Cape Breton


Last evening was our third show in Eugene where we saw Natalie MacMaster. The last time was about 4 years ago. Natalie is a world renowned celtic fiddle player with “Close to the Floor” dancing abilities as she fiddles. She is a 5-time mom with the newest child being almost 3 months old. As one audience member said as we were leaving, “She does not disappoint”.
She had her oldest child, 6-year-old Mary Frances Leahy, on stage. The genes and environment showed through since Mary Frances danced up a storm and played the fiddle to a lively tune. A Star is Born and a proud Mom too.


Night Out in Eugene

A rainy, blustery day led to a night out at The Shedd Institute in Eugene to see Natalie MacMaster perform. She is from the small community of Troy on Cape Breton Island. I will cover more about her tomorrow.
The sky was a mix of odd colors, dark and light orange last night as we took the freeway. This is probably not the best picture depiction though will give some idea of the hills and sky.


"Whales of Canso"

One of the biggest dilemmas of our trip was whether to take a day to go whale watching when it had not been one of our plans. Whale watching excursions are a big thing on Nova Scotia for tourists and many go out from Digby Neck at the tip. It sounded really fun especially after we heard Bob and Susan had gone out the day before on a Zodiac boat and got to see a whale calf playing up close to its mother.

Some of the issue was that it would take some planning to get there on time and have tickets. There was at least 2 ferries and about 50 miles to get to the boat. Bob and Susan said their boat had to go out a long ways, maybe 30 miles or so to find the whale pod where there was no sight of land at all around. Somewhat disconcerting. We also wanted to spend some time seeing the Acadian coastline toward Yarmouth. In the end, we did go wine tasting and saw the wonderful churches down the coast.

It was disappointing to pass on possibly seeing whales because I always seem to miss getting a glimpse. We have been whale watching over New Year’s time when they set up whale watching stations along the Oregon Coast. I think it is often serendipity to be able to see wildlife. You see them when they let you see them and when you least expect them. It was with total surprise and pleasure to see this group of whales frolic near the shore. What a show, and free at that!

Goodbye to Cape Breton and Nova Scotia

As I was writing the blog for last night, the fog quickly rolled in from the ocean and covered the surrounding area. It was eerie and I felt a bit like being in a scene from the movie, “The Fog” with Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh. “Stay away from the fog, don’t go into the fog!” It was still foggy in the morning though cleared up quickly away from Louisbourg. We headed off along the southern scenic shore of Bras d’Or Lake along Highway 4 to head to the PEI ferry. This lake is a huge saltwater lake that practically divides Cape Breton Island in half.

As we started across the Canso Causeway to leave Cape Breton Island, Bob looked to our right and noticed a large number of people along a short promontory jutting into the water of the Causeway. Bob started going “Oh My, Oh My”. What was capturing his attention and everyone else’s was a pod of 10 plus whales near the shore that were diving and playing in the water. We turned around as quick as we could do it safely and came back to that location. The following picture is one of several we got of some of the whales. We also got some video of them and the people watching. People were calling friends--“You have got to get over here to see this!”. Everyone was so excited and it was such a show, a free one at that. We felt the whales were giving us “The Wave” as they frolicked to say Goodbye to Cape Breton for us.


After this wondrous enjoyment, we headed again for our ferry. Our luck was not holding and we just missed it. So, we had to wait at the ferry terminal for the next one. It was a beautiful trip across the Northumberland Strait to PEI. We had music from two musicians and it was sunny and warm. We had heard great things about PEI and how beautiful it is. Red soil, white houses and fences, neat fields of potatoes, and green lawns. It all was true. It is a delightful area. The farming area reminds me at times of the rolling agricultural area between Stayton and Silverton, though with potatoes.

We have ended up staying the night in Charlottetown. Victoria Park near the harbour is beautiful and has a lovely walkway around the water.


Cape Breton Highlands to Louisbourg

Today’s plan was to venture up and over the Cape Breton Island peninsula. We said goodbye to our hosts at the Pilot Whale in St. Joseph du Moine. It was an interesting stay since the area is Acadian settled and our hosts speak English and Acadian French. Our French is too rusty and long ago to be of huge use in this setting. I do want to include a picture of the B and B and the surrounding country as we go.


As we headed up the coast, we stopped at Aucoin’s Boulangerie, a French bakery with great bread. We approached the part of the National Park that has few to no roads near Pleasant Bay Harbour. You can see what wild country it looks like and there were clouds and mist over the mountains. Lots of deer, moose, coyotes, and other critters in those mountains.


Stopping at one spot along the Ingonish area of the Cape Breton coastline, we could get a closer view of the beautiful shores, rough water, and the work of the lobster fishermen in their boats snagging lobster traps close to shore.

Snagging lobster traps

One interesting side trek we took was to Baddeck, along Bas d’Or Lake. This lovely little town was the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell and his family. He kept a laboratory here also. They have a national historic site museum here and it tells of his life and inventions. Bell started out his life working with the deaf and trying to bring a hearing world to them. His wife was hearing challenged. He also ended up being close friends with Helen Keller and helped expand her world. Bell was amazing in that he had a hand in inventing the telephone (of course), also worked with the telegraph, gramaphone, flying, kites, X-rays, genetics, and the hydrofoil. His work with flight went on to form the Lockheed company. His large home here near Baddeck was called Beinn Bhreaghm. The following photo is of the Bell museum.

Alexander Graham Bell Historical site

Cape Breton Island, Day One

Today started off early with a 7 a.m. departure to Cape Breton Island. Our goal was to make the 11:30 a.m. Cailidh in Judique at the Celtic Music Cultural Centre. Both of us love Celtic music and have many albums. This area is the birthplace of Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, and the Rankins for just a small number.

We made the Cailidh with a little time to spare. “Failte” (fell-cha) greets us as we enter. “Failte” is “Welcome” in Gaelic. The Director of the Centre is Kinnon Beaton and he will play the fiddle for about one hour over the lunch period. We listen to music while eating a lovely seafood chowder full of scallops, crab, and lobster which is then topped off with a bread pudding with caramel sauce. The music is toe-tapping wonderful and we got some video of the different songs played. Here is Kinnon Beaton with Dewars playing piano. We even had an example of “Close to the Ground” Cape Breton step dancing.


They have an exhibit area at the Centre where one can learn about jigs, reels, slow airs, and Strathspeys. They even have video to show you how to play a few notes of the fiddle and to do step dancing too.

We headed on further up the left coast of Cape Breton to our destination of St. Joseph du Moine, just south of Cheticamp. Our B and B is the Pilot Whale at St. Joseph. Not far from there, Bob saw a Bald Eagle just off the road and he was able to get a few photos of this magnificent bird. (A host at our B and B stated a moose was spotted a few days ago in a local bog. Not a common sight if you go looking for them).


We headed into Cheticamp for dinner time. The outstanding structure is the Catholic church of Eglise Saint-Pierre. It had an beautiful interior as the other churches we saw on the Acadian coast.

Eglise Saint-Pierre at Cheticamp N.S.

Shortly after visiting the church, we drove out to the lighthouse at the entrance to the Cheticamp harbour. It is active and the light was going for all boats and ships at sea.


It is fascinating as we travel across Nova Scotia. There are areas of more English influence such as near Halifax. As we traveled into the Cailidh Trail such as with Judique and Mabou, the signs are in English with Gaelic underneath. In the areas where the Acadians are more present, such as in Cheticamp, Grand Pre, and Saint Bernard, all the signs are first in French, then in English (the reverse is true in other areas of Canada). What an interesting culture and impact they have on their surrounding communities.
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