BAR HARBOR, Maine — After more than 50 years of passenger and vehicle ferry service between Mount Desert Island and Nova Scotia, there will be no such service in 2010 or for the foreseeable future.
The company that owns and operates the Cat ferry between Bar Harbor, Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, has decided to cancel indefinitely the seasonal service, which operated between May 31 and Oct. 12 in 2009. Bay Ferries Ltd., which also owns other ferries that operate in Canada, announced Friday that the weak economy and new security precautions are the main reasons for its decision to bring the service to an end.
“Approximately 120 people will lose full- or part-time employment as a result of this decision,” the company indicated Friday in a prepared statement. “The financial viability of the service has been impacted by reduced passenger traffic due to a series of factors including new U.S. passport rules, a strong Canadian dollar and the weak U.S. economy in key U.S. markets.”
Company officials indicated that financial support from the provincial government of Nova Scotia had helped keep the ferry afloat the past several years. Earlier this week, the provincial government informed Bay Ferries that there would be no subsidy forthcoming for 2010.
“Bay Ferries deeply appreciates the support it has received from the Nova Scotia government in many forms,” MacDonald said in the release.
Though the operation of the ferry no longer is a viable business enterprise without government support, he added, “we fully respect the right of the Nova Scotia government to make the decision it feels is best for the province.”
For nine years, after taking over the ferry service in 1997, Bay Ferries operated between Maine and Nova Scotia without any government support, but in 2006 and again in 2007 it received $1.25 million in subsidies. In 2008, that figure increased to $5.65 million. This year’s subsidy has not been tallied but is likely to exceed the 2008 total.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, between 100,000 and 150,000 people used the ferry each year, but by 2008, that number had fallen to 85,000, according to Bay Ferries officials. This past summer, fewer than 77,000 people used the ferry, representing a 10 percent drop from the previous year.
Chris Fogg, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said Friday that the loss of the ferry service would have an adverse effect on the town’s summertime economy. The Cat brought people from the northeastern U.S. to Bar Harbor, where they would spend a few days before heading to Nova Scotia, he said. Likewise, Canadians headed south often would go through Bar Harbor, spending a night or two in town before continuing on their way.
“We’re certainly saddened by the news the Cat will no longer operate in Maine,” Fogg said. “It’s been a very important component of the tourism industry in Bar Harbor.”
Fogg said that, ideally, there would be another operator that could step in and keep the service running, but that he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.
“I think our community is still trying to digest the news,” he said. “I’m hopeful we’ll be able to replace it.”
John Henshaw, executive director of Maine Port Authority, said Friday that the cessation of the service is not a great surprise. On Dec. 1, passenger airplane service between Portland and Nova Scotia ended after Canadian subsidies for the flight were eliminated, he said.
“We benefited in a variety of ways from the [ferry] service,” Henshaw said. “We’d prefer to have international ferry service than not, but I don’t see anyone waiting in the wings.”
Bay Ferries took over the international ferry service from Marine Atlantic in 1997. The next year, it replaced the slower, monohull Bluenose ferry with the Cat, which reduced the time it took to make the crossing from six hours to less than three. In 2002, Bay Ferries upgraded the Cat from a 300-foot vessel to a 320-foot catama-ran that cost $50 million in U.S. currency. Four years later, Bay Ferries began splitting the Cat’s Maine ports of call between Bar Harbor and Portland, after the competing ferry Scotia Prince ceased operations in the southern Maine city.
Bay Ferries has not made a decision about what it will do with the Cat vessel, the company indicated.
Ferries have operated seasonally between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth every summer since 1956, according to Deborah Dyer, curator of the Bar Harbor Historical Society.
Dyer recalled Friday that when she was a girl, Bar Harbor’s well-known Fourth of July fireworks display was coordinated to coincide with the evening arrival of the Bluenose ferry from Yarmouth.
“We always geared the festivities for when the ferry was coming in,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.