Nfld. & Labrador

After 4 decades of service in Labrador, Sir Robert Bond headed to scrap heap

After a storied career off Labrador, this 44-year-old vessel will soon meet its end.

Ferry sold to buyer in the Marshall Islands, who's selling it for scrap in India

The MV Sir Robert Bond sits at dock in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 1978. The Bond took over for the MV William Carson, which went down in 1977. (Doug Severt/Facebook)

A storied vessel that began life as a railcar ferry before serving passengers from Labrador for nearly 40 years has sailed away from Canada, bound for a scrap heap on the other side of the world.

For decades, the MV Sir Robert Bond was the link between Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Cartwright and Lewisporte, a route made redundant by the construction of the Trans-Labrador Highway through Southern Labrador.

In the last two years, the ferry has been bought and sold a handful of times: from the Newfoundland and Labrador government to a peat moss producer in New Brunswick, to an agent in Quebec, to a firm in the Marshall Islands, between Hawaii and the Philippines.

"The Bond," as it is affectionately known to Labradorians, was the starting point of countless summer vacations, trips to university and other adventures, inspiring a deep nostalgia — even among crew.

But the ferry was not greeted with an immediate warmth, said Captain Keith Stuckless.

Captain Keith Stuckless is seen on the Sir Robert Bond in 2010, the first year the vessel provided winter service from Corner Brook to Blanc Sablon. (CBC)

He was a deckhand in 1979, not long after the Bond first sailed to Labrador.

It's not that there was anything wrong with it, exactly. It just had a tough act to follow.

The MV William Carson was a purpose-built, tailor-made, top-of-the-line passenger ferry. A lovely cruising vessel — until it sank off Battle Harbour in 1977.

Passengers lounge on the Bond in 2010, as she sails from Corner Brook to Blanc Sablon. (CBC)

The Bond, introduced as a replacement, was a railcar ship originally built for a small crew and lots of cargo. It had been retrofitted to make it suitable for the travelling public.

"The Carson impressed everybody, because they had a ferry running from Labrador to Lewisporte," Stuckless said.

Waddled like a duck

By comparison, the Bond seemed a little like a hand-me-down.

"She was good in good weather but she was underpowered for the size of the ship," said skipper Neil Hillier, who piloted the Bond in the 1990s.  

"She couldn't do herself any harm in bad weather because it didn't have power to beat anything up. It just waddled along like a duck."

Despite any shortcomings, many passengers and crew were fond of the Bond. In 2003, when the government of the day first floated the idea of ending the ferry service dozens of people protested in Cartwright for several days.

The Sir Robert Bond is pictured in January 2017 at a shipyard in Clarenville. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Eventually, the highway opened and the ferry service ended. In later years, the Bond sailed toward Labrador again, providing winter service between Corner Brook and Blanc Sablon.

In 2014, the ferry was declared surplus and two years later the province sold it.

I was one of the few people that could actually work on the Sir Robert Bond and come home and be haunted by his tombstone.- Skipper Neil Hillier

Looking back to his days on the Bond, a ship he eventually captained, Stuckless said he loved the job.

"All the crew knew their jobs, everybody got along together," he said. "You're more like family, in a sense, than you were like crew."

Fidèle Tremblay, the Quebec broker who sold the ship abroad, told CBC News he heard from the buyer last week.

An archival image from Marine Atlantic shows the Bond in dry dock during the 1970s. (Marine Atlantic)

The Bond is headed to India, where scrap metal prices are soaring, Tremblay said.   

Hillier, meanwhile, said he doesn't get sentimental about ships he's skippered.

"There's been so many now... I'd be a basket case," he joked.

Still, the MV Sir Robert Bond does hold a certain significance to Hillier, who lives in Whitbourne.

"The namesake, Sir Robert Bond is buried here in Whitbourne," he said.

"I was one of the few people that could actually work on the Sir Robert Bond and come home and be haunted by his tombstone."

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