A 1908 SCHEME TO HARNESS THE FUNDY TIDES (November 11/05)

As well as fascinating generations of Nova Scotians, the awesome Fundy tides around Cape Split have inspired numerous schemes to harness its power and generate electricity. As recently as a few months ago yet another plan, one involving the laying of turbines on the Bay of Fundy bottom, was mentioned in newspapers.

It’s possible that this latest plan to generate electricity from the might Fundy tides will come to nothing, as have similar schemes in the past. The idea is far from being new. In 1916, for example, the formation of the Cape Split Development Company was announced and its plan was to generate power using turbines invented by Acadia University engineering professor, Ralph P. Clarkson.

The idea had great merit. Engineers had already determined that Cape Split, where tides reached a speed of some eleven miles per hour, was an ideal location for power turbines. As well as Clarkson, some of the top educators at Acadia University were behind the plan.

But while it had great potential, this grand plan to harness Fundy ran into a roadblock it couldn’t overcome – financing. The estimated $2,500.00 required to place turbines at Cape Split couldn’t be realized. Public shares sold in the Company raised a meagre $30.000. After a few years in existence, the Company quietly folded.

Nearly 100 years ago, in 1908 in fact, another magnificent scheme to harness the Fundy tides may have been promoted. Take a look at a map of Kings County and note how Cape Split juts out into the Minas Channel towards Spencers Island. The distance from landfall to landfall is about five kilometres and it was here that someone had the idea of building some sort of causeway mounted with turbines.

Little is known about this scheme and there is no evidence that it got beyond the planning stage. However, somewhere in the archives at Acadia University there may be documents outlining this 1908 plan to build a causeway from Cape Split to Spencers Island and harness the Fundy tides, possibly generating enough electricity to supply this entire region. When he was studying at Acadia University in 1948, Gordon Hansford happened across papers about the plan and today he still remembers what he found in them.

“There was a beautiful diagram of a causeway stretching across from Cape Split towards the other shore in the direction of Spencers Island,” he recalls. “The drawing depicted a sort of combination causeway and bridge and it showed a highway on it and railway tracks.

“Down underneath the causeway they showed great big waterwheels. If I remember correctly, they were vertical wheels, eight of them. The looked like turbines, something like the one down at the Annapolis River causeway. Also, in the centre, they showed what looked like a drawbridge, two wings that lifted up so ships could go in and out (of Minas Basin).”

Hansford also recalls that there were a couple of names on the documents, one a “Professor Steeves from New Brunswick and the name Chipman rings a bell.”

To date, no government records have been found indicating anyone formally organized to build a power generating causeway from Cape Split to Spencers Island. Hopefully, mention of the 1908 plan here will prompt someone with knowledge of it to come forward and enlighten us on the scheme.

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