I made it to Meat Cove with plenty of time to spare and spent the remainder of the afternoon taking photographs in and around Meat Cove village. I drove across the bridge over Meat Cove Brook seen in photo #1 and parked next to the storage shed shown in photo #3. Since the only other time I had been down at the beach area (the village itself sits 100 m (300 ft) above the Gulf) was last year when I walked down the boardwalk from the community centre at the south end of the village to the mouth of Meat Cove Brook at the north end, I decided to add more photos of this interesting area to my collection. The weather remained generally excellent, but photo #1 shows that a good part of the blue sky was now covered with high, light, white clouds.
Nearly all of the objects in the photos you see on this page no longer exist and the terrain itself adjacent to Meat Cove Brook has been drastically altered. This page is intended to record the way things were in June, not as they now are; the rebuilding will be slow and painful, but the doughty inhabitants are committed to restoring what has been lost.
As many of you know (it made the national news in Canada),¹ the night of 2010 August 21-22 saw the Meat Cove area deluged with over 200 mm (7⅞ in) of rain in a few short hours, a rainfall far more intense than any of the community’s inhabitants could remember during any past storm. I drove from Chéticamp to St Anns the evening of the 21st and got caught in a pounding downpour north of Baddeck that made it very hard to drive; that was but the merest shower compared to the unprecedented rain that fell later that night across the far northern part of Cape Breton Island.
Dead white spruce, killed by the spruce bark beetle infestation, are a scourge all over Cape Breton Island and the area around Meat Cove has not escaped. In the back country south of Meat Cove village, the engorged Meat Cove Brook evidently became blocked by a dam formed of dead spruce trees felled by the wind and other trees, still living, uprooted by the storm and undermined by the roiling waters. In the wee small hours of the night, the force of the backed-up water overpowered the dam, whose trees, living and dead, were pushed along on the high wall of water (measured at 9 m (30 ft)) that then went crashing down the narrow canyon through which the brook flows, carrying away everything movable in its path and leaving debris strewn all along its bed and out into the Gulf. The culverts at the southwestern end of the village through which Meat Cove Brook flowed were pushed aside, leaving an impassable gulch filled with roiling waters where the road once was; the recently renovated bridge that provides access to the shore in Meat Cove, seen in photo #1, and the lovely boardwalk, built by community volunteers, that led along Meat Cove Brook, a short portion of which is seen in photo #2, were just two of the many other objects destroyed by the rampaging water.
¹ The events recounted on this page are based on the superb reporting in The Inverness Oran and on contemporaneous accounts in the on-line versions of the Cape Breton Post and The Chronicle-Herald, together with photos published there, as well as broadcasts on CBC Radio in Cape Breton. A friend toured the area after the road was reöpened and sent an account and photos of the aftermath that also figure in this retelling.↩
Although the damage to objects and the terrain was severe, fortunately, no one was seriously injured by the storm, although a German couple visiting the community had a very near miss: they were overnighting in an RV parked at the mouth of Meat Cove Brook near the storage shed seen in photo #3, but heard the rampaging water coming and fortunately managed to escape with only minor injuries before the wall of water reached them; their rented RV wasn’t so lucky — it and the couple’s belongings (including their passports) were carried out into the Gulf by the raging waters.
A similar scenario struck the Salmon River east of Capstick roughly 7 km (4.4 mi) from Meat Cove, rendering the bridge there unsafe and unusable, though it remained standing. Other smaller brooks that flow under the gravel road between there and Meat Cove also became so engorged that they washed out the sluices and culverts, some of them very large, leaving giant chasms in the road and thereby severing the sole road link between Meat Cove and the rest of Cape Breton Island in four more places. Some thirty tourists, campers at the Meat Cove Campground and in other accommodations there and in RV’s along the Meat Cove Road, were stranded with no way to remove their vehicles.
