Monday, November 23, 2009

Errors and an Omission

Thanks to Margaree for setting me straight on my latest post, where I erroneously indicated that Baddeck was the capital of Cape Breton. In fact, there is no capital on Cape Breton but rather four counties. In addition, Margaree rightfully pointed out my lack of knowledge leading up to the expulsion of the Acadians--whereby they rejected British laws and would not swear allegiance to the British king. I promise to make up for my weakness in Nova Scotia history.

My omission was neglecting to talk about our visit to Lucy Neatby's home and studio while we were in Halifax. This was another highlight for our group and was accompanied by much anticipation and excitement to be visiting the home of such a respected, innovative and amenable professional. I know this is getting to be hackneyed, but it is still true that our group left with smiles and arms full of yarn and patterns that they just couldn't live without!

I was especially happy to meet her assistant Dawn as we had spoken a number of times by phone. I told Dawn she could be an inspirational speaker--she even had me thinking I could/should plan a tour to Botswana and tie it in with the books by Alexander McCall Smith. (Maybe I should try to contact him the next time I'm in Edinburgh!)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cape Breton Island

Another sunny day for travel. We had a smooth ferry ride across the Northumberland Strait between P.E.I. to mainland Nova Scotia, where we docked at the small town of Caribou. We then headed towards Cape Breton Island, not truly an island since the building of the Canso Causeway, but always referred to as one.

Although we arrived in Baddeck, the capital of Cape Breton, too late for the group to do any yarn shopping, many of our group went across the street from our hotel and looked longingly through the windows of Baadeck Yarns. However, our keen knitters made up for this during the following five days and again many newly-purchased skeins of yarn appeared on the bus. Pat Fields, owner of Baadeck Yarns, and her assistant Betty were very knowledgeable and helped us to make choices from their extensive stock of yarn, books, patterns and needles. Have a look at Pat's website: Pat carries a special yarn called 'First Flight' which she developed to mark the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight in Canada by the plane called the Silver Dart.

The rest of our time helped me to gain an appreciation of the Gaelic traditions of the Scots who settled the island, after they were forced off their lands by cruel landowners during the Highland Clearances. Their traditions are honoured and enhanced by the program at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts & Crafts at nearby St. Ann's. People come from around the world for a variety of subjects: studying the Gaelic language, learning the bagpipes, even an apprentice program for kilt making. It's important to remember that the Scots weren't the first to settle Cape Breton, as for 10,000 years, the Mi'Kmaq Tribe called this area their home.

I really enjoyed my visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and it's stunning setting on a hill overlooking Bras d'Or Lake. From the museum, it is possible to see the original Bell family summer home, Beinn Bhreagh. I was so intrigued by the many accomplishments of Bell and his colleagues, that on my return I read the biography about Bell entitled Reluctant Genius by Charlotte Gray.

There were several more highlights for me: one was a visit to Iona and the Highland Village. It's a living history museum, with authentic period buildings, farm animals and costumed staff. It was though we'd stepped back in time as we visited a progression of cabins, homes and other buildings. We saw demonstrations of traditional activities, with a pleasant interlude for a stop for tea and freshly baked bannock and oatmeal crisps baked in a wood stove. This is an active place with courses in Gaelic culture and studies throughout the year.

I also loved our visit to the Fortress of Louisbourg, a reconstruction of part of the original fort from 1744, originally built by the French. Louisbourg is sometimes called "the Williamsburg of Canada" and members of the staff are dressed in period costume. I haven't done it justice in this blog--to get a better idea of the scope of the project, have a look at

My only disappointment was the cloudy weather while we went around the Cabot Trail which prevented us from seeing the beautiful scenery. We did stop in the little village of Cheticamp and visited the Les Trois Pignons (which means 'three gables'), an information centre with a great collection of hooked rugs and hangings. I should have mentioned the importance of Acadian history on Cape Breton. Cheticamp is the reference centre for the genealogy and history of the many Acadians who were forcibly removed from their homes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Prince Edward Island

I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to P.E.I., also known as the 'Gentle Island'. The weather was wonderful, the residents were pleasant and welcoming, and we again met some talented craftspeople. Although the hour was late when we arrived in Charlottetown, we received a warm greeting by several members of the staff at our hotel, The Islander. We were quickly given key cards to our rooms and our luggage was delivered promptly.

A welcome surprise was the plate of freshly baked, chocolate chip cookies in the lounge. I later learned the cookies were baked by Josh, a young man who also did double duty at the reception desk. Whenever Josh saw the cookie supply was getting low, he would go to the kitchen and bake another double batch. He also generously gave us copies of the recipe.

The next morning we had a short walking tour from the hotel to Province House. We were accompanied by our costumed guide, Rebecca, who in her other life is a student at the University of P.E.I. Even though I'd been to Province House many years ago, I enjoyed our visit and hearing about the rich history of the building, which still is the venue when the provincial legislature meets.

Our touring day was warm and sunny. No one wanted to go swimming at Cavendish Beach but most took off their shoes and at least got their feet wet in the (cold) Atlantic Ocean, and walked on the fine sandy beach. We visited nearby Green Gables, the home of the fictional Anne Shirley and the setting of the famous stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

An unscheduled but enjoyable stop was to the P.E.I. Preserve Company, located in the beautiful village of New Glasgow. The company produces a wide variety of preserves on site, using fresh local fruit whenever possible. The beautiful setting is enhanced by twelve acres of gardens and the company has plans to build a respite cottage next year. It was too early for lunch when we visited, but there is a nice looking restaurant attached to the shop.

Another memorable stop today was our visit to Fibre-Isle Fine Yarns. Owners Sylvie Toupin and Jacques Arsenault welcomed us and gave us a guided tour of the mill and explained the numerous blends of fibres which they combine into stunning yarns. The mill equipment is manufactured by nearby Belfast Mini-Mills, and the Toupins said how well it is suited to processing different fibres, especially the bison they use in most of their yarns. Sylvie knit all the beautiful shawls and scarves which were on display in the showroom. I don't know how she had the time to create so many beautiful objects. When she was questioned, I seem to recall she said it's a passion--a feeling which struck a resonance with our group.

Again, we found much yarn which we couldn't live without and left Fibre-Isle with arms full! I came away with several skeins: one was a mix of 70% bamboo, 15% bison and 15% cashmere. Another one was a mix of 65% superwash fine merino, 25% Lyocell cellulose and 10% Canadian bison. All the yarns in the shop were in beautiful colours. Have a good look at their website and perhaps join their mailing list.

The next day we left P.E.I. but not before another memorable visit--this time to Belfast Mini-Mills. I think I can safely say that we were all impressed by the dedication and ingenuity of the family who design the mill equipment, which is exported all over the world. (Some of our group had seen proof of this when they visited the tiny Orcadian island of North Ronaldsay and saw the equipment from this company in operation. ) The mill wasn't just equipment but there was also a large shop with yarn, roving, knitting and woven goods.

Next, off to Cape Breton Island.