From Whycocomagh Bay, this winter tour of Cape Breton moves up to the Bras d’Or Look-Off on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 105) just below the summit of Kellys Mountain. This is one of three official look-offs on the beautiful highway that runs from Port Hastings to North Sydney; it is sad that there are no more as there are a great many spots all along this road that merit a stopping place away from traffic to savour the fine views.
The photos on this page and many of the following ones were taken on Friday on a trip around the Cabot Trail to which my friend Mike Little treated me in his four-wheel drive vehicle (I would never have made it successfully in my Prius, which had all-weather tires). The Bras d’Or Look-Off was our first stop of many on that day. The weather was not perfect, but a vast improvement over that of Thursday and much better for photography than the grey weather of the following Sunday and Monday seen in the previous photos of this essay. Although it was very cold and there was a strong wind blowing, the sun was out when it mattered and the skies were often blue, as seen in photo #1. The roads had been mostly cleared of Thursday’s snow, though it remained on the trees, as one can readily see at the far left of this photo.
The view in photo #1 is a bit to the north of northeast, with Kellys Mountain on the left rising above the Trans-Canada Highway and the Great Bras d’Or Channel on the right and below the look-off. The northern tip of Boularderie Island is at the right of the photo and the Atlantic Ocean is beyond. Kellys Mountain is one part of a long massif that extends from Beinn Bhreagh outside Baddeck to Cape Dauphin. The nearer of the two points below the massif is Chain Point and the further is Carey Point, near the small community of New Campbellton. Cape Dauphin, the northernmost extremity of the massif, is another 5 km (3.1 mi) due north of Carey Point and is not visible in this view, being hidden by the massif itself. The peak well left of the centre of the photo, barely rising above a much nearer slope, is Cape Dauphin Mountain, which rises above 300 m (984 ft). This is another example of how a wintry terrain can clarify: I do not previously recall having seen this mountain before from this look-off!
Besides the beautiful view in photo #1, the Bras d’Or Look-Off offers two other features of great interest. The first of these is is the Seal Island Bridge, the third longest span in Nova Scotia, seen in photo #2. It is named for Seal Island, a small wooded island over which the causeway leading to the bridge runs; that causeway is not visible from the look-off, but can be seen if one exits the Trans-Canada Highway at New Harris Settlement, just before the causeway rises up to meet the bridge. Opened in 1961, this bridge replaced two ferries, saving countless hours of travel time:¹ one crossed from New Campbellton to Big Bras d’Or at the northern end of Boularderie Island and the second, further south, crossed from Big Harbour to Ross Ferry on Boularderie Island. The bridge, which now contains two recently installed web cameras, one for each direction, is subject to very high winds that have been known to topple transport trucks. There are fine views from the bridge itself, but, alas, pedestrians are not allowed on the bridge and one can not stop on the two-lane bridge (unless road work requires it—see this view taken on such an occasion).
¹ The Wikipedia article on the Seal Island Bridge discusses the politics of the time which led to placing the bridge halfway between the two ferries on a route that required a hairpin turn at the base of Kellys Mountain, at which numerous deaths have occurred over the years because of excessive speed entering the 180° turn; a far safer route, which would have placed the bridge closer to New Campbellton, was politically untenable. The next time you slow down to make this turn (posted, if memory serves at 40 km/h (25 mph)), you will know the reason why it is there.↩
The other feature of considerable interest is beautiful Boularderie Island,² most of the northern half of which is visible from the look-off. Photo #3 shows a view from there across Boularderie Island to the Boisdale Hills on the other side of St Andrews Channel (hidden by Boularderie Island), an arm, like the Great Bras d’Or Channel, that connects the Great Bras d’Or Lake to the Atlantic Ocean.
It is also interesting to note that the waters of the Great Bras d’Or Channel in all three photos on this page show a mixture of ice and open water: the ice is mostly free-floating slush ice that has clumped together to form small pieces (hard to see in these compressed versions, but quite noticeable in the originals, especially the Seal Island Bridge photo), though there is a larger sheet of continuous ice off Carey Point in photo #1. The currents through the Great Bras d’Or Channel are swift, so it is not suprising that it is mostly open water.
² Boularderie is locally pronounced as BULL-uh-dree [ˈbʊl.ə.dri]; the French pronunciation would be boo-lar-dree [bu.lar.dri], with the last syllable bearing a length (as opposed to a stress) accent when final in the phrase.↩