Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Romantic Canada
Chapter VI Cape Breton

NOT until the waters of the Gut of Canso sweep into the line of one's vision, does the fact that Cape Breton is an island have any special meaning for the traveller by trail from Halifax to North Sydney. But when you feel your car actually quitting the land for the deck of a steamer, then the insularity of Cape Breton becomes something personal.

The "Gut of Canso" is—"The Grand Canal of the Maritime Provinces", one of the clearest, bluest, most beautiful strips of water in the world.

It is, as anyone can see, the short cut from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. But it is not until you cast off upon its waters yourself that you realize how constant is the stream of vessels using this ocean highway! That material galore for picture and story hourly runs to waste here, is not the fault of :he Grand Canal.

Cross this water-street when you will, schooners, "two", "three-masters", with big mildewed mainsails still hoisted, wait at anchor in Port Hawkesboury for a fair wind to earn them through, the while feet-winged schooners from the Gulf like the "Birds of Pssage" that they are, take it, literally, "on the run". One wonders, watching them on-coming "wing and wing", if ever migratory birds strung out in a fairer perspective?

Your sea adventuring train deigns after awhile to come ashore on the "Island", and after that it keeps to the straight and narrow path etched by the land, wherein trains may run, but it never seems just an ordinary train to you after its sea-going fling. And so you are quite prepared for the way it skims across the Bras D'Or at "The Narrows" and sets you down there to a "fish supper" in a little restaurant, and waits while you eat.

At Iona, it tops again, and sets down the passengers for Baddeck. And after that it hugs the lakeshore, till North Sydney reminds one that "business is business" and that one has arrived in the heart of it.

To speak of North Sydney is to think of coal. Yet, unless you undertake "the mines", look them up, because you have a fancy to Lorn the viewpoint of Romance, they arc not only not intrusive but they actually lend a hand in adding to the "figures" in the harbour. There the picturesque, black-hulled, red-bottomed steamers at anchor, are "colliers" awaiting their turn to load. These steamers make just the contrast needed to set off the fisb-schooners riding at anchor, amid dancing reflections, when the setting sun of a calm evening mirrors every spar, rope and sail in the silvery waters of the harbour.

At Sydney the outlook is easterly. New elements creep into the atmosphere. "Over there," is Newfoundland. These waters that lap at your feet bring Europe within hail. That little, weather-worn steamer lying there by the wharf-side will to-morrow morning hitch to the Quai in Saint Pierre et Miquelon.

The "colliers" that came in yesterday, in a day or two may be nosing up the Saint Lawrence in the wake of palatial ocean liners to Quebec. Sydney stands for the extended hand of Canada, extended to Newfoundland as in transportation; extended in invitation to the British isles and to Old Europe to send more settlers of the hardy type of Hieland folk and Breton sailor, who, in the early dawn of her history, stepped into Canada through these portals.

The interesting fact about Cape Breton is that it has preserved all the characteristics, the language, the customs of its Gallic and Gaelic settlers. Geographically, as well as ethnologically, there is a Gaelic Cape 3rcton in the North and a Breton Cape Breton in the south. They divide the 'and between them, and live in the same friendly fashion as did Scotland and Fran e in the day s of the Stuarts. Stepping into the northern part in Cape Breton is like adventuring in the Highlands of Auld Scotia. Stepping to the South is an adventure in Brittany.

There are three main ways of entering the "highlands". Finding one's self in Sydney, take that "character" among coastal traders, the little S S. "Aspey". The "Aspey" makes all the harbours between North Sydney and Cape North. Make her acquaintance and she will introduce you to "Who's Who", for she knows all the folk who are worth knowing, from Englishtown to Ingonish and from Ingonish to Nail's Harbour and Dingwall.

The second way to reach "the land of the Macs" is to take a train of the Inverness Railroad at Port Hawkesbury. By this road, which follows the shore-line of the Gulf side of the Island, you come immediately into the Scotch atmosphere. Scotch place-names stand out bravely from the name-boards cf the railroad stations. The very scenery is Highland—mountains and mists along the shore side, while through the opposite windows of your car, the waters of the Gulf, spread out, like a "loch".

