Thursday, 12 June — Jackson to Bangor
I left Jackson at 5h07 in moderate fog. A serious accident on the George Washington Bridge at 2h had closed the upper deck and created massive traffic snarls with many taking my normal route via the Tappan Zee Bridge, so there was a major slowdown there too, even at the early hour I reached it. Once on the bridge, all was fine again.
I ate breakfast at the Blue Colony Diner in Newtown (Connecticut). I had a half-hour nap further down the road in a rest area in Connecticut. I ran out of the fog in western Massachusetts but lost fifteen minutes at the tolls exiting the Massachusetts Turnpike for no discernible reason. I stopped for gas and lunch in Tewkesbury (Massachusetts). I wasn’t all that tired so I drove the rest of the way, without stopping, to Bangor (Maine) and even thought seriously about going on to Calais, but instead called it a day in Bangor, arriving there about 16h15. Eleven hours on the road is more than enough!
Early to bed tonight and another early rise in the morning, but I should make it to see Nuallan tomorrow night at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. It will be a fantastic musical start to this trip!
Friday, 13 June — Bangor to Port Hood
I left Bangor at 4h58 (ET). Unlike yesterday, there was no fog, just plenty of clouds and a bright spot where the sun was. It’s amazing how bright it is at 4h30 this far north this time of year (I’m rarely up at that hour); it would still be very dark in Jackson. I ran into sprinkles halfway across the Airline Highway. I stopped for gas and breakfast at Baileyville and quickly cleared Canadian customs. I found more sprinkles in New Brunswick and light rain in St John. My next stop was Sackville for gas (6¢/litre less than in Nova Scotia) and a sandwich which I ate at the pull-off at the Cobequid Pass tolls. I saw the first blue sky past Truro; it turned into a lovely day at New Glasgow. I crossed the Canso Causeway under bright sun and pure blue skies at 14h26 (AT) and drove to Port Hastings for gas—I was dismayed to find the Canadian Tire station closed. I continued on to the mall in Port Hawkesbury where I got my Telus SIM card for this year; my phone number is (902) 302-1035 until October whenever I’m in Canada. I drove to Mabou to tend to an errand, taking Mabou Road to see some backcountry and to shorten the trip. Then, I returned to Port Hood via the West Mabou and Colindale Roads and got my motel room.
After supper, I drove down the Shore Road and on to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for the fantastic pipers’ cèilidh tonight, where Nuallan¹ (Paul K MacNeil, Kevin Dugas, Kenneth MacKenzie, and Keith MacDonald) and Rankin MacInnis, accompanied by Tracey Dares-MacNeil on piano and Patrick Gillis on guitar, played to a packed house. I love pipe music and don’t get anywhere near enough of it, so when I saw this event appear on the calendar, I very much wanted to attend: I saw Nuallan, a fairly recently formed group, for the first time at the Gaelic College during the 75th anniversary celebrations last summer and again during Celtic Colours last fall and was blown away by their performances both times, making this a must-attend concert. I was certainly not disappointed, as this was a much longer exposure than either of the earlier two appearances, lasting well over three hours. From the fantastic opening set with all five pipers to the closing step dance set, it was a stupendous evening of music I will not soon forget. A march/strathspeys/reels set followed the opener, but without Rankin, who is in university in the Halifax area and doesn’t get the chance to play with the others often enough to feel comfortable with all of their tune sets. Next, Kevin, Tracey, and Pat played a set of tunes and then followed it with a square set which brought seven couples onto the floor. Rankin on small pipes with Tracey and Pat accompanying next played a set of jigs; a set of a slow air, strathspeys, and reels; a set of rollicking tunes; and a final set of jigs, all well done and well received. Nuallan then came back to the stage and gave us a “Currie set”, tunes associated with the Currie family of pipers, beginning with John MacLean’s Moladh Maureen NicCoinnich, a lament written in honour of Kenneth’s mother, and continuing with strathspeys and reels. They then gave us a set for step dancing, with Kevin giving his steps followed by David Rankin and Sabra MacGillivray. Paul played a Gaelic air followed by three jigs and then a waltz he had written. Keith, accompanied only by Tracey, next gave us a tune followed by jigs; a march/strathspeys/reels set; and two hornpipes and a reel. Kenneth, accompanied by Tracey and Pat, played for another square set that brought five couples to the floor. The final set brought six step dancers to the floor, of whom I recognized Brittany Rankin, Colin MacDonald, and Edna MacDonald. Tracey and Pat did a fantastic job of accompaniment, inventive and playful at times, always a perfect fit to the music. Cape Breton piping emphasizes tunes played for dancing, not for marching bands, and this concert brought that home very clearly indeed. It was a very special evening that I hope will be the first of many concerts of this genre in the months and years to come. Kudos to the organizers and players for a splendid job!
The good news is that this fantastic evening of music was recorded and those who missed it will be able to hear some of it on Cape Breton Live, which has recently been resurrected as a subscription service. See this web site for details.
Saturday, 14 June — Port Hood
I got up at 9h30, after having slept very well, no surprise! Grey skies and cold damp weather replaced yesterday’s beautiful day—it was definitely long-sleeve flannel shirt weather. I had breakfast at Sandeannies and then drove to Chéticamp where I got my season park pass, running into sprinkles on the way. I drove through the beautiful Rigwash à Bernard past la Grande Falaise to the top of the hill past le Buttereau, where I turned around and spent a few minutes admiring the view at the mouth of the Chéticamp River, gorgeous in spite of the grey skies and light rain. Then I drove back to the Doryman, where I visited with friends and had lunch (seafood chowder and a garden salad, both excellent).
The afternoon’s music was by the Beaton sisters, Dawn on fiddle and Margie on keyboard. I love slow airs and Dawn beautifully played several over the first hour and twenty minutes, interspersed with lively strathspeys and reels. Then, Margie took up her fiddle and the two played a set, not in unison, but as two distinct fiddle voices; I don’t recall hearing this selection previously and found it striking, with some fine harmonies during the initial slower part. A set of waltzes in the same dual fiddle voices style followed; very pretty indeed! Margie then returned to the keyboard and they gave us more fine tunes until 16h25, when Brent Aucoin and Jason Roach took over from the ladies to give them a break. They gave us two long and very powerful sets, impeccably played, during the second of which Darlene MacIsaac step danced. The sisters returned with a great barnburner of a set. A jig set was played around 17h10 that saw three couples slowly take the floor; a fourth couple joined them just as the set ended. Finally at complement, a Mabou square set was then danced, the only one of the afternoon. After the dancers finished the third figure, the sisters kept playing, switching to strathspeys during which Joe MacIsaac and a gentleman I don’t know step danced. Grand set! A slower set followed during which two couples waltzed. For the last twenty minutes, Jason took over the keyboard and Margie and Dawn played dual fiddles in mostly one voice, but occasionally in dual voices. It was a lovely afternoon of fine music.
I drove back to Mabou in mist, drizzle, and light rain; Cape Mabou was under the clouds and only the lower sides were visible. I stopped in at the Red Shoe, where Kenneth MacKenzie and Patrick Gillis were playing tunes, and had supper as I listened. In this informal atmosphere, Pat had lots of scope to experiment with the accompaniments—he’s always got something that catches one’s attention with its cleverness and appropriateness—and to do some solo riffing between sets; a wonderful guitarist indeed! Kenneth’s fiddle was grand, a superb player I always enjoy hearing. Margie Beaton subbed for Kenneth for a couple of sets; she’s come a long way since I last heard her play at Glencoe and is now a much more confident player, whom I hope to hear more from this summer. And Kenneth finished the session off with a fine set of pipe tunes. Fantastic! What a wonderful addition to the Shoe’s Saturday night line-up!
Then, it was on to West Mabou for the dance, with Chrissy Crowley on fiddle and Jason Roach on keyboard. The dance started about 22h20 with fourteen young lasses performing a very spirited square set. The second square set was about half adults and half youngsters with ten couples. The third square set had at least two groups (from where I normally sit, I can see only part of the hall) and in the group closest to the musicians some very fine dancers, light on their feet and steppin’ ’er off in fine style. The fourth had twelve couples in two groups. At midnight, Colin Grant took over the fiddle from Chrissy and, with Jason, played a long set of fine strathspeys, a number of which I didn’t recognize, for the several very fine step-dancers, of whom I recognized with certainty only Stephen MacLennan and Melody Cameron (most of the others I’ve seen before but don’t yet have names for their faces). Chrissy took back the fiddle from Colin and, at the request of two young ladies, gave us a slow air to which three couples danced. The fifth square set had two groups with lots of youngsters in the head group; I forgot to count the couples in third figure. For the sixth and last set, Colin took up his fiddle and joined Chrissy on dual fiddles, to which nine couples danced. Lively music from Chrissy all night long, beautifully played, and some tunes I don’t often get to hear; Jason was a bit heavy on the bass side for my taste—at times it sounded like there was a bass player on stage, but otherwise his accompaniments were inventive and fresh; he certainly laid down a great rhythm for the dancers. Wonderful dance; not a big crowd, as the summer folks are not around yet this early in June—the roads are empty—but lots of enthusiastic and experienced dancers and likely a truer representation of the dances than the summer dances. It was a joy to behold and be present at. Last night’s sleep wasn’t enough; when I got back to the motel, I was completely wiped out, so it was immediately off to sleep.
Sunday, 15 June — Port Hood
I awoke to grey skies somewhat after 11h and worked on and posted the account of Saturday’s most enjoyable musical marathon. Then I had brunch and drove in a soaking rain to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for the Sunday cèilidh, this week the release of Còig’s eponymous CD. Formed of five superb musicians, whence the name—còig is Gaelic for five, the group has been playing together since they did a promotional tour for Celtic Colours a few years ago. I have been listening to them individually for many years and heard them live as a group last year at the Louisbourg Playhouse, where they said they were working on a CD for release this year. That proved indeed to be the case and the finished product is now available.
The CD release cèilidh contained, as is customary, numerous cuts from the CD, but they also played other sets and for square sets. The group consists of master musicians Colin Grant, Chrissy Crowley, and Rachel Davis on fiddles; Jason Roach on keyboard; and Darren McMullen on “everything else” (I observed guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, banjo, transverse flute, and tin whistle yesterday). They play traditional tunes, mostly Scottish and the occasional Irish and French along with some recently composed by one or the other of the musicians in the style, with verve and élan, in arrangements that have a fuller and more “modern” driving sound, on steroids almost (there are three fiddles after all!), than the familiar and simpler and purer but still beautiful fiddle/piano/guitar, while clearly remaining rooted within that tradition. It is young folks’ music that has an appeal even to an old fuddy duddy purist such as myself, no mean accomplishment. To a packed house (and I mean really packed), they opened the afternoon with a march/strathspeys/reels set with Darren starting on guitar and switching to mandolin later in the set; it was a great traditional set with a very rich sound. Next, they gave us a jig set with Darren starting on mandolin and finishing on banjo. A tune Rachel wrote under time pressure and a couple of jigs formed the third set with Darren on bouzouki and later banjo. Then came a set of strathspeys, with Darren sitting out the first one and playing mandolin on the others. Chrissy, Colin, and Jason then gave us an old traditional set, with Darren joining in on the last tune on mandolin. Rachel next sang Dougie MacLean’s She Loves Me (When I Try), with Jason on keyboard and Darren on guitar and Chrissy and Colin on backing fiddles. Minus Darren, who left the stage, the others gave us another fine traditional set. With Darren back and leading off picking a tune on the banjo and with Jason accompanying, the others came in one by one on yet another high-powered set that saw Darren switch to transverse flute at the end. With the others off stage, Rachel on fiddle and Darren on guitar gave us a very nice straight-up set of traditional tunes. With everyone back on stage, Rachel started out on viola and later switched back to fiddle, as the group gave us a march/strathspeys/reels set, during which the three fiddlers each step danced in turn. It was then time for a break, during which I and many others acquired copies of the CD and the artists signed those presented to them. Rachel and Chrissy on dual fiddles, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard, then played for a square set. The group minus Rachel next gave us a fine, rollicking set of strathspeys during which Hailee LeFort step danced. Jason started out on solo keyboard with Colin on backing fiddle; the others joined in this set of mostly French tunes in various combinations, with Darren on guitar and then mandolin. Another medley followed, with Darren on tin whistle. Colin, Jason, and Darren on guitar started off the next set, soon joined by Chrissy and then Rachel on viola. Accompanied by Darren on bouzouki, Rachel sang the Gaelic milling song Nach Muladach Muladach Duine Leis Fhèin. I left at that point so as not to be late for a dinner engagement, just as another square set was forming up. It was a fine and enjoyable afternoon of music and I will be listening to the CD for a long time to come. One side note: Jason’s bass this afternoon was not at all overpowering and his accompaniments were magnificent, a very talented lad in a very talented group. The proceedings were recorded and I expect that excerpts will also end up on Cape Breton Live.
From Judique, I drove in the rain to Rocky Ridge for a wonderful dinner and an evening of conversation with friends I hadn’t seen since last fall. A fantastic salad of greens from their greenhouse with lovely dressing and sliced strawberries started off the meal. Dinner rolls and a pasta salad accompanied the lobster, my first feed this year, and, as always, a special treat for me. And a marvellous lemon meringue pie finished off the evening dinner. I’m afraid I kept them up well past their usual bedtimes chattering about the winter and catching up on their summer plans. My thanks to my hosts for a grand repast and a relaxing evening of conversation.
When I left, the rain had stopped and was replaced by very dense fog; it was a very harrowing trip back down to Highway 19, as the visibility didn’t extend much beyond the hood of my car and gravel roads have no white lines to follow. Even though I’ve often driven the road, it was still very hard to be sure I wasn’t heading for the ditch, as I found myself doing more than once. Forty minutes later, I finally reached the highway and took ten more minutes to make it back the short distance to the motel in Port Hood, giving thanks the white lines were there to guide me. I then finished up the report on the pipers’ cèilidh and got it posted. Then it was off to bed. A very full and enjoyable day!
Monday, 16 June — Port Hood to Meat Cove
I got up at 8h10 and had breakfast at Sandeannies. I then drove in rain to Port Hawkesbury to get the passenger side low beam light replaced—my friends noticed it was out last night—this isn’t the first time, but it’s always in Cape Breton and frequently enough that the accommodating Toyota folks now recognize me!
By the time I got back in the car, the rain had stopped, but it was very cloudy and clearly not a photography day, so I drove north on Highway 4 to Cleveland and turned left on Riverside Road, newly resurfaced last year, and drove it to the Trans-Canada Highway in Kingsville, which I took north to Whycocomagh, where I got gas and booked motel rooms for this trip. I continued on to the Gaelic College where I got tickets for the festivities on Saturday, 5 July. Stopped off in Indian Brook to say hello to Jim and Marianne Steele and to thank them for their dedicated work in producing the Sunrise e-mails), which brighten my day every day all year long. The clouds continued all the way north. I ran into fog north of Cape North Village, but it fortunately wasn’t the pea soup of Sunday night. I arrived in Meat Cove, where I’ll be spending this week about 16h50 and found the clouds halfway down the highlands.
I went down to the restaurant where I had their lobster dinner—did I mention I love lobster?—finished off with a big slice of apple pie. I got two BLT sandwiches for tomorrow’s hike. I came back to the lodge, where I’m the only guest tonight, and worked on Sunday’s report and got it posted. The skies cleared by dusk and there was a nice sunset, echoes of which were visible above the highlands, portending a good, though cool, day tomorrow. I was in bed shortly thereafter.
Tuesday, 17 June — Meat Cove
I awoke at 6h to blue skies and sun shining in the window. It was +9 (48) with a forecast high of +11 (52), but it felt warmer than that when I stepped out on the porch. Nevertheless, I put on a flannel shirt and another long sleeve shirt over it and packed a tuque and gloves along with two more thick sweat shirts in my backpack, as there’s little more miserable than hiking when one is cold (unless it’s when one is both cold and wet). After a breakfast of oatmeal and tea I made at the lodge, I was out the door and drove to the end of the Meat Cove Road and started up the mountain at 6h44.
It was a lovely morning, not as cold as I feared, with a cool breeze and bright sun with light wispy clouds above. By 8h15, I was at the top of the mountain and starting down; I had stopped numerous times on the way to catch my breath, but I nevertheless felt much better than I had other times climbing this mountain, even though my time was exactly the same as on last year’s hike to Cape St Lawrence, when I felt the climb much more. I hadn’t hiked to Lowland Cove since 2009, so my memories of some of the intermediate stages were a bit hazy.
From the Cape St Lawrence Trail junction, the Lowland Cove Road is a slow descent on hand-sized, sharp rocks (but much, much better than it was on my 2006 hike); water was running alongside the road near the bottom and joined a brook from higher up on the mountain and entered a sluice under the road, ultimately emptying into French Brook. Another few minutes brought me to another full brook flowing through a sluice under the trail, which had levelled off as it curves around the base of the mountain. The next waypoint was the junction with the old trail to Polletts Cove, which looks to be in better shape at the junction than the Lowland Cove Road, though it now dead ends in a bog on the Cape Breton Highlands Plateau according to the Parks Canada topographical map; fortunately, I knew enough to keep going straight, as there is no signage. The next waypoint was a new road marked with orange flagging tape I didn’t remember from before. At 9h21, I reached the large rusted sluice through which French Brook runs; once beneath the road, it now sits exposed and a makeshift bridge for ATV’s is in place across it. The clouds had thickened slightly but the sun was shining through enough to cast strong shadows; it was much warmer than the forecast and I could easily have left the extra clothing behind. A rough, rocky uphill section from French Brook ensued, leading to the junction with the Zinc Mine Trail. A huge puddle about 100 m/yds long sat in the middle of the trail; I managed to get by it, but got one shoe well coated with mud doing so. I could feel cold air off the water and heard a fog horn when I got here, but it didn’t last long. Views of the Gulf below arrived next along with the sounds of a lobster boat; tree-shrouded views of the coastal plain were at the right. At 10h12, I was at the abandoned farm with its large grassy open areas. With all the sights and sounds, I thought I was close to the end, but in fact I had another two hours to go! Fickle memory!
From the farm, the road descends to a brook, which was roaring prettily as I approached it, another tributary of French Brook. It has to be forded, but is fairly shallow and not too wide and has some stepping stones; I still managed to get both feet wet when one of the stones tipped and I slipped off, still standing (fortunately!), into the brook. A few minutes later, one crosses another, smaller brook, this one I jumped across. Then an uphill section leads to a pretty grassy stretch along a ridge with tree-shrouded views of mountains and the enclosed valley—one can see all the way back to the summit above the Cape St Lawrence trail junction, though only the tops of the mountains are visible, as trees block the rest. A long and nasty descent on a rocky creek bed offered tricky footing and mosquitoes galore. At 11h34, I arrived at a point where the trail seemed to go in two directions; I took the left fork, but ended up in a bunch of animal trails with no clear continuation, so I backtracked and took the right fork, which almost immediately ended in an impassible bog, but was clearly the old road. I sidled past it in the adjacent forest, keeping the bog visible through the trees, and rejoined the road past the bog. At 11h46, I was at the first of two red stakes marking the start of the trail and a few steps more and I was at Lowland Cove with its breathtaking views of the highlands.
I had no thermometer to tell, but it sure felt like 20’s (upper 60’s and low 70’s) and, for the first time I’d been there, only a gentle zephyr off the Gulf—it’s usually strong, cold, gusty winds in spades there. Words cannot do justice to the majestic scenery, where the mountains fall into the sea, nor can photos, of which I took several dozen while enjoying the sun and warm weather—it simply has to be experienced and felt. People lived here well into the 20th century; it must have been excruciatingly difficult for them to have left this beautiful place, though isolated and full of hardships it surely was. I noticed a depression in the ground near where I ate my lunch that could well have been the cellar of a dwelling. It was too early for the blue iris that usually dot this terrain (the leaves on the trees all along were of very recent vintage), but several varieties of white and yellow flowers were in bloom in the grassy plain. Two lobster boats were in the cove servicing traps all the time I was there. I didn’t wander around enjoying the many gorgeous views of the shore as I had done on the previous trips, as I knew I had a long hard trek back (it’s approximately 7 km (4.3 mi) one way) and I had promised to be off the mountain by 20h. A month shy of 72, this is surely the last time I will be able to hike to this incredible place, a privilege I have greatly enjoyed three times. I said my fond farewells and left at 13h33.
Of the long, often breathless trek back, I will spare you the details, but I managed to stagger down off the mountain at 19h56, just four minutes before the appointed hour; the descent from the summit was the hardest stretch of the entire return as my calves were screaming and the footing, in my exhaustion, tricky—it took me as long to come down as to go up! I drove to the restaurant and, reeking from the day’s exertions, ate a wonderful fisherman’s platter outside on the deck. I then drove back to the lodge, showered, and promptly went to bed. What an incredibly marvellous and memorable day this was!
