Friday, 3 October — Jackson to Bangor
On the advice of a friend who said to “come early” because the leaves are already changing and fast, as they are in New Jersey as well (in the 26 years I’ve lived there, I remember no other fall where this much colour was visible at the beginning of October), I left Jackson this morning at 5h38 for Cape Breton and Celtic Colours. I had originally planned on going on Wednesday of next week, but by the look of things at this point, the peak of the colours may arrive during or even before the start of Celtic Colours, instead of after as in recent years. So, if I’m to get good fall colours photos, I need to be there now. I left a few things undone in my haste to be off.
Except for a very long and stressful delay getting across the Tappan Zee Bridge, the trip was uneventful and pleasant. After it came up, the sun was out all the way and changed colours on the trees were plentiful most of the trip, varying from less than ten percent changed to forty percent changed, sometimes in the space of a short distance; all the usual fall colours were on offer. I arrived in Bangor at 16h30. I will soon be off to bed as the morning will come soon, especially after last night’s short sleep. I hope to be at the West Mabou dance tomorrow night, a fine way to kick off October in Cape Breton!
Saturday, 4 October — Bangor to Port Hood
I left Bangor this morning at 6h16 EDT. It was hard to judge the state of the colours in Eastern Maine because of the murky dawn light, further obscured by low lying clouds, some of which were well below the higher summits, but I’d guess them to be at or near their peak. The Customs interview was perfunctory: she didn’t even ask me how long I was going to stay! I ran into rain at St George in western New Brunswick, but it ended before I reached St John. The sun tried mightily to break through the dense cloud cover at Sussex, Memramcook, and Amherst, but was unsuccessful each time. It finally made it through at Truro and stayed out the rest of the way. There were lovely colours all through New Brunswick, where some places had lots of changed trees, perhaps 40-50%, and others, often adjacent, had few. The mainland of Nova Scotia was almost as far along as New Brunswick. I couldn’t see Cape Breton from the Trans-Canada Highway east of Antigonish due to the haze, but it popped into view as I reached the summit above Aulds Cove. I crossed the Canso Causeway Bridge at 15h36 and was greeted with clear blue skies with no clouds, the first I encountered today. After taking care of a couple of errands in Port Hastings, I arrived without event in Port Hood at 16h33 ADT. Cape George was invisible from Craigmore, but the views in Cape Breton were clear and crisp. The colours are not so far along in Southwestern Inverness as elsewhere along my trip, so I got here early enough to photograph them as they change, if the weather coöperates.
I drove to the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou and had dinner (baked halibut on linguini in a tomato sauce with fresh peas and gingerbread for dessert, both excellent) as I listened to Melody and Derrick Cameron beautifully playing tunes; one set of waltzes started with a tune the late Stanley MacNeil wrote in honour of his wife and finished with Melody’s Gramp’s ‘Doc’ Waltz that she wrote for him. I went back to the motel and surfed the Internet a bit.
Then it was off to West Mabou for the family dance, with Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Tracey Dares-MacNeil on real piano. The music began promptly at 22h with a great march/strathspeys/reels set, played as a sound check as there weren’t yet enough dancers for a square set. The first square set got underway at 22h13 and had eleven couples in two groups in the third figure; it was a barnburner of a set, with fiery fiddle and fantastic accompaniment—just absolutely gorgeous playing by both, banishing my tiredness and bringing me fully alert. Five more square sets were danced during the evening, each as wonderful as the first! Sixteen couples danced the second square set, the evening’s high water mark, but all except the last two had nearly as many couples and those two had seven or more. It wasn’t therefore a big crowd, but included many top-notch local step dancers. Kenneth played Highland bagpipes for the third figure of the fourth square set, a grand treat as always. The step dance sequence followed the fourth square set, bringing a young lady I was told was a MacDonald from Colindale, Harvey MacKinnon, and Alexander MacDonell to the floor; fantastic steps from all three! A waltz attracting three couples followed the step dancers. It was a magnificent evening of music and dance, a great way to end my first day in Cape Breton!
Sunday, 5 October — Port Hood
I was awoken by the bright sun in the window, but, at 8h it was way too early to get up after the extra-long day yesterday, even though I knew I should be out taking photos. So, I rolled over and went back to sleep. I finally got up well after 10h and spent a leisurely morning waking up in the motel room, where I had a breakfast of apples and plums, refrigerator left-overs I needed to use up.
I left for a backcountry ramble about 12h30. I drove the Dunmore Road to the Mabou Road and it to Glencoe Station and there took the Upper Southwest Mabou Road to Long Johns Bridge, where I stopped for photos and found the Southwest Mabou River as dry as I’ve ever seen it. Then, I took the Glencoe Road to Glencoe Mills and the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road to Churchview. There, I turned onto Highway 252 and took it and Highway 395 to the East Skye Glen Road and followed it to the crossroad and back to Highway 252 and thence into Hillsborough, where I drove down the Murray Hill Road to the Rankinville Road and into Mabou to the Red Shoe Pub for this afternoon’s cèilidh. The state of the colours is very different in the backcountry than that I saw yesterday along the Cèilidh Trail beside St Georges Bay. In most places, the predominant leaf colour is still green, but lots of other colours are available nearly everywhere. The colours, which, as a friend remarked, are not as vibrant as in other years, with a sort of pastel vibe to them, are at or close to peak in some spots, most notably east of Morans Road through Upper Southwest Mabou, Glencoe, and Dunakin. Skye Mountain is a gorgeous symphony of colours descending from Dunakin to Kewstoke, but Cambells Mountain seems not to be so far advanced, though appearing mottled with colours from a distance. The easternmost section of the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road along the guardrails above the Indian River is a blaze of colours. Mabou and Cape Mabou are much less advanced, at least as seen from the south and from afar, though good colours were present at Murrays Bridge. For some reason, the colours seem brightest next to flowing water, be it ever so little. The sun often played rather coy, hiding under clouds at many places I wanted to get photos, but I got some fairly good shots at various points. It was a lovely drive and one I’ll certainly repeat large parts of in the coming days.
The afternoon’s music at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou was by Rodney MacDonald on fiddle, Tracey Dares-MacNeil on real piano, and Patrick Gillis on guitar. And what a cèilidh it was! Rodney drove ’er hard all afternoon long, stringing the grand tunes together like sparkling gems on a diamond necklace, and Tracey and Pat embellished the great tunes with all the tricks in the accompanist’s book. Just fantastic music by all three from start to end! Three square sets were danced with many of the best dancers in the area showing off their steps throughout the figures; between five and eight couples crowded into the very small space opened up for them in front of the musicians. Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton relieved the players for the second square set. I shared my table with a couple from North Carolina who had been touring Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island for the first time and had made it to Mabou on their last day without having run into the music; they were as enchanted by the music and dance (and dancers!) as I was—I’m pretty sure they’ll be back another year. Alexander MacDonell shared his steps three times during the afternoon, as did Raymond Beaton and Annemarie Barry once each, all three great dancers (I think there was another step dancer as well, but I don’t have it in my sketchy notes). Two waltz sets attracted several couples to the floor. Gerry Deveau played a spoon set with Rodney and Tracey. The wonderful tunes were echoing in my ears still after paying a late visit to friends on Rocky Ridge who treated me to conversation, tea, and a freshly baked scone. Then, it was off to bed at the end of a wonderful day.
Monday, 6 October — Port Hood to Meat Cove
I arose at 7h this morning. The sun was hidden by thick white clouds in skies showing large blue patches, making the forecast of a sunny day more likely than it then appeared. I had breakfast at Sandeannies; the sun was out bright when I came back outside. I then drove out the Colindale Road where, of course, I stopped for photos at the guardrails. The clouds hung just above the top of Cape Mabou and much of the coast was in shadow.
After tending to an errand in Mabou, I drove north. Noticeable colour appears on the eastern flanks of Cape Mabou, but not yet near peak colours. Broad Cove and Dunvegan are not very far along at all. The stretch from the bridge over the Southwest Margaree River on Highway 19 to Margaree Forks was stunningly gorgeous, chock-a-block with vibrant pulsating reds—by far and away the brightest colours I’ve seen so far this year anywhere and equal to the best I’ve ever seen—certainly no pastels there! Alas, I lost the sun in Inverness, so this brilliance was without benefit of sunlight, but I hope to get some photos there in the sun before the leaves are gone. The East Margaree Road had some colour, but nothing like south of Margaree Forks. Not much colour was visible on the Highlands north of Belle-Côte nor along the Chéticamp Back Road either, though nice colours lined the Chéticamp River. The sun was making an effort to come back out, so I stopped off at la Grande Falaise, where I worked on yesterday’s post to give the sun some time, but it never did really break through for more than a couple of seconds. I drove along to la Bloc, where I waited again without avail. I drove on to French Lake and stopped there too, where my patience was finally rewarded with some bright sun on the water and nearby terrain. Changed trees were visible in the Park along the flanks of French Mountain, but, except in the lower parts of the Jumping Brook valley, it was all yellows and limes. The merest hint of change is visible in the tamaracks along the Cabot Trail on the summit of French Mountain and a stand of trees west of French Lake showed all the colours in the fall palette. Little colour is visible elsewhere along the plateau, other than colourful brown grasses tinged with maroons—no surprise given the large number of evergreens, but the valley of the Fishing Cove River, as seen from the southernmost Fishing Cove Look-Off, had some stunning reds in the now intermittent sun, though most of the valley was still green. Very little colour yet appears in the MacKenzies River valley as seen from the look-off and the mountains at Pleasant Bay and along the coast are all green yet, with occasional yellow tinges. I stopped for lunch at the Rusty Anchor in Pleasant Bay (chowder (good) and a salad (excellent)). Except immediately adjacent to the Cabot Trail, not a lot of colours were on the mountains in the Grande-Anse valley (where they were fantastic last year) nor in the “canyon” leading up to North Mountain. Even the Aspy River Valley was pretty much greens with a blush of orange/red, except along the river, where some bright red trees were visible. It was the same thing on the Bay St Lawrence Road and the Meat Cove Road: the colours are just starting to turn at the top of the island. So, if you’re looking for a colourful drive, head for the Margarees and leave the Cabot Trail (at least the parts I was on—I can’t say about the Ingonishes and St Anns Bay) for another week or two.
I ran into my host as I was leaving the restaurant, which was closed, and he said there was room at the lodge tonight, which I’m sharing with three other guys, all hunters, so I leapt at the chance (I had assumed I’d be staying at MacDonald’s Motel in Cape North Village). I will be here tonight and tomorrow night. There aren’t enough colours here yet to justify a trek out to the summit of Grey Mountain, but I should make it up Little Grassy tomorrow or, if I’m feeling ambitious, to the Meat Cove Look-Off or even Meat Cove Mountain. I always treasure the days I spend in Meat Cove!
The sun set behind the Highlands at 17h35, rather earlier than in spring and summer and darkness came correspondingly earlier. Two of the hunters are brothers from Halifax, both enjoyed the cool night outside by a campfire before heading upstairs to bed, and the third is spending the night in the woods in a hunting camp, so it is very quiet here in the lodge, just as I like it. I’ll soon be off to bed myself, resting up for tomorrow’s hiking.
Tuesday, 7 October — Meat Cove
Well, I’m one happy puppy, if a very tired and achey one! I got up at 8h30 and had breakfast at the lodge. It was a beautiful sunny day with pure blue skies and St Paul Island was a bit clearer than it was yesterday out in the Cabot Strait.
More colours were visible on the Highlands in the morning sun than were present in yesterday afternoon’s sun, but not enough to convince me I should try for the Grey Mountain summit, so I drove down the road to the Meat Cove Mountain Trail Head and very slowly made my way up to the col between the north and south summits, a process that took me ten minutes short of two hours. The trail is not that long, a mere kilometre (3/5 of a mile), but it is one of the steepest in Cape Breton and with tricky footing for an old geezer to boot, a severe problem both going up and coming down and hell on the knees and calves. Three svelte hikers in their twenties or early thirties averred, when I asked them, that it had taken them twenty-five minutes. Which is a good indication of just how steep it really is—those folks could easily do a kilometre in under eight minutes on flatter terrain. But, I made ’er, even if not in style.
I hiked up from the col to the north summit, where I stopped for photos, and then continued to the end of the north summit trail, which descends to just above the rock face on the mountain. (See this page and the two following pages for the spectacular views from the two summits.) I sat there for some time, taking photos, resting, and just enjoying the fantastic views, when a lady from Alberta, hiking alone, came down to where I was sitting. We chatted for a while when three other hikers, also from Alberta, though one is a native of South Harbour and very knowledgeable about the area, having hiked from Meat Cove to Polletts Cove, came down and joined us. They had been on the south summit picking blueberries for supper and had filled their pail. (From scat on the trail, it was obvious bears had been enjoying the blueberries up there too!) They were headed for Little Grassy and did not tarry long. I, on the other hand, climbed back up to the north summit and had a leisurely lunch (apples, a plum, granola bars, and water) as I enjoyed the day, took photos, and basked in the scenery I had worked so hard to see. It was so mesmerizing up there in the bright and warm sun with nary a hint of a breeze that I lost all track of time until I glanced at my watch after seeing white clouds coming in from the southwest and discovered that I didn’t have enough time left to get up to the south summit, which I had planned on visiting. So, I went back down to the col, stopping for photos at several points along the way, and started back down the trail.
