Stories along the Way: Cape Breton, NS

Nova Scotia Cape Breton October 7, 2018

There  are two Nova Scotias. Cape Breton is small fishing towns, strong Scottish influence and the home of great music and artists.

The bridge from PEI to Nova Scotia

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The Amherst Shore provincial park, was outstanding. Beautiful, large wooded campsites and a bath house with thoughtful amenities as well as recycling made it a good choice. We are impressed with all of the provinces’ commitment to recycling. We walked to the red sands beach through many types of pine and spruce bordering the path and reached it at sunset. The sky, red sand, and water contrasting with the surrounding green evergreens and changing maples took our breath away.

 

And the best part is meeting and traveling with Dillingham, Alaska friends Brooks and Linda,  now living in Maine. Old stores, new stories, laughter and the best of times.

We tucked in for the night, enjoying a quiet, dark night and welcomed  the sun pouring into the Grey Panther the next morning. We read, walked to beach through the woods and just soaked in the air and peace in the woods.

We drove on to the next campground in Inverness. It is situated at the edge of the water and on nice days whales cavort in the water in front of us. Alas, the wind blew and rain poured so it was a perfect day to travel on to the Alexander Graham Bell center in Baddock the next day. 

That night in Inverness we  went to nearby Madoq and squeezed into The Red Shoe for dinner and music, highly recommended by many as it is owned by famed fiddlers.  It was a delightful  evening.  The place was packed as predicted with happy lovers of the music. At one point the guitar player asked the home place of people in the audience. Most came from across Canada, two from the U.S. one from London England and….one from Alaska. The fiddle music is so inviting, and memorable.

The Alexander Graham Bell Centre is a national historic site. I didn’t know  how accomplished Bell was, as was his wife. It is here that he had his second home and conducted much of his work with aviation, medicine, animals and boats. Baddock is called the “birth of Canadian aviation.”  He worked with Helen Keller and is known for the work he did to improve the life of the hearing impaired. 

 Obviously a very popular place for a rainy day as the building hosted 7 tour buses. Their tea and date square were quite delightful.

Brooks and Linda are avid fly-fishers and booked half day fishing trips on the Margaret River while Jim and I explored Baddock and the bakeries.

We met in the evening. One of their favorite stops is the Whispering Goat bakery for lunch with the proprietor very knowledgeable on U.S. and Canadian politics. Alas we never made it there. In town, Jim pulled into a driveway with small shops so I could run into the bakery for coffee and goods. As I came out, a couple carrying a large bag of apples came out of a small store.  There was a big truck in the parking lot with apples.

“Would you like to buy some apples,” he said.

“Where are they from.” I asked.

“Annapolis, they were picked two days ago”, he said.

“Napa Valley,” I said. “You’ve come along way,” my hearing not being the best these days.

“No, no,” He said. “Annapolis.”

The way he said it and the beauty of the apples in the bag suggested Annapolis is someplace I should know about. I bought a 20 pound bag of the apples and decided to investigate the area for a stop on our trip (love unexpected detours.)  My cousins in Edmonton suggested breakfast at the Harbor Shed down by the dock and we decided to check the menu before our breakfast the next morning and trip on the Cabot Trail. We went into the restaurant and spoke with the waitress. After showing us the menu, she picked up a large bag of apples.

“Oh,” I said. “They found you.”

“Yes,” she said.” I love Annapolis apples!”

Indeed they are very good apples. I happily filled Linda’s pockets with apples that evening.

Of course, we will now add Annapolis to our itinerary.

The Cabot Trail is a must part of any trip to Cape Breton. It circles around the top of the island, most along the water, and includes scattered villages and towns. Music is everywhere with top fiddle players living in the local communities. Artists also make their home there and sometimes are both, needing to make a living to support their music habit. It is also the time of Celtic Colours, an annual event of music. Unfortunately you must get your tickets a year in advance, but there are many casual music venues everywhere to enjoy. Combined with Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, it was  busy but far few visitors than summer—which we like. Shoulder seasons are the best travel times.

We did have breakfast the next morning with Jim admiring the building, the original, he said, commenting on its building sctructure.

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As recommended, we started the trip counterclockwise so that the water is always on our right. It is a sparking, sunny day, so perfect for our colour tour with trees at their colour peak and a beautiful sea and sky.  I tell Jim, in advance, that I want to stop at some craft shops along the way, a little firmly. St. Anns, just north of Baddock is home to the Gaelic college and the “artist trail” starts there.  He managed to zoom by the pewter artist but I told him the iron art was coming up soon and we stopped there.