Wednesday, 18 June — Meat Cove
I slept as sound as a log last night. When I finally crawled out of bed at 9h, I had to grab the walls to keep from falling: my calves were screaming and not responding to commands! I managed to get dressed and drove down to the restaurant for breakfast, hobbling to and from the car each way. It was a cloudy day, unfit for photography, so I came back to the lodge and worked on Monday’s Facebook post. I stumbled up to the upstairs deck and nodded off looking at the gorgeous scenery. I came back downstairs, one painful step at a time, surfed the web, and dozed off again.
About 14h, I woke up and had lunch. The weather had turned black and rain started, pushed along in gusts of wind one could see against the backdrop of the highlands across the valley. I then worked on Tuesday’s post, which is mostly an edited version of my hike notes. I fell asleep in the chair again, waking up when the other guests at the lodge (last night and tonight), a youngish couple from PEI, returned from doing the Cape St Lawrence to Lowland Cove loop, the last half in the rain! I felt so bad for them that they had missed out on yesterday’s glorious weather.
I went down for dinner about 18h30, another lobster (!) with a green salad and a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie, all delicious; my host, Hector Hines, came in as I was finishing up dessert and we had a good chat. I came back to the lodge, where I finished up Tuesday’s post and wrote this. The rains were still falling, but the winds had died down. Inaccurate AccuWeather is calling for showers tomorrow and a high of +10 (50) with a low of +4 (39) tomorrow night—barely above freezing! I’m not complaining: I’ll need at least another day to recover from the hike. Will soon be time for bed, now that I’m all caught up on Facebook. Wi-fi is very flaky at the lodge tonight, likely because of the weather, so I’m barely able to read anything (and Facebook is excruciatingly slow at night anyway), so I apologize for any Facebook posts and birthdays I’ve missed.
Thursday, 19 June — Meat Cove
I was up at 9h after another very sound sleep. Fog concealed the highlands from view and it was damp and cool. I am walking somewhat better today, but climbing stairs still provokes protests. I went down to the restaurant for breakfast and had a delicious omelette. While there, I spoke with Derek MacLellan, who told me that Lowland Cove was inhabited into the 1950’s and related the sad story by which Sailor Cove came by its name—it was the burial site for several sailors, believed to be European but not otherwise identified, drowned in a shipwreck off its shores in the 1920’s. I learned as well that a new colour-coded map of the local hiking trails has been prepared and trail markers will be put up along the various trails, which will make them easier to follow for newcomers in the few dubious places I’ve run into.
The fog had lifted somewhat as I made my way back to the lodge, but still clung to the tops of the highlands; it was certainly still not photography weather. I napped and surfed the web (the wi-fi is stable again, as usual). The fog rolled back into the valley off the water and remained for the rest of the afternoon. I had tea and a granola bar about 14h—I wasn’t hungry enough for a full lunch. A couple from Québec City who have been touring Cape Breton this week arrived and we chatted; Hector stopped in as well.
I went down to the restaurant for dinner with the couple, who each had lobster, while I had marvellous pan-fried haddock fillets and the last piece of strawberry rhubarb pie. I drove down to the “beach” for a bit, but it was too cool and damp to be very enjoyable and too dark and bleak for photos. The fog lingers on; Meat Cove Mountain was hidden in the village and the highlands across the valley are hidden from the lodge. The couple has to be back in Québec City to work on Monday; sad they missed out on the glorious scenery here. Hopefully, the advent of summer will bring more appropriate weather! I return to Port Hood tomorrow afternoon for the cèilidh at the Shoe tomorrow night.
Friday, 20 June — Meat Cove to Port Hood
I awoke at 6h; it was windy and cloudy, but the fog thankfully was gone. I went back to bed and got up at 8h, talked for a while with the Québec couple (who were planning on hiking up Li’l Grassy before heading home), said good-bye to them, and went down to the restaurant for the final Meat Cove breakfast of this trip. The sun was poking through the clouds off and on and, when out, made it feel much warmer, offering at least the hope there might be some photo opportunities on the trip back.
I came back to the lodge and packed the car. Hector came up—too rough for fishing today—and we chatted briefly; he’s a busy man with lots on the go. I took a few photos from the lodge and left at 11h15, by which time blue sky was showing and the sun was fairly constant. Lots of humidity remained in the air, though, so I knew photos wouldn’t be very good. I took some anyway near St Margaret Village, stopped at Cabot Landing Provincial Park but took no photos, and resolved a couple of queries on my list in Aspy Bay. I got a few more photos at the Sunrise Look-Off, where the air was a bit clearer, but none on the way up North Mountain, where the light was fickle, the clouds darker, and the air hazier. I stopped at a look-off on MacKenzies Mountain, where, while I was taking (slightly hazy) photos of the fantastic coast at and north of Pleasant Bay, I met Philippe Chiasson from the Baie-des-Chaleurs in New Brunswick, a DFO officer now stationed in Chéticamp; he answered a question of mine about the coast and then we talked about Cape Breton for another ten minutes—a very interesting guy. I continued on without further stops, given the lighting and the haze, to Belle-Côte, where I stopped at the Belle View for lunch (maple spinach salad and bacon-wrapped scallops, both superb). Sprinkles fell on the windshield in Margaree Harbour, but the sun stayed out more or less until east of Cape Mabou, when more sprinkles appeared and the clouds consumed the sun. I got my motel room in Port Hood and relaxed from the drive, reading e-mail, Facebook, and getting my notes up to date.
When I left for the Shoe after 19h, light to moderate rain was falling. I had dinner at the Shoe; I tried a taste of the new brewery’s bitter, but it was too bitter (I’d like it a good deal better on a really hot day), so I went instead for the usual red ale that is the closest thing I’ve ever found to the rich English red ales I remember so well from my stint in England in 1975-6. I had a super piece of blackened halibut, very spicy and made spicier by abundant freshly ground black pepper, accompanied by rice, asparagus, and candied vegetables; delicious squared! Tea and a fine apple/pear fruit tart with ice cream followed.
The music started promptly at 21h: Doug Lamey on fiddle was accompanied by Kolten MacDonell on piano and, after 23h, by Pius MacIsaac on guitar. Three hours of tunes, several of which were new to me, were a joy to listen to: now that Doug is in Cape Breton, I don’t get a chance to hear him as often as I did when he was living in Boston. Mary MacGillivray, who recently arrived back in Cape Breton, step danced to a great set. The rain had stopped when I left after saying thanks. A fine start to another musical week-end!
Saturday, 21 June — Port Hood
I got up late about 11h and drove to Chéticamp under cloudy skies with sunny breaks that disappeared north of Mabou and returned at Belle-Côte; it was cool and damp all day long with, on the return from Chéticamp, sprinkles, mist, and light rain. What a strange first day of summer!
After lunch at the Doryman (an excellent bowl of seafood chowder and a green salad), the music began: Douglas Cameron on fiddle accompanied by Howie MacDonald on keyboards gave us a wonderful afternoon of great tunes. One square set was danced, one waltz, and two step dancers took the floor.
I then drove back to Mabou where I caught Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle (and highland bagpipes for one set) and Patrick Gillis on guitar who gave us two hours of lovely music; the two enjoy playing together and it shows—they’re both a joy to hear. I had supper as they played, two appetizers that, for me at least, made a meal.
Then ’twas on to West Mabou for the dance, with Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Howie MacDonald on piano. It is so great to hear Ian again; I missed his music so much while he was out west. His repertoire has lots of old tunes I don’t hear often enough and his lilt and his powerful playing is wonderful for dancing. Howie’s accompaniments, of course, were spot on—what a long day of playing he’s had! I saw a number of folks I hadn’t seen since last year. The dance wasn’t packed, but at least three groups were on the floor for the later square sets and two lines were used for the third figure, making it hard to get an accurate count of the couples on the floor, but there were certainly more than twenty at the height of the dance. No strathspeys tonight, alas, but one waltz was danced with the six square sets. Nearly all locals on the floor meant some very fine steps! Great dance! I drove back to the motel afterward in light rain and patchy fog.
Note: I learned tonight there is no Brook Village dance this coming Monday; my assertion that there was was based on published information that has since been altered. My apologies to anyone I misled.
Sunday, 22 June — Port Hood
I was up at 11h after a good night’s sleep. It was mostly cloudy with great white/grey clouds and a bit of sun peeking through and very cool (high single digits (40’s)). I drove the Colindale Road, the West Mabou Road to the Rocky Ridge Road and it to Highway 19, then the Alpine Ridge Road and out to the Upper Glencoe Road and it to the Glencoe Road and then via the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road to the Old Mull River Road and it to Highway 252 and so to the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou, a long backcountry meander through a lovely green countryside. I stopped only once for photos, on the Alpine Ridge Road, as the light and air clarity was poor, but improving somewhat as I got closer to Mabou.
I met friends from Lower L’Ardoise for dinner, but they mis-estimated the travel time and got there way early and so had eaten before I arrived. We got caught up on each others’ news since last year. This year’s Sounds by the Sea afternoon with entertainment and a lobster dinner afterwards in Lower L’Ardoise during Celtic Colours has been moved from Tuesday to Wednesday. And the Celtic Colours announcement of artist/venue assignments is due out tomorrow. I’d forgotten that full dinners aren’t served at the Red Shoe Pub until 16h, so held off eating until then, since they’d already eaten. I had the scallops, which were super, and the sticky date pudding, which would sate any chocolate lover.
The afternoon’s music was by Chrissy Crowley on fiddle and Jason Roach on keyboard: the fine, sprightly tunes all afternoon long were a joy to listen to; no one wanted to do a square set but Burton MacIntyre did a long and spirited step dance when he arrived later in the afternoon. A great time in fine company!
When I drove back, I discovered very clear air and bright sun, with some thin white clouds, a good omen for tomorrow’s weather, which is supposed to be sunny and warmer and a bit more summery than heretofore; I should probably have stopped for photos in the declining sun, but didn’t. No music tonight, so ’twill be early to bed.
Monday, 23 June — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I got up at 6h30 and packed the car, as I’m staying in Whycocomagh tonight, and then drove to Sandeannies for breakfast and to get a couple of sandwiches for today’s hike in Cape Mabou. Then it was up Rocky Ridge to pick my friend up and we drove up the Glenora Falls Road to the Cape Mabou Road to the Cape Mabou Trail Head, paying a brief visit to the wind turbine just down the road at the start of the Community Pastures. The Glenora Falls Road was significantly improved last year for the installation of the turbine, but had a hard winter and has received little “love” so then: it is again badly rutted and the old puddles have re-formed.
The Cape Mabou Trail Club trails also experienced a hard winter, with numerous blow-downs on the MacEachen Trail and on the part of the Highland Forest Trail that descends to the col below Beinn Bhiorach and then ascends to the summit; the rest of the Highland Forest Trail (all of which is still officially closed, according to the signage at the summit, the only one of the trails mentioned here that is) is in decent shape. Starting before 9h, we hiked the MacEachen Trail to the Highland Forest Trail and it to the summit of Beinn Bhiorach, where we had lunch and enjoyed the incredible views in today’s crystal clear air and bright, warm sun (low 20’s (70’s))—Prince Edward Island was easily visible across the Gulf of St Lawrence with some help from optics (my friend’s binoculars and my 300 mm camera lens I call Big Bertha). It was one of the clearest days I have ever been on Beinn Bhiorach and I took full advantage of it! We returned, starting before 14h, via the Highland Forest Trail, the MacArthur Trail, the Highland Link Trail, and the MacEachen Trail. The MacArthur Trail and Highland Link Trail were in relatively good shape, though ferns and grasses are already beginning to hide the trail (trail markers on the trees make it hard to lose the trail). My legs were in fine shape, but my lungs were not and I lacked stamina on the return trip, so I had to stop every couple hundred steps or so to get my breath back and enough strength to move forward again. My friend, who is in far better shape than I, bore my slowness with the patience of Job, never saying anything about my exceedingly slow progress. We made it back to the trail head somewhat after 17h. I was exhausted (and still am)! This is the “easy” route to Beinn Bhiorach—all the others require significantly more climbing, though some are shorter, depending on where you start.
I drove my friend back to Rocky Ridge and continued over the backcountry to Alpine Ridge, Glencoe Mills, and Whycocomagh, where I got my motel room. After a quick shower, I made it to the Bayside in time for a great green salad and a fine haddock dinner. Returned to the motel and wrote this post. ’Twill soon be bedtime and I’ll sleep very well indeed! Sorry to have missed out on the session at the Red Shoe tonight, but it simply wasn’t in the cards.
Tuesday, 24 June — Whycocomagh to St Peter’s
Joyeuse fête nationale à tous mes amis québécois! Happy St Jean-Baptiste Day to all my Québec friends!
I got up at 8h30 on another beautiful sunny and warm morning, though with some high white wispy clouds and less clear air than yesterday. After breakfast at Vi’s, I drove out to Orangedale on a newly resurfaced road—a joy to drive on after the road of patched patches of previous years. The road from Orangedale to West Bay, however, remains in mostly mediocre condition. Stopped at the look-off in Marble Mountain, but took no photos as there was too much haze in the air. I put on Allie Mombourquette’s new CD, which I got from her parents on Sunday, and enjoyed her playing as I drove about today. I continued on to West Bay and Cleveland, where I took Highway 4 to Louisdale and then across the Lennox Passage to Martinique on Isle Madame, where I stopped for an hour in the impeccably maintained day park, enjoying the lovely scenery and taking photos of the lighthouse and the shore in both directions; some haze was present, but I have hopes the photos will not be too bad. Alas, the skies were by now two-thirds filled with thin white clouds, so the water was more grey than bright blue. It is a lovely peaceful spot and I could easily have spent the afternoon there, but additional beautiful scenery beckoned.
From Martinique, I drove to Poulamon, D’Escousse, Poirierville, and Cap-la-Ronde, where I encountered two beautiful large deer in velvet just past the sign for the community. The road now ends at Cap-la-Ronde below the hill from which I had hoped to get some photos. Faulty memory made me miss the Rocky Bay turn, so I ended back in Poirierville, where I stopped at the wharf for photos—the air was fairly clear there. I then drove from D’Escousse to Pondville and on to Arichat and Boudreauville and the Cap-Auguet trail head, where I had lunch. I found no indication of the state of the trails there, which were reported as unusable last year. From the trail head, I drove to Petit-de-Grat and Petite-Anse, with photos at several points along the way; the air was quite haze-free in both places. I came back by Grandique Road and Lochside Road to Pondville Beach; from near there, I picked up the Rocky Bay Road and drove it back to D’Escousse. The motel in Arichat that I’d planned on staying at is now a lumber store, so I continued on from D’Escousse to St Peter’s and got a room there.
Then, I drove out to Lower L’Ardoise and spent the evening with friends, who gave me a quick tour of the Lobsters ’R’ Us facility and fed me extravagantly well (lobster, steak, and charcoal-baked potatoes). Will soon be off to bed as I am still tired from yesterday’s hike. There is no wi-fi here, so am relying on Telus’ mobile data for posting.
Wednesday, 25 June — St Peter’s to Sydney
I got up at 8h and lolled around the motel room (actually a small cabin) until 9h. The weather was grey and darkish, with rain in the forecast and I was undecided what to do. I drove downtown for a small breakfast—I was still full from last night’s dinner.
Since the shape of the sun was barely visible through the clouds and the rain hadn’t arrived, though it looked imminent, I got some apples and a dish of fruit salad for the road at the supermarket and drove back to L’Ardoise, where I turned onto the Salmon River Road (the NS Atlas shows a community and a small river flowing from Gillis Lake into St Peters Inlet at Barra Head, both bearing the name Salmon River). I first drove this road last fall, returning from the Sounds by the Sea afternoon and didn’t have time to photograph the two lakes, Garrets Lake and Gillis Lake, that I saw from the road. The atlas shows this to be an area of many lakes, brooks, and bogs, dotted by higher knoll-height points of land, and experience shows it to be heavily forested as well; some logging had recently occurred and I met a logging truck on the road. In spite of the grey weather, I got some photos of Garrets Lake, but found no good vantage point for Gillis Lake, which was shrouded by the trees. I continued on to the end of the road where the Immaculate Conception Church, dating from 1865 and of an interesting architecture, sits beside Highway 4.
After taking photos there, I drove on to Soldiers Cove, where I took the Soldiers Cove Road (in poor shape—the “Rough Section Next [blank] km” sign understated the situation considerably) to Grand River and, once across the bridge, onto the East Side Grand River Road (in decent shape, except on the eastern end, where it was in the process of being graded and was only half-width with stones left in the roadway—the grader and a steam shovel were parked there, but no one was working) and followed it to L’Archevêque Harbour, one of my favorite places on Cape Breton’s east coast, where I stopped for an hour. Work seems to be ongoing there, as several truck loads of fill sit behind the beach and some has been spread, perhaps to eventually make a better parking area behind the beach. It was damp and cold with a stiff breeze blowing, so I sat in the car rather than at the picnic table. I watched a lobster boat come in to the wharf (what a mean day to be out on the water!), where a truck was waiting for its catch; shortly thereafter, thick fog rolled in off the ocean. Since I could no longer see anything seaward, I left. Lots of lobster traps were sitting along the shore, so obviously several fishermen have decided this year’s fishery wasn’t worth their while.
I decided to cancel my planned trip to Louisbourg, as it would be pointless in the fog, so I drove back to Grand River and, hoping the fog would lessen inland, took the Grand River Falls Road to Loch Lomond and the Loch Lomond Road to Big Pond; both were in good shape and the fog lifted somewhat, but misty rain started to fall and haze occluded the lakes, so the normally pretty drive was rather dull. In Big Pond, where neither rain nor fog prevailed, I took Highway 4 north, trying to make up my mind what to do. In the end, I decided to rest in the afternoon and go to the Governor’s Pub session in Sydney, which I’d never before attended; a friend had also recommended the food there, so I was also motivated to see what was on offer. Accordingly, I drove on to Sydney and got a motel room at the Jacques Cartier Motel on the Grand Lake Road, my usual landing spot in the Sydney area. The wi-fi worked, so I surfed the web and dozed.
The rain arrived in Sydney during the afternoon, but didn’t appear to have been very copious when I left for the Governor’s Pub at 18h30. I had an excellent dinner (maple salad; “Fiddler’s haddock”; rice; a delicious vegetable medley with beets, carrots, beans, and likely one or two other veggies; and apple crisp); except for the dessert, I judged the portions on the stingy side, but otherwise everything was done to perfection and displayed finesse in the kitchen—definitely the best meal I’ve ever had in Sydney, which I hadn’t considered a culinary hot spot previously.
I then went upstairs to the pub for the evening session, led by Boyd MacNeil on fiddle; his wife, Lisa (Gallant), played with a handful of other fiddlers whose names I don’t know; Joël Chiasson, Mario Colosimo, and Adam Young provided accompaniment at various times on keyboard; and Paul MacDonald and one other I didn’t recognize accompanied on guitar. The session players, as is normal, were unamplified and the pub was full of end-of-school-year revellers so noisy that I had great difficulty making out the tunes being played with my poor hearing, so I left around 21h40 and returned to the motel. From what I could make out, several of the tunes played are not so often heard along the Cèilidh Trail, while others they played often are.
It will be early to bed tonight; I hope the weather tomorrow turns out better than the forecast.
Thursday, 26 June — Sydney to Margaree Forks
I got up at 9h and left the motel at 10h. I had breakfast at Robins on Prince Street—very tasty but probably not the healthiest and definitely too much sugar! It was a grey, cloudy morning, cool and damp, and threatening rain. I don’t mind the cool, but sure would like to see some blue sky and sun with clear air!!
I took care of an errand and then left Sydney via Highway 125, which I exited onto the Millville Highway on Boularderie Island to try to find answers to some queries that came up whilst working on the photo essays this past year. In lightly falling rain, I drove to the Black Rock Road in Big Bras d’Or, which I had previously driven to its end without finding the road to Black Rock Point Lighthouse. I did so again today, so, at the end of the road, I turned on Telus mobile data support and had Google Maps guide me there. The road to the lighthouse, it turns out, is unsigned, but easy to find as it sits at the boundary between the paved and gravel portions of Black Rock Road. I drove the 400+ m/yds to the end of the tree-lined side road, where I was confronted by a gate. It was only when I got out of the car that I saw the top of the lighthouse above the trees at the right, hosting a swarm of crows. Although it was still raining lightly, I took its photo anyway; from the Google satellite imagery, it’s clear that the curving trail past the gate leads directly to the lighthouse and, on a decent day, would have great views of the Great Bras d’Or Channel, but I didn’t want to trespass, so I turned around and drove back to Black Rock Road. I continued on the old trunk 5 highway and identified the two churches I was curious about from last year’s photos. I then drove over Kellys Mountain, part of which was in fog, though the summit itself was clear, to Baddeck, where I took the Old Margaree Road to the Cabot Trail and it to the Dancing Goat, where I had a delicious cup of potato leek soup with a pot of tea. I am beyond delighted that the Goat continues to dance—everything is as it was last year: superb food and impeccable service. I then drove to Margaree Forks, where I got my motel room and pulled some long-sleeved shirts out of the suitcase—I’ve been wearing short-sleeved shirts for the most part, necessitating another layer (sweat shirt or wind breaker) to keep me warm. Not that I’m complaining about the temperature, which I much prefer to the 30’s (90’s) I’ve been seeing in Jackson of late.
