History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
Commercial Cable Company
Thanks to Jim Jones for supplying this article from The Telegraphist, June 1, 1886.
THE COMMERCIAL CABLE COMPANY'S STATION, CANSO.
White Island, the landing place of the Commercial Cables, is as barren a spot as one can well imagine, scarcely a tree on the island, and little vegetation of any kind to enliven the scenery, which, except for the sea, would be dreary, indeed. In spite of its barrenness, however, some berries, particularly blue, and raspberries grow in great abundance. Around "Governor" Horn's House is quite a patch of grass which the "Governor" prizes so highly that he is afraid to keep a cow, fearing she would eat the grass
Fish of various kinds are, of course, abundant, and the lobster factory belonging to the Portland Packing Company does quite a large business during the "season,” giving the people around considerable, much-needed employment, girls rowing two or three miles in boats every morning to work at the factory and returning at night when their work is done.
The cables cross the White Island, then across a narrow arm of the sea, called "Dover Run," and then over a neck of land, at the other side of which they again take the water on their way up Gaspereau Creek.
The scenery up the creek is very pretty indeed. The creek is studded with small islands, and here and there forms small coves and miniature harbours.
The hills on either side are rather high, and are clothed with stunted fir and spruce trees.
There are no human inhabitants. Eagles, cranes, and other wild fowl have their home hero, and in the summer evenings seals swim about undisturbed by the messages passing underneath them in quick succession through the cables lying quietly at the bottom. What their opinion of the cables is we do not know. On reaching the head of the creek the cables are conveyed in a deep trench until they reach a succession of small lakes called "Still Waters." Some idea of the ground through which they pass may be imagined from the fact that in making the trench the number of blasts averaged one per yard from the head of Gaspereau Creek to Gaspereau Lake, near Hazel Hill. The scenery along these still waters is romantic in the extreme - rocky cliffs overhanging some, others surrounded by fir-trees, intermingled with a few birches, mountain ash, &c. None, however, attain a large size, the rocky nature of the soil, combined with the fierce storms for which Cape Canso is noted, causing their growth to be somewhat stunted.
The first glimpse of the station is got from the foot of Gaspereau Lake. The cable crosses the lake and lands in a little cove, which seems specially made for the purpose, right below the station.
On arriving at the Company's grounds, any one not knowing the locality would imagine himself at the outskirts of some town. The buildings, twelve in number, are erected on the slope of the hill, in the form of a crescent, and, as the view of them from the lake shows, present a very pleasing appearance. Each cottage is fronted by a terrace. The office is distinguished by having a small tower and flagstaff, where, on high days and holidays, a flag is displayed. The interior of the building is very conveniently arranged, operating-room, testing-room, and battery-room, the three chief desiderata of a cable office, being splendidly adapted for their various uses.
The cottages for the married men are as comfortable as modern improvements can make them, and their inmates when off duty can smile at the fierce blasts of the noted Cape Canso storms.
The cottages containing the sleeping apartments of the single men are similar to those occupied by their married confrères, each man having a room to himself fitted up with every convenience.
The superintendent's house occupies the middle of the group, and is quite in keeping with the rest of the buildings.
The "Club-house" (as the section where the single men get their meals and enjoy their recreation is called) is a commodious building between the two first cottages. It consists of a large dining-room, kitchen, library, and billiard-room, with bedrooms upstairs for the servants.
The library contains a splendid piano and the billiard-room a fine billiard-table; both rooms are generally filled in the evenings with those off duty, enjoying various games or singing songs, the accompaniments played by one of their number.
These means of recreation are a great boon to the staff, as they are thrown entirely on their own resources for amusement. The only other inhabitants near being a few farmers and fishermen if we except the so-called Town of Canso some three miles distant.
In the office itself there is plenty of life, and the contrast is quite striking on a quiet morning coming in from outside, where nothing breaks the stillness of the country but an occasional cow-bell, to the rush of what seems to be and actually is the connecting link between two worlds. Every incident in the political or mercantile life of the two continents is known here almost as soon as in New York or London, and any important event is known at Hazel Hill Club as quickly as at the more aristocratic clubs of London or New York.
A little over twelve months ago the place now occupied by these buildings with their town-like appearance was a partly cultivated field filled with stumps, around which a small crop of hay was gathered. It has been quite a transportation scene for Hazel Hill, and the wondering inhabitant can scarcely yet believe it is true. The company propose building another large house during the coming summer, several of the single men having taken to themselves life partners, thus requiring a cottage for themselves instead of the one room they have hitherto occupied.
Our allusion to the Cape Canso storms must not lead people to imagine that the weather is all stormy, although during the latter part of the winter ice prevents much intercourse with the outside world, and snow and sleet storms are of frequent occurrence. Yet at times it is quite the reverse, beautiful sunshiny days make out-of-door exorcise quite enjoyable. The nearness of the sea tempers the extreme cold, and the thermometer rarely falls as low as in places more inland. There are, in fact, few winter days that an ordinarily healthy person cannot take out-of-door exercise. Skating and snow-shoeing are the chief out-door amusement both for ladies and gentlemen. Some of the later arrivals from the old country had, of course, never before seen snow-shoes, and the novelty of the amusement seemed to lend particular zest to their enjoyment. One member of the staff has imported a couple of fox-hounds from "old Virginie," and their musical voices may often be heard for miles as they and their master enjoy a run across country ; the marshy nature of the ground forcing the master, however, to be content with Shank's pony.
With regard to mildness of temperature, the same may be said of summer as of winter, the nearness of the sea preventing extremes of any kind, and members of the Canso staff, whilst enjoying the cool summer breezes, just warm enough to be comfortable, and watching from some cozy nook the numerous vessels passing up the Straits, amongst which are conspicuous the beautiful yacht-like schooners of the Gloucester fleet on the look-out for mackerel, &c., can afford to pity their friends in New York or Massachusetts sweltering in the semi-tropical heat of 90° in the shade.
See also the page on some of the Commercial Cable Company's other offices and the main Commercial Cable Company page.
The Commercial Cable Rehabilitation Society [archive link] hoped to restore the Canso cable station. Unfortunately, after many years’ work the effort failed and the building was demolished in September 2017.
Ivan Smith's page on the Commercial Cable Trans Atlantic Park at Hazel Hill gives an excellent view of the current state of the site.
See also At an Atlantic Cable Station, an 1895 article on Hazel Hill
Last revised: 7 September, 2017