The mountains showed some colour, but were predominantly unchanged, though solitary red trees were scattered across the slopes and clumps of them were at the base of the valley near Meat Cove Brook; occasionally, one could see multi-coloured groups on the middle hillsides, but they were pretty infrequent. A week or ten days will bring them to their peak if the leaves can stay on the trees.
I made better time down than up, as I didn’t constantly have to rest my lungs, taking a minute shy of an hour to get back to the car, but my legs made their unhappiness felt all the way down and afterwards. The sky had become covered with light overcast by the time I got to the road.
I then drove down to the restaurant, which I found open (they decided to reöpen because of the construction underway on a new Salmon River Bridge and the paving of a portion of the Meat Cove Road on the steepest hills descending from Black Point into the village in order to provide a place for the workers to eat); I was delighted not to have to drive out to Cape North Village for dinner, so I had a fine fisherman’s platter after a good chat with Derek MacLellan.
I came back to the lodge and got cleaned up from the hike and caught up on the news. The two that were here this morning are presumably in the woods tonight and the guy that was in the woods last night is back and tired, so it’s very quiet. I will soon be off to bed too. I will head south in the morning, for which rain and wind are in the forecast; I will likely go back as I came to avoid the road construction on the Cabot Trail along St Anns Bay and will probably stay in Chéticamp, where I don’t get to spend enough time. I hope to tour the Margarees on Thursday before the Masters’ Concert in Judique in the evening.
Wednesday, 8 October — Meat Cove to Chéticamp
I got up a bit before 8h and relaxed at the lodge for an hour before going down to the restaurant for breakfast (the omelette was superb). Surprisingly enough, the aches were gone. More colours are evident on the Highlands above Meat Cove, but the hillsides are still predominantly green. The morning, alas, was grey with moderate overcast through which the sun occasionally shone briefly, but barely enough to cast a shadow.
Construction is active on the Meat Cove Road from just below the lodge to past the Jumping Brook “elbow” below Black Point; I had to wait for a “Follow Me” truck there. Work is also continuing on the Salmon River Bridge, where the road is torn up but two-way traffic was still allowed.
I drove into Bay St Lawrence and out the Money Point Road to its end; I found some changed colours along the road, but mostly yellows and browns and pastels. The slopes on the Cape North Massif show yellows and oranges where there are deciduous trees, but the evergreens make the predominant colour green. The hills due south of St Margaret Village appear awash in colour with some red, but most of the other highlands there are in the early stages of changing. Bay Valley Road is also colourful; the Bay St Lawrence Road is less so, though it is punctuated with bright red or red-orange trees at irregular intervals. The ridge south of North Harbour is a blaze of colour seen from the north side of the North Aspy River and the road up that ridge into Cape North Village is very bright. At the junction with the Cabot Trail, some slopes on South Mountain are noticeably changed, though the distance makes it hard to tell exactly how.
From Cape North Village, I drove down to South Harbour and turned onto the South Ridge Road, a lovely drive I discovered a few years ago that affords views of North Mountain and takes one across the South and Middle Aspy Rivers. The colours there were further along, with some nice reds and oranges, but still a week from peak. The western end of South Ridge Road is in bad need of ditching; water courses down the middle and sides of the road, leaving small rocks and big ruts in its wake; it was passable with care in my Prius, but only barely. Fortunately, that section is short and soon ends on Blaze Road, which takes one back on the Cabot Trail. It is well named, as I found there a stand of brilliant vibrant red trees just back in from the road; the sun made a rare appearance and lit them up in a blaze of glory—easily the nicest reds I’ve seen north of Margaree Forks! At the Sunrise Look-Off, a sheen of yellow is visible on the slopes of Tenerife Mountain and some oranges can be made out in pockets along its slopes; it’s further along than it was on Monday, but still has a long way to go. The descent from Sunrise into Big Intervale was much more colourful than on Monday, but is not at peak yet. What a difference a couple of days makes! The eastern part of South Mountain, as seen from the third look-off ascending North Mountain, is now very colourful and close to peak; the Aspy Valley below the look-off sports many reds and bright oranges, and not just close to the river. Unchanged greens remain, but they’re now in the minority. The middle part of South Mountain is much less altered, looking much as it did on Monday, but the western part appears much like the eastern part as it heads away from the Cabot Trail along the Aspy Fault towards the Margarees. North Mountain is showing considerably more colours on its middle slopes, though it’s a mixed bag along the Cabot Trail on its flanks. From the summit of North Mountain down through the “canyon” to the Lone Shieling, the trees are a bright mixture of yellows and greens, with occasional spots of other colours. The north side of the Grande-Anse Valley is not greatly different from on Monday, but the south side has added a lot more yellows and oranges.
In Pleasant Bay, I turned onto the Red River Road and drove it to its end, not for the colours but for its coastal views: it’s the closest one can get to Polletts Cove by road (indeed, the Polletts Cove trail head is at the end of the road) and the return views of Pleasant Bay and MacKenzies Mountain are fine. Heartbreak Hill, the initial wrenching climb on the Polletts Cove Trail, shows lots of colours and there was another patch of colour near Gampo Abbey, but, the rare red tree aside, nothing else—it’s nearly all evergreens. High above the road on Little Baldy, some colours are showing, but they are not far advanced and are mostly lemony and limey.
In Red River, I turned onto the Hinkley Glen Road, which I had never before driven but about which I had read in a 1930’s travelogue—in those days, if I recall correctly, a resort in Hinkley Glen attracted sports fishermen shortly after the opening of the Cabot Trail. It’s a very pretty drive through a narrow valley between Icy Mountain on the north and Andrews Mountain on the south. The road, about 3.8 km (2.4 mi) long, is generally fair to good with a half dozen bad spots requiring care; it follows the Red River and ends where the mountains close off the glen (the Red River descends there from the Cape Breton Highlands Plateau). An ATV trail continues past the turn-around, which appears to be at the base of an old rock quarry, but is not suitable for a car—in any case, the lay of the mountains means it can’t continue far unless it goes up onto the plateau. It’s a beautiful valley and a very pretty drive, with some interesting views of the adjacent mountains. Some colours decorated the mountainsides, primarily yellows and oranges, but they were not particularly bright.
Some colour is showing on the mountains south of Pleasant Bay, but it was rather dull in the afternoon light, which had lost all benefit of sunlight as heavier overcast took over the skies. The Cabot Trail up MacKenzies Mountain was quite a bit more colourful than on Monday, with occasional bright reds. The Fishing Cove River valley was also a bit brighter. Cap-Rouge was noticeably more colourful and a soft sheen of reddish tinged colour was on the Highlands east of Chéticamp. The leaves are now changing fairly rapidly and, for once, their peak of colours should better align with Celtic Colours.
After getting my motel room in Chéticamp, I drove back to le Gabriel and had my favourite supper there: chowder, salad, and coquilles St-Jacques with rice and vegetables, all superb. I was just too full for any of the fine desserts on offer! I came back to the motel and finished this post, much of which was written as I was at the side of the road observing the colours. I’ll be soon off to bed, stuffed from dinner and still a bit tired from yesterday’s exertions. Rain and 80 kph (50 mph) winds are forecast for tonight and the winds have already begun to freshen and gust; I hope this doesn’t bother the leaves too much. The Margarees tomorrow!
Thursday, 9 October — Chéticamp to Port Hood
I got up a bit past 8h to a grey overcast day, but surprisingly warm (actually, it was 5°C (9°F) warmer in Chéticamp than in Jackson (NJ), where I live). The winds last night didn’t last much past midnight and were less strong than forecast; very little rain fell. I had the Cabot Trail to myself on the drive south so I dawdled, enjoying the scenery even if under grey skies. The Highlands east of Chéticamp and south to Grand-Étang are now showing considerable colour, though I couldn’t make out what given the distance and the poor lighting. The Highlands are not so distinctive at Grand-Étang but the colours come back at Cap-le-Moine and get more pronounced as one approaches Terre-Noire and Belle-Côte. North of Belle-Côte, I noticed the sun breaking out well to the south along the Shore Road coast, which augured well for the day. I stopped for gas in Belle-Côte and then turned onto the East Margaree Road, where the colours were fine, though still with plenty of greens. Past the village, the sun broke through the overcast and lit up the mountains on the west side of the Margaree River; I stopped for photos. From there on, the colours were bright and beautiful.
I drove to Northeast Margaree and had breakfast at the Dancing Goat, superb as always. While there, the sun broke through the clouds for fair, reducing the overcast to smallish white puffy clouds. It was a glorious day for touring the Margarees!
I followed the Cabot Trail to Egypt Road and took it to Margaree Valley; beautiful colours of every hue along the road accompanied the fine views of the surrounding mountains to be had from that road. Plenty of trees are still unchanged, promising a long peak season this year. turned left onto East Big Intervale Road, drove to the airstrip, and went out the gravel road parallel to the runway most of the way to the end; this is a grand open space with fine views of the beautiful highlands surrounding the Margaree Valley. The mountainsides were more mottled than I anticipated, given the bright colours on the hills along Egypt Road, more proof of a long peak season. The field along the road was very colourful with bright reddish-maroon leaves on low bushes extending all the way to the adjacent forest; I think they are blueberry bush leaves as I believe this field is a popular spot for blueberry pickers.
I drove to the Cranton Cross Road and crossed the Northeast Margaree River, where I was surprised to find little colour along its banks. But, oh, the magnificent bright oranges and reds in yards and along the road, fiery in the mid-morning sun! It left me gasping for breath! In Margaree Centre, I turned right onto the West Big Intervale Road and took it to the Marsh Brook Road. The Highlands along the Marsh Brook valley are not yet at peak, but are gorgeous with their oranges and yellows and greens. The mottling I saw from the airstrip reveals itself to be a significant amount of unchanged trees; up close, the hillsides are much brighter and more colourful than they appeared at a distance. I missed the two horses that in other years have been grazing in the field by the apple trees where one has the best views reaching along the Aspy Fault for as far as one can see.
I returned to the West Big Intervale Road and drove to the look-off south of Portree (actually just a wide spot in the road by the guardrails). When I got there, a huge grey-black cloud, which had arrived at Marsh Brook as I was leaving, darkened the views. I took photos anyway and then it became apparent that the sun would come out if I just waited a few minutes. I did and it did, giving me great shots of the five-star views in nearly full sun! I continued on to Portree Bridge and took more photos there.
I took Hatchery Road back to the East Big Intervale Road and it to Kingross and Big Intervale. A new Bailey bridge now spans the Northeast Margaree at Big Intervale, but the old green truss bridge still stands, though it is blocked off from traffic; since the big lifting crane is still there, I guess it will soon be torn down. I drove down the West Big Intervale Road to the Fishing Lodge, where I planned on having lunch, but they’re closed until 17h. Drat! The food is excellent there! Cousins to the spoiler cloud arrived at the lodge when I did, throwing the grand river views there into shadows, but the sun played peek-a-boo on the return trip so I got some good shots of the river on the way back. By the time I got back to the bridge, the whole damned tribe had arrived and the skies were covered with grey-black clouds, pretty much putting paid to any further photography, though I took a few in poor light anyway on the East Big Intervale Road—the colours were just too beautiful to resist.
I stopped in at the Dancing Goat for supper, even though it was only 15h, but I didn’t have much slack in today’s schedule and I was hungry. The cauliflower blue cheese and bacon soup was superb and I’m not really a blue cheese fan! The Black Forest ham sandwich and the garden salad were equally good.
When I left the Dancing Goat, the sun was out again in the southwest though the skies generally remained overcast. By some great stroke of luck, the sun lit up the stunning stretch from Margaree Forks to Southwest Margaree and I got some photos of a few of the brilliant reds and scarlets! The sun stayed out the rest of the way south, where the colours are now a blaze of glory all the way to Port Hood, and the skies cleared south of Mabou, though it is noticeably chillier. What a beautiful drive!
