Tugged by the moon, a forty-foot ocean of brine surges up this famous bay twice a day with fortunes in fish. It’s the world’s highest tide. Harnessed for power, it could change the future of the seaboard

Ian Sclanders November 10 1956


Tugged by the moon, a forty-foot ocean of brine surges up this famous bay twice a day with fortunes in fish. It’s the world’s highest tide. Harnessed for power, it could change the future of the seaboard

Ian Sclanders November 10 1956


Tugged by the moon, a forty-foot ocean of brine surges up this famous bay twice a day with fortunes in fish. It’s the world’s highest tide. Harnessed for power, it could change the future of the seaboard

Ian Sclanders

Brine from the open Atlantic, one hundred billion tons of it, surges through the rocky portals of the Bay of Fundy every twelve hours and twenty-five minutes.

It climbs the seaweed-stockinged legs of wooden wharves in scores of salty communities in Nova Scotia, New' Brunswick and Maine. In places it lifts Fundy's surface forty or fifty feet. It swells tiny creeks, muddy trickles, until they are broad and navigable. It charges at the rapids at the mouth of the St. John River so fiercely that the rapids turn and retreat in tumbling disorder. It bores up the Petitcodiac River, white and angry. It submerges reefs and beaches, hides the sharpsmelling chocolate-colored ugliness of mud fiats, and throws itself at the dikes that guard lush marshlands.

Having done this, it rolls back to the Atlantic to gather strength for another assault.

This incredible mass of brine, moving so rhythmically in and out, is the Fundy tide— the highest tide in the world and the mightiest manifestation of the moon's strange pull on the oceans.

Life on the twisted jagged perimeter of Fundy's six thousand square miles is paced by this tide. Ships must wait for it to rise before they can enter Fundy's ports or sail from them. The tide governs fishing, too. Ebbing and flowing, it carries with it vast floating gardens of microscopic plants and hordes of protozoa—minuscule creatures that graze on the plants. The grazers arc trailed by small fish that feed on them, and the small fish by larger fish that feed on small fish, right up to sharks. The tide also influences the weather. By pushing depth-chilled w'ater to the top, where it collides with sun-warmed air, it cools the summers and hatches fog banks. And, as surely as the tide has carved the cliffs at Fundy's edge, it has left its mark on Fundy’s people.

Fundy's people arc patient people, for they know the tide can't be hurried and worry won't fill a net with sardines or alewives or fat shad or mackerel or silver salmon. They are, by instinct and tradition, seafaring people. The windjammers that brought them wealth and renown have long since sailed into history, but Fundy men still know how to outwit Fundy’s treacherous currents and how to steer safely through a fog with nothing to guide them but the sound of breakers pounding a familia> b/t of shore.

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WHI Fundy’s tide revitalize the Maritimes? continued

Their forebears felled trees and sawed the logs into deals and built ships of the deals and went off tct. foreign countries to trade cod and pine boards for molasses and sugar and tea. One Fundy man, Abraham Gesner, a physician who wanted lighthouse lamps to burn brighter, extracted kerosene from petroleum and fathered the oil industry. Another, Robert Foulis, spent a foggy Fundy evening inventing the first foghorn, and a third, James Smith, launched the Marco Polo, the clipper that broke all speed records between England and Australia during the gold rush.

“Life on Fundy’s jagged perimeter is paced by the tide . . . Tt governs fishing, the weather, people’s memories and their lives, and its awe-inspiring force stirs dreams of a new glory”

Because much of Fundy’s glory is in the past, Fundy’s people cling to their memories. The tide stirs these memories as it washes the bleached bones of dead barques and brigantines and the rotted timbers of bygone shipyards.

But Fundy may have a new glory in the future. The tide, with its awe-inspiring force, stirs dreams in men like Randolph Fountain. Fountain is a shrewd lanky Deer Island fisherman. And Deer Island, an eight-mile-long chip of New Brunswick, sits like an anchored dory at a spot in the Bay of Fundy where engineers and governments for more than thirty years have contemplated making electricity from tide.

Last August this project, called the ’Quoddy project and often debated at Washington and Ottawa, was in the news when the U. S. put up three million dollars and Canada three hundred thousand dollars for a survey of what it would cost and what it would do for the fortunes of Maine and New Brunswick. Money talks—and Fountain felt the politicians might finally be in earnest.

