Nova Scotia

The Cat came back and Yarmouth residents are overjoyed

The ferry that travels between Yarmouth, N.S., and Maine is operating for the first time since 2018. The Cat had its first crossing from Bar Harbor on Thursday evening.

High-speed ferry hasn't sailed between Maine, Nova Scotia since 2018

The Cat ferry that carries passengers between Maine and Nova Scotia is shown as it approaches Yarmouth, N.S., on Thursday evening. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

When the Cat ferry docked in Yarmouth N.S., on Thursday evening, the town came alive.

The ferry has been out of commission for the past three seasons.

In 2019, it didn't sail because the ferry terminal in Bar Harbor, Me., wasn't ready. In 2020 and 2021, it was docked because of COVID-19 travel regulations.

Residents of the town were overjoyed to see the Cat come back, and bring American tourists with it.

Karen Doucette, a local resident, was waiting at the dock to give a warm welcome. "I'm so excited," Doucette said. "I was crying as she came in the harbour."

Local businesses have been struggling for the past four years. They were hit hard by the pandemic, and even harder by the loss of tourism that went with the ferry.

Doucette said the Cat keeps the town afloat. 

"Our economy has plummeted so bad," she said. "And I'm just so excited to see these people come in. There's hotels right there, and we're going to have people here again."

Provincial funding

Despite the Cat remaining docked for the last three seasons, the Nova Scotia government has paid $1.17 million a year for Bay Ferries to operate the vessel, with no revenue to offset expenses.

Nova Scotia taxpayers paid $8.5 million to renovate Bar Harbor's ferry terminal when the port was moved from Portland, Maine, and the province pays the salaries of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at the Bar Harbor facility.

Some Nova Scotians believe the ferry is too expensive, but the sentiment in Yarmouth is different.

"I feel like people in Yarmouth, and people elsewhere in the province, probably have a very different view," said Gabrielle Hurlburt, general manager of Heritage Brewing in downtown Yarmouth.

"For us here, it's a really big part of our economy and we see it as a huge benefit."

The Cat is a 106-metre catamaran that holds 866 passengers and 200 cars.

The Cat is a 106-metre catamaran that holds 866 passengers and 200 cars. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

The first voyage back wasn't sold out. People trickled off the pier, many reuniting with family and friends.

Teresa Stevens took the Cat to come visit her daughter, who went to Acadia University and then settled in Kentville. 

Stevens, from Brunswick, Maine, and her daughter hadn't seen each other since Christmas.

Stevens and her daughter embraced in the parking lot of the ferry terminal. They hadn't seen each other since Christmas. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Stevens said what she's most excited for is, "Seeing my daughter's beautiful face."

The American passengers who weren't travelling to see loved ones said they came for the sights and the food. 

Curt and Debi Cournale are from San Francisco.

Curt and Debi Cournale are from San Francisco and plan to travel around Nova Scotia. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Debi Cournale's grandmother grew up in Saulnierville, N.S., but she has never visited the province. She said she's interested in exploring her family history, and the return of the Cat was the perfect opportunity.

"We're going to go to Saulnierville and see if I can find something," Cournale said. "My great-great-uncle was one of the first Canadians that got killed in the Second World War. So there's a monument there with our name on it."

The Cournales plan to travel around the province, and said they're looking forward to seeing the Bay of Fundy. But they also have some other plans. 

"Eat and drink," Curt Cournale said. "Yeah, some fish and some local beer."

Just like people can't wait to try local food and drinks, the businesses can't wait to welcome them.

Hurlburt said she hopes Heritage Brewing sees record numbers of customers this summer.

Gabrielle Hurlburt is the general manager of Heritage Brewing. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

"It's been a really long time coming," she said. "I think the entire town is looking forward to this."

The ferry's season will begin with four crossings a week on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday. The service will ramp up to seven days a week on June 23.

From Sept. 11, the service will drop to six days a week until it ends just after Thanksgiving.

Susanne Giebels, operations manager of Lakelawn BNB and Motel, agreed that the ferry's return will boost business. 

"I see a lot of double-booking," Giebels said. "Some people arrive with the ferry, they stay with us for one night, they tour throughout Nova Scotia, whichever area or the entire province. And then they return and stay another night."

She said the last three seasons have been difficult, with many establishments worrying about going out of business. 

"So we just hope that everybody will have a very successful season and recover from what happened the past three years."

After 3 years, the Cat is back

3 months ago
Duration 4:03
The ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia started up again Thursday. Businesses operators in Yarmouth were excited to welcome back American tourists after three years of difficulties.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicola Seguin is a TV, radio, and online journalist with CBC Nova Scotia, based in Kjipuktuk (Halifax). If you have a story idea, email her at nicola.seguin@cbc.ca or find her on twitter @nicseg95.

With files from Brett Ruskin

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