I got cleaned up at the motel room and drove to Judique for tonight’s Masters’ Concert of the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling, which took place in the Community Centre. This concert features the ten instructors for the coming week, master musicians all. The ten instructors appeared in two groups of five in the two halves of the concert. Each group started off with a group number and then each individual instructor played one very substantial set. The first group consisted of Andrea Beaton, Kimberley Fraser, Colin Grant, Troy MacGillivray, and JJ Chaisson. With Allan Dewar, another master (but on piano rather than fiddle), on keyboard, the group played a set of jigs. With Troy on keyboard, Andrea played a high bass march/strathspeys/reels set beginning with a composition by Donald Angus Beaton, her grandfather; JJ joined in on guitar later in the fantastic set—just incredible playing! With Troy still on keyboard, Kimberley gave us a beautiful Killiekrankie and followed it with strathspeys and reels, another grand set. With Allan back on keyboard, JJ gave us a fine fiddle set, beginning with The Rosebud of Allenvale and continuing with strathspeys and reels, among which King George IV figured. Colin started off with what he characterized as a slow depressing air that he (and I) like and followed it with four jigs, two from Buddy’s recording, Glencoe Hall; JJ joined in on guitar on the jigs. Troy played two marvellous shorter sets, the first two jigs from Buddy’s recording Judique on the Floor and the second a strathspey and a reel; JJ accompanied on guitar. After a fifteen minute break, the second group of instructors took the stage, with JJ on guitar accompanying most. This group consisted of Wendy MacIsaac, Rachel Davis, Shelly Campbell, Mairi Rankin, and Glenn Graham. With Allan on keyboard, they too opened with a set of jigs. Wendy, who had had a trying day, told a fantastic joke before playing a great set of jigs, strathspeys, and reels. Rachel recalled a class she attended that Buddy taught at the Gaelic College and his typically self-deprecating manner; she then played a very fine, convincing set of a slow air, strathspeys, and reels. Shelly recalled the large number of musicians who have left us in the past two months, beginning with Buddy himself, and asked for and got a moment of silence in their memory. She then gave us a wonderful set of a slow air, a slow strathspey, strathspeys, and reels, with JJ joining in on the later part of the set. With Allan on keyboard, JJ gave us a guitar-pickin’ set of two jigs and some reels that earned him a standing ovation at its end; incredible precision and speed! Mairi started her fine set off with the lovely Lament for John Morris [Rankin] she wrote (Allan’s wonderful accompanying chords sounded like tolling bells to me) and continued with strathspeys and reels; JJ joined in on guitar late in the set. Glenn played a great march/strathspeys/reels set with a couple of Kinnon compositions and ending with an old pipe tune. Three draws were then made, after which the finale occurred: with Allan on keyboard and all the instructors on fiddle, except JJ who played guitar, they gave us a set of tunes Shelly put together at Allan’s request; during the finale, all of the instructors except Troy and JJ step danced. The conclusion of the finale drew a well-deserved standing ovation for a fantastic concert. This is my kind of music! Thanks to all whose hard work made the concert possible. It was great to see and talk with many old friends there and especially wonderful to see a feisty lady who has had two hips and two knees replaced in the past two years come striding towards me like a youngster as I was getting in line before the concert. What an amazing day this has been! I am well and truly blessed!
Friday, 10 October — Port Hood
I arose at 10h to a glorious morning with a chill wind off St Georges Bay. It would have been a great day for photography, but that is over for a while as today is the official start of Celtic Colours and my schedule is packed. I drove to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for the free lunchtime cèilidh, which features staff members each week day except Sunday through tomorrow (next week, they will be instructors’ cèilidhs with a cover charge and the lunchtime cèilidhs end for the year after that). The Cèilidh Trail from Port Hood to Judique is much less far along than north of Port Hood, though spots are showing some colour, especially around Judique. Today, Donna-Marie DeWolfe was on fiddle and Allan Dewar was on keyboard; it was an hour and a half of fine music I enjoyed (I even got to pick one tune and I chose A Trip to Mabou Ridge, a Dan Hughie MacEachern tune that is a great favourite of mine). I had brunch there while I was listening: a house salad, a haddock burger, and a strawberry-rhubarb apple crisp, all excellent.
After the cèilidh, I drove to Port Hastings, taking a small part of the Centennial Road, the MacLean Road, and the Chisholm Road on the way. The Creignish Hills are mottled with a sheen of brick red showing; along the road, spots of pastel colour occur; a few specimens sporting bright reds can be seen, but it is still mostly greens and yellows and browns. I did not see a lot of colour the rest of the way into Port Hastings either, though bright spots are present here and there. I attended the cèilidh at the Port Hastings Museum, a fund-raiser for the museum. It wasn’t what I expected, as the cèilidh was much more vocal than instrumental music. A couple whose name I didn’t get with the woman on fiddle and the man on guitar and both on vocals; Marcellin Chiasson on guitar and mandolin and vocals; Delores Boudreau on guitar and vocals; René Marchand on banjo and guitar and vocals; and Ian Cameron on small pipes performed, going round and round the circle of players. Although much of what I heard is definitely not the music I like best, I nevertheless enjoyed the two hours of music and stories presented, which included two folk songs in French.
I then drove up the hill to the fire hall where a fishcakes and beans supper was served. It was delicious and came with apple crisp and ice cream to boot. I then drove out the Bear Head Road, which has next to no colours, and then the Port Malcolm Road, which has some but mostly pastels, to Highway 104, which has excellent colour on the way back to Port Hawkesbury.
After writing this post up to this point, it was then time for the official opening concert for this year’s Celtic Colours, titled The Ties that Bind, in the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre. I’m not a fan of these opening shows, which often emphasize “production values” over the music I go to hear. The constantly moving stage spotlights, which this year were regularly and malevolently aimed directly at the audience, periodically blinding me so I couldn’t see the stage, were particularly obnoxious and the fog machine was running overtime, obscuring the large screen above the stage; all for what? To impress? Someone needs a serious rethink of this distracting and annoying nonsense. Less is more in this context: let the music speak for itself! The seating, in the prime section in the front left, with the chairs tied together apparently to satisfy some Celtic Colours regulation, was way too crowded for adults, though I was fortunate in that an empty seat was next to me that I could take advantage of (some folks came with shears and cut the binding ties to allow then to make the seating more comfortable); another rethink is needed here, too—there were a fair number of empty seats that could be eliminated to make the experience more pleasant for those attending.
But the music was certainly worth the unnecessary annoyances. Those of you who were there and those from away who watched the live stream on the Internet will find the following concert description superfluous, but I’ll give one anyway for the others who did neither. Once the official introductions and speeches were complete, the show, emceed by Max MacDonald, began with Nuallan, the wonderful Cape Breton pipe band, consisting of Kenneth MacKenzie, Keith MacDonald, Paul K MacNeil, and Kevin Dugas on Highland bagpipes; Tracey Dares-MacNeil on keyboard; Patrick Gillis on guitar; and Kyle MacDonald on percussion (a full drum kit). They gave us three magnificent sets of stirring tunes that were incredible to hear; Mac Morin and Nic Gereiss did an amazing step dance together, part of it a synchronized dance and the rest an interesting contrast between the close to the floor Cape Breton style Mac does so superbly and Nic’s much looser style. They were followed by Väsen, a Swedish folk band with a viola player, a guitarist, and a player of a nyckelharpa, a stringed instrument played with a bow or plucked (a photo and description of the instrument can be found here); it was interesting music, but hardly anything I’d have chosen to see given the wealth of Cape Breton music available. Phil Cunningham on accordion and Aly Bain on fiddle closed off the first half of the show. I was familiar with their music long before I first heard Cape Breton music and it remains some of my favourite non-Cape Breton music—I love accordion music anyway and Aly’s smooth, fluid, and polished fiddle is the perfect mate to Phil’s oh-so-expressive accordion. They gave us a sprightly set of tunes in their patented Scottish style; a slow air Lovely Molly Mae Phil wrote; two waltzes, one Phil wrote and a Québécois tune I know, followed by two Québécois reels, the first of which I also know. They concluded with Phil’s The Colours of Cape Breton, a lovely air to which the Celtic Touch Dancers performed a choreography by Sabra MacGillivray. Beautiful movements to beautiful music! The second half opened with the Campbells of Greepe from the Isle of Skye, a Gaelic-singing quintet from Scotland spanning two generations, with Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle, Calum MacKenzie on keyboard, and a guitar player from Oban whose name I don’t know. I found the three sets they gave us varied and interesting; during the third set, a puirt a beul, Nic gave us another dance. Buddy MacDonald then relayed a message from Dougie MacLean and played a video of him doing his well-known song, The Boat Builders. Wendy MacIsaac and Ashley MacIsaac on dual fiddles, accompanied by Patrick Gillis on guitar, played a set for the Celtic Touch Dancers. With Ashley on keyboard and Pat on guitar, Wendy played the Farewell March and strathspeys and reels, sent out to a local family who recently lost their son. Ashley then played Niel Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife as a keyboard solo, which Wendy joined on backing fiddle and then took over the melody. With Wendy on keyboard and Pat on guitar, Ashley gave us a fine Mockingbird. On solo fiddle, Ashley on fiddle started a slow air, which Wendy joined, making two fiddles with two voices. Wendy and Ashley on dual fiddles, with Tracey Dares-MacNeil on keyboard and Pat on guitar, played a set to which Mac step danced. Nuallan then returned to the stage and, with the others, played a set during which Ashley and Wendy step danced. Great music and dance I thoroughly enjoyed! Everyone came back on stage for the finale, performing an assemblage put together by Phill Cunningham that somehow showcased each of the disparate performers in a more or less harmonious whole; it worked for me, at least. All told, this was the best of the opening shows I’ve attended, with a lot to like. I know a lot of hard work goes into such a production and I congratulate the volunteers especially for making things run so smoothly.
Then, it was on to Creignish for the last part of the adult square dance at the Recreation Centre. When I arrived, Troy MacGillivray on fiddle and Andrea Beaton on keyboard were playing strathspeys to which Anita Lanyon and Wenda De Young step danced. A square set was then danced, the first I saw (I was told two more had been danced earlier). Kinnon Beaton took over the fiddle to give Troy a break and with Andrea on keyboard played for the second of the square sets I saw. With Andrea on fiddle and Troy on keyboard, they then played for Sophie Stephenson, a visitor from Scotland who had been stepping ’er off beautifully during the square sets, to step dance. It was by now very close to 0h30, when the dance was supposed to end, but Andrea launched into the final square set anyway. Each of the square sets danced while I was there had from eight to ten couples. Ian Cameron, who deserves much credit for getting these dances going, said that the attendance was the second best of the summer, which is encouraging. The music, it goes without saying, was fantastic—a joy to hear. Andrea and Troy are both incredible musicians and both played their hearts out.
I got back to Port Hood well after 1h and went promptly to bed, tired out but happy, all the day’s great music running through my mind. So began Celtic Colours for me.
Saturday, 11 October — Port Hood
I awoke past 10h and, after waking up, drove to Chéticamp. This is the first Celtic Colours I haven’t attended the Celtic Colours concert at St Matthews, but there was way too much “foreign” content this year and I passed it up in favour of a pure Cape Breton musical day, a decision I am especially glad I made, given that I had no idea in August what would be on offer outside the festival today. I arrived at the Doryman at 13h15 to find the parking lot almost full and no free tables left, so I sat with a couple from Port Hood partway back. The day was already partly cloudy, but good sun was out and the drive was a pretty one. Cape Mabou gets more colourful by the day. More colour now also adorns the :Highlands north of the Margaree River and occasional spots of multiple colours appear at various points, but a lot more changes remain to come. The Doryman was already so packed (standing room only and there were a number of standees later), I didn’t get to order my dinner (haddock, rice, veggies, and a green salad, all excellent) until well after the cèilidh started.
Today’s musicians were Marc Boudreau and Douglas Cameron on fiddles and Howie MacDonald on keyboard, with a long assist on the keyboard from Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier. The music started before 14h with Marc and Douglas on dual fiddles playing a set of strathspeys and reels to which a lady (I’ll call her Ashelin, which is what I later heard, but may well not be right) from the Yukon gave us a wild, very loose, but very fine, set of steps. A set of jigs on dual fiddles followed, with Hilary Romard valiantly, but unsuccessfully, attempting to round up people for a square set; with all the good dancers in attendance, I was surprised he didn’t have better luck, but it was still early. The dual fiddles continued with more sets beginning with either an air or a march and followed by strathspeys and reels. The last of these sets included a Tulloch Gorm, likely the first time I’ve heard it played on dual fiddles and the complex rhythms and bowing were as crisp and clear as if there were only one fiddler—excellent playing by both indeed! Hilary and Ashelin step danced during that set. After 40 minutes, Douglas retired from the stage, leaving Marc and Howie to carry on. Hilary managed to get only one couple for the jig set, so Marc continued with a fiery set of tunes. Another jig set got only Hilary and Ashelin to dance. The next set attracted four step dancers, of whom I recognized only Elaine Bennett and Wenda De Young. With Douglas rejoining Marc on dual fiddles, a square set with seven couples finally got underway. At its end, Marc and Howie left the stage and Douglas carried on with Kathleen on the keyboard. Three fine march/strathspeys/reels sets followed. Douglas is a technically amazing fiddler, especially when playing fast; he can rattle off the notes with precision whilst still embellishing the music in the Cape Breton style. All that was on display this afternoon. Howie then replaced Kathleen and gave us two more dandy tune sets. Marc then replaced Douglas and the second square set got underway. Marc is a superb dance player, playing not too fast but at the perfect tempo for dancing with lots of lift and drive; with Howie’s fantastic accompaniment, the gorgeous tunes Marc chose were perfection itself! Marc and Howie played another march/strathspeys/reels set after the square set. Douglas then gave us a keyboard solo, nicely done, a treat and only the second time I’ve heard him on keyboard. Howie took over the fiddle and with Kathleen back on keyboard gave us a half hour of grand music; there’s a reason Howie is a very popular fiddler and it was on full display in these wonderful sets of classic Howie. Several folks danced during these sets, of whom I recognized only Hilary. The last forty minutes of the cèilidh, which went ten minutes overtime, started off with Marc, Douglas, and Ashelin on triple fiddles and Howie back on keyboard. Three people I don’t know step danced after which Kathleen gave us a fine step dance. The remaining sets were on dual fiddles and the electricity in the room was palpable as the cèilidh reached its end. Several step dancers took the floor, including Ashelin, who fiddled as she danced; Marc and Douglas both step danced on stage and the audience tried to get Howie to step dance too (Kathleen went up on stage to replace him), but he didn’t budge and for a bit we had four hands on the keyboard accompaniment. At the conclusion of that set, the audience burst into a standing ovation and would not leave off until Marc, Douglas, and Howie gave us one final great blast o’ tunes. Encores, after a four-hour session when the players are exhausted, are a rarity at the Doryman, so this was indeed one for the books! What an afternoon of music!!!