His native Deer Island has seven hamlets, each snuggled against its own little harbor and all hauling an uncertain living from sardine weirs and lobster traps. Fountain had seen the hamlets shrink and it seemed to him the children hardly waited to grow up before they packed and departed for booming industrial cities far from Fundy. He wondered whether the ’Quoddy project, if it provided an abundance of cheap electricity, could stop the exodus.

An individualist, like most Fundy men, he decided on an investigation of his own. He tied his boat up and headed south to the Tennessee Valley, once a depressed region of the United States. He chose the Tennessee Valley because, in the 1930s President Franklin D. Roosevelt had attempted to harness ’Quoddy power at the same time that he organized the Tennessee Valley Authority to harness Tennessee power. Congress defeated ’Quoddy but the TVA survived.

In the Tennessee Valley, Fountain looked at the industries that had sprung into being as a result of the TVA. He asked about payrolls and wages and returned to Deer Island full of excitement.

“If you get power,” he says, “you get factories, and if you get factories, you get rich.”

Fountain, and plenty of other Fundy men, are convinced that power from Fundy’s tide can bring New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine a prosperity to eclipse that of their golden age of wooden ships. Fundy, they claim, is probably the greatest untapped source of hydro-electric power. Its tidal flow, by the reckoning of H. A. Marmer of the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, is 164,427,000 cubic feet a second, compared with the Niagara River’s flow of 203,000 cubic feet a second, and the difference between Fundy’s low and high tide, averaged over Fundy’s whole area, is twenty-two feet.

From these figures Marmer concludes that the electricity “theoretically available” in Fundy is 209,088,000 horsepower—a dozen times as much as all Canada now requires. It’s improbable, he says, that more than a fraction of what is theoretically available can be developed. But he adds that, even so, Fundy’s power potential is staggering.

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Will Fundy's tide revitalize the Maritimes? Continued from page 24

“The cost of harnessing Fundy is reasonable, and there is an unlimited demand for electric power”

The ’Quoddy project would capture a million horsepower of the potential—half a million for Maine, half a million for New Brunswick. This would almost double Maine’s power and would more than double New Brunswick’s.

The plan is simple. Fundy is the parent of a (lock of offspring bays. One, Passamaquoddy, on the international boundary but mostly in New Brunswick, covers a hundred square miles. Separated from Passamaquoddy by a narrow wedge of land is Cobscook Bay, which covers thirty square miles and is in Maine. Deer Island stretches three quarters of the way across Passamaq noddy’s mouth and would be the biggest part of a proposed Passamaquoddy dam. This dam would have gates that opened and let the sea in when Fundy’s tide was high, then closed. Cobscook. being practically landlocked, could be dammed easily. Its dam would have gates that opened at Fundy’s low tide, to empty Cobscook, then closed. The dams would keep Passamaquoddy always near high-tide level and Cobscook always near low-tide level. The brimming water of Passamaquoddy, the receiving basin, would race through the turbines of a powerhouse perched between Passamaquoddy and Cobscook, to pour into Cobscook, the drainage basin, on the way back to Fundy. The level in Passamaquoddy would never be less than nineteen feet above Cobscook’s and there would be a constant twenty-four-hour-aday flow through the turbines.

This idea was originated by Dexter P. Cooper, a big ruddy-faced consulting engineer from New York, whose brother, Hugh, dammed the Dnieper River in Russia. Dexter Cooper, like Franklin Roosevelt, had a summer home on Campobello, a New Brunswick island in Fundy. Cobscook Bay lies west of Campobello, from which it can be seen, and Passamaquoddy is to the north, concealed behind Deer Island. Cooper, a yachtsman. knew the bays and islands and tide, and he shuffled them together into a great dream—the ’Quoddy project. He estimated it would cost a hundred million dollars but hoped to undertake it with private capital and in 1925 formed companies in Canada and the United States. He did this because waters of both countries were involved. Cooper secured charters from the U. S. and Canada but the Canadian charter had a string attached. It could be canceled if there was any indication that the ’Quoddy dams would hurt Fundy fishing. This clause was included to satisfy New Brunswick sardine canners.

