Former Grand Narrows Hotel is an authentic piece of history

The former guest registers contain the signatures of many historical figures
IN SEARCH OF CAPE BRETON

By Rannie Gillis - The Cape Breton Post

When it opened in 1887 the Grand Narrows Hotel was the finest hotel on Cape Breton Island, and the first commercial building east of Halifax to have central heating. An impressive three stories in height, it contained 15 luxuriQus bedrooms, 2 elegant lounges, and a spacious dining ‘Sjom. The view from the hotel was spectacular, and 2 full- length verandahs on the first and second floors made it possible for guests to take in the afternoon sun, or gather in the evening to watch the glorious sunsets over the waters of the Bras d’Or.

Needless to say the guest registers in the Grand Narrows Hotel contain many historic signatures. Alexander Graham Bell’s name appears regularly as he would have had to stay overnight in order to catch the ferry to Baddeck. Helen Keller, who often visited her former teacher at the Bell estate in Beinn Bhreagh, was another frequent visitor. Perhaps the most famous guest, however, was the Prince of Wales, who later became King George V of England.

With the arrival of the Intercolonial Railway in 1890 Grand Narrows became the ‘hub’ of the transportation system in Cape Breton. It’s central location on the Bras d’Or Lakes meant it quickly became a focal point for people travelling by rail or water. Passenger trains, from Sydhey in the morning and Halifax in the evening, passed through twice a day.

These trains were met, although not on a daily basis, by ferries from various points on the Bras d’Or Lakes. Rail passengers and freight would be carried by ferry to such diverse locations as St. Peters, Johnstown, West Bay Marble Mountain, Washabuck, and Baddeck.

Leaving Grand Narrows the train would then proceed to the station in Shenacadie, only nine miles away. Another nine miles brought the train to Boisdale, while George’s River station was 11 miles further on. Four milesilater the train arrived at North Sydney Junction, which was not located in North Sydney but several miles back in the woods close to Scotch Lake. At this location, where the old concrete platform and the foundation of the station are still visible, the tracks split off in t*o directions.The ‘North Sydney Branch’ followed the north shore of Pottle’s Lake into the town of North Sydney passing through the present site of the North Sydney Mall on its way to the Newfoundland ferry wharf. The ‘Sydney Branch’ went from Scotch Lake, around tile southern end of Pottle’s Lake, and on to Leitches Creek and Sydney.

By the early 1920’s both of these “branch” lines were shut down and the tracks removed. The new rail line followed the shore of the Bras D’Or Lakes, from George’s River to T4ittle Bras D’Or, Florence, Sydney Mines, North Sydney aM on to Sydney.

The original ‘branch” line from Scotch Lake into North Sydney was recently upgraded and is now part of the Trans- Canada Trail system. the old “branch” line followed the southern end of Potile’s Lake to Leitches Creek is now used as a walking track in the summer or as a snowmobile trail in the winter months. It is a great spot for an afternoon hike.

(Rannie Gillis is an author and avid Celtic historian whose cciiumn appears every week in the Cape Breton Post. We welcome your comments on this column or any other material appearing in the Post. You can write c/o Letters to the Editor Cape Breton Post 255 George St., PU Box 1500, Sydney. NS, RIP 6K6 or Fax to (902) 562 7077.)

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