, Ontario, at dusk.