Port Hood, Cape Breton
Welcome to Port Hood – Home of Al MacInnis
The communities considered in this district profile of Port Hood include Colindale,Little Mabou, Marble Hill, Port Hood Island, Port Hood, Dungarry, Port Hood Station, Dunmore, and Harbourview. The coastline is punctuated by “points” coves and beaches and the visual highlight from the land is the irregularly shaped Port Hood Island. West and slightly southward is Henry Island, smaller than Port Hood Island. An American geologist noted in 1864 that Port Hood is the only good harbour on the west side of Cape Breton.
The whole shore is exposed to the north and west winds of the Gulf, except his harbour, which is protected from them by two large islands. There is no development on Henry Island and, currently, sparse seasonal development on Port Hood Island.
Port Hood was named “Justaucorps” by the French in the 1720’s, and “Port Barrington” by Captain Samuel Holland in the 1760’s. Mary Ann Ducharme in describing the history of Port Hood, noted that Port Hood Island was connected to the mainland by a sandbar on the northern part of the island before 1819. In 1819, a storm washed away the sandbar which made the connection. Afterwards, Port Hood Island was known as “Smith’s Island”(named after the first settlers on that part of “Justaucorp”in 1786) and Port Hood remained Port Barrington. In 1820, to honor the memory of Captain Samuel Viscount Hood, the name Port Barrington was changed to Port Hood. Captain Hood who had settled here in 1796, passed away in1819. The name Smith’s Island was also changed that year to what is known today as Port Hood Island.
Reliable sources indicate that the sand stone on Port Hood Island was quarried by the French for use at Louisbourg some time after 1713. The exact periods seem to be controversial. But it is accepted that the sand stone, known as “free” sand stone was known for being resistant to weathering. It is not certain whether the French had any permanent settlements in the Port Hood (JustauCorps) area.
Port Hood Lunch – Pass Vinegar Please
The earliest permanent settlement in the area was by Loyalists connected with the fishery. David Smith came from Massachusetts to Port Hood in 1786 with his wife and sons, one of whom went to Mabou, and another who turned his hand to farming. A John Roper came from Virginia to Port Hood in 1788, and then went on to Ingonish in 1823. Later settlers to the area were Highland Scottish who were established by 1818 and the following years.
The population of the district today is about 800 – 900.
The Rural Cape Breton Planning Commission tells us that the original economy of Port Hood was based in agriculture, and, in the mid1800s, there was a large produce export market in Halifax and other Maritime centres. Although the fishery was important to Port Hood in the 18 th century, it was not until after the mid1800s that the industry brought real prosperity.
Port Hood Island became the focus of the industry in 1871 when a thriving fish export enterprise resulted in the construction of a major wharf facility. A lobster cannery was established in Port Hood in 1877, and later there were cold storage units on Port Hood Island. Port Hood continued to be a flourishing fishing community until 1963 when a fierce storm destroyed the harbour facilities in Port Hood and all along the coast.
Coal was mined at Port Hood until the 1960s. Recognized by the early French colonialists, the Port Hood coal seam excited American interests in the 1860s, and the Port Hood Coal Company in 1889. Neither effort was a longstanding success, but in 1906 the Port Hood and Richmond railway took over the mine and the result was a veritable boom period for Port Hood an influx of workers, commercial and professional people, and even company housing. The production was prodigious: in 1920 one seam produced 53,745 tons. Mary Ann Ducharme writes that the company houses in Port Hood, identical single detached dwellings built around 1905 on “Company Road”. Foreign miners from Bulgaria and Denmark were housed here. Only four of these houses remain still standing: two were moved to the village of Port Hood, and two others were partly dismantled and transported by water to Port Hood Island.
What to do after Lunch – Beautiful Blue Fin Tuna – Port Hood
The mining industry in Port Hood suffered a number of setbacks, including an explosion
in 1906 which killed 10 miners, and flooding in 1911, followed by business failures resulting in the seizures of mine equipment. Bootleg mines supplied the village with cheap fuel coal. Finally, in 1937, the Henderson mine, operating with Montreal financing, employed 125 men. This mine was located in Harbourview. Flooding continued to be a problem and the mining operation failed for the last time in 1967. Some of the mine tunnels can still be seen along the Port Hood Beach, and a monument commemorates the history of mining in the area; the graveyard acknowledges the deaths of the foreign miners killed in the explosion.
Civic and Social/Cultural Amenities
Port Hood, the most westerly “point” on the west coast of Inverness County, situated 45 km northeast of the Canso Causeway, is circumvented by Route 19. Previously, Route 19 had passed through part of Port Hood; then it veered northward toward Mabou. Another road passes through Port Hood and continues unpaved to Colindale and becomes paved at West Mabou. The Shore Road is paved, but the Rocky Ridge Road which circles around to Route 19 is unpaved. The nearest usable airport is at Halifax. The railroad is no longer in use, but the rail bed is being transformed into trails.
St Peter’s Parish – Port Hood
Port Hood was a “town” until 1942, when a major fire and decline in the coal industry forced the community to relinquish its charter status and come under the municipality. Port Hood is the county seat and also the location of most provincial offices; however, a number of these offices have recently moved to Port Hawkesbury. Port Hood has provided both municipal sewer and water services for the majority of its residents since 1970. The system was upgraded in 1996 to a modified “activated sludge” system. Residents not on the systems use onsite sewage treatment and wells. There is regular garbage and recycle pickup by the municipality. Police protection is provided by the Inverness detachment of the RCMP. A Volunteer Fire Department with at least 20 volunteers and two trucks gives a “protected” fire insurance rate; outlying areas may vary.
The municipal area tax rate is $1.09/$100 of assessment for residential and resource (land not used for commercial purposes); the commercial rate is $1.85/$100. The area rate for fire protection is $0.08/$100; commercial establishments served by the Port Hood Dept. pay $0.04/$100. Sewer maintenance rate is $0.30/$100. The CAP Site is located in the Community Resource Centre in the old Royal Bank building in downtown Port Hood next to the Post Office. The area has dialup internet. Cell phone coverage is dubious.
Porpoise Frolicking – Off Port Hood
Port Hood has a dentist’s office which serves a wider area than Port Hood. And there is a medical centre which is open, with a doctor, three days a week. When the doctor is in, a drug store is open at the centre. Other medical services are available at Inverness.
Bayview Education Centre in Port Hood has students in grades P8; higher levels go to Dalbrae Academy in Mabou. There is one preschool facility in Port Hood. University andvocational education is sought wherever the desired programs are available, the usual location being Halifax.
St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and St. Stephen’s United Church are both located atthe northern end of the village. The churches have associated halls. The fire hall is also used for community events.
Larger events take place in the arena, or at Strathspey Place in Mabou. There is a library at the Resource Centre. The Chestico Museum and Historical Society in Harbourview contains the story of Port Hood’s mining history as well as of the pioneer settlement of the community.
The beach at Port Hood is world famous, and there is another beautiful beach on Port Hood Island. There are other lesser known beaches used by local communities. There are two ball fields, a hockey arena, a tennis court, and a provincial park. There are trails for hiking, snowmobiling and skiing.
Blue Fin Tuna Fishing – Port Hood
Industries and Commercial Services
Today’s fishery in Port Hood continues its historical significance. Altogether there are four wharf facilities serving about 50 boats, including a public wharf located at Murphy’s Pond run by Harbour Authority of Port Hood, and a recently improved wharf at Pig Cove. The Ceilidh Fishermens Cooperative receives the catches of lobster and crab, and some groundfish (flounder and hake) Tourism has been growing in the Port Hood area over the past few years, with a steadily increasing number of restaurants and overnight accommodations. There are three motel/inns and one B&B. European business interests are involved in the more recent enterprises. There is no longer a camp ground in the area.
Looking towards Town of Port Hood
The major employers in the area are government, educational institutions, and the Ceilidh Coop. Many of the employees would come from a wider area than the Port Hood District, but their presence in Port Hood undoubtedly makes an economic difference.
The major urban area of significance to Port Hood is Halifax, and some shopping may be done in Port Hawkesbury. There is a shuttle service operating out of Mabou which brings people to Halifax. The Royal Bank just closed in Port Hood, and the people now use the East Coast Amalgamated Credit Union. Other banks are available in Port Hawkesbury or Inverness.
Sources: Tammy MacDonald; Francis X. Maloney; Dilys Francis, The Mines and Quarries of
Cape Breton during the French Period, 17131716,
1965; NS Dept of Agriculture and Fisheries
and Development: http://www.gov.ns.ca/nsaf/marine/ ramps/inverness; Nova Scotia Atlas, 5 th ed.
(2001); Rural Cape Breton Planning Commission,Port Hood, http://www.rcbplan.ns.ca ; School Net
Digital Collections, http://collections.ic.gc.ca/celtic/educatio ; Mary Ann Ducharme, ACoal
Boom and Bust in Port Hood@ in Participaper [nd],
http://www.invernessco.com/history/porthood_coal ; MacDougall=s History of Inverness County
(1922); Perley Smith, The Smiths of Cape Breton (1967, rept 1987); Will R. Bird, This is Nova