While I was in the Doryman, clouds took over the skies and it was a darkish drive back to Port Hood, with rain beginning south of Mabou. Then it was on to West Mabou for the dance there with Rodney MacDonald on fiddle, Allan Dewar on real piano, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar. The first square set was immediately underway with thirteen couples in the third figure. The second square set had twenty couples. A waltz followed; I can’t see the entire hall from my corner seat, but at least ten couples danced. Thereafter, so many folks were on the floor that the rest of the square sets were danced with two queues in the third figure and I was unable to get accurate counts. Donna-Marie DeWolfe relieved Rodney for the fourth square set. Rodney returned with a waltz and then played the fifth square set. It was followed by the step dance sequence; of the seven who shared their steps, I recognized Michelle Greenwell, John Robert Gillis, and Hilary Romard. (I later learned that Amanda MacDonald was one of the young ladies who also step danced.) Another waltz followed and then the last square set. Rodney is renowned for his magnificent square dance playing and Allan and Sandy are equally top notch accompanists, so the music all night long couldn’t have been better. And the local dancers were wound up too, steppin’ ’er off as only they do. Just a fabulous dance! And an absolutely fantastic day of music! A good rain was falling as I drove happily back to Port Hood. What a wonderful day!
Sunday, 12 October — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I arose at 9h and got packed up, as I’m in Whycocomagh for the next two days. I drove to Mabou for the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the parish hall, a delicious meal and a wonderful tradition. I was joined by friends part way through and enjoyed their company and conversation. My thanks and best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving to all the many volunteers who worked so hard to make this dinner such a success.
I drove through gorgeous colours on a beautiful sun-lit day to St Anns for the afternoon’s Pipers’ Cèilidh. This was one of two Celtic Colours shows I wanted to attend that were sold out a mere 16 days after they went on sale and I did not expect to be attending it (next year, I’ll order the tickets while I’m still in Cape Breton!). Yesterday, just after arriving at the Doryman, I got a Facebook message from my longtime friend and volunteer extraördinaire, Burton MacIntyre, telling me a ticket had become available and asking me if I wanted it. Did I! I leaped at the chance, though I was sorry to miss out on Shelly and Allan at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, whom I was also going to hear at Glencoe Mills in the evening (I have since heard rave reviews of the awesome Sunday cèilidh there—sorry to have missed it, but one can’t be in two places at once.) My seat was in the left front row—I’d certainly not have done as well had I been able to order it online!
David Rankin was the emcee and immediately turned the stage over to Fin Moore (Scotland) and the MacKenzie brothers (Angus, Kenneth, and Calum), who opened the cèilidh with a set of jigs, with Calum on keyboard and the rest on Highland bagpipes. It was a grand set and the pipes sounded fantastic! With Calum on keyboard, Fin played a set consisting of Farewell to Decorum (by his father), The MacDonalds of East Street (by Fin), and Tee Shirts in March (by his brother). He then switched to border pipes and played a slow air, whose name I heard as ”Angus G MacLeod”. Joined by his wife Sarah Hoy on fiddle and Ian MacDonald on whistle, he gave us a grand pipe set. Allan MacDonald and Angus MacKenzie joined them on border pipes and they finished off with another fine set (I have some starts of tune names but my short term memory is so bad I couldn’t get the rest of the names down). With only the MacKenzie brothers left on stage and with Angus on border pipes, Kenneth on fiddle, and Calum on keyboard, they gave us a fine march/strathspeys/reels set from their CD. They then played the jig set beginning with The Skylark’s Ascension, also on their CD. Next, they gave us a set beginning with John MacLean’s lovely Moladh Maureen NicCoinnich and followed it by jigs, one of which Angus wrote for his daughter Mairi, if I heard correctly. With Angus and Kenneth on Highland bagpipes, they then closed the first half with a set of strathspeys and reels to which Kenneth’s wife, Jenny (Cluett), step danced. I enjoyed the fantastic playing and it was an especial treat to hear this music live (if you don’t have their Pìob is Fidheall CD, by all means get it: it’s a classic!). After the break and the customary draws, Kevin Dugas on Highland bagpipes, Tracey Dares-MacNeil on keyboard, and Colin MacDonald on guitar gave us a great pipe set. David then step danced to music supplied by the same musicians; his steps were varied and very fine. Next, Kevin chose the slow air The Lost Boat and followed it by pipe tunes Jerry Holland wrote; both accompanists outdid themselves on the slow air. Kenneth then joined the musicians on Highland bagpipes for a great blast o’ strathspeys and reels. Next, the MacDonald brothers of Glenuig (Scotland), Dr Angus, Allan, and Ian, took the stage. With Dr Angus and Allan on border pipes and Ian on tin whistle, they began with a lullaby from Ireland and followed it with strathspeys and reels on which Angus MacKenzie on border pipes and Kenneth on fiddle joined in. Angus MacKenzie and Kenneth then left the stage. Allan then gave us a Gaelic song,¹ self-accompanied on border pipes with concertina and fiddle accompaniment from the other two. With Ian on tin whistle and the other two on border pipes, they played a couple of marches. My short-term memory made my notes a mess at this point and I can’t make out which tunes were in the next set. The final set consisted of a hornpipe and jigs, with Ian switching to a bodhrán towards the end. For the finale, Calum and Tracey were on separate keyboards, Colin on guitar, Ian on tin whistle, Kenneth on fiddle, and all the others on border pipes. Calum and Colin started off as a duet and then all joined in on a great blast of tunes during which Fin, Kevin, and, I think, another of the musicians step danced, after which Jenny, David, and Margie Beaton step danced on the floor in front of the stage. It was a fantastic cèilidh I thoroughly enjoyed and I am extremely grateful I was able to see it.
I drove back to Whycocomagh, where I got a salad and a haddock burger for supper and then continued on to Mabou for the parish concert in the community hall. It had been several years since I had attended one, always a joy given the deep bench of talent in Mabou. With David Rankin again emceeing, the concert began with a fine set of tunes by Rankin MacInnis on solo Highland bagpipes. Lionel and Margaret LeBlanc gave us three songs, two of them Stan Rogers songs, accompanying themselves on guitars. Rankin then played another set on the pipes to which Colin MacInnis gave us some very nice steps. The Mabou Gaelic Singers, directed by Joanne MacIntyre, next gave us some Gaelic songs. Maggie Beaton on fiddle, accompanied by Mary-Elizabeth MacMaster-MacInnis on real piano and David on guitar, played for two young ladies to step dance (I later learned one was Amanda MacDonald). Bonnie Jean MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by Mary-Elizabeth on piano and David on guitar, gave us a beautiful set of fiddle tunes. David then sang a lovely Gaelic song in fine voice. Melody Cameron on fiddle accompanied by Derrick Cameron on guitar played a fine set of tunes. The first half concluded with the MacKenzie brothers, Angus and Kenneth on Highland bagpipes and Calum on piano, playing a stirring set. After the break, David recounted a story in Gaelic with English translation. Bonnie Jean on fiddle, accompanied by Mary-Elizabeth on keyboard and Derrick on guitar, played for a Scotch Four danced by Kelly MacLennan, Melody, David, and Benedict MacDonald. A group from L’Arche, whose names I didn’t get, sang three songs to guitar and piano accompaniment; one of the group played a classical selection on the piano. Colin MacInnis on fiddle accompanied by Mary-Elizabeth on keyboard gave us a very nicely played set of fiddle tunes. Melody, Mary-Elizabeth, and Derrick then played a step dance sequence for Stephen MacLennan, who gave us a fantastic fiery four-minute step dance that brought down the house. The Gaelic choir, Coisir an Eilein, under the direction of Father Macmillan, next gave us some beautiful Gaelic songs. The concert concluded with Bonnie Jean, Mary-Elizabeth, and Derrick playing for the third figure of a square set whose dancers were Melody Cameron, Kelly MacLennan, JoAnne MacIntyre, Brittany Rankin, David Rankin, Stephen MacLellan, Benedict MacDonald, and Dale Gillis.² As I have the ones I’ve attended in the past, I enjoyed this one very much; it affords an opportunity to see players I frequently don’t otherwise get to see and introduces me to upcoming youth whose accomplishments are worthy of recognition. My thanks to the organizers of and volunteers working at this concert for a fine evening of entertainment.
After the concert, it was on to Glencoe Mills, where Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar were already set up and ready to go when I arrived at 22h. Folks stood around listening to the great music until finally the first square set got underway at 22h21; it started with five couples in the first figure and ended with eight in the third. As this square set was being danced, a sizeable contingent of visitors from Scotland, many in dress kilts, came into the hall and were given a quick rundown on the figures of a Mabou set. Thereafter, the floor was constantly full of dancers, with well over twenty couples on the floor except during the fifth and last square set, which had thirteen; two queues were going much of the evening, a rarity these days for a Glencoe dance. A waltz after the third square set drew lots of couples to the floor. Around 0h, the step dance sequence started; Stephen MacLennan, Amanda MacDonald, and Kelly MacLennan dancing with young son Lyle, shared their fine steps. Another waltz followed the step dance sequence. Shelly played on after the last square set, but there were no dancers on the floor and the dance ended early about 0h45. It was grand music throughout by two master musicians! What a joy! It was a very successful dance and must have made the organizers very happy.
On this Thanksgiving week-end, I have a great deal for which to give thanks: Cape Bretoners’ legendary hospitality that welcomes visitors and makes them feel part of the community; the Scottish traditional music I heard all day long; people as passionate about that music as I am who keep it going and pass it on to the next generation; and dear friends who do the impossible on my behalf. To you all, my deepest thanks for all you do. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving Day, Monday, 13 October — Whycocomagh
Je souhaite à tous mes amis et parents canadiens un joyeux jour de l'Action de grâces! Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends and family members!
Since I’m here in Whycocomagh again tonight, I had the luxury of sleeping in late, so I didn’t arise until after 10h (and still only got eight hours sleep, of which I’m more than a wee bit short just now). What a magnificent morning I found outside when I opened the door! The skies were pure blue and the sun was out in force. I had Vi’s Thanksgiving special and then drove to Christmas Island for the afternoon concert, Family Matters. Amazing sun-lit colours adorned the Trans-Canada Highway to Little Narrows, where I took the ferry across, but Highway 223 on the Washabuck Peninsula was nearly colourless, a good week or two behind Inverness County. I worked on Saturday’s account as I waited in the bright sun for the doors to open.
Colin Watson, whose fine singing voice I always enjoy hearing, and a gentleman named Mickey John whose last name I didn’t get opened the concert with a Gaelic milling song. Douglas Cameron on fiddle and Lawrence Cameron on real piano started off with The March of the Cameron Men, beautifully and expressively done on both fiddle and piano, and continued with strathspeys and reels. They next gave us a set of strathspeys and reels, again very nicely played. They ended with a set including The Mockingbird. The Mischa Macpherson Trio, a young award-winning Scottish band formed of Mischa Macpherson, Innes White, and Conal McDonagh, next took the stage. Mischa first sang a song with guitar and tin whistle accompaniment; it sounded funky/modern to me and I couldn’t make out the words clearly enough to tell whether it was in Gaelic or English or both. Their second selection was a Gaelic song I liked much better, with accompaniment on border pipes and guitar. The third was another Gaelic song with tin whistle and guitar accompaniment whose chorus the audience sang after having been taught the words. They concluded with a fourth song with guitar, harp, and whistle accompaniment. Next, Kenneth and Calum MacKenzie performed two sets: the first with Kenneth on fiddle and Calum on piano began with Moladh Maureen NicCoinnich and was followed by jigs; the second began with Calum’s Road“ as a piano solo by Calum and was followed by tunes with Kenneth on Highland bagpipes and Calum on piano. After the break, Colin and Mickey John gave us another Gaelic song. Lisa Cameron and Vern MacDougall gave us five songs Lisa had written, all relating to her life and accompanied by anecdotes relating to their composition; she sang and played guitar and Vern accompanied her on guitar. On the last song, they were joined by her young son on guitar, Douglas on backing fiddle, and Lawrence on piano. The Campbells of Greepe next took the stage with Kenneth on backing fiddle and Calum on piano. They first gave us a puirt a beul with Kenneth on backing fiddle. Next was a Gaelic song with guitar accompaniment, with Seumas Campbell singing the verses and all singing the chorus. Next was a lovely slow song with beautiful harmonies, accompanied by Kenneth and Calum. A fiddle, piano, and guitar introduction led into a song from a 60-year old disc recording recently recovered with the same three playing between the song’s verses; it was beautiful to hear in an intimate setting. Next was a puirt a beul with bursts of lyric song with the ladies singing unaccompanied. Last was another puirt a beul with guitar accompaniment to which fiddle and piano was added later. The finale began with an accordion solo; “Old Mountain Thyme was sung by the audience to piano accompaniment by Lawrence, fiddle by Calum and Kenneth, and border pipes by Conal; Colin led a Gaelic milling song to which the others sang the chorus; a blast of tunes from Kenneth, Calum, and Douglas on fiddles with Lawrence on piano and accompaniment by the guitarists; and a puirt a beul with accordion, fiddle, and pipe accompaniment. It was a bit of a disparate mess, but somehow it held together and was a fitting finale to an afternoon of generally fine music, enjoyed by all judging by the ovation at the conclusion of the concert.
