Grand-Étang [grɑ̃teˈtɑ̃], French for “Big Pond”, seems to aptly describe the almost fjord-like body of water seen in photo #1. Actually, however, this apparent lake, located behind (to the east of) the village of St-Joseph-du-Moine, is an estuary whose flow is under the bridge on the Cabot Trail in Grand-Étang, through Grand-Étang Harbour, and into the Gulf of St Lawrence, or vice versa, depending on the tides: when the tide ebbs, it delivers collected fresh water run-off from the adjacent lands; when the tide rises, it receives an inflow of salt water. The shore line also depends on the state of tides; in this view, the tide is somewhat below its highest point. On this beautiful day, as I was driving north to Chéticamp for this week’s cèilidh at the Doryman, I felt compelled to stop and capture its magnificent beauty.
I imagine anyone who drove across Grand-Étang over the past few years will well remember the poor state of the Cabot Trail at this point and, in the past couple of years while the old bridge was being replaced, the detour around the construction. Photo #2 is of the fine new bridge, which is now open; the portion of the Cabot Trail adjacent to the bridge has also been repaved and is now much smoother riding than before.
Just beyond the east end of the bridge, a gravel road leads back west toward the harbour; once upon a time (long before I started coming to Cape Breton), the Cabot Trail followed this road and not its current route, coming out at Point Cross south of Chéticamp. If you have the time, as I did this morning, it repays driving, for its route is much closer to the water than the current Cabot Trail (though the views of the Cape Breton Highlands from the new route compensate for the loss of the water views).
Photo #3 shows Grand-Étang Harbour and its entrance through the breakwaters in the centre of the photo. The new bridge is not the only new thing in Grand-Étang: in 2009 May, the multi-gabled white building with the black roofs to left of the harbour entrance was opened. Le Centre de la Mi-Carême houses a “display of locally crafted masks and exhibits depicting the evolution of one of the oldest Acadian traditions, ‘La Mi-Carême’, still celebrated [in the Acadian villages of western Inverness County] every winter.” La Mi-Carême, literally “Mid-Lent[en Festival]”, is a week-long celebration the third week of Lent in which the local townsfolk dress up in costumes and home-made masks chosen to disguise themselves as completely as possible and visit their neighbours who then attempt to guess who they are; once the identity of the visitors is established, they unmask and enjoy refreshments and music before heading on to their next destination. This YouTube video, featuring Marc Boudreau on fiddle, from the 2010 festivities, gives a short, but good, taste of the celebration; this one gives an excellent idea of the inventiveness and richness of the costumes. If you are interested in folk art or folkways, you should pay a visit to this very interesting museum.