St Paul Island is the northernmost point in the province of Nova Scotia. It is 5 km (3.1 mi) in length and sits in the Cabot Strait to the northeast of Cape North, significantly closer to Cape Breton Island than to Newfoundland. The straight-line distance from Cape North to Southwest Point on St Paul Island is 25.38 km (15.77 mi); it takes boats from Bay St Lawrence about two hours to reach it. Before they were automated, the island was home to the keeper of the two lighthouses that were then found on each end of the island, but it has now been uninhabited for many years. The island has its own web site, where you can learn about some of the more than 350 ships which have been wrecked on its rocky cliffs and read much interesting information about its history, lighthouses, weather, bird life, and other topics, as well as see close-up photos of various parts of the island.
On good days, St Paul Island is visible from most places along the Northern Cape Breton shore; on many days, however, it sits off shore made completely invisible by the fog and haze that regularly form over the Cabot Strait. This page collects several different views of St Paul Island, taken from a number of vantage points during my visit there on Wednesday and Thursday, when the air was relatively clear; it seems better to put them all in one place in this essay rather than scattering them across several pages that have very little to do with the topic at hand. Wednesday’s exceptionally good weather yielded the best photo on this page, from White Point Road, but it is from further away than most of Thursday’s photos (taken under poorer light) and therefore lacks their detail. As you will see, these views are not the same and very much depend on the vantage point.
Photo #1 was taken from a pull-off at the side of the Meat Cove Road before it turns and goes inland towards the Salmon River bridge (currently a Bailey bridge sitting atop the remains of the old bridge, destroyed by the 2010 deluge and resulting floods); it looks to the northeast across Bay St Lawrence, past Cape North at the far right, and across the Cabot Strait to a fairly good view of St Paul Island’s western coast and salient features. At the far left is Northeast Point, a small, low island off the north end of St Paul Island, separated from it by “The Tickle” (according to the topographical map) or “The Tittle” (according to the island’s web site); the one remaining lighthouse is on Northeast Point. The big hump at the left is Martin Powers Mountain, over 120 m (394 ft) high, situated on a headland connected by a narrow and relatively low isthmus to the rest of the island. The next, less distinct, hump is Norwegian Mountain, of roughly the same height as Martin Powers Mountain. The terrain then rises very gradually to Crogan Mountain near the south end, whose height the topographical map gives as 147.7 m (485 ft), after which it declines at a 45° angle down to the sea. Ethel Lake and Lena Lake are large ponds that lie below the summits of Norwegian Mountain and Crogan Mountain, respectively; except for these lakes, the upper terrain appears to be much like that of the Cape North Massif, a plateau covered by evergreens. The lighthouse formerly at Southwest Point, the southernmost tip of the island, has been dismantled and reërected at the Canadian Coast Guard base in Dartmouth (Nova Scotia). Like most of the terrain in northern Cape Breton, the island’s coasts are high cliffs and the presence of rocks and shoals off shore makes it difficult for anyone on the water to get safely on shore in any kind of active sea. Atlantic Cove, more or less in the middle of the island on the opposite (eastern) side from that visible here, is, according to the web site, the “only reliable landing and departing spot. It might be possible to land elsewhere, but if the wind direction and wave action changed [one] might find [oneself] trapped for a long, long, time.” Yet the Atlantic Cove landing is but a cut in the rocks below a cliff and the access to it is littered with rocks on either side; it would take a major stroke of luck for any boat in distress to find it by accident.
By the time I had reached Black Point, from which photo #2 was taken, the light had worsened, but the haze had cleared somewhat. This is essentially the same profile as that seen from east of Capstick, but from further west. Alas, the surrounding cliffs that one can make out in photo #1 all merge into the blue of the island in photo #2.
Photo #3 is taken from the White Point Road, looking across the White Point peninsula to St Paul Island, which is further away in this photo than in any other on this page. From this angle, the northernmost features are mostly hidden from view. Through the slight haze, it is possible to make out fairly well the cliffs around the base of the island, which preclude landing on it, as well as to get a better feel for what is rock face and what is vegetation.
Photo #4 is taken from the summit of the Cape North Massif, at a point where the road briefly descends in a northeasterly direction west of Gulch Brook (beyond the right edge of this view), bringing St Paul Island momentarily into sight. This spot is closer to St Paul Island than any from which the other photos on this page were taken; alas, the light and slight haze remove most of the detail from this view. Other photos, taken on a much better day during my 2007 hike on the trail up to the highest point on the massif (431.9 m (1417 ft)), also offer views of St Paul Island that are only a little better — although the skies and water are blue, the island is obscured by just enough haze that it appears to shimmer in the distance without revealing a great deal of its detail, much like photo #3. One of those photos shows that much of the side of Martin Powers Mountain is a sheer rock face, which can be seen, once one knows it, in photo #4. This photo also incidentally shows the state of the Cape North Massif Road itself and the line of bordering evergreens through which it passes over nearly all of its length, blocking everything from view except when the terrain, as here, unexpectedly opens up to reveal a magnificent vista.
This final view of St Paul Island is from a bit further north than that at White Point, but nearly as far away and in much poorer light, yet it reveals more of the features at the northern end of the island than the prettier photo from White Point.
Until I can either hit on a perfect day with no haze, or, better yet, get on a boat tour of St Paul Island, the views here will have to serve. I remind myself of several other trips to northern Cape Breton when St Paul Island was not even visible, so I count myself lucky that both days I was here this time, the views were at least decent, if far from perfect.