Sunday, 11 August — Jackson to Bangor
I left Jackson a bit before 9h and arrived in Bangor (Maine) at 18h30. It was aovely day all the way, from a pure blue sky in Jackson to one littered with pretty white clouds in Maine, warm, but not hot, with low humidity. There were lots of folks on the road; I was sure glad I was going north and east as I passed major stalls in the south and west lanes in New Jersey, Massachusetts (twice), and Maine—no idea why for any of them.
Cape Breton tomorrow! And a Brook Village dance to celebrate the end of the drive! Woohoo!
Monday, 12 August — Bangor to Whycocomagh
I left Bangor under cloudy skies a few minutes after 6h (EDT) and arrived in Whycocomagh under blue skies with some beautiful white puffy clouds a bit after 16h15 (ADT). I encountered either non-existent or light traffic all the way.
I got my motel room, ate dinner, and rested from the long drive until it was time to head to Brook Village for the dance, which tonight featured Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton and Stephanie MacDonald. The first square set had Kinnon and Stephanie on dual fiddles and Betty Lou on keyboard. Kinnon and Stephanie then alternated on fiddle for the next four square sets. Kinnon and Joey Beaton played the sixth square set, after which Kinnon and Betty Lou played a waltz. Stephanie and Betty Lou played the seventh set. Kinnon and Betty Lou played a waltz and then for the step dancers, of whom there were at least twelve: those I recognized and can name were David Rankin, Gerard Beaton, Harvey MacKinnon, and Jenny Cluett (now MacKenzie) and there were others I should have been able to name as well as some I’d seen before but never learned their names and some who were completely new to me. The eighth square set had Stephanie and Kinnon back on dual fiddles with Betty Lou on keyboard. Great music and enthusiastic dancers made for a great dance, with so many filling the floor for Kinnon and Joey’s set there was barely room for them to dance, and shaking the building all evening long with their synchronized steps. Most square sets had four, five, or six circles of dancers and the largest too many couples for me to count accurately.
I’m exhausted, but had a wonderful day!
Tuesday, 13 August — Margaree Forks
This was one lovely day, nearly perfect for photography, though haze was present at long distances. I got up at 8h and, after breakfast, following a friend’s suggestion, drove to the top of Smiths Lane in Hillsborough, which I’d not previously explored, believing it to be a driveway. I thought I was on a wild goose chase until I turned around at the top, when I was greeted by a lovely long view of the Gulf, the Mabou River, a bit of the southern edge of Cape Mabou, and the always lovely steeple of St Mary’s. After photos, I then returned to Brook Village and drove out the Lake Ainslie Chapel Brook Village Road, stopping at multiple points for photos at locations I noted the last time I drove the road that would offer good photos on a fine day (haze and adverse light stopped me from getting them then). That road comes out on the West Lake Ainslie Road, which I drove to the Blackstone Road, again stopping for photos at several points. From a short distance down the Blackstone Road, I turned onto the Mount Young Road and drove it up to the blueberry fields (which appeared to have lain fallow this year), where I turned around. I found much better views than the very hazy ones I saw on my last trip. The sun in the bright blue sky with some fluffy white clouds was strong enough I feared I was going to have sunburnt arms, but that has proved not to be the case. After descending Mount Young, I drove on to Margaree Forks and got my motel room, a dish of Scotsburn maple walnut ice cream at the ice cream stand just down the road, and, back at the motel room, had a rest. I probably should have kept on trolling for photos, but the last two days haven’t left me the peppiest.
After dinner at the Belle-View in Belle-Côte, I drove, under now occluded skies through which the sun was trying to pierce, to Chéticamp for the evening’s musical show, Soleil (Sun) at La place des arts Père-Anselme-Chiasson. It wasn’t at all as I had expected (and encountered in previous shows in past years): this show has lots of rock-and-roll songs and a band worthy of that music. I was tempted to leave at several points as that is simply not my scene, but the sheer musical, dance, and comic talent along with the hi-jinks on stage kept me in my seat and rewarded me with a fine fiddle set (the fiddle was entirely absent theretofore) at the end of the first act, with full band accompaniment. Douglas Cameron was in the band, as he has been in recent years, but was playing electric bass (or guitar—I can’t tell the difference) and never touched a fiddle the entire show. The second act was better, with less rock-and-roll and more listenable songs. The cast was amazing, with command of multiple instruments (including a saxophone) and rôles, and did a superb job, even if much of their material was not my thing. If a trip back to the 1960’s and all its execrable music I managed to avoid then, mostly in French but with some English covers, is your thing, this show is for you; it wasn’t for me. (The week’s run comes to an end tomorrow night, so that’s your last chance.)
After the show ended, I drove down the street to the Doryman, arriving with an hour and a quarter left of the Tuesday cèilidh featuring Robbie Fraser on fiddle and Maybelle Chisholm-McQueen on keyboard. I’d have been much happier had I spent the entire evening there! Robbie’s fine playing with Maybelle’s unique accompaniments made for an enjoyable end of the day. One square set was danced while I was there and Gerry Deveau did a spoon set with Robbie and Maybelle.
Light rain was falling as I drove back to Margaree Forks and rain is in the forecast for tomorrow. Hope it gets it all out of its system before the big week-end at St Anns!
Wednesday, 14 August — Whycocomagh
I awoke after 9h and left the motel a bit past 10h. Blue was showing in places and the sun was out, but grey clouds covered much of the sky. Had a great breakfast, including a fantastic turtle bar confection, at the Dancing Goat in Northeast Margaree, where James Young, a son of friends, a poet, and an avid hiker and outdoorsman, introduced himself to me with kind words about my web site; I had a wonderful conversation with him, taking him away from his work for way too long, but during which I got several questions answered.
I then drove out the Cabot Trail to Middle River, where the cloud cover was complete and was threatening rain. I turned onto the Middle River West Road and, for the first time, from it onto Snowmobile Trail 104 where it joins the road. Turned around just beyond the ballfield/playground, a short ways off the Middle River West Road, where the driving was too much for my Prius as giant puddles from last night’s rains straddled the eroded and rutted road; it needs a truck or a much higher slung vehicle than my car. I continued on the Middle River West Road and turned onto the Gairloch Mountain Road/Indian Brook Road for the first time, though it’s been on my to-do list for a few years. It’s a gravel road in excellent shape, much better than my memory recalled and showing signs of recent work. The Gairloch Mountain Road bears off to the left some ways in, over a wooden bridge, clearly the lesser travelled of the two roads; I continued on the fine gravel road which leads up to a ridge from which there are great views across open fields of the Middle River valley and the Cape Breton Highlands beyond, the best vantage point of the area I’ve discovered to date. I took no photos, but will certainly return for some on a better day. The GPS in the Prius shows Indian Brook Road continuing past where the fine gravel road ends, but the signage says the continuation is a private road, so I did not go on. I returned to the Middle River West Road, leaving the Gairloch Mountain Road for exploration on a better day, though I expect it will not prove drivable very far (Google maps shows that it runs generally west up onto the central plateau and eventually connects via unnamed north-running roads, likely logging roads, to Egypt Road there). I drove on to Wagmatcook and took the Trans-Canada Highway to Whycocomagh, where I’m staying the next two days.
I found grey skies there, with the sun doing its best to pierce through and providing some interesting back-lighting effects on Whycocomagh Bay as I passed by. Still tired, I had a good long nap. After dinner, I drove across the back country, where the clouds were scraping the tops of the mountains over Upper Glencoe and Bornish way, to Judique for tonight’s cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, featuring Doug Lamey on fiddle, Johnny MacDonald on piano, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar. There was a good crowd, but not a dancing one, as not a single square set was danced nor were there any takers for the step dance tunes. The music was excellent, with lots of older tunes I don’t often hear and some I don’t recall having heard before. Quite a few “Jerry tunes” were played. It was my first time hearing Johnny live, though I’d heard his playing on Doug’s CD. Sandy is still finding guitar playing painful following a mishap with a calf earlier this year, but sounded fine to me. My schedule called for me to go to Scotsville for the square dance after the cèilidh, but I fortunately learned at the Centre that those dances had stopped at the end of July and I therefore saved myself a needless drive there: I just returned to Whycocomagh as I came, encountering sprinkles and light rain on the way back. I did some Internet surfing after I got back to the motel; it will be early to bed tonight.
Thursday, 15 August — Whycocomagh
Je souhaite à tous mes amis acadiens une joyeuse fête nationale des Acadiens. Happy Acadian Day to all my Acadian friends.
I got up at 8h30; the skies were still mostly clouded over, but spots of blue were showing and the sun was shining. After breakfast and tending to some errands, the morning improved considerably and it started looking like a perfect day for photography, as it indeed turned out to be, with pure blue skies, very bright sun, and nearly hazeless air arriving by 10h30 (the only haze I saw all day was when looking across water to distant shores). Accordingly, I set off for Marble Mountain, with many stops for photos along the way; the stretch from the two bridges across River Denys at Valley Mills to Marble Mountain (part of the Bras d’Or Lakes Scenic Drive) is a beautiful drive with views to delight every eye. I continued on to West Bay and then turned onto West Bay Road leading to the community of that name and there onto Big Brook Road, where I sought out and eventually found Archway Falls (scroll past the top photo, which is not that of Archway Falls), so named because the brook that forms them flows beneath a railway trestle on top of a Roman arch. The referenced web page does not mention a small bridge that crosses Big Brook Road, which is how I eventually found the falls, as I did not see them driving past. There was not much water flowing and they were much less spectacular than in the web page’s photo (I noticed last night at Long John’s Bridge that the Southwest Mabou River was very low, too), but they are right close to the road, so no trek is necessary to see them; definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area. By the time I’d finished photos there, it was time to head to Baddeck for the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association’s meet-and-greet and BBQ at the Auld Farm Inn on Baddeck Bay, so I regretfully did not stop to photograph numerous fine views on the River Denys Road of the mountains to the east and to the south, which will have to wait for another time. Added a couple more roads I came across on this trip to my to-explore list.
The BBQ took place beyond the back of Baddeck Bay on a beautiful site. The barn offered welcome shade from the blazing sun and served as the performance area for the groups that wished to play; the Glengarry Fiddlers, the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, a group of fiddlers from Scotland, and the Ottawa Cape Breton Session all performed, as did a Russian fiddler very creditably playing in the Cape Breton style, said to have learned it by watching YouTube videos of Cape Breton players (he earned an encore set)! Betty Matheson asked me to circulate and take photos of the goings on, which I did; it was a good chance to meet and have a few words with lots of friends in the Association that I’ve made over the years. Thanks to the organizers who did a magnificent job cooking and seeing all were well fed.
I drove back to Whycocomagh and changed into better clothes. Then it was time to leave for Glencoe—night comes much earlier in late August, as it was already dark when I left at 21h. The night’s performers were Melody Cameron and Anita MacDonald on fiddles, Tyson Chen on piano, and Derrick Cameron on guitar. Anita and Melody alternated, one playing and one sitting out; there were no dual fiddles. Seven square sets were danced, with Glengarry fiddler Hannah Miller substituting for Melody on one of the square sets. Anita played for the step dance sequence, with Melody; Michelle Greenwell; three young ladies from Glengarry dancing together; and Beth MacGillivray showing us their steps. This was an excellent Glencoe dance, with avid dancers on the floor whenever there was music playing—no “dry” jig sets or “bashful” dancers waiting to be coaxed onto the floor tonight! The presence of a large contingent of young folks from Glengarry and another from Scotland certainly livened the evening up and helped fill the dance floor, but that wasn’t the whole story as there were twelve couples in the third figure of the final square set after those contingents had left. The music from both fiddlers was fine; I especially enjoyed the minor-key tunes Anita played during the sets. Tyson’s and Derrick’s accompaniments, once the sound got properly adjusted, were likewise excellent. It was a brisk night with some patches of fog and windshield condensation; the car’s thermometer registered +14 (57) when I arrived back in Whycocomagh.
Friday, 16 August — Margaree Forks
I got up at 8h30 and, after breakfast, drove back to Indian Brook Road in Middle River West for photos. Although the sky at 11h was nearly pure blue, today’s air wasn’t as good as yesterday’s and small amounts of haze somewhat spoiled the views of the Cape Breton Highlands and the Middle River valley from the ridge; I will have to try again on a clearer day, though the photos I got don’t look too bad on the camera’s monitor tonight—which is no guarantee that they will look good on a real computer screen, though.