I drove back to Whycocomagh and, with very bright sun glaring in my eyes much of the way, drove over the backcountry to Judique for tonight’s concert with the alliterative title Buddy’s Birthday Bash. This was the second concert that was sold out when I ordered tickets, but, when I was at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre after a Sunday cèilidh in August, one of Buddy’s nieces came by my table and, after hearing why I couldn’t attend, offered me one of the extra tickets she had purchased, so, thanks to her stunning generosity, I was able to be present. The concert opened with Mary-Elizabeth MacMaster-MacInnis, Buddy’s daughter, and Andrea Beaton, his niece, on dual fiddles and Betty Lou Beaton, his sister, on keyboard; they gave us a grand set with a ton of strathspeys. Bob MacEachern, the emcee, then came on stage and reminisced about Buddy. Karen and Joey Beaton did the same when they took the stage; they provided interesting background, some of which I didn’t know, having transpired before I discovered Cape Breton and its music. Karen started off with The Rosebud of Allenvale and Hector the Hero, two signature Buddy airs, and followed them with strathspeys and reels. Joey then gave us J Scott Skinner’s Rose Acre on solo keyboard. They concluded their set with three polkas Buddy often played. The MacDonald brothers of Glenuig then took the stage and Dr Angus and Allan gave us a tune set on Highland bagpipes with Ian joining in on tin whistle. In the same configuration, they gave us another set of three tunes. Ian gave us The Cuckoo on tin whistle with fiddle and cello accompaniment from Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas. A Liz Carroll tune and two reels followed with the same players, with Ian switching to bodhrán later in the set. Betty Lou then played a long keyboard solo giving us The Bonnie Lass of Headlake, on which Andrea joined later on fiddle. Andrea on fiddle with Joey on keyboard then played for Harvey Beaton to step dance—he gave us a marvellous set of steps. After the break and draws, Stephen Cooke, a longtime entertainment reporter at The Chronicle-Herald with a great knowledge of Cape Breton traditional music, spoke about the interview he had done with Buddy in the spring of this year. The Quinn family (Jennifer is Buddy’s niece) were next up. Kate sang her father’s beautiful song, My Love, Cape Breton, and Me, with him on keyboard, Andrea on backing fiddle and Matt MacIsaac on flute, a stunning performance! Jennifer shared a lovely reminiscence of Buddy and Marie in the days before they married. Jennifer and Kate then sang a song whose title I didn’t get with Bob on keyboard and Matt on guitar. Alasdair and Natalie next gave us O’er the Muir Amang the Heather, another air associated with Buddy. Alasdair recounted how he met Buddy, at that time part of the Cape Breton Symphony, at a baggage carousel in the Halifax airport. They then gave us a selection of tunes from Scotland and a few in the Cape Breton style. He concluded with Silver Wells, another air associated with Buddy, with only Betty Lou accompanying on keyboard. Mary-Elizabeth and Joey then gave us a fantastic set of tunes her father played, sounding, to my ears anyway, very much like him. The finale started with Kate, Jennifer, and Andrea singing Wild Mountain Thyme accompanied by many fiddlers; with Joey on keyboard, the fiddlers took over and gave us a blast o’ tunes, during which Harvey, Mary-Elizabeth, Andrea, Karen, and Joey (after being replaced by Betty Lou on keyboard) step danced. A standing ovation greeted the performers at the end of this superb tribute to Buddy MacMaster. I was so lucky to have been able to attend this concert, a memory I will cherish as long as I live! The Judique ladies always serve tea and luscious sweets after Celtic Colours concerts and I partook of the sweets as I conversed with friends afterwards.
Then it was on to Brook Village for this year’s final dance there. When I arrived at 11h30, a square set was just beginning with Rodney MacDonald on fiddle, Tracey Dares-MacNeil on keyboard, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar. The younger folks were already there and the floor was full of happy dancers. I couldn’t count them all, but the nearer queue had twenty couples in the third figure of that square set and there had to have been more in the further queue. They next played a waltz that had the floor full of dancing couples. With Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Tracey and Sandy accompanying, the first figure of the next square set was danced; then Scott Macmillan took over on guitar from Sandy and Angus MacKenzie joined Kenneth on Highland bagpipes as they played the last two figures of the set; what an absolute joy to hear! Rodney, Tracey, and Sandy then played for the step dancers; they had their backs to me, but I think they were Emma Forman, Anita Lanyon, Sophie Stephenson, Kimberley Wotherspoon, Anita MacDonald and Burton MacIntyre, plus a lady I didn’t know. Rodney played the last square set, joined by Kenneth on fiddle for the third figure, with Tracey and Sandy accompanying; 34 couples were in the third figure (I was now at the top of the stairs and could see both sides of the hall). The dancers were wound up and steppin’ ’er off in great style, giving the hall a good shake all the time I was there. What a wonderful end to a fantastic series of Brook Village dances this year! My thanks to all those who volunteer there and keep the dances going and well run.
Though tired, I gave thanks for the day’s great music as I happily drove back to Whycocomagh, where I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the bed.
Tuesday, 14 October — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
Another beautiful day greeted me when I awoke at 9h, a bit earlier than I’d have liked, but I had to get on the move early as I’m in Port Hood tonight. The morning’s skies were cloudless like yesterday’s, but the sun was out and the fall scenery was shown to advantage.
I drove to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for the instructors’ cèilidh, which today featured Rachel Davis and Colin Grant. Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard played for the first twenty minutes. Then Rachel started her sets, playing a lovely slow air I don’t know well. Too soon finished, Colin replaced her and played a lovely flowing air I know but not its name; his gorgeous, expressive playing was traditional music at its finest! During his sets, Brittany Rankin, a young lass whose name I don’t know, Hailee LeFort, and Ashelin Bates all step danced. Donna-Marie DeWolfe finished off the cèilidh with more fine tune sets, beautifully played; Brittany again step danced and Jasmine O’Hara gave us a dance in a non-Cape Breton style. These fine lunchtime instructors’ cèilidhs, offered only during the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling, are always a treat and I highly recommend them: one hears only the finest Cape Breton traditional fiddle and piano music in a variety of styles.
After the cèilidh, I drove the Rear Intervale Road, the Glencoe Road, and the Upper Southwest Mabou Road, where I found excellent colours under occluded skies, so I didn’t take a lot of photos; wouldn’t you know, the skies were clear once I got back to Port Hood. I then drove up to Rocky Ridge, where friends had invited me for an early dinner (I had a concert and he had an art class) at 16h. She is a fantastic cook and had spent the day preparing the meal. It began with a wonderful lobster chowder, with great pieces of lobster in a bisque-like broth; simply scrumptious! The prime rib, cooked to perfection and tender enough to cut with a fork, was accompanied by jus, mashed potatoes, carrots, squash, and parsnips, all wonderfully done; I hadn’t had parsnips in many a year and these were a real treat fresh out of their garden. The meal was finished off with a great apple crisp à la mode—she complained about not being able to find Gravensteins, but the Cortlands she used tasted great to me—they are one of the varieties widely grown in New York State and one of my favourites, reminding me of home (I grew up in the Thousand Islands area of New York State). A glass of blackberry wine before and tea after completed the grand repast, for which I thank her both for her culinary skill and for her work in getting it ready. I was stuffed! After some after-dinner conversation, we each left for our respective events.
The concert tonight was Close to the Floor, the annual “dance show” presented by Port Hood’s Chestico Museum. I hadn’t been to it in a few years and was really looking forward to it, especially given the involvement of this year’s artist-in-residence, Mac Morin, pianist and step dancer extraördinaire. Emceed by the very talented and lovely Margie Beaton, it began with an energetic step dance by Joe Rankin to the music of Mairi Rankin on fiddle and Mac on grand(!) piano, who supplied the evening’s music for the dancers, unless otherwise noted. The Warner Sisters, Kelly MacLennan and Melody Cameron, came on stage with Kelly’s 11-year old son, Stephen, between them; they danced as a threesome for a bit and then Stephen withdrew while Kelly and Melody gave us a superb synchronized step dance. When they finished, they withdrew to the sides of the stage while Stephen gave a masterful step dance solo; he’s been participating in the step dance sequences at the square dances he’s been attending, always to great applause, and it seems that he adds new steps to his repertoire each time I see him perform—he certainly has fine teachers in his mother and aunt!—and the joy he takes in dancing shines through his incredible steps. Fantastic! Next up was the Scottish group Dannsa, composed of Fin Moore on pipes, Sarah Hoy on fiddle, and dancers Caroline Reagh, Sandra Robertson, and Frank McConnell. Their first set was their version of the sword dance, with Fin on the Highland bagpipes; part was Highland dance and part was acoustic (just the sound of their feet). Fin next gave us a slow air, Angus G MacLeod, on border pipes on which Sarah on fiddle and Mac on piano joined later and continued with other tunes. The three Dannsa dancers, joined by Mac, step danced to King George and other strathspeys played by Fin on border pipes and Sarah on fiddle. Mary Ann Kennedy gave us two songs, the first in Gaelic and the second in English. What a beautiful voice she has! She then sang another Gaelic song and followed it with a puirt a beul to which Nic Gereiss, the other artist-in-residence, danced. Nic and Mac then gave us an amazing acoustic dance, partly synchronized and partly contrasting their very different dancing styles; jaw-dropping! Mac then returned to the piano while Nic danced to a Cape Breton piano set. It was then time for the break.
Before the show started, I had spoken with the lady seated next to me, who said she was from Washabuck. During the break, I learned that she was Jean MacNeil’s sister and is married to Michael Anthony MacLean’s son; she answered my query about views from the top of Washabuck Mountain by saying a private road on their property leads to a fine view of the Highlands and the Lake and invited me to stop by on a good photography day next year. Woohoo! I have been looking for that view for many years now without success; it’s amazing how many serendipitous encounters I’ve had in Cape Breton, beginning with my chance encounter with Buddy in Judique in 2001 that started it all!
After the break, Melody on fiddle and Mac on piano played for Mairi to step dance; a Mabou girl, she step dances to the manner born—simply lovely steps! Harvey MacKinnon then step danced to Melody and Mac’s music; generally recognized as among Cape Breton’s very best step dancers, he gave us a very fine set of steps. Next, Fin gave us a grand tune set on border pipes to which Mac danced in the purest of Cape Breton styles; what a joy to watch! Mac, in a tribute to Buddy MacMaster, began his great piano solo with the R P Cummings March from Buddy’s Judique on the Floor recording; one of Cape Breton’s finest piano players, it was one magnificent set of tunes! Fin and Mac then gave us a great blast o’ tunes; again, fantastic! They continued playing as Stephen returned for a fiery, intricate, and fast step dance solo; just stunning! With Fin on border pipes, Caroline and Sandra gave us a highland dance, which Frank and Mac soon joined; Sarah came in on fiddle later in the set. Mary Ann Kennedy, also from Scotland, gave us a lovely song in fine voice, accompanied by Fin and Sarah; pure and beautiful. Mac and the three Dannsa dancers then gave us a grand set of steps to Mary Ann’s puirt a beul. Another puirt a beul a cappella brought Joe back to the stage for another dandy set of steps. Mairi and Mac then played a great set of tunes, beginning with one (Across the Field if I heard correctly) she wrote for the late Kenneth Joseph MacDonald, an early mentor and life-long friend, and included Dougie MacDonald’s John Morris Rankin Reel, chosen for many reasons, but not least because the event was taking place on the John Morris Rankin Stage of the Strathspey Place. Mac and Mairi then played for a Scotch Four, danced by Melody, Kelly, Harvey, and Joe; absolutely wonderful! The finale brought Nic back to dance to Mary Ann’s puirt a beul and was subsequently joined by all the members of Dannsa. Mairi and Mac did an acoustic dance (they have long danced together from their Beòlach days and likely before that) that was superb; they continued with accompaniment from Fin and Sara. With Mac back on piano, Joe, Stephen, Harvey, and the Warner Sisters returned for some final steps, after which all the dancers joined together in one long line and concluded the show to a standing ovation. What a perfect show this was, easily the best dance show I’ve ever seen. Mac’s artistic direction and musical and dance wizardry shone throughout the entire show; as someone remarked, he has raised the bar considerably!
