Channel-Port aux Basques (also Port aux Basques) is a town at the extreme southwestern tip of the island of Newfoundland fronting on the eastern end of the Cabot Strait. A Marine Atlantic ferry terminal is located in the town which is the primary entry point onto the island of Newfoundland and the western terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway in the province. The town was incorporated in 1945 and the current population (2006) is 4,319.
Port aux Basques is the oldest of the collection of towns that make up the present-day town, which consists of Port aux Basques, Channel, Grand Bay, and Mouse Island. Amalgamation took place in the 1970s.
In 1893, it was decided to extend the western terminus of the Newfoundland Railway (then under construction west from the Avalon Peninsula by Robert G. Reid) from St. George's to Port aux Basques harbour. By 1897 the tracks reached Port aux Basques, although the harbour facilities had not been built at that time to handle the steamer Bruce, which had been built in Scotland and had arrived in Newfoundland several months earlier. While the required docks were constructed, the Bruce operated between Little Placentia Sound and North Sydney, Nova Scotia from October, 1897 until June, 1898 .
Under CNR in the 1950s, Port aux Basques was expanded with the construction of new dock facilities and the arrival of newer and larger ships such as the MV William Carson. Extensive blasting of rock created space for large railyards with extensive dual gauge trackage. The excess rock was then used as fill to create the required docks. By the mid-1960s, new railcar-capable ferries such as the MV Frederick Carter permitted the exchange of railcars, requiring further expansion at the Port aux Basques terminal facilities.
The mid-1960s also saw the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway across Newfoundland, an event which eventually led to the closure of the railway by 1988, but which made Port aux Basques into an even more important gateway to the island of Newfoundland, given the increased number of tourists visiting the province, and the rising amount of truck traffic. New Ro-Pax-capable vessels were commissioned and/or chartered during the 1960s-1980s to meet the growing demand, such as the Marine Nautica, Marine Atlantica, Marine Evangeline, Ambrose Shea, and John Hamilton Gray.
With the abandonment of the railway, extensive rebuilding of Port aux Basques terminal resulted in expansive marshalling areas for waiting motor vehicle traffic. A plant disease inspection station is located near a modern rebuilt railway station now used as a passenger terminal for the ferry service operated by Marine Atlantic, which was renamed from CN Marine in 1986. Port aux Basques harbour hosts the arrival of the two largest icebreaking ferries in Canada, the Caribou and Joseph and Clara Smallwood, as well as other passenger and cargo vessels.
A new vessel, the MV Atlantic Vision, has been added to the fleet. While the vessel is not in service yet, it is expected to be in service before the end of 2008. This new vessel is larger and more luxurious than the previous ships.The ferry is 203 metres in length and has four propulsion engines with a total output of 46 Megawatts and can travel at speeds up to 27 knots. In comparison, the MV Caribou is 179 metres long. It has four engines with a total output of 21 Megawatts and can travel at speeds of up to 20 knots. The new ferry has in excess of 50 percent more vehicle capacity than either the MV Caribou or the MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood. It is capable of carrying approximately 531 cars or a mix of cars and commercial vehicles using the two main vehicle decks and the two lower decks. The lower decks are sized to accommodate only cars. In comparison, the MV Caribou has a capacity of carrying 350 cars or a mix of cars and commercial vehicles on its two vehicle decks. The vessel has modern passenger areas which include a gift shop, restaurants, snack bar, bar, spa, seating lounges, and 196 passenger cabins in a variety of classes. In addition, this vessel has a dedicated Trucker Lounge, the first time such amenity is offered by Marine Atlantic. The vessel has an equivalent Ice Class to the MV Caribou.
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