By Eric Bourque and Tina Comeau
From the moment people on Lobster Rock Wharf on Yarmouth’s waterfront Tuesday morning caught their first glimpse of the Nova Star you could hear the cheers.
Young children squealed in delight.
Cameras, smartphones and tablets were used to capture this historic day.
Flags held by the Memorial Club members flapped in the wind.
Legion members, students, young dancers, parents, business people, tourism operators, visitors to Yarmouth, young and old, were all among the crowd.
The ferry will be important to all of Nova Scotia but make no mistake, this was Yarmouth’s day.
And people didn’t just gather at the wharf near the ferry terminal to see their ship come in. They chose other vantage points as well, including the Cape Forchu Lighthouse and Bunker’s Island, to watch the Nova Star as it sailed in.
Yarmouth has not had a passenger ferry sail up its harbour since the last season of the Cat ended in 2009.
It also hasn’t seen rush hour on Water Street for nearly as long. A steady stream of vehicles went well into the night as people drove past the ferry terminal to see the Nova Star – a vessel that up until this week they had only seen in photographs.
On April 15 the town welcomed, and embraced, the arrival of the Nova Star for a port-of-call visit. It was the first North American port of call since the vessel left Singapore a month ago for the journey to Yarmouth.
Comments in the crowd varied. “It’s gorgeous,” “It’s big,” said people as they absorbed the size of the vessel, which is larger than any of the previous ferries that have sailed in and out of Yarmouth.
At 161 metres long, the Nova Star is longer than the Scotia Prince, which was 143 metres long. The Cat had been 98 metres long.
More than anything, people are just thankful to see a passenger ferry in Yarmouth once again.
And Tuesday’s visit was years in the making.
Years that have been filled with discouragement, encouragement, hope, dashed hopes, optimism, pessimism and, as of late, a community ground swell to prepare for a resumption of ferry service.
Politicians and community leaders were among the many on hand on the Yarmouth waterfront to officially welcome the Nova Star ferry.
“What a sight,” said Yarmouth MLA and provincial cabinet minister Zach Churchill, referring to the ship, which had docked only minutes before. “What a moment for our community.”
Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood thanked the community for its efforts in getting ready for the restoration of ferry service with Maine.
She found it “so overwhelming that the day is finally here,” she said.
Officials from Nova Star Cruises were pleased – though not surprised – by the turnout for the Nova Star’s arrival.
“It was incredible to see such a strong turnout of the public. We always knew how important this service is to the people of Nova Scotia, but it's really moving to experience this show of support in person,” said Mark Amundsen, president and CEO, Nova Star Cruises.
Other speakers also noted how the community came together to push for a new ferry, including West Nova MP Greg Kerr, who noted the importance of partnerships in getting things done.
Speaking of partnerships, Kerr and the day’s other speakers also cited the work of the Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership, which was given the task of making the case for a new ferry and succeeded in doing so.
NSIFP chairman Keith Condon was among those on hand Tuesday to congratulate the community and to wish the operators of the new ferry service well.
Michel Samson, Nova Scotia’s minister of economic and rural development and tourism, spoke of the enthusiasm for the new ship.
“It’s wonderful to see such positive energy here,” he said.
Now that the vessel has arrived – and with the new Yarmouth-Portland service scheduled to start in a month’s time – Samson said, “We must make the most of the opportunity.”
Referring to the millions of potential tourists in the northeastern United States, he said, “We intend to bring many of them here.”
Churchill – like Samson and other speakers – encouraged the community to keep the momentum going, to do everything it can to help the new service succeed.
“Our work is not over,” he said.
Mayor Mood acknowledged that there are those who perhaps thought this day would never come, people who said they would only believe there would be another ferry service once they saw the ship in the harbour.
To these people, she said, “Welcome to the believers group.”