Given my complaints about the opener, I’d also like to comment on the lighting, which was absolutely stunning and perfect: no flashing lights and no fog machine, just unmoving, steady lights beautifully placed to illuminate the backdrop of the stage from the bottom together with targeted spotlights from above to highlight the performers and the emcee whenever she was on stage. It was a perfect illustration of “less is more”, in the background and in no way distracting, but ultimately so beautiful it got noticed. My congratulations to its designer and to the whole sound and light crew for a perfect show!
I didn’t make it to the Shoe as quickly as I’d hoped and, by the time I arrived, the line was out the door and up the sidewalk, so I regretfully returned to my motel room in Port Hood, missing Wendy’s session, about which I later heard great reports. I finished up Sunday’s account and posted it. I was then off to bed trying to reduce my sleep deficit, which seems to be constantly increasing, not at all unusual during Celtic Colours week. What another wonderful Cape Breton day!
Wednesday, 15 October — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I got up a bit after 9h and had no need of breakfast as I was still full from last night’s wonderful meal with friends. In previous years, the Sounds and Supper by the Sea event at Lower L’Ardoise was held on Tuesdays, but was moved this year to Wednesday at the request of the Celtic Colours organization to better align with the concert in St. Peter’s. So, this morning, I drove there.
More colours were out along Highway 19 from Port Hood to Port Hawkesbury and good colours lined Highway 104. At River Tillard, I detoured onto Mountain Road, which follows along the River Tillard for a short distance. Thanks to a predominance of evergreens and tamaracks, there was little colour along the river, though I did photograph a couple of pretty deciduous specimens. Somewhat more colours became visible as I climbed up the mountain (South Mountain and Sporting Mountain are both shown in the NS Atlas as names for this mountain), but many were pastels scattered among unchanged greens, mostly bushes. I found good to excellent colours along some parts of Grant Road as I climbed up to Seaview, where I took Morrison Road to Oban. Good to excellent colours lined Oban Road on the way back down the mountain, especially along Cook Lake, though few were seen on the other edges of the lake itself. I stopped off at friends in St Peter’s, who were away, so I left them a card. That gave me some extra time, so I drove out Highway 4 to Barra Head and drove the Salmon River Road, which I had first discovered a year ago, to L’Ardoise. Some, but not a lot of colour was to be seen.
After arriving at the Lobsters ’R’ US, I greatly missed the customary greeting and hugs by the Lobster Lady, a good friend dressed in a bright red lobster costume, who was missing this year due to a slipped disc and, sadly, suffering considerable pain. I sat with friends from New York State I first met at Festival Club a number of years ago (he and I both worked at IBM Endicott at the same time, but never knew each other there)—they’ve been Celtic Colours regulars longer than I have—and we composed a card of greetings and best wishes for the Lobster Lady. The entertainment, organized by Allie Mombourquette, was along the lines of that of past years, local groups singing a variety of songs with guitar accompaniment; Allie, who released a fine CD of traditional fiddle music earlier this year, also performed with a local guitarist; Marcellin Chaisson gave us a folk song in French; Edna Casey, a piper I hadn’t encountered previously¹, played a pipe set to start things off and again to pipe in the lobsters, which arrived a few minutes before 15h. I do not know exactly how many were present, but they numbered well over one hundred and were all served very efficiently in less than a half hour. In addition to the one and a quarter pound lobster, the dinner included two kinds of salads, corn on the cob, a roll, and all manner of sweets prepared by the local ladies for dessert. A cash bar was available as well this year for those who wanted soft drinks or beer instead of tea or coffee. It was a lovely afternoon, shared with dear friends, that passed all too quickly. My thanks to the organizers and volunteers for all their hard work; it is a wonderful annual event I highly recommend.
After the dinner, I returned via the West Bay Highway, where there were again good colours, but grey skies and one humongous ugly black cloud stretching from St Peter’s to Iona darkened the views of both the colours and the lake. In West Bay, I took Cenotaph Road through West Bay Road (a community, not a road, and home town of Shelly Campbell) and then Riverside Road to the Trans-Canada Highway, which I drove to Glendale. I attended a fine fish chowder dinner at West Bay Road last year, which was offered again this year, but I was so full from the lobster dinner I didn’t partake this year. While waiting for the concert to begin, I worked on Sunday’s post.
From Ceòlas to Cape Breton celebrated connections between Cape Breton and the music and dance summer school, Ceòlas, located in South Uist (Scotland) in a Gaelic-speaking area and similar in intent to Cape Breton’s Gaelic College; the two institutions work closely together, sharing instructors in both directions, and tonight’s Cape Breton players had all taught there. Emceed jointly by Goiridh Dòmhnullach (Jeff MacDonald) and Mary-Janet MacDonald, the concert began with Goiridh singing a Gaelic song written locally. On Highland bagpipes, Fin Moore gave us a blast o’ tunes, beginning with a 2/4 march and including Munlochy Bridge, Farewell to Decorum, and Tee Shirts in March. On border pipes, Fin, accompanied by Sara Hoy on fiddle, next gave us a “wee set of jigs”. They then played a set of strathspeys and reels, beginning with a slow strathspey on solo fiddle on which Fin joined in towards the end and including The MacDonalds of East Street. Mary-Janet then introduced Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton, who played the upright piano on stage. Kinnon chose four pipe jigs for his first set, only one of whose names I got in full, Gordon Duncan’s The Soup Dragon. He then played the slow air, Farewell, Friend, that he wrote in memory of John Morris Rankin. He next gave us a set of strathspeys and reels, beginning with Father John Macmillan of Barra and The King’s Lasses and continuing with two other strathspeys and four reels that he wrote. Fin and Sarah then joined Kinnon and Betty Lou for a set; it began with a Gaelic song tune Fin played solo on border pipes; with Betty Lou on piano, Fin on border pipes, and Kinnon and Sarah on dual fiddles, they concluded the set with strathspeys and reels. The same musicians then played for Harvey Beaton to step dance; he gave us a fine, intricate, and long set of steps in the purest of Cape Breton styles. After the break, Howie MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by his brother Michael on piano, gave us Miss MacDougall Grant, a strathspey by Jerry Holland, and other tunes; it was the first time I had ever seen Michael and I was impressed with his accompaniment, sounding not unlike Howie on piano. Howie and Michael next gave us a set of jigs, including the Judique Jig, played with that special Howie bounce. They next gave us a salute to Buddy, beginning with The Rosebud of Allenvale and continuing with strathspeys and reels: great and thoroughly enjoyable playing by both! Dr Angus and Allan MacDonald of the Glenuig MacDonalds first gave us two marches on Highland bagpipes, with Ian MacDonald joining in on whistle on the second march. They next gave us a hornpipe and some jigs with Ian on whistle and then bodhrán. On border pipes, Dr Angus and Allan gave us two of Allan’s tunes, the first being The Jewels of the Ocean, and then a mazurka, with Ian on whistle. Allan sang a Gaelic song accompanying himself on border pipes, with Dr Angus on fiddle and Ian on concertina. Dr Angus and Allan returned to the Highland bagpipes and gave us a set of strathspeys and reels, joined later by Ian on whistle, to which Fin step danced. Lastly, Dwayne Côté on fiddle with Howie on piano played an air/strathspeys/reels set and followed it with a march/strathspeys/reels set. His final set began with The Magical Fingers of Doug MacPhee and finished with an amazing Mockingbird and Turkey in the Straw. It was then time for the finale. Dwayne played a lovely air with Betty Lou on piano and then Kinnon, Howie, Dwayne, Sarah, and Dr Angus on fiddles;² Betty Lou on piano; Allan on jaw harp; Ian on whistle; and Fin on border pipes played for Harvey and Mary Janet to step dance. What a fantastic concert! I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to end. Kudos to the musicians for their fine playing and to those who organized the concert!
After the concert, I drove back to the motel and worked on Monday’s account, which I was too tired to complete before I went to bed. Another grand day in Cape Breton!
Thursday, 16 October — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
I arose at 9h and packed up, as I’m decamping to Margaree Forks for the next two nights. The day was overcast, with some backlighting by a sun trying to escape from the clouds, unsuccessfully as it turned out.
I drove to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for the lunchtime instructors’ cèilidh. The colours are at peak in Whycocomagh on Skye Mountain and Campbells Mountain and all along the Indian River and through Kewstoke, Dunakin, and Glencoe Mills; in spite of the missing sun, it was a spectacular drive. The colours aren’t as ubiquitous through Glencoe and Upper Southwest Mabou and Hillsdale, but there is lots of colour, though often pastel.
The cèilidh featured JJ Chaisson and Wendy MacIsaac, today’s instructors at the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling. JJ gave us an amazing 25-minute long set, just ablaze like the trees I saw this morning; Wendy played three very fine sets too, after complaining that JJ had played all the tunes in his set! (Of course, she found plenty more to play!) Donna-Marie DeWolfe played the rest of the cèilidh, one set before and several after the two instructors’. Allan got no break on the keyboard throughout. A lovely two hours of great music by master musicians! I was delighted to see JJ’s brother Koady and got to speak briefly with both.
After the cèilidh, I drove to Michael’s Landing and completed Monday’s account and posted it; I’m now three days behind as the days are full and I badly need sleep. So today’s lack of sun was a blessing, as it gave me a chance to get some writing done. It’s going to be yet a long while before I get caught up again. The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre put on a pork chop dinner for before tonight’s Guitar Summit concert in Judique, so I stayed around for that, though I was going to miss the Summit. After the dinner, I drove to Margaree Forks and got my motel room, where I worked on this post to this point and on Tuesday’s account, which I didn’t complete.
I then drove on to Terre-Noire for tonight’s Pure Celtic Heart: A Tribute to Maybelle [Chisholm-McQueen] held in the Cape Breton Highlands Academy. (My notes are a terrible jumble, so some parts of this account are from my unreliable memory; if I have erred in the retelling, please correct me in the comments.) Emceed by Bob MacEachern, the concert opened with Brian Doyle on guitar and Maybelle on keyboard: Brian picked out a great set of tunes at breakneck speed. I found that Maybelle’s accompaniment “had the clanks”, which was due to the keyboard being set for bagpipe accompaniment, a condition Ashley MacIsaac (looking super spiffy in a suit and bow tie) fixed at the end of the set. Maybelle, whose keyboard now sounded like a piano, gave us a fine slow air unaccompanied and followed it with strathspeys and reels on which Ashley on fiddle and Brian on guitar joined; the sound still didn’t sound just right, a condition I blamed on my poor hearing until friends seated with me near the front also remarked on it, but the playing from all three was superb. Colleen MacLellan, now living in New Brunswick and Maybelle’s daughter, if I heard correctly, and, I think, Colleen’s son and daughter, whose names I couldn’t make out, then took the stage. They gave us three Celtic songs with diverse accompaniment on guitar, bouzouki, or backing fiddle; I didn’t get the name of the first song nor did I recognize it, but it was similar in vein to the next two, Sixteen Come Next Sunday and the lullaby Smile in your Sleep (Hush Hush). Chrissy Crowley and Jason Roach next gave us a fine march/strathspeys/reels set. With Jason on keyboard and Brian on guitar, Maybelle then gave us a lovely Cameron Chisholm’s Strathspey, a tune she composed in honour of her brother, and followed it with other strathspeys and reels. The same musicians continued with a dandy march/strathspeys/reels set. The MacDonalds of Glenuig then gave us a set of three tunes with Dr Angus and Allan on border pipes and Ian on whistle in the second tune and on bodhrán in the third. Their second set started with Allan’s The Jewels of the Ocean and ended with a mazurka, with Dr Angus and Allan still on border pipes and Ian on whistle. With Maybelle on keyboard, Ian on whistle, Dr Angus and Allan next gave us two marches on Highland bagpipes. In the same configuration, but with Ian switching from whistle to bodhrán later in the set, they gave us a set of jigs, finishing up with a jig called Kenny MacDonald’s. Lastly, they gave us a set of strathspeys and reels to which Harvey Beaton and Ashley step danced in turn. After the break, Jason gave us a keyboard piece, accompanied by Brian on guitar, with incredible dynamic range from a nearly silent pianissimo to Jason’s fortissimo, which must be the loudest on earth! It was a wonderful performance I thoroughly enjoyed and a fine tribute to his teacher and mentor. Colleen and her family returned to the stage and with Colleen accompanying on keyboard, her daughter gave us a Gaelic song and her son played a fiddle selection; Colleen then gave us a keyboard solo. With her grandson on fiddle, Maybelle on keyboard accompanied a slow air, after which Colleen joined her son on fiddle and the three continued with strathspeys and reels. Colleen replaced Maybelle on keyboard and additional musicians joined them for three more songs, Hori Horo My Bonny Wee Lass, Old Mountain Thyme, and Will Ye No Come Back Again?. Three of the musicians then sang a choral selection with three-part harmony. Next, Jason and Maybelle played a grand keyboard duet that drew a standing ovation at its end. Ashley on fiddle and Maybelle on keyboard gave us The Rosebud of Allenvale and Hector the Hero, both sounding lush and gorgeous. Colleen then presented her mother with a framed memento. Harvey Beaton next gave us a great step dance to music played by Ashley and Maybelle. After retuning his fiddle to high bass, Ashley and Maybelle gave us a stunningly gorgeous set beginning with The Cuckoo and including the Christy Campbell Strathspey; it too was greeted by a standing ovation. The finale began with a Maybelle solo on which Ashley joined later; during the following strathspeys and reels, with all the musicians playing and Jason on a second keyboard, Harvey step danced as did Colleen; another standing ovation greeted the end of the finale. Although marred by some sound problems (in particular, Ashley’s fiddle sounded scratchy or gravelly except during slow airs, totally different from the beautiful tone his playing had at the Atlantic Fiddlers’ Jamboree in August), it was both a fine concert and a nice tribute by family and friends to a legendary piano player, whose idiosyncratic piano style endeared itself to me the first time I heard it. I greatly enjoyed it and congratulate the organizers and musicians for a memorable concert.