Quite an experience. It seems the artists love to talk. And talk. A couple was trying to leave as we came in, and so he changed his attention to us. Hunting, Marijuana, U.S. guns. “Some of our boys went to Chicago and checked with the local police station which they always do. After signing in the Sargent opened a drawer and told them to sign out handguns. They were aghast. Why would we need those they said and declined the offer.” He really had interesting sculptures and small items as well as the work from a local painter. We finally eased out the door as another couple came in the gallery.

The next stop after enjoying the weather and scenery was “Wild Fire”. Jim sat outside on a bench while I went up the stirs into the shop which is a gallery and artist studio. I wandered a bit until a man with a fiddle came in and insisted on playing me a tune before I bought my purchases. He was from Ontario, as I was, and came up here to fiddle and manage a light house for many years. He lived across the street on the ocean side with the artists who is also a fiddler. Full of stories, he seemed to know about every fiddling event and fiddler. I bought his  cd and he explained the artist was away at a workshop for the day. I told him we are headed to Cheticamp the next day and hoped to hear some music. He was playing at the Gaelic College and said Cheticamp was where many fiddlers get their start and that there would be music S Saturday afternoon, but get there early. Two women came in, from Chicago,  for Celtic Colours week. He told stories of Chicago, a former police chief who hired men for his force if they came from Ireland and were fiddlers. The women seemed to know about him and had a good chat. He offered a tune to Jim, sitting on the bench outside of the store.

 

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Obviously these could not be short visits so I told Jim that was the last shop. He was worried about finishing the trip in daylight. We did stop at Neil’s point with the lure of ice cream in a light house. It was closed but we stopped in the “Chowder House” for fish and chips. Sadly, we should have never eaten fish and chips at “Rick’s fish and chips and seafood” in PEI as we may never be satisfied again.

The Cabot Trail with all its stories, scenery and local colour was a splendid time on our trip and met back at the campground with Brooks and Linda.

 

We found a campground on Cheticamp Island and met at the campsite. Indeed there was music the next afternoon, Saturday, at a pub in Cheticamp. Linda and Brooks stopped at the information center, which is also a museum of rughooking. Cheticamp is renowned worldwide for its rug hooking. The next morning we stopped there and Linda and I decided to tour the small museum. Beautiful. The first part is tools for lumbering and fishing, including an interesting eel hook. It  also displays stoves and other household items. It seems that the large Catholic families of the time had little cash so the woman started hooking rugs for a little extra cash. How they managed with the large families, no modern utilities , husband fishing, etc to find time for rug hooking but they did.  The further around the museum we traveled, the more intricate the rugs. A worker asked if we would like to see how it is done and sat at a loom, made locally, using a rug hook that is carved locally and showed us the process. She told us the history and how the practice is dying out. Even though they do school demonstrations, the children show initial interest but it dies when they find the hookers must dye their own wool, draw their design and begin the painstaking work. From 100 hookers, including two men, they are now down to 20 in the community. The loom makers are in their 70’s with no apprentices. She spoke sadly about this dying art.

We continued around the museum with its beautiful hangings of rugs. It seems that  Elizabeth LeFort developed the craft and began selling her tapestries. A visiting friend of Alexander Graham Bell’s daughter visiting the area from New York saw LeFort’s work and began marketing it. The world soon knew of her work as she began to get commissions from U.S. Presidents, astronauts, the queen of England, prime ministers, etc. Many of the commissions, including that of Jackie Kennedy hang in the museum. All the hangings include the amount of yarn, stitches and hours it took to make them. A small museum filled with extraordinary work. Much of the history of these people is from the time after they were deported by the British. The Acadians that returned live in the small towns and villages. I bought a small piece to try as Linda has taken over Jim’s sweater that she discovered I was working on with the wrong needles and she completed several inches this way. Whoops. We will meet up in Belfast, Maine in a few days.

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The next stop was a recommended gift shop……and ice cream parlour. Brooks and Jim headed for ice cream while Linda and I shopped. Then had ice cream.

Finally, time for fiddlers. We hurried to Doryman pub and grill, as the parking lot filled early in anticipation of the fiddle music. The large room was filled with people. Even the pool tables were covered to let people sit around them. Then the music started. Oh the music. Two fiddlers and a piano player played lilting, happy songs.

One fiddler and piano player, long tunes they new by heart. The music went on without a break for two hours. Then one couple got up and began to dance, others joined and soon they were doing the “square”, not like country western dancing, but their own combination with partner changing and fancy footwork. That section ended and the fiddler took up the bagpipes to roars of applause.

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More tunes, but we need to leave.  We set up for the night in the Inverness campground on the sea, this time without rain and watched a glorious sunset, perfect ending for a perfect day.

Today we say goodbye to Brooks and Linda as they head home and we continue discovering Nova Scotia. It’s hard to leave Cape Breton, but new adventures…..

Stories along the Way: Cape Breton, NS

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