Monday, August 26, 2013

Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Originally inhabited by the First Nation Mi'kmawq (MicMac), Nova Scotia comprises of two islands Cape Breton (Ile Royale) and mainland Nova Scotia joined by the
Canso Causeway; Ile Royale was ruled by France while New Scotland (Nova Scotia) was under British rule. The MicMac people were friendly to all; we drove through several MicMac reservations some looked like they were doing very well and some not so well.
While the theme of Cape Breton remains predominantly Scottish it is interlaced with Acadian culture and the French language. Most citizens are however of Scottish and Irish descent they recognized our accents and made us very welcome. We stayed near a lovely town called Baddeck in an RV Park owned and run by a German family. When we arrived there were 3 police cars parked outside the office; an elderly lady had gone for a walk in the early morning, not returned so the police were called. Within the hour a helicopter was in the air, an incident/communications van set up and a bus load of Search & Rescue and other experts arrived. They searched till nightfall to no avail. As we were breakfasting the next morning a policewoman knocked on our door; they were checking all caravans and motorhomes and were very nice about it. Tom who has read too many murder mysteries had some great theories while Adele feared there was a weirdo in the RV Park! The helicopter returned several more communications vans were set up and of course, the local TV station turned up.
As planned we headed out to drive the Cabot Trail - all 148 miles – with frequent stops along the way at viewing points and a visit to a hotel which had a spectacular golf course, reminded Tom of Old Head, Kinsale with similar terrific views. This drive is heavily advertised as “the attraction” for us (from the West Coast of the US) it in no way compares to Highway 1 north or south of San Francisco, or for that matter with Big Sur or the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. There are some lovely viewing spots along the drive but one does not see the continuous beauty evident along the Californian coast.

On our return to the RV Park after a long day all is quiet, the vans and police are gone and we learned from our new neighbors that the old lady was found on the porch of a cabin 500 meters away shortly after we left in the morning - a very ordinary story - she just lost her way in a strange place.
Our next trip was to the nearby Gaelic College where we had lunch and were entertained at a Ceili for $15 each. This proved to be great value; we ate the "menu de jour” soup, lasagna, salad, desert and coffee while being entertained by students with music on the harp, the fiddle, the piano and the bagpipes with a little dancing thrown in as well. The College runs summer courses in the Scottish Gaelic language and Celtic music for students of all ages and it certainly looked like it is a roaring success as the dining room was full.

As Sunday was Acadian day and we were curious to see the French Fortress at Louisburg we drove across the island, we also wanted to compare it against Saint Augustine. Built by the French in the time of Louis X1V, subsequently captured and blown up by the British it was reconstructed by the Canadian Government starting in 1961 by out-of-work coal miners who were retrained in the crafts of carpentry, masonry, plumbing etc. It was a great day, so much was happening that we could not do it all, but the good road-warriors that we are we tried. We took the guided tour to orientate ourselves and learned that a fortress walls were built surrounding a town to defend it - a fort stands alone to defend military buildings. There’s a lovely chapel in the Officers’ quarters; we learned that a chapel is incorporated into a building and a church stands alone. All the interpreters/guides were in period costume and bilingual; as you can imagine on Acadian Day there were lots of French speakers in the crowd. Of course cannons boomed and muskets were fired and to add to the noise of the day there was an Acadian concert with French songs being sung. We enjoyed our Acadian day and drove leisurely back along the shores of the Bras d'Or - Adele translated this as the Golden Arm, Tom prefers Bras d'Or! Go figure!
The weather has been a very pleasant surprise as we were prepared for an Irish summer; here it was hot and sunny. We walked around the town of Baddeck a few times and visited the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Our knowledge of Bell was that he was the inventor of the telephone, how wrong we were he was an inquisitive, serial inventor including hearing aids, airplanes, the hydrofoil, desalinization etc.; in fact he continued to experiment up to his death. Bell’s grandfather was hugely instrumental in his formation, a teacher of the deaf and the inventor of a written language for deaf people he encouraged Alexander to also become a teacher for the deaf. Mabel, Alexander Graham Bell’s wife, the only daughter of wealthy parents was a private pupil of his; on her 18th birthday she sought her parents’ approval to tell Alexander that she loved him and ask him to marry her. She financed his early telephone inventions and when Bell Laboratories was successful Alexander, keeping a few shares signed the majority of his shares over to Mabel - at one stage back in the early 1900’s the shares in the Bell Laboratories were worth over $900. We spent over 3 hours in the museum and were one of the last to leave.

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