The inhabitants of Meat Cove were true Cape Bretoners: they thought first of their guests’ needs and only afterwards of their own, exhausted as they were. As two of those stranded subsequently wrote in a letter to the editor published in the 2010 September 8 issue of The Inverness Oran:
First, allow us to personally thank the wonderful residents of Meat Cove who helped us in every way and opened their homes to us when we were in need — talk about going above and beyond the call of duty. Remarkably, two residents actually swam ashore from a Zodiac [rubber boat] on Sunday and hiked two hours in the rain to ensure that the Chowder Hut was opened so we could have food. It was not until Monday that the water had receded enough for us to walk across a makeshift bridge constructed by the creative and tenacious members of the community. Without this, it would have been impossible for us to get through the still-raging waters where the road had previously been, to the community centre. It was here that the spirited staff and restaurant owners cooked and cared for us (free of charge, mind you) and refused to allow us to wash a dish. All the while, other exhausted Meat Covers diligently assisted us in arranging for a safe evacuation. This is true Cape Breton hospitality! We were absolutely inspired by their thoughtfulness, consideration and insistence that our needs be put before their own, despite what they had already lost.
The storage shed with all its contents and its mural attesting to the importance of music to this isolated community, seen in photo #4, was lost to the rampaging waters, as was even the concrete boat launching ramp seen in photo #5. It is easy enough to comprehend how the waters could have carried the shed away, but a concrete ramp embedded in the ground! What a ferociously destructive burst of water that must have been!
The mouth of the Meat Cove Brook, seen in photo #6, has itself been modified. Sand, gravel, rocks, boulders, and a jumble of dead tree limbs and stripped tree trunks have been deposited well beyond its former end at the beach, even beyond the rock off shore seen in the photo at the bottom of the page, a favorite diving spot with 3 m (9 ft) of water on its far side. Some of that newly deposited rubble was torn from the side of the banks by the rampaging brook, in one place getting very close to Meat Cove Road itself, which has since received new reïnforcement and some rock facing in photos I have seen. Many trees have been carried out into the Cabot Strait where, as dead-heads, they will present hazards to fishing boats for some time to come. Still others remain strewn along the brook itself, well inland, presenting potential problems should another torrential rain fall.
Outside reäction to the plight of the small community of 100 residents and the stranded tourists was swift. Boats from Bay St Lawrence delivered food and needed supplies to the community while the road and bridges were unusable. On the following Monday evening, those tourists who wished to be evacuated were taken by boat to Bay St Lawrence, where the volunteer fire department housed and fed them until Red Cross volunteers could reach them with cots and blankets; on Tuesday, they were driven to Sydney where volunteers from local tourism-associated businesses joined forces with representatives of the local and provincial governments to assist them in dealing with their interrupted vacations and getting them back home.
A temporary road was quickly constructed downstream of the Salmon River bridge right through the river near its mouth, allowing the heavy road equipment needed to repair the bridge and the wash-outs to make it past that choke point. Within a week, a Bailey bridge had been installed over the Salmon River and the wash-outs had been, at least temporarily, repaired enough that the road could again be reöpened to vehicles. As of this writing, a temporary Bailey bridge also spans the chasm by the community centre where the huge culverts had been destroyed.
Views of what this area now looks like can be found at this web site, created by the local community itself to memorialize the losses of this disastrous week-end. Updates on the recovery and rebuilding effort are posted there as well. The hard-working and resilient community will receive some financial help from the provincial government in rebuilding its lost infrastructure and repairing the road (this damage alone is estimated at well over a million dollars), but recovering from the losses to the many other improvements made over the years by volunteers in the community, such as the boardwalk and the spacious brook-side deck at the community centre (not destroyed, but with severely weakened underprinnings) and trail creation and maintenance (clearing downed trees, erosion repair, rope railings, and signage) depend on funds raised by the community. Please visit the community’s web page and, if you can help with a donation of any amount (and especially if you have spent any time in this beautiful remote community enjoying its great hospitality, the marvellous hiking trails, and the stunning views), you will find the instructions there on how to proceed.
 I visited Meat Cove twice in 2011, once in August and once in October. On each visit, the progress in cleaning up from the disaster was noticeable. The Salmon River is still spanned by a Bailey bridge, as was the Meat Cove Brook, but work was underway in building a proper bridge over Meat Cove Brook by the Meat Cove Community Centre and I was told the intention was to have it ready for the 2012 tourist season. Work was also being done on the Meat Cove Beach Road and rebuilding an access to the beach. The deck of the Meat Cove Community Centre had been restored, though the boardwalk, which took volunteers several years to construct, will have to wait until more pressing needs are met. I am greatly looking forward to revisiting this area this year when I hope to get in more hikes in the area.