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.

1 comment:

Margaree said...

Allow me to correct a few misconceptions. First Baddeck is not the Capital of Cape Breton, we are an island , having 4 counties, but no capital, thank God!!
Then , you should realize that the Acadians were expelled because they did not want to swear allegiance to the King!! nor follow British laws.
You had a good trip and when you return, we need to show you much more of the Scottish heritage and connections.