The ”Railway Trail” is the name I use to describe the multi-use trail that follows the old railway bed from Inverness village to the Canso Causeway, a distance of some 92 km (57 mi). This trail is a joint effort of several volunteer groups, including the Ceilidh Coastal Trail Association, the Judique Flyer Trail Association, and the Inverness Trails Federation, aided and assisted by a number of governmental departments and agencies at the local, provincial, and federal levels. Some of its parts have local names, e.g., the Ceilidh Coastal Trail, but if the entire stretch has a proper name, I don’t know what it is, hence my ”Railway Trail” designation. The map at the provincial Nova Scotia trails web site for Inverness County shows that this trail has been incorporated into the Trans Canada Trail. On that map, it appears in yellow as ”under construction” and, though it has been in generally fine shape for hiking in the past five years I have been using it, the improvements from year to year are noticeable and welcome. In 2002-2003, the Canadian Military Engineers improved a number of bridge approaches and provided or repaired wooden railings and wooden flooring on several of its bridges and trestles. An alternative map with more extensive place name labelling can be found here. As can be seen on both maps, the railway bed closely follows Highway 19, the Cèilidh Trail. In most places, it is far enough away from the road that one doesn’t hear road noise, but there are some parts where they are cheek-by-jowl.
Construction of the railway began in 1898 and was completed as far as Inverness, opening for traffic on 15 June 1901. Government appropriated funds and paid for a route from Port Hastings all the way to Chéticamp, but the constructors of the railway, who owned the coal mines at Inverness, simply quit when it reached there; the province never forced them to live up to their contractual obligations nor complete the rest of the route—the owners just pocketed the funds. The railway was primarily used for transporting coal, but was also a major commercial artery for freight and passengers. In 1929, the railway, by then in receivership, became part of the Canadian National Railway, which operated the line until the late 1980’s, at which point the tracks were abandoned. See this site for a very brief history of the railroad. Inverness: History, Memoirs, Anecdotes, a book (ISBN 0-9735816-0-3) by Donald Gillis and Ned MacDonald issued in commemoration of the Inverness Centennial in 2004, has an interesting chapter devoted to The Judique Flyer, the name given to ”a series of passenger trains” that operated on this route (and, in its honour, also the name Buddy MacMaster chose for one of his marvellous fiddle recordings).
- Inverness to Kenloch Church : views of Inverness Harbour and the Cape Mabou Highlands; crosses a railway trestle 140 paces long high above a deep gorge; remainder of hike is mostly through forest
- Kenloch Church to Black River : borders the north shore of Loch Ban (Lake Ainslie) where you’re almost guaranteed to see eagles flying; then along the Black River with nice views of the Cape Mabou Highlands above marshy lands where the bird life is teeming
- Black River to Glendyer Station : mixed terrain through marsh, forest, and field; nice views of the Cape Mabou Highlands; birds and other wild life often seen; follows Glendyer Brook to Glendyer and then uses the Smithville Road most of the way from Glendyer to Glendyer Station
- Glendyer Station to Highway 19 in Mabou : a gorgeous route along the Mabou River that is one of my favourite hikes; eagles are often seen nesting and flying along the banks of the Mabou River
- Highway 19 in Mabou to the railway bridge across the Southwest Mabou River : another gorgeous route that is another of my favourite hikes; beautiful views first of the Mabou River and the Cape Mabou Highlands and then of the Southwest Mabou River
- Railway bridge across the Southwest Mabou River to Highway 19 near Hermiona’s Gardens at Southwest Mabou : this is one of the shorter segments, but a good one on a hot day as it passes through a lot of shade; views of the Southwest Mabou River, fields, and forest
- Southwest Mabou on Highway 19 to Harbourview : this is one of the longer segments, initially following along the Southwest Mabou River; it strikes cross country at Glencoe Station passing though mostly forested land, coming out on Highway 19 at Harbourview, where there are views of Port Hood Island and an ice cream stand that is always most welcome
- Harbourview to Little Judique Harbour : this relatively short hike traverses field and forest, coming out at the mouth of Captains Brook and Little Judique Harbour
- Little Judique Harbour to Michaels Landing in Judique North : through field and forest, with views of ponds, the marshy outflow of the Judique Intervale Brook, and the St Georges Bay coast
- Michaels Landing to Walker Cove : follows along the St Georges Bay coast, crossing marshes and several pretty brooks; beach and harbour at Baxters Cove; very pretty hike
- Walker Cove to Christy’s Look-Off above Craigmore : this is yet another of my favourite hikes, offering gorgeous views of the St Georges Bay coast, including Long Point, much of way; a pioneer cemetery is just off the trail near Walker Cove and the trail passes by farm land that offers a green counterpoint to the blue of St Georges Bay
- Christy’s Look-Off to Creignish Recreation Centre : pretty hike along the St Georges Bay coast with views of Creignish Mountain
- Creignish Recreation Centre to Troy : through some forested land to the Strait of Canso coast with some nice views
- Troy to Newtown : follows the Strait of Canso coast onto a spit of land along Long Pond; trail not well marked here and the walking is rough
- Newtown to the Canso Causeway : since I haven’t completed this stretch, this is only a guess, but in the fifth revised edition of The Nova Scotia Atlas, it looks like it continues on the spit of land to end up quite close to the bridge on the Canso Causeway
Finding the start of some of these segments the first time can be a bit of a challenge. It was a couple of years before I realized how to find the access points. The Railway Trail is multi-use and snowmobiles are very important users of the trail in the winter time (indeed, the Railway Trail is part of a huge snowmobile trail system that criss-crosses the western half of Cape Breton Island from Chéticamp to Wreck Cove south to Port Hastings); at most places where roads intersect with the trail, a sign by the road warns of a snowmobile crossing. If you know from the map where the trail is, then that snowmobile sign is a tip-off to where the trail is.
Each of these segments has its own character and each is worth doing, at least once and, for the prettier stretches, repeatedly. If one were to hike with a party, it would be easy to park a car at each end and combine some of the segments together to make a longer hike. Since I usually hike alone, I do a single segment in both directions.
Bears have been reported in the spring around Kenloch and back of Port Hood, though I’ve never encountered any. I managed to avoid one very territorial guard dog back of Port Hood and another on the Shore Road near Judique North, but have otherwise never run into anything larger than a fox.
As noted, the trails are multi-use: they are suitable for hiking, biking, ATV use, horseback riding, and, in the winter time, for snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. During summer hikes along the St Georges Bay coast and near Inverness, I have sometimes encountered ATVs; in some forested areas, I have also stepped aside for cars and pick-up trucks on the trail, as woodsmen use it to access areas being logged and farmers use it to access fields. But these are relatively rare events and only briefly disturb the calm and peace of a walk through the beautiful countryside.
The photographs in this essay are a small sampling of those I have taken along the Railway Trail. They can’t hope to do justice to all of the many fine sights from so long a trail; future essays will concentrate on a particular segment to give a better feeling for the character of that segment and the beauty that is to be found there.
Victor Maurice Faubert
2006 February 28