After driving to the end of the Derby Point Road, I turned left onto Highway 216 and drove to its end on Highway 223, where I turned right and continued on to Christmas Island. There, I turned right onto Highland Road and drove to its end, the first time I had been on this road; alas, the light was by then too dim to get good photos of the area, which struck me as quite pretty. I turned right onto Benacadie Glen Road (which the signage just named as Glen Road), also my first time there, which I followed to its junction with the Woods and Ferrell Settlement Roads in Benacadie; just before reaching that junction, the road passes over the aforementioned Benacadie River and the view there, which had some fall colours, was also worthy of a stop, had the light been better. I continued a third of the way down Woods Road, but had to turn around as the road’s condition was too mucky and wet to safely continue, so I returned to the junction, drove out the Benacadie Glen Road to Highway 216, and back to Iona, where I arrived at 18h10. It was a lovely drive and one I hope to repeat in far better light next year: I have seen very little of the back country area between Eskasoni and Christmas Island and, while there aren’t a lot of roads there, there are some.
The parking lot beside the Malagawatch Church in Highland Village offers stupendous views in nearly all directions. The weather, which was to brew up a rain squall just as we were queueing up for entry into the concert at the church doors, was noticeably darker than earlier in the afternoon and the dim light at sunset wasn’t encouraging either, but, as I sat in the car eating a take-out supper I’d gotten earlier in the afternoon in Whycocomagh, a sudden burst of setting sun lit up the skies and I quickly got out of the car to take a few photos. The light lasted only three minutes, but it was enough to capture the photos on this page, which turned out much better than I had hoped when I took them.
Photo #1 looks southeast across the Barra Strait to Derby Point at the far right; Benacadie Point is further behind it and the East Bay Hills line the coast along the Bras d’Or Lake. The houses in the far distance are at Irish Vale. Those in the foreground are above where I stopped to take the photos of Iona and the Bras d’Or Lake seen on an earlier page of this essay. The lovely clouds glowing in the declining sun are, however, what most takes the eye in this view, from the bright pinks at the far left to the duller blues and purples at the far right. For all the irritation and frustration the clouds caused me on this long day of photography, they certainly redeemed themselves in this brief flash of glory!
Photo #2 looks south across the Bras d’Or Lake, where another cloud bank has picked up the glow of the setting sun and reflected it onto the waters below at the south end of the lake. In the original, at the far left on the photo at high magnification, one can again make out the Sacred Heart Church at Johnstown in the shadows; about a third of the way in from the left, one can also make out one of the Red Islands off Johnstown in the lake. The dark grey streamer at the far right was an outlier of the squall that brought us a hard rain shower with strong gusty winds about twenty minutes later.
Photo #3 looks to the northeast down the Great Bras d’Or Lake. Boularderie Island is at the left and the Boisdale Hills are at the right. The localities of Big Brook and Big Beach, which are north of Christmas Island, are inland of the point in the middle ground about a third of the way in from the right of the photo. The highway bridge and the railway bridge lie below at the north end of the Barra Strait. Notice again the clouds at the top of the photo catching the day’s final light.
Photo #4 pans a bit towards the east to focus on the Christmas Island area. Christmas Island Pond is the name given to the lagoon formed by the sand bars and two offshore islands seen in the centre of the photo. Highway 223, known here as the Grand Narrows Highway, runs beside the nearer lagoon, named Kelly Pond. The Barra Strait Marina and its docks in Grand Narrows are at the far right; the lack of boats contrasts starkly with what one sees here during the summer months. The lovely Boisdale Hills, even in this subdued light, embellish this whole scene.
Photo #5 pans yet further to the right, putting Grand Narrows front and centre. The Grand Narrows Hotel is the three-storey white frame building along the shore in the centre of the photo. According to its web site:
The Hotel was built in 1887 by H.F. MacDougall and E.A. NacNeil who were merchants from the local area. H.F. MacDougall was the local Member of Parliament during the time that John A. MacDonald was Prime Minister and he was instrumental in having the Inter Colonial Rail line, which was stretching from the West Coast to the East Coast of Canada, come through the center of Cape Breton Island and the communities of Grand Narrows and Iona. In order to cross the deep and wide Barra Strait (named after the Isle of Barra in Scotland where most of the settlers of this area were from) a seven span iron bridge would be built and completed in 1890 with the first train crossing on January 1st.
The Hotel served as an important stop-over for the many people who traveled by the newest means of transportation, the "Railcar". The train brought intellectuals and others of wealth and means from all corners of the world to Grand Narrows. One very famous individual, Alexander Graham Bell, had a summer home known as Beinn Breagh (Beautiful Mountain) in Baddeck. Bell was a frequent guest of the hotel staying overnight while waiting to catch the steamboat "The Blue Hill" to Baddeck the following day. Two original Guest Registers dating from the 1880's contain Alexander Graham Bell's signature more often than any. Several others that he was associated with such as Helen Keller, whom he befriended, often traveled with Bell. Local people could recall seeing Ms. Keller and her trusted companion a golden lab, swimming the waters of the Barra Strait.
Built with great care by local carpenters the Grand Narrows Hotel was a fifteen bedroom, three story, wooden structure. It was built on a two foot thick stone foundation. Four, four by eight massive stone pillars lend support. The outside walls are of clapboard with the inside walls being plastered. The roof is a combination of the hip roof with mansoeur walls on the third floor, and dormer windows on all sides.
The building boasts of being the first commercial building east of Halifax with central heat. Water was supplied for the heating system as well as for sinks in some of the rooms by means of gravity. There were two tanks, one in the cellar and the other in the attic. Water was taken from the spring fed reservoir on the hill above and pumped into the cellar tank. From there it was pumped up to the attic tank from where it could be fed by gravity to the rooms. Such a system afforded the hotel's guests with luxury not found anywhere else on Cape Breton Island at the time.
On the front of the hotel overlooking the waters of the Bras d'Or Lake were two full-length verandas, one on the main floor and the other on the second. Guests would watch the schooners sail past through the Barra Strait and wait with anticipation the glorious sunset over the hills of Iona. This scene is unchanged and can yet inspire those who will visit over one hundred years later.
The hotel is still operated today, as a bed and breakfast.