Cape Tormentine is a village in southeastern New Brunswick, located on the Northumberland Strait at the Abegweit Passage, the shortest crossing between Prince Edward Island and the mainland. It once flourished as a transportation hub between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island but has been in decline since 1997 when the ferry service was closed due to the opening of the Confederation Bridge.
Cape Tormentine is named for the cape. As an unincorporated community, it is part of the Bayfield local service district in Westmorland County.
How the New Brunswick – Prince Edward Island Ferry service unfolded:
In 1827 the Northumberland Strait iceboat service, known as the Capes Route, began operating across the strait to Cape Traverse, Prince Edward Island (PEI).
In 1873, under the terms of PEI joining Confederation, the federal government was obliged to provide “continuous steamship service” between the mainland and the island, and keep the iceboats running.
In 1886 the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island Railway connected Cape Tormentine with Sackville and then to the Intercolonial Railway of Canada’s Moncton to Truro line.
In 1917 the iceboats were replaced by an ice breaking train ferry, the SS Prince Edward Island, built by Armstrong Whitworth in England and operated by Canadian Government Railways. A new port was built to accommodate the ferry. It was an effective ice breaker, and could carry 12 interprovincial rail cars.
In 1947 the ferry was replaced by the MV Abegweit which measured 372 feet in length and displaced 7,000 tons. The ships eight main engines generated 13,500 brake horsepower and drove propellers at both bow and stern. It could carry 950 passengers and 60 cars (or one complete passenger train of 16 railway cars).
In 1968 a second ferry, MV John Hamilton Gray is put in service on the PEI route.
In 1982 a new Roll-on/roll-off ferry, also called the MV Abegweit replaced the first . It is a much larger and more capable vessel, measuring 401 feet in length and displacing 12,000 tons. Her six main engines generated 18,000 brake horsepower. She could carry 974 passengers and 250 cars (or 40 tractor trailer trucks or 20 railway cars).
In 1989 the last train stopped at Cape Tormentine on New Year’s Eve, following the closure of the Prince Edward Island Railway and the branch to Sackville. This branch has since been converted into a leisure trail, known locally as the Tantramar trail.
In 1997 with the opening of the Confederation Bridge between PEI and nearby Cape Jourmain, the ferry service was ended. Northumberland Ferries Limited still operates a service on the Northumberland Strait, between Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island and Caribou, Nova Scotia.