Rather than continuing the photo shoot, I decided instead to explore Gairloch Mountain Road, which far surpassed my expectations: it proved drivable, though with a few dicey spots, all the way up to the top of the plateau and on the plateau a third of the way towards Lake Ainslie. I passed a NewPage sign at the junction labelled as “Gairloch Mtn North” by a small sign there; that road Google Maps shows as dead-ending on the plateau. I continued on Gairloch Mountain Road South (per Google Maps) and, at another junction, took the more travelled road, which headed east towards St Patricks Channel.¹ That road petered out ten minutes later, so I turned around at 46°06.800’N 61°00.116’W and, since I’d run out of time, retraced my steps back to the Middle River West Road, making much better time on the way down than on the way up and discovering some views of the Cape Breton Highlands in the distance at a few points during the descent (the photos I got show more haze than those from the Indian Brook Road, alas).
By the time I got down to the valley again, it felt humid and grey rain clouds loomed large overhead. I continued on to the MacLellans Cross Road, took it to the Cabot Trail, and soon turned onto the Yankee Line Road, where I stopped for photos at a few points—the haze was mostly absent on the south side of the Middle River valley, affording great views from the road of the plateau on which I’d just been travelling. I stopped for lunch and a sweet (two, actually) at the Herring Choker in Nyanza. I then stopped off at the Trailsman Motel in Nyanza and made reservations for a week from Saturday night, the closest place I could find to Christmas Island—it will still be a long drive late at night! (The Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Summer Games and Powwow happens that week-end in Waycobah and every hostelry in Whycocomagh is full up; Iona/Grand Narrows has no availability that night either due to the Christmas Island Féis, which ends with the dance I’m attending on Saturday.)
Then it was on to the Gaelic College for the Come Learn New Tunes session, which wasn’t the tune swapping encounter I’d envisioned, but instead a teaching workshop in which those present learned tunes composed by Kinnon Beaton, Leanne Aucoin, and Ian MacLeod (of Glengarry) for the 40th Anniversary commemoration. It was interesting to watch the very different techniques that Eddie (who taught Kinnon’s tune), Leanne, and Ian used to reach both those who learn tunes by ear and those who learn them from printed music; however they did it, the players sounded pretty good by the time I left at 17h. At St Anns, the sky was nearly pure blue once again, the air drier, and a lovely breeze was blowing.
I drove back to Margaree Forks, where I’m staying tonight, with a detour off the Cabot Trail at Exit 9 onto the Old Margaree Road, where I was aghast to find that the graceful green truss bridge dating from the 1800’s over the Baddeck River at Baddeck Bridge had been replaced by an ugly Bailey Bridge with double high railings (the road was closed and required a long detour last year, so I drove it but once then). It is so sad to see these beautiful old structures disappearing one by one…
In Middle River, the grey-tinged clouds were back again (if they’d ever left), but the air was drier, though the haze against the Highlands was still there. I stopped off for dinner at the Lakes Restaurant in the Lakes O’ Law where I had my favourite dish on their menu: called a “lobster salad”, it’s nothing like the diced lobster meat and mayonnaise concoction that name brings to my mind. Instead, it’s a full boiled lobster served straight out of the refrigerator stone cold on a bed of greens and garden vegetables with boiled eggs, potato salad, coleslaw, and a slice of dill gherkin in a unique and gorgeous presentation that’s almost too pretty to dig into. It was as delicious as always and I topped it off with a piece of homemade blueberry pie!
I got my motel room at Margaree Forks and freshened up for the dance; I then drove to Southwest Margaree for the square dance. I was delighted to discover that the lane markings had finally been painted on the resurfaced Highway 19—it was a long two months for anyone forced to drive it regularly at night or in poor weather! The music tonight was provided by Douglas Cameron on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard; fantastic music beautifully played by both all night long. Six square sets were danced—the dance was closed down at 0h43 by health regulations after the sewer was discovered backed up in the hall—and only Bhriegh MacDonald (whose name I learned the next day) answered the call for step dancers, even though the music continued well after she finished dancing. The hall wasn’t jam packed as it is at the peak of summer, which is clearly past, but all the tables were full and there were several standing at the height of the dance. And the dancers, as many as fifty on the floor at once, were happy dancing the night away with gusto. Fine dance!
Saturday, 17 August — Whycocomagh
I awoke some before 9h and found a lovely morning for photography with no haze. I drove to the Dancing Goat in Northeast Margaree for breakfast (the wonderful turtle bars, alas, were no longer on offer). The Highlands were rather hazy and clouds appeared in the skies further inland. I drove to Chéticamp via the East Margaree Road; I stopped at the look-off at the boundary between Terre-Noire and Cap-le-Moine and discovered considerable haze to the south over the water; it was possible to make out Margaree Island, but it was very indistinct. There was a strong breeze off the Gulf and it felt chilly and damp. I found the skies to the north nearly completely obscured with grey-lined clouds hanging not that far above the Highlands! I took Chéticamp Back Road and drove into the park and up French Mountain where the sun was breaking through the clouds, a bit higher off the ground than they appeared at a distance, but still low and very grey. I drove on to the top of MacKenzies Mountain, where the clouds were below the summits of the highlands bordering the Gulf north of Pleasant Bay and the haze was thick, giving a very veiled view of that spectacular coast. It was an amazing turn of events, given all the promise of a great photography day when I first looked out in Margaree Forks! So I took no photos today.
I returned as I came, stopping at several of the look-offs (an amazing collection of inuksuit was on display at the Pillar Rocks look-off), and drove into Chéticamp to the Doryman for the afternoon’s cèilidh, featuring Mike Hall on fiddle and Joël Chiasson on keyboard. Four square sets were danced, one with eight couples; three waltzes were danced; there was one twenty-minute spoons set with Gerry Deveau; and the step dancers were John Robert Gillis (twice), a gentleman whose name I don’t know, three ladies not very practiced in their steps (but at least they gave it a try), and Joe and Darlene MacIsaac. The music, of course, was fantastic all afternoon long. I reluctantly left at 18h, before the last square set had finished, and should have left earlier, as I underestimated rather badly the time required to drive from Chéticamp to St Anns, arriving after the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association took the stage to start the evening’s concert off at 19h.
That concert, emceed by Frank MacInnis, was held outdoors in the natural amphitheatre at the Gaelic College in the waning hours of the evening and well into the night under a nearly full moon. I took pictures as long as I was able, but as it grew dark, the stage lighting was insufficient to get decent shots of the performers, so I stopped (the stage was too far away for the flash to be effective). It grew cold and some black flies and mosquitos arrived for a meal, but were nothing bug spray couldn’t handle easily, though I eventually had to go to the car to fetch my jacket as a short-sleeved shirt proved too inadequate. In addition to the huge contingent of Association members who played two great-sounding sets each both at the start and at the end of the concert, the following groups also performed tonight:
the MacLeod Fiddlers from Glengarry accompanied by Ian MacLeod on keyboard wowed the audience with their fine sound
the Glengarry Fiddlers (a larger group including the MacLeod Fiddlers) gave us two very fine tune sets
the Ottawa Cape Breton Session likewise played two well-received tune sets
the Prince Edward Island Fiddlers played two tune sets.
Allison Mombourquette on fiddle with Leanne Aucoin on keyboard played a nice tune set
Leanne on fiddle accompanied by Harvey Beaton on keyboard and Jesse Lewis on guitar played for Drea Shepherd to step dance
Mckayla MacNeil on fiddle accompanied by Leanne on keyboard played a fine tune set
Leanne on fiddle, accompanied by Janet Cameron on keyboard and Jesse Lewis on guitar, played for Harvey Beaton, who gave us a great step dance
the Russian fiddler, Kirill Raskolenko whom I mentioned on Thursday, accompanied by Harvey on keyboard, played a super set on five-stringed fiddle, the first tune of which was a spectacular slow classical air with wonderful drones from the extra string and the rest of which were rollicking Cape Breton tunes, presumably played on four strings only
Leanne on fiddle accompanied by Jesse on guitar played for three young Highland dancers from the MacArthur School of Dance
Kyle MacDonald on fiddle (the 202nd and last fiddler to step on stage with the massed fiddlers at the Association’s 25th anniversary concert) accompanied by Harvey on keyboard gave us a nice long set
A very fine concert indeed!
A square dance followed in MacKinnon Hall; I stayed for two square sets (with two Glengarry fiddlers and Ian MacLeod on keyboard playing for the first one and Stan Chapman and Leanne playing for the second one) and then drove back to Whycocomagh where I arrived near 0h.
Tomorrow’s gala concert celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Glendale concert starts at 14h and will hopefully feature 300+ massed fiddlers; it will be the high point of the musical year for me. If you’re in Cape Breton, I hope you’ll come out and support the Association’s valuable work, which has revived traditional music in several communities all over the Island where it had either died out or was moribund. It’s a joy to see all the young fiddlers continuing in the tradition! But the Association also plays an important rôle in providing a venue for older fiddlers who don’t otherwise play outside the home to sharpen their skills and to share their music with others of all ages in a common musical community. They and all the volunteer work they contribute freely is what keeps that tradition moving forward. So, please support them if you can.
Sunday, 18 August — Whycocomagh
I got up before 9h and drove to Baddeck where I had my day’s only meal, as it worked out. Then, I continued on to the Gaelic College where I got set up for the afternoon concert. I attempt to get photos of each performance group1, so I need to be in a central location close to the stage. It was a lovely day with blue skies, hazeless air, bright and warm sun, and a nice cooling breeze—sunscreen mandatory!
Bob MacEachern of 101.5 The Hawk and Wendy Bergfelt of the CBC in Cape Breton alternated the emceeing duties, as has been the case since I have been attending these concerts. This is the list of the afternoon’s performers as I currently have it:²
Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association group number directed by Eddie Rogers and accompanied by Janet Cameron on keyboard
Michael MacMillan on solo bagpipes
Lisa Gallant-MacNeil step-dancing to the music of Brent Aucoin on fiddle accompanied by sister Leanne on keyboard and Jesse Lewis on guitar
Brian MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Lawrence Cameron on keyboard
Fred MacCrackin singing Irish songs accompanied by Janet Cameron on keyboard
Douglas Cameron on fiddle accompanied by his father, Lawrence, on keyboard
John Robert Gillis step-dancing to the music of Mike Hall on fiddle accompanied by Kolten MacDonell on keyboard
the Prince Edward Island Fiddlers in a group number directed by Kathryn Dau-Schmidt and accompanied by Marion Pirch on keyboard
Carol Ann MacDougall playing a tunes set on solo keyboard
a remembrance of the Association members who passed away the previous year with a prayer offered by Father Francis Cameron and a lament played by Stan Chapman on solo fiddle
the massed fiddlers (who numbered somewhere between 150 to 175), directed by Eddie Rogers and accompanied by Lawrence Cameron on keyboard, played two sets each beginning with commemorative tunes, one a jig composed by Kinnon Beaton and the other a march composed by Leanne Aucoin
Maureen Fraser step-dancing to the music of Rodney MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Leanne on keyboard and Jesse on guitar
Rodney on fiddle accompanied by Leanne on keyboard and Jesse on guitar
the Boularderie Lakeview Choir singing folk songs under the direction of Joella Foulds
the MacLeod Fiddlers from Glengarry directed and accompanied on keyboard by Ian MacLeod
Kirill (pronounced keyreel) Raskolenko (transliterated from the Cyrillic), the Russian fiddler (see his web site (in English) for more information [thanks, Marilyn Berry!]) accompanied by Kolten on keyboard played a Cape Breton tune set
Natalie DeCoste step-dancing to the music of Kirill on fiddle accompanied by Kolten on keyboard
Mckayla MacNeil on fiddle accompanied by Kolten on keyboard
Alexandria Samson on solo harp
Kinnon Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard
Rod C. MacNeil singing a Gaelic song in tribute to the late Joe Peter MacLean, who often played its melody on his fiddle
the Glengarry Fiddlers in a group number directed by Ian MacLeod and accompanied by Catherine Olive DeFreitas on keyboard
Ava Sturm step-dancing to the music of Mike Hall on fiddle and Kolten on keyboard
Brent Aucoin on fiddle accompanied by Mike Hall on keyboard and Paul MacDonald on guitar
Leanne step-dancing to the music of Brent Aucoin on fiddle accompanied by Mike on keyboard and Paul on guitar; Leanne was later joined first by Kay Handrahan and then by Betty Matheson, dancing as a twosome and then threesome
Margaret MacPherson singing to the accompaniment of Carol Ann MacDougall
Stan Chapman on fiddle accompanied by Susan MacLean on keyboard
the Boisdale Trio (Father Francis Cameron and Paul Wukitsch on fiddles accompanied by Janet Cameron on keyboard)
Alice Freeman singing unaccompanied a Gaelic song and then one in English
Olivier Broussard on fiddle accompanied by Janet
the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association in a group number directed by Eddie Rogers and accompanied by Gary Gallant on keyboard
Bill Cameron (of the Ottawa Cape Breton Session) singing
Mike Hall on fiddle accompanied by Kolten in a tune set
the original members of the Glengarry Strathspey and Reel Society in a group number accompanied by Catherine Olive DeFreitas on keyboard
Kyle MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Kolten on keyboard playing for a Scotch Four danced by Rodney MacDonald, Brandi McCarthy, Colin MacDonald, and Anita MacDonald (of Baddeck)
Lawrence Martell singing and yodelling to his own guitar accompaniment
the Ottawa Cape Breton Session in a group number accompanied by Ellen Katic on keyboard
Janelle Boudreau accompanied by her father James on guitar
Nicole Jamieson, Taylor Ranni, and Sarah MacDougall, three Highland dancers from the Kelly MacArthur School of Dance in two different Highland dances to the music of Leanne Aucoin on fiddle accompanied by Susan MacLean on keyboard and Jesse Lewis on guitar
Brad Reed on fiddle accompanied by Kolten on keyboard
Kyle MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by brother Colin on keyboard
Dawn and Margie Beaton on fiddles accompanied by Kolten in a waltz where the fiddles were arranged in two parts, followed by reels where the fiddles were in unison
Harvey MacKinnon step-dancing to the music of Dawn and Margie Beaton on fiddles and Kolten on keyboard
Melody Cameron on fiddle accompanied by Colin MacDonald on keyboard and Derrick Cameron on guitar in a tune set during which Dawn Beaton, Lawrence Cameron, Margie Beaton, Kyle MacDonald, Betty Matheson, Frank MacInnis, Leanne Aucoin, Kolten Macdonell, Stephanie MacDonald, and Harvey MacKinnon danced the third figure of an Inverness square set
the grand finale set by the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association directed by Eddie Rogers and accompanied by Lawrence Cameron, during which five people step danced, of whom I was able to identify only Ava Sturm and Melody Cameron.