The music was replaying in my ears as I drove back to Margaree Forks. I worked some more on Tuesday’s account, but went to bed shortly after 0h to get enough sleep to get me through a busy day tomorrow.
Friday, 17 October — Margaree Forks
I got up at 9h and drove to Judique under cloudy skies with some sunny breaks for the instructors’ lunchtime cèilidh. The section of the road from Margaree Forks to Southwest Margaree that I now think of as the “Red Stretch” has lost most of its zing; a few stragglers remind one of its past glory, and there are some fine orange specimens left, but it’s pretty faded compared to what it was and a significant number of trees are now bare. The bright colours resume at Dunvegan and continue along Highway 19 to Port Hood; Cape Mabou is at peak, though clouds were hanging down over the summit this morning. Considerable colour brightens the road from Port Hood to Judique, but it’s not yet at peak.
Today’s instructors’ lunchtime cèilidh featured Glenn Graham and Troy MacGillivray. Donna-Marie DeWolfe and Allan played for fifteen minutes and Troy then took over for the next half hour, giving us beautiful playing with Troy’s patented lift and bounce. Glenn and Allan gave us more masterful playing for the next half hour, with Glenn’s drive and perfect dance timing. Donna-Marie and Allan finished out the cèilidh. Oran and Marie Livingston from Prince Edward Island were present at each of the instructors’ cèilidhs I attended; she and her friend step danced today to Donna-Marie and Allan’s music, as did Marion Graham and Kimberley Wotherspoon. Like the previous ones I was at, this was a grand cèilidh. Highly recommended!
On the return trip, I stopped off in Inverness to renew my electronic subscription to The Inverness Oran (Oran = Song), an amazing weekly newspaper that contains must-read columns and excellent coverage of the county’s life and culture; it is great to now have it in digital form, which makes searching for remembered stories a snap and clipping stories and saving them in a manila folder a thing of the past. Dr Jim St Clair’s weekly column is almost always a valuable history lesson and I always get a chuckle out of Frank MacDonald’s wry commentary. And that’s only the start of the great writing one finds. Congratulations to the authors who write for it and to the publishers who produce it, allowing me to keep up with the goings on in the county while I’m at home.
I also stopped at the Bear Paw, where I picked up a couple of CD’s I couldn’t find elsewhere and some new reference books and tune books I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Then, I drove back to Margaree Forks where I worked on Tuesday’s account.
Wind and rain arrived during the evening, breaking the string of beautiful weather, as I headed back to Inverness for the evening’s concert, Gigging with the Galway Girl, at the Inverness Academy; Frank MacDonald was the concert’s emcee. Dara Smith-MacDonald on fiddle and Adam Young on keyboard opened the concert with two fine sets of traditional music: the first included two tunes she wrote; the second was comprised of her favourite strathspeys and reels (I recognized Gordon MacLean’s The Mortgage Burn among the reels). Dara expressed her nervousness before the show—it was her first Celtic Colours performance—but did a great job of concealing it on stage; her sets demonstrated her usual top notch steady playing, always a joy to hear along with Adam’s fine keyboard work. The next performance featured Nic Gereiss dancing to “music” played by Maeve Gilchrest on Celtic harp. This was apparently a late addition, as they are not mentioned in the Celtic Colours programme for this show. Their first set wasn’t bad, with Nic dancing to a tune Maeve wrote for him. I was totally lost in their second set, which appeared to me to be free form dancing to free form “music” that I could not follow and therefore did not at all enjoy. The third set was danced to a tune in 7/8 time that bore some relationship to Celtic music, though exactly what I’d be at a loss to say. Those present, myself very much excepted, found their sets very much to their taste, judging by the applause at the end of their sets. The stage was then turned over to “The Chaisson Family”, which was represented by JJ on fiddle, Darla (MacPhee) on keyboard, Koady on guitar, and Brent on drums. Their first and third sets were barnburners in Kindle mode, i.e., traditional tunes played as the Chaisson family youth band of a decade ago (also known as Celtic Tide) would have played them, though Kindle has twice as many musicians (and is still heard live in recent years at the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival after the Saturday evening concert). The second set featured JJ picking out traditional jigs on guitar at breakneck speed and with total accuracy, accompanied by Darla on keyboard. Koady gave us a fine step dance during their third set. While I was somewhat disappointed not to hear at least one traditional set like that JJ played at yesterday’s instructors’ cèilidh, I like Kindle mode and enjoyed all their sets. After the break, All Fired Up, another former youth band from Foot Cape consisting of twin brothers Keith and Kyle and older brother Colin, was introduced. Kyle on fiddle and Colin on keyboard first gave us a set of Dougie MacDonald tunes, which Keith on Highland bagpipes joined later in the set. Keith on guitar then gave us a Gaelic song tune as a slow air. The three, led by Colin, next sang a Gaelic milling song. With their grandmother on keyboard and Kyle on fiddle, Colin step danced and then took up the guitar; Keith on Highland bagpipes joined them later in the set, during which their mother step danced; later still, Kevin Dugas step danced and then joined Keith on Highland bagpipes; Brittany Rankin and then Keith and then Kyle all step danced towards the end of the set, which was greeted with a standing ovation. The final act was Sharon Shannon on accordion, accompanied by Allan Connor on keyboard, guitar, and vocals. He is an obviously incredible musician, the first I’ve ever seen play guitar and keyboard simultaneously whilst singing; she is known the world over for her fine playing. I love accordion music, but I was in agony during their performance, as what they played, with synthesized drum looping throughout, was not what I expected to hear, leaving traditional music far behind in favour of jazz or fusion or who knows what; I found only their last set, The Galway Girl, barely tolerable. Again, I was clearly in the minority, as the audience expressed its pleasure with their sets again and again. As for me, I’ve added Sharon and Maeve to my blacklist, which also includes Tim Edey, of those whose appearance in a Celtic Colours concert automatically precludes me from attending, no matter who else may be on the bill. The finale brought all the musicians back to the stage. They gave us a blast o’ tunes to which Nic, Brittany, the mother of those forming All Fired Up, Dara, and Colin step danced.
I left the minute the concert was over and drove to Southwest Margaree for the dance. When I arrived, Chrissy Crowley on fiddle and Joël Chiasson were just beginning to play for a square set, likely the second of the evening, which had 15 couples in its third figure. Several more folks arrived following the end of the Inverness concert, nearly filling the hall; there were 24 couples in the third figure of the next set. Kyle MacDonald took over the fiddle from Chrissy and played two more square sets with Joël. Chrissy then returned to the fiddle and played for the step dancers (Sophie Stephenson, Carmen MacArthur, and Adèle LeBlanc (East Margaree)) and one final square set that ended well after 1h. I hadn’t heard either Chrissy or Kyle play for a square dance before; each did a superb job, playing with a tempo that satisfied dancers who complain about those who play too fast or too slow and with a lift and drive that propelled them through the figures. I hope to hear them play for dances next year and beyond. Grand music indeed! Tired and happy, I drove back to Margaree Forks and was immediately asleep.
Saturday, 18 October — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I arose at 9h to a sky covered with lots of white clouds that left some room for blue sky and the sun to shine through. I drove to the Dancing Goat for breakfast; my fruit bowl had lots of juicy, luscious raspberries that I thought I’d long since seen the last of for this year—how do they do it?! The Lakes o’ Law were a blaze of yellows, golds, and oranges that would have been totally spectacular had the sun not unfortunately been obscured by an ugly dark grey rain cloud. Middle River was also very pretty, even without sun, but the reds were in very short supply. The stretch of the Old Margaree Road nearest Hunters Mountain was at peak and gorgeous in a brief burst of sun, while the rest was very blah. Big Farm Road had some nice reds in the sun; the Highlands across the Baddeck River were without benefit of sun and appeared rather dull. The tamaracks there are noticeably a-changin’. The sun was in and out a lot, but surprisingly coöperative whenever I stopped to take photos today—I wish it were like that every day!
My last Celtic Colours concert was The Cape Breton Fiddlers at the Gaelic College in St Anns and emceed by Wendy Bergfeldt of CBC Cape Breton. The format was very similar to that of the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association August gala concert, with group numbers on massed fiddles interspersed with individual numbers. More than fifty Association members (out of the more than 500 from all over Canada and elsewhere in the world on the Association’s roster) were present and looking very spiffy in black and white, so many that there wasn’t enough room for them all on stage (the excess stood below and in front of the stage) as they began the concert with their first group number, directed by Dara Smith-MacDonald and accompanied by Janet Cameron on keyboard and a guitarist that I couldn’t see clearly but was perhaps Jan Vickers; they played two sets of tunes, the last of which ended with The Mortgage Burn (one of the very few tunes I can identify by name). Oh, that wonderful sound! It gave me goosebumps listening to them! Dara on fiddle and Adam Young on keyboard then played for Stephanie MacDonald to step dance; and what a marvellous dance it was! She looked at one point as if she were dancing on her ankles instead of her feet! After she finished, Dara and Adam gave us an air/strathspeys/reels set; the air was Brenda Stubbert’s beautiful Endless Memories and the following strathspeys and reels were fantastic! Fred McCracken sang Rita MacNeil’s Home I’ll Be, accompanied by Janet Cameron on keyboard. Lawrence Cameron next played a keyboard solo beginning with The Bonnie Lass of Headlake and continuing with other tunes, a fine performance. With Adam on keyboard, Kyle MacDonald on fiddle then played a set of tunes as a tribute to the late Willie Kennedy; magnificent echoes of Willie’s playing could be heard throughout the set. The Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association returned to the stage for their second group number, a set of jigs and a march/strathspeys/reels set beginning with Cameron Chisholm’s Memories of Father Charles MacDonald and including Da Slockit Light. This time, Dawn MacDonald-Gillis was the accompanist on keyboard. Again, the sound was simply wonderful to hear! Following the break and its associated post-break activities, the string quartet The Fretless came on stage. Formed of a cellist (from Vermont) and three fiddlers (from various parts of Canada west of the Maritimes), the best I can do to characterize their playing is as a very original and unpredictable fusion of classical chamber music and traditional Celtic tunes and that description doesn’t really do it justice. A joyful noise, always interesting and listenable, I just couldn’t make up my mind whether I actually liked it or not. Sarah Robinson, a very fine dancer (though not in the Cape Breton style) wearing taps, danced to the first and last of their several sets. If we had to have something foreign to a Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association concert, there could have been lots worse choices, but I begrudged the time they took up when we could have been hearing Cape Breton traditional music. When they retired, Keith MacDonald on Highland bagpipes, with brother Colin MacDonald on keyboard, gave us a jig followed by reels. Dara and Adam then played for Dawn; her sister, Helen MacDonald; and Dawn’s young daughter, Brenley: the three gave us a fine synchronized step dance. The finale was the third Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association group number, incorporating the musicians of The Fretless, directed by Dara, with Lawrence on keyboard, and with a guitarist I couldn’t identify. They played a set of jigs including the Judique Jig and a march/strathspeys/reels set beginning with Marcel Doucet’s Space Available march and including the West Mabou Reel and John Campbell’s Sandy Macintyre’s Trip to Boston (the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association is planning an August trip to Boston in 2015). As is customary during the final group number, many of the musicians step danced: Sarah Robinson, Dawn, Helen, and Brenley danced together as a group; Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association Board members Betty Matheson, Burton MacIntyre, and Trina Samson danced singly and together; and Kayla Marchand were those I recognized, but there were others as well. Near the end of the last set, the third figure of a Mabou set was danced to the closing reels. It was a wonderful concert, The Fretless aside (and they weren’t bad, just in the wrong concert); sadly, the attendance was poor with many empty seats in the Hall of the Clans. Two other Celtic Colours concerts were scheduled in the same time slot; I heard a number of rave reviews of the very emotional In Good Hands concert in Mabou, which left many with tears in their eyes following a very moving performance, and some rave reviews of the Dancing Up a Suête concert in Chéticamp. I would have happily attended all three (though I guess I’d now have to skip the Chéticamp one as Maeve Gilchrest was on that bill). Sad it is that three traditional concerts get shoehorned into a single time slot and other time slots have none!
