Thursday, 7 August — Chippewa Bay (New York) to Woodstock (New Brunswick)
I left Jackson last Thursday, 31 July, and drove to Hawkesbury (Ontario); it was a better trip through the Adirondacks than last year’s, with sun most of the way, but I ran into a few showers, one of which felt like driving in a waterfall for fifteen miles, and I couldn’t see the High Peaks, which were covered by clouds.
Friday morning, I paid a visit to my two first cousins in Embrun and then drove back to the Highland Games at Maxville, which I attended on Friday afternoon and evening and all day Saturday. Most of the time I listened to the fiddle sessions: a youth concert on Friday and a fiddlers’ cèilidh on Saturday, with the Glengarry massed fiddlers both days. Shelly Campbell was the fiddle workshop instructor and the guest fiddler; she chose Troy MacGillivray on keyboard as her accompanist. They played half hour sets each day, extended by popular demand—needless to say, they were fantastic! It was nice seeing Beth MacGillivray, Donald and Anne MacPhee, Donaldson MacLeod, and Bonita LeBlanc, who all took part in the concerts. I took in the Tattoo on Friday, but left at dusk because I wasn’t sure I could find my car in the dark (the surrounding fields are a maze of roads which maximize the parking capacity). Saturday, I attended the Parade of the Clans and the massed pipe and drum bands at which the winners of the competitions were announced and the prizes awarded.
Sunday, I drove to my sister’s in the Thousand Islands, where I spent the days until today with her and her husband; I got to see two of my nephews and their families as well.
I left there this morning a bit past 8h and reached Woodstock (New Brunswick), where I’m spending the night, at 19h03 (EDT (20h03 local time)). Autoroute 30 is wonderful! It was the first time I’d driven it and it cuts out all the mess in Montréal; the $2 bridge toll is a small price to pay. Mostly sunny trip today, though there were intermittent showers between Drummondville and Québec City; got gas and had lunch at St-Apollinaire just south of Québec City. Heavy haze on the Côte-Nord, so the views across the river weren’t great, but it was clear south of the river. Autoroute 85 at Rivière-du-Loup was also very nice, but it petered out just south of the city; the rest of the route is still 138, which is a two-lane highway with passing lanes in the north; the southern half is mostly under construction with a lot of four lane highway being completed or already completed. Still, a very substantial improvement over the dangerous 100 km (60 mi) two-lane stretch I remember the last time I drove this route.
Had supper at the motel. Will soon be off to bed.
Friday, 8 August — Woodstock to Summerside (Prince Edward Island)
Since I had only a half day’s drive today, I didn’t leave Woodstock until after 10h. It was a mostly grey day, with the occasional burst of sun; intermittent rain fell all the way, mostly light, but moderate from Fredericton to Highway 2. I had lunch in Salisbury. I arrived in Summerside just a bit past 15h and read and caught up on Facebook—I’ve been without Internet access since Sunday, so apologies to anyone whose birthday or other significant event I’ve missed. I had dinner at the Brothers 2 (mussels, blackened haddock, rice, fresh yellow beans, squash, and a garden salad, all excellent).
I am here to attend the Atlantic Fiddlers’ Jamboree, my first time attending this event; in previous years, there was always a schedule conflict or else I was at home. After dinner, I therefore drove out to Abram-Village to get myself oriented and caught the tail end of the opening jam session.
The next event, at 19h30, was a concert launching the Roots Project CD, a crowd-sourced project involving Louise Arsenault of Barachois and Gadelle and her three grown children, Angie, Melissa, and Jonathan. The first half of the interesting concert was mostly instrumental music and the second half mostly vocal; step dancing occurred during both parts.
Pub Night, which started late at 22h, occurred in the adjacent restaurant, where Pascal Miousse, Vishtèn’s fiddler, and Patrice Desrasp on guitar and feet, both Madelinots, opened the evening with a number of powerful sets, mostly Acadian tunes, but with the occasional Cape Breton tune thrown in; one waltz they played is a march in Cape Breton in 4/4 time instead of 3/4 time, but both are recognizably the same melody. Patrice’s rhythmic footwork à la québécoise was amazing and added greatly to the music. Magnificent playing by both! Then, Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Ashley MacIsaac on keyboard took over the stage. Wendy gave us several fantastic sets of pure Cape Breton music; Ashley’s fine keyboard accompaniments fit perfectly—I don’t often get to see him in this rôle, at which he excels. During one of the sets, Jean-François Berthiaume gave us an amazing step dance, not at all close to the floor, but in perfect time to the music—an incredible performance! About 23h45. Wendy and Ashley switched places and gave us more fantastic sets, the first beginning with a lush and gorgeous rendition of My Mother. Towards the end of the evening, they switched places once more and Wendy finished off the evening with more great sets. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard these two play together before and certainly not at this length; it was just an incredible experience: whether on fiddle or keyboard, each complements the other superbly. What a joy to hear and what a fantastic evening of music! The Atlantic Fiddlers’ Jamboree is off to a fine start!
Saturday, 9 August — Summerside
I awoke about 9h30 and lolled about until 11h when I went out for breakfast. I returned to the motel and finished and posted yesterday’s account. I then drove out to Mont-Carmel, where today’s events took place, this time in the Mont-Carmel Parish Hall.
The Meet the Masters concert got underway at 14h26. It featured four pairs of musicians: Pascal Gemme on fiddle and feet and Yann Falquet on guitar, two thirds of the well-known Québec band Genticorum; Aidan Burke on fiddle and Philip Masure on guitar, half of the Irish folk group Comas; Pascal Miousse on fiddle and Patrice Desrasp on guitar; and Wendy MacIsaac and Ashley MacIsaac on both fiddle and keyboard. The players rotated across the stage from left to right in the order listed above, each playing a set of tunes preceded by introductory comments. Most of the music was new to me and I generally found it enjoyable and often compelling; Yann’s guitar was absolutely lovely and I greatly enjoyed Pascal Gemme’s “happy tunes” from the Abitibi region of Québec. I found Aidan’s music fairly cerebral, demonstrating an amazing technical virtuosity; although listenable, it failed to really connect with me. Pascal Miousse’s sets were fiery and fun to listen to; he is one powerful player indeed! (A comment he made on stage stressed the importance of CJFX in the early days of radio to the music of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, reïnforcing Anastasia Desroches’ comments at the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival; the reception in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, however, was spotty and staticky, leading to missed notes or hearing only one of the turns of a tune, to which the local fiddlers added their own second turn, explaining many of the divergences in the tunes between the Cape Breton and Madelinot versions.) Wendy and Ashley’s sets were fantastic, with lush slow airs, grand marches, fiery strathspeys, and blazing reels, a fine representative selection of the Cape Breton repertoire. Ashley gave a performance of Tulloch Gorm. Jean-François Berthiaume step danced to one of Pascal and Yann’s sets and Wendy step danced to Ashley’s solo fiddle, with Pascal Miousse and Aidan joining Ashley later. Wendy gave us the lovely slow strathspey J. O. Forbes, Esq. of Corse and followed it with jigs and strathspeys. Ashley gave us a fine piano solo in the style of John Morris Rankin, who, regrettably, I never heard play live. At the end of the concert, all the players joined together in a rousing finale, during which Jean-François again step danced. All told, it was a fine afternoon of music, with some really outstanding moments.
The canteen served barbecued hamburgers, a variety of salads, and beverages, so I ate there. The family dance got underway after 19h, with Jean-François calling (prompting) the figures, each of which was taught and then danced to the music, provided by Pascal Gemme and Yann during the first half and by Wendy and Ashley during the second half (Yann on guitar replaced Ashley on Wendy’s final set). Unlike Cape Breton dances, the figures were different for each set, incorporating a number of motifs I have seen previously in other figures. When Wendy and Ashley were playing, Jean-François called two “Cape Breton” figures, but they were unlike what I’ve seen in Cape Breton. He is a fine caller, switching seamlessly from French to English and back again, with a fine patter and a thumping bodhrán to accompany the music, leaving the dancers clear as to what was expected of them; as interesting as all the varied figures were, however, the calling seriously distracted from the music, which is what I go to dances to hear. The dancers, who numbered between eight and twenty, were willing and enthusiastic, ranging from five-year olds (and one toddler) to grey-haired adults. A waltz was also played. The dance ended with a choreographed figure based on a tune written, if I heard correctly, by Pastelle LeBlanc; the lady, who served as emcee throughout the day and whose name I did not get, led the dancers through the most complex figures of the evening, ending with a long and twisting single file of dancers, played to the music of Vishtèn (Pascal Miousse on guitar, Pastelle LeBlanc on accordion, and Emmanuelle LeBlanc on keyboard), accompanied by Yann on guitar.
I drove back to the motel and relaxed a bit before calling it a night. Quite a day of music!
Sunday, 10 August — Summerside
I got up at 9 and completed and posted yesterday’s account. I then drove to Abram-Village and had the brunch there.
The Golden Fiddle Concert took place in the Centre-Expo’s Salle Angèle Arsenault and was well-attended. It began with two fine sets by Peter Chaisson on fiddle and Kevin Chaisson on keyboard. Allan MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Ward MacDonald on keyboard gave us a set beginning with Brenda Stubbert’s Peter and Doreen Chaisson March¹ and ending with the St Anne’s Reel and they followed it with another set of reels. Ward on fiddle with Kevin on keyboard gave us the Piano in the Garden air that he wrote and Dot MacKinnon’s Reel that Kevin wrote; three ladies step danced during the reel. Four lasses and one lad then step danced together to a set of reels by the same players. That was it for the music I feel comfortable describing. The rest of the afternoon’s music was not Scottish, though an occasional Scottish tune I recognized appeared in some of the sets. I’m not knowledgeable enough to be able to distinguish between PEI Acadian, New Brunswick Acadian, and Québécois music and so can’t really describe the sets that were played; I’ll have to settle for just mentioning the players, most of whom I don’t know and hadn’t seen before. Karine Gallant on fiddle accompanied by Patrice Desrasp on guitar and feet played sets that included some old-tymish sounding tunes along with others that were Acadian or Québécois (they played after Peter and Kevin and before Allan and Ward). Melissa Gallant on fiddle and feet accompanied by a guitar player whose name I didn’t get played several sets, during one of which her sister and two lasses step danced. A group of three players (fiddle, keyboard, guitar), none of whose names I got, gave us several sets, some of which had an old-tyme flavour to them; a lady and two lasses step danced during one of them. Peter and Albert Arsenault, sons of renowned PEI fiddler Eddy Arsenault, accompanied by Emmanuelle LeBlanc on keyboard and Patrice Desrasp on guitar and feet, closed the afternoon concert with several sets, during one of which five young lasses step danced. I clearly have a lot to learn and absorb about the music I heard this afternoon, much of which I enjoyed, and about the musicians who played it.
After the concert, I had dinner at the restaurant in the Centre-Expo, La Trappe. It was superb; I had a bowl of the seafood chowder, which ties for the best chowder I’ve had in the Maritimes; a green garden salad; the Cajun gumbo (chicken, shrimp, and andouille in a spicy, but not hot, sauce on a bed of rice); bread pudding; and tea.
I was stuffed and happy when I left for the evening concert in Mont-Carmel, which was much better attended than yesterday’s, completely filling the hall. Pascal Gemme on fiddle and Yann Falquet on guitar gave us a set of Québécois tunes, the last of which was “diddled” by both; more of the “happy tunes” Pascal played yesterday; a song Yann sang whilst accompanying himself on guitar with Pascal on backing fiddle, the chorus to which the audience sang after having been taught it by Yann; and jigs to which Jean-François Berthiaume step danced. Pascal Miousse on fiddle and Patrice Desrasp on guitar gave us an interesting set of three tunes that were very “jerky” with an unusual rhythm. Patrice, who has a great voice, sang a song accompanying himself on guitar with Pascal on backing fiddle; it evolved into a purely instrumental set. Four tunes, two of which were Cape Breton tunes played in the Madelinot manner, followed and a step-dancer took advantage of the music to share her steps. Another song from Patrice about fishing in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, in which Pascal joined on the chorus, also ended as an instrumental set. Five ladies step danced to their final set of reels. A standing ovation greeted their last number. After the break, Meaghan Blanchard took the stage, accompanying herself on guitar and gave us several songs, one in French. She is a very popular performer and got a standing ovation; I was not at all impressed—just not my cup of tea. After the 50/50 draw, Comas took the stage. It consists of Aidan Burke on fiddle; Isaac Alderson on Uilleann pipes, whistle, and flute; Philip Masure on guitar; and Anna Colliton on bodhrán. Given my reäction to Aidan’s music on Saturday, I expected not to like what I was about to hear. I was very much surprised: the addition of the other two players makes the combination a fine Celtic band with a great sound, so I willingly joined in the standing ovation that greeted the end of their fourth set. Their music was varied and showcased fine piping, beautiful flute, gorgeous guitar playing, and a song from Philip in fine voice. Step dancer Wayne Thompson danced in the Irish style during the fourth set. The only sour note was the encore they gave us, featuring Aidan’s virtuosity, not musicality, front and centre, as in yesterday’s performances, which left me cold. Still, I’d willingly see this band again as they can sure play well as a group!
And so the Atlantic Fiddlers’ Jamboree reached its end. It wasn’t at all what I expected, very different from any other fiddle event I’ve attended, but eye-opening and musically broadening. I need to learn a lot more about the other Maritime traditions I heard this week-end, a years-long undertaking to which I’m looking forward.
In the meantime, I’m headed back to Cape Breton tomorrow and my musical comfort zone, where I hope to attend the Brook Village dance tomorrow night.
