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MV Kipawo long gone but remembered

ED COLEMAN @KingsNSnews Ed Coleman, who resides in Kentville, is a bi-weekly columnist who has a keen interest in history, particularly that of Kings and Hants counties.

Late in 1925, when they were awaiting the arrival of the new ferry that would serve ports on the Minas Basin, the management of the Dominion Atlantic Railway found they would be facing serious scheduling problems.

The plan was to run the ferry for several hours a day, serving Parrsboro, Wolfville and Kingsport (the Minas Basin service) and making

latter train connections at the two ports. With two high tides a day approximately 12 hours apart, and with the peak times of the high tides changing daily, making a workable schedule was difficult. Add the crucial fact that high tide times would be different in the three ports every day, and obviously there had to be scheduling problems.

When the MV Kipawo went into service on the Minas Basin early in 1926, the Cornwallis Valley Railway (CVR) was already running

Kingsport. a line to the wharf at

The CVR connected with the Dominion Atlantic Railway (DAR) in Kentville, and that presented another scheduling problem. The DAR had firm schedules set up along the line and coping with the vagaries of Minas Basin tides in Wolfville and Kingsport created enormous difficulties.

The bottom line is that the DAR somehow sorted it out and on May 1, 1926, the MV

Kipawo began its daily May to December runs around the Basin. The DAR published eight timetables a year to deal with tidal fluctuations.

In a concession to the tides, the DAR added a line in the tables reading: “This motor vessel makes connections with trains at Kingsport and

conditions Wolfville when tidal so warrant.”

Built in Saint John at a cost of $45,766.93, the equivalent of more than $800,000 today, the Kipawo was designed to carry more than 100 passengers and nine automobiles — the latter figure was soon reduced to six as car sizes increased.

Sources vary on how many passengers the ferry actually accommodated — 127 by Woodworth in her DAR history and 129 in a paper

prepared by the railway.

Another discrepancy, found if you Google Kipawo on the internet, is the claim that it was the last of the wooden ferries on the Minas Basin. The last it may have been as far as ferries go, but DAR papers (in files at the Kentville Historical Society) note that it was of steel construction. It was Swedish black steel, says one source. Figures also vary on the number of automobiles the ferry could carry as well.

The Kipawo was the first ferry serving ports exclusively in the Minas Basin. Previously, since about 1893, a series of ferries out of New Brunswick had served ports in the Basin.

As automobile numbers increased and tourism boomed, the railway decided it was “necessary to increase the accommodation

for this class of traffic and provide a short route for motor cars.” Hence the Kipawo was born.

The Kipawo was different in that it was the first ferry exclusive to Parrsboro, Wolfville and Kingsport, and the first on the Minas Basin to base its daily runs on tides and DAR timetables. The Kipawo used an innovative sling system, hailed as unique in several sources, to hoist automobiles to its deck. One source claims the sling was a local invention.

Writing in the Vignette series published by the Kings Historical Society in the 1980s, Gordon Hansford described the sling or “derrick boom” the Kipawo used to load and unload cars, stating that it was invented by its captain, Edward Trefry, or its engineer, Ron Allen.

Reminiscing on the 1930s run of the Kipawo, Hansford said it “held a fascination” for the kids of Wolfville.

“We would watch her coming in the winding ‘crick,’ as it was called, connecting the Wolfville Harbour to the …. Minas Basin. I can still hear the throb of her engine (and her) distinct two-toned whistle. Its unique tones floating across the town was a signal for kids to congregate at the wharf.”

In 1941, the Kipawo was taken over by the federal government for war duty on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and its Minas Basin run was over. Used in Newfoundland after the war until it was shipwrecked in 1978, the ferry eventually became the property of the Kipawo Heritage Society.

After the war, the Parrsboro, Wolfville and Hantsport Boards of Trade strongly petitioned the DAR to establish another ferry on the Minas Basin. The railway gave it thumbs down – indicating they were not interested in owning a boat. However, the report noted,

“It is expected therefore that service for this route be resumed by private interests.”

Looking back, of course, we know this never happened.

P.S. It has often been suggested that the name Kipawo was of Mi’kmaq origin. However, the railway coined the name based on the ports the ferry served. I’ll let readers figure that out for themselves.





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