I drove in moderate rain to the Glenora Distillery where I met friends for a birthday celebration. We had a great dinner together, the best part of which was quality time spent with friends; the food was interesting and delicious and included a superb plate of a number of wonderful cheeses accompanied by crusty bread, strawberries, and grapes. The service was impeccable.
I drove back to the motel, in a bit lighter rain, and caught up on the Celtic Colours line-up announced this week, which names Mac Morin as one of the artists in residence, a magnificent choice; avoids one of last year’s terrible scheduling conflicts; and, at a quick glance, is more appealing over-all in its offerings than last year’s. Looks to be another great festival.
Friday, 27 June — Margaree Forks
Oh, what a magnificent day in a gorgeous place with spectacular scenery and music!!! I got up at 9h to a morning that could have gone either way. White clouds, many tinged with grey or black, covered the skies to the east and were prevalent in the west as well but with more blue sky and fewer dark colours. After a wonderful breakfast at the Dancing Goat, where I also got a spinach salad to go for lunch, I drove back to Margaree Forks and stopped at Doyles Bridge for photos; not bad in either direction but very clear towards the west. I continued on the East Margaree Road (in decent shape in places and indecent in others) to Belle-Côte, where I got gas and drove the Belle-Côte Beach Road (in terrible shape, with a pothole for every conceivable taste) for a look to the north; the air seemed clear, so I headed for the Park. By the time I got up French Mountain, the sun was out, the sky was blue, and the air almost completely clear: a perfect day for a hike on the Skyline Trail.
It has been several years since I last hiked this spectacular trail and I don’t remember signage for a loop trail being present; I do remember the spectacular views and the extreme popularity of this trail—hands down, I’d say, the most popular in the entire park. Lots of people were there today, so, when I reached the clearly marked junction, I went right where most folks went left; I was hardly completely alone—a dozen individuals or couples passed me in both directions, as I was not moving very fast. The right fork’s trail is not the perfectly groomed surface one finds on the left fork, but consists of dirt, rocks, gravel, roots, and grass in various mixtures as one progresses around it. The views proved very interesting to me, revealing parts of the Cape Breton Highlands I’d never seen before. And the walk along the edge of the coast was equally compelling, showing headlands I’d not previously seen. The right fork connects to the left at the start of the flight of 270 steps (I counted them on my leisurely and gasping way back up) that lead down to the viewing platform closest to the water. Views to the south had some haze, but the shape of Sight Point at the northern end of Cape Mabou was readily visible with that of Margaree Island superimposed on its base. The Îles-de-la-Madeleine were clear enough I could make them out with my bare eyes and I could distinguish distinct islands through Big Bertha’s lens. Only once before have I seen these islands and that was from one of the Fishing Cove look-offs a number of years ago. I took plenty of photos all along the way; I expect they will better those I have from my last hike there. The return from the steps is all gentle uphill and I took it slow, glacially slow it seemed at times as I was often out of breath, arriving back at the car only at 19h10. This was not a long trek, 9.2 km (5.7 mi), but I simply could not move any faster. I saw only a chipmunk for wildlife, no moose and no eagles.
Since I reeked from my exertions, I couldn’t make any restaurant by closing time, so I picked up a pre-made sub at a convenience store in Chéticamp and drove back to the motel in Margaree Forks, where I showered and got ready for the dance at Southwest Margaree. I ate the spinach salad and the sandwich as a combined lunch/supper and made my way to the dance hall for the kick-off of the summer dances.
I found a new layout when I entered, with a row of chairs along one wall with the tables usually flush with that wall pushed to the right, reducing the amount of room for dancing; it drew unfavourable comments from a number of folks and I suspect it may therefore not be a permanent change. Tonight’s musicians were Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard, two of my favourites from my early years in Cape Breton. They played as I remembered, each feeding off the other’s music, playing the tunes I remember from the old days before Ian went west. The music started promptly, with four couples on the floor for the first square set (five during its third figure). More people took to the floor as they arrived during the evening; the sixth and last square set had 22 couples in its third figure, the most of any square set; the hall wasn’t full, but nearly so. A waltz was danced by four couples after the third square set and strathspeys after the fifth; the step dancers were Dawn MacDonald-Gillis, Mary MacGillivray, Carmen MacArthur, Jimmy MacIsaac (Ian’s uncle), and Anne-Louise Campbell MacQuarrie (Donny Campbell’s daughter). When the sixth square set ended a few minutes before 1h, Ian and Mac continued playing. It was fantastic music all night long! And it was great to see and speak with so many friends I’ve made during the years. After the music stopped, many didn’t want to leave and sat or stood talking in groups until the volunteers who ran the dance lost patience and forced everyone out by turning off the lights. The evening was as superb as the hike had been! What a perfect day!
Saturday, 28 June — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I got up at 8h30, greeted by the sun and blue skies of another beautiful day. I packed up the car as I’m decamping to Port Hood tonight. After another fine breakfast at the Dancing Goat, I drove into the Margaree Valley and stopped for photos at the bridge; some haze in the air blurred the mountains to the east somewhat, but the air in the valley itself was clear. What a glorious spot the Margaree Valley is! Formed by the wide alluvial plain of the Northeast Margaree River and surrounded on all sides by the highlands, it is a joy to behold on a beautiful day!
I drove up to the Phillips Mountain Look-Off for photos and continued along the freshly graded West Big Intervale Road, which runs along the middle flanks of Phillips Mountain high above the Northeast Margaree River, back to Doyles Bridge. It’s a pretty drive, though the river is visible only on the last section and then only if you look carefully through the trees. But there are fine views of the forest and the mountain and the surrounding highlands at various points. From Doyles Bridge, I again drove the East Margaree Road to East Margaree. I met a team of horses drawing a wagon, a rare sight in my experience of Cape Breton. The lupins along the river were more visible than yesterday, but still not in the vast numbers of previous years. I stopped for photos of this beautiful valley, through which the Margaree River (the Northeast Margaree and Southwest Margaree Rivers join at Margaree Forks) flows on its way to the Gulf at Belle-Côte/Margaree Harbour. I prefer this road’s views to those of the Cabot Trail as the latter is too close to the base of the mountains and to the main branch of the river to see either one well, whereas the former provides great views of both. In East Margaree, I turned onto the crossroad connecting East Margaree to the Cabot Trail and stopped beyond the beautiful double green truss bridge (long may it survive!) over the river for more photos of this stunning valley. There was some haze upstream but it was, I think, still OK for photos; clear air prevailed downstream. What an incredibly gorgeous spot!
I drove on to the look-off at Terre-Noire; the Gulf was especially hazy and the views to the south were blurred with haze, while those to the north were crisper. I was glad I had chosen a short-sleeved shirt, as the sun was very warming and the temperatures clearly headed into the 20’s (70’s), though a nice cool breeze was blowing in off the Gulf. Could it be that summer has finally made it to Cape Breton?! I stopped for photos in Grand-Étang Harbour, one of the places where the highlands provide a fine backdrop for the colourful lobster boats directly below. Across the new bridge, I turned left onto the Old Cabot Trail and stopped for photos from this scenic and little-travelled road at a few different points.
By then, it was time for dinner at the Doryman, where I exceptionally had coffee instead of tea with the garden salad and huge piece of haddock, home fries, and veggies (last night was a very short night and I didn’t want to miss any of the subtleties in the forthcoming music). Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle, Mac Morin on keyboard, and Pat Gillis on guitar (3/5 of Beòlach!) provided the afternoon’s music, which I will not soon forget—these three good friends, all superb masters of their instruments and of the music, have been playing together for years and clearly enjoy each other’s company and playing, stimulating each other to give their utmost. They let their joy and friendship shine forth through the tunes, impeccably and powerfully played, all afternoon long. Wendy chose lots of strathspeys in the sets and they had everyone’s toes tapping. It was incredible music and a true privilege to hear. Mac and Pat each had a couple of turns as leads, as Wendy quit playing mid-set and Mac picked it up and ran with it and passed it on to Pat when he was done. Some dancers from away took the floor more than once and gave us something clearly way outside the Cape Breton dance tradition, responding as best they knew how to the joy they felt at the music. Of the true Cape Breton step dancers, Mary MacGillivray, a gentleman I don’t know at all, and another lady whose name I can’t retrieve from my leaky memory all gave us some steps; Mac also left the keyboard and step danced, but Wendy was unwilling to leave the fiddle. Donna-Marie DeWolfe relieved Wendy for two sets late in the afternoon; she’s become an even more amazing player. No square sets were danced.
After this wonderful afternoon of music, I drove south and stopped in Mabou to leave a card and wish Theresa “Glencoe” MacNeil, a lovely person and dear friend, a very happy birthday; I couldn’t stay long as I had to head to Port Hood and get my motel room key.
After a brief snack, I headed off to the dance in West Mabou, where a rehearsal for a KitchenFest! concert was just winding down. Cathy Porter, an amazing percussionist and musician, came over and sat down across from me as the first square set started up, with Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Mac Morin on (real) piano. Cathy averred it was her first time at a Cape Breton square dance, so I provided her with a quick tutorial on the components of an Inverness square set, which helped her make some sense of what to a newcomer often seem to be the inscrutable principles underlying the movements on the dance floor (I well remember the mystery I felt at my first Glencoe dances and the great patience Elizabeth (Mrs Angus) Beaton showed in answering my many puzzled queries). Cathy has two concerts tomorrow and felt a need to be well-rested for them, so she left after the first square set, but was very intrigued by what she experienced and said she’ll definitely be back when she’s not so pressed for sleep. I can just imagine how the inventiveness of her fertile imagination will lead her to incorporate the step dance rhythms on the dance floor into her music!
It was fantastic music all night long, with plenty of jigs and reels after the afternoon’s strathspeys, but a step dance set was played around midnight that saw several step dancers share their steps: young Stephen MacLennan led off first with a fiery and intricate set of perfectly executed steps that brought the house down; his mother Kelly (née Warner) and 3-year old brother Lyle followed (it was also the first time Lyle had danced square sets); two young ladies I don’t have names for; David Rankin; Burton MacIntyre; and two more young ladies I can’t name. Quite the step dance set! The hall was full enough that, except for the first square set, there were two queues of dancers for the third figures, making it hard for me to count the number of dancers on the floor from my vantage point. But the great local dancers were there and stepped ’er off in the fine Mabou dance style to the fantastic music. Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle and Dawn MacDonald-Gillis on piano ably relieved Wendy and Mac for one square set. After the last square set, Wendy and Mac played a waltz to fill out the remaining time. Like the afternoon, it was an amazing musical tour de force. I got back to the motel too tired to finish this post and fell instantly asleep, the tunes still ringing in my ears.
Sunday, 29 June — Port Hood
I got up past 11h—I was some tired out and slept like a log as soon as my head hit the pillow. I finished up yesterday’s account and posted it. In spite of the bright sunny weather outside, I caught up on the news and e-mail.
I then left for Judique, driving the Dunmore and Mabou Roads, a pretty backcountry route I take often. I met Brent Chaisson (from Prince Edward Island) outside the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, which was still working with a bus touring group; we had a good chat while we were waiting to go inside. His son, Louis-Gabriel, 22 months old, was making his first acquaintance with the bagpipes (a piper I didn’t recognize was on the grounds) and was fascinated by them.
KitchenFest! kicked off at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre with a welcome by Brittany Rankin, delivered in both Gaelic and English, and an introduction of the cèilidh’s musicians: Troy MacGillivray on fiddle, Allan Dewar on piano, Brent on guitar, and Cheryl Smith on snares (replacing John Chaisson, who could not attend). The house was full, though not packed as it was for the Nuallan cèilidh, leaving room for square sets. Troy opened with a set of jigs and five couples immediately took the floor, dancing the first of four square sets during the afternoon, with eleven couples in the last one. In between were often long, awesomely played tune sets, so fantastic they took one’s breath away with their sheer beauty and power. Troy also offered us wonderful slow airs, so richly and lushly played that they brought tears to one’s eyes. A waltz attracted five couples. Strathspeys brought to the floor Terry Macnamara; Sabra (MacGillivray) MacDonald, Troy’s sister, and her daughter, Ruby, of roughly the same age as Louis-Gabriel, who, though she does step dance, was not in a dancing mood this afternoon; Mary MacGillivray; and Sabra solo. At this time and at many others during the afternoon, a totally uninhibited gentleman from California I first encountered at Rollo Bay a couple of years ago, expressed his joy at the music with his danses fantaisistes et farfelues, in which a highland dance hornpipe figure seems to be a central motif, annoying some and amusing others. Louis-Gabriel and Ruby were below the front of the low stage, Louis-Gabriel trying to reach his father and Ruby following; the interaction between them was typical of toddlers and emphasized the family-oriented foundation of a true kitchen cèilidh as the music continued without pause. Troy tried a second round of strathspeys to encourage Ruby to dance, but again without success. Towards the middle of the cèilidh, Brittany Rankin beautifully sang a Gaelic song and just before its end, Patrick MacDonald, Jeff MacDonald’s son, led a group composed of Bernard Cameron, his son (whose name I don’t have), Edna MacDonald, and his father Jeff, in a Gaelic milling frolic song, also beautifully rendered. The afternoon’s finale was a barn-burner of a set, including Tulloch Gorm, a fantastic conclusion to the cèilidh. The perfect accompaniments by Allan, Brent, and Cheryl, combined with Troy’s superb fiddle, made for an incredible afternoon of music, a true elixir (Merriam-Webster defines that as “a magical liquid that can cure illness or extend life”)! KitchenFest! was indeed off to a wonderful start for me!
To unwind a bit, I then drove the Hillside Road; the Gussieville Road (where the afternoon sun was in the wrong place for photos); the Rear Intervale Road, with a photo stop at its end for photos from Long Johns Bridge of the Southwest Mabou River, my first time there this trip and a spot I dearly love; and the Upper Southwest Mabou Road. After a brief stop at the motel in Port Hood, I drove to the Red Shoe in Mabou for the evening KitchenFest! cèilidh. The aroma of freshly mown hay hung beautifully in the air as I reached West Mabou, as farmers were taking advantage of the fine weather to get the crop in. Several teens were diving into the Mabou River from the bridge, another sure sign summer has arrived in Cape Breton.
I got one of the three last seats at the Red Shoe, the “high chairs” beside the front window. The pub was packed for the KitchenFest! cèilidh. The emcee, whose name I didn’t get, is said to be a lady from Halifax who now works at the Gaelic College. In both Gaelic and English, she welcomed us to the cèilidh and introduced Anna MacKinnon, a Gaelic-speaker from Inverness, who related in Gaelic an amusing story, which the emcee translated sentence-by-sentence for us into English. The emcee then presented the evening’s musicians: first cousins Rodney MacDonald and Glenn Graham on dual fiddles; Joël Chiasson on (real) piano, a frequent accompanist for these two and a superb musician; and Sandy MacDonald on guitar (subbing for JJ Chaisson from Prince Edward Island, who was unable to be present, though he will arrive for two concerts Monday and Tuesday), a masterful guitar player I always look forward to hearing. Some very powerful music ensued from this quartet, as they gave us wonderful tunes for much of the evening, including a couple of very fine slow airs amongst the great helping of jigs, reels, and strathspeys. About forty minutes into the cèilidh, ten couples somehow managed to find room to dance a square set in the very limited space. The fiddlers took a break after the first hour and Kevin Dugas on highland bagpipes played a long set, during which Melody Cameron step danced. A slow air or lament followed solo and then jigs brought five couples onto the floor for a second square set with the bagpipes, as always a real treat for me! Kevin retired and Rodney and Glenn returned for a set of strathspeys/reels during which both Joan Currie and Kevin Dugas step danced. Another great tune set followed and then a waltz to which two couples danced. Glenn on solo fiddle then played for Rodney to step dance. A third square set, with eight couples this time, followed. Two final sets of tunes concluded the evening, with Kevin on small pipes joining the others. Absolute magic all night long! I know I’m full of superlatives, but the many world-class musicians in this relatively lightly populated area (surely the highest ratio of great musicians to the population of any place in the world) completely justify the superlatives. The music and the culture simply have to be experienced to be understood! I returned to the motel room too tired to finish this post and quickly fell asleep! What a magnificent day I was privileged to enjoy!
Monday, 30 June — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I awoke at 8h30 to warm, sunny, blue skies, but with a lot of haze along the water. A drive out the Colindale Road to Mabou revealed haze on the Cape Mabou Highlands as well. Two teens were already diving from the bridge over the Mabou River: summer is definitely here! I had breakfast at the Shining Waters in Mabou.
I had thought about hiking the Railway Trail in Glendyer, but it was clearly going to be too hot for that, so I instead drove out the Mabou Harbour Road and on to Mabou Coal Mines, where I stopped at the look-off and watched the lobster boats on the Gulf pulling their traps, as this is Landing Day in this fishing zone, and monitored the activity in Finlay Point Harbour. I then drove down into the harbour, where I photographed the many neatly stacked traps, floats, and coils of ropes already landed, whose beauty David Greenwell so memorably captured in photos a couple of years ago.¹ I sat in the beach parking area for a while and looked over at Beinn Alasdair Bhain, not too hazy in the near distance; Mill Brook, which flows under the bridge at Finlay Point Harbour and into the Gulf, had lots of water and was reflecting the blue skies most alluringly. A couple of swimmers were also out at Mabou Coal Mines Beach, enjoying the summery weather. “Beach” was certainly written all over this day!
Next, I drove to the end of the road to the Mabou Post Road trail head, where the trail map bore no indication that any of the Cape Mabou Trail Club trails were now closed, wonderful news indeed and the first year since 2009 that none of the trails are officially closed, though a sign warned that “All trails may not be cleared of windfalls”. Given my experience on the Highland Forest Trail descending to the col below Beinn Bhiorach a week ago, the windfall warning is indeed pertinent and, until it has been removed, you should probably stick to the main trails, unless you are prepared for acrobatics or bushwhacks to pass them.
I then drove slowly back through the gorgeous Cape Mabou Highlands to Mabou Harbour and then turned off onto the Northeast Mabou Road, which has an unrepaired bad washout with standing water in the road, that is nevertheless passable with care, to Highway 19 to the Blackstone Road to the West Lake Ainslie Road (much of which has been recently resurfaced, making it once again a joy to drive on) to Highway 395 to Highway 252 and into Whycocomagh. This is a gorgeous scenic drive featuring the rounded contours, ridges, prominences, knobs, and folds of glorious Cape Mabou; the pretty mountains south of Lake Ainslie; beautiful Lake Ainslie itself (the first time I’d seen it this trip); and the great cliffs of the interior plateau running from Margaree Forks to Whycocomagh. Haze, alas, blurred and softened them all, so I took no photos. I got my motel room in Whycocomagh and promptly took a nap—apparently, I didn’t get enough sleep last night.
When I awoke three hours later, I worked on yesterday’s post. I had dinner at Charlene’s (fine garden salad, delicious pan-fried haddock filets, and a bread pudding with a luscious caramel sauce) and, having arrived at the height of the dinner hour, had ample time to complete and post yesterday’s account while waiting for it to be served.
Then it was on to Brook Village for its first square dance of the year. Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Joey Beaton on keyboard provided great music, though the sound coming out of the speakers was “thin” to both my ears and those of several others with whom I spoke. The music started promptly at 21h30 (Brook Village dances start a half hour earlier than the norm) with a march/strathspeys/reels set, led off by the Kennedy Street March. The first square set, with five couples in the first figure and six in the next two, followed immediately. More people arrived during that square set, so the second square set had two groups and two queues in the third figure. A pretty waltz that drew many couples to the floor followed. The third and fourth square sets had so many on the floor I couldn’t count them; the third figures had 16 couples and 12 couples, respectively, in the queue nearest me. It got very warm inside and the fifth square set saw rather fewer people on the floor. Another waltz followed. For the sixth square set, it was back to a single queue, with 17 couples in the third figure. Faded Love then drew a few couples to the floor. The seventh and last square set had double queues, with 10 couples in the queue nearest me. The dance ended at 0h50. No step dance sequence was played tonight. Considering all the competition from other KitchenFest! events in the area, I judged the turn-out quite good. Lots of excellent local dancers were present, causing the building to shake as their synchronized rhythmic steps resounded. It was an excellent start to the Brook Village season and it was especially nice to see Joey playing an entire square dance. It was also a delight to see many friends and chat with them, including Jake Brillhart and Aneleisa Gladding-Hinton from Vermont, both of whom were dancing up a storm on their second day in Cape Breton. Great night!
Tuesday, 1 July — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
Je souhaite à tous mes amis canadiens une joyeuse fête du Canada! I wish all my Canadian friends a happy Canada Day.
I was up at 9h30 to another summery day and had breakfast at Vi’s. When I returned to the car, it was clear it was again going to be way too warm to hike; haze and humidity were definitely in the air.