Monday, 11 August — Summerside to Whycocomagh
I arose at 8h30 and packed up and checked out of the motel. I left Summerside about 10h and drove to Port Elgin in New Brunswick, where I turned off on Highway 970, got gas, and continued on around the great marshy cove, at whose head Port Elgin sits, to the Sunrise Trail at the Nova Scotia border. I first drove the Sunrise Trail on my 2001 trip to Nova Scotia and hadn’t been back since; while not as speedy as the Trans-Canada Highway, it’s considerably shorter from Port Elgin and I made pretty decent time on the two lane road, in variable shape at different points, from the just refinished to the heavily patched. It winds along the shore, offering excellent views of the Northumberland Strait and the offshore islands as it passes through Pugwash, Tatamagouche, and River John, ending at the traffic circle outside Pictou (there’s also a western section from Sutherlands River to Antigonish by way of Cape George that I drove on that first trip but didn’t today).
I drove into Pictou, passing by the DeCoste Centre where I first heard Kendra and Troy MacGillivray play live on an early trip (my second, I think), and stopping for lunch at the Salt Water Café, where I had a humongous garden salad, falsely advertised as regular[-sized] and a haddock burger, both excellent; I left so full I didn’t need any supper!
From Pictou, I picked up the Trans-Canada Highway and crossed the Canso Causeway Bridge at 15h32:54. The skies were mostly occluded by grey and often black clouds, as they had been all week-end, yet today the sun shone through the few openings available all the way, except for a brief shower near River John and one in Port Hastings (from the Causeway, one could also see localized rain storms at Creignish and Port Hawkesbury). I drove on to Whycocomagh and checked in.
I called my sister to wish her a happy birthday, as I always try to do on this date. I then wrote this account to this point. After that, tired from the week-end and the drive, I dozed in my chair until it was time to leave for the dance at Brook Village.
The musicians tonight featured Rodney MacDonald on fiddle, Howie MacDonald on keyboard, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar. The music began at 21h38 and the first square set got immediately underway, with five couples in the third figure. The second square set had twenty couples in three groups and used two queues in the third figure, as did all the following square sets. A waltz attracted ten or more couples. By the time the third square set started, the hall was packed and so many dancers were in the nearest queue that I couldn’t accurately count all the couples on the floor; I got forty couples for the fifth square set, which was the densest, but that number may be half a dozen too few. Another waltz was danced after the third square set, attracting fifteen or more couples, some with some very graceful moves. The sixth square set was played by Howie on fiddle, Joey Beaton on keyboard, and Sandy on guitar, who also played for the waltz that followed. The strathspeys and the following seventh and last square set were played with Rodney on fiddle, Robbie Fraser on keyboard, and Sandy on guitar; the step dancers were David Rankin; Edna MacDonald; a blonde lady I didn’t recognize; a lady with a pigtail who incorporated leaps into her dance; Peter Parker; Hillary Romard; another lady I didn’t recognize; Gerard Beaton; and a man in a black vest whose dance was in the Irish tradition. The last square set ended at 0h55, so Rodney played a waltz with Howie back on keyboard and Sandy on guitar. The dancers were excellent and enthusiastic all night long, shaking the building with their rhythmic steps during the third figures especially. The sound was magnificent and the great tunes were blessedly familiar (after this past week-end’s excursion into a number of different fiddle styles, where most tunes were brand new to me); although I very much missed the pipes at each of the Brook Village dances I attended on my first trip, one couldn’t really ask for a better Brook Village dance. It was great to see so many friends once again in the hall. What a magnificent evening and wonderful start to my second stay in Cape Breton!
Tuesday, 12 August — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
I got up at 9h and, after breakfast at Vi’s, drove to Mabou to tend to some errands. It was one of those rare Cape Breton days when the air is clear and perfect for photography, so I stopped for photos at the Railway Trail kiosk in West Mabou and at several other points along the West Mabou and Colindale Roads. I had my first dish of Scotsburn maple walnut ice cream this trip at the ice cream barn in Port Hood. I got my motel room in Port Hood and then drove up the Rocky Ridge Road to my friends’, where I retrieved my bear/coyote spray (they weren’t at home), and continued on to West Mabou, where I stopped for more photos of the always gorgeous Cape Mabou Highlands. I stopped off at another friend’s, who also was out. I returned to Port Hood and finished up yesterday’s account and posted it.
By then, it was time for supper at the Red Shoe, where Melody and Derrick Cameron provided music for the diners. Excellent dinner (catch of the day and fruit tart) and equally tasty tunes—a great start to the musical evening. That continued across the street at the Community Hall where Karen and Joey Beaton’s cèilidh featured Bonnie Jean MacDonald and James MacLean (who replaced Father Angus Morris, who was scheduled, but had to cancel due to a bad bout of arthritis). Karen and Bonnie Jean on dual fiddles with Joey on keyboard started the cèilidh off with a set of three jigs. Bonnie Jean alone with Joey on keyboard then gave us a gorgeously played The Rosebud of Allenvale and followed it with fine strathspeys and reels. Bonnie Jean’s slow airs are invariably fantastic! James, accompanied by Joey on keyboard, first played on guitar a set of two clogs and then a set of jigs. Nice! Karen then gave us a beautiful Hector the Hero and followed it with some very fine strathspeys and reels. Joey on solo keyboard played his father’s tribute to his close friend, tragically killed in a farm accident, a beautiful four-part lament. After the break, Bonnie Jean gave us a grand march/strathspeys/reels set accompanied by Joey. My notes are rather garbled at this point, but I think it was she who next gave us a set of three tunes, after which Karen and Joey played for Harvey MacKinnon to step dance. I think it was James that gave us the march, strathspey, and hornpipe set that followed. Bonnie Jean then played a set of jigs, accompanied by Joey. All four musicians joined in the last two numbers of the cèilidh, Dan R MacDonald’s The Glencoe March and a set of two reels. As always, it was a very enjoyable and instructive cèilidh and one of the very few venues where one can get to hear Bonnie Jean’s fine playing.
Then, it was off to Creignish for the family square dance with Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard. Although scheduled to start of 21h30, there weren’t enough dancers to form a square set when I arrived, late, at 21h45. The music began at 21h57 with a jig set that got no dancers. The next try got six couples for the first square set and eight couples danced the third figure of the second square set. Even with long pauses, the next jig set had no takers and the one after that got started only after a few minutes of music, again with eight couples in the third figure. People started leaving as it was being danced, so the next square set, the last, got only five couples. Another jig set got no takers, though there were barely still enough dancers present to form a square set, but they, like myself, preferred to sit and listen to the fantastic music, so Ian played a long and magnificent march/strathspeys/reels set, including The Mortgage Burn and Jack Daniels’ Reel (thanks for that last title, Leonard). A waltz, also with no takers, and a final march/strathspeys/reels set ended the evening’s marvellous music. Only one young lass was present for much of the evening; everyone else would have had no problem being admitted to an adult dance. I hope Ian Cameron doesn’t give up on his attempt to bring family dances back to Creignish, but he must be some discouraged: only one of the dances I was at there had even borderline attendance and only the first had a goodly contingent of young folk. It is sad indeed that the response has been so poor, in spite of his indefatigable efforts to publicize them. But kudos to him for trying!
Wednesday, 13 August — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I arose at 9h to another excellent day for photography. I initially intended to go hiking along the Mabou River, but days like this are not plentiful, so, after breakfast, I took a back country ramble via the Hawthorne, St Ninian, Rear Intervale, Glencoe, Whycocomagh Port Hood, Old Mull River, Worths, Mull River, Smithville, Blackstone, and West Lake Ainslie Roads, with numerous stops along the way for photos. Many rocks were showing in the Southwest Mabou River at Long Johns Bridge and the Mull at the White Miller’s Bridge in Glencoe Mills was little more than a set of interconnected puddles; I was therefore somewhat surprised to find good flow in the Mull at the bridge on Worths Road. The Mull/Mabou was also flowing nicely at Murrays Bridge and I was pleased to see ropes dangling from the bridge, indicating that swimmers are still actively using the swimming hole below the bridge. The scenery has changed in quite subtle, but noticeable, ways in the three weeks since my last trip. Gone are those indescribable and oh so vibrant just-after-bursting-into-leaf greens in the foliage, replaced by the darker greens of late summer; yellows and even browns have replaced the greens in those fields where the hay has been mown; goldenrod adds more yellow to the views, somewhat mitigated by the ubiquitous whites of the Queen Anne’s lace; the brilliant pink and magenta hues of fireweed and the somewhat softer hues of the milkweed flowers are seen everywhere. It is as beautiful as it was earlier, but very clearly different, though the gorgeous forms of the landscape are unchanged. Clouds made patches of light and dark dance across the slopes, knobs, and glens of Cape Mabou. When I reached Lake Ainslie, haze became a small problem, but it was the presence of numerous clouds that really messed up the views, so I didn’t stop for photos there. Still, it was a lovely drive on a generally beautiful day.
After an early dinner in Whycocomagh, I drove to the Gaelic College in St Anns for tonight’s instructors’ cèilidh, encountering a brief shower at St Patricks Channel. While I was waiting for the doors to open and afterwards in my seat, I worked on yesterday’s account and got it posted not long before the concert started. Colin MacDonald was tonight’s emcee. Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes, accompanied by Colin on keyboards gave us a grand march/strathspeys/reels set that began with Memories of Paddy Leblanc and a set of jigs; Colin’s accompaniment was superb, giving a lift to the drive of the bagpipes. Lewis MacKinnon explained some of the history behind the Gaelic song he then sang to his own guitar accompaniment. Stan Chapman on fiddle with Kolten MacDonell on keyboard gave us a gorgeous, smooth, and lush slow air, followed by fine strathspeys and reels. Michelle Stewart (a Cape Bretoner now living in Scotland¹) gave a rather amazing demonstration of the various rhythmic devices a bodhrán can supply—the first time I have heard a long bodhrán solo on a stage. Alys Howe, a Canadian-Celtic harpist, accompanied by Annie Brown² on fiddle, but whose playing I very much liked, gave us three sets: the first struck me as funky modern stuff I didn’t much care for, but then I do not know anything about harp music; the second was played to Alys’ puirt a beul and I liked it better; and the last was more clearly traditional Celtic music I rather liked. Dara Smith-MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Kolten on keyboard gave us a grand march/strathspeys/reels set, including The Mortgage Burn. Melanie MacDonald then step danced to the music of Dara and Kolten. Kevin Dugas on highland bagpipes played a slow air solo and then strathspeys and reels accompanied by Kolten on keyboard; the back of his shirt was soaked as he left the stage after his powerful set. Kyle MacDonald (Keith’s twin) on fiddle with brother Colin on keyboard gave us grand, powerful, and driving set of strathspeys and reels. Joyce MacDonald told a humorous story in Gaelic, with English translation after each sentence. Dawn and Margie Beaton, with Kolten on keyboard, gave us an interesting set of double fiddles in two voices, with Margie leading; initially, it sounded funky and modern to me and not overly traditional, but long before the end, it got back to pure Cape Breton traditional tunes, beautifully and powerfully played. For the finale, all the musicians except Kevin took the stage and, with Colin on guitar, played a set of tunes during which Melanie, Kevin, Kyle, and Dara step danced. What a grand and varied evening of music! I drove back to Whycocomagh and caught up on my reading and mail, then finished this account on which I worked at odd moments during the day.
Thursday, 14 August — Whycocomagh
I arose late at 10h30 and chose to skip breakfast, trying to decide whether to go hiking and chance the 60% probability of rain in the forecast. I had a chef salad and a turkey club sandwich for lunch at Vi’s, both excellent, and then headed off for Mabou, where I tended to an errand. It was a good hiking day and the skies looked as if they could go either way, so I decided to risk it, especially as it had been a month since my last hike, so I then returned to Glendyer Station, where I hiked the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail / Trans-Canada Trail / Mabou Rivers Trail / Railway Trail along the Mabou River to Highway 19 at Mabou Station, a marvellous, roughly 3.25 km (2 mi) section of this always gorgeous and interesting trail. It has been too long since I was last here and, in spite of the mostly overcast skies early on, I enjoyed the views of Mabou Mountain and the many meanders of the Mabou River below, often reflecting the mountain on its surface, especially when the sun was out, as it was more often later in the afternoon. A jogger passed me in both directions as I started down the trail. One crosses five bridges on this hike, one a steel bridge over the Mabou River and the rest wooden bridges over brooks flowing into the Mabou River: the engineers who built these bridges at the beginning of the 20th century built them to last! A kindly young lad on a motorbike stopped as I was taking pictures on the third bridge and told me of an eagles’ nest just ahead; although I was looking for it, I did not spot it (my father always said I was blind in one eye and couldn’t see out of the other, i.e., notoriously incapable of seeing what’s in front of my eyes). Little had changed since I last did this hike, but one new amenity added since then is a park bench and two very well-done interpretive panels in a look-off over the Mabou River between Highway 19 and the nearest bridge to it. I spent two and a half hours reaching Highway 19, so you can imagine how often I stopped along the way savouring (and photographing) the splendid views! I rested briefly on a bench on Highway 19 just north of the trail, part of the Mabou beautification project, beside which is a huge pot with a gorgeous planting of flowers, before returning to the new park bench in the look-off, where I had a quick lunch (apple, tomato, diet cola). I made rather better time on the return leg, covering the distance in an hour and twenty minutes, no speed record, but with rather more sustained bursts of walking than on the trip in. A motorbike bearing two people and two cyclists passed me on the trail on the way back, but I met no other hikers/walkers/strollers. I was back at the car at 17h41 and drove back to the motel in Whycocomagh, where I showered and got two egg salad sandwiches for the road at the Farmer’s Daughter—no time for dinner if I was to make the jam in Creignish.
I drove there and arrived shortly after the music, led by Olivier Broussard on fiddle and Leona Williams on keyboard, got under way. It was another very nice session of music, attracting perhaps fifteen to twenty musicians and considerably more attendees. Fiddles, small pipes, guitars, a flute, an accordion, and even a saw were played while I was there.
I left for the Glencoe Mills dance at 21h10. The music, provided by Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and brother Calum on real piano and, later, keyboard, began promptly at 22h with a march/strathspeys/reels set. The jigs began at 22h10 and got 3 couples on the floor, but no fourth couple by the time the set ended. The first square set got underway at 22h17 with four couples in the first figure, but the second figure had three groups of dancers, apparently a “practice run” at the far end for folks that seemed to have come with Scott Macmillan, as they didn’t dance the third figure with the first group. Thereafter, there was no problem getting square sets started, as dancers took to the floor as soon as the jigs started, with 23 couples the most I counted in any square set. Kenneth played the highland bagpipes for the third figure of the third square set. Robbie Fraser on fiddle spelled Kenneth for the fifth square set. Unusually for the Glencoe dances this year, seven square sets were danced in all, as the musicians took only short breaks between sets and very short breaks between figures. No takers took the floor for the step dance sequence, but six couples danced the waltz that Kenneth played to complete the evening’s music. There were a few “train wrecks” on the floor during the early third figures, but this is a family dance, an important element of which is the transmission of the culture to the next generation; it was delightful to see so many young folks learning the figures and, by the end of the evening, most were doing very well. The music was fantastic all night long; Kenneth has a great command of both his instruments and is a peerless exponent of the Mabou Coal Mines style of music; Calum’s accompaniments were equally fine. I am sure this dance must have been profitable for the organizers and it was very nice to see several folks who, on an evening before a workday, made a trip out of their way to stop off for a set or two to support the Glencoe dances. While this was not like the “old days” when I first came to Glencoe, it was still very encouraging to see the good attendance and numerous dancers so clearly enjoying the music. A great night in Glencoe for sure!
Friday, 15 August — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
À tous mes amis acadiens, je vous souhaite une bonne fête des Acadiens! Happy Acadian Day to all my Acadian friends.
I got up at 9h, rather earlier than I really wanted to be, as I’ll be in Margaree Forks tonight. I learned yesterday of an afternoon session at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre with Ashley MacIsaac and Maybelle Chisholm-McQueen, which I decided I’d try to attend.
After breakfast at Vi’s, I drove out the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road and turned off on the South Side Roseburn Road, barely more than two tracks and a grassy crown these days. I have in past years driven it further than I did today, as it now deteriorates fairly badly a ways past the bridge over Kewstoke Brook (for a Prius—a higher-slung vehicle would be fine) and has some deep puddles I decided not to attempt. A grasshopper hitched a ride on my windshield after I turned around, but jumped off when I stopped for the scenery on the way back, a scary reminder that the last half of August is nigh! Although there’s a good view of the “Rosedale Ridge” on the way in, the best views on this road are those on the return when a fairly wide panorama featuring Skye and Campbells Mountains is on offer, though today’s heavy overcast and threatening skies, through which an occasional ray of sun pierced (one lit up a small circular section of Campbells Mountain like a laser beam before disappearing), obscured the details on the beautiful slopes, as did a couple of passing misting spells while I was there. It was here that I wrote yesterday’s account, during which the misting turned into full-blown rain showers, and today’s account up to this point.
I then drove to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre where I found a very full parking lot when I arrived at 14h. I was surprised even to have made it in the door and stood next to the kitchen, as no seating remained—the house was packed; kindly Cheryl Smith found me a stool on which to perch during the concert. I had heard Ashley and Maybelle together before, both on a CD they issued (Live at the Savoy) as well as live at other venues over the years; they make a fine team playing pure Cape Breton music. This afternoon’s concert was another marvellous exhibition of both players’ superb talents. Strathspeys started the afternoon off at 14h53 and tunes of all sorts flowed freely as the afternoon progressed until the concert ended after 17h. I’m very poor at tune titles, but I recognized Tulloch Gorm, Beautiful Lake Ainslie, House of MacDonald, and Mockingbird among the tunes played. As at the Atlantic Fiddlers’ Jamboree, Ashley’s slow airs were plentiful, lush, and rich and Maybelle’s distinctive accompaniments embellished the beautiful melodies. A lady I couldn’t clearly make out step danced twice, as did Brittany Rankin and Ashley himself very briefly. It was a very enjoyable two hours of fine music, greeted by a standing ovation at its end.
I’d have stayed for dinner, but the kitchen closed at 17h, so I drove to the Mull in Mabou (taking the backcountry Mabou Road on the way), where I had a green salad, halibut (char-broiled this time—I never can decide whether I like the grilled or the char-broiled version better) with rice and veggies, and an apple crisp with ice crean, all superb. Then, I drove in light to moderate rain to Margaree Forks and got my motel room, where I finished up and posted yesterday’s account.
Then, it was time for the dance at Southwest Margaree, tonight with Howie MacDonald on fiddle and Robbie Fraser on real piano (that piano has a very stiff mechanism making it an effort to play, but Robbie was more than up to the challenge). The music started about 21h50, but was a sound check, not jigs. The first square set started at 22h02 with four couples, which became five for the second and third figures. Seven square sets were danced to vintage Howie, with 24 couples in the largest set. Although the attendance was spotty at the start, at the height of the evening, few seats remained unfilled and lots of young adults were present and dancing. Howie and Robbie switched places for the sixth square set. Four waltzes were danced, one of them in honour of Hilda MacIsaac’s birthday. It was a wonderful evening of fabulous music filled with grand tunes I love and played as only Howie does; Robbie’s fine piano had many moments when I thought Joey Beaton was playing. Another grand day of Cape Breton music!
Saturday, 16 August — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I arose a bit after 9h and drove to Northeast Margaree where I had breakfast at the Dancing Goat. It was a lovely sunny day, but haze hung over the mountains of the Margaree Valley and it felt humid. I drove to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park via the Cabot Trail and Chéticamp Back Road, where the air was drier and with less haze, with a nice refreshing breeze off the water. I stopped off at the scenic overlook at the north end of Le Buttereau, one of my favourite spots in the Park, and, after savouring the lovely views of the Highlands, the beach adjacent to the mouth of Chéticamp River, Chéticamp, Chéticamp Island, and the Gulf, completed and posted yesterday’s account and wrote this one up to this point.
I had a few minutes to spare before the Doryman cèilidh (it starts at 14h but it’s always wise to be there by 13h or earlier in summer), so I decided to drive out to La Bloc, but, shortly after I headed north, I saw new signage and a small parking area at the south end of Le vieux chemin du Cap-Rouge, a trail opened a few years ago (it’s the original road that connected Chéticamp to Cap-Rouge along which numerous families lived until the area was expropriated for the Park—the original Cabot Trail also followed it until it was later relocated below it closer to the water where it is today) that I hiked when it was first opened, so I instead drove to Trout Brook to see if similar signage now existed for the northern end. In the new parking area built there, I assume, for the trail, I found a huge pile of dirt/gravel, two large Parks Canada trucks, and a newly cleared trail from the parking area through the woods to the Cabot Trail (the hiking trail starts on its east side) but, as yet, no signage for the trail; I assume some will be forthcoming eventually. As I turned into Trout Brook, a goodly-sized field covered in gorgeous soft magenta coloured milkweed blossoms demanded that I take its photo, so I did and several others of the Highlands across the road. No haze here! What a lovely day for a Cabot Trail drive!
I was late heading back to the Doryman, where I arrived at 13h15, but had no problem getting either a parking spot or a front-row seat. Today’s cèilidh had Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Joël Chiasson on keyboard; a set of jigs started things off at 14h01 after the sound checks were done and the tunes spilled forth, often in ten-minute or longer sets, for the rest of the afternoon. Shelly’s fiddle sings and has perfect tone, but there’s Gaelic in her fiddle too and her strathspeys are superb and powerful. Her slow airs are to die for; one, a gorgeous tune in a minor key, I don’t recall hearing previously. Joël’s always interesting and inventive accompaniments are the perfect complement to the tunes. Stan Chapman on fiddle with Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier on keyboard spelled Shelly and Joël after a couple hours—the Doryman’s Saturday cèilidhs run for four hours and are punishing for any fiddler’s arm—with an air/strathspeys/reels set and a march/strathspeys/reels set, both very fine. Then, with Joël on keyboard, Kathleen gave us a powerful fiddle set, a rare treat as I don’t often get to hear her on fiddle. No square sets were danced today and no step dancers took the floor until the end of the afternoon, when several folks shared their steps, of whom I can name only Joe MacIsaac. It was a wonderful afternoon and the house was nearly full, with the great music trumping the beautiful day outside.
After the cèilidh, I drove to Port Hood to get my motel room key, stopping in Inverness at the Coal Miners Café for a light supper (I’d had the Doryman’s excellent chowder and a green salad during the cèilidh) to tide me over to breakfast tomorrow.
Then, it was back to West Mabou Hall, where Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle, Tracey Dares-MacNeil on real piano, and Patrick Gillis on guitar were doing a sound check for the night’s dance, which Wendy was having Mike Shepherd record for subsequent release as a live dance CD. The first square set started off with a group of eight youngsters, all but one girls, at 22h18; after the first figure, a group of adults formed down the hall and 21 couples danced the third figure. Thereafter, two queues of dancers were used, with the nearer much the smaller; from my corner position, I was unable to accurately count the couples in the further queue, but I’d guess about 23 couples was the high water mark. Only five square sets were danced because of the long delays between figures and longer ones between sets in order to adjust and reädjust the recording devices. A step dance sequence was played just before midnight; six young ladies I could not positively identify danced, two together, along with Stephen MacLennan, who was first on the floor with another blazing performance. The music was spectacular, fiery and driving, perfect dance music by grandmaster players. I hope the recording went well as the CD should be a great one! Yet another fantastic day of music in beautiful Cape Breton!
Sunday, 17 August — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I got up at 9h and had breakfast at Sandeannies. I then drove the backcountry to Whycocomagh, where I got gas, and continued on to St Anns for today’s 41st annual Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association concert. The weather was a bit questionable, but after consulting with the weatherman, the Board decided to hold it outside in the beautiful amphitheatre overlooking St Anns Harbour below Kellys Mountain; it proved to be an excellent decision, as the day turned sunny and bright, a lovely afternoon in a beautiful venue. I got there early to get a good spot for photos and check out the cameras before the concert started: photos of the St Anns concerts from 2006 onwards are on my web site at here (those of each performer today are here) and I also make them available to the Association for use on their web site. I have been given permission the last two years to take photos from the area above the stage, which allows me to get photos of those hidden by the people standing in front. Once the concert starts, I get no breaks so as to not miss photographing a performance (thanks again, Trina, for bringing me a lunch mid-concert).
It’s a shame so much else was going on today—the Kintyre Farm concert in Judique, the Mabou Marina Cèilidh, Acadian Day celebrations in Louisbourg—as this annual concert is the Association’s primary fundraising event of the year for its valuable work in providing music lessons and playing experience in a non-threatening environment to youth all over the island as well as providing them with multi-generational exposure to the island’s players. The results of this important work were visible today, as several performers, now young adults, have come up through the program and matured into fine players.
Wendy Bergfeldt of CBC Radio was the day’s emcee. This is the list of the afternoon’s performers as I currently have it:
The concert began with the first group number of the afternoon under the direction of Eddie Rogers and with Janet Cameron on keyboard.
Dara Smith-MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Kolten MacDonell on keyboard then played for Stephanie MacDonald to step dance.
Kayla Marchand on fiddle accompanied by Kolten on keyboard played a set of tunes.
Joe MacNeil, accompanied by Kolten on keyboard, sang Waltzing Matilda in memory of those who, one hundred years ago, fought in World War I and then another song.
Rodney MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Kolten on keyboard gave us a fine set of tunes; they then played for Natalie DeCoste to step dance.
The massed fiddlers returned to the stage for the official opening, with remarks by Frank MacInnis for the Board and by Rodney in his rôle as CEO of the Gaelic College that were followed by a prayer by Father Francis Cameron; Frank then read the names of the members who had passed away this year and Kyle MacNeil on fiddle accompanied by Lawrence Cameron on keyboard played a lovely lament in their memory.
The Association’s second group number followed, with Lawrence on keyboard.
Fred MacCracken, accompanied by Janet on keyboard and Kayla Marchand on backing fiddle, sang Oh Danny Boy and Fred and Janet then gave us a medley of popular Irish tunes.
Kolten on fiddle, accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard, next played for Rodney to step dance.
Mckayla MacNeil on fiddle, accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard, played a fine set of tunes.
The Kelly MacArthur Dancers, aged 8-18, then performed a sailor’s hornpipe and an Irish jig to recorded music.
Heidi Ziegfeldt, a Swiss fiddler, accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard, played a fine set of tunes in the Cape Breton style.
Dara on fiddle, accompanied by Kolten on keyboard, gave us a dandy set of tunes and then played for Kayla Marchand to step dance.
Donaldson MacLeod, a Glengarry fiddler (one of two attending from Glengarry this year—a Glengarry contingent has attended every annual Association concert since the original one in 1973), accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard, played a fine set.
Kyle MacNeil and five of his fiddle students (whose names, alas, I did not get, but including Mckayla MacNeil), accompanied by Susan MacLean on keyboard, played a set of jigs and a march/strathspeys/reels set.
Dara on fiddle and Kolten on keyboard then supplied music to which Drea Shepherd step danced.
Gary Gallant on keyboard led his children aged 10, 8, 6, and 4 in a rousing version of a song I know well, but whose title I don’t have in my head or my notes, that they sing in the car each time they cross the Causeway into Cape Breton.
Larry Parks on fiddle, accompanied by Kolten on keyboard, gave us a tune set.
Kolten on fiddle, accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard, then gave us another set.
Three fiddlers, Natalie DeCoste, Kayla Marchand, and Michaela Forgeron¹, formed an impromptu trio at last night’s jam session at the Gaelic College, and played a tune set for us, with Lawrence on keyboard.
Stan Chapman on fiddle accompanied by Kolten on keyboard, played a fine tune set.
The Association then played their third group number, a set of jigs and a set of strathspeys and reels, with Lawrence again on keyboard.
Dawn and Margie Beaton, accompanied by Kolten on keyboard, gave us a dandy set of tunes.
Keith MacDonald gave us a spirited solo on highland bagpipes.
Derrick McGrath from Ireland, accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard, gave us two sets, the first on mandolin and the second on fiddle.
Edmund Hayden on fiddle (from Guysborough and whom I hadn’t seen in several years), accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard, gave us a lovely set of tunes.
Roger Treat (from Vermont) on fiddle, accompanied by Kolten on keyboard, gave us a nice set of tunes played in the Cape Breton style.
The twins Kyle MacDonald on fiddle and Keith on highland bagpipes, accompanied by brother Colin on keyboard, known as All Fired Up in their younger days, gave us a lively set.
Boyd and Lisa (Gallant) MacNeil, on dual fiddles, accompanied by Kolten on keyboard, played a very nice set.
Harvey MacKinnon then step danced to music supplied by Edmund on fiddle and Kolten on keyboard.
Paul Cranford and Larry Parks on dual fiddles, accompanied by Sarah Beck on keyboard, played a set.
The concert concluded with the Association’s final group number, during which Betty Matheson did a celebratory step dance.
It was a fine concert, of which the Association Board members who organized and directed it and the Association members who took part in it should feel very proud.
After the concert, I had a salad in Baddeck and then came back to the motel in Whycocomagh, where I unwound a bit and promptly went to bed.
Monday, 18 August — Whycocomagh
A loud clap of thunder awoke me at 8h and was followed by rumbles and a short, heavy shower. I rolled over and went back to sleep. I got up past 11h—I’m staying put for the next four days, so I have the luxury of sleeping in when I want—and am grateful to be able to do so, as I’ve been shorted of sleep the last few days. Another rattling of the pans in the celestial kitchen brought forth some more rain and then noticeably cooler air and even a brief spell of sun. I went to lunch at Charlene’s (chowder and salad, both fine) and ran into Stan Chapman on his way back to Antigonish. I came back to the motel and dozed in my chair until I was awakened by another great bang (the lay of the mountains here amplifies the sound of the thunder) followed by a five-minute deluge and then a sound and light show with off and on rain. Another boomer occurred about 18h accompanied by another brief downpour. A rainbow made by the sun in nearly black skies hung over Salt Mountain as I drove to Vi’s for dinner. Quite a variety of weather today! I worked on yesterday’s post off and on throughout the day.
As I headed for Brook Village after dark, Mother Nature emptied the kitchen sink on Skye Glen, making it very hard to see the road, whose yellow markings are very indistinct there (and in Whycocomagh) at night and whose white markings, although in better shape, are worn off in some places, leading to adrenaline-fueled driving when meeting oncoming vehicles whose lights are amplified by the falling rain. I was very glad indeed to have arrived safely at Brook Village for the dance! After her tantrum, Mother Nature calmed down and finally gave us the steady, soaking rain the land so badly needs (though I’m told torrential downpours continued through the night at various locations—those damaging rains are not what is needed, causing washouts and potholes on gravel roads and not soaking in as the water seeks lower ground).
The music for the dance tonight was supplied by Kinnon Beaton and Shelly Campbell on fiddle, alternating square sets (except for the last, when they played dual fiddles), accompanied by Mac Morin on keyboard. Even though there were enough dancers in the house, Kinnon’s initial set of jigs had no takers, a rarity for a Brook Village dance. The first square set got underway at 21h40 with eight couples (nine in the third figure) in two groups and the square sets formed promptly thereafter. Two queues were used for the third figures of all following square square sets, making it impossible to count accurately except when one side of the hall finished before the other. I got 43 couples in both the sixth and seventh (the last) square sets, when the hall was full. After the sixth square set, Kinnon and Mac played The Fields of Athenry as a waltz to which several couples danced and then played for the step dancers. Six dancers shared their steps, five ladies and one gentleman, all of whom I have seen before but can name with certainty only Kelly MacLennan. A photographer took many photos of the musicians on stage as they were playing and of the dancers on the floor, especially of their feet as they step danced through the figures. The music was impeccable all night long; with great playing from all three, the perfect antidote for the gloomy weather outside. After the dance, I drove back to Whycocomagh in steady rain and then completed and posted yesterday’s account. Then it was off to bed.
Tuesday, 19 August — Whycocomagh
I arose at 10h30 to a strange morning: the sun was out in blue skies littered with white clouds on the west side of Whycocomagh Bay, but grey-black clouds covered the east side of the Bay with light rain falling there. The weather radar showed great patches of rain all over Cape Breton Island and the webcams for the Eastern District showed sun visible only on French Mountain and South Mountain, with rain or heavy cloud cover elsewhere. So, I abandoned any ideas of hiking or scenic drives. I completed and posted yesterday’s account, after which light rain began falling on the west side of the Bay. So, I went back to bed and caught up on my sleep; I think my sleep deficit is now erased!
It was raining lightly as I left the motel, but the sun was out over Skye Mountain as I drove the Trans-Canada Highway in Waycobah headed for Port Hawkesbury, causing a beautiful huge rainbow over the edges of Salt Mountain that moved out into and across Whycocomagh Bay as I proceeded south and disappeared entirely before I reached the turn. On the drive south, I encountered two more rain showers, each succeeded by sun piercing through grey-black and white clouds. I turned off on Long Stretch Road and then took Crandall Road to Port Hawkesbury, a route I would like to drive for photos on a better day, as some nice vantage points are available at the tops of the hills (thanks, Frank!). Had dinner at the Fleur-de-Lis (maple nut salad, chowder, fishcake, haddock loin, homemade bread, and pecan pie, all delicious) and then headed off to the Civic Centre for tonight’s cèilidh featuring much of the MacKenzie family. Had a good chat with Bob MacEachern, who served as the evening’s emcee, in the hallway at the ticket table before the cèilidh. It was hard choosing between the cèilidh in Port Hawkesbury and that in Mabou, where Stuart Cameron and Cullen MacInnis were playing at Karen and Joey’s cèilidh, but, since I was unable to get a ticket for the Pipers’ Cèilidh during Celtic Colours (it sold out before I ordered my tickets when I got home from my last trip, just sixteen days after they went on sale), I’m trying to get as much pipe music as I can on this trip, so I chose the Port Hawkesbury cèilidh.
It opened with a march/strathspeys/reels set with Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle, Calum MacKenzie on keyboard, and Patrick Gillis on guitar. They continued with a set of Buddy jigs, beginning with the Goldenrod Jig. Kenneth’s father, Ronald, sang two Gaelic songs, unaccompanied. Kenneth’s wife, Jenny (Cluett), then step danced to Kenneth on highland bagpipes, Calum on keyboard, and Pat on guitar. Calum then played a keyboard solo, beginning with Calum’s Road, on which Pat joined in after the air was done. Kenneth returned to the highland bagpipes and the three gave us a fantastic pipe set. Back on fiddle, they gave us another lovely set of jigs. Jenny then performed to their music a beautiful dance she had choreographed. More fine tunes, with Kenneth on fiddle, followed. Bob performed the door prize and 50/50 draws and, since this is the last of this year’s cèilidhs, invited all the volunteers to come to the stage for a bow and well-deserved thanks. Ronald gave us another Gaelic song. The evening ended with Kenneth back on highland bagpipes, playing another great march/strathspeys/reels set, to which Jenny step danced. It was a great cèilidh and a most enjoyable session of fine Cape Breton fiddle and pipe music with top-notch accompaniments by Pat and Calum.
Afterwards, I drove to Creignish for the last of the family dances, tonight with Brian MacDonald on fiddle and Marion Dewar on keyboard. The music started before 21h30, but the first dancers, a couple round dancing to jigs, didn’t take to the floor until 21h46. The first square set got underway at 22h03 with seven couples in the first two figures and eight in the third. Six young folks were present, better than at the previous Creignish family dances this summer, except for the first, and Ian said the overall attendance was better than at any but the first dance. The second square set got twelve couples in two groups and the third (and last) square set had eleven couples, also in two groups. A waltz was played after the second square set, but got no takers; Olivier Broussard on fiddle and his sister Paryse on keyboard then played two sets of tunes; Brian and Marion then played another waltz, also with no takers. Most attendees left when the third square set ended or shortly thereafter, leaving too few dancers to form a square set. One couple round danced to one set of jigs, but that was it for the night’s dancing. The small group left stayed until the end, listening to the music, as Brian and Marion played tunes of all sorts to fill the time. Something seemed amiss to me with the sound from Brian’s fiddle the first half of the evening; it wasn’t the sound system itself, which was fine for Marion and when Olivier and Paryse played, but something in the pick-up or connector box Brian used. After continued fiddling (pun intended) with his equipment, the sound considerably improved around 23h, but never achieved the fine tone I noted at the three other venues where I heard him play this summer. Still, I enjoyed his tunes and his playing once he mostly fixed his problem. That’s it for the family dances this summer at Creignish; adult dances begin there on Friday, 5 September, with Jennifer Bowman and run until 17 October, again from 21h30-0h30. I hope they are successful enough to allow Ian to continue running them next year.
I ran into heavy rain whilst returning to Whycocomagh south of Glendale and, wouldn’t you know, the lines in that section of the Trans-Canada Highway hadn’t been painted this year either (those further south and those to the north had been), making it very hard to see where the road was in the torrential downpour. Fortunately, the oncoming traffic was very light at 1h. I was very glad to get into bed when I returned to the motel!
Wednesday, 20 August — Whycocomagh
I got up at 9h15 this morning. It was mainly cloudy but some sun was getting through. After breakfast and upon consulting the weather forecast and radar maps, I decided to head for Lower L’Ardoise, so drove to Orangedale and took the Marble Mountain Road to West Bay and the West Bay highway to St Peter’s and Highway 247 to Lower L’Ardoise, where I bought my ticket for the Sounds by the Sea afternoon during Celtic Colours. I didn’t stop for photos on the way, as it was too cloudy and hazy, but the weather had improved considerably by the time I got to Lower L’Ardoise, with the skies clearing up a fair amount and the sun shining brightly and warmly, so, after a short visit with a friend there, I decided to do a whirlwind East Coast Tour, even though I wouldn’t be able to visit all the great spots along that coast or spend as much time at any I did visit as I’d have liked.
I therefore drove on to Point Michaud, where I stopped for photos at the park; I was surprised to find the parking area three-quarters full, the beach busy, and a lifeguard on duty, something I had never seen on my previous visits to this beautiful, but usually deserted, spot. I continued on to Grand River and took the East Side Grand River Road there; it was in better shape than on my previous drive on my first trip and lots have been marked out and surveyed on the L’Archevêque end, apparently preparatory to being offered for sale. I again drove into L’Archevêque Harbour and took some photos of the beautiful crescent harbour there. I drove through St-Esprit and Framboise without stopping (passing up Red Cape and Morrisons Beach was especially hard to do, but I just didn’t have the time if I were to make the cèilidh at the Gaelic College tonight). I did stop for photos in Fourchu and again at Gabarus Lake and at the breakwater in Gabarus, where I was surprised and saddened to see that the promenade on top of the palisade had been destroyed by a storm since the last time I was there: a new layer of huge boulders has been placed on top of the destroyed palisade and two widely separated staircases now lead up over the breakwater and down to the cobblestone beach by the water. The road to Rouses Point on the lee side of the palisade/breakwater shows new base and gravel too; it must also have been damaged. That must have been one powerful storm! I shed a figurative tear for the vanished promenade, which ran from the end of the Gabarus Highway to the houses on Rouses Point, with its fine views and interesting wildflowers. I did take several photos from each of the new staircases. Much needed road construction is underway on the southern section of the Gabarus Highway just outside Gabarus, so I had to wait for the Follow Me truck there; the signalman noticed my New Jersey license plate and walked over to converse while I was waiting. He didn’t live in Gabarus, but did remember a storm taking out the palisade there “some time ago”. I didn’t think I had been that long away, but don’t know exactly when I was last there—finding that out will have to wait until I get home.¹ After leaving the Follow Me truck, the road improved slightly, but considerably more of the road could use reconstruction than is apparently planned for the current project. In spite of the less than ideal shape of the road, I greatly enjoyed the scenery from it, especially the fine views of the mountains west of the Mira River from Big Ridge. I can’t ever recall having driven the highway north of Marion Bridge to Sydney before, but it is in much better condition than the southern portion. I took the 125 in Sydney and drove to the Trans-Canada Highway and took it to Little Bras d’Or, where I had dinner at the Bras d’Or View Restaurant (salad, halibut, mashed potatoes, carrots, corn, and butterscotch pie, all very good).
I then continued on to St Anns for the cèilidh tonight at the Gaelic College, emceed by Colin MacDonald. There are no classes there this week, so it was more of a staff cèilidh than the usual instructors’ cèilidh: all but one of tonight’s performers are on staff at the Gaelic College, the exception being Mac Morin. Darrel Keigan opened the cèilidh with three songs so often heard in Cape Breton (and everywhere else) that they have become rather shopworn for me (Wild Mountain Thyme, Wild Rover, Caledonia); Darrel’s fine voice and and excellent guitar self-accompaniment compensated for the over familiarity of these songs, which went over well with the mostly CFA (come-from-away) audience. Kyle MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by Colin on keyboard, gave us a strathspeys and reels set and a set of jigs whose first and last tunes were Dougie MacDonald compositions. David Rankin then gave us two gorgeous Gaelic songs; his beautiful voice was in very fine form for both. Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes, accompanied by Colin on keyboard, gave us two magnificent sets of tunes. Kevin Dugas on Scottish small pipes, accompanied by Mac Morin on keyboard, played a quickstep march followed by two jigs and then an air/strathspeys/reels set. Keith on fiddle, accompanied by Mac on keyboard, played a set of tunes in tribute to Willie Kennedy, who, he said, is in hospital. Anna MacDonald then step danced to Kyle and Mac’s music. Mac then played a rollicking set of Mabou tunes on the keyboard, with Colin accompanying him on guitar later in his set. All Fired Up (Keith on highland bagpipes, Kyle on fiddle, and Colin on keyboard) next gave us a fine set of tunes. The finale began with Kyle on fiddle, Keith on highland bagpipes, Kevin on small pipes, Mac on keyboard, and Colin on guitar. David step danced to their music and then replaced Colin on guitar as Colin step danced and then left the stage. Kyle and Kevin step danced in turn, each returning to his instrument, and Anna finished it off. It was another in a fine series of cèilidhs that I have greatly enjoyed this summer.
I drove back to Whycocomagh, where I worked on and posted yesterday’s account. Then, it was off to bed, relatively early for me.
Thursday, 21 August — Whycocomagh
The forecast for today was for sunny skies, but what I encountered outside after breakfast was mostly clouds, some looking as if they were about to pour rain. Given the forecast, I had planned on hiking Fair Alistair today, but was quickly disabused of that idea as I drove towards Mabou to tend to an errand: haze and a short bout of rain in Hillsborough were deterrent enough (if I’m going to spend the effort climbing, I want great views when I reach the top). After finishing the errand and restocking my supply of fruit at the Freshmart, I thought about hiking the Railway Trail, but decided instead to wait and see what developed later in the afternoon.
I drove up Mabou Ridge and turned up the MacLeod Road near the summit and drove it to and beyond its paved end just below the summit, where I turned around. The views towards Hillsborough and Cape Mabou were blurred by haze, but those to the south and west were excellent, so I took numerous photos from there. I then drove down the Southwest Ridge Road to the Alpine Ridge Road and it to Highway 19, but took no photos there.
I drove up to my friends’ on Rocky Ridge and had a good visit with them; they have been having a great summer on the road attending festivals of bluegrass, gospel, and country music on the Mainland and in PEI. I then stopped in and visited briefly with another friend.
The weather continued to be pretty iffy, so I drove the Mabou Road from Southwest Mabou to Glencoe Station and the Upper Southwest Mabou Road to Long Johns Bridge, where I stopped for photos, encountering more sprinkles on the way; the river no longer has lots of exposed rocks in its bed and is much wider and deeper than before the rains. I continued on to Glencoe Mills, where I stopped to look around the cemetery, something I hadn’t done in a long time, thinking about Buddy and another friend who recently passed away. I continued on to Dunakin, where I turned into the road leading to the gravel pit, known, I’m told, as Angus the Piper’s for a man and his family who once lived there (though he was a smoker of pipes, not a player of them). I had been there previously several times, but not recently. There are good views of the surrounding terrain if one climbs up the sides of the hill beside the excavated areas. Since the sun was out again, I found a spot high enough to see the ridge to the north of the Rosedale Road (the other side is also visible from the South Side Roseburn Road), a small piece of Campbells Mountain, a good chunk of Skye Mountain, the Bornish Hills to the southeast, and the ridge I call Dunakin Mountain; it is a bit short of a 360° panorama, but very respectable nonetheless. The views here were hazeless, but clouds obscured parts of several of the slopes. From there, I returned to the motel and finished up and posted yesterday’s account. After supper, I came back to the motel and wrote today’s account up to here.
Then, it was time to leave for Glencoe for tonight’s dance, a bittersweet occasion for me. But what better way to celebrate and honour Buddy’s life and music than to go there? I learned later that Dawn Beaton had sent out a suggestion to her friends: We should all go to the Glencoe dance tonight and celebrate Buddy’s life. That appeal certainly struck a bell with a lot of folks and the hall was, if not packed, at least full, with many people I haven’t seen there in some years. I can’t begin to evoke in words the special and emotional atmosphere that pervaded the dance and the hall, so simple description will have to suffice. The music was supplied by Howie MacDonald on fiddle and Mac Morin on real piano, who gave us Buddy tunes all night long with superb playing that resonated with each dancer present, each of whom did their utmost to show their respect and love for Buddy, giving their all and more all night long with a great smile on each face. Howie played Hector the Hero to officially begin the evening at 22h01 (they were already playing at 21h45, when I entered the hall, but that was warm-up and sound check). The first set of jigs got no takers, so he switched to Buddy’s signature air, The Rosebud of Allenvale, and followed it with more Buddy tunes. The first square set got underway at 22h17 with five couples in the first figure, ten for the second figure, and nine for the third figure (one young couple apparently wanted to study the third figure some more before dancing it). During the second square set, a young man sat down beside me and introduced himself to me: he was Darren Chaisson, Kevin Chaisson’s son, from PEI, whom I had heard this summer in his début fiddle performance at Rollo Bay in July, an event he averred he found very stressful (I found his playing very fine), and he was accompanied by his wife and five-month old daughter. I did my best to make him feel welcome and answered his questions about the figures, which he found daunting. At the end of that square set, Howie called for a minute of silence in honour of Buddy; everyone rose and it was dead silent for well longer than a minute as each remembered Buddy in their own way. A waltz got no takers and then a third square set was danced; I was still chatting with Darren, so have no counts, but by then the hall was full and the dancers were going full tilt. 22 couples danced the third figure of the vigorous fourth square set; six couples danced the waltz (Faded Love) that followed, including Darren and his wife with their daughter between them, an eerie echo of my first Glencoe dance, at which Buddy played, when a couple danced a square set, he with a year old child in his arms and she with a newborn in hers; Darren and his family left the dance soon afterwards. Tired perhaps from the previous square set, only seven couples danced the fifth square set. The step dance sequence which followed got a virtuoso performance from Stephen MacLennan; a great dual dance from Cheryl MacQuarrie and Evie¹ Cameron, Howie’s sisters; another dandy dual dance by Kelly MacLennan and Stephen; yet another superb dual dance by Dawn and Margie Beaton; a fine solo step dance by Mary-Janet MacDonald; and a spirited dance by Mac (whom Margie replaced on piano during his steps). One couldn’t have asked for a finer dance tribute! Kenneth MacKenzie then relieved Howie on fiddle, with Margie remaining on piano (joined by Mac for four hands later in the set) and Patrick Gillis on guitar, for the sixth and last square set of the evening, danced by sixteen very enthusiastic couples. What a set and what fine playing! At 0h45, Howie, Mac, and Pat played a set of jigs, but got no takers, as the remaining attendees were still recovering, but few could bring themselves to leave as the three played tune after tune with no pause. Sandy MacDonald; Cheryl and Evie; David and Michelle Greenwell; Stephen, his younger brother Lewis (who is going to give Stephen some competition in step dance!), and Kelly; and Dawn (if I left anyone out, say so in the comments) formed a circle on the floor and danced their hearts away as the music kept going long after 1h. Once the music stopped and the hall was emptied, a dozen or more, most of them musicians, stood around in the parking lot and swapped stories about Buddy and other musicians older than themselves that had influenced them and that they interacted with as they were establishing themselves as musicians and adults. I very much enjoyed hearing these stories and stayed until 1h45, but left then as I had to be out of my motel room in the morning by 10h. I do not know how long thereafter the stories continued, but I’m sure Buddy would have been smiling at the accounts. And so ended a sad day and yet a happy one, as we all took comfort in fond memories of the man and his music.
Friday, 22 August — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
I got up at 9 and packed up as I’m once again moving about, tonight in Margaree Forks and tomorrow and Sunday in Port Hood. After breakfast, I drove out to the West Lake Ainslie Road and followed it along the lake; there was no traffic, so I lollygagged along, savouring the beautiful views of the lake from the many points it is visible along the road, but didn’t stop for photos as the grey-white overcast skies cast a dull slate grey sheen over the lake’s waters. I turned left onto the Strathlorne-Scotsville Road and right onto the Deepdale Road off it and drove to the point where the Railway Trail / Celtic Shores Coastal Trail / Trans-Canada Trail / Inverness Shean Trail crosses the road.
I hiked from there to the Coal Miners’ Museum in Inverness, a distance of 3.3 km (2 mi) one way according to the signage. I discovered new amenities on the trail since I last hiked this section: picnic tables and a very fine interpretive panel just before the Deepdale Trestle; park benches and another fine interpretive panel north of Highway 19 in Inverness; and a kiosk with more fine interpretive panels and picnic tables beside Beach Road #1. It is heartening to see continued improvements made to this fine trail. I located kilometre markers 87, 88, and 89, but could not find 86; when I got back to the car, I continued south to kilometre marker 85 and a bit beyond to a gap in the trees with a view of Cape Mabou before returning to the car. I also explored a bit of SANS 105 (its junction is about 3 minutes north of kilometre marker 87) which showed signs of recent work—I believe it will be used for the Trans-Canada Trail segment connecting Inverness to Whycocomagh that is currently being worked on for opening in the not too distant future. All told, I hiked about 9.5 km (5.9 mi), though I stopped often for photos. It was a heavily overcast day, with occasional bursts of sun, but surprisingly mostly haze free along the trail. I did get caught in a rain shower that lasted five minutes; I took shelter beneath some trees and so avoided getting soaked, though I did get a bit wet.
I got back to the car at 17h and drove to the motel in Margaree Forks, got cleaned up, and drove to the Belle-View Restaurant in Belle-Côte, where I had bacon-wrapped scallops, the fisherman’s platter (pan-fried haddock, pan-fried scallops, and deep-fried clams), a green salad, and blueberry bread pudding, all superb. Back at the motel, I finished and posted yesterday’s account.
Then, it was off to the dance at Southwest Margaree with Douglas Cameron on fiddle and Céline Doucet (pronounced locally using the Old French pronunciation [duˈsɛt], i.e., as if spelt Doucette) on keyboard; she arrived late, so Doug, who was there and already had things set up when I arrived fifteen minutes early, played tunes on solo fiddle. The first square set therefore didn’t start until 22h18; it had nine couples in two groups, one of which did a different second figure than the other. The sound wasn’t loud enough for my ears—the fiddle was barely audible from where I sat in the middle of the hall—and others complained too, so Doug tried adjusting the sound but only succeeded in making it worse. It was terrible during the second square set, improved slightly for the third square set, and was listenable at the start of the fourth square set (it had been so bad earlier I thought seriously about leaving). Joël Chiasson finally got it set right during that square set and it was excellent for the rest of the dance. A large influx of young adults livened things up during that square set as well, though the dance was not as well-attended as the summer dances usually are, with twelve couples in the third figure the high water mark of any square set. About 0h30, the step dance sequence started; Carmen MacArthur, Dan MacDonald, and a blonde lady whose name I should know but can’t pull out of my eroding memory banks, answered the call. The sixth and last square set followed. Once the sound was fixed, I enjoyed the music. Doug is a fine player, technically amazing and very polished (though apparently too fast for some of the dancers), and I heard some tunes I didn’t know during the evening. Céline, of about Doug’s age, provided fine keyboard accompaniment, a pleasure to hear backing Doug’s playing; it was the first time I had heard her play and I hope it won’t be the last.
I was tired from the day’s hike so was quickly in bed back at the motel after the dance.
Saturday, 23 August — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I arose at 9h and went off to the Dancing Goat for breakfast. The sun was out in Margaree Forks, but Northeast Margaree was overcast; the air on the west side of the Margaree Valley was clear, but fog/low-hanging clouds obscured the mountains at the east and north of the valley. A brief shower left the road wet and “steaming”. I drove back to Margaree Forks and took the East Margaree Road at Doyles Bridge; the shower had not reached there. The lush green fields along the Margaree River have become much more muted with the admixture of yellows (wild flowers, especially goldenrod), tans (mature seed-grasses), and a few clumps of red clover, giving the valley a late summery feel. I drove on to the Terre-Noire look-off, where I parked and wrote (no time for that yesterday) and posted yesterday’s account. The overcast skies ruled out a brief foray into the park, so I sat in the car and enjoyed the local views.
I arrived at the Doryman at 13h30 and had no problem getting a front seat; I had a cup of coffee as I was a bit short of sleep the last two nights. Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle and Joël Chiasson were the afternoon’s musicians and they supplied fine tunes for the next four hours. I especially enjoyed Donna-Marie’s great strathspeys, which were energetic indeed. Several jig sets were played before a square set was finally formed of five couples, the only one of the afternoon. Two waltzes were played; one couple danced to the second one. Gerry Deveau played a short set on the spoons. Only two ladies step danced, one whose name I don’t know and Darlene MacIsaac. The house was full at mid-afternoon and everyone enjoyed the great music. I had dinner about 16h (chowder, green salad, and chicken wings with hot sauce, all very tasty).
After the cèilidh, I drove in the declining sun of a now-beautiful late afternoon to Port Hood and got my motel room and wrote this account to this point.
Then it was off to West Mabou for tonight’s dance with Jennifer Bowman and Kolten MacDonell. Both were there and did sound checks from 21h40 until jigs were finally played “for real” at 22h18, when the first square set finally formed with Jennifer on fiddle and Kolten on piano (earlier, during a blast of strathspeys Jennifer played, eleven ladies and one gentleman formed a circle and step danced). Even then, I found the sound poor, but Derrick Cameron adjusted it and it became better as the evening progressed. 20 to 25 couples danced the third figures of the first three square sets and eighteen the fourth (and last!) square set. Kolten and Jennifer switched places after the second square set. With Jennifer back on fiddle, a step dance sequence was played starting before midnight: Stephen MacLennan was first and danced with his usual fine gusto; two of Paul and Tracey MacNeil’s daughters (I believe) danced together in a nice synchronized step dance; a young lady whose name I don’t know went next; Melody Cameron gave us fine steps as always; and another very young lass, another of Paul and Tracey’s daughters (I think), did a short but creditable step dance. A jig set with no takers followed. A waltz was played next, attracting five couples to the floor. Instead of starting another jig set while dancers were still present, Jennifer then played strathspeys and the hall quickly emptied out of dancers and people; it was all over at 0h30! It was one of the strangest West Mabou dances I’ve attended!
Back at the motel, I was soon off to bed, trying to make up for the previous short nights.
Sunday, 24 August — Port Hood
I arose very late this morning and ate a breakfast of fruit and granola bars in the motel room, after which I worked on and posted yesterday’s account. It was a lovely day, mostly sunny and bright, with little haze in the air and lots of photogenic white fluffy clouds in the sky. I stopped in Maryville Harbour (Pigs Cove) for photos and then drove to Judique, where I joined a long line of others to pay our last respects to Buddy, who was lying in the Community Room of the Judique Fire Hall.
During the long wait in line, I had plenty of time to reflect: only a very few other people have had the impact on my life that Buddy has had, all as a result of a purely serendipitous encounter in Judique in 2001. I have interacted with his siblings and children far more often than with Buddy himself, with whom I spoke briefly at most a couple dozen times over the years, but his music has changed my life in ways I could never have dreamed of that first evening in Cape Breton. It was a very difficult farewell for me.
Afterwards, I drove back to Mabou, detouring over Hunters Road to allow the beautiful scenery of the Mabou area to soothe my emotions, hoping to catch Dwayne Côté’s cèilidh at the Red Shoe, but there was a line out the door when I got there just past 16h, so I drove on to the end of the road at Mabou Coal Mines, where I sat in the car and enjoyed the peace and calm of Cape Mabou. I was tempted to hike up Fair Alistair, so beautiful a day it was, but didn’t have my hiking clothes with me, so that wasn’t practical. A car drove up with a couple from Antigonish, who had some questions about the Cape Mabou trails and the location of the old coal mines, which I was able to answer for them.
I then drove back to Mabou and had dinner at the Mull (fisherman’s platter (halibut, scallops, and shrimp), broccoli and carrots, with a side salad instead of potatoes, and apple crisp, all superb). I then turned on Bob MacEachern’s wonderful Highland Fling two-hour tribute to Buddy and listened to it in the car as I drove back to Port Hood and after arriving there. Wonderful recollections and remembrances by several people and some great Buddy cuts, my only music for today; congratulations, Bob, on a super job! I then caught up on some reading and wrote this account. I will be early to bed tonight.
Monday, 25 August — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I got up at 8h and went to breakfast at Sandeannies. I then drove to Judique for Buddy’s funeral; to allow someone closer to Buddy than I to attend, I did not take a seat in the church, but in the Community Centre across the road, where the audio from the funeral was broadcast. I was joined there by Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac and her mother and later Rodney MacDonald. After the service was over, Betty Matheson, Mary MacNeil, and Frank MacInnis sat with us for the reception in the Community Centre. Initially, the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, of which Buddy was a founding member, was to play at the start of the reception, but plans apparently changed and they played after everyone had eaten. I took photos of the players at Betty’s request; they will appear on the Association’s web site in or after October. I saw many musicians and other friends there; it was great to see the Community Centre full up with people remembering and celebrating Buddy.
The schedule change made me late for an outing I had arranged last Thursday with two friends, one of whom I called to let them know I’d be late. We met in Mabou and drove up the Beaton Road (the one off the Rankinville Road, not the one off Highway 19) to a house under construction on the summit of Mabou Ridge. The panorama up there is incredible, spanning from Port Hood Island to Mount Young (I think—I need to study the photos I took to be sure), even better than that from the top of Smiths Lane because it is closer; it is the next best thing to an airplane ride over the Mabou area. I noticed numerous details from that vantage point that I had seen from no other. It was another lovely day, clear, bright, and sunny with little to no haze, so I’m hopeful the photos will turn out fine. One of our hosts is a Trans-Canada Trail volunteer and I thanked him for his work over the past years, from which I have greatly profited now for many years. After a lovely visit with our hosts, we came back to Mabou for dinner at the Red Shoe (pan-seared halibut, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and yellow beets, all excellent). We were sorry to have missed Stuart Cameron at the Shoe, as we had been looking forward to hearing him play. We then retired to the home of one of my friends, where we had homemade blueberry-topped cheesecake and tea and continued our visit.
I then drove to the Smithville Road for a view of Cape Mabou, but the sun was directly over it, making it impossible to see any details. I continued on the Blackstone Road to the West Lake Ainslie Road, where I stopped in a little parking area (for a boat launch I think) just past the little bridge over the Hays River and watched the dusk deepen. I then drove the Lake Ainslie Chapel Brook Village Road back to Brook Village. Very shortly after turning onto that road, I suddenly became aware of a moose running down the middle of the road just ahead of me, hard to see in the now near dark. It was definitely taller than my car, but didn’t appear to be an adult, though its coat was dark; it veered off to the woods and I got safely by, but I thanked my lucky stars that I was going slow!
As they always are, the Brook Village dance was well-attended by excellent and enthusiastic dancers; the hall was full, but not packed. Sandy MacDonald accompanying on guitar was the only musician who played all evening long. The other musicians were as follows:
square sets 1 and 6: Kinnon Beaton and Stephanie MacDonald on dual fiddles accompanied by Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard
square sets 2 and 4: Kinnon on fiddle accompanied by Betty Lou on keyboard
square set 3: Stephanie on fiddle accompanied by Betty Lou on keyboard
square set 5: Stephanie on fiddle accompanied by Joey Beaton on keyboard
square set 7: Andrea Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Betty Lou on keyboard
square set 8: Kinnon and Stephanie on dual fiddles accompanied by Howie MacDonald on keyboard
The musicians completed their sound check ten minutes before the start of the dance at 21h30; jigs started at 21h25, but got no takers. The first square set got underway at 21h35, with five couples. The dancers increased thereafter, using two queues for the third figure for the second through seventh square sets; I couldn’t get accurate counts, but more than thirty couples were in the fourth through sixth square sets. Stephanie, Joey, and Sandy played a waltz between the fourth and fifth square sets, garnering seven couples, and Andrea, Betty Lou, and Sandy played a second waltz at midnight before the seventh square set getting at least thirteen couples (my count kept getting interrupted). After the seventh square set, Kinnon, Howie, and Sandy played for the step dancers: Harvey MacKinnon, Katie MacLeod, Stephanie, Melanie Craig from Sydney, an unknown gentleman, Burton MacIntyre, and Joey Beaton took to the floor (thanks, Laura, for help identifying those I didn’t know).
After the dance, which didn’t end until 1h12, I drove back to Whycocomagh and was asleep as soon as I laid my head down.
Tuesday, 26 August — Whycocomagh to Meat Cove
I awoke at 9h15 with not enough sleep; the day was sunny and bright and only a few wispy white clouds decorated the pure blue skies. I filled up the gas tank and, after breakfast, headed north. I stopped off in Baddeck for an errand and drove the Cabot Trail past the Gaelic College instead of taking the ferry at Englishtown. Haze obscured the views at any distance from Baddeck north, though those views close at hand were mostly OK. Active construction on the Cabot Trail north of Indian Brook made me wait for two different “Follow Me” trucks (why these trucks exist, I’ve never understood—the one lane section is pretty obvious, leaving no other choices, so only gatekeepers on both ends are really needed). I was delighted to see this work being done, as that section was in very poor shape last year (I hope they also do the section from North River Bridge to Indian Brook soon too!), though it looks like this construction will continue into next year as it’s not yet very far along. I stopped off at the Cape Smokey Provincial Park, but the haze spoiled the gorgeous views from there. Twenty or more cyclists were climbing up Cape Smokey from Ingonish Ferry, strung out over three kilometres (a couple of miles) as I descended the steep section down from the Park; I sure wish I had their iron lungs and strong legs! Drove through the Ingonishes and on to Neils Harbour/New Haven, where I took the White Point Road; I drove down to the wharf at White Point, but haze made photos from there across Aspy Bay pointless. I did stop between White Point and Smelt Brook and took some photos looking back at White Point for a Facebook friend who loves White Point views; they weren’t the best of photos, but White Point was still close enough that the haze wasn’t too bad. A half dozen bikers were on that road too! I continued on to Cape North Village, where I got some supplies, and then to Cabot Landing Provincial Park, where a number of folks were enjoying the beach on a day where the temperatures got up into the high 20’s (low 80’s) at the top of the Island. From there, I got some shots of the Cape North Massif, not too bad at that distance, but still somewhat fouled with haze. St Paul Island was missing altogether today, too far away to be seen through the haze. I continued on to Bay St Lawrence, where I had a dish of Scotsburn ice cream at the take-out hut (closing for the season, they said, at the end of the week); no maple walnut was on offer, but what I had hit the spot on a hot day. I drove to the wharf at the end of the road, but took no photos, again because of the haze. I did find some fairly hazeless views on the Meat Cove Road, so I got some photos from a couple of points there, but the stunning views of Meat Cove and Cape St Lawrence from Black Point were too hazy. I saw a half dozen branches on different trees along the Meat Cove Road from before Capstick to Pats Point that were sporting red or red/green leaves; perhaps those predicting an early fall are correct.
I arrived at the lodge above Meat Cove, where my room was waiting for me, around 15h15. I sat on the deck enjoying the breeze and the hazy views (lighter haze than elsewhere, but still annoying), especially of the Gulf, which was calm and calming as it extended out to the horizon and seemingly went on forever. I went down to supper at the Meat Cove Restaurant at 17h, but found a sign saying it was closed today and tomorrow, so I drove on to the Chowder Hut across from the campground, which was open. I had their lobster dinner, which was good, but not as good as that at the Meat Cove Restaurant, and rather pricier than there; it was the first time this trip I had boiled lobster. I came back to the lodge and enjoyed two date loaf slices (from a loaf I got this morning at the Farmer’s Daughter) for dessert along with a cup of tea, as I watched the sun slide behind the Highlands (at 19h16), though it was still bright enough to read on the deck at 20h15—another unwelcome reminder that summer is fast slipping away. I went out for photos of the dusk, including some pretty pinks above Little Grassy, about 20h30, by which time the lights from the village and campground below were also visible from the upper deck. The shapes of the upper Highlands, though with no details, were still visible against the skies as late as 20h50, though they merged with the skies soon after and it was black. My friend and host at the lodge came up for a good chat soon afterwards and with some very good news: his brother, who has been on a wait list for a liver transplant for several years, finally had the surgery last week and is doing well; half of Meat Cove has been in Halifax to be with him, explaining the restaurant’s closure.
As he was leaving, a cruise ship was slowly gliding across the waters of the Gulf heading for PEI, its lights bright against the navy of the water and the starry sky. I am here alone at the lodge tonight, but will apparently have fellow lodgers tomorrow night. I just made a tour of the lodge to find out what was occasionally banging in the breeze that has freshened into a gusty wind; closing a couple of windows seems to have done the trick. I will soon be off to bed, hoping for good weather tomorrow for photos and for an active day.
Wednesday, 27 August — Meat Cove
Sad news again today: Willie Kennedy has passed away. Of nearly the same age as Buddy MacMaster, he was a fine old-style fiddler I didn’t hear often enough live (and most of the times I did, it was at one of Karen and Joey Beaton’s cèilidhs, for which I thank them). His CD, Cape Breton Violin, is a classic that I listen to often. A gentle, quiet man, he spoke most eloquently through his music. He strongly influenced many current players and his legacy will live on through them. Thank you for your fine music, Willie.
Well, I got my wish yesterday for an active day today in spades! I got up this morning at 6h and enjoyed the spectacular views as I ate breakfast. My host told me about a newly opened trail to the summit of Grey Mountain, the local name for the companion mountain to the south of Bear Hill (also known locally as Bear Mountain) whose name I did not heretofore know. The trail head is opposite the look-off on the Cape St Lawrence Trail at the top of the Bear Hill Escarpment in the col between Bear Hill and Grey Mountain. My host and I hiked the trail to the south end of the summit, from which there are views reaching from east of Bear Hill around to Lowland Cove, a fine panorama indeed! When we arrived, the sun brightened the edge of a large, stationary, white cloud, making the terrain below appear dark. Patience was eventually rewarded when the sun finally escaped from underneath the cloud, lightening up the terrain. I saw a pond/lake inland of “Tittle Hill” which I had heretofore seen only on maps; fine views of the two interconnected ponds at the base of Grey Mountain were also available. The course of French Brook and its several tributaries I crossed on my Lowland Cove hike in June were very clear in the sunny morning. I was very happy to see the terrain laid out at my feet like a living map! The trail is very well marked with red blazes and orange flagging tape, both needed because bushes and small trees often obscure the tread. It was a tiring hike, but a very rewarding one.
Back at the col, my host took me further along a side trail I had first explored last year on my Cape St Lawrence hike in June; it led to the steep slope of Bear Hill, up which we climbed far enough to have another excellent panorama, with the bulk of Grey Mountain smack in the centre, though by this time grey clouds had rolled in off the Gulf, partially obscuring some of the terrain. The southern edge of Bear Hill is a pile of rubble formed of small red rocks (sandstone, I think, though I’m no geologist), piled one on top of another in a layer two to four feet thick. This, together with the 60° slope, makes for extremely difficult progress, as the small rocks slip and slide when one’s weight is placed on them, making for very unstable walking. My host, thirty years younger and a life-long native of Meat Cove, could easily have traversed the 100+ metres/yards of this rubble to the vegetation above, as he said he had done several times in the past, but I stopped as soon as the views were “good enough”, as I couldn’t envision how I was going to descend safely the distance I had already ascended. I did it mostly on the seat of my pants, causing a few minor landslides as rocks slid out from under me. The views were well worth the effort, though they didn’t reach as far as they would have had we climbed up to the summit above the vegetation line. It was a wonderful morning, even if a tiring one.
Back at the lodge, I had a quick lunch. My host had planned to use the afternoon to check on the three horses he pastures at Money Point, site of a former, recently destroyed lighthouse replaced with an automated light, at the northeastern base of the Cape North Massif, where a coastal plain similar to, but narrower and steeper than the one at Cape St Lawrence, provides ample grazing for his animals. He invited me to come along for the ride. On 2007 October 1, I had hiked up the Money Point Trail from the end of the Money Point Road to the top of Cape North Massif and crossed over it to the east side of the Massif and a short way down the trail on the east side; I turned around about 14h when I realized that I would be hiking in the dark on very difficult trails if I continued on to the bottom. I hadn’t been back since, so I of course jumped at the offer. I drove to the Bell Aliant building on Bay Valley Road, where he met me with his ATV and we ascended the Massif from there. I had previously driven that road as far as the communications towers and hiked the road that leads to them from the Money Point Trail, so I was already familiar with the fine views from there. The trip down the eastern side was all new, however, and didn’t offer much for views, as the trail is rocky, narrow, and pinched between overgrown trees and brush, with barely enough room for an ATV to get through the tunnel they create. It’s also a whole lot further down than I had thought. But we arrived without incident, found the horses (who were grazing along the trail above the coastal rocks below) in good condition, and continued to the end of the coastal plain west of the lighthouse, where there is a good view of Cape North, the nearest to it I have been so far (no trail leads there—the only access is from the water, which did not look like it offered a decent landing spot). We turned around and slowly made our way back to the remnants of the buildings once there and the replacement automated light, which we explored and photographed. The grey clouds that interfered with the views from Bear Hill had by then made their way to the Massif, so most of the views were sunless, but very interesting to me. We continued on south past the Money Point Trail to the end of the coastal plain, at the foot of which a few remains of a wrecked ship can still be seen on the shore. Sprinkles started to fall, so we started back up the trail; it was quite a ride, but we made it back up without incident. We then explored some other trails on top of the Massif, most of which I had hiked previously, but there were a couple of new ones I didn’t know about—having an experienced and knowledgeable guide was wonderful and a mostly new experience for me! But I was some tired from the ride when I got to the car, not being used to the saddle my legs had to straddle on the ATV. The aches aside, it was a wonderful trip all the same, and likely the only way I’d ever have gotten to see and photograph Money Point.
I grabbed some sandwiches for supper in Cape North Village and had them back at the lodge. There are two guests here tonight, a couple from Florida. I spent part of the evening talking with them and with my host, who came up to check on them, and then wrote up this account. The weather forecast is not for a great day tomorrow, so I’m glad today was as busy as it was. I will sleep well tonight!
Thursday, 28 August — Meat Cove
I got up late this morning after a great sleep. When I got out to the lodge’s kitchen for breakfast about 9h30, I found that last night’s guests had gone, so quietly that I never heard them. Clouds covered the tops of the Highlands and some of the upper glens: it clearly was no day for photography nor hiking. My host, Hector, stopped by to clean up from last night’s guests and make things ready for tonight’s, a full house, before leaving for Sydney for some back-to-school shopping and dental appointments. I read the news and caught up on Facebook, after which I had a short nap.
I went down to the restaurant for lunch (crab roll and green salad, both excellent), where I chatted with Hector’s son Vincent and with Derek MacLellan. After lunch, I was going to wander along Meat Cove Brook, but it began to rain before I was across the bridge, so I came back to the lodge, where the first of tonight’s guests, a couple from Ontario, were unpacking and loading the refrigerator with their perishables. After chatting with them, I resumed reading when they left for the afternoon. This week’s Oran, which I downloaded from the Internet, has superb coverage of Buddy MacMaster’s passing, with a long front page story, a fine tribute by Dr Jim St Clair in his weekly column, a wonderful editorial by Rankin MacDonald, and a memorable letter to the editor by Billy MacEachern of Judique. This issue is definitely a “keeper”, a souvenir that will become a treasured memento in the future.
About 15h15, the rain, which had been moderate, was replaced by a bit of blue sky, big enough to allow the sun to cast shadows on the ground; the low-lying clouds were also gone from the highlands, though it remained mostly overcast. St Paul Island, which had been barely discernible through yesterday’s haze, was gone again today and didn’t reäppear. The sun lasted less than an hour and black clouds rolled in from the west to once again cover the patch of blue sky. A rain squall north of Cape St Lawrence darkened the waters of the Gulf, which had been noisily crashing onto the shore all afternoon. A half hour later, its brother rolled down over the highlands and dumped more rain on Meat Cove and the Highlands, causing the Ontario couple to abandon their hike up to the Meat Cove Look-Off. The rest of the night’s guests arrived soon after, two of whom are from Judique, two from Lake Ainslie, and two are German guests of one of the couples.
The sun was shining through the clouds on the Highlands as I drove to the restaurant for dinner (green salad, pan-fried haddock, mixed vegetables, and mashed potatoes, all excellent). After dinner, I drove out to Black Point, where I took photos of the fog covering the upper Highlands, the stunning coastal waters, and the colours made by the setting sun behind Cape St Lawrence. While there, I heard an eagle and saw three flying in the air above the point. One of them landed in a tree above the rock quarry; I got a photo of it landing, but can’t make it out in any of the subsequent photos I took of the same tree. There was a magic moment when the colours off the Cape shimmered and then the scene turned to dull grey: the show was over. I hope I captured at least some of the colours, mostly yellows but with tinges of orange, but won’t really know until I see the photos on a computer screen.
I came back to the lodge and watched the dusk deepen into night; it will be the last time I get to see these marvellous views this trip and very likely this year, fog-obscured though they were. I fear I was a bit antisocial with respect to the guests in the lodge tonight, who were in full party mode in the kitchen when I got back. I don’t come here to party, but rather to enjoy the peace and tranquility and beauty of this remote area, though I have no problem with those that do: different strokes for different folks. I’m pretty much the antithesis of a party animal anyway. Besides, my poor hearing now makes it very hard for me to understand what is being said to me when multiple people are talking at once. A fine guitar player was in the party and he and several of the guests sang the songs he played, even step dancing to one of his tunes. The party broke up about 23h15, as some folks went off to bed, though conversation continued around the kitchen table until about midnight. I sat up a half hour longer, but will soon be off to bed myself, the last to go.
Friday, 29 August — Meat Cove to Margaree Forks
I arose at 8h and packed up. I said good-bye to the folks at the lodge and went down to the restaurant for breakfast. Light rain was falling in the Meat Cove Brook Valley when I left the restaurant, but not at Black Point, where I stopped for photos. The waters of the Gulf were roiled by gusty winds and the coast lines were delimited by wide bands of white water where the waves came crashing onto the shore. St Paul Island was visible, but not very clear. It was very hard leaving such a beautiful place, even if the weather was not ideal!
The overcast skies made photography along the Cabot Trail rather pointless, but I stopped at the look-off in Sunrise and near the top of North Mountain to admire what I could see of the views. I stopped again on MacKenzies Mountain, where, when I arrived, the bottom of a cloud was touching the writhing waters of Pleasant Bay below and obscuring the views of the gorgeous coast to the north. That cloud soon dumped water on the car as it came ashore, putting an end to my attempts to photograph it. Given the poor and often wet weather, a fair number of folks were out driving the Cabot Trail today, even including cyclists coming down MacKenzies Mountain and ascending French Mountain. Not a good day for that! Patches of blue sky appeared in the whiter clouds to the east, but grey rain clouds with some misting followed me into Chéticamp.
I stopped at the Visitors’ Centre in the Park to acquire Clarence Barrett’s revised 2014 edition of Cape Breton Highlands National Park: A Park Lover’s Companion, just released a few days ago. This indispensable guide describes the Park’s 27 official trails and many other shore and woods walks, some intended only for the skilled backcountry hiker, and provides a wealth of background information about the Park’s geology and its flora and fauna. I have relied on the first edition heavily over the years and am looking forward to catching up with the revisions to that text. If you don’t own this book and are interested in Cape Breton and the Park, you should purchase a copy—you will surely learn something new on every page. The bookstore in the Visitors’ Centre is small, but, for its size, very well stocked with books and maps, many relating to the Park and others to Cape Breton, its history, cultures, and wildlife, as well as souvenir material for the tourist/park visitor; it is continuously updated with relevant new publications as they are released. The ladies there are very knowledgeable about their holdings and, if you have special needs, can order publications for you. Any profits from the operation are ploughed back into educational programs run from the Visitors’ Centre. In addition to Barrett’s guide, I picked up three other books for reading this winter. Highly recommended and worthy of your support—there are very few bookstores in Inverness County!
On the drive south of Chéticamp, the skies gradually began to open up; La Pointe was in full sunlight as I drove through Point Cross, but overcast skies remained inland. After getting my motel room, the sun was out in force at Margaree Forks, with the grey rain clouds replaced by fluffy white ones, with fairly clear air, a fine afternoon for a drive and photography. After a lunch using up food I had acquired for my Meat Cove stay, I was just too tired for that, so I had a good four hour nap before the dance tonight.
And what a dance it was! With Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Troy MacGillivray on keyboard (except as noted), the playing was exceptional, even for them, and the tunes played included a lot of my favourites, a number of which it struck me I hadn’t heard very often this summer. For an end of season dance, there was a surprisingly large crowd with many young adults in attendance and on the dance floor. Seven square sets and two waltzes were danced. Troy was on fiddle and Andrea on keyboard for the fourth square set; for the last square set, Andrea was on fiddle and Joey Beaton on keyboard for most of the first figure and Andrea and Troy were on dual fiddles with Joey on keyboard the rest of the square set. The first square set got five couples, most of the rest had 13-18 couples, the fifth had 21 couples, and the last had 25 couples. It was a wonderful evening and a great way to end the season.
It was very brisk (+7 (45)) both inside and outside the hall when I arrived; once the dance started, it warmed up considerably inside, but not outside. Fog was in the low-lying areas as I drove back to Margaree Forks after the dance. Obviously, summer is nearly over, in more ways than one!
Saturday, 30 August — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I got up a bit before 9h, packed up, and drove to the Dancing Goat for breakfast—great as always. Then, I drove out the East Big Intervale Road, in better shape than I’ve ever seen it, to Kingross and a bit beyond toward Forest Glen. I didn’t have enough time to go all the way—the West Big Intervale Road north of Kingross has some dandy potholes that require care to navigate in my low-slung Prius—so I turned around at a summer cottage in a glen between two mountains. The green truss bridge over the Northeast Margaree River sadly appears to be on its last legs: construction has begun on a replacement bridge. I took several photos to remember it by as well as some of the Northeast Margaree River from the bridge and others in the valley at Kingross. In addition to more of those unwelcome harbingers of fall—the changed red/orange/green branches I’ve been seeing of late—there’s an entire tree half changed in the locality of Margaree Valley and a couple others along the road to Kingross showing considerable, though not quite as extensive, changes; there’s even one with darker red/maroon leaves. Perhaps this year Celtic Colours will better align with the peak of the fall colours than in recent years.
If anyone should be looking for a way to spend a great day at the height of the fall colours, think seriously about a slow (day-long) drive around the Margaree Valley (with, of course, culinary stops at the Dancing Goat (no web page I can find) and the Big Intervale Fishing Lodge: take the East Big Intervale Road in Northeast Margaree to the bridge in Kingross, turn right, and follow the West Big Intervale Road to its end at Forest Glen; turn around and drive south to the Fishing Lodge; return to the bridge and explore the northern end of the East Big Intervale Road (it dead ends with fine views of the Highlands); follow the East Big Intervale Road back to the Fish Hatchery Road and take it to the bridge over the Northeast Margaree River at Portree; follow the West Big Intervale Road south from there, being sure to stop along the side of the road as it climbs a steep hill directly above the Northeast Margaree River with a stunning view of the Highlands west of the river and the Highlands along the north and east parts of the valley; continue on south and detour out the Marsh Brook Road and drive it to its end; retrace your steps to the West Big Intervale Road and drive it to the Phillips Mountain Look-Off and then across the side of Phillips Mountain (the paved road ends before you get to the look-off, but keep going on the gravel continuation); you will end up at Doyles Bridge on the other side of the mountain; turn right onto the East Margaree Road and follow it through Ford View and East Margaree to Belle-Côte. Return to Margaree Forks via the Cabot Trail. A side trip on Egypt Road and another to Southwest Margaree on Highway 19 and returning via Coady Road also belong on this itinerary. Stop often and enjoy the many spectacular views all along the way, brightened by the fall foliage which is nowhere brighter than in the Margarees!
I had no time for even a whirlwind version of this grand tour, but did visit Portree Bridge and the roadside look-off south of the bridge. Then I headed back to the Cabot Trail via the Cranton Crossing Road. I made it to Chéticamp at 13h and had a green salad and the Doryman burger (without the fries) along with a glass of red ale for lunch.
Today’s cèilidh featured Kinnon Beaton on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard. It was wonderful music from both all afternoon long, as great marches, airs, strathspeys, reels, waltzes, and jigs succeeded one another; I heard a couple of new (to me, at least) tunes. About 14h45, Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier replaced Betty Lou on keyboard and Kinnon played strathspeys for step dancers, but got no takers. He continued with a set of jigs and Hillary Romard, who earlier step danced during a march/strathspeys/reels set, succeeded with great difficulty in getting four couples for the first square set. Betty Lou returned to the keyboard after the square set and Kinnon and Betty Lou played a set with Gerry Deveau on spoons, during which a lady did some kind of a dance. A waltz I hadn’t heard before drew three couples to the floor. A second square set with six couples followed. A fine air drew three couples, who danced it as a waltz; it was immediately followed by strathspeys and reels and the lady who previously danced did so again, ending up in a round dance with Gerry. Faded Love followed, garnering more dancers. Kinnon turned the fiddle over to Kathleen and she gave us a grand march/strathspeys/reels set and then a set of jigs, which four couples danced as the first figure of the third square set. Kathleen then returned the fiddle to Kinnon for the second and third figures. After another march/strathspeys/reels set, Kinnon handed the fiddle off to Dale Gillis, who gave us a magnificent set of tunes played superbly; we need to hear him much more frequently! Robert Deveaux took over the fiddle from Dale and played a fine set of strathspeys and reels and a dandy march/strathspeys/reels set, during which Hillary and two ladies step danced. Kinnon returned to the fiddle and Robert relieved Betty Lou. A march/strathspeys/reels set followed, then a waltz with three couples, and then the fourth square set, which got six couples. With Betty Lou back on keyboard, Kinnon played a waltz that got four couples and then played an air/strathspeys/reels set; two couples round danced during the air and Kathleen step danced towards the end of the set. It was another great Doryman cèilidh, a grand afternoon of the very best Cape Breton fiddle music, a joy and a privilege to hear.
It was a pleasure to share a table with David Gillis, his wife, and other friends during the afternoon. David produces a weekly radio show, Fiddle Tunes, that airs Sundays on CKJM (Chéticamp) at 17h AT and Wednesdays on CKOA (Glace Bay) at 23h AT; both stations stream the show on the Internet—just go to each station’s web site to listen. The music is drawn from David’s extensive collection and includes tapes of house parties and LP’s not otherwise available as well as music by contemporary musicians. Enlivened by David’s informed commentary, this show is a “must-listen” when I’m at home.
After the cèilidh, I stopped off at the Belle-View in Belle-Côte for a light supper (bacon-wrapped scallops with a maple salad, both excellent) and again shared a table with friends who were also at the Doryman. I then drove back to Port Hood, arriving late, and got my motel room.
I left almost immediately thereafter for the dance at the West Mabou Hall, tonight with Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Howie MacDonald on real piano. Once again some kind of problem required lots of time to get the sound properly adjusted, but once that was done, it was great for the rest of the night. The jigs started at 22h16, but it wasn’t until 22h23 that the first square set began with five couples in the first figure, increasing to fifteen in the third figure. Five square sets were danced in all, with most having about twenty couples in each. Perhaps a third were younger folk who wouldn’t be allowed at an adult dance and there were still a few stray CFA’s present, but most folks were locals including some excellent dancers, who set fine examples for the younger set. Kyle MacDonald relieved Kenneth for the fourth square set. The step dance sequence got Melody Cameron and two of the MacNeil lasses to share their steps, both to great applause. The final square set, the third figure of which was played on Highland bagpipes, ended about 0h45 and Kenneth played no further jigs, but did play a waltz, which ended the evening.
Sunday, 31 August — Port Hood
I slept in very late and had a breakfast of two apples and some left-over date nut loaf. I then finished up and posted Saturday’s account.
I then drove via the Dunmore and Mabou Roads to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, where I picked up my ticket to the October Masters’ Concert of the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling, some CD’s, and a “naughty” Gaelic dictionary to supplement the large one I have at home. Brittany Rankin helpfully suggested this web site as a resource for looking up words one encounters in Facebook posts (Google translate’s Irish Gaelic is next to useless for handling Scottish Gaelic posts).
The cèilidh featured Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Allan Dewar on electric spinet, two fantastic musicians I cannot get enough of. They were both in fine form this afternoon, as the great tunes rolled off Shelly’s fiddle one after another. Her slow airs are rich and gorgeous, her strathspeys an absolute toe-tapping delight, her reels rollicking, and her jigs joyous and lilting; Allan’s accompaniments are the perfect match to the tunes. Four square sets were danced during the afternoon, as the crowd took advantage of the great dance music. Brittany step danced a couple of times and other ladies whose names I don’t know danced at various points during the cèilidh. Round dancers took advantage of the slow airs to waltz. Dale Gillis relieved Shelly mid-afternoon with two grand sets of tunes; what a treat to hear his fine playing two days in a row! Shelly played Buddy’s signature The Rosebud of Allenvale and another set of tunes Willie Kennedy often played. All afternoon long, I heard many of my favourite tunes and was in seventh heaven! What a splendid cèilidh it was!
After the cèilidh, I drove to Glencoe Mills, where I arrived just as the ladies were cleaning up from the Glencoe Day dinner; they made a fine plate for me, which I ate at a table outside under the tent used for the day’s activities. A cornucopia of varied and delicious salads, ham, chicken, and rolls and biscuits were available, with a fine strawberry shortcake for dessert. I worked on, finished, and posted Saturday’s account in the car afterwards waiting for the dance and then had a brief nap.
The dance was a wonderful one, with a nearly full hall as many came out to celebrate Glencoe Day and the end of the summer. The music was supplied by Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Joël Chiasson on real piano (he averred that he really enjoys playing that piano and I sure enjoyed hearing his superb accompaniments on it!). The first set of jigs, at 22h10, had no takers, but the first square set got under way five minutes later, growing to ten couples in the third figure. Seven square sets were danced in all, varying from ten to eighteen couples, a good turn-out for Glencoe. Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton relieved Andrea and Joël for the fourth square set. One jig set and a waltz were played between the fifth and sixth square sets that had no takers for either. But the sixth square set roared back with 18 couples and the seventh had 12, as people did not leave en masse about 0h, as often happens, but stayed on to hear the grand music and to dance. Andrea, in superb form, played lots of my favourite jigs and reels during the evening. It was an absolutely superb day of music, the very best Cape Breton has to offer! After the dance, the left-over food from the dinner was set out for all those still in the hall and I had another great plate of delicious food.
Mist and fog followed me back to Port Hood, where I was soon contentedly asleep, the tunes resounding in my dreams.
Monday, 1 September — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
Bonne Fête du Travail! Happy Labour Day!
I awoke at 9h to a rainy day (all traces of backcountry drives had been erased on my car, so the rain had to have been heavy). The fog was low and thick in Port Hood—Port Hood Island was invisible. After a skimpy breakfast in my motel room (I was still full from last night’s dinner plate after the Glencoe Day dance), I drove up to my friends on Rocky Ridge; visibility on both Highway 19 and the Rocky Ridge Road was just a couple of car lengths, but the daylight helped considerably. They had just gotten back from the last of the music festivals they plan to attend and I caught up with their news. We had a fine visit and they invited me to stay for a lovely lunch, including luscious berries from their garden. I remembered to leave off my bear/coyote spray with them, as today was supposed to be my last day on Cape Breton Island.
The fog had somewhat lifted on Rocky Ridge, but most of Cape Mabou and the Mabou River valley was still hidden, though Mabou Mountain was (barely) clear of it. Willie Kennedy’s funeral was today and I heard that a fine musical tribute followed it at the reception afterwards in the Parish Hall; I didn’t attend either one, sadly having forgotten that today was the day and kicking myself when I remembered too late. When I got back to my motel room, in Whycocomagh today, I also discovered a Facebook post announcing that Marc Boudreau, whom I haven’t seen this summer, is to be at the Doryman tomorrow night from 20h-23h and I immediately decided to extend my stay an extra day in order to hear his fiery fiddle, which I haven’t heard live since last summer. The weather and last night’s late return conspired to make me sleepy and I had a restful nap in bed after dozing off a couple of times in the armchair in the room.
After dinner (garden salad, pan-fried haddock with mashed potatoes, carrots, and coleslaw, finished off with apple pie à la mode and tea), I returned to the motel where I wrote and posted yesterday’s account.
Then, it was off to Brook Village for the dance, tonight featuring Andrea, Kinnon, and Betty Lou Beaton. Although enough dancers were already present, the set of jigs Andrea and Betty Lou played at 21h35 got no takers, in spite of the fantastic playing and perfect driving phrasing; it also contained one of my favourite jigs. The next jig set brought dancers to the floor for the first of the evening’s eight square sets. Unless otherwise noted, Betty Lou was on keyboard; the other musicians were as follows:
square sets 1 and 4: Andrea on fiddle
square sets 2: Kinnon on fiddle
square set 3: Andrea and Kinnon on dual fiddles
square set 5: Kinnon on fiddle and Andrea on keyboard
square set 6: Howie MacDonald on fiddle
square set 7: Andrea and Kinnon on dual fiddles and Joey Beaton on keyboard
square set 8: first figure-Kinnon on fiddle mostly, with Andrea joining late; second figure-Andrea; third figure-Andrea and Kinnon on dual fiddles
From the seven couples in the first square set and the eleven couples in the second, the dancers soon filled the hall and became uncountable for me as two queues were needed for the third figures, but they must have numbered more than forty at the height of the evening and likely ranged from twenty to thirty before and after. The dancers were enthusiastic and, mostly, experienced; the floor was a-shakin’ all evening long! After the sixth square set, Andrea and Kinnon on dual fiddles accompanied by Joey played a waltz at that got ten or more couples dancing. After the seventh square set, Andrea and Kinnon on dual fiddles accompanied by Betty Lou on keyboard played for the step dancers: Emma Forman, Harvey MacKinnon, a young lady I don’t know, and Hillary Romard shared their steps. It was another grand Brook Village dance that I enjoyed greatly.
I was quickly asleep once back at the motel room.
Tuesday, 2 September — Whycocomagh to Chéticamp
I arose at 9h and drove Highway 395 from Stewartdale to its end in Southwest Margaree, where I was very happy to see that the northern section had been rebuilt and repaved, making that part of it a fine, drivable road once again; the same badly needs to be done for the section north of East Lake Ainslie to the new section, which is bumpy and in pretty poor shape. I had brunch at the Dancing Goat (fruit bowl, ham and cheese sandwich, and green salad).
I got a motel room in Chéticamp and then drove past Pleasant Bay to Macintosh Brook. I had hiked the trail there some time ago, but given the haze and overcast, pierced occasionally by a few rays of sun, I decided to do it again today. It’s not very long, a 1.7 km (1.1 mi) loop, and it’s mostly flat, but it follows the lovely brook through an old-growth forest to a cliff where the brook falls down from the Highlands, making a lovely cascade, at a guess 10 m/yards high (I can’t find its height on the web and even Barrett let me down here). I took numerous photos both of the waterfall and of the brook and the three bridges that cross it.
I drove back towards Pleasant Bay and stopped at the Grande-Anse picnic area, which I’d never visited before. You park in a wide shoulder at the side of the Cabot Trail and a few steps on a very short trail brings you to the shaded banks of the Grande-Anse River (which empties into Pleasant Bay—Pleasant Bay Harbour is a cove adjacent the river’s mouth), where a water fountain and a couple of picnic tables are provided. It is a lovely spot and a watering place frequented by cyclists who use it to rest up for the ascent of North Mountain that begins down the Cabot Trail a bit. I then drove into Pleasant Bay and down the harbour road to its end. It was definitely not a day for postcard photography, but as I walked about the harbour, I found some fine vantage points I don’t remember from my last sortie there a number of years ago, with unencumbered views of Roberts Mountain and the mouth of the Grande-Anse River, among others. The sun was in and out, sometimes lighting up the terrain in unusual ways, but I’m hopeful at least a few of the photos will turn out. Alas, the northwestern coast leading to the High Capes was veiled so heavily with haze it was nigh impossible to make out specific features, though the coast to Kerrs Point was fairly clear.
I drove back to Chéticamp and got cleaned up from the hike. I then went to dinner at the All Aboard, where I had a fine dish of scallops au gratin (the sauce was creamy as well as cheesy and beautifully herbed) with mashed potatoes and carrots and a piece of pecan pie very like that my late mother used to make. While I dined, Kristen Shaw and Robert Deveaux provided some fiddle tunes for dinner music.
I then headed to the Doryman, where I completed and posted yesterday’s account while waiting for tonight’s cèilidh to start, with Marc Boudreau on fiddle and Hilda Chiasson on keyboard. Sadly, only a smallish number of folks were present to hear one grand tune set after another, from the sound check at 19h50 to the ending set at 22h57; at the height of the evening, the pub was hardly more than a third full. Marc is a very precise player, giving every note its proper value (a fiddle teacher of my acquaintance praised his first CD, Steppin’ It Up, for its clarity and fine playing as a model worthy of emulation by students learning the fiddle), with proper tempos and neither rushing nor playing overly fast, but leaving plenty of time for the ornamentation (dirt) that so beautifies and characterizes Cape Breton fiddle playing; yet his rhythm, timing, and phrasing give his music both drive and fire. Marc played a lot of strathspeys, including a fine Tulloch Gorm, during the evening and they were exciting to listen to; unfortunately, there were no dancers among the attendees, who passed up both jig sets and the strathspeys, including a set containing a very blatant invitation to step dance. With his move to Halifax, Marc is now more often heard there than in Cape Breton, so I was delighted to be able to hear him tonight.
Once the music stopped, I drove back to the motel and went promptly to sleep—it will be a long day tomorrow, longer than usual because of its start in Chéticamp.
Wednesday, 3 September — Chéticamp to Newport (Maine)
I awoke at 7h and got away a bit past 8h. It was a fine morning in Chéticamp, sunny with plenteous blue skies with white clouds, though also with lots of haze in the air. All that disappeared inland: the skies were overcast and clouds hung down on the sides of the Highlands. I had breakfast at the Dancing Goat and drove on through Middle River on the Cabot Trail to the Yankee Line Road, which I drove to the Trans-Canada Highway. I got gas in Whycocomagh and crossed the Causeway at 11h32. The weather improved a bit at Antigonish, where some blue sky was visible, but it was greysville most of the rest of the way to New Brunswick, with fairly thick haze limiting forward visibility on the highway. Light mist and, on the Cobequid Pass, where I drove through a cloud, light and then very heavy rain fell, enough to require high speed wipers and to cause a hydroplaning hazard on the descent from the Pass. The sun pierced through the overcast at Amherst and the clearing continued from there into Maine; it was a lovely warm day in Moncton, though still with plenty of white fluffy clouds, which didn’t disappear until west of St Stephens. I stopped at Quispamsis (love that name!) east of St John and had a chicken/ham salad for lunch. I cleared customs with no grief. The sun was directly in my eyes for the western half of the Airline Road and the portion of I-95 I drove. I gave up fighting the sun at Newport and quit for the night, staying at Lovely’s Motel, which doesn’t really live up to its name, but is adequate, clean, and inexpensive.
I had a fancy mushroom bacon cheeseburger at the Burger King, which was delicious but hardly heart-healthy! I wrote and posted yesterday’s account and this one. I will be off to bed straightaway for an early getaway in the morning, but will wait for good light as moose frequent I-95 in this area.
Thursday, 4 September — Newport to Jackson
I arose at 5h30, but these days the sun doesn’t rise in Newport until well past 6h. Had breakfast in Newport and left there at 6h45. ’Twas a brisk morning with, once it arrived, bright sun and wind-strewn white clouds in blue skies. I saw no moose, fortunately. Completely clear blue skies in Massachusetts gradually clouded up in North Jersey. It is overcast here in Jackson with a temperature of +32 (90); some humidity, but not too bad. It feels like summer, not the late summer/early fall latterly in Cape Breton and I saw no turned trees west of New Brunswick. Jacksons Mills Road was closed for repaving, so I had to drive around the horn to get home, but made it safely at 15h15. I am tired, so will have a nap and unpack the car later when it’s cooler.
So ends another wonderful trip to the Maritimes; thanks to all those who made it so. Now to get the St Anns concert photos up; will post again when they’re ready, which won’t be for a few days.