Cape Breton’s Winter Colours

[Original] Introduction

I have been privileged to see Cape Breton in three of the four seasons: spring (which sometimes comes as late as early June), summer, and fall, but, except for a surprise snowfall during the Celtic Colours International Festival last October, I have never seen the island in its winter colours. Although I grew up in the North Country (roughly that portion of New York State north of Lake Ontario’s southern shore and thence eastward along a line running to below the southern end of Lake Champlain, encompassing the Adirondack Mountains) in the Thousand Islands area along the St Lawrence River and still remember acutely what the then very hard winters of fifty years ago looked like under blue skies and bright sun bringing forth the winter colours of the land and the river, a paucity of imagination has kept me from being able to really envision just how the glorious scenery of Cape Breton, where mountains, forests, and a rugged coast line also have to be factored into the composition, would look under similar conditions. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to arrange things so as to get some winter photos of my own in Cape Breton (I keep my sister’s cat in the winter time while she is in Florida, as she kept mine (when it was alive) in the summer time when I am in Cape Breton). So, from time to time over the past years, various friends from Cape Breton have kindly sent along photos they have taken to help me visualize just what the terrain I have seen at other seasons looks like in the winter.

At the beginning of this month, Mike Little sent me three stunning winter views of the Mabou area that so moved me with their beauty and quality that I immediately began casting about for a way to present them to the wider audience that they so richly deserve. Putting together a photo essay of winter views of Cape Breton seemed an excellent way of doing that, so I set about soliciting additional winter photos from those who might have some they would be willing to share with the public. Charlotte Miller, of Mabou Harbour, obligingly contributed some photos of the area near the mouth of the Mabou River to go with Mike’s. Earlier in the year, I had joined Jim Steele’s Sunrise Photo Mailing List, primarily targetted to sunrises over St Anns Bay, but including other material and times of day as well, including one stunning photo of Cape Smokey clad in white and some other fine winter photos that he kindly dug out of his archives. He also put me in touch with Charlie MacEachern, who fishes lobster off Cape Smokey and who supplied me with other superb photos of the Cape Breton Highlands in winter, two of which appeared in one of Jim’s mailings. Hector Hines, of Meat Cove, last year sent me some fine winter photos in exchange for others of mine I had taken when I was in the area that he used on his web site and has recently sent me many more exceptional winter photos of the highest interest, many of remote back country I have not encountered anywhere else in books or on the Internet and have only dreamed of seeing with my own eyes, as these sites are way beyond where I can hike. When I asked these kind folks for permission to use their photos in a winter colours essay, they all immediately generously and expressly consented to allow them to appear in this photo essay with the understanding that the respective photographers retain the copyright, property ownership, and sole distribution rights of each photograph they contributed.

Since the point of the essay is to illustrate winter colours in general, not this year’s winter colours in particular, the photos seen here are not all of this past winter of 2009-2010, though many of them are — the others were taken in earlier years. After nine years of visiting Cape Breton, it is obvious that constant, usually subtle, changes to Cape Breton’s scenery make the same views slightly different from one year to the next: particularly noticeable in the summer time, though much less visible in these snow-covered winter views, are the extensive spruce beetle damage to the white spruce and the perpetual effects of wind, waves, and ice on the always eroding coast and exposed mountain faces. Looking at identical views a year or two apart in their winter colours, on the other hand, it is the changes in the coastal ice (or substantial lack thereof in 2009-2010) and in the snow cover that are most striking to my uninformed winter eyes.

As of this writing, the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal maintains twelve web cameras in Cape Breton whose views of the roads can be seen here (the Cochrane Hill, Monastery, and Trafalgar web cameras also on that page are on the mainland, not on Cape Breton); you can click on any of the images for a somewhat larger view of the scene. As I visit this web page nearly every day, mostly to check on the weather across Cape Breton but also for the fine views (those of the Cape Breton Highlands from beyond the summit of French Mountain, of Mabou Mountain from below Hawley Hill, and of the Canso Causeway are especial favourites), I am very much aware that Cape Breton’s winter days are not all blue skies and sun; greys predominate, often for days and even for weeks at a time, just as they do in the North Country. For this essay, I nevertheless requested (and generally selected) views “showing snow, ice, or water under a bright winter sun and blue skies along with the gorgeous scenery Cape Breton supplies in such abundance; the grey skies of winter, while they have their devotees, are not what I’m after […].” I did this, not in any attempt to convey a false impression of Cape Breton winters, which, particularly in the Highlands are long and harsh, but to show off the incredible beauty that so often lies hidden under the greys and only really comes to life when a bright sun casts its sparkling rays over the landscape, dazzling the eyes and bringing great joy to the heart and warmth to the spirit.

Since I was not personally at the sites where these pictures were taken, though I have seen many of them at other times of the year, I have also asked for the photographers’ help in wording the descriptions of these beautiful winter scenes. Thus, for the first time in this series of photo essays, I am neither the photographer nor the sole author of the descriptions — my rôle has basically just been that of assembling the essay from the raw materials into the form required for a browser. From this effort, it is obvious to me that amateur photographers like myself flourish in Cape Breton and produce top-notch work; unfortunately, my local contacts are still not widespread enough that I have been able to include scenes from all over this glorious island in this essay, whose views are all drawn from Inverness and Victoria Counties, but perhaps, having now done such an essay, the word will spread and it will be possible to put together similar collaborations in the future which will incorporate views from all four of Cape Breton’s gorgeous counties.

Given the recent warm weather, both here in New Jersey, where winter is long since past and many trees are now in leaf, and in Cape Breton, where now only three of the web cameras show any evidence of lingering snow, this essay has been left behind by this year’s unseasonably early spring, even though some of its photos were taken less than a month ago. Nevertheless, it assembles, to my mind, a collection of great winter scenes, to which I will return again and again, to study, admire, and savour their magnificent illustrations of the beauty of winter in Cape Breton. Let me express my deep gratitude to the photographers represented in this essay for sharing their photos in this way. I hope you, the reader, will enjoy them as much as I do.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2010 April 12

Revision of 2012

In 2011, I finally made it to Cape Breton in the winter time; the photos and accompanying essay which resulted from that trip are available here. There is very little overlap in the two essays, which should be read together as each complements the other in providing coverage of winter views in Cape Breton.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2012 June 5

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Note 1: If you are unfamiliar with the place names mentioned in this essay, a list of map resources is given here. Of these, the best computer-readable map of Cape Breton Island that I currently know about is the Cape Breton Travel Map, produced by Destination Cape Breton and, thanks to their express written permission, available as a PDF file here; I strongly urge you to download it. This map scales nicely, allowing you to zoom in on an area of interest, has a very helpful place name index, and provides a level of detail, both of back roads and streams, that is quite good.

Note 2: See the description here for the notation I use for GPS (Global Positioning System) coördinates, which are those I computed from Google Maps based on the information supplied by the photographers.

Feedback on the photos and the accompanying commentary, including corrections, is always welcome; send it to the address in the footer below. All of the essays in this series are archived here.


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