Since I am again, regrettably, going to miss Highland Village Day this year, I decided to circumnavigate the Washabuck Peninsula, which I normally do on Highland Village Day, as its beautiful coast line would be certain to get all the breezes on offer this day. Accordingly, I drove out the Trans-Canada Highway to Exit 6 and took the ferry across Little Narrows, where Whycocomagh Bay empties into St Patricks Channel and eventually into the Great Bras d’Or Lake. From the ferry, I turned left and was almost immediately at the gypsum mines, inactive on this holiday. A pretty drive with views of the sides of the central plateau across St Patricks Channel ensued. At Washabuck Bridge, the road turns inland briefly and then heads east again along the Washabuck River, as much an inlet of the Great Bras d’Or Lake as a river, with pretty views of its watery meanders and coves. Near Upper Washabuck, by the Holy Rosary Church, there are very fine views of the water and the Cape Breton Highlands behind Baddeck. Trees shroud the views along the way beyond the church, but there are also open spots—the cemetery offers an excellent vista, for example. I continued on into Lower Washabuck, where there are fewer views and none of the water until near the end of the road at MacKays Point, where there are magnificent views (on a clear day) of the highlands and Baddeck to the north and of the Great Bras d’Or Lake, Beinn Bhreagh, and Kempt Head on Boularderie Island to the northeast and east. A very beautiful spot indeed! I doubled back through Lower Washabuck, spotting my first wild rose bush in full bloom and aroma along the side of the road (they’re normally out in force by now); there are some fine views as one reaches the junction with the Gillis Point Road.
I turned onto that road and started climbing up. I think of the Washabuck Peninsula as a huge mountain plunked into the middle of the Bras d’Or Lake system. Heretofore, I had been travelling along the base and lower flanks of that mountain, but to get from Washabuck to Iona, one must either cross the mountain or go back to Little Narrows and circle the base. The Gillis Point Road across the mountain is paved, but has to be driven as if it is a gravel road in very poor shape: think of a road heaved with frost during the spring thaw, with plenty of potholes, broken pavement, and crumbling shoulders and you will have a glimmer of the condition of this provincial disgrace of a road. Since I have been coming to Cape Breton, this road has never been in good shape, but it’s even worse this year. Given its fine views of Washabuck “Mountain” and the Great Bras d’Or Lake and the Boisdale Hills beyond, and with a fine overlook above Maskells Harbour (where I heard, but did not see, an eagle and took photos in spite of the haze), it is most justifiably a part of the Bras d’Or Lakes Scenic Drive, a provincially-designated tourist route, but one has to be a masochist to drive it! Incredible! The road improves somewhat from the look-off to Gillis Point, but reverts past Gillis Point, making it very hard to enjoy the lovely views through Grassy Cove and Plaster Cove and on into Iona. I turned into MacCormack Day Park on the outskirts of Iona, pulled my field chair out of the trunk, and plunked it down in the shade on the cliffs above at the shore; after the drive, I felt like a land-lubber who had been on the bounding main long enough to feel dizzy when once again standing on solid ground!
Beautiful, if very hazy, views and the cooling breezes, however, soon restored my good cheer. The sun’s movement eventually forced me to move my chair if I was to stay in the shade, but doing so brought into much better view Christmas Island and the lovely Boisdale Hills running north along the east edge of the lake. I had an apple and a granola bar for lunch and about 15h15, I regretfully packed up and resumed my tour. When I left, the car thermometer registered +27 (81) in Iona, but the humidity made it feel far warmer and others reported temperatures into the 30’s (high 80’s and low 90’s).
I detoured across the Grand Narrows Bridge to check out the café at the marina in Grand Narrows, which has expanded considerably since my last visit there, now offering pizza, sandwiches, wraps, chowder, and other lunch-time fare, as well as alcoholic beverages. I was disappointed to find no maple walnut in the ice cream case, but made do with a fudge chocolatey frozen yogurt concoction that was very good. On the way back, the drawbridge was open to allow a sail boat to pass into the Barra Strait from the Great Bras d’Or Lake.
Big thunderheads, many coloured dark grey, hung overhead as I left Iona; a few raindrops splattered onto my windshield, but neither rain nor storm ensued. Highway 223, much of which has been resurfaced in recent years and is, with the exception of a few well-marked bad bumps, in excellent shape, was very busy today, with lots of cars in a great hurry, so it wasn’t the leisurely drive from Iona through Jamesville, MacKinnons Harbour, and Ottawa Brook through great scenery that I had envisioned. I turned off on Campbells Road north of Estmere, one of the few interior roads on the peninsula I hadn’t yet driven, to satisfy a query on my to-do list. It dead-ends at Nineveh (at least I wasn’t willing to continue on past there in my car) with a nice view of an inlet of Whycocomagh Bay and the gap between Lewis and Northside Mountains across Little Narrows. I continued on to Little Narrows for the great views of Whycocomagh Bay that section of the road offers and to complete the circle.
I turned around at the ferry landing and retraced my steps to Portage Road, so named because it initially crosses a very narrow isthmus once a portage point between Whycocomagh Bay and the Bras d’Or Lake—the isthmus widens considerably not far past the portage point. For those who do not know the road, it offers spectacular views at several points of Whycocomagh Bay and of the mountains which rise above it, making it a gorgeous scenic drive. I continued on to the Trans-Canada Highway and turned onto Reservation Road in Waycobah and followed it to the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road, which I took to Glencoe Mills. Just past the Dunakin Mountain Road, a red reflector at the end of a small rod sits in a hole in a broken sluice in the west-bound lane; it is not very visible and I had to swerve to avoid it, so be careful! I turned onto the Glencoe Road, followed it to Upper Southwest Mabou and turned onto the Rear Intervale Road, which I took to Hillsdale, where I turned onto the St Ninian Road (in better shape thanks to a recent grading than I’ve ever seen it before) and took it to the Mabou Road and it to the Dunmore Road and so into Port Hood. A lovely backcountry ramble with the aroma of fresh-mown hay along Portage Road and Dunmore Road, where hay was being cut as I passed by. The skies were clear at the coast, with no hint of rain. It was thus that I celebrated much of Canada Day, feasting in the beauty that is everywhere in this incredibly beautiful island.
After getting my motel room key and a very brief rest, I drove to Mabou to Joey and Karen Beaton’s inaugural cèilidh at the Community Hall across from the Red Shoe Pub. Tonight, the featured fiddler was Olivier Broussard, a fourteen-year old lad from Port Hawkesbury I first heard at a Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association concert in St Anns a few years ago. For his age then, he was already amazing, choosing technically difficult music that he played with aplomb and verve. Since then, he has continued to improve, taking to the instrument like a duck to water. After the opening jig set, with Karen and Olivier on dual fiddles and Joey on keyboard, Olivier and Joey played two sets of tunes, the first a set of clogs Angus Chisholm used to play and the second a Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald set, both impeccably played. Karen played a tune set with Joey and then Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife. I left at that point in order to make the KitchenFest! cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, but it was with real regret, as I’d have loved to have heard the rest of the cèilidh.
As it turned out, I needn’t have been in quite so much of a hurry, as there was plenty of room at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. Tonight’s cèilidh was absolutely amazing, with Shelly Campbell on fiddle; Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle, Highland bagpipes, and small pipes; Calum MacKenzie (Kenneth’s brother) on piano; and Patrick Gillis on guitar. All great friends, they play (or have played—Calum now lives in the Ottawa area) together often. After a brief introduction by Brittany Rankin, again in Gaelic and English, the group began the first set with Kenneth on small pipes. Next was a set of “Buddy jigs” with Kenneth and Shelly on dual fiddles. With Kenneth still on fiddle, they then gave us a set beginning with a Gaelic air. Kenneth left the stage and Shelly played a lovely, spritely air (which I heard her name as Moonlight Clog, but may have misheard) and continued with strathspeys and reels. Shelly then gave us a march Theresa MacLellan often played so beautifully and continued with other tunes. With much difficulty, a jig set attracted three and then finally four couples to the floor for a square set. Fireworks were in the air outside in honour of Canada Day, so the cèilidh was suspended, and everyone went outside to watch them. When they had run their course, the square set resumed and completed. Calum then started a solo piano set with the tune Calum’s Road, based on the true story of a Scotsman on an outer island who single-handedly built a road over many years that the local government would not (if you don’t know the story, look up the book of the same title, an inspiring tale of one man’s indomitable spirit that also paints a vivid picture of the culture in which he was raised and lived) and continued with other tunes; Pat’s very subtle guitar accompaniment was an added embellishment I tremendously appreciated. Kenneth, on Highland bagpipes, Calum, and Pat then gave us the hauntingly beautiful Moladh Maureen NicCoinnich in honour of Calum and Kenneth’s late mother. Brittany Rankin next gave us a Gaelic song, Fhear a’ Bhàta (The Boatman),¹ that was well enough known to have been popular in the States at one time. Another dual fiddles set followed and then Pat played a lovely tune on solo guitar. A happy birthday was wished to one of the members of the audience. A jig set finally got four couples out on the floor for the second and last square set. With Shelly silent, Kenneth, Calum, and Pat played a waltz, at the end of which Shelly played another with Kenneth silent. Next, Shelly, Brittany, and Dale Gillis (Pat’s brother) step danced to strathspeys and reels. Then followed a rarity in my experience in Cape Breton, which I’ve seen previously only in guitar summits, where one musician (Calum in this case) starts out a tune which the others join in and accompany, and then passes it on to the next musician, who does the same; in the set, the lead went twice around the four musicians, producing a magnificent set. With Shelly on lead fiddle and Kenneth on small pipes, a “Theresa MacLellan set” followed. With Shelly sitting out, Kenneth on fiddle started out with Heavy Is My Fate and continued with one amazing set of strathspeys and reels, including a couple of tunes I don’t know; this set was so pure and so deep from the heart, I was wracked with emotion. Shelly returned for the fifteen-minute finale on dual fiddles, which began with John Morris Rankin’s The Last March. I have rarely been so moved by an evening of music as I was this wonderful evening. It was played perfectly, from the heart and inner soul, by master musicians in an ambience typical of a Cape Breton house party.
On the way home, I reflected that these KitchenFest! cèilidhs are everything I have ever wanted from a Celtic Colours concert, pure Cape Breton music, with no “foreign” admixture, by its best practitioners, straight from the heart, in a low-key presentation—certainly not a show or showy in any way, but just the absolute best music to be had anywhere on the Island. What an end to a perfect Canada Day!
Wednesday, 2 July — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I arose at 8h30 to a lovely morning, far less humid and with clearer air and a nice breeze, with a distinctly cool tinge to it, off St Georges Bay. After breakfast, I drove the Shore Road to Little Judique Harbour, where I took photos from the end of the road that runs along the harbour to the harbour mouth.
I continued on the Lower Shore Road and, once back on the Cèilidh Trail, to Walkers Cove, where I hiked a gap I had left last year (km markers 23 and 22 to km marker 21) when hiking the Railway Trail/Celtic Shores Coastal Trail/Trans-Canada Trail/Judique Flyer Trail (it goes by all these names in this area). The sun was fierce and I’d not have started out had it not been for the refreshing breeze. The relatively short (5 km (3 mi)) hike turned into pretty much of a slog, with stops every 300m/yds or so to shelter in the shade of any available bush—trees are in very short supply along this very beautiful stretch of trail on the cliffs above St Georges Bay, with views of Creignish Mountain and the hills behind Craigmore, Long Point, the mainland, and Cape George across the bay (and of Henry Island on the way back). I do not know why I no longer seem to be able to walk further without gasping for breath; in “training” in New Jersey this spring, it was much the same story, though I was sometimes able to do a half mile or even occasionally three-quarters of a mile in a stretch on the level trails there, at least in the cooler temperatures; old age kicking in, I guess. I’m not going to stop, as these hikes do my body a world of good, and the great beauty I see from this island’s trails make the effort so much more worthwhile. Still, it’s hard to accept this “new normal”, where my previous very slow pace has now become glacial; I guess I’ll just have to stop expecting myself to do what I was able to do quicker and more easily not so very long ago.
On the way back, I stopped in Judique for some ice cream to cool me off and then drove to Whycocomagh (the minimal red reflector at the broken sluice near Dunakin Mountain Road has now been replaced by a much more visible red pylon) and got my motel room, where I worked on yesterday’s post. Charlene’s had only half the diners of the last time I was there, so my dinner came quickly. I returned to the motel room and completed and posted yesterday’s report.
I then headed down the road to the new community centre, my first time there; when the legion, which previously occupied the building, closed, members of the community purchased it and completely renovated it, turning it into a fine venue for tonight’s KitchenFest! cèilidh (and many other such events). Very poorly attended, with more musicians than audience members after many of those who did come left about 23h, it was another night of fine traditional music, this time with a decided Antigonish flavour. A young Scottish lady whose first name is Mairi (I didn’t get her last name) gave the introduction in Gaelic and English and then gave us a “happy” (because no one dies) Gaelic love song; the melody was well known to the attendees and feet were audibly tapping as she sang in lovely voice. Three fiddlers were among the evening’s musicians, but for much of the cèilidh they did not play together.
Karen Beaton on fiddle, Joey Beaton on keyboard, and “Junior” Fraser (Marion Dewar’s brother) on guitar led off. My first exposure to Cape Breton music was at one of Karen and Joey’s cèilidhs and I have attended them regularly ever since. Karen’s playing is very distinctive, a rather smoother more classical sound than is the Cape Breton norm, and I’ve come to appreciate it and her great repertoire of tunes over the years I’ve been listening to it. She began with a nice traditional set and continued with a great jig set. She then gave us the march Shelly played last night in honour of Theresa MacLellan (I’m not sure of its proper title but it’s associated with Glencoe) and followed that, incongruously to my ears, with My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean. Another great medley of tunes was followed by the Tennessee Waltz. She ended her performance with a fine set of tunes which included some jigs. Beautiful playing by all!
I have not heard John Pellerin, better known as one of the renowned step dancing Pellerin Brothers, anywhere near as much as I would like on fiddle, just occasionally at the odd house party or cèilidh, but I have always very much liked what little I heard. I get to hear Marion Dewar, Jerry Holland’s main accompanist in the years I knew him, a bit more often, but still far too rarely. It was therefore an especial delight for me when they both took the stage, accompanied by “Junior” Fraser, Marion’s brother, on guitar. They started out with a fine set of tunes. John then played a beautiful air I’d love to hear again, with Marion’s accompaniment a perfect fit; strathspeys and reels followed to which Mairi step danced. Another tune set followed that this time brought Burton MacIntyre to the floor for a step dance at the end of the set. A set of fine jigs followed and then a marvellous, lilting air was completed with strathspeys and reels. John’s repertoire includes many old tunes I rarely hear and some were completely new to me. He has dedicated his life to the service of the public, so does not too often get to play as he did this evening. What a treat to hear his music so ably accompanied by Marion and “Junior”!
After a break for refreshments, a male singer from Ireland whose name I didn’t get, gave us a well-known tune in Irish Gaelic. Then, Brian MacDonald, accompanied by Marion and “Junior” took the stage. I heard him previously at Glendale last year, but otherwise have rarely heard his playing. He started out with a set of jigs and a square (triangular?) set of three couples (that’s all the dancers that were in the house!) was then danced through all three figures, the first time I’ve ever seen that happen. Then came a nice long set that ended with some pretty fast reels. The next set began with a lovely lilting tune I don’t know followed by a slow strathspey and then other strathspeys and reels, during which John step danced. Another long set followed. I found his playing fluent and fluid, very interesting to listen to.
Mairi then sang another Gaelic song. Rob MacLean, the sound tech, was inveigled to take the stage and gave us some folk songs, the second of which was The Fields of Athenrye. For the finale, all the fiddlers took the stage; with Joey on keyboard and “Junior” on guitar, they gave us a fine triple fiddle set, during which Rodney MacDonald, who had come in towards the end of the show, step danced. Marion then replaced Joey on keyboard and two more triple fiddle sets were played. John on single fiddle finished the evening off with a lovely waltz. “Junior” certainly did yeoman work tonight, the only musician constantly on stage; I very much enjoyed his fine and steady accompaniments. This was a splendid opportunity for me to hear music and musicians that I do not commonly hear when I’m in Cape Breton and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I hope similar opportunities to hear these players will occur in the future. I was quickly asleep when I got back to the motel, the closest my room has been to a venue in many years.
Thursday, 3 July — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
I got up at 9h30. After breakfast, I drove to the fire hall and parked at the north end. I had been told that the newly opened Whycocomagh Trail started by the relatively new fire hall, so I walked around looking for it and found it across a side road beside the south end of the building. The skies were full of big grey cumulus clouds and the short walk further convinced me that hiking it was not on today’s agenda, especially given the high humidity.
So, I decided to drive about and headed out to Glendale with the intention of heading up MacIntyre Mountain. When I got to Glendale, however, I turned left onto Maple Brook Road (a recent grading has repaired the couple of rough spots previously there) and stopped above the falls. I decided to hike down to the falls, a very short distance, but the trail follows a small brook bed and I remembered to put on my woods boots to make crossing the mucky spots easier. When I got down the steep embankment, I was surprised to discover very different conditions from the last time I was there. Comparatively very little water was flowing: the upper falls, which last time spanned the entire brook, were reduced to three separate small cascades; the lower falls, which last time were exploding across the rocks, were very docile with only a single fairly gentle cascade. The sun was in and out of the clouds, which were whiter here than at Whycocomagh, and, somehow, a lovely breeze was flowing through the deep canyon the brook has carved. I took a lot of photos and sat enjoying this beautiful and peaceful place (thanks, Sandy, for showing me how to find it) far longer than I had intended. About 14h10, I started back up and, when I reached the road, met two lads starting on their way down, apparently for a swim.
I continued on the Maple Brook Road and met a young cow on the loose on my way up from the bridge over Maple Brook. Logging has taken its toll on the road by the pastures and back down to Kingsville, but has also opened up vistas that weren’t there before. I took no photos, given the skies and the lighting, but I’ll be back on another day. The descent of Maple Brook Road offers great views of the Big Ridge, as the sides of the central plateau west of the Trans-Canada Highway are known. I turned left onto the Trans-Canada Highway and drove to MacIntyres Mountain Road, onto which I turned. I met a grader on the way up, a good omen, and found that dead falls and logging had created some new vistas. I didn’t get photos of them, as the lighting again wasn’t right, but I did stop for others near the top of the plateau. I continued on to the end of the road, also known as SANS 104, part of the main snowmobile trunk route in Cape Breton, turning left onto River Denys Road. I continued across the plateau and down into Judique, where I took the Cèilidh Trail to Port Hood and got my motel room, stopping for my first dish of Scotsburn maple walnut ice cream at the ice cream barn just up the road—scrumptious, indeed!
After a rest and a light dinner, I drove to Creignish for the jam session. The audience had more members than there were musicians, but I heard some very fine music. I was especially taken with a couple of selections Mac Campbell played; he’s from Newfoundland and now lives in Port Hawkesbury; a skilled player, much of his repertoire is new to me. My Vermont friend Jake Brillhart also played well. And Donna-Marie DeWolfe was also top notch, of course. Wally Ellison (who’s working on another book, due out next year) and Ian Cameron (who deserves great credit for running the jams and bringing square dances to the Creignish Recreation Centre) gave us some tunes on small pipes.
I left early in order to make the Glencoe dance on time. I needn’t have worried, as hardly anyone was there when I arrived at 22h. Ten minutes later, Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboard started playing jigs for the nine (three of whom are definite non-dancers) then in the hall; they switched to strathspeys to complete the set. Another jig set got no takers and then yet another, as there were still barely enough dancers to make four couples. At 22h35, the first square set started with six couples in the first figure and seven by the third. The next square set got ten couples in the third figure. The third square set got eleven couples, who danced as two groups. The fourth (and last!) square set, with Jackie on fiddle and Wendy on keyboard, had only six couples, as people had already started leaving. Wendy and Jackie switched places again and Wendy played strathspeys for the step dancers. Stephen MacLennan gave us another very fine set of steps as did his mother, Kelly. Another jig set with no takers switched into strathspeys and Michelle Greenwell gave us some beautiful steps. I left at 12h35, as there was no longer even a quorum for a square set and it is unfair to the musicians to keep them there when there are no dancers; they were playing a waltz as I got into my car. The music was wonderful all night long and it was an especial treat to hear Jackie’s fiddle.
Wendy posted an eloquent plea on Facebook for support from dancers for the Glencoe dances, which are in serious danger of being lost; I have reproduced it and the comments on it in the box below. Glencoe Hall is a special place to so many of us—it was where I attended my first Cape Breton square dance and became hopelessly addicted to the music and culture and other commenters on Wendy’s post all have their own great memories—that we are horrified at the prospect. Let us hope these dances continue! Please do what you can to support them—bring dancers!
I think I was about 4 or 5 when I went to my first Glencoe dance with my grandparents Donald Angus and Hughena Campbell. Glencoe was my second home then as I spent a good part of my life there. I even remember seeing Burton MacIntyer there. The hall was packed with dancers and Buddy was driven’er.
I played there last night with Jackie DMac and although there was an ok crowd, not even close to the amount of people to pay for the expenses of the night. We played for three sets. Normally on a three hour night we would play for 6 or 7 sets.
If you can get out to even just two dances in Glencoe this summer, it might make a difference. We sure don’t want to lose this iconic part of our dance and fiddle culture.
The folks in Glencoe Mills Cape Breton have volunteered their time for many many years. I saw the same guys working the door and the same ladies in the kitchen as that night 38 years ago.
Please come out and support the dances. This goes for West Mabou too.
Get a designated driver, put a case of beer in the trunk, fill the car and fill’er up for a set!!!
Well said Wendy!
Couldn’t agree more Wendy. It would be such a loss to not have dances in glencoe or west mabou!
Agree, agree, agree! One of the best venues to play at for countless reasons. We all grew up on the dance in Glencoe Mills. It was the best place to sit and watch Buddy and John Morris and so many other musicians play. It was the only family dance back in those years and it gave us all a sense of how to play for a dance (although when we were that young we didn’t even think we would be playing for dances...haha) and it provided opportunity for folks of all ages to becomes pros at dancing sets. I can’t imagine not having those experiences and not heading to Glencoe almost every Thursday evening each summer! Some of my fondest memories are playing in this hall, especially when the piano player would ask me to give him/her a break and play a set with Buddy. It’s not too late to turn things around. Take Wendy’s advice and make sure to attend some Glencoe Dances this summer and for as many summers as the community is able to keep them going. I’m sure no one wants to even think of the Thursday night dances becoming just a good memory.
Come on you capers ! You’re our inspiration!!
Amen, Wendy! And if you have young kids, even young visitors, this is a great way to entertain them. It is heart warming to see that next generation out there on the floor, and West Mabou saw some very fine young dancers over the winter. Yes, we need to support all the dances, and equally so we need to keep those young people looking forward to the dances. This summer another family dance has been added - Creignish on Tuesday nights. In the fall it will become an adult dance I believe.
Danny Mac Lellan
Kudos to you guys for keeping the heritage alive, better yet taking a stand for it! Bravo
Look at that! Even Scotland agrees.
Kudos to Donovan Kelly Maclennan who took 5 kids to both dances and danced all night.
Donovan Kelly Maclennan
We wouldn’t have missed it Wendy MacIsaac and Jackie. You two are so great! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, was thinking the exact same thing last night. It would be so sad to see these dances end where so many memories were made. Please get out and support this wonderful dance folks!
OMG Wendy, that makes me so sad. I honestly haven’t been to Glencoe in years for various reasons but I am definitely going to get someone to take my kids there this summer. Although I don’t get out there anymore, I can’t imagine there not being Thursday night square dances in Glencoe Mills. My kids definitely have to live the experience that so many of the rest of us have had to make our lives more complete. Thanks for waking me up!!!
Victor Maurice Faubert
The first Cape Breton square dance I attended was in this hall. It is such a special place to me and it has been sad to see the diminishing crowds over the years. I never miss a Glencoe dance when I’m in Cape Breton. The music, like last night’s, is always top-notch. Please support this wonderful venue and keep these dances alive!
Wendy, is there any easy way we can buy you guys some beers to help keep this going? Does the hall have a paypal account or anything?
We need dancers Alex! The beer is just a bonus.
I’ve been going to the Glencoe dances for 14 years now and some great memories there! Great hall, great atmosphere, and great friends! Was always a bonus to be staying just up the road too Hoping to get to a few of these dances this summer!
Nothing. I mean NOTHING beats a full dance hall! The dancers and musicians love it at least as much as the organizers. Glencoe was my first dance in 1997 and will always be my favourite (and I know I’m not supposed to say that out loud...) Our kids practically grew up on THAT floor. I’ve made lifelong friends from around the world on THAT floor.
THAT floor does not deserve to be empty. THAT hall does not deserve to be silent. The small crowds puzzle me. Because the hall is dry? because it’s on a dirt road? That didn’t stop anyone in the past.
It’s very simple, people...use it or lose it.
See you next Thursday...bring yer steps.
Can’t send you dancers from the UK ;-(
Not that many years ago, you would hear the constant noise of cars heading to Glencoe at 10pm, and leaving at 1am....hope that constant noise on Thursday evenings (and Sunday of long weekends) returns!!!
You need a small band of explosives experts to take out the local TV transmitters
Bit of a drive from Limerick (Ireland) but if I could I would, bringing a few bodies too! Still remember fondly the first time I danced at Glencoe in 1995.
You said it well, Wendy! I'll be getting myself and the kids out as often as we can. We're pretty handy now!
Friday, 4 July — Port Hood to Margaree Forks
Happy Fourth of July to my family and American friends!
I got up at 9h30, which my body immediately told me was way too early, but necessary to clear check-out times, given my peripatetic life style here that reduces my night time driving.
After breakfast, I drove another backcountry ramble until I could check in to my motel room and get some more sleep. It was a very weird weather day, the closest to a sauna I have experienced in Cape Breton, but with strong, sometimes gusty, winds that helped, but not enough. For the first time in Cape Breton this trip, I was forced to turn on the air conditioning in the car to make the humidity bearable. Bright sun and cumulus clouds alternated and haze was everywhere inland. I drove out Hawthorne Road to Saint Ninian, where I checked off another to-do list item by finding the bridge under which Captains Brook passes on the Mabou Road. The brook was barely a trickle on one side and a puddle on the other, but evidenced a more powerful past flow on both sides. I continued on St Ninian Road to Hillsdale where I encountered sand devils and, at the end of the road, a sheet of blowing sand in the cross winds. I then took the Rear Intervale Road to Upper Southwest Mabou; many rocks were above water in the Upper Southwest Mabou River at Long Johns Bridge. I drove the Glencoe Road to Glencoe Mills, where I stopped for photos of the church and to answer the to-do list item of whether MacKinnon Road has a ‘s’ or not (it doesn’t on the road sign, so Google Maps was right and my memory wrong, no longer a surprise to me). Took the Upper Glencoe Road to the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road and turned onto the Old Mull River Road and drove it to Highway 252; as at Long Johns Bridge today and at the White Millers Bridge yesterday in Glencoe Mills, there was very little water in the Miramichi Brook—the land appears to be parched after this hot spell, a state that it appears the remnants of Hurricane Arthur is likely to ameliorate in the coming day or two. In Brook Village, I took the Lake Ainslie Chapel Brook Village Road to the West Lake Ainslie Road and it to the Strathlorne Scotsville Road; at its end, I took Highway 395 to Upper Margaree, where I turned onto the E. S. S. W. (East Side Southwest) Margaree Road. This latter is a beautiful route closely following the Southwest Margaree River, with great views both of the river and the valley. The central part of the road, however, is in much worse shape than last year, with unavoidable potholes everywhere; the beginning and ending sections of the road are in much better shape. In Southwest Margaree, I turned on to Highway 19 and drove to the ice cream shop across the bridge in Margaree Forks, where I had another dish of Scotsburn maple walnut ice cream. It was a lovely drive, but haze and alternating bursts of clouds interfered with the views.
I went back to the motel, got my room, and went to sleep. Although I needed the air conditioner in the car, the cross-ventilated room needed no such assistance. When I awoke near 17h, I worked on yesterday’s post. I then drove to the Belle View Restaurant in Belle-Côte for dinner, where I again had the maple spinach salad and, this time, a special-order dinner of bacon-wrapped scallops, rice, cole slaw, and garden vegetables, topped off with a piece of lemon meringue pie and tea—a superb repast! I drove back by the East Margaree Road where the lupins are out en masse along the Margaree River near Ford View and especially along the Northeast Margaree River at Doyles Bridge.
I completed and posted yesterday’s account and surfed the Internet for a bit, catching up on the news and impending arrival of Arthur. Then, it was off to the dance at Southwest Margaree, where mist and light rain were beginning to fall.
Tonight’s musicians were Dara Smith MacDonald and Stephanie MacDonald on fiddles (singly unless otherwise noted), Susan MacLean on keyboard, and Scott MacKenzie (I was told) on guitar. Very atypically for a Southwest Margaree dance, the first jig set, with dual fiddles, got no takers; the second, with Stephanie on single fiddle, eventually got going, with six couples dancing the third figure. Thereafter, the fiddlers alternated. Four couples danced the second square set with Dara on fiddle; seven couples the third square set; five couples the fourth square set; nine couples the fifth square set; six couples the sixth square set; and eight couples the seventh and last square set (which didn’t look as if it would even get going, but people straggled in from an outdoors break on a very humid evening and eventually filled ’er up)—for this last set, Stephanie played the first figure, Dara the second, and both the third. Dara played for step dancers between the fifth and sixth square sets; Stephanie, Burton MacIntyre, and a lady whose name I don’t know all shared their fine steps. From the half empty hall to the small number of dancers on the floor, this was most unlike a Southwest Margaree dance! But the music was fine all evening long and the tunes were great. Stephanie is a very expressive player and Dara a very powerful and driving player; it was very interesting and delightful to hear their contrasting styles throughout the evening. Lots of other events were happening tonight and the weather was decidedly uncomfortable, so I hope that explains the uncharacteristically small attendance.
Dance is so central to keeping Cape Breton music alive and well—without it, the music would have died out long ago, as it did in so many other places without a dance tradition—that I almost always choose a square dance over another event, however much I might have enjoyed one of the great KitchenFest! cèilidhs that were on offer tonight. The music at a square dance is always tailored to the dancers and their needs and is the purest form of Cape Breton music to be heard anywhere.
On the way back to my room, I encountered a car up ahead with flashing lights stopped or barely moving about a kilometre (0.6 mi) from Margaree Forks; I immediately thought “MOOSE!” Indeed there was, a very young one, not even as tall as my car and tan-coloured rather than the typical darker brown. It was, so far as I could see, all alone and running slowly along the yellow centre line in the road, veering to the left and right so unpredictably neither of us could get past. Finally, the car ahead made it safely by and I got to follow the young moose nearly to the grounds of the former school, where s/he suddenly made a U turn and went in the opposite direction, allowing me to get by. A day I see no moose is a day I count myself lucky! But, fortunately, it turned out well for us all.
Saturday, 5 July — Margaree Forks to Whycocomagh
When I awoke briefly at 7h, the sun was shining and the air was cool and relatively clear—apparently a cold front had arrived overnight. I rolled over and went back to sleep. When I awoke again at 9h15, clouds were below the highlands, the winds were gusty, and light rain was falling. I drove to Northeast Margaree, where I got gas in case the power went out in the blow (it didn’t, but the lights did flicker occasionally) and had breakfast at the Dancing Goat. I drove in light rain and gusty winds to the Yankee Line Road past Middle River and took it to the Trans-Canada Highway and drove back to Whycocomagh, where I’m staying the next three days. I had intended to be at the Gaelic College for the brunch buffet and cèilidh, for which I had purchased a ticket, but it and the other events today until the variety concert and closing KitchenFest! cèilidh later today were cancelled due to Arthur. I got my motel room and finished and posted yesterday’s account and then had a nap as the whistling winds increased in force and buffeted the building.
I drove to the Gaelic College about 15h; the winds were strong, but I had no problems on the trip. A long line was waiting to get in when I arrived, so I didn’t get the best of seats for photos. The variety concert began when Kenneth MacKenzie and Keith MacDonald marched into the hall playing highland bagpipes. Rodney MacDonald made some brief remarks relating to KitchenFest! David Rankin and Colin MacDonald served as the afternoon’s emcees. Mary Jane Lamond next gave a Gaelic song and followed it with a puirt a beul march/strathspeys/reels set with Wendy MacIsaac accompanying on keyboard. Wendy on fiddle, accompanied by Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard and Dave MacIsaac on guitar, played a set beginning with a slow strathspey and followed it with other strathspeys and reels. Kinnon Beaton, accompanied by Betty Lou and Dave, gave us a set of tunes that, except for the last, were new to me, likely some of Kinnon’s. Colin sang a Gaelic song with the audience singing the chorus Colin had taught them. Connie MacAskill, “from just down the road”, accompanied by Kenny Evans (of Evans & Dougherty) on guitar gave us the songs Hush, hush, bonny baby, The Girls of Neils Harbour, and Causeway Crossing; I had not previously heard her, but her very powerful voice and fine singing won me (and the rest of the audience) over. Highland dancer Sara MacDougall (I think) performed the dance Flora MacDonald’s Fancy to highland bagpipes played by Keith MacDonald. Rachel Davis on fiddle, accompanied by Margie Beaton on keyboard and Pat Gillis on guitar, gave us a lovely air followed by strathspeys and reels. The St Anns Bay Dancers then danced a figure of a square set (I’m not sure which one, but it sure wasn’t from an Inverness set) to the music of the same three musicians. Dawn Beaton on fiddle, Margie Beaton on keyboard, and Dave MacIsaac on guitar, played an air followed by strathspeys and reels. Joyce MacDonald, a Gaelic College employee and storyteller, related a Gaelic story with interleaved English translations. Wendy, Betty Lou, and Pat then played for Stephen MacLennan to step dance; his mother, Kelly, and sister, Mckayla, joined him later into his marvellous set. Lionel and Margaret Leblanc on dual guitars, accompanied by Neil Campbell on bass, sang three songs: My Island, Too, Roseville Fair, and My Grandfather’s Immigrant Eyes. Dave MacIsaac then picked out on electric guitar a set of bagpipe tunes in D, accompanied by Betty Lou Beaton. Kyle Gillis on fiddle, Dawn MacDonald-Gillis on keyboard, and Pat Gillis on guitar then played a set to which Brenley Gillis, Kyle and Dawn’s young daughter, step danced. David Rankin returned and gave us a droll joke. Rodney MacDonald on fiddle, with Wendy MacIsaac on keyboard and Dave MacIsaac on guitar, played an air, strathspeys, and reels. They continued playing tunes to which Melanie MacDonald step danced. The Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, under the direction of Eddie Rogers, then took the stage and played two grand sets (the first with Janet Cameron on keyboard and the second with Dawn MacDonald-Gillis on keyboard), a sound that always brings joy to my heart. They were succeeded by Nuallan (Keith MacDonald, Kevin Dugas, and Kenneth MacKenzie on highland bagpipes, Colin MacDonald on keyboard, Pat Gillis on guitar), who closed the first half of the concert with a grand set.
After a break, during which I grabbed some food from the canteen, the Barra MacNeils took over the stage and gave us a SHOW. They are consummate musicians all and the most versatile of any band I can think of, switching easily from one instrument to another and possessed of great singing voices. Most of you by now know I’m not a fan of shows and this one was a pretty standard Barra’s show, just like the half dozen or more I’ve seen over the years. A couple of new numbers were in the mix, one in honour of the late Dougie MacDonald and a set where Kyle MacNeil’s student, Mckayla MacNeil from St Peter’s, now a university student at Dalhousie, played dual fiddles with Kyle and the rest of the band; I sat by her parents and they were some proud! The clapping solicited and encouraged by the musicians always annoys me and today was no exception; they go for a brand of audience participation, common at folk music shows, that always turns me off (maybe it would be different if I could sing): I come to hear the musicians, not the audience! A step dance by Lucy (in high heels yet!), later joined by Stewart and Boyd, was a highlight of the show for me, as I was well-placed to watch their fine steps. All in all, the afternoon was a wonderful concert with many great moments.
The Great Hall of the Clans was then cleared so they could set up for Pub Night, the final KitchenFest! get-together. I was very sorry to miss out on the West Mabou dance, with Andrea Beaton and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac, but I’d have been late and it would have involved even more night driving; besides, I couldn’t pass up another chance to hear Nuallan, Shelly Campbell, Wendy MacIsaac, and Pat Gillis, so I stayed on for Pub Night. David Rankin gave the welcome and Nuallan then took the stage, this time with Kenneth MacKenzie, Kevin Dugas, Keith MacDonald, and Paul K MacNeil on highland bagpipes, Tracey Dares-MacNeil on keyboard, Pat Gillis on guitar, and Kyle MacDonald on drums. The pipers started out solo and the accompanists then joined in, giving us a grand and thrilling set. A march/strathspeys/reels set beginning with a Donald Angus Beaton tune, a set of jigs, and a final set finished off their fantastic performance. There’s nothing like pipe music to set my heart pumping! David Rankin then gave us a Gaelic song in strong and lovely voice; a very talented lad! Buddy MacDonald then gave us a long set of his songs, varied and very popular with the audience; again, there was a lot of “audience participation”. Boyd MacNeil, Shelly Campbell, and Wendy MacIsaac then came out, joined by Tracey Dares-MacNeil on keyboard and, later, Pat Gillis on guitar, and finished off the evening. What a great combo! The triple fiddles by three very powerful players gave us some fantastic music as the night turned into morning. A square set with thirteen couples in three groups was danced with verve and élan, with one of the groups using Sydney set figures (I think) and the others using Inverness set figures; they all agreed on the Inverness set for the third figure. Pat and Tracey played a wonderful duet, which the three fiddlers joined in later. Kevin Dugas on small pipes then joined the group and gave us another fantastic set. At 0h30, I left as I had a 40-minute drive through moose country back to Whycocomagh in still gusting winds and rain, but I was very sorry to have to leave the incredible music I had been hearing on stage. This was one marvellous combo, the first time they had played together as a group, and I sure hope they make more music together as it was an amazing experience. Fortunately, I had an uneventful drive back and was fast asleep as soon as I got into bed. Another magnificent day of music, Arthur be damned!
Sunday, 6 July — Whycocomagh
I slept in until 11h this morning, since I was some tired and had no check-out time, as I’m staying put today and tomorrow. When I got up, the morning was mostly cloudy and it was pleasantly warm outside. I finished up yesterday’s account and posted it. It was then time to head for Judique across the backcountry for today’s cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre.
When I left Whycocomagh, the weather had significantly improved, with bright sun, blue skies with fluffy white clouds, and clear air inland, though with some haze offshore. Arthur obviously didn’t dump much rain on Southwest Inverness County, as the flow in both the Mull at the White Millers Bridge and the Southwest Mabou at Long Johns Bridge was essentially unchanged from before the storm, remaining very light and desultory. I stopped in Gussieville and got the photos I had hoped to get the previous time I was there; the conditions weren’t perfect, but better than those in the photos in my library from previous years.
As I usually do, I had dinner during the cèilidh, featuring Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard. It began with a set of jigs, but it had no takers (and not for any lack of dancers). Two more tune sets, each beginning with fine airs, one of which I didn’t recognize, followed. Another set of jigs got no takers, but did get some folks thinking about dancing, and a square set, danced by six couples then followed. The next set, with Ian’s lilt and driving reels and Mac’s perfect accompaniment, was amazing, an absolute joy to hear. Immediately after, the second and last square set was danced with seven couples. For the rest of the afternoon, Ian mostly played great tune sets, many starting with lovely airs. During one of those sets, noted step dancer Maureen Fraser, from Antigonish, gave us a long and fantastic set of steps; she was followed by Brittany Rankin, who also danced well and beautifully. During another, later set, Dale Gillis, Brittany Rankin, and a lady I didn’t recognize, shared their fine steps. Ian played a solo set, to which Mac step danced, another very fine performance. A set consisting of two waltzes, one of which was Over the Waves was played late in the afternoon. Folks drifted out during the last hour and a half, leaving a third of the centre occupied by us diehards, who stayed to the end. During the final set of the afternoon, Brittany danced with two young children in a ring of three; the great smile in the young boy’s face—he looked to be four or five—was priceless! After the music stopped, I said my thanks for another wonderful afternoon—I simply cannot get enough of this magnificent duo’s playing—and left.
The skies by now were mostly cloudy, though some blue was left, and the air inland much less clear. I returned to my motel room and wrote this account of the day. Rain began falling at sundown. ’Twill soon be off to bed for another full night of sleep; that should fix the sleep deficit I’ve been running this past week.
Monday, 7 July — Whycocomagh
I got up at 9h30 to a fine day, warm with a nice breeze, much more comfortable than the steamier weather of last week. I had an errand to tend to in Mabou, so, after breakfast, I drove there, taking the East Skye Glen Road instead of Highway 252. I stopped at several points along the way for photos of Campbells Mountain, the lush and fertile verdant valley of Skye Glen, and the fields, many with bales of new mown hay, whose aroma lingered in the air. I drive this road at least once a year, but this is the first time I ever noticed the good views of the distinctive cliff on Whycocomagh Mountain from this road. Some haze was in the air, but not enough to spoil the photos, though it and the humidity increased as the day wore on.
From Mabou, I drove up Rocky Ridge, where I discovered my friends there had not yet arrived home from their week-end Prince Edward Island trip, and drove on to the Alpine Ridge Road and took the Mull River Road to Highway 252 and back to Whycocomagh. I really should have gone hiking, but the car thermometer registered a borderline +26 (79) and it felt fairly humid when I got back, so I wimped out and read and dozed. Perhaps tomorrow (I’m an excellent procrastinator!)…
I drove back to Mabou for my favourite dinner at the Mull: garden salad, grilled halibut (it’s equally good char-broiled), rice, veggies (tonight, broccoli and carrots), tea, and apple crisp. Done to perfection as always! After dinner, I drove up the Southwest Ridge Road and out to the Old Mull River Road, which I took back to Highway 252 and into Brook Village for the dance.
It was fantastic! The hall wasn’t packed, as it is in high summer, but it was full. Eight square sets were danced, with Betty Lou Beaton the accompanist on keyboard except as noted: (1) Kinnon Beaton on fiddle; (2) Kenneth MacKenzie and Kinnon on dual fiddles; (3) Kenneth on highland bagpipes; (4) Kinnon on fiddle; (5) Kenneth on fiddle; (6) Kinnon on fiddle with Joey Beaton on keyboard; (7) Kenneth on fiddle for the first two figures and on highland bagpipes for the third, with Mac Morin on keyboard; (8) Kinnon on fiddle. Except for the first square set, two queues were used in the third figure for all of the sets, making it hard to get an accurate count of the dancers, but at the height of the evening, 19 couples were in the queue nearest me and more than a dozen in the further queue. I heard some new tunes tonight too. Great dancing on the floor all night long as well. Marvellous music from the varied players: Kinnon and Betty Lou set the gold standard for square dance music and highland bagpipes are especially awesome for dancing. And Mac and Joey to boot! Who could ask for more? What a magnificent dance!
Tuesday, 8 July — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
I awoke to the sound of a motorcycle being started outside my motel room door at 8h30, rather earlier than I had planned on getting up. But I was awake and had to pack up, so I got up. The morning was coolish (+20 (68)), cloudy, breezy, and a perfect day to try out the new Whycocomagh Trail, except that it was spitting rain drops and the skies looked like a good shower was in the works. I had breakfast and checked the forecast—40% chance of rain until 13h and thereafter only a 20% chance. I drove to the day park in Whycocomagh, where I responded to some e-mail. The sun popped out through the clouds about 11h30 and stayed out for fifteen minutes, so I drove back to the trail head.
The trail is multi-use and wide with a tread that varies between crushed stone, packed dirt, and rock-reïnforced gravel. It has three bridges over brooks and two park benches. The way the trail curls up and around the flanks of Whycocomagh Mountain is often picturesque. A good bit of climbing is involved, more on the outbound hike from the fire hall and considerably less on the return hike, which is mostly downhill. The trail offers excellent views of Salt Mountain, Whycocomagh Mountain, Skye Mountain, Campbells Mountain, and Whycocomagh Bay; it passes beneath or close to the cleared areas through which power lines run. That is both a blessing and a curse: many fine open views result, but most have power lines intruding into them. From the fire hall to the junction with snowmobile trail SANS 104, where I turned around, is about 3 km (1.8 mi) one way. I did not descend SANS 104 to the Bell Aliant building on Highway 252 in Churchview, as I’d have only had to climb back up, but those in search of an even more vigorous work-out might want to do so; I’d guess the additional distance at under 500 m/yds [Google Earth gives it as 390 m (¼ mi)].
I drove the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road to the Alpine Ridge Road and it to Highway 19 and into Port Hood, where I got my motel room and cleaned up from the hike. I then drove to Port Hawkesbury, where I had dinner at the Fleur-de-Lis Restaurant and Tearoom. Acadian cooking makes this a favourite spot of mine to eat at when in the area and I always partake of their wonderful maple salad. Not long after I had placed my order, two dear friends came in and surprised me; after the greeting hugs, we planned on eating together, but a quick phone call by one indicated that food had already been ordered for them at a different establishment, so we had another round of hugs and they left for their meal. Mine was lovely: in addition to the superb salad, I had a large piece of haddock pan fried to perfection with all the fixings and a wonderful dinner roll.
Then, it was off to the Civic Centre for tonight’s cèilidh, sponsored by the Port Hastings Museum, and featuring the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association. I am a very strong supporter of the Association as I have seen with my own eyes over the years the great beneficial effect its work has had on traditional music all over Cape Breton Island, including many places where it had died out or become moribund. It has been an absolute joy to watch its younger members grow into the music, gain confidence, and mature into very fine players. About thirty of the Association’s fiddlers were on stage for the first two group numbers, directed by Eddie Rogers and accompanied by Lawrence Cameron on keyboard and Jan Vickers on guitar. The first set was of jigs and the second an air/strathspeys/reels set beginning with Jerry Holland’s wonderful In Memory of Herbie MacLeod. Lawrence then played a fine solo keyboard number composed of traditional fiddle tunes. Mckayla MacNeil, one of those younger players who has become a powerhouse, played a fine set. Dara Smith-MacDonald and Lawrence played for Stephanie MacDonald to step dance. Allison Mombourquette, another of the younger players I have watched develop and who has just released a fine CD, played a lovely set. The Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association fiddlers returned for two more great sets; the sound of massed fiddlers is fantastic and I always take great joy in hearing it. Kevin Dugas then gave us a stirring set on highland bagpipes, accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard. Dara, who said she’d been an Association member since age 14, then played a dandy set with Lawrence. The Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association returned for the final set that closed off the evening. I won the door prize, a copy of Allie’s CD, which I already have, so I declined it and another ticket was drawn; I’m sure the winner will enjoy it as much as I have.
After the cèilidh was over, I drove to Creignish for the first of the summer’s family dances there, organized by Ian Cameron, who deserves great credit for seeing an opportunity to get music going in this community again, hosting bi-weekly jam sessions throughout the year and now summer dances, family dances now and adult dances later on. I arrived at 21h45, late for the 21h30 start, and found dancers in the first figure of a square set; I don’t know whether this was the first or second square set of the evening. Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard provided superb music all night long; they’re both marvellous musicians and it was a real treat to hear them together playing for a dance—pure magic! Five square sets were danced while I was there. I’d guess there were perhaps sixty people in attendance, including several youngsters who had a great time on the dance floor. One of the sets had 13 couples in 2 groups, but most of the others had fewer dancers. Harvey MacKinnon was the only one to share his steps during the step dance sequence. After 0h, there weren’t enough dancers left for a square set but couples danced to the tune sets and a waltz Wendy and Mac played for those of us who remained until the closing time of 0h30. I think Ian was happy with the turn-out and hope to see it pick up as more folks arrive on the Island. I was sad to say good-bye to my Vermont friends, who have to return to the States Thursday morning. I drove back to Port Hood, where I was too tired to finish up this account and went to bed and fell asleep straightaway.
Wednesday, 9 July — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I got up at 9h to a gorgeous summer day, with a fine breeze blowing. After breakfast, I drove up the Rocky Ridge Road and found my friends again not at home. The far hills were hazy and indistinct from the West Mabou Road, so it was not a photography day. I drove to the Mabou Day Park and changed into my hiking clothes. I drove down Murphys Hill Road and parked in Glendyer Station next to the stop sign by Highway 252.
I hiked the Railway Trail/Celtic Shores Coastal Trail/Trans-Canada Trail/Mabou Rivers Trail, as it is known here, to the trestle over Glendyer Brook, about 1.8 km (1.1 mi); I had planned on hiking further, but, in spite of the great breezes, which had freshened into gusty winds with a lovely chilling edge, my body said no—it was just too hot. I didn’t get quite enough sleep last night to make up for yesterday’s early awakening, either, so it was back to the car and off to Whycocomagh, where I got my motel room and took a two hour nap.
I drove to St Anns and had dinner at the Lobster Galley, where I had a garden salad and the seafood (lobster, scallops, and shrimp) linguini with garlic bread, finished off with a triple-berry crisp and tea for dessert; all top-notch. I drove up to the Gaelic College for tonight’s cèilidh and worked on yesterday’s post while I waited for the doors to open. Like the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, the Gaelic College is another institution that has had a tremendous positive impact on Cape Breton music, primarily through its course offerings, but also from its musical events and from serving as a hub where musicians can gather and play and plan together. I remember attending an instructors’ cèilidh during my early years on the Island where Kimberley Fraser, who had recently released her first CD, The Heart Behind the Bow, played and captivated me with her excellent performance that night. But I haven’t lately been regularly up that way during high summer because of other, closer events along the Cèilidh Trail. This year, however, with the replacement of the Wednesday cèilidhs at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre with pub nights, the loss of dances at Scotsville (last year held on Wednesdays), and no advance information about the events at the Normaway Barn when I was making room reservations, I put the fine instructors’ cèilidhs at the Gaelic College back on my schedule and arranged to be close enough to attend.
Tonight’s cèilidh was the season’s first, featuring many of this week’s instructors and others on staff at the Gaelic College. Margie Beaton was the evening’s emcee. The cèilidh began with Wendy MacIsaac, accompanied by Lawrence Cameron on keyboard and Colin MacDonald on guitar, who gave us a lovely air followed by blazing strathspeys and reels. Brandi McCarthy danced a long and amazing step dance to the music of the same three musicians. Rankin MacInnis on highland bagpipes, accompanied by Colin on keyboard, next gave us a recently composed air and followed it with strathspeys and sizzling reels. Janine Lespérance, a highland dancer from Ottawa, gave us a highland dance she had choreographed to a Dàimh cut. Joyce MacDonald told a Gaelic story involving fairies and two humpbacks that Colin translated into English. Lawrence then gave us a solo air/strathspeys/reels set; Margie’s description of “rippin’ it up” was right on the mark. Rachel Davis on fiddle, accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard and Colin on guitar, beautifully played a lush and lovely slow air and continued drivin’ ’er with strathspeys and reels; it was one grand set indeed! The same musicians then played for a Scotch four, which Margie said is believed to be an old wedding dance reserved for the bride and groom and the maid of honour and the best man, danced by Kevin Dugas, Brandi McCarthy, David Rankin, and Anna MacDonald. Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes, accompanied by brother Colin on keyboard, played a hornpipe and jigs set; Colin’s wonderful keyboard was perfect with Keith’s fine piping. David Rankin sang a Gaelic song in great voice and, with Rankin MacInnis on accordion, then recreated a spontaneous “happening” in the residence hall last night in which he sang a puirt a beul jig to which Brandi step danced and then David reprised the tune on guitar. The multi-talented Colin then sang a from-the-heart song about his love of Gaelic, the culture, and Cape Breton Island, accompanying himself on guitar. The cèilidh ended with Rankin, Kevin, and Keith on highland bagpipes, Lawrence on keyboard, and Colin on guitar, playing a march/strathspeys/reels set, during which Anna, Rachel, Janine, Margie, Brandi, and David all gave us some very fine steps. What a marvellous cèilidh and great evening of fine and varied traditional music! And how lucky this week’s students are to have such talented and accomplished instructors! With the music still replaying in my head, I drove back in the dimness of summer dusk with a lovely nearly full moon shining on Whycocomagh Bay. Back at the motel, I completed and posted yesterday’s account and this one. Now, it’s off to sleep. No motorcycles in the yard tonight to wake me early tomorrow, so I can sleep in as late as I want. Great day!
Thursday, 10 July — Whycocomagh
I slept in late this morning, too late for breakfast. What a luxury! I had a delicious bowl of seafood chowder and a club sandwich at Charlene’s for lunch. I came back to the motel room and slept much of the afternoon away: it was another sunny, warm, humid, hazy day and I was disinclined to stir outside in it, even though it was a waste of a day in Cape Breton!
I looked through the Chestico Museum’s new publication, Safe Harbour: A Brief History of Port Hood, Nova Scotia, a gift from a friend, and the subject of Dr Jim St Clair’s column in this week’s Oran. Its photos are very interesting and I’m looking forward to reading the text in detail when I get home.
Thanks to Pat Gillis’ Facebook post, I drove to Mabou for a session with Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Pat on guitar, one fantastic combo! Calum MacKenzie joined them on piano about ten minutes before the end of their session. It was rather noisy in the Shoe tonight, but that couldn’t dampen my enjoyment of their fine sets of tunes, including one on highland bagpipes.
I drove up the Southwest Ridge Road afterwards, where rain drops splattered on my windshield and evidence of a recent small shower was in the road; the full moon was in and out of the clouds as I drove to Glencoe Mills for the dance, tonight with Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle and Tracey Dares-MacNeil on keyboard. The dance was slow to start, not because of a lack of dancers but due to a problem with the sound. After many attempts to get decent sound, the first square set finally started at 22h43 with 13 couples in two groups in the third figure. Wendy MacIsaac and Mac Morin came in during the second square set and Wendy used some of her technical know-how to considerably improve the sound quality; she said the problem was in the fiddle’s pre-amp, which makes sense as the sound board and system were just fine for last week’s dance. Five square sets were danced, the largest having fifteen couples in the third figure. The step dance sequence attracted six dancers: Stephen MacLennan, Mac Morin, Jessie Helen MacNeil (Paul and Tracey’s daughter), Brandi McCarthy, Kelly MacLennan, and a lady I don’t know, who danced in a non-Cape Breton style (Irish perhaps, definitely not close to the floor). A waltz after the last square set drew three couples and ended the evening. It is hard for me to tell whether the organizers broke even or not, as there was a good crowd, but many of them were young folk and children under twelve are admitted free. Nevertheless, because so many young and enthusiastic dancers were present, the dance has to be considered a success from the cultural transmission point of view—they obviously had fun. Other than the sound, the music was great all night long, as one would expect of these two fine musicians. A good evening, even if the day was wasted.
Friday, 11 July — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
I awoke about 8h30, but didn’t roll out of bed until after 9h. After breakfast, I drove back to Glendyer and drove the Smithville Road until just past the bridge over Glendyer Brook, where I picked up the Railway Trail / Trans-Canada Trail / Celtic Shores Coastal Trail / Mabou Rivers Trail and hiked from where I turned around on Wednesday to the Blackstone Road and back, a total distance of 12 km (7.5 mi), all level hiking. For once, it wasn’t a slog and I very much enjoyed this hike, doing it in just over 5 hours, including rest stops and a long lunch, which is pretty speedy for me these days. The weather was perfect for hiking, in the low 20’s (low 70’s) with a good cooling breeze and far less humid than it has heretofore been; the trail also offered lots of shade from the sun, which more or less disappeared behind clouds as the afternoon wore on. Very few vistas are available from the trail, but Glendyer Brook gurgled and sang as I followed along it on the southern part of the hike and, on the return leg, at the bridge where it crosses the trail, as I ate lunch (pear, granola bar, and water). Wild flowers were out all along the trail, I heard an eagle, and saw two red squirrels and numerous birds of several kinds. I met no other wildlife and no other hikers, but did encounter a half dozen ATVs and their riders. I’m sure it did my body a world of good and being happy hiking the trails again sure cheered me up.
After I got back to the car, I drove to Margaree Forks, got cleaned up, and had dinner at the Dancing Goat (Black Forest ham sandwich on multi-grain bread, salad greens with feta cheese, and a fruit salad—all superb). I came back to the motel room and read and caught up on the news.
Then it was off to Southwest Margaree for the dance with Kinnon Beaton on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard. When no one got up to dance the first set of jigs, Kinnon switched to strathspeys and reels. Thereafter, dancers left no jigs undanced, though it sometimes took a couple of minutes for a set to form. Six square sets were danced, with from 10 to 13 couples in each; four waltzes, which attracted from 2 to 5 couples; and one step dance sequence, which got Carmen MacArthur and Joe Rankin onto the floor to share their steps. Marion MacLeod took over from Betty Lou for the fifth square set to give her a break. The hall wasn’t full up, but an influx of young adults after 23h kept the square sets going until the end. Enough people were there coming and going through the night that the organizers must have made a profit. The music, it goes without saying, was top-notch from start to finish. In sum, a fine dance. It was quite brisk when I stepped outside; the temperature is currently +11 (52), a welcome change indeed! Hope tomorrow’s forecast high of +28 (82) is a dry high without the humidity previous to today!
Saturday, 12 July — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I awoke at 9h15 after a sound sleep to a gorgeous morning: bright sun, pure blue skies, clear air, and cool temperatures. It’s rare to see the highlands in the Margarees hazeless, but so they were today! After breakfast at the Dancing Goat, I drove the East Margaree Road to Belle-Côte, where I was disappointed, though not exactly surprised, to discover haze along the coast. I had hoped to take a foray up the Cabot Trail to the Fishing Cove and MacKenzies Mountain look-offs before the afternoon cèilidh at the Doryman, but the haze made that pointless. I admired the local views from the Terre-Noire look-off for a while and then drove out to Chéticamp Island, where I checked off another to-do list item. It had been some time since I last drove the Island Centre Road and I did not remember any side road off it leading up a hill to a communications tower, which I saw in Google Maps this winter (this is not the same tower as that at La Pointe). I found the road, two tracks with a grassy crown and it may well have been there before, as one has to look closely to find it. I don’t know if it’s car-drivable or not—it looked dubious to me, with no turn-around alternative on the way up—nor whether there are any views from up by the tower, but one of these days I’ll hike up there (it’s short but steep) and find out! I drove into Chéticamp and stopped at the Quai Mathieu to enjoy the views of the harbour and island from there.
Then, it was on to the Doryman, where I had a light lunch (salad and club house sandwich, both excellent) before the afternoon cèilidh, with Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier on keyboard. What an afternoon of incredible music it was!!! Kenneth played very long sets, each crammed with tunes superbly played, ending the cèilidh with a set that ran over 20 minutes (the first one was 15 minutes long). What an amazing tour-de-force! Kathleen had no problem keeping up with his fast pace, providing fine and interesting accompaniments to round out Kenneth’s tunes, but she must have been some tired at the end! (Kenneth seemed as cool and ready-to-go at the end as at the beginning and didn’t even break a sweat!) Kenneth played two shorter sets on the highland bagpipes. Although several jig sets were played, no square sets were danced. A waltz set fared no better; just not a dancing crowd. Even Kenneth’s spate of blazing strathspeys got only four step dancers on the floor: Joe MacIsaac (twice), a lady said to be a nurse from Sydney, a Chéticamp lady, and a come-from-away wearing a lei who danced a jig (or something). Gerry Deveau, who turned 80 this spring, played a set on spoons with Kenneth and Kathleen. The attendance, surely affected by the gorgeous day outside, was paltry until mid-cèilidh, when perhaps fifty people were present. What a loss to those who missed this great cèilidh!
When I came out of the Doryman, the haze was mostly gone and, in spite of the fierce sun, surprisingly mild. I drove back to Port Hood to get the motel room key, stopping for a small bite at the Belle-View in Belle-Côte and briefly at the pull-off above Margaree Harbour on the Shore Road to admire the fantastic coast to the north—the name Belle-Côte (Beautiful Coast) seemed a considerable understatement of this gorgeous declining-sun view of highlands, littoral, and water reaching back to Chéticamp. Unfortunately, south of Belle-Côte, haze remained in the air and the coastal views to the south were indistinct.
From the motel, I drove back to West Mabou via the Colindale Road, stopping along the way for photos of the pretty sunset beyond Sutherlands Cove. A huge, dull red-orange moon loomed just above the horizon as I arrived at West Mabou for the dance, which had two fiddlers, Rannie MacLellan, from the Margarees, but now living in Prince Edward Island, and Stuart Cameron, a Mabou lad entering grade 11 this fall and making his début playing for a dance. Rannie and Stuart alternated square sets, of which six were danced, accompanied by Mary-Elizabeth MacMaster-MacInnis’ beautiful playing on (real) piano all night long. The crowd was small at the start, the first square set getting only 6 couples in the third figure (the first figure started with four), but grew larger as the evening wore on, with 22 couples in the third figure of the fourth square set, and gradually diminished thereafter. I first heard Rannie play at Southwest Margaree dances, when he’d occasionally relieve a fiddler for a set, but I rarely get to hear him these days other than at Rollo Bay, so it was an especial treat to hear him play three full square sets, a waltz, and the strathspeys for the step dancers that ended the dance: Beth MacGillivray and Sara MacInnis (Mary-Elizabeth’s daughter) shared their steps. Rannie’s style is an older one and his repertoire is full of tunes rarely heard these days, at least in the circles I travel; I heard several tonight that I don’t recall hearing before. He appears on a couple of tracks on different CD’s, but has no recording of his own, a shame! Stuart has been playing for a number of years and I’ve heard him at the Red Shoe playing supper time music gigs and at Karen and Joey Beaton’s cèilidhs, but never for as extended a period as tonight. His fiddle has considerably improved and he has the timing and lift essential to a good dance player; it was a fine performance and I look forward to hearing him again. Thanks to Margie and Jimmy MacInnis for inviting these musicians and for all their hard work in keeping these dances going. Another wonderful Cape Breton day!
Sunday, 13 July — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I got up at 9h15. After breakfast, I drove the Hawthorne, St Ninian, Rear Intervale, Glencoe, and Whycocomagh Port Hood Roads to Whycocomagh, where I replenished my sunscreen supply and got gas for the car.
Then it was off to Glendale for the 53rd Glendale Festival, which started 12 years before the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association was formed. The Glendale concert is the culmination of a parish festival, an institution in severe decline in a depopulated Cape Breton, and its purpose, beyond raising money for the parish and providing entertainment in return, is to showcase local talent from the parish and the county more generally. Although much of this talent is world-class, that is not the emphasis and not a requirement for appearing on stage; the eventual future of the language, culture, music, and dance belongs to those youngsters who are in the process of mastering them and a parish concert provides an opportunity to demonstrate the skills they have acquired and to encourage them to continue.
Under a blazing sun and some breeze, Ian Cameron wandered the site before the concert began at 14h, playing welcoming tunes on his highland bagpipes. Burton MacIntyre was the concert’s emcee. After a prayer offered by Fr Francis Cameron, he started the music off with tunes on his fiddle, accompanied by his sister, Janet, on keyboard. Jeff MacDonald then offered in both Gaelic and English a dedication of the concert to the late Dougie MacDonald of Queensville, part of the Glendale parish, and Jeff’s first cousin, for his devotion to fiddle music as a teenager at a time when that was definitely not “cool” and for his subsequent substantial contributions to Cape Breton music before his untimely death. Allan MacMaster then spoke, offering a few words in Gaelic, as an eagle circled over the concert grounds and landed in a nearby tree, either curious about or annoyed at the strange goings on in the field. Thereafter, it was music and dance for the rest of the afternoon. Rodney MacDonald, accompanied by Johnny MacDonald on keyboard and Pius MacIsaac on guitar, played a fine set of tunes and then for Claire MacDonald to step dance. Heather Richards, on flute and keyboard, and Patrick Lamey on guitar sang Wild Mountain Thyme, played a set in honour of Dougie, and sang Rise Again. A young lad whose name I didn’t get showed the current state of his fiddle playing, accompanied by Johnny. Doug Lamey on fiddle, with Gordon MacLean on keyboard, played a set containing tunes Dougie wrote. Natalie MacMaster on fiddle, accompanied by Johnny on keyboard and Sandy MacDonald on guitar, played a set of tunes. Two youngsters, whose names I heard as Cara and Alec, danced the Dancers’ Rant to music provided by Doug on fiddle and Johnny on keyboard. Joanne Rankin MacIntyre and her four sons gave us a milling frolic song in Gaelic, she taking the lead and the sons singing the chorus. She and her eldest son then gave us a Jacobite song. The parish presented flowers to Dougie’s widow and his young niece, Madison, sang a song in English. Kinnon Beaton on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard played Mabou Communications Reel, half written by Dougie and half by Kinnon and followed it with an air/strathspeys/reels set. They then played for a group of youngsters, taught by Claire, to step dance. Donald Campbell played a medley on guitar and vocals. Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle, accompanied by Betty Lou on keyboard and Sandy on guitar, first played a set of tunes and then for Harvey MacKinnon to step dance. Wally Ellison played a set of tunes on small pipes, accompanied by Gordon on keyboard and Patrick Lamey on guitar. Edna MacDonald and her son, Dylan, sang two songs, accompanied by Patrick Lamey on guitar. The two Broussard brothers on dual fiddles, accompanied by Janet Cameron on keyboard and Sandy on guitar played a set of tunes and then Olivier, the elder brother, played a set alone with Janet. Three youngsters step danced to the music of Doug Lamey on fiddle accompanied by Randy MacDonald on keyboard. Anita Lanyon, a classically-trained musician from Ottawa now living in Creignish Rear, played a Celtic music selection accompanied by Patrick Lamey on guitar. Mary Jane Lamond first gave us a Gaelic song and then sang a puirt a beul to which Claire step danced. Dawn Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Margie Beaton on keyboard first played a set of tunes and then for three youngsters to step dance. Stephanie MacDonald on fiddle gave us a set accompanied by Margie on keyboard and Sandy on guitar. Jeff MacDonald and his son Patrick sang a duet and then Jeff sang a milling frolic song, with Patrick and the MacIntyres, Mary Jane Lamond, and Rita Rankin singing the chorus. Doug Lamey on fiddle, accompanied by Johnny MacDonald on keyboard and Danny MacKay on spoons, played a set. Lauren Boyd, a middle school student, accompanied by Johnny on keyboard demonstrated her fiddle skill. Rita Rankin gave us two songs, the first in Gaelic and the second in English. Shelly Campbell on fiddle, accompanied by Johnny on keyboard and Sandy on guitar, played for Breagh MacDonald to step dance. The Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, accompanied by Johnny on keyboard and Danny on spoons, concluded the concert with two sets of tunes. It was a great afternoon of music, the epitome of a parish concert and a credit to those who put it on, this year under the leadership of Doug Lamey.
After the concert was over, I drove back to Whycocomagh and had dinner at Charlene’s (green salad, shrimp pasta penne in a delicious cheesy white sauce, and apple crisp with ice cream, all superb) and then unwound from the day spent under the hot sun. I then completed yesterday’s post and worked some on this one. Tired from not enough sleep last night, I called it a day and was quickly asleep.
Monday, 14 July — Whycocomagh
Je souhaite à tous mes amis français une joyeuse fête nationale! Happy Bastille Day to all my French friends!
I slept in late and had a bowl of soup and a chef salad, both excellent, at Vi’s for lunch. I then drove to Brook Village on Highway 252 and took a backcountry ramble (Lake Ainslie Chapel Brook Village Road to Meagher Road to Hays River Road to West Lake Ainslie Road to Blackstone Road to Smithville Road to Murphy’s Hill Road to Highway 19 to Northeast Mabou Road to Mabou Harbour Road), ending up at my friend’s home in Mabou Harbour.
We went to Mabou Coal Mines for a photo shoot of a property friends of his in the States own, showing ongoing repairs to the house, the depredations of time the buildings have suffered, and the inexorable drastic changes the land has undergone due to growth of brush and trees in the sixteen years they have been unable to visit. It was good to see my friend, so often housebound, out and walking around, however slowly.
I then drove to Baddeck for the first half of Nancy’s cèilidh, with JJ Chaisson on fiddle and Jennifer Bowman on piano. I normally don’t eat pizza in Cape Breton—it’s the New Jersey state food after all, with a pizza shop on every corner—but it was that or go without supper, so I grabbed three slices at Tom’s Pizza before the cèilidh; if you have a hankering for pizza in Cape Breton, Tom’s is the place to go: excellent and delicious! JJ missed the KitchenFest! show I thought I was going to see him at and I didn’t get to see him at the other two KitchenFest! cèilidhs he played because of other commitments; I missed him again yesterday at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre because of the Glendale concert, so I wanted to catch him at least once while he was in Cape Breton. I hope he gets over more frequently than he has in recent years. The cèilidh was excellent, as Nancy’s cèilidhs always are. JJ started out with J Scott Skinner’s The Rosebud of Allenvale and followed it with King George IV and other strathspeys, and finished it off with reels. He next played a set of jigs. A march/strathspeys/reels set followed. The first half ended with the music for two figures of a square set, danced using what I assume to be Baddeck set figures.
I left at the break as I didn’t want to be late for the Brook Village dance, which starts at 21h30, rather than the more usual (and convenient) 22h. And what a fantastic dance it was!!! Eight square sets were danced, as follows:
Kenneth MacKenzie on highland bagpipes accompanied by Mac Morin on keyboard
Andrea Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Mac
Kenneth on fiddle accompanied by Mac
Andrea on fiddle accompanied by Mac
Kenneth on fiddle accompanied by Joey Beaton on keyboard
Andrea on fiddle accompanied by Mac
Kenneth, Kevin Dugas, and Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes (!) accompanied by Mac
Andrea on fiddle accompanied by Mac for the first two figures and joined by Kenneth on small pipes for the third figure
A step dance sequence, played by Andrea on fiddle accompanied by Mac between the seventh and eighth square sets brought David Rankin, Emma Forman, Gerard Beaton, Mary Emma MacNeil (from the Iona area), and Jenny Cluett MacKenzie to the floor (thanks, David, for the help with the ladies’ names). Except for the first and last square sets, two queues of dancers during the third figure were necessary; I therefore couldn’t get accurate counts of dancers, but at the height of the dance there must easily have been forty couples on the floor at once. The playing by all was perfection. Andrea, who isn’t known as “Cuts” for nothing, has been in very short supply this trip and it was pure delight hearing her play for dancers once again, just rippin’ it up. Never before have I heard three highland bagpipers play for a square set; it was just pure magic! The eighth square set started at 0h58, so the dance ended way late and I didn’t get back to my motel room until 2h. I was instantly asleep.
Tuesday, 15 July — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
I got up after 9h and had breakfast. I then drove out to what I call “Quarry Road”, a connector from the Stewartdale Cemetery to Highway 252 that Google Maps names Chuggin Road. It passes below the quarry on Campbells Mountain and is in excellent shape up to the quarry; from there to Highway 252, it’s in poor to fair condition—the road up Campbells Mountain looked to be in better shape, though I didn’t attempt to drive it. I continued on to Brook Village, where I took the Old Mull River Road to the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road to the Southwest Ridge Road and down to Highway 19. Then I drove to West Mabou and took Hunters Road to Highway 19 and it to the Rocky Ridge Road, where I missed my friends—they were busy outside and I didn’t see them and they didn’t hear me. I drove back to West Mabou and stopped to visit a friend off Highway 19. Then drove back up the Rocky Ridge Road (properly, the New Rocky Ridge Road, I’m told) and this time connected with my friends, who were inside when I rang the bell. We had a good visit and I took him back to Port Hood with me so he could pick up his truck at the garage.
Then, it was back to Mabou for dinner at the Red Shoe, where Melody Cameron on fiddle and Derrick Cameron on guitar were providing the supper time music. Our mutual friends, Iain Richardson and Pat Ballantyne, from Aberdeen in Scotland, sat at my table and later joined Melody and Derrick, Iain on small pipes and whistles and Pat on piano. Fine tunes from all filled the supper time music slot, which Iain and Pat finished on small pipes and piano for Melody to step dance. I had dinner (house salad; blackened trout, potatoes, veggies, asparagus, and the fruit tart with ice cream, all excellent) as the music was playing.
Then, it was across the street to the Community Hall for Karen and Joey Beaton’s cèilidh, tonight featuring Rodney MacDonald as the guest fiddler. A set of jigs with Karen and Rodney on dual fiddles accompanied by Joey on keyboard opened the cèilidh. Rodney and Joey then gave us a set of tunes with a lot of strathspeys and followed it with a waltz Rodney had composed and more strathspeys and reels. Karen and Joey gave us a march/strathspeys/reels set and a set of jigs; they then played for Rodney to step dance. After the break, Rodney and Joey played more strathspeys and a set of jigs. They then gave us another tune set beginning with a slow air and ending with reels. Karen and Joey gave us a strathspey from an old LP and continued with more strathspeys and some reels; they finished off with the Tennessee Waltz. Rodney then joined Karen and Joey for the finale, a six-tune medley of strathspeys and reels to which a white-haired lady, whose name I didn’t get, step danced. Lovely playing by all and another fine cèilidh in Karen and Joey’s series of cèilidhs, their 19th season; I owe them a huge debt as it was at one of their cèilidhs in Judique in 2001 that I was first introduced to this wonderful music that has become my passion.
After the cèilidh, I drove to Creignish for tonight’s family dance. It was, alas, much less well-attended than last week’s and very few children were present among the perhaps thirty attending. Doug Lamey on fiddle accompanied by Marion Dewar on keyboard, relieved by Kaitlin Lamey on keyboard for a while late in the evening, provided music I enjoyed all the time I was there. I was, of course, late arriving, but no one was on the floor dancing when I got there at 21h45. Only four square sets were danced, with the last one attracting seven couples, the most of any of the evening’s square sets. The rest of the evening’s music was either jig sets with no takers or tune sets, one of which included Tulloch Gorm, which I don’t remember hearing Doug play before. I heard a number of tunes that were new to me as well. I hope next week’s dance is better attended; I will miss it and the remaining family dances at Creignish as I will be returning home after the week-end. I drove back to Port Hood and finished yesterday’s report and posted it. It was then off to bed.
Wednesday, 16 July — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I got up at 9h15. After breakfast, I drove the Colindale Road one last time this trip. At the coast, the weather was clear and the sun was fierce, but, inland, clouds ruled the very humid day, relieved a bit by inconstant winds, occasionally gusty. The views from the Colindale Road were compromised by haze, so I took no photos. I drove in to Mabou and out the Rankinville Road, with a side trip up the Beaton Road for its fine view of the Mabou River all the way to its mouth below the southern edge of Cape Mabou, but again compromised by haze so no photos. A shower started as I descended the Beaton Road and lasted until I got to the end of the Rankinville Road. I then crossed the replacement bridge across the Mabou River at Murray’s Bridge and up to Highway 252. I drove from there to Centreville, where I took the East Skye Glen Road in the opposite direction to a few days ago and stopped for some photos along the way, as the haze was minimal in the valley (and the sun once again fierce). I took the cross road across to Highway 252 and continued on into Whycocomagh, where I stopped and visited with friends. I returned to the motel and worked on yesterday’s post. I then took a nap, as I had two short nights in a row and it was too sticky and humid to do anything else.
After dinner at Charlene’s, a repeat of Sunday’s excellent meal, I drove on to St Anns for the instructors’ cèilidh at the Gaelic College. Kevin Dugas served as the evening’s emcee. The crowd was large and enthusiastic, filled with the 90+ youth (one of the largest groups in recent years) enrolled in this week’s Youth Session courses, who hooted and cheered in the best Cape Breton style (and, unfortunately, a few also rhythmically clapped to the music) as their instructors appeared and while they performed, livening up the cèilidh considerably. David Rankin led off with a Gaelic song and followed it with a milling frolic song, both in very fine voice. Marielle Lespérance then performed a highland dance to music supplied by Kenneth MacKenzie on small pipes and Colin MacDonald on the keyboard. Brian MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Colin on keyboard gave us a fine set of tunes. Lisa Gallant MacNeil next step danced to David Rankin’s puirt a beul. Stacy MacLean told three short humorous anecdotes in Gaelic that David translated; I was amused to hear snickers from the Gaelic learners in the audience as each punch line was delivered in Gaelic before its English translation. Kenneth on fiddle accompanied by Margie Beaton on keyboard gave us a great march/strathspeys/reels set including some reels I didn’t recognize. Gerard Beaton then step danced to music provided by Kenneth on highland bagpipes and Margie on keyboard. Next, the piping group Nuallan took the stage, tonight with Paul K MacNeil, Keith MacDonald, Kevin Dugas, and Kenneth on highland bagpipes accompanied by Margie on keyboard and Colin on guitar; they gave us one marvellously stirring set (while they were playing, I noticed Lisa and Gerard step dancing to the grand music in the adjacent hall)—if you haven’t yet heard them, come out and give them a listen as soon as you can—you won’t be sorry! Colin then sang an English song he wrote about the struggle to stay in Cape Breton and make Gaelic a focus of his life. Next, Gerard, Margie, David, and Lisa danced a fine Scotch Four to the music of Brian on fiddle and Colin on keyboard. Colin sang a Gaelic milling frolic song. The finale began with Kevin on small pipes; Kenneth, Lisa, and Brian on triple fiddles; Colin on keyboard: and Keith on guitar. As the music progressed, step dancers came on stage and some took the places of some of the players so that they too could step dance. Gerard, Marielle, Margie (who then replaced Colin), Colin (who then joined Margie on keyboard for four hands), David (who then replaced Keith), Keith, Kevin, and Lisa step danced in turn. What a great ending to another magnificent cèilidh! These cèilidhs will continue during the summer while courses are offered at the Gaelic College, each week featuring that week’s instructors, so the line-up is never the same. You owe it to yourself to take in at least one. How lucky these students are to have such multi-talented and gifted instructors!
After the cèilidh was over, I drove back to Whycocomagh and stopped off at the Whycocomagh Community Centre for the end of the family dance (it ran from 20h to 23h), part of the Whycocomagh summer festival, with the fine music of Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard. Unlike all other family dances I’ve attended, only youngsters were on the floor for this one (the odd parent dancing with a child excepted). There were about thirty of them and they danced enthusiastically and well all the time I was there, needing no encouragement to get out on the floor as the jigs started up. I mentioned to Shelly how wonderful it would be to get these youngsters out to a Glencoe dance and she said she was hoping to be able to get a bunch of them there later this summer. Great music and a great dance. The Whycocomagh Community Centre is an ideal venue for events of this sort; the community has put a lot of work into this building and it is good to see it being put to such good use. Back at the motel, I finished off yesterday’s report and posted it and then went straight to bed.
Thursday, 17 July — Whycocomagh
I slept in this grey, cooler, less humid, morning. I had lunch at Vi’s (chef salad and club sandwich, both excellent) and decided to spend the day at the motel: I need to store up as much sleep as I can for Rollo Bay and I have plenty of driving in the near future; besides, the weather wasn’t conducive to photography. The views from the motel of Whycocomagh Bay and of Indian Island and of North Mountain in the far distance across the Bay are easy to look at and restful; I worked on yesterday’s post outside while enjoying them. Then I had a good two-hour nap.
I drove the Trans-Canada Highway to Port Hastings and stopped for dinner at the Country Kitchen in the Hearth Stone Inn; it was superb: lobster cakes (like fish cakes, but made with lobster meat and served with a fine spicy sauce), a huge pan-fried haddock fillet garnished with tiny scallops and shrimp and covered in hollandaise sauce, a pasta salad, green and yellow beans, and apple crisp. The service was excellent, but the kitchen was very slow—I waited more than an hour for my food and the restaurant was half empty; definitely not a place to go for a quick meal.
After dinner, I drove to Creignish for the session there. Dara Smith-MacDonald on fiddle and Marion Dewar on piano were the session leads; they were joined by Beth MacGillivray and Mac Campbell on fiddles and Bill Quimby on guitar. Later, Anne (from Colorado but now living in Sydney), whose last name I heard but don’t remember, Anne Kaufman (Boston), and Melanie Holder joined them as the evening went on. Wally Ellison gave us some tunes on the small pipes with Marion on piano. Ian came in on highland bagpipes playing Happy Birthday, for me, as it turned out, and the numerous attendees joined in. It was an enjoyable session, with fine tunes and excellent playing. I left at 21h15, so as to not be late for Glencoe.
Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard, a duo I cannot get enough of, provided the evening’s music. Jigs started at 22h10 when the hall had few people in it; one couple got up but danced alone. The first square set got underway at 22h18 with 4 couples in the first figure, and 5 in the second and third figures. The second square set had 10 couples in the third figure, the third 11, and the fourth and last 6. Between the second and third square sets, Burton MacIntyre took the microphone to make an announcement and then read out the lovely card the overly kind Glencoe folks presented me as Elizabeth Beaton and Theresa “Glencoe” MacNeil brought a beautifully decorated birthday cake over to where I was sitting for me to blow out the candles. I was struck dumb and could only stammer my thanks for their good-hearted gesture. The delicious cake was carved up and all who wanted a piece got one. Near midnight, the call went out for step dancers; Stephen MacLennan, David Rankin, Theresa Gillis (Windsor)¹, Margie Beaton, two ladies whose names I don’t know dancing together in a synchronized step dance, and Kelly MacLennan dancing with her three-year old son, Lyle, all gave us some very fine sets of steps. Jigs went untaken after the fourth square set, so Ian and Mac played tune sets and one waltz set to fill out the rest of the time, as the few remaining in the hall wanted all the music from this fantastic duo that we could get. Thank you Glencoe for your gracious surprise and for a grand evening of fantastic music and dance! I got back to the motel in Whycocomagh too late to complete this and was instantly asleep.
Friday, 18 July — Whycocomagh to Rollo Bay
Today, as I begin my 73rd year on this planet, I give thanks for the priceless gift of relatively good health and the ability to enjoy it in the Maritimes in the summer, where the people, scenery, and music are the best I’ve ever encountered anywhere. Thank you to everyone for your kind birthday wishes.
Up at 9h15, I was still full from yesterday and therefore skipped breakfast. I drove to Port Hastings and crossed the Canso Causeway at 11h08, sad to be leaving this most beautiful Island, but happy that it will not be for long, as I’ll be returning for the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association Festival at St Anns in August and a couple or three more weeks in this wonderful place. I arrived at the Caribou ferry at 12h30 after a pleasant drive on a lovely day; the 13h crossing was cancelled due to “mechanical problems”, but the lady said I had a very good chance of getting on the 14h45 crossing as I was there early, so I decided to wait instead of driving three additional hours. While I was waiting, I completed yesterday’s post, about a wonderful day full of surprises and music that I still can’t believe! The sun was fierce, but a nice breeze was blowing, so it wasn’t too bad sitting in the car. I had an apple and a granola bar as I waited. I made it onto the ferry, but only just! There was one other car after me and that was it. We were parked tighter than I ever remember before, trying to squeeze as many in as possible with the other ferry boat out of commission. The sailing was late, 15h10. I drove off the ferry at 16h32 and drove to Rollo Bay, got my motel room, and went into Souris for dinner at the Bluefin: a garden salad and a seafood platter, both very good and heaped with seafood.
By then it was time to head to the grounds for tonight’s concert, held in the “cèilidh barn”, a repeat of last year’s successful Tunes I Wish I had Written circle, though with different participants. Tim Chaisson served as the emcee, but was also a member of the circle. Except as noted, Kevin Chaisson accompanied all of the players on keyboard. Tim started things off with a set of three jigs, the first of which was Dan Collins’ Father’s Favourite. Karine Gallant played 3-part Irish jigs associated with Tommy Peeples. Anastasia Desroches, who is the same age as Natalie MacMaster and said she was deeply influenced by Cape Breton playing and players, played Steevo’s Jig by Wendy MacIsaac and two other jigs in the standard Cape Breton repertoire. Jesse Francis played Blanchard’s Hornpipe and the traditional reel Sir Reginald MacDonald. Iain MacInnis on highland bagpipes played rather more modern tunes, all new to me, including the Drambuie Reel used in advertising 20 years ago. A second round saw the players choosing more tune sets. Brent Chaisson on guitar accompanied Tim’s second set, which Kevin sat out. Karine, unaccompanied, played two old-tyme tunes, one she wrote and a Québécois tune, both played in high bass. Anastasia returned again to the Cape Breton repertoire with Jean’s Reel, the Castle Hornpipe, the Contradiction Reel, and the Picnic Reel, with Kevin on keyboard and Tim on guitar. Jesse played solo a slow air associated with Johnny Cunningham and some Scottish reels, the latter accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Tim on guitar. Iain played a set of reels unaccompanied. For a finale, the four fiddlers played a set of tunes to which Geneviève Ouellette step danced. It was a fine concert with a variety of styles and great tunes; it was also the first time I had heard either Karine or Iain play and both gave fine performances. I have long admired Tim’s traditional fiddle playing and was also very happy to hear once again the fine playing of both Jesse and Anastasia, whom I only get to hear at Rollo Bay.
After the concert was over, I conversed with several of my PEI friends and picked up a copy of the East Pointers’ (Tim Chaisson, Koady Chaisson, and Jake Charron) initial CD, which I’m very much looking forward to hearing. As I was circulating, a session started up where the concert players jammed with anyone who had an instrument and wanted to play with them. I listened for a while and then came back to the Inn, where I wrote up this account. The tuning barn was said to be open and I imagine it will be going into the wee small hours; I was tempted, but I need to get ready for the musical marathon that begins tomorrow, so it will be soon to bed for me. A happy birthday it was, indeed!
Saturday, 19 July — Rollo Bay
[Apologies in advance for any names I missed, heard wrongly, or misspelled; I’m effectively working with one ear at this point and my short term memory is short. I would appreciate corrections or additional information at the address in this page’s footer below. Thanks to Anne McPhee for corrections which have been incorporated here and in the original post.]
I slept in until 9h30 and had breakfast at the Inn. I went back to my room and snoozed until noon: it’s going to be a long day! I drove over to the concert grounds about 12h15 and had my annual scallops and chips lunch at the concession—Mabel Gallant, the lady that runs it and I have become friends over the years and we caught up on each other’s news. I then claimed my spot with a great view of the stage, which is always a bit tricky for photography with its stark contrasts—darkly lit on stage with glaringly bright ambient light. For today was a perfect day for an outdoors concert: blue skies with a few white clouds, some fluffy and some strung out by the winds, bright sun requiring liberal and frequent doses of sunscreen, mild temperatures (mid 20’s (70’s)), and a nice cooling breeze with a cold edge to it blowing in off Rollo Bay.
The father-sons trio of Kevin Chaisson on keyboard, Tim Chaisson on fiddle, and Brent Chaisson on guitar kicked off the afternoon concert, ably emceed by Marlene MacDonald, with a set of jigs, two of which Kevin wrote, and followed it up with a march/strathspeys/reels set. Anastasia Desroches from “up west”, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Brent on guitar, started off with a set of jigs in the Cape Breton repertoire and continued with tunes with an Acadian flavour, beginning with La marmoteuse. Jack Rankin, 83 years old and now living in Burlington (Ontario) but with PEI roots, with Kevin on keyboard, played an old tyme set in Ontario style and followed it with a slow air more in the PEI style. Stephen Chaisson on fiddle, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Koady Chaisson on guitar, gave us a set of jigs and followed it with a set of strathspeys and reels. Two young ladies aged 12 and 14 from Ireland but now living in Souris, Hollie and Zoë O’Reagan, played classical repertoire selections, each playing separately and then together. Kathryn Dau-Schmidt, who has spent 33 years teaching fiddle in the Souris area, including to several Chaissons, led her Monday evening students, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard, in three sets of traditional tunes. JJ Chaisson on fiddle, accompanied by Koady on guitar played jigs first and then a set of strathspeys and reels for his mother, Donna, to step dance. Anita MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard, played a set of jigs; joined by Ben Miller on highland bagpipes, they gave us a tune set during which a mother and her two daughters step danced on stage and then a set composed of a march based on a Gaelic song, jigs, and reels. Allan MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by his son Ward on keyboard and “Junior” Fraser on guitar, played a set of tunes and a set of jigs. Sammy Arsenault gave us a fiddle solo and then accompanied Charity Deagle and Donna Peters as they sang a song; Charity and Donna then sang Stand By Me and then the Tennessee Waltz. Stan Chapman on fiddle, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard and “Junior” on guitar, played a set of tunes. Annika and Corrie Fruett, two teen-aged sisters from Alberta, played a set of Métis tunes, beginning with the Caribou Reel and the Louis Riel Reel. The Rollo Bay Kitchen Group, led by Peter Chaisson and accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Charity on guitar, played several sets of tunes; judging by the applause and the number of photographers, this is a very popular group! Buddy Longaphie on fiddle, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Brent on guitar, played a set of tunes. Shelly Campbell on fiddle, accompanied by Allan on keyboard and Koady on guitar, played a long and powerful set of tunes during which JJ and his young sons, Brady and Maguire, step danced and then Brady step danced alone. Koady gave us a set of tunes on banjo, accompanied by Tim on guitar; then, since Jake Charron wasn’t present, Brent took his place on guitar with Tim switching to fiddle, and they gave us a set off the East Pointers CD. Thus ended the afternoon concert!
After the concert was over, I grabbed a couple of haddock burgers and some juice from Mabel at the concession stand and, since she wasn’t busy, we had another good chat. I then retired to the car to recharge my iPhone, which otherwise likely wouldn’t have lasted through the night (I use it for notes, which saves a lot of copying and transcribing) and brought this account up to this point. I mentioned earlier that photography is tricky; it is even more so in the evening as the sun moves around and gradually lights up the stage, leaving parts of the stage in the dark, until it is directly in the performers’ eyes; then the sun sets and artificial lighting takes over, offering a completely different set of lighting conditions and challenges.
The evening concert began with a set of tunes from Kenny Chaisson on fiddle and his daughter, Darla MacPhee, on keyboard. Shelly and Allan were next up; she started with a John MacDougall tune I hadn’t heard before and followed it with a long set of strathspeys and reels; Jocelyn Arsenault step danced during the set. (A prominent member of the Chaisson family, who will remain anonymous, said later “I can’t get enough of that lady’s music!” and I couldn’t agree more!) Rannie MacLellan, with Kevin on the keyboard, played for Suzanne MacDonald to step dance and continued playing tunes after she had left the stage. Karine Gallant on fiddle, Brent on guitar, and Iain MacInnis on whistle played three sets, the first with an Acadian flavour, the second with a Celtic sound, and the last a medley of four tunes (Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, and Québécois), during which Iain switched to small pipes. Four quite young lasses, going by the name Creative Minds, sang the “cup song”, new to me. Jesse Francis on fiddle, accompanied by Iain on bouzouki, played for Madison Dixon to dance a highland dance and then continued with a tune set. Donna Peters and Charity Deagle on guitar sang three songs, the first of which was Fields of Gold. Roger Treat (from Vermont) on fiddle accompanied by Kevin on keyboard next gave us a set of tunes. Bonita Leblanc (from the Ottawa area), accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Tim on guitar, played a set in the Ottawa Valley style. Tim, accompanied by Koady on banjo and backing vocals, sang his tunes The Other Side and Under the Cajun Moon. The Morell Fiddlers, accompanied by Marion Pirch on keyboard, played a set ending with Mairi’s Wedding and another beginning with The Rosebud of Allenvale. Francis MacDonald, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Tim on guitar, played a set of tunes. The Alberta sisters gave us three sets, accompanied by Koady on guitar for the first two, the first a French tune, then an old tyme tune, and another in a style I didn’t specify in my notes. Collette and Janna Cheverie sang two songs, the last titled Distant Shore. Kendra MacGillivray on fiddle accompanied by Allan on keyboard gave us a set in E minor, beginning with a (new to me and lovely) slow air or lament followed by strathspeys and reels; seven young ’uns took the stage to step dance, some doing quite well, later in her set. Dennis Boudreau sang a song related to his employment as a Wal-mart greeter. Then the group Kindle (JJ on fiddle, Darla on keyboard, Koady on banjo, Tim on bass, Kurt Chaisson on electric guitar, and Brent on drums) took the stage; followed by enthusiastic loyal local young adults, about 120 of whom filled the area in front of the stage, the group was greeted with rock star status. They gave a performance of the music that appears on their self-titled CD, which greatly pleased the crowd. They are described as a Celtic rock band, and I like neither most Celtic bands nor rock, but I make an exception for Kindle: their music is very traditional and so well orchestrated, superbly played, and infectious that one would have to be a curmudgeon not to enjoy it (their CD is on my iPhone for listening in the car). Thus ended the evening concert.
Everyone then moved over to the “cèilidh barn” for the dance. Tonight, the dance was half round and half square, with people dancing in various round dance styles from two steps to jitterbug, as singers sang popular Maritime songs, such as Working Man and Song of the Mira. Kenny and Allan played for one square set, danced using Souris set figures; later, Shelly and Allan played another square set where the figures were part Inverness and part Souris, causing a fair amount of confusion on the dance floor, as one can imagine.
I found nothing much going on in the tuning room immediately after the dance, so I went back to the motel and went to bed. (I heard from several who were there of an epic session from 3h-6h on Friday/Saturday; there was likely some excellent music going on there in the wee hours of Saturday/Sunday as well.) What a wonderful day of varied fiddle music! Rollo Bay’s stage, during Saturday’s six hours of concert and Sunday’s seven hours, welcomes more fine fiddle players, mostly in the Scottish tradition, than any other non-competitive fiddle festival I know of. It’s definitely the place to be if you love that kind of music!
Sunday, 20 July — Rollo Bay
[Apologies in advance for any names I missed, heard wrongly, or misspelled; I’m effectively working with one ear at this point and my short term memory is short. I would appreciate corrections or additional information at the address in this page’s footer below. Thanks to Anne McPhee for corrections which have been incorporated here and in the original post.]
I got up at 9h15 and had breakfast at the Inn. I snoozed in my room at the Inn until 12h and drove to the festival grounds, where I had scallops and a hamburger and juice at the concession stand.
Marlene MacDonald, who ably emceed both concerts today, got the afternoon concert, which begins at 13h instead of Saturday’s 14h, underway with Tim Chaisson on fiddle and Brent Chaisson on guitar playing a jig set on the East Pointers’ new CD; they followed it with another jig set with some tunes new to me. Annika and Corrie Fruett from Calgary played three sets, one of old tyme classics, a French waltz, and an old tyme breakdown. Two youngsters, Zoë and Adam Krisko from Montréal, sang in French a song from Somalia. The Judy MacLean Dancers step danced to the music provided by Tim on fiddle and Kevin Chaisson on keyboard. Anne McPhee and Paul Cheverie then presented a PEI Fiddlers’ Society lifetime membership to Judy MacLean for her contributions to PEI dance. Rannie MacLellan, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Tim on guitar played an air/strathspeys/reels set. Hailee LeFort on fiddle (from the Margarees), accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard and Darcy LeFort on bodhrán, played a traditional jig followed by reels and then two tunes that she had composed. The Queens County Fiddlers, under the direction of Aaron Crane and with Jennifer Derrity on keyboard, first played a jig set starting with Cindy’s Jig composed by member Marlene Gallant; they then gave us a waltz and followed it with a march/strathspeys/reels set; their sound was beautiful and smooth throughout and especially lush on the waltz. Next, Kenny Chaisson and Darla MacPhee played a tune set; a young lass step danced very credibly through most of the set on the grass in front of the stage. Louise MacKinnon (daughter of the late Lemmy Chaisson, who was remembered with great fondness throughout the festival) on guitar, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard, sang three songs, Fly Away, one whose title I didn’t get, and Wild Mountain Thyme. Ward MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by Richard Wood on keyboard, played a tune he composed, Piano in the Garden and followed it with strathspeys and reels; they then played for Hailee to step dance. The youngsters’ group, Creative Minds, with two additional members this time, again sang the “cup song”. Kyle Gillis on fiddle and Dawn MacDonald-Gills on keyboard played an air/strathspeys/reels set during which Anne-Louise Campbell MacQuarrie and Brenley, their daughter, separately step danced. JJ Chaisson, accompanied by Darla MacPhee on keyboard, picked out a number of tunes on guitar, to which several youngsters, aged 3 to 6, step danced on stage. Richard on fiddle, accompanied by Darla on keyboard and JJ on guitar, gave us a set of Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald tunes. Donna Peters and Charity Deagle on ukulele sang Imagine; with Charity on guitar, they then gave us Carolina on My Mind and another song I did not recognize. A moment of silence remembered Barry Thomson and other fallen contributors to PEI fiddling. Stan Chapman on fiddle, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard and “Junior” Fraser on guitar, gave us a set of tunes. Cynthia McLeod on fiddle, accompanied by Richard on keyboard, gave us In Memory of Herbie MacLeod and more tunes, to which Marcia and Jocelyn Arsenault step danced. Stephen Chaisson on fiddle, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Brent on guitar, gave us a set of tunes and then a set of jigs. Bonita Leblanc on fiddle, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Brent on guitar, gave us tunes played in the Cape Breton style and repertoire. Jesse Francis on fiddle, accompanied by Richard on keyboard, gave us another set of tunes. Allan MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by Richard on keyboard and Brent on guitar, gave us two tune sets. Shelly Campbell on fiddle, accompanied by Allan on keyboard and Brent on guitar closed out the afternoon concert with a grand fantastic set; Mylène Ouellette and one other lady (her sister perhaps) step danced along with a young lassie during the set. Thus ended the great afternoon concert, a joy to attend and hear.
Friends invited me to their place in Souris for supper; I am grateful to them for their kindness in including me in their evening meal, shared with mutual friends.
Then, it was back to the festival grounds for the evening concert, which began with Stephen on fiddle, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Brent on guitar, who gave us first a set of jigs and then a set of reels. Darren Chaisson on fiddle, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and Brent on guitar, gave us a set of tunes. Norman Leclerc on guitar and vocals, with his son Eric on fiddle and daughter Mary Jane on flute, sang Streets of London; with Mary Jane switching to whistle and with Kevin on keyboard, they then gave us Sound the Pibroch (Rise and Follow Charlie), at the end of which Mary Jean step danced. Cynthia on fiddle and Kevin on keyboard next gave us a march/strathspeys/reels set, during which Geneviève MacPhee and Raina (I don’t have her last name) step danced. The Southern Kings Fiddlers’ Association first gave us a set of three tunes; Celtic Touch, composed by Richard Wood, followed; and they concluded with three more tunes, one from the Shetland Islands, one from the Isle of Man, and one from PEI. Urban MacAdam on guitar, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard, sang three songs, none of whose titles are in my notes. Richard on fiddle, accompanied by Kevin on keyboard and JJ on guitar, gave us a blast o’ tunes that brought 11 lassies onto the stage to step dance. Hollie and Zoë O’Reagan on dual fiddles played some classical selections. Annika and Corrie played four sets, most of which contained tunes that were new to me, ending with an old tyme tune. Rannie, accompanied by Allan on keyboard and JJ on guitar, played a march/strathspeys/reels set. Treble with Girls, a group of four composed of Maxine MacLennan, Jolee Patkai, Sheila Fitzpatrick, and Norman Stewart, gave us a song accompanied by guitar and fiddle; accompanied by Richard on keyboard, they then gave us Star of the County Down, an instrumental set, and a song written in tribute to Lemmy Chaisson. Allan MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by Richard on keyboard and JJ on guitar, gave us a tune set. Peter Chaisson and his four sons, Andrew, Brad, Stanley, and Stephen, with Kevin on keyboard, gave us a set of tunes; Peter and Stanley were on guitar and the other three sons on fiddle. (Andrew, who had been in Australia for some time, greatly surprised his father by arriving unannounced for the festival.) Shelly on fiddle with Allan on keyboard gave us a jig, The Road to Rollo Bay, she had composed with the joys of the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival and Lemmy in mind, and followed it with a set of strathspeys and reels. Mary Chaisson, Lemmy’s daughter, sang a song whose title I didn’t get, The Dutchman (Margaret knows), and I Wish I Were in Carrickfergus. JJ on fiddle, accompanied by Darla on keyboard and Brent on guitar, played a set of tunes. The evening concert came to an end with a finale including most of the day’s fiddlers on stage, a fantastic sound, to which many (toddlers, youngsters, and adults) step danced in joy at the wonderful music they had experienced over the past three days.
It was then off to the “cèilidh barn” for the dance, which tonight was truncated to an hour for reasons not explained; like last night’s, it was half round dance and half square dance. Those still unsated with 7½ hours of fiddle music adjourned to the tuning barn, where Allan MacDonald, Bonita Leblanc, and Shelly Campbell and JJ jointly served in turn as session leaders; Allan Dewar on fiddle (!) was among the players. Piano accompaniment was provided by Brent, Dawn, Kevin, and perhaps others (my memory is a bit foggy at this point). Grand music that had the tuning barn just a-hoppin’ with step dancers and toe tappers. I left, most reluctantly, at 1h20, because I had a long drive ahead of me on Monday, but I’m sure the session (and partying) went on for a long time after I left.
And so ended my presence at this fantastic festival: it’s one amazing time! I heartily recommend it to those who haven’t yet been; those who have been know just how wonderful an experience it is. All of the Chaissons, including the many and greatly gifted musicians in the clan who also appear on stage, play many rôles during this wonderful festival, from behind the scenes work backstage, handling sound at the dances, taking tickets, guiding traffic, serving as security guards, keeping the grounds clean, and a host of other tasks that keep the festival running well and professionally; many are also involved in the planning and organization of the festival. They are the heart and soul of this festival and are always smiling and hospitable; to them all go my thanks for the greatest fiddle music festival I know of.
Monday, 21 July — Rollo Bay to Lewiston
[all times are in ADT, including those in the US, unless otherwise noted]
I got up at 9h15, had breakfast at the Inn, and then drove to Souris to take care of a half dozen errands. I left Souris about 10h45 and arrived in New Brunswick at 13h15 (I prefer taking Route 2 to Hunter River and Route 13 to Crapaud over the far less scenic and more trafficky route through Charlottetown). I stopped in St John for a very late lunch; I was feeling drowsy from Sussex to St John, so I ordered a cup of coffee with lunch. It’s amazing the effect coffee has on one’s nervous system when one doesn’t drink it regularly! (I used to drink a pot a day, but haven’t drunk it regularly in a couple of years now because it counteracts my blood pressure medicine.) No more drowsiness; I don’t think it will keep me awake much longer, though.
I cleared customs with the most perfunctory interview I can ever recall in Calais: what was the purpose of my trip and what was I bringing back. No “Are you an American citizen?” when I handed him my US passport (duh!); no “When did you leave the US?”; no search of the car, not even a request or an attempt to look inside the car; nothing else! nada! Perhaps it had something to do with the “Hi, Vic!” followed by a couple of tied eighth notes someone wrote in the dirt on the back of my car at the Rollo Bay Inn (the back license plate is illegible except for the “New Jersey” someone exposed just before I left Cape Breton, but they’d have had no problem reading the front plate—I’m waiting for rain to wash it all off the back). I stopped in Baileyville for gas. I arrived in Lewiston without incident about 20h45. I didn’t get enough sleep last night, so ’twill be off to bed almost immediately—I hope to leave here in the morning by 6h local time.
I greatly enjoyed the East Pointers’ CD, which I listened to several times on the drive. If you like banjo, you’ll love this gorgeous combination of Tim Chaisson’s traditional fiddle, Koady Chaisson’s banjo pickin’, and Jake Charron’s guitar. Four of the tunes are Koady’s, three are Kevin’s, one is a collaboration between Koady and Jake, one a collaboration between Brent Chaisson and Ellen MacPhee, and one is Tim’s; the others are either traditional or by various other composers, but all deeply rooted in the tradition. Highly recommended!
Tuesday, 22 July — Lewiston to Jackson
I awoke about 4h50; I rolled over, but did not go back to sleep. I got up about 5h15 and was on the road before 5h30. I stopped at Kennebunkport (Maine) to dislodge the granola bars stuck under my backpack; Sturbridge (Massachusetts) for gas; the Blue Colony Diner in Newtown (Connecticut), where I had a very interesting Greek antipasto for lunch; and the Montvale Rest Area (New Jersey) to stretch my legs. It was an uneventful trip, fortunately; I was early enough to miss most of the rush hour mess north of Boston and late enough to miss the rush hour in Hartford. I arrived home a bit after 13h. I am tired and am going to have a nap. We’ll see about Sunday’s report when I wake up. Thus endeth Trip 1 to Cape Breton and Rollo Bay, a blast and a half! I have lots to do before I head back in August! Thanks for reading and for all your support.