Hey do you remember buying blocks of ice for your ice chest? Cutting and storing ice used to be a winter activity in preparation for summer.  It was really harvesting ice blocks from a lake and then storing them in an ice house. People did this of course all over Cape Breton before electricity and before it was common to own a refrigerator which really was not so long ago. I remember going into Capt John Arsenault’s ice house where the huge blocks of ice were covered with a layer of sawdust and running around on the ice in summer in my bare feet. It was a great treat for us youngsters especially if we didn’t get caught.

Here is a description of how men used to cut ice from a lake and prepare to bring it back to the ice house.


First you scraped snow off the ice surface, then you cut a grid pattern about 2′ each way with a motorized circular saw on an ice plane. Before this device was developed in the 1920s, all work would have been done by hand.


Then men used breaking bars and other similar tools to deepen the grooves and ice saws with T-handles to cut to the bottom of the ice. They worked to create a channel of open water for cutting and moving ice blocks.


As each block is broken off, it is moved to the end of the open channel and picked up.


Here are some of the ice handling tools.


Small ice tongs (18-24″ tall) were common, but it was not unusual to find a pair that was 46″ long x 19″ when closed.


A worker is ensuring that the yardstick is well placed.


Anyone interested in viewing old tools from a bygone era are invited to contact Jane and Mike at Write to them at

(Pictures courtesy of Hermine Moquin)

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Serita MacLellan on February 4, 2011 at 14:31

    Iremember the “ice man” coming down to my grandmother’s (Ellen Jane MacLellan) house in Alder Point, I was about 7yrs old or about that age, she had an ice chest in the porch where the ice was keep, before she had a fridge. The ice man always gave us a piece of ice, it was better than candy on a hot summer day, those were the days, nary a care in the world!


  2. Posted by Nancy Swan on February 11, 2011 at 12:23

    Nice article and pictures~ my mother talked about the ice man coming to cranberry to deliver ice.

    I want to invite all to visit our website and see all the great information and pictures.


  3. Posted by Elva MacNeil on February 11, 2011 at 12:44

    Picture us kids chasing the ice truck up King St., Sydney Mines today to get the ice chips to suck on. We would wait for the truck tocome every week.

    I have visited the Bras D’or Indian Village Site and found it to be very informative, well put together – a lot of thought went into the preparation.Well done.


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