Nova Scotia

After the flood, school swapping and a fishing boat ride for teachers

People in Northern Cape Breton have been pulling together in order to keep schools and a hospital running after a flood washed-out roads and damaged bridges last week.

School and hospital staff work longs hours in northern Cape Breton, find workarounds

Asphalt lies in a rushing body of water at the base of Little Smokey near Ingonish, N.S., after a storm last week washed out a bridge. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Co-operation and a sense of adventure are helping people in parts of northern Cape Breton keep their communities running following last week's flood damage.

School resumed Tuesday for students north of Smokey, despite a road washout that continues to block travel between Ingonish and Neils Harbour.

Middle school and high school students are learning from home online, and elementary students will be back in the classroom, though not necessarily their usual classroom.

"The plan that we came up with is ... a bit of musical chairs," Lewis MacDonald, director of operations with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education, told CBC Cape Breton's Information Morning.

One student who usually attends North Highlands Elementary, but who lives on the other side of the washout, started class Tuesday at Cape Smokey Elementary, and 15 students made the switch in the other direction.

Parents are reporting that their kids are actually excited to have a little change, said Angela Currie-Simms, principal for North Highlands Elementary.

"I think it's kind of an adventure just for the time being," she said.

The Grace 'n' George fishing boat heads into the fog on the Atlantic Ocean off Ingonish, N.S., carrying workers for the hospital in Neils Harbour after the Cabot Trail was closed by washouts. (Submitted by Travis Williams)

Currie-Simms and some of her teachers have also temporarily swapped schools with their counterparts at Cape Smokey. She said the teachers involved in the swap worked through the weekend to prepare.

So did teachers at Cabot Education Centre, the middle school and high school for the area, as they prepared for online teaching. One group of teachers received some help from a local fisherman, who ferried them around the washout on Sunday.

"They got on the boat in Ingonish and traveled to Neils Harbour, where my secretary and vice-principal met them and drove them to the school," said Donnie Simms, principal of Cabot Education Centre. "They picked up some learning supplies that they needed.... They drove them back down to the boat, and off they went back home to Ingonish."

Simms, who also lives in Ingonish, opted instead to drive the long way — three and a half hours around the Cabot Trail.

"I wasn't so brave," he said. "I don't have the sea legs that some of the other staff have."

Hospital staff

Grant Timmons, a nurse who lives in Ingonish and works at Buchanan Memorial Health Centre in Neils Harbour, spent four days at the hospital, at one point working 28 hours straight.

But he's not complaining.

"The hospital was very great to us," he said. "The Nova Scotia Health Authority put us up in the hospital. They provided our meals for us. The kitchen staff was great."

While Timmons was away from home, his neighbours even pitched in to repair his washed-out driveway.


Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at


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