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Cape Cod Canal celebrates a marvelous anniversary

Those who see the ship this summer, McFadden adds, will view it at its best. “We’re wrapping up a five-year, really extensive renovation,” McFadden says. “She’s basically in as good a condition as when she was launched in 1841. Once she’s rigged and done, she is going to look fantastic.” The Charles W. Morgan’s canal visit is part of a post-renovation journey the museum is calling her “38th Voyage.” The ship departs Mystic Seaport in May, sails to New London, Connecticut for ballasting and depth adjustments, and continues on to stops in Newport, Rhode Island, Boston, and here in Buzzards Bay.

Written into his contract for the construction of the Cape Cod Canal, August Belmont was also tasked with building two passenger bridges

Photo by Robert Manz

Also on July 26-27, Cape Cod Central Railroad will run passenger trains from the Buzzards Bay Depot, over the railroad bridge, and down along the canal to Sandwich—and back. If the 45-minute rail excursions are popular, the railroad may offer them again the following weekend. “I think it’s a cool way to celebrate the weekend,” says Kaylene Jablecki, the railroad’s sales and marketing manager. “Everyone likes that bridge, but you never get to go over it.”

Jablecki says the trains will feature presentations by local historians who will offer stories and information about the canal, the bridges, and more. “We’re excited to help celebrate the canal’s centennial,” Jablecki says, adding that train fares will be offered at a discount—$15 for adults, $10 for children—so more people can participate.

But ahoy! There are more centennial events on the horizon—and more ships! From July 25-28, visitors can also tour Eagle, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s 295-foot training ship that was built in Hamburg, Germany in 1936; the ship will be docked at Mass Maritime. From July 28-31, two additional vessels with impressive pedigrees will also be docked in the canal: the Kalmar Nyckel, a replica of a Colonial-era Dutch pinnace, and the Oliver Hazard Perry, a 200-foot tall ship named for a decorated U.S. Navy Captain who served in the War of 1812.

Additional activities slated for Saturday, July 26, make for a dizzying lineup. “It will be a crazy fun day,” Wentworth says. The Briggs-McDermott House in Bourne hosts a festival of music that day featuring tunes from the last 100 years. A few miles east, the Sandwich SeaFest—held this year in conjunction with that town’s 375th anniversary—will include a U.S. Coast Guard demonstration, festival attractions, and more.

Also on July 26, The Kingman Yacht Center in Cataumet hosts a day of events titled “Bass Ackwards,” and activities include a ‘poker race’ for motorboats. In the event, participants are given five locations to visit and at each they will acquire one playing card. At day’s end, the participants gather, show their cards, and see who has the best hand. Later that night, beginning at 9 p.m., a parade of lights will make its way along the canal. Boats alit from bow to stern will embark from Mass Maritime, travel eastward through the canal, before turning around in the bay. This flotilla is open to the public, and interested parties are encouraged to register.

In July and August, Hy-Line Cruises will offer special cruises featuring a narration of the canal’s history. Up above, Pilgrim Aviation is scheduling private aerial tours of the canal and its surroundings. With his love of history and vast civic experience, Bourne Selectman Ellis would be well equipped to lead such tours. “The canal is a genuine asset,” says Ellis, also a member of the town’s historical and preservation societies. “If someone comes to Cape Cod, that’s the first thing they see. It is an inconvenience, sometimes, but most everybody looks at it as a very positive thing. Bourne is actually one of the treasures on the Cape because everybody passes through the town, but doesn’t pay any attention to it. So we’re glad about that; we just have to handle all the traffic for the rest of the Cape.”

Ellis also enjoys the scenery. “You can sit down [on the banks] on any given day,” he says, “and watch ocean liners going through and fishing boats. It’s incredible. I’m looking out my window right now and there’s a tugboat going across.”

Despite these attractions, Ellis says the canal had a major impact on his town and he highlighted one earth-shattering event that set things in motion back in 1911. Late that year, canal workers cut through Willow Dam Road in Sagamore village, which at the time effectively served as both a dyke holding back the Scusset River and marshes, and a connection between the community’s north and south sides. After the cut, the water came, and though temporary and permanent bridges were quickly built, the village itself had been split. “What it did,” Ellis says, “it actually divided the community.”

Drilling and cutting through miles of mud, sand, and massive boulders, the builders of the Cape Cod Canal created advantages for years to come for those in the shipping and fishing industries, not to mention recreational boating, cycling, and rollerblading. At the same time, villages of Bourne and Sandwich were forever divided.

Today, a small nibble of Sandwich still exists on the north side of the canal. The area includes Scusset Beach and a residential neighborhood with wonderful water views. A mutual aid agreement exists between Bourne and Sandwich for police, fire, and EMS coverage for the area, but students in the district must drive or bus it over the Sagamore Bridge to get to Sandwich High. Inconvenient? Sure, but at least they don’t have to take the ferry!

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