Fishing boat transports healthcare workers to Neils Harbour, rekindling memories of days gone by

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The fishing community rallied to help deliver healthcare workers to the Northern Cape Breton Hospital after a storm restricted access leaving washouts on a section of the Cabot Trail.

The weather calmed down and on Friday morning a fishing boat was able to ferry people from the Ingonish community to Buchanan Memorial Hospital in Neils Harbour.

Osborne Burke, managing director of Victoria Co-op Fisheries, said old people still remember ‘The Aspy’, a ferry that made deliveries along the coast before the Cabot Trail was developed in the 1900s .

“We have reinvented the old Aspy coastal service,” he said.

The Grace ‘n’ George, owned by Tommy Simms and captained by Adam Sams, left Ingonish in fog and delivered four hospital workers to Neils Harbor just over an hour later.

It’s normally a 25-minute drive north, but with the road closure it now takes over three hours to drive west around the Cabot Trail.

Part of the Cabot Trail was washed away under a Parks Canada worker who was in a pickup truck at the time. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

Hospital staff have been working longer shifts – in some cases 24 hours and longer – as recruiting staff has been difficult.

In addition, residents of Ingonish who used to pick up their prescriptions from the pharmacy in Neils Harbor now have to drive over an hour to get to Sydney.

Burke said even with better weather, there was still a bit of a swell on Friday and one of the healthcare workers got a little seasick on the boat ride to the hospital.

“I hope they can give them something to stabilize them a bit, but I don’t know if they will want to come back by boat,” he said.

“But they at least went down there to help relieve the other workers who are on site.”

The boat was also to pick up orders from the pharmacy and deliver them to Ingonish on the return trip later that day.

Burke said he was told it could be a week before the Cabot Trail highway reopens and boats will continue to transport people and supplies as needed, as long as the weather cooperates.

Osborne Burke, managing director of Victoria Co-op Fisheries, says the owner and captain of the boat volunteer their time and equipment and the co-op pays for the fuel. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

“It’s up to the owner and the captain of the ship to make a decision,” he said.

“They expect tomorrow morning they’ll be ready to go and we’ll just have to watch the winds. It’s no different to fishing. Some days you can go out and some days you can’t. not and they have the experience and the knowledge to know when they can go and when they shouldn’t.”

Burke also said the owner and captain of the boat volunteer their time and equipment and the co-op pays for fuel.

“We didn’t think we would be into this type of service, but hey, everyone has to stick together and I think it’s another example of the co-op and our members working together to help the community. “

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