The third, and ideal way to make the acquaintance of Cape Breton, is to hire an old horse and drive yourself, making le surely trips in all directions, lingerng wherever Fancy dictates, and putting up each night in any village, town or farmhouse which promises a comfortable night's lodging.

With your own horse you are at liberty to turn in at "gates" even though no houses are in sight, and continue in faith along the road until one appears. And, when the house—a "Crofter's Cot" transplanted—is reached, it is quite in keeping with the Highland atmosphere if only the man of the family speaks English, the women being happy in "Gaelic only"—Gaelic which they learned from mothers and grandmothers.

This difference in language makes no difference, however, in their hospitality. And on, the pictures sketched by these little cottages so snugly tucked away 11 the glen!

The language of beauty which they speak is easily understood. Beauty that belongs to simple architecture speaks from every line of door and window and roof; speaks in every line of the great, whitewashed chimney, which, never lacking fuel, proclaims in friendly smoke seen curling up out of the glen—long before the cottage comes to view—that tea brews on the hearth.

The people oŁ this part of Cape Breton, starting inland, and across country to Saint Ann's Bay and Ingonish, are, in the main, agriculturists. This is the farming section so, in August and September, in the tawny fields of oats and barley, the figures of the reapers and gleaners, especially in the neighborhood of Ingonish, proclaim that Breton Canada no less than Breton France affords many "a Millet subject".

But even the farmer of these parts turns fisherman in season Alongshore "Old man with lobster-riots" is a frequent "character", from Mabou all down the Gulf shore, doubling Cape North, and back along the south shore of the peninsula to Point Aconi and, of course, on the Atlantic side, about Gabarouse and Saint Peter's. One of the dominating physical features of Cape Breton is Cape Smoky, towering a thousand feet above the waters where the Atlantic and Saint Ann's Bay meet. Smoky is a personality. Because its stern, old brow is always softened by an ever-moving fog-wreath, the English-speaking people call it "Smoky"; the French folk "Enfumez". It is worth travelling far to view Cape Smoky after rain, especially in the afternoon when the westering sun turns the shifting fog into rainbows, flitting, flashing, jewellike bits of colour, gone in a moment.

There is something unexplainably winning about Cape Smoky. Cape Breton folk look to it as Nova Scocians to Blomidon. In speaking of it they sometimes say "Dear Old 'Smoky'," as if they loved it.

"Sugar-Loaf," near Dingwall, and "Cape North", the Lands' End of Canada, a^e each distinctive in character, and "landmarks" of navigation.

A feature of the road familiar in these parts on the rnail-carrier. With an old wagon and his trusty horse, the road over Smoky presents no difficulties to the Jehu of "His Majesty's Mall". And when you watch for him to appear on the shingle at Ingonish from "Down North", if he has no passengers, this is an adventure to jump into his cart and ride over Smoky, even if you have to walk the six miles back, as we once did.

The Bay at Ingonish is sheltered by Cane Smoky. and so this small harbour has become a happy anchorage for fishing-schooners, and South Ingonish a place where codfish dries on fish stages. There is a family lobster cannery here, seldom boasting more than two big iron pots about in a sheltered nook of the shingle, but creating a romantic atmosphere with its driftwood fire.

Lads lend a hand with the fish-drying at Ingonish. It is from here, watching the fishing schooners going out to meet the ocean swell around Smoky, that, in dreams, they reach out to the day when their turn will come to sail away in a fishing-schooner to "The Grand Banks".

The MacDonalds, MacLeods, MacLeans, MacPhersons, and all the other Scotch families of Cape Breton are greatly in evidence on Sundays. It is then, driving ever these roads, one encounters team after team on the way to the Gaelic meeting-house, or church. The church service is conducted n Gaelic and lasts practically all day.

Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus