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When Newfoundland was going to need a bigger boat

Long lineups of cars greeted tourists hoping to catch a ferry out of North Sydney, N.S., in the summer of 1970.

Tourists without reservations for ferry from North Sydney, N.S., had to wait their turn in 1970

Want to visit Newfoundland? Get in line

51 years ago
1:45
Travellers going to Port aux Basques, N.L. find out the hard way that reservations are essential. 1:45

If you wanted to get from North Sydney, N.S., to Newfoundland by ferry in 1970, there was just one thing to remember.

Make a reservation.

Cars and vans had to line up for a spot if they wanted to get to Newfoundland in the summer of 1970. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

"The problem can be stated simply," said CBC reporter Bull Curtis in a report that aired on July 29, 1970. "More and more tourists want to go to Newfoundland, and there's not quite as much room for them on the ferries."

Traffic was up by about 10 per cent at the ferry docks in North Sydney, said Curtis. A sign indicated the ferries had destinations of Port aux Basques and Argentia, N.L. 

"People arriving at the terminals without reservations are due for a long, anxious, and sometimes futile wait," he added.

The camera showed long lines of waiting cars and vans with licence plates from as far away as Illinois and Nevada.   

Hoping for no-shows 

Tourists who showed up without a ferry reservation were in for a long wait of up to two days. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

Many were waiting for "no-shows," or people who had made reservations but hadn't made it to the docks in time to keep them.

Up to 30 per cent of reservations turned out to be no-shows, and most of the waiting list typically got on board, said Curtis.

"But at weekends the pace gets frantic," he added. "As many as 200 passengers without reservations have been left behind."

The ferry service was short a boat since the MV Patrick Morris had sunk while rescuing a fishing boat three months earlier.  

Canadian National, which operated the ferry service, had chartered another boat, the Cerdic Ferry, from England. But it was used mainly for freight, not tourists, and as such didn't help with the backlog.

'A lot of waiting'

"Anybody that wants to go to Newfoundland should have a reservation," said an official at the ferry dock in North Sydney, N.S. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

"Last weekend ... we had 202 automobiles and over 700 passengers showed up without reservations," said a spokesman for CN. "We got them on by Tuesday, and of course this meant a lot of waiting."

He didn't believe there was any reason anyone would lack for a reservation.

"They can get them at almost any point in North America." 

Curtis said some tourists were giving up on Newfoundland altogether, given the "jam-up" at the dock in North Sydney.

"Officials agree that if the present increase in traffic keeps up, matters could only get more hectic in the future," he summed up.

Would-be travellers to Newfoundland wait for their turn to board a ferry in North Sydney, N.S. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

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