The concert ended in the dark under a bright moon after 20h45. After reading that list of performers, you have to admit that it was some concert! The grand music and especially the massed fiddles of the various groups of players were a most fitting 40th anniversary commemoration and celebration of the 1973 Glendale concert indeed!
With the music still echoing in my ears, I drove back to Whycocomagh, where I’ll soon be off to bed. Magnificent day!
Monday, 19 August — Whycocomagh
I awoke for some reason at 7h and, a few minutes later, I got a phone call from one of my college roommates, who is in Sydney awaiting departure for Newfoundland tomorrow; we’ve both been trying to contact each other over the past couple of days—his Verizon phone wouldn’t ring my phone and my Telus phone wouldn’t ring his: we both ended up leaving messages in voicemail. I never set up voicemail for my Telus phone and, when I tried to access it, found it locked by a password I don’t know, so that was useless for communicating; e-mail wasn’t delivered to him, but I got his. Texting, we discovered, does work, but there’s often a long delay in delivery—the message I sent him at 21h last night wasn’t delivered until after 7h this morning. But somehow his call went through to me this morning as I lay abed thinking about the coming day. Anyhow, we agreed to meet in Baddeck at 11h; he and his friend are in Cape Breton as a result of curiosity aroused by reading my Facebook posts—they’re going to spend ten days in Newfoundland and then return to Cape Breton for another ten days.
After a lunch of lobster rolls at a newly opened café in Baddeck, we drove out to the Baddeck River valley, taking a side trip to the end of Big Farm Road, and stopping at one of the remaining lovely green truss bridges near Baddeck Forks. We drove into the Uisge Ban park; they are both older than I and have problems with any but level trails, but they were game to give it a try, with the option of turning around anytime they’d had enough. I was surprised that they kept on all the way to the falls, though the pace was very leisurely (finally, I found someone who hikes even slower than I do). Both retired science teachers at the Stuyvesant High School in New York City, an elite public school for gifted students, they enjoyed looking at the lichens, fungi, ferns, and other plants that line the mostly level trail, though a few stony spots gave my roommate’s knee some grief. The falls put on a fine display in spite of the low water levels and both adjudged the falls worth the effort of the walk. We then returned to Baddeck by Baddeck Bridge and had a fine dinner at the Telegraph House. They went on to the Baddeck Gathering Cèilidh and were to drive back to North Sydney for the morning ferry, while I returned to Whycocomagh and, after a brief rest, on to Brook Village for the dance.
And what a classic that was! For the first six square sets, Rodney MacDonald and Glenn Graham alternated on fiddle, accompanied by Howie MacDonald on keyboard and Colin MacDonald on guitar, with Rodney taking the first square set starting promptly at 21h35. Rodney played a waltz before starting the third square set. On the fifth and sixth square sets, Pius MacIsaac substituted for Colin. Howie on fiddle accompanied by Joey Beaton on keyboard and Colin on guitar played for the seventh square set. With Rodney and Glenn on dual fiddles, Howie back on keyboard, and Colin on guitar, the call for step dancers went out; those who answered that call were: John Robert Gillis; Anna MacDonald (of Baddeck); Brandi McCarthy; a young lady said to be from Prince Edward Island; three young ladies from the Sydney area; Gerard Beaton; Melanie Craig (from the Sydney area); and Mac Morin.¹ The eighth square set had the same musicians as the step dance sequence. The gentleman who collects the tickets said that there were 206 attendees. For sure, the floor was full for all but the first square set and that one had two groups of dancers with 17 couples in the third figure. They were all expert and avid dancers, shaking the building all night long as they danced to the superb music. It’s not a dance anyone there will soon forget!
When I made out my trip schedule, there was no Brook Village dance listed for next Monday, so I chose Getting Dark Again at the Louisbourg Playhouse instead; however, it now appears that there will be a Brook Village dance next Monday, so I’m altering my plans to be there instead. Brook Village dances are just too great to miss!
Tuesday, 20 August — Whycocomagh
I awoke late, after 10h15. While at breakfast, I got a Facebook message from Allan Dewar telling me that Ron Caplan, the publisher of Cape Breton Books, a fine series of books on Cape Breton and its culture, wanted to get in touch with me. After some missed phone calls, we finally managed to catch each other and talk: it seems as though he’s working with the author of a book on Celtic Colours and he wanted to know if I would grant him permission to use parts of a review of Celtic Colours I posted to the now defunct cbmusic mailing list after returning home in 2005,¹ should it fit into the author’s text (still being written), which I was happy to allow him to do.²
Then I headed to Mabou to tend to some errands and to Rocky Ridge to visit friends and catch up on their recent travels.
I made reservations at Port Hood for the days I plan on being there and then drove to Baddeck, where I had dinner at the Baddeck Lobster Supper establishment on Ross Street. This was my first time there—I’ve seen their signs over many years, but it was only last year that I finally figured out where they were located, well off the main drag. They have only a very limited menu, for which one pays in advance. I initially thought the asking price of $33 for a one-pound lobster dinner was too high, but it comes with all the chowder (milky, rather than creamy, but very tasty) and mussels (excellent and I went for a half helping after the first full helping) and dessert (the lemon meringue pie, of which I had two pieces, was a perfect blend of tart and sweet) you can eat plus beverage and potato salad, cole slaw, and garden salad, along with the lobster, so adding all that up made the price downright modest. Excellent meal and prompt service—definitely recommended.
Then I went on to the Baddeck Gathering Cèilidh, tonight featuring Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar, two of the very finest musicians in Cape Breton. Nancy MacLean runs these cèilidhs in July and August and, after a break around Labour Day, during much of September; see her web site for the schedule and artists (the September schedule isn’t there as of tonight). These cèilidhs are very much tourist-oriented and provide many visitors to Cape Breton with a fine introduction to Scottish traditional music and dance. But, while that may sound somewhat shallow to those already acquainted with the subject, I have to say that I’ve learned something new every time I have attended one. Nancy, a true ambassadress of Scottish traditional music, is to be commended on her fine work in sharing and spreading the culture of Cape Breton. Shelly is a wonderful teacher and got across a lot of information in a memorable way in a short time: her brief lesson on step dancing, done without music, was a classic example of what I mean, entertaining but very instructive as well, making her points both visually and aurally. Her short Gaelic lesson added a few more words and phases to my nearly non-existent repertoire. And the music the two made was to die for! I can never get enough of their fine playing and often rollicking music; John Morris Rankin’s The Last March was perfectly played and especially moving. A young lad from Ontario showed off Allan’s incredible skills as well; a fiddler and a composer, he was invited to play and started off with a composition he’d made that Allan had never heard before. Allan nevertheless found a very fine accompaniment for the piece (kinda sorta Scottish traditional, but not really) on the fly without having any idea other than musical constraints of where it was going (and it sure wasn’t obvious to me as I was listening). My jaw just dropped… Another in the very fine series of cèilidhs I’ve attended over the years—highly recommended.
I drove back to Whycocomagh and did some reading; there’s no square dance tonight, so I will retire relatively early.
Wednesday, 21 August — Port Hood
Up at 8h30, I packed up, as I’m decamping to Port Hood for the next couple of days. The skies were mostly occluded, with only a few blue spots that gave hope that the afternoon’s forecast for sunny skies was plausible. The southern section of the West Lake Ainslie Road has been newly resurfaced since last I took it, as I discovered when I drove to the new Dancing Goat in Inverness for breakfast, which I was surprised to see shown on the blackboard as coming soon. So, I ordered a salad and a chicken almond sandwich instead, both of which were delicious, and a pecan/caramel iced brownie bar, which was positively sinful.
I then drove to the Deepdale Road crossing of the Railway Trail and hiked south to Kenloch, stopping in the churchyard to rest and take some photos. I continued beyond to the West Lake Ainslie Road, for a trek from well north of kilometre marker 85 south to kilometre marker 80, probably a 11.5 km (7.1 mi) round trip. The sun did indeed come out and made its presence felt. Just south of kilometre marker 85, two short side trails lead to fields with open views of the Cape Mabou Highlands behind Strathlorne; I didn’t stop on the way south, but did returning and unfortunately found the sun directly in front of my camera—not that it mattered much as somewhat thick haze greatly softened their contours anyway. This year, at kilometre marker 82, an easy short walk from the Kenloch churchyard, two park benches and two picnic tables have been placed in a new small trailside park with an interpretive panel describing Strathlorne Station at the head of Kenloch, the northwestern prolongation of Lake Ainslie, with nice views of the lake and the adjacent mountains; it is so new, no grass has yet had a chance to sprout in the park’s recently spread dirt. Further towards West Lake Ainslie Road, I was greeted by a cacophonous symphony of cries from eagles, gulls, and crows, punctuated occasionally by deep croaks from something that might have been a heron or a bullfrog. I’ve no idea what all the ruckus was about, but it was loud! On the south side of the West Lake Ainslie Road, new fine gravel has been laid on the trail, which hasn’t yet been as well packed down as the section I hiked on today. It is lovely to see the ongoing maintenance and development of this fine trail system. Kudos to the volunteers whose hard work and dedication have made it one of the finest on the Island. It took me five and a half hours to do this popular trail segment: during that time, I encountered six ATV’s (one built like a jeep, but not as wide), two motor scooters, nine bikers, and one other hiker, more than I’ve seen on any other segment of this trail system ever. I’m delighted to see that it’s becoming better known.
Once I got back to the car, I drove to Port Hood, got cleaned up, and headed for the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique for the Wednesday night cèilidh, tonight with Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on piano. Two better examples of Stan Chapman’s living legacy cannot be found. Two hours of lovely music beautifully played enchanted the full house; if you missed tonight’s session, come on out to Glencoe Mills tomorrow night where they are playing again. There’s no dance again tonight, so ’twill be early to bed—I’m sure I’ll sleep especially well!
Thursday, 22 August — Port Hood
I got up a bit before 9h on a beautiful warm, sunny, hazy day that had beach day written all over it, even though it was not temperature-wise all that hot, +24 (75) according to my car’s thermometer. After breakfast, I drove down the Shore Road and on to Baxters Cove, where I parked beside the new Railway Trail kiosk I’d discovered on my first trip—another of the continuing improvements being made to this fine trail system. A strong cool breeze was blowing in off St Georges Bay, but it still felt hot in the burning sun. After digesting my breakfast in the shade of the kiosk, enjoying the sound of the surf crashing onto the nearby sandy beach, I finally summoned up enough will and energy to head south towards Walkers Cove. I gt there at 12h25 at a very leisurely place—forty minutes for a distance of 1.5 km (0.9 mi) or thereabouts—my body was just not into it today, and this was all flat hiking. At Walkers Cove, I discovered a new picnic table overlooking the coast below and Long Point at the left and a much enlarged parking area, more welcome signs of continued trail enhancement. I spent a pleasant 45 minutes in the shade of a tree watching the surf and just enjoying the peace and beauty of the place. I could see the mountains on the south side of St Georges Bay through the haze, but it was too thick to make out any land on the far side of the Bay. When I thought about continuing on to kilometre marker 21, which I had reached on my earlier trip this year, my body flatly said NO! So, I sat a while longer and then started back to the car; I’ll have to hike from Walkers Cove back to kilometre marker 21 another day. Three bikers passed me on the trail, a motor scooter, and six ATV’s travelling as a group, likely headed for a beach party off the trail.
When I got back to the car, I drove back to Port Hood and discovered the ice cream barn had just run out of maple walnut (again!) with more coming “soon”. So I had some “butter almond chill” instead—very tasty on a hot day, but definitely not the maple walnut I craved. I then got cleaned up and took a long nap.
I drove to Mabou for dinner at the Mull: delicious as always. As I was savouring the apple crisp over (black) tea at the end of the meal, I happened to glance at today’s events on my iPhone’s calendar and noted with dismay that the Creignish jam session was on for tonight, which had completely slipped my mind. I therefore quickly finished my tea and drove to Creignish (via Mabou Road), arriving nearly an hour into the session. I had a good chat with a friend of mine who was also there. I left the session before it had ended in order to get to Glencoe on time.
Wendy MacIsaac was on fiddle for most of the evening, with Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboard, but they switched places and instruments for the third and fourth square sets. There were few people in the hall when the music started at 22h03, so, after playing a “dry” jig set, Wendy played a march/strathspeys/reels set, after which there were enough dancers to fill out a square set (4 couples in the first figure, 5 in the second figure, and 7 in the third figure). The square sets proceeded apace thereafter, but at most 11 couples were on the floor in two groups during the evening, so the dance wasn’t the complete success it was last week. Wendy played one waltz; there was no step dance sequence. By 0h30, the jig set got no takers—most of the 15 or so left in the hall weren’t dancers—so Wendy played a final set of tunes and the dance ended early. Compared to some of the early dances on my first trip this year, I’d count this one a qualified success, but I doubt that the organizers broke even. Great music though from both musicians and an especial treat to hear Jackie on fiddle!
Friday, 23 August — Margaree Forks
I got up at 8h30 to a classic Cape Breton grey day, with skies completely obscured by dark grey clouds; it was cool (+19 (66)) and damp to boot. After a large breakfast (fish cakes, bacon, eggs, two large slices of multi-grain toast, and orange juice), I drove out the Colindale Road, noticeably washboarded in spite of some recently laid gravel, to the guardrails with its awesome views of Cape Mabou. I sat watching the beautiful coast and highlands, shrouded in haze though it was, for a half hour or more. The sun tried to pierce through and succeeded in brightening a couple of locations on Green Point, but that was very transient and it gradually got even darker than it had been; soon, I noticed the coast slowly began disappearing right before my eyes. First, Fair Alistair vanished, then Finlay Point, then the mountain above Beaton Point, then Mabou Harbour Mountain and Green Point itself; soon the cause, a light rain, was falling in Colindale too.
I drove on to the Railway Trail kiosk in West Mabou, where rain/mist/fog hid the gorgeous views of Cape Mabou above the Mabou River that one normally has there, leaving only a greyish-white sheet reaching from just above the river to the heavens above.
This clearly was a day for visiting friends, so I accepted a long-standing invitation from Frank MacInnis, one of the founders of the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, in Creignish to drop in for some conversation and reminiscences. As I drove south, the rain began falling in earnest; much needed, I was in no way inclined to begrudge it, especially after the great weather for the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association festival last Sunday and the promised sun for this Sunday’s concert at Louisbourg. We talked a while, had tea, and then I got a tour by car of Crandall Road on the northern outskirts of Port Hawkesbury and of Rhodena Road, where Frank’s father lived, and of a side road off Rhodena Road where his grandfather lived; his memories of open hayfields and productive farms is in stark contrast to these lands today, where trees and brush have obliterated all the hard work of the pioneers who cleared and farmed the lands where they made their new homes. I’d not previously been on any of these roads and discovered some fine views to which I want to return on a much better day.
The rain had pretty much let up along the Trans-Canada Highway, but was still falling lightly along Highway 19 as I returned north; I had regretfully declined Frank and Mary’s most kind invitation to join them and sister Kate for supper, as I needed to get to Margaree Forks to get my motel room key before dark. The rain petered out north of Judique; fog streamers still ran down the upper portion of Cape Mabou, which was scraping the heavy clouds above; sun was breaking through the clouds at Inverness; but the skies remained resolutely grey, though thinner and less ominous at Margaree Forks. By the time I finished a special-order dinner at the Belle-View (a haddock dinner with the haddock replaced with bacon-wrapped scallops), the temperature had dropped to +16 (61), the air was significantly drier, though haze still obscured distant views, and the sun was below the clouds in the west.
It was soon time to head out for the dance at Southwest Margaree, which was well-attended, though many of the dancers were from away. Mike Hall on fiddle and Kolten MacDonell on keyboard provided the evening’s marvellous music and the dancers, many younger folk, were enthusiastic if sometimes not too sure of the figures. Only four couples danced the first square set; the other five square sets had many more couples, with 25 couples dancing the third figure of the fourth square set. One waltz was danced; the step dance sequence attracted several folks to share their steps; the only one I knew was Carmen MacArthur. A couple of obnoxious raucous people yelled loudly from the sidelines later in the evening, but not enough to spoil the music. All in all, a fine dance. Some stars were out on the trip back to the motel, offering a promise of better weather tomorrow.
Saturday, 24 August — Nyanza¹
Strong sunlight awoke me somewhat before 9h this morning. When I got up and looked out the window, it wasn’t the pure blue sky the bright light had led me to surmise, but one nearly covered with huge white grey-tinged cumulus clouds being pushed hither and yon by strong winds, allowing the sun to break through the openings between them. Yesterday’s storm, alas, did not clear the haze nor the humidity; it remained cool +18 (64) and a bit damp. I drove to the beach at Belle-Côte and watched the heavy surf come smashing ashore; while there, I snapped a few photos and had as breakfast some delicious goodies Frank and Mary sent along with me yesterday. The skies over the Gulf were considerably clearer than those inland and the Gulf was a very navy blue.
I decided to drive out to the lighthouse on photogenic Pointe Enragée on Chéticamp Island (no longer an island, but it still goes by that designation), which I hadn’t visited in a while. Those of you who haven’t made this drive are in for a real treat: on a clear day, it’s the best spot I know of from which to survey the Cape Breton Highlands along this coast, laid out in a continuous chain from Red Head (north of the Skyline Trail) to the mountains south of the mouth of the Margaree River (if, after returning from the lighthouse, you drive out to La Pointe and take a short walk out to the end of the road—it’s not car-drivable—you’ll be rewarded with views of Margaree Island and Sight Point on Cape Mabou as well). As you proceed towards the lighthouse, you will discover Chéticamp village laid out along the harbour on the narrow littoral below the Highlands. Given the haze at Belle-Côte, I wasn’t expecting to take many photos today, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover little to no haze north and east of Chéticamp, so I ended up taking a bunch. This year, the road through the community pastures beyond the animal barrier is potholed and rutted for the short stretch until it climbs up on top of the island, but is easily passible—just go slowly. It’s a gorgeous place to spend a few hours ogling the magnificent views!
After leaving Chéticamp Island, I drove out Redman Road to Chéticamp Back Road to the Cabot Trail and intended to drive out to the end of Chemin Lapointe in Petit-Étang, but discovered construction with a flagman a short ways down the road, so turned around and drove to the Doryman, arriving at 13h15, where I was surprised to find nearly every table taken (it’s usually nearly empty at that time, even in high summer)—I was told there were two different large birthday parties in progress. So, I ended up way at the back, not so good for photos, but with good sound at least (the sound tech guy there is a wizard). Rodney MacDonald and Glenn Graham on dual fiddles, Joël Chiasson on keyboard, and Patrick Gillis on guitar started the cèilidh off in fine style with a great blast o’ tunes. They continued in that configuration all afternoon long, except that Rodney, Glenn, and Joël (!) each left the stage to step dance during one set and that Pat left the stage a couple of times, once when Gerry Deveau played his spoons. Four square sets and three waltzes were danced during the afternoon; numerous folks took the floor to step dance, most of whom I don’t know by name. One dancer I’ve seen at the Doryman many times in the past and knew as Hillary of New Waterford finally got a full name: he’s Hillary Romard, an avid and able step dancer, who is on the floor dancing square sets and step dancing at every opportunity and was on the floor during the initial tune set today. What fine music all afternoon long! It was simply a joy to hear the tunes so beautifully and powerfully played; the accompanists, both masters of their instruments, added that something special that is so characteristic of each and so delights me to hear against (really with, not against) the fiddle. When the afternoon ended, the Doryman erupted with a richly deserved standing ovation. Incredible afternoon!
Then I drove to Nyanza, where I got my motel room for the evening; the morning’s haze in the south had been replaced with far crisper air, but the white clouds remained in place; I’d have stopped for photos, but the light wasn’t right. Once at Nyanza, I continued on across the Little Narrows Ferry and the Grand Narrows Bridge to Christmas Island, arriving well before the start of the dance at 21h with Marc Boudreau on fiddle and Mary Elizabeth MacMaster MacInnis on a real piano (Mary Elizabeth said it is the same kind as the one she grew up playing at home and found it a delight to play). The square set figures used the Iona set according to Rodney Chaisson, Director of the Highland Village Museum, who said they are similar to the Sydney set figures; I have seen the Sydney set figures only once and my memory of them is hazy, so I can’t say what, if any, differences there are, except that in Sydney the rule of four couples to a group was strictly enforced, whereas last night four, five, and six couples formed groups. Both are danced to a jig set and two reel sets and neither has the quadrille that features so prominently in the Inverness set. Late in the evening, some of the younger folk danced other figures, including the basket figure seen in the Boston set. About 55 people were present in the hall at the height of the evening, but the crowd was less than half that by 23h15. A few children were present, but only two danced and then only a couple of sets. The rest of the attendees were about evenly divided between young adults and the “mature” ones, but both danced in equal numbers. The only time there was any difficulty getting dancers on the floor was around midnight, when Anita MacDonald, who ably relieved Marc a couple of times on fiddle, played a dry jig set, but played another jig set immediately afterwards that brought couples back to the floor. However, there were never more than ten couples (in two groups) on the floor at once. Father Francis Cameron danced up a storm and the young adults were vigorous and lively dancers on the floor in just about every square set. Marc played a minor-key waltz and the strathspeys attracted four step dancers, of whom Anita was the only one I recognized. Eight square sets were danced while I was there; at 0h25, there were fifteen people in the hall, including the dancers; the dance was to run until 1h and I was already exhausted and still had a longish way to go on roads I rarely drive at night ahead of me, so I left then—I imagine another square set or two was danced to end the night. I was very sorry to miss the rest of the evening’s music, as Marc’s fiery playing and Mary Elizabeth’s fine. accompaniments were superb, but it was go then or spend the night in the car.
Highway 223 had along much of its length, I discovered, a very faded centre line and very hard to make out white lines, until I reached the outskirts of Little Narrows, where the road had been newly painted (and resurfaced). And I met nearly twenty vehicles coming at me with their very bright lights—more cars than I ever remember seeing during the day! So it was a tense and tiring drive back to the motel, but I made it OK. Exhausted indeed, but very satisfied with a fantastic day.
Sunday, 25 August — Louisbourg
It was much too short a night: awoke, still tired, at 8h30 to a lovely morning with clear air and a nearly pure blue sky. Walked over to the next building and ate breakfast, which revived me somewhat. Then drove to Louisbourg where, to my surprise, I found a motel room available for tonight; booked it and made reservations for 2-3 September, when I will return for a couple of days in Louisbourg.
By the time I reached Louisbourg, the skies had lots of wind-swept thin white clouds, but it remained a lovely day. Then I drove out to the Fortress for this afternoon’s concert featuring the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association with Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy. The concert was held in the street adjacent to the water at the Fortress with a small canopied stage for the artists. I was glad I had left my long-sleeved shirt on, as a cool breeze was blowing in off the harbour—a perfect day for an outdoor concert. By the time I got there an hour and a half before the start of the three-hour concert, most of the prime photo spots had already been claimed, but I found a fairly decent spot and plopped my three-legged stool down there and sat until the concert started.
The first hour of the concert was a mini version of St Anns, emceed by Frank MacInnis, with the massed fiddlers starting off with two sets of tunes. Leanne Aucoin on fiddle accompanied by Susan MacLean on keyboard then played for three Highland dancers from the Kelly MacArthur School of Dance. Dawn and Margie Beaton on dual fiddles accompanied by Lawrence Cameron on keyboard then gave us a fine blast o’ tunes. A group of fiddlers, now known as the Feisty Fiddlers, played next. Lawrence Martell on fiddle accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard played another tune set. Leanne and Susan then played for two step dancers from the Kelly MacArthur School of Dance. Janelle Boudreau accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard and James Boudreau on guitar played a tune set. Finally, the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association closed out their concert with another group number.
The rest of the concert was turned over to Natalie and Donnell on fiddles, who were accompanied by Mac Morin on keyboard and Eric Breton on percussion. Much of their concert was what I saw when they toured the States (most recently, I attended one of their concerts in Morristown (NJ) this spring, but have been to others over the years), band sound and showy pieces, entertainment for a “sophisticated” audience with an authentic Cape Breton set thrown in as a sop to those who know what the music actually sounds like there. Natalie is an astute businesswoman and I don’t question her judgement of what does and doesn’t sell outside Cape Breton, but I always come away from her shows sad that she offers so little of the real thing, especially as she plays it so well. I was a bit surprised that even in Cape Breton, her music was as overblown as in the States, but the audience today seemed to love it, clapping along with great gusto (a clue in itself as to their tastes—when the clappers in the audience start going, even if encouraged by the artists, I’m always reminded of a Gaelic proverb about the practice that David Gillis shared with me—its English translation is unprintable here). Still, there was a great true Cape Breton set with Mac today, starting with a lovely J Scott Skinner slow air, gorgeously played, followed by a good helping of strathspeys and reels that brought joy to my heart; other moments of the pure stuff did appear as well, but those sets went off the rails with noisy drums or wild stuff outside the tradition, at least as I understand it. Mac and Natalie both step danced, each playing for the other, and then together as Donnell supplied the fiddle music. Two of the children, Michael and Mary Frances,¹ played fiddle accompanied by Mac and their two younger sisters step danced with them. Natalie and Mac played for the third figure of a square set prompted by Burton MacIntyre (prompting is almost a necessity when the dancers are drawn from all over the Island, given the very different local square set figures). Natalie and Donnell joined the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association for the concert finale in a closing group number. Great performances by the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association and by the others too, even if I was unappreciative of much of their music.
Since access to the Fortress is by bus, of which only five were in service, it took a very long time to get back to the Visitors’ Centre, where my car was parked. I used some of the time I’d have been standing in queue to grab some photos of the Fortress grounds, but was still well over an hour and a half in line before getting picked up by a bus.
Once I got back to the village, there was no space at any of the four restaurants (one of which was closed), so I grabbed an ice cream cone from the convenience store to assuage my hunger (I hadn’t eaten since breakfast) and went back to my motel room. Eventually I called and got a 19h45 reservation at the Grubstake, where I had a good dinner (with wine since it’s just down the street from the motel and I walked). By the time I finished dinner, this had been mostly written. I’m now off to bed to try to recover some of the sleep I lost last night. Great day, though!
Monday, 26 August — Port Hood¹
I had a very good might’s sleep and awoke refreshed a bit after 9h. I was stunned to discover pure blue skies, a very rare occurrence in my experience of the Louisbourg area, though the lady at the motel desk said that many of the days there this summer since Canada Day had been very fine.
I had breakfast at the motel and then drove out the Kennington Cove Road to Fresh Water Brook, roughly half way to Kennington Cove, where the Simon Point trail head is found. This trail is an easy fifteen minute hike through Atlantic coastal terrain, boggy in spots and forested otherwise, to the coast. The trail is mostly flat with some very easy up and down; protruding small boulders and tree roots occasionally require high stepping, but boardwalks get you across all the boggy spots with dry feet. The trail crosses an arched wooden bridge over a brook (I think it’s Fresh Water Brook, but am not positive—The Nova Scotia Atlas doesn’t show Fresh Water Brook by name) that empties into the ocean a short distance away, climbs up and over a grass-covered coastal cliff perhaps 10 metres/yards high, and comes down to its end on the rocky shore. From the cliff, one has very fine views of the coast from Cape Gabarus to the entrance to Louisbourg Harbour, with partial views of Gabarus Bay. I had previously been there on a much more typical “grey day” and had been waiting for a good day to return for photos. This was certainly that! I twice saw an eagle, the same one both times I believe, but was unable to get a picture of it, once because the camera refused to focus against the sky and the second time because it was in its carrying case. I would have loved to stay there longer, but needed to move on, so reluctantly returned back to the car. It’s a lovely short hike I recommend to anyone who does not have knee trouble.
On the way back to Louisbourg, I took note of some fine views of the coastal terrain, both bogs and forest, from the Kennington Cove Road I’d not previously picked up on—the high bushes at the side of the road hide many of the views from the road, but there are occasional breaks if one looks for them. I had a quick lunch in Louisbourg and then drove out what I thought led to the Terra Nova Road, but took a wrong turn and ended up on what my car’s GPS calls the Louisbourg Bypass Road; it comes back on Highway 22 just outside the village. Drove on to the New Boston Road in Catalone and took it to the Devils Hill Road, which I first visited last fall, as described here. The pure blue skies persisted overhead, spoiled only by a couple of jet contrails, but puffy white clouds were now visible to the north and west. This spot was on my list because I had hoped to reshoot the views from the hill on a better day, but I don’t think the pictures I got today are all that much better than those in the referenced page. I also was unable to find the vantage point from which I then shot the view of Catalone Lake (#5 on that page), though I did get some shots of it from a different perspective. I didn’t bother going down to the base of the falls, seen here, as there was no sound of water emanating from the brook (last autumn, I heard a great roar five minutes before reaching the brook) and, when I reached the brook today, found only a trickle of water flowing in it—it has been a very dry past two months!
When I got back to the car, I drove on to Albert Bridge, where I got gas and, hungry from climbing the hill, another sandwich. I drove the newly redone Trout Brook Road and explored the Big Hill Road off it; it’s not in the best of shape, but is drivable with care, at least to the top of the big hill from which I assume it gets its name. I turned around when it started to descend in some very sharp S curves, as it was obvious that it provided no open places from which to view the area from above that I had hoped to find.
By now, the blue skies were being seriously encroached upon. I drove on to the Gabarus Highway in Marion Bridge and turned south. I then drove to Gabarus, stopping in Big Ridge for views of the mountains on the west side of the Mira River; the cobblestone beach at Gabarus was as impressive as ever and I enjoyed watching the surf crash onto the beach, taking more shots of the waves from the palisade walk than I should have. I continued on south past Gabarus Lake, Belfry Beach, Fourchu, Framboise, St-Esprit, L’Archevêque, and Grand River, all places well worth stopping at or in the vicinity (Morrisons Beach and Red Cape in the Framboise area are both spectacular places to visit) to Lower L’Ardoise, where I stopped to purchase my ticket to the Sounds by the Sea afternoon of entertainment and lobster dinner on the Tuesday of Celtic Colours. Sadly, there were now so many clouds that there was little point in stopping for photos along this beautiful and little travelled route, a portion of the Fleur-de-Lis Trail—I saw only six other vehicles during the entire trip from Gabarus to Lower L’Ardoise. (No cell phone service over there, either!)
I then drove into St Peter’s, where I had dinner at Louie’s Cosy Corner—excellent seafood chowder there, creamy and full of seafood. The skies were now completely occluded and many of the clouds had a grey edge portending rain; the beautiful day of this morning was gone! Worse, haze and humidity reäppeared as I reached the Strait area, Cape George was hardly visible through the muck, and rain sprinkles appeared on my windshield as I neared Port Hood.
After a shower and a change of clothes, it was off to Brook Village for the dance with Mike Hall on fiddle and Kolten MacDonell on keyboard. Nine square sets were danced and, as always at Brook Village, the dancers were avid, enthusiastic, and numerous. Not quite packed, but full enough that little room remained at the height of the dance. I couldn’t count all the couples dancing, but, on my side of the hall, I watched 17 couples parade by in the third figure of the fourth and eighth square sets. Great music, of course, and lots of my favourite tunes in the mix. Jennifer Bowman spelled Mike for the seventh square set; Kolten got no relief. Several dancers answered the call for step dancers; those whose names I knew are Annemarie Barry, Harvey MacKinnon, Stephanie MacDonald, and Burton MacIntyre. I thought the dance was over when the eighth square set ended about 0h50, but Mike played a ninth, which ended at 1h08. Another fine evening of music and dance!
Light rain was falling as I left Brook Village, but it stopped before I got to Mabou and Highway 19 was dry back to Port Hood. Too tired from the day’s exertions and long drive to finish up this post, I fell into bed and was instantly asleep.
Tuesday, 27 August — Meat Cove
Not much rain, if any, fell overnight, but the clouds hadn’t gone anywhere, looming over Port Hood while the air felt like rain. I drove across the Alpine Ridge Road, which showed signs of fairly recent work, to the Whycocomagh Road and it into Whycocomagh; met nary a car. I drove to Englishtown, took the ferry, and continued straight on to Meat Cove, not stopping anywhere along the way (only Ingonish displayed any sun and blue skies, and not a lot of either), as the afternoon forecast for Meat Cove called for mixed clouds and sun, the best of the next three days. I stopped at the Coöp in St Margaret Village to pick up some fruit, where my host, Hector Hines, was picking up supplies for an afternoon of work, and drove on to Meat Cove, where the skies were dark grey with clouds reaching below the summit of the mountains west of the village. As usual, the forecast, at least for today proved a snare and a delusion, giving hope that it will also be wrong for tomorrow and Thursday too.
Since I hadn’t eaten breakfast this morning, I drove down to the restaurant in the village and had a nice welcome from Derek. As I was deciding what to order, who should walk in but Kate Macmillan, who greeted me as I was talking with Derek; travelling with three other ladies, two of whom had walked down the boardwalk to the beach, they were out for a look at the top of the Island, though, if it were me, I’d have waited for a better day. I joined the ladies and they ordered dinner (my order had already been put in). When we had all finished, they left for parts south and I drove to the end of the road; it was way too grey for pictures, so I drove back up the hill to the lodge and worked on the post for yesterday.
The Halifax couple staying here tonight arrived some time later; they went down to the village and also walked the boardwalk. There was no change in the weather—heavy grey clouds scraping the summits of the Highlands—but, by the time night fell, a warm breeze was blowing from the south. Hector came up and we four had a good visit. A cruise ship, its lights all aglow, sailed past as Hector was leaving, a ghostly presence gliding across the waters. I have no idea what kind of weather tomorrow will bring, but I will be perfectly happy whatever it is in this beautiful, peaceful, and quiet place.
Wednesday, 28 August — Meat Cove
I got up this morning at 6h30 after a fine night’s sleep and had breakfast in the lodge’s kitchen and then sat around watching the weather, which was a typical “grey day”, though some blue sky broke through the clouds and every now and again the sun would pour through one of those breaks for a few seconds only to disappear once again.
The boat trip that had been under consideration was abandoned because the pictures wouldn’t have been worth the candle. Instead, Hector proposed taking me with him and a couple of friends up Tenerife Mountain, where they are preparing staging camps for the upcoming moose hunt (among his many talents, Hector is also a guide). Accordingly, at the middle of the afternoon, I found myself standing on a ridge on the barrens of North Mountain, a place I never thought I’d ever be (see this bright winter view of what I saw today under very grey skies). In the poor lighting, I could still make out MacEacherns Lake southwest of Capstick and the rough course of the Salmon River whose mouth is east of Capstick. Cape North was visible but most of the massif was covered by clouds. I hiked for three hours slowly back to where Hector was working, enjoying the occasional views that popped up after descending from the ridge and learning first hand about the terrain and the vegetation of this portion of the Cape Breton Highlands plateau. I was surprised to learn that fairly well-defined trails remain in this area; this is land where vegetation has a hard time surviving and prospering (many of the trees are stunted and leafless branches on barely living trees are seen everywhere, though ferns and grasses do fairly well) and tracks from the years before this was a protected wilderness area can still be readily made out, even though they often pass through grass- and fern-covered stretches). Like everywhere else in Cape Breton this summer, the land was parched dry—boggy spots were hard earth. Even though I very much doubt that the pictures I took will be very good, I learned a lot and am much indebted to Hector for allowing me to tag along. It is an experience I’ll not soon forget!
Once down off the mountain, I drove to the country market in Cape North Village for dinner supplies (the Meat Cove Restaurant was presumably closed as they didn’t answer the phone), drove back to Meat Cove, made and ate dinner at the lodge, and answered e-mails. Two young ladies are the other guests at the lodge tonight. Hector dropped in and answered a lot of their questions and we talked some more about today’s adventure. He has an early morning dentist appointment in Baddeck to, he hopes, get a tooth that’s been bothering him for far too long pulled and then he and his wife are going shopping for their two daughters for school opening next week, so he’ll be away tomorrow. Rain fell tonight and more is in the forecast for tomorrow and Friday, so I’ll likely not get much more hiking or photography in while I’m here. It will be a good opportunity to get well-rested.
Thursday, 29 August — Meat Cove
A grey ☁ day™ in spades! I awoke at 9h and went down to the restaurant for breakfast. A light mist/rain was falling, barely enough to wet the road; it was cool (+14 (57)) and a strong breeze made the damp air feel downright chilly—definitely jacket weather. After breakfast, I came back up to the lodge, watched the heavy wind-driven surf breaking onto the rocks off Blackrock Point from the kitchen window, and relaxed with a couple of mugs of hot green tea as I read the Oran (I have an Internet subscription, which allows me to download the issues to my iPhone and read them there). The rain picked up and became steady, though still light, lasting all afternoon and on into the evening.
I napped and read, getting well rested. About 15h, the skies brightened and I could see the orb of the sun behind the clouds, but the rain continued and the brightness was soon gone. I went down to the restaurant for dinner, but found it closed, so I drove to Cape North Village, where I ate at Angie’s, a good family restaurant. The Meat Cove road up out of the village was a tad “greasy” from the rain, but no real problem.
I got back before dark and found the lodge full up tonight; two ladies from Alberta, two ladies from the States, and a couple from Massachusetts. Hector, minus his painful tooth and tired from a day of shopping, arrived and had a good chat with all here. Rain is in the forecast tomorrow, which, for once, I believe, so the Cabot Trail drive to Margaree Forks for the dance at Southwest Margaree tomorrow night isn’t going to offer much in the way of photographic opportunities. But the rain is so desperately needed, it would be churlish to inveigh against it. Off to bed soon. A very relaxing day!
Friday, 30 August — Margaree Forks
It was a rainy night with noisy winds blowing past the building, not quite strong enough to shake it, as they did one other time I stayed here, but whistling. I sure was glad I wasn’t staying down at the campground!
Fog hid the village and the highlands when I arose this morning, somehow not blown apart by the continuing, though somewhat lighter, winds and rain. I was up at 8h, the first one to rise at the lodge. After a breakfast of hot oatmeal and green tea, by which time I could barely make out the contours of Little Grassy and Blackrock Point, I packed up and said my goodbyes to this amazing place. I hope to get back during Celtic Colours for a day trip to see the autumn colours, which are spectacular here with so many deciduous trees on the adjacent mountains and highlands, but my next overnighter won’t be until next spring, alas. (Don’t plan on staying in the lodge during Celtic Colours—it’s hunting season then and the lodge is reserved for hunters; MacDonald’s Motel in Cape North Village is a good choice for that, but reservations are advised.)
There wasn’t much to see on the way back: a small tree in Capstick with more than two thirds of its leaves turned bright red and an ugly silt-filled raging brown torrent swollen by the night’s rains at the bridge over the Salmon River east of Capstick, with at least 2 m (6 ft) more water than the mere trickle it was on Wednesday. The rest of the trip was in fog, with occasional glimpses of the sides of the highlands through which one was passing—the summits were invisible, with clouds hanging far down their sides. The MacKenzies River outside Pleasant Bay finally had some decent flow, but wasn’t as ugly or full as the Salmon River. The summit of MacKenzies Mountain was under heavy fog with visibility often under 20 m (65 ft) and didn’t become better until I reached The Bog, making for a very tense drive as that’s where the moose are often seen. On the way down, French Mountain was clearer, but Chéticamp lay hidden behind a huge white fog/cloud bank. Mist, rain, and heavy rain alternated all the way to Margaree Forks, where I got my motel room key, after having a fine lunch of salad and meat pie (tourtière) at the Belle-View in Belle-Côte.
I drove on to Mabou Harbour, where I spent the gloomy afternoon visiting a friend. As I returned, I saw another mostly turned tree at the bridge over the Northeast Mabou River on the Northeast Mabou Road, though this one had yellow leaves intermixed with the red ones. I haven’t been here this late in August before, so I don’t know whether these early specimens are normal or harbingers of an early fall—in the previous few years, the autumn colours have been at their height after the end of Celtic Colours, not coïncident with the festival. I drove back to Margaree Forks and on to the Lakes Restaurant where I had another fine dinner, this one a fisherman’s platter of trout, haddock, clams, scallops, and a lobster tail, with all the fixin’s.
Then it was back to the motel for a brief rest before tonight’s dance at Southwest Margaree with Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard. And what a fantastic dance it was, the last one at Southwest Margaree until Celtic Colours. Seven square sets were danced; the hall was not full, but four circles of dancers were on the floor for the third figure of most sets, with as many as twenty-four couples. Kenneth MacKenzie relieved Shelly on the fourth square set and Mike Hall on the sixth; Allan got no relief on keyboard. One waltz was danced. The step dance sequence attracted Jenny Cluett MacKenzie; a lady whose name I was unable to determine; and John Robert Gillis to share their steps. The third figure of the final square set brought Kenneth back to the stage, this time on Highland bagpipes, for a rousing set of reels with Shelly and Allan that attracted 19 enthusiastic couples—what an absolutely fantastic figure that was! The musicians must have thought so too, as, after it had finished, they played another short blast of tunes to which all those present listened in awe. A wonderful conclusion to a fine set of dances at Southwest Margaree this year and to the day as well!
The rain had stopped by the time I reached the car; hopefully, some sun is in order for the next few days, although the current forecast isn’t great for the days after tomorrow. But the forecasts are frequently wrong so one can at least hope, now that the parched earth has finally been watered.
Saturday, 31 August — Port Hood¹
A grey morning, without rain or fog, greeted me when I arose after 9h. I drove to the Dancing Goat in Northeast Margaree for breakfast and found it crowded with a gang of bicyclists on top of the usual morning clientèle, with a line stretching out the door, but my order was taken within five minutes of joining the queue due to the very efficient staff. I highly recommend their fruit bowl as a breakfast accompaniment—with blueberries and blackberries and a whole complement of other delicious fruits and without any sugary “sauce”, it’s head and shoulders above any other I’ve had.
I stopped for photos of a large and beautiful sunflower field in Northeast Margaree, gleaming brightly and with hundreds of thousands of “faces” all seeking the sun as it tentatively poked through the still very grey skies. In Cap-le-Moine, patches of blue sky began to appear over the Gulf, though clouds still hugged the summits of the Highlands to the east. I drove the old Cabot Trail from Grand-Étang to Point Cross, a lovely short drive with excellent coastal views and enough additional distance to better appreciate the majestic Highlands to the east. When I arrived at Point Cross, the sun was shining on La Pointe on Chéticamp Island and soon on much of the littoral; the clouds were lifting off the Highlands though they were still not to far above the summits. I stopped at Charlie’s music store in Redman, a “suburb” of Chéticamp, and picked up one of the CD’s I was looking for. Drove on to the Quai Mathieu, where I was approached by two very large gulls with mottled backs, whom I obliged by taking their photo (but not by feeding them—never feed wild animals lest they come to equate humans and food!); apparently unsatisfied, they waddled off to try some gullible tourist (without success while I was there, I’m happy to report). A black-backed gull arrived a bit later to join them with no more luck and got its photo taken too. As the 13h whale-watching cruise boat made its way out of Chéticamp Harbour, the sun finally made it through the thin white stratus clouds over the harbour that had been blocking it.
Soon after, it was time to head for the Doryman, where I again found a nearly full house at 13h15, though I got a much better seat than last week. The music started off with Marc Boudreau on fiddle, Howie MacDonald on keyboard, and Chris Babineau on guitar. Amazing music for the next forty-five minutes, which saw Hillary Romard out for the strathspeys in the second set of tunes and the first square set danced, with five couples in the third figure. Marc was in his usual fine fiery form, a joy to hear; Howie, a wizard on the keys (as well as a great fiddler—he’ll be on fiddle with Tracey Dares-MacNeil at Glencoe on Sunday night), provided especially gorgeous accompaniment in last set of strathspeys and reels; and Chris clearly belongs in their company, providing a solid base and an excellent counterpoint to the others.
After a short break, Gillian Head took over the fiddle; I didn’t know she was going to be playing and don’t know why she was, as her music is a very poor fit for Chéticamp, who are strong champions of pure Scottish traditional music: she plays the traditional tunes way too fast and therefore misses lots of notes and has insufficient time for the ornamentation (“dirt”) that so distinctively marks the Cape Breton style, though her phrasing was good; by turns a bit squeaky and hollow-echoey sounding, producing two distinct timbres, I was unable to enjoy her playing.² Nor was I alone: though she got polite applause, the Chéticantins seated around me were rolling their eyes and commenting adversely.
At 15h18, Marc was back on fiddle, the audience happy once again, and step dancers were soon back on the floor during a strathspeys set. Except for Hillary, I didn’t recognize the dancers, two gentlemen and a lady, who shared their steps in a rather looser, not-so-close-to-the-floor, but still Cape Breton, style. Marc started a new set for John Robert Gillis, who gave us a fine set of steps in his pure, classical close-to-the-floor style; he was followed by another lady. Gerry Deveau did a short (7 minute) spoons set. Joey Beaton relieved Howie and Albert Poirier relieved Chris, as Marc played for the second square set.
My college roommate and his friend came in about this time, and I moved over to sit at their table. At 16h01, Gillian was back on fiddle and I found it even less enjoyable than the first time around. Marc blessedly took over once again at 16h50; his call for step dancers brought forth two ladies, John Robert Gillis, and Darlene MacIsaac. The third square set was then danced.
As we three had 17h30 dinner reservations at le Gabriel, we left at the end of the square set about 17h20. We had a fine dinner with lots of conversation and discussion of their trip—they are just back from ten days in Newfoundland and will be spending much of the coming week touring in Cape Breton; I hope they get better weather than is currently forecast.
It was a lovely evening on the drive south, with clear, crisp air, showing off the Cape Breton Highlands in all their glory. A beautiful sunset was visible from the Shore Road (Highway 219) as I drove to Port Hood to get my motel key; it was dark when I arrived at 20h45—fall is well and truly around the corner!
Then, ’twas on to West Mabou for the Saturday square dance, featuring Dawn Beaton on fiddle, Margie Beaton on piano, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar. Some of the usual crowd was missing tonight and it took a march/strathspeys/reels set and a “dry” jig set³ before the first square set started at 22h22, with six couples, and more joining in as the figures progressed. Only four more square sets were danced—a slow night indeed for West Mabou, though the music continued until a couple minutes before 1h—along with two waltzes and a step-dance sequence: six young lasses whose names I don’t know (at least some of them were Mary Eluzabeth’s daughters) each danced separately and were followed by David Rankin. Hillary Romard, and Melody Cameron, providing some very fine steps. The Beaton sisters’ music has a very unique and distinctive sound and Sandy’s accompaniments complemented it perfectly. A very good night of traditional music, indeed.
Sunday, 1 September — Port Hood¹
Rain fell overnight—I heard it hitting the roof when I rolled over this morning and went back to sleep. I finally got up about 11h, by which time the rain had stopped, leaving a grey day. I finished up writing Saturday’s summary and posted it.
Then it was off to Judique where Glenn Graham was on fiddle with Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboard. This was a dancing crowd and several square sets were danced and at least one waltz (I was distracted enough that I lost count of both). The step dancers were Hillary Romard, Edna MacDonald, another lady whose name I do not know, and John Robert Gillis. Colin Rankin played a tune set and a square set to relieve Glenn; it was the first time I’d heard Colin play and I was very struck with his performance—I’d love to hear more of his fine playing. Several others I spoke with who hadn’t heard him before either were equally impressed. Originally from Inverness, I understand he’s in charge of the square dances at Maryvale (on the mainland), but doesn’t play for them and does not often play publicly. He should and I’ll certainly keep my eye out for him in the future. Mary Graham also accompanied Glenn for a tune set and a square set to relieve Jackie. It was a grand afternoon of traditional Scottish music by two great exponents of the Cape Breton style and I greatly enjoyed it. I had the fish cakes (minus the usually accompanying beans, as they had run out of them), a fine garden salad, and a wonderful almond brownie for dinner while I was at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre; the fish cakes are likely the best flavoured ones I’ve ever eaten—definitely recommended!
Intermittent rain had been going on during the afternoon cèilidh, but it had stopped when I drove back to Port Hood, where I dealt with e-mail.
Then it was off to Glencoe Mills for the long week-end dance with Howie MacDonald on fiddle and Hilda Chiasson on (real) piano (something must have come up to change plans as Howie had told me Tracey was to play when I asked him on Saturday). Needless to say, with those two fantastic players, the evening’s music was marvellous from start to end. Things got off to a slow start, though: a dry jig set was followed by strathspeys and reels—all Winston Scotty Fitzgerald tunes, another dry jig set, and yet another tune set (clogs and hornpipes). The first square set finally got underway at 22h24, with four couples dancing the first figure, five in the second figure, and six in the third figure. Thereafter, there were no more hesitations and the hall was soon full of people. Sixteen couples danced the sixth (and last) square set and all but the first had more than a dozen couples dancing, usually in two groups but sometimes three; the third figure of one square set even had two sets of lines going. [Can someone please give me the proper name for that portion of the third figure of the Inverness set where there is a parade of the partners followed by lines of step dancers facing their partners? I’d call it a quadrille, but the dictionary definition of that word is too far from this procedure to fit.] Lots of children were in attendance and Elizabeth Beaton helped a group of six learn their figures; it was lovely to see the culture being passed on before one’s very eyes! Some very fine local dancers of all ages were on the floor providing pleasure both to themselves and to those watching. Two waltzes were played. Just before midnight, the call for step dancers went out. Melody Cameron answered first with a beautiful dance, in heeled boots, yet! Then, her young nephew, Stephen MacLennan, put on a simply amazing display of fine and fiery steps; cheers and roars went up when he completed his long set. A young lady whose name I was unable to ascertain danced next and well. Allison Beaton gave us a fine set of steps, as she always does. Emma Forman finished the sequence off with another fine performance. I was delighted that Nicole Broussard came over and introduced herself and her family to me; her son, Olivier, has played some very fine sets at the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association festivals in St Anns the past few years and she thanked me for the photos I had posted. Today was Glencoe Day, a community celebration with games and bingo and other diversions in the afternoon, ending with a community dinner after the evening Mass; the evening square dance was the culmination of the day’s festivities. So much food was left over from the well-attended dinner that it was offered to those attending the dance; I was still full from the dinner I’d had at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, but accepted a small plate and stayed for some conversation. Fog covered “Mount Glencoe”, but once back down to Long John’s Bridge, it ceased being a problem. I arrived back at the motel at 2h, much too late to finish up this post. Great day!
Monday, 2 September — Louisbourg¹
Happy Labour Day to all who celebrate it! It was a white day when I arose after 9h this morning—defined as a grey day where the clouds are white instead of grey and back-lit by the sun on the far side, making the water shimmer with white rather than some shade of blue; it’s similar to a cloudy-bright day, but with brighter light. About 10h15, I left for Louisbourg via Port Hawkesbury, where I gassed up and tended to an errand.
I took the 104 to Louisdale, where I had dinner at the Seal Cove Restaurant, my first time there. The salad was excellent, full of crisp, fresh greens, and the haddock dinner with rice and al dente vegetables was done to perfection. I hadn’t been in Louisdale in several years, so I explored the village, finding it considerably larger than I remembered. I drove Duncan Road for the first time and afterwards out to the end of the Grandique Ferry Road, which I had previously driven and where I stopped for photos of Lennox Passage, the lighthouse across the passage, and Isle Madame. I knew they’d be marginal in the light of the day, which had veered back to being a grey day, but I took them anyway.
From there, I drove on to St Peter’s on Highway 4 and continued on to Soldiers Cove, where I took the Soldiers Cove Road to Grand River, where I picked up the Fleur-de-Lis Trail and drove it to Framboise. At the cairn in the centre of Framboise, I turned on to the Crooked Lake Road and drove 4 km (2.5 mi) to its end beside Red Cape. I hadn’t been there in several years and was determined to visit it this year, rain or no. It’s on the Atlantic Ocean just south of the mouth of the Framboise River. I discovered a markedly different “prow” than the one seen at the right of the referenced photo, significantly marked by wind and rain erosion in the five years since I was last there. I climbed up the ATV trail to the top of the cape, not quite 20 m (65 ft) above the shore, from which one has, on a clear day, extraördinary views of the coast to the east and to the south; today, the views were not great, but one could make out Winging Point through the mist to the east, while the views to the south were considerably better to the Fox Cove capes and the Marie-Joseph Gut. Two small engraved markers, perhaps identifying graves, are found on the top of the cape several metres/yards from the “prow”; erosion from wind-driven sand and water has now made them nearly undecipherable, but someone had recently attached a red and a white plastic flower to each and placed a bouquet in a vase between them—only the vase remained. I descended to the shore and took numerous close-on shots of the“prow” and the adjacent cliffs on both sides to compare with the many I took in 2008 so as to better assess the changes. While I was there, the sun managed to pierce through the clouds and light up the cape, but it lasted only for a few seconds. I spent a half hour or so in the lee of the cape, savouring the wild beauty of the place and watching (and photographing) the wind-driven waves arriving on the shore near my feet. I then walked across the sand and gravel beach to the mouth of the Framboise River, about four minutes from the cape, and took photos there. Lots of water was flowing from the recent rains and the currents were swift. When I returned to the car, I found another car parked beside mine and four fishermen with reels were casting into the barachois behind the beach. I spoke briefly with one, who said they had been fishing from Morrisons Beach on the north side of the river mouth without luck and decided to see if anything was biting along the south side when they discovered the barachois and decided to give it a try first.
I left them in the mist that had descended as we were talking and continued on to Fourchu, where I drove along the south side of the harbour, but took no photos as it had become too dark—the white day was long gone by now. From there, I continued on to Gabarus, Big Ridge, and Marion Bridge, where I took the Trout Brook Road to Albert Bridge and the Louisbourg Highway to Louisbourg, arriving a bit before 17h. It was a lovely drive, even if it wasn’t a very nice day.
I had a small supper at the Station House Restaurant, as I was not terribly hungry after the fine dinner at Louisdale and then went to the Louisbourg Playhouse, where I bought tickets for tonight’s and tomorrow night’s performances. I worked on and finished drafting yesterday’s post in the car while waiting for the 20h performance to start. Because the Brook Village dances after the end of August weren’t listed in the information available to me, I had already paid for my motel room in Louisbourg when I learned they were to continue into September, so I unfortunately missed what must have been a great dance with Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton; I’d certainly have been there had I known in time.
But I had a great evening at the Playhouse, where Coig performed. A Gaelic word meaning ’five’, Coig consists of five consummate young musicians who have been playing together for the past couple of years, all of whom I greatly admire: Colin Grant, Rachel Davis, and Chrissy Crowley on fiddles; Jason Roach on keyboard; and Darren McMullin on guitar, mandolin, banjo, whistles, and flute and a host of other instruments too. All except Darren are Cape Bretoners; Darren hails from the mainland. The fiddlers are each fine traditional Scottish musicians with devoted followings, but they also delight in pushing the old tunes in new directions and mating them with unrelated or tangentially related material. Colin is an inventive composer, having written several fine highly-regarded tunes that have already entered the standard repertoire. Jason, whom I first heard playing perfectly an incredibly complex piano solo at a Port Hawkesbury cèilidh at the Creamery, is the most forceful pianist I have ever encountered; initially, he was not a good square dance accompanist, completely overpowering the fiddler as his music spilled forth, but as he has matured as an artist, he has gotten much better at accompaniment and is a vital part of Sprag Session and now Coig; he is inventive beyond belief and a creative asset to any group in which he participates. I’ve had less occasion to hear Darren, though I have seen him as an accompanist for several other musicians and occasionally as a soloist, playing a whole range of instruments; his first CD has a Mozart track played on guitar that uncannily mimics the sound of a harpsichord—a fantastic all-around instrumentalist. This was the first time I’d heard them as Coig, though I’ve heard them individually and in combinations for many years (Colin, Jason, and Darren are also in Sprag Session, a considerably less traditional grouping than Coig). I had assumed that Coig would be like Sprag Session without the percussion, roots-based but not particularly close to traditional music (I’ve been at three or four Sprag Session concerts and enjoyed their creativity, if not always the end product, frequently too close for me to a rock band sound). That didn’t prove to be the case: I recognized nearly all of the tunes they played and most were played “straight”; their sound is fantastic, especially when all three fiddlers are playing together. I was very much reminded of Beòlach, but Coig lacks their pipes and prominent guitar (Darren does play guitar, but also mandolin and banjo and whistles, often necessarily leaving Jason to provide the rhythmic base to the music). Coig has no leader, with that rôle passing in turn from one player to the next. Each of the musicians led off with a tune of their choice and was joined by Jason and then others of the musicians, usually with all playing at the end; this rotating lead continued all night long. There were many memorable moments in this wonderful concert: Darren picking out Beautiful Point Aconi on guitar; a rhythmically complex non-traditional piano piece in 5/4 time (Sleepless if I heard the title correctly) with Jason leading, but with fine accompaniment from Darren on guitar and then lush fiddles backing up Jason’s powerful, driving playing; Colin’s Jenn and Anthony’s Wedding Waltz, which he led but the others enriched; Jason’s solo starting with a nice slow quiet air followed by rollicking tunes building to a noisy bit and ending with a surprise slow finish—an amazing tour de force; Chrissy’s Frankensets with traditional tunes cobbled together from her own playing and that of other artists, all in her own unique style; Rachel’s beautiful voice, especially in the Gaelic song that ended the evening, coupled with her fine fiddle music, some non-traditional, all night long. Their traditional sets were superb, though usually marred by the enthusiastic clappers in the audience (encouraged, alas. by the musicians) who made it hard for me to hear the subtleties in their playing. The final set was a real barn-burner and won them a richly deserved standing ovation, after which they returned for an encore. The audience, myself included, left very happy. During the intermission, I picked up new CD’s by Rachel, Darren, and Allie Bennett, all of which were available in the gift shop, but not elsewhere I’d been looking for them. Rachel was kind enough to autograph hers for me.
I returned to the motel, edited and posted Sunday’s account, and got about half of this one done. By then it was past 1h (the concert didn’t end until 22h31 and I didn’t get back to the motel until after 23h), so I climbed into bed and fell asleep remembering the fantastic evening’s music. If you get a chance to see Coig, by all means take it!
Tuesday, 3 September — Louisbourg
I awoke at 8h30 and had the continental breakfast the motel provides. Then I worked on yesterday’s post, which I finished and put up. It was a cool, damp, foggy day with intermittent light rain, though insufficient to give me a free car wash. I crawled back into bed and slept until 13h45.
Although Yahoo weather for Louisbourg gave the visibility as 1 km, when I went out to the grocery for an egg salad sandwich to tide me over til supper, it was more like 100 m (350 ft): not a day for photos or hiking. I ate my sandwich in the car at the Batterie Royale, where fog concealed the nearby harbour and just about everything else (an adjacent tree was visible). I drove to the Railway Museum, but found it closed, so I went back to the motel and sat in the car so I could surf the Internet (the motel’s wi-fi is fine in the courtyard, but usually doesn’t reach inside the rooms and doesn’t last when it does). I then went into my room and read until supper time. Light rain began falling as I left the motel.
I had hoped to try the restaurant at Point of View, which I don’t remember from previous years, but they weren’t open until 18h30, so I ate at the Grubstake, where I had grilled halibut in a delicious buttery peppercorn sauce with their to-die-for homemade bread, rice, snow peas with carrots al dente, and a big slice of fine apple-strawberry pie with black tea. Great meal, as always there.
After a pause for digestion, it was back to the Playhouse for tonight’s Jennifer Roland show. Jennifer is not often heard on the west side of Cape Breton and it was primarily to hear her that I stayed on today in Louisbourg, in spite of the weather. Although she often plays with a band, tonight she was accompanied only by Jason Kempt on keyboard and a guitarist new to me from the Mira area whose name I heard as Lyndon (Linden?) MacKenzie (I had great trouble understanding Jennifer tonight—she was hoarse and either the sound or my ears were off, most likely the latter—and I may well have the name wrong). I do not know if her band is still active or not; her domain name is up for sale, so it may well not be. I discovered her music on one of my first Cape Breton trips and have greatly enjoyed listening to her CD’s over the years. I remember one memorable evening early in the century when she and her accompanist played at the Admiral Inn in Port Hood—to an audience of four (including myself)! She has since become much better known, having toured much of Europe, Canada, and the United States, but that activity has tapered off as she started a family. She recently played a Celtic Colours concert in Aspy Bay that I very much enjoyed, so it was great to have an opportunity to hear her again in Louisbourg, where she has just completed a run of this year’s weekday Playhouse show, Getting Dark Again. She began tonight with Beautiful Point Aconi and continued with jigs and then other tunes; nearly all of the sets she played were similarly traditional: lots of beautiful airs, some composed by Jennifer or one of her sisters, began many of them; the Antigonish polkas and a good helping of Winston Scotty Fitzgerald tunes were played in different sets. I’m not a big fan of Jason’s piano accompaniments (he’s a pub entertainer and band accompanist with a wide variety of music at his command), which are sometimes obtrusive, as they were a few times tonight, but they were mostly spot on; for some of the slow airs, he altered the keyboard to produce an organ-like sound which, like the harmonium accompaniment of the old days, sounds great with the fiddle. I enjoyed the guitar accompaniments once the sound was better adjusted. Jason and the guitarist each did songs with back-up from the others; OK but not my cup of tea. Jason also did a boogie-woogie song with some rollicking piano playing—totally out of place in this concert, but still fun. The clappers were out again tonight, encouraged by Jason at one point well after the disease had first manifested itself; in one set, they were unable to follow Jennifer’s change of tempi and made a mess of the sound. Jennifer is a fine step dancer and twice danced with no music, with only the sound her taps made as they hit the floor, and, during the last set of the evening, she step danced while continuing to play the fiddle, at the conclusion of which, the musicians were given a standing ovation; there was no encore. It was a generally enjoyable evening of music and I was glad I stayed to hear it.
Tomorrow will be my last full day on the Island and I will return to Judique for the Wednesday cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre featuring Ian MacDougall tomorrow evening.
Wednesday, 4 September — Port Hood
t wasn’t raining when I arose at 8h30, but that’s about the best that could be said for the morning’s weather in Louisbourg. Fog was everywhere and it was 3D weather: dark, damp, and depressing; the skies were formless, hidden by the fog and cool temperatures in the low teens (fifties) prevailed. After breakfast at the motel, the fog had lifted enough that one had a clear view of the road, but not of a lot else.
I left Louisbourg at 9h45 and drove to Albert Bridge, where I took Hillside Road to Marion Bridge. Recently resurfaced, likely last year as the yellow centre line was badly faded, it was in much better condition than I remembered from last year, when the Trout Brook Road was closed for construction. Both it and the Trout Brook Road offer fine, but quite different, views of the beautiful Mira River and the fog had lifted enough before I got to Marion Bridge that the mountains across the river could be made out clearly. I continued on to the Morley Road, which I took to Highway 4; the summit was encased in fog and the views of the beautiful Boisdale Hills in the far distance from this road were concealed. I had planned on driving Highway 4 along the Bras d’Or Lake, a beautiful route I’d not taken in a few years, but the fog made doing so pointless, so I turned onto Highway 216 at East Bay, saving myself forty-five minutes of driving.
Wouldn’t you know, when I reached Northside East Bay, the sun lit up the coast below the East Bay Hills, though only to vanish very shortly thereafter. The subsequent views from Highway 216 didn’t make me regret my decision, as fog covered much of the East Bay Hills and some of the bay itself. I ran into construction at Islandview, where the road is being significantly widened and waited ten minutes for the “follow-me” truck; more construction, with a shorter wait time, followed on the outskirts of Eskasoni, where part of a cliff face is being removed to make more space for the road. This work is welcome, as that area of the road has been rough driving for some time. I continued on through Castle Bay and the Benacadies to Highway 223 and on to Iona, also fog-shrouded—the Malagawatch church on the hill above the Barra Strait was missing as was much of the hill itself, though the view towards St Peter’s was encouraging, with bright white light in the sky across the dim lake. I took Portage Road in Estmere, an alternative to the Little Narrows ferry, offering fine views of Whycocomagh Bay and the mountains on the far side at several points along its course; the bay was relatively clear, but the summits of the mountains at the end of the bay and along the bay were hidden beneath clouds. It was still a pretty drive, though not picture-taking pretty. I got gas for the car for tomorrow’s drive home in Whycocomagh and had one of Vi’s fine chef salads for lunch. Then, I took a valedictory drive across the back country to Glencoe Mills and on to Long Johns Bridge (lots of water was again flowing in the Southwest Mabou River and no rocks were showing) and then to Glencoe Station to Highway 19 and into Port Hood where I stopped briefly at the motel, arriving about 14h.
Then it was up to Rocky Ridge (two deer in the middle of the road about 1km (0.6 mi) below the Old Rocky Ridge Road junction quickly ran off into the forest when I came upon them), where I had a short visit with friends (and remembered to leave the pepper spray with them this time!) and drove down to the Colindale Road for a farewell view of Cape Mabou.
Back at Port Hood, I worked on this post. In Port Hood, the sun was now shining, though the skies remained very grey, and it was warm enough for a short-sleeve shirt again (low twenties (seventies)). It was soon time for supper, so I went into town to the Admiral Inn for dinner, where the filet of sole was delicious. By the time I got back to the motel, the sun was gone and drops of rain were leaking out of the clouds. I drove down the Shore Road to Little Judique Harbour, where puddles of recent rain littered the shoulders and the harbour roadway, and the Lower Shore Road and on to Highway 19; the lighting was interesting with huge ugly grey clouds overhead and nearby over St Georges Bay, while across the bay was bright light and even patches of blue sky, with the mainland clearly visible; I probably should have stopped for photos, but didn’t.
Then I drove the rest of the way to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for tonight’s cèilidh, with Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard. The two CD’s they did together are classics and I listen to them often. But it has been years since I last heard them live together, so tonight was an absolute treat and the reason I extended my trip past Labour Day this year. When I first began attending dances in Cape Breton, they were regulars on the circuit and always drew large crowds; when Mac started touring again and Ian went out west to work, it was rare that they were both home at the same time and even rarer that I was there too. So I was really athirst to hear them after so long a time. When the tunes began tonight, the memories of the dances where I learned the tunes that Ian plays that few others do came flooding back as he brought them to life once again tonight. The wonderful tune sets with Mac’s fantastically perfect accompaniments had poured forth for an hour when Frank MacInnis called for dancers to form a square set and six couples answered. The second figure was done differently tonight using an older variant I think of as a “flower” where the women extend their arms in the centre while the men circle around outside, but not forming a “basket” as in the Boston set; however, this variant was done only twice and the other two times the standard Inverness set figure was used. Near the end of the cèilidh, a second square set was danced, this time with four couples and the standard Inverness figures throughout the set. When 21h arrived, the musicians were having such a good time that they kept on playing; this final set was an amazing set of strathspeys, during which Ian’s wife of a couple of weeks step danced, a fine set of steps indeed! What a wonderful evening of music and memories! I was in seventh heaven the whole time. These two are to play at the Brook Village dance next Monday; what a dance that will be! I’d stay on for it if I could, but I have commitments that require me to start back in the morning. I hope someone who attends will post a good account; you can be certain I’ll be there in spirit, playing the CD’s when the dance starts up. What a wonderful way to end this wonderful trip! Thanks to all who have wished me safe travels.
Thursday, 5 September — Port Hood to Lewiston
Today is my late father’s birthday; he’d have been 101. Gives one pause to reflect on that!
Sometimes I think the weather gods in Cape Breton have it in for me: it was a lovely morning in Port Hood at 6h45 when I awoke, with blue sky and bright sun, though a cool (+12 (54)) one. Now why couldn’t such a morning have shown up earlier this week?!
Left the motel at 7h17 (all times in this post are ADT, even the ones in the US—I personally change back to EDT tonight) and crossed the Causeway at 7h48. Once on the mainland, puffy white clouds appeared over St Georges Bay. At the Halifax exit, kilometre marker 105, the skies became completely grey, and rather suddenly at that. Raindrops appeared on the windshield descending Cobequid Pass just beyond the tolls and light, then moderate rain began to fall. Stopped in Amherst for brunch, where the rain paused, but ran into it again at the New Brunswick border. The rain alternated between light and moderate, with occasional pauses, to Lepreau past St John, where it brightened up considerably and white clouds and blue sky began appearing.
By the time I arrived in the St Stephens area, it was once again a beautiful day, though many smallish white cumulus clouds occupied much of the sky and it was still +12. I crossed the St Croix River bridge at the new customs complex at 14h09; I was in the correct (left) lane this time behind thirty or more vehicles. The signage is minimal, only two small green signs beyond the junction and below the eye level of the driver; with no queued traffic to guide one, they’re very easy to miss. They should be placed well before the junction above eye level with additional signs overhead and written markings in the pavement. No wonder the customs official told me when I ended up in the commercial inspection area last time that many other people made the same mistake! Three lanes were open today so the traffic moved faster than I had thought it would; I cleared customs at 14h33. When the officer asked whether I had any fruits or vegetables with me, I offered him a very overripe pear in a plastic bag for him to dispose of, but he told me to keep it and get rid of it myself. He did open the hatch back and peered in, but didn’t have many questions (only half the usual list) and the interview lasted less than two minutes before I was on my way.
<rant> Now how much actual good do you suppose the customs division of the Orwellian-named Department of Homeland Security does to improve our security along the northern border? I’ve only ever heard of one case, and that in the last century before 9/11, where they caught anyone with anything badly damaging. Would we all be any the worse off if the northern border were devoid of customs altogether and people were free to cross as they wish? <end of rant>
I think I may give the downtown Calais crossing a try next time to see if it has much traffic any more, now that it mostly seems to go to the new facility—it seems possible that it might now be the new Milltown.
I reached Lewiston a bit past 18h and got my motel room. Then I went into the downtown area of the city and dined at Fish Bones, in spite of the name, a fine restaurant. I had a salad, delicious breads, grilled scallops, shrimps, and haddock, with rice and sliced cooked vegetables that tasted fresh from the garden, and a dandy apple crisp to finish it off; wonderfully innovative presentation of the food to boot. I’ll definitely be back. Drove back to the motel and finished this post. Hope to be on the road before the sun early in the morning, so will be immediately off to bed.
Friday, 6 September — Lewiston to Jackson
I left Lewiston a bit after 6h and arrived home without incident a bit past 14h. The sun rose officially at 6h06, but I didn’t see it until quite a few minutes later down the Turnpike under a lovely pure blue sky and brisk (+7 (45)), clear air. White clouds of various sorts appeared further south, but disappeared by the time I reached North Jersey. It was rather warmer here (+23 (73)) and the greens are still the summery greens rather than the yellow-tinged greens seen further north and east.
So ends another great Cape Breton trip. Thanks to everyone who made it so. See you all for Celtic Colours. In the meantime, job number one is to get the St Anns photos posted to my web site, hopefully sometime next week; I’ll post here when they’re done. I’ll start work on a photo essay after that, but will likely not finish it up before I leave for Celtic Colours. Have a great September, everyone!