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
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
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
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.
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".
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.