The canners insisted that Cooper’s hands be tied until the Biological Board of Canada had looked into the situation. In 1929 the board reported that the damming of Passamaquoddy would, indeed, curtail the sardine catch. The report killed Cooper's Canadian charter and his dream—a dream on which he had spent $300,000 of his own money.

But Franklin D. Roosevelt believed in Cooper and when Roosevelt was elected president of the U. S. he dusted off Cooper’s blueprints. He approached the Canadian government hoping to persuade it to permit Passamaquoddy to be dammed. Ottawa stood by the sardine packers and rebuffed him. FDR then had engineers design a power development that could be fitted into Cobscook Bay alone. In 1935 he got an initial appropriation of ten million dollars. But after three million of this had been used erecting ’Quoddy Village, a model town to house workers to be employed constructing the power project, a storm broke in congress. Roosevelt’s opponents labeled ’Quoddy a "boondoggle” and succeeded in having it abandoned. ’Quoddy Village became a ghost town before it was occupied.

This was the finish of the ’Quoddy project until the late 1940s when the governments of the U. S. and Canada, influenced by pressure from Maine and New Brunswick, asked the International Joint Commission to reconsider the scheme.

Will the sardines vanish?

This commission, which regulates the use of natural resources in which the two countries have a mutual interest, in 1949 had a preliminary engineering survey of ’Quoddy made. The finding of this survey was that the project could be physically engineered, constructed and operated but that a full-scale survey would be necessary to determine its economic feasibility. Then, in August of this year, came the announcement that $3,300,000 had been allocated for this purpose. The study may take three years to answer three questions:

1. Can ’Quoddy be built without destroying the Fundy sardine fishery at the entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay?

2. Can ’Quoddy be built cheaply enough to provide cheap power?

3. Are customers available for this power and, if so, what woidd they contribute to the economy of New Brunswick and Maine?

Nova Scotia will watch the study closely. While this province would not receive electricity from ’Quoddy, it has rosy visions of a tidal development of its own. In Minas Basin, a hundred and ten miles northeast of ’Quoddy and on the opposite side of Fundy, Nova Scotia could generate four million horsepower —ten times its present output. The rub is that the Minas Basin project is far too big to be tackled unless it can be shown that the cost per horsepower of harnessing Fundy’s tide is reasonable and that there is an almost unlimited demand for electricity. The answers turned up by the engineers and economists who survey the ’Quoddy proposition will throw light on the future prospects of Minas Basin.

Meanwhile, those who believe in 'Quoddy power — and also in Minas Basin power—happily quote from a 1941 report of the Federal Power Commission of the U. S. to the United States Senate. This report said that Fundy’s tide, “unaffected by droughts, floods or ice jams.” is the "most dependable and most permanent source of power known to man.”

Fundy’s tide, like all tides, is a response to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun. The moon is relatively close, and proximity is important in the dynamics of the universe, so the moon's influence is more than twice that of the sun. How strong is the moon’s pull? Only strong enough, when the moon is directly above the eighty-three-thousand-ton Queen Elizabeth, to lighten the Elizabeth’s weight by twenty-two pounds.

Yet so vast and mobile are oceans that this gentle tug creates the tide. What is harder to understand is this—that while the moon is causing the tide to rise in the part of the world closest to it, there is a simultaneous rise of the tide in the part farthest from it. This is because the moon, which pulls all the earth, pulls least on the part most distant, and the water there piles up in a tide because the rest of the earth is being pulled away from it and it is being left behind. The simultaneous tides on opposite sides of the world give it a shape slightly resembling that of a football. They also account for the fact that while the moon passes overhead once in twenty-four hours and fifty minutes, on an average, there is a high tide every twelve hours and twenty-five minutes.

The same moon that shines on the whole world shines on Fundy. Why are Fundy’s tides the world's highest?

There are two reasons. One is that in the oceans there are enormous basins in which the water, agitated by the moon, acts like water swished back and forth in a bathtub—rises higher at the ends than in the middle. Fundy is at the end of one of these basins.

The other reason is Fundy's shape. At its mouth, between Point of Maine, in Maine, and Chcbogue Point, in Nova Scotia, it is eighty-seven miles wide and as much as six hundred feet deep. From there, for the hundred and seventy miles of its length. Fundy gets narrower and shallower—and the tide, squeezed into less space, towers higher and higher. At the mouth of Fundy the tide range is fourteen feet; thirty miles above the mouth it exceeds twenty teet; tit the head of Fundy, in Cumberland Basin and Minas Basin, the tide range is from forty to fifty feet. It is greatest when the moon is either new or full and the sun. moon and earth are in a direct line. The sun and the moon then combine their pull and the tide laps the tops of the wharves. When the moon is in its quarters, sun, moon and earth are at apexes of a triangle. and the sun and the moon olfset each other, to decrease the tide.

A fifty-foot tide at Fundy’s head rises at a rate of more than eleven feet an hour and around Minas Basin the farmers claim, quite seriously, that this prompted pigs to take precautions in the days when pigs were allowed to wander out on exposed flats to feed on clams. According to the farmers the pigs would always leave one of their number posted on a bluff as a sentry, to squeal a warning when it saw the tide rushing in.

Minas Basin’s pigs could have been particularly intelligent from eating fish, a reputed brain food, but Fundy’s tide does have a quality that inspires tall stories. Sir John Herschel, a famous British astronomer of the last century, swallowed one of them and reported in his book. Astronomy, that Digby, N.S.. had a tide of one hundred and twenty feet— the truth multiplied by four.

Fundy men love concocting bizarre tales about their bay. One of these concerns a shipload of Fords wrecked on a fishing island in the youth of the automobile industry. The fishermen salvaged them and became such expert mechanics that Henry Ford hired them all to go to Detroit. This is offered, with a straight face, to any visitor who asks why any Fundy island has nobody living on it.

The tale of the stingy fox rancher is likewise applied to whichever island is within view: “That island over there—it used to have more rabbits on it than there are ants in an ant hill. So this fox rancher puts his foxes out there. Figures they'll feed themselves on rabbits and be clear profit when he pelts them. But he left the foxes there too long and they ate all the rabbits and were starving, so they tried to swim ashore and drowned.”

Yet no stories about Fundy are as strange as those that can be documented —the first French settlers stumbling on beaches thickly strewn with purple amethysts that the tide, through the ages, had washed from eroding cliffs; the Indians tying victims to stakes on the shore and watching as the tide rose and drowned them; the man called Jerome, who came from the sea. Jerome, unconscious, was found on a lonely point near Digby by fishermen in 1850. They nursed him back to health and he lived among his rescuers until his death, sixty-two years later, without ever speaking any word but his name. The mystery of Jerome still fascinates the people who live in Nova Scotia.

New Brunswickers. on their side of Fundy. have their own mystery: What happened to the Union?

The Union was a schooner built at St. Martins. N.B.. in 1889 by John Kelly. A month or so after she had been launched. she was one of several vessels becalmed off St. Martins, which was then a rich and busy port. The tide took the vessels up the bay, then down, and there was no wind and hardly a ripple on the surface. Suddenly the Union dropped upside down as though she'd plunged into a hole in the face of the bay. She went over so fast that air. trapped inside her. blew the caulking from her seams with sounds like pistol shots. Three of five men aboard were drowned. Vet there was no defect in the Union's structure—after she'd been towed to shore, righted and recaulked, she sailed safely for twentyeight years. What caused her to capsize? That remains as much in doubt as Jerome’s identity, as unexplained as Jerome's secret.

If Fundy people take a delight in Fundy’s mysteries, they take an equal delight in Fundy’s physical eccentricities —the Reversing Falls, the Tidal Bore and towering Blomidon.

Whoever gave the Reversing Falls the name was exaggerating slightly. The phenomenon is not a falls but a rapids at the mouth of the four - hundred - and - fifty -mile-long St. John River, whieh empties into Fundy at Saint John. New Brunswick's chief city and Fundy’s big port. The river's mouth is a gorge a hundred yards wide with walls a hundred feet high. When Fundy's tide is low the river tumbles out through this gorge in white fury but when the tide is high Fundy overpowers the river and the rapids churn upstream. In the Reversing Falls there is a whirlpool called the Pot. In Saint John’s early days an enormous log would appear in the Pot and vanish and reappear and the Indians, who thought the log was a devil, fired arrows at it with gifts of fur and tobacco attached.

The Tidal Bore rolls from the head of the Bay of Fundy up the Petitcodiac River and passes Moncton. New Brunswick’s second largest city. It's a solid wave as much as two or three feet in height from one bank of the river to the other and moves with a sound a bit like that of a railway train.

Cape Blomidon, which rises from Minas Basin, is the lofty tip of a ridge of precipices that starts a hundred and thirty miles to the south, and guards most of Nova Scotia’s Fundy shore. At Blomidon's foot the incoming tide attains a speed of six knots.

Contrasting oddly with Blomidon's ruggedness, but starting almost in Blomidon’s shadow, a broad ribbon of marshland extends around the basins and bays clustered at Fundy’s head and crosses into New Brunswick. This, in the summer, is a green sea of grass that rolls in the wind like Fundy’s waves. Dotting it in all directions are hay barns.

Once, much of this was swamp inhabited only by waterfowl, and the rest of it was red silt, washed by the tide. French settlers in the 1600s were wise enough, agriculturally, to realize that if they could drain the swamps and wall the red silt off from the sea they would have incomparable pasturage for their stock. They built dikes, primitive ridges of rock and clay laced together with the stumps and branches of trees. The dikes had gates with leather (laps—flaps to let the land drain outward but keep the sea from coming in. One generation after another toiled to reclaim this rich prize of land. After the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755 the New Englanders, reinforced by immigrants fresh from Great Britain, took up the job. Eventually. Acadians straggled back from bitter exile to join them. With no machines to help them these people built scores of miles of dikes and dug hundreds of miles of drainage ditches. The marshlands provided most of the beef required by the Maritimes.

But the First World War took so many Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers to Europe that the dikes were neglected. Fundy moved in on its own. With the return of peace, hand labor was too expensive for the dikes. The marshlands continued to deteriorate. But, after the Second World War, the federal and provincial governments decided the marshlands were worth saving, especially since machines had been developed to do this kind of work. They initiated a ten-million-dollar program. It has been in progress for nearly a decade and seems likely to help the Maritimes produce for themselves forty-five million pounds of beef they now import each year.

With the dikes being rebuilt with federal aid and 'Quoddy power at least a possibility, many Maritimers are hoping wistfully that Ottawa will have a change of heart about the Chignecto Canal. This waterway, first proposed in 1630 to link the French colonies in the Maritimes and Quebec closer together, would cut eighteen miles through the Isthmus of Chignecto, the neck of land that connects New' Brunswick and Nova Scotia. By doing this it would shorten by hundreds of miles the water distance between Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence; to get from one to the other ships would no longer have to circumnavigate the whole coast of Nova Scotia. A promise that this canal would be constructed, made by representatives of Upper and Lower Canada. was a factor in persuading the Maritimes to enter Confederation, but they are still waiting for the first shovelful of earth to be dug. They want it more now than ever, first, because they feel it would hook up with the St. Lawrence seaway and bring the Maritimes some benefits from the seaway, and, second, because they are being badly pinched by successive increases in railway freight rates and maintain that their economy urgently needs water transport.

Lost or mislaid—one fort

Meanw'hile other things have been happening on the long jagged shoreline of the bay. On the New' Brunswick side, a national park established since the war has opened a tract of lovely wilderness— a wilderness in which there are patches of trees that were there before the first European settlement in North America. In Saint John archeologists have dug among some crumbling slums and rediscovered the fort of Charles La Tour, the city’s French founder. This fort had been lost, or at least mislaid, for a couple of centuries. On the Nova Scotia side, where De Monts and Champlain founded the first permanent colony on what is now' the Canadian mainland, Nova Scotians have lately had a convivial celebration of the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Order of the Good Time, which Champlain organized and which was North America’s first social club.

The repair of three-century-old dikes, an earnest wish for a canal proposed more than three centuries ago. the rediscovery of a lost fort, the celebration of a club’s three hundred and fiftieth anniversary — all this seems natural by Fundy. which Portuguese explorers called Rio Fondo in the 1500s and De Monts called La Baye Françoise and the Jesuit missionary, Biard, finally named Baie de Fundy.

For there is a timeless quality about Fundy. with its enormous tide ebbing and flowing, its whales blowing lazily, its porpoises cavorting playfully and its myriad gulls diving everlastingly at schools of herring.

There is a timelessness about one hundred billion tons of water moving in a mighty swell back and forth, in and out. under the influence of the moon, and in its eternal rhythm, brushing cliffs thrust up by unimaginable upheavals when the world was young, -fa