When I got back outside, it was raining. I stopped for supper at the Lobster Galley (green salad, grilled trout, rice, veggies, and apple crisp, all excellent). When I got back in the car, the rain had become a serious downpour. The drive from St Anns to Whycocomagh was hellish: even with my wipers going at high speed, I still found it hard to see on low beams in the dark through the pounding rain and hydroplaning hazards were present on every hill, of which there are plenty on that stretch—I was some appreciative of the paved shoulders on the Trans-Canada Highway (missing on most lesser NS highways). From Whycocomagh to Port Hood, the rain relented somewhat and I was able to reduce the wiper speed a notch and relax a bit with no other traffic to contend with. I got my motel room and completed and posted Tuesday’s account.
Then it was time for the West Mabou dance, so I set off in much heavier rain than I had encountered on Highway 19 on the way to the motel; fortunately, there was no traffic and I arrived safely. Tonight’s dance featured Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Dawn MacDonald-Gillis on real piano. Ian started playing jigs promptly, but got no takers (there might not have been enough dancers present in the hall yet for a set), so switched to strathspeys and reels. The first square set got underway at 22h08 and had five couples in its first figure, growing to nine in the third. Thereafter, folks started arriving en masse and soon the hall was a-jumpin’ and nearly full. The high water mark came in the third square set, when eighteen couples danced its third figure. The rest of the square sets had nearly as many, dropping to ten couples for the sixth and last one. The step dance sequence was played between the third and fourth square sets; it brought to the floor Stephen MacLennan, Amanda MacDonald, Mary-Janet MacDonald, John Robert Gillis, and Dawn and daughter Brenley dancing together (there was no piano accompaniment for their dance). A waltz that attracted at least three couples was played after the fifth square set. A filming crew from the BBC recorded much of the evening; I’m not sure if it will air on this side of the water. I’m totally addicted to Ian’s playing and he was drivin’ ’er tonight! I don’t often hear Dawn play and don’t remember ever hearing her play for a dance (she lives across the Island out Boisdale way); I very much liked what I heard and hope to hear much more of her. When I went outside, the rain had stopped and I had an easy drive back to Port Hood. I was almost immediately asleep, very tired after the nine-day party that is Celtic Colours!
Sunday, 19 October — Port Hood
I took advantage this morning of a privilege of which I’ve been deprived for the last while: I slept in and didn’t arise until after 10h30. I had breakfast in my room of food in the car that needed using up and read Facebook and surfed the Internet trying to get caught up on the news. I then worked on Wednesday’s post.
When I drove early to Judique for the afternoon’s cèilidh, it was under a mixture of clouds and sun. A tour bus was at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre when I arrived, so I visited with friends and then worked some more on Wednesday’s account. When we were allowed in, I got a table for me and my friends from New York State, who joined me a bit later. I was delighted to see and visit with several other friends before the cèilidh got underway.
Mairi Rankin on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard provided the afternoon’s fabulous music. Mairi’s First Hand is her only CD (and has Mac on piano) and it’s one I’ve practically worn the coating off from repeated playing. She played a lot of sets this afternoon that would be fine material for a new CD (hint, hint). And Mac should be thinking along the same lines, as his eponymous CD has sadly not yet had a successor either (though he is front and centre on Natalie’s fine Cape Breton Girl). Four square sets were danced during the afternoon, one with eleven couples; for some of my American friends, it was the last opportunity to square dance before returning home. Mac gave us a keyboard solo which Mairi joined on backing fiddle and then she took the lead. Andrea Beaton relieved Mairi on fiddle and played for the third square set. Brittany Rankin and John Robert Gillis step danced to one set. Allan Dewar relieved Mac on keyboard and played the fourth square set with Mairi. Mac gave us another solo, wonderful indeed, and started off alone on the next set, with Mairi joining in later. Mairi encouraged Matt MacIsaac to come up and join them, which he finally did towards the end of the cèilidh, playing Highland bagpipes. Mairi didn’t play for part of Matt’s second set or all of his third. All three of these fantastic musicians have been pretty scarce of late years: Mac tours with Natalie MacMaster and is often not around (this summer was an exception because, as Celtic Colours Artist-in-Residence, he was in the thick of the planning); Mairi now lives in Vancouver and tours with the band, The Outside Track; Matt now lives in the Toronto area and is employed as a pipe instructor or pipe major on a Canadian Forces Base (but is apparently not now in the military). It was therefore an especial treat to hear them all today!
After saying goodbye to my New York State friends, who start home in the morning, and thanking the musicians, I hurried off to the Mull where I had a dinner engagement with my friends from Rocky Ridge to repay them for the marvellous dinner I had at their home last week. We all enjoyed our dinners (I had the Fisherman’s platter with rice, veggies, and apple pie, all excellent) and conversed until the restaurant was closing. I returned to Port Hood and finally completed and posted Wednesday’s account. Then, it was time for bed. I’m still a bit sleep-deprived, but feeling much less tired, now that the schedule is far less busy.
Monday, 20 October — Port Hood
I got up at 10h30 after another fine sleep, reducing my sleep deficit considerably but not completely, to grey overcast skies and markedly colder temperatures (+6 (43)), exacerbated by a strong wind off the harbour, giving a “real feel” of +0 (32), according to AccuWeather, and I thought it even colder than that. Brr! A long-sleeved shirt was nowhere near enough, so I dug out a flannel one and added a sweatshirt on top of it. I am waiting for an authoritative reply to my query about the state of the colours at the top of the Island before deciding how to spend this week. I had intended to go hiking today with a friend in Cape Mabou, but the day was unfit for that.
After breakfast at Sandeannies, I returned to the motel and worked on Thursday’s account. I then drove to Mabou to take care of an errand and to get some food for the car. I then drove up to Rocky Ridge, where I spent the afternoon helping my friend get ready for a software update this winter and dealing with some other computer questions that he had; that took longer than expected and soon his wife called us to the table for supper! I hadn’t intended to eat there, but I didn’t require much convincing as she’s a wonderful cook. We had a delicious meatloaf, mashed potatoes, fried parsnips, peas and carrots from their garden, and zucchini bread. What a fine meal! After some after-dinner conversation, I returned to the motel where I completed Thursday’s account and posted it. It was then time for bed and I had no trouble going to sleep: I’m still catching up!
Tuesday, 21 October — Port Hood
I awoke to sun pouring in the window a bit after 8h and went for breakfast at Sandeannies. The skies were pure blue, though a good breeze was blowing off the water and it remained very brisk.
With no answer to my query about the colours at the top of the Island yet, I set out for Mabou Coal Mines; my friend couldn’t accompany me as he had badly sprained his ankle. I headed up Fair Alistair at 10h45 and arrived at the Look-Off just after noon, not very speedy for a distance of 1.1 km (0.7 mi); I stopped multiple times for photos, but my pace just gets slower and slower, alas. Given yesterday’s rains, I was surprised that the rills on the way up had so little flowing water in them. A large moose “pie” partly covered the trail at one point on the way up; I don’t remember having seen evidence of their presence on this trail in the past. Sadly, significant haze was in the air over the water; Cape George was barely distinguishable from the adjacent sky. Whenever the terrain blocked the wind, the sun felt warm and it was very pleasant. Two young ladies, one from Germany and with excellent English, arrived at the summit just as I did; it’s so nice to see the trails in use by people from far away! I made suggestions for their hike, as this was their first time in the Cape Mabou Trail Club system.
After admiring the lovely views from the look-off for a half hour, I continued on to the MacPhee Trail and stopped off at the recently excavated foundations of Neil and Donald MacPhee’s old homestead. Neil and his brother Archibald arrived in the Mabou Mines/MacKinnons Brook area sometime between 1812 and 1821 from the Isle of Uist in Scotland after a brief stay in Prince Edward Island and Neil built the house high up with a fine view of MacKinnons Brook; his eldest son, Donald, took it over when Neil died in 1835. It was apparently a pretty productive holding of 200 acres with land reaching the shore; the 1871 census reports they had 30 acres of pasture, 6 acres of hay, 4 acres of wheat, a barn, a fishing boat, two horses and a colt, three cows, two horned cattle, nineteen sheep, and two swine; from these assets, they produced 28 bushels of spring wheat, 20 of barley, 100 of oats, and 100 of potatoes; 12 pounds of flax/hemp; 120 pounds of butter and an equal amount of homemade cheese; 36 pounds of wool; 39 yards of homemade cloth; 18 fathoms of net; 4 gallons of fish oil; and a barrel of mackerel and three of herring along with some cod and haddock [data from the new interpretive panel now at the site]. The homestead was abandoned sometime between 1901 and 1911, with some of the family moving to Colindale, where descendants live to this day.
From there, the trail climbs briskly to its junction with the relocated Fair Alistair Trail, down which I hiked a short distance for the fantastic views from the open ridge, again encountering some moose scat by the trail. I had thought about hiking down to MacKinnons Brook, but my glacial pace made it questionable whether I’d get out by dark, so I abandoned that idea. I continued on the MacPhee Trail to its junction with the Beaton trail and, after resting there from my exertions, continued on down to MacKinnons Brook Lane and back to the car, where I arrived at 15h12, for a total distance of 4.2 km (2.6 mi). Plenty of yellows and golds were on offer; there were very few reds, however, though fallen leaves on the trail indicated that there had been some earlier. Surprisingly to me, plenty of unchanged greens were present on the very steep descent of the MacPhee Trail, but it was clear that they would turn yellow, not red, when they changed. On the descent, the sun, whenever it broke through the canopy, was warm; it was simply a lovely place to be, so peaceful and quiet. Along MacKinnons Brook Lane, Mill Brook was singing softly. What a lovely hike it was! Even if I was too late for the best colours, it was perfect in every other way.
I then drove back to Northeast Mabou and drove the Northeast Mabou Road to Highway 19, stopping for photos of the post-peak colours on the eastern flanks of Cape Mabou, and then to West Mabou where I drove up Hunters Road for more photos of the area from above.
I got cleaned up from the hike and drove back to Mabou for dinner at the Mull (scallop stir fry (onions, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, and scallops), rice pilaf, carrots and broccoli, a side garden salad, and an apple crisp, all excellent). Then, I drove out Mabou Harbour Road and spent a couple of hours visiting with a friend there.
When I got back to the motel, I completed and posted Friday’s account. Then it was off to bed, where, tired from the hike, I fell asleep instantly.
Wednesday, 22 October — Port Hood
After another restful night’s sleep, I made it out of bed at 9h30. I headed off into the backcountry to see and photograph what was left of the colours. I found some along the Dunmore Road; at the south end of the Dunmore Road, I turned onto the Mabou Road and found few colours remaining there. I took the Upper Southwest Mabou Road in Glencoe Station and found some good colour and even some lingering reds along parts of that road. The Southwest Mabou River now has more water in it; it can no longer be crossed with dry feet by stone jumping, though a lot of rocks are still sticking up above the surface. Few colours remain on the western end of the Glencoe Road, but there are some descending into Glencoe Mills. It’s mostly oranges and yellows along the Upper Glencoe Road with little red; some reds remain on the MacKinnon Road interspersed with the remaining oranges and yellows, but many (perhaps most) trees there are either badly windswept or entirely bare. The eastern end of the MacKinnon Road is in poor shape and badly needs ditch work to stop the erosion caused by water running down the road; after removing some small rocks from my path, I made it through in my Prius without scraping, but only barely, while a truck or higher slung vehicle would have an easier time of it. At the eastern end of the MacKinnon Road in Glencoe Mills, I found mostly bare trees and little colour was to be seen on the “Rosedale Ridge”. Good colour, though with only a few reds, remains on the descent to Kewstoke Bridge in Dunakin; they’re poor thereafter until the last part of the guardrails above the Indian River in Stewartdale, where one finds yellows and oranges with occasional reds. I had dinner at Charlene’s (green salad, haddock, rice, and veggies, all fine).
I then drove back as I had come to Kewstoke, where I took the Rosedale Road, as I had done many times before, though not yet this year. The colours were well past their peak, but yellows and oranges with some relatively rare reds remained. About halfway between the MacLellan Road and the northern end of the Rosedale Road in Miramichi, I came upon a large puddle spanning the road. I made the wrong choice, going left, and my two front wheels took me into a V-shaped cleft where they had no purchase when the car frame hit the edge of the cleft. The front wheels were in muddy water up to their middle! I was stuck and the car wouldn’t budge, the first time that has ever happened to me on a back road in Cape Breton. Oops! Fortunately, I was well within walking distance of the farm in Miramichi, where I was pretty sure I could get some help, but first I tried rocking it out. That didn’t appear to help much, but it apparently did moisten the earth on which the frame was resting. I gave the motor a rest and tossed some small stones into the puddle below the wheels as I tried to think of what else I might do before setting off on my walk. I had no bright ideas, but decided to give ’er one last try. This time, the moistened earth below the frame gave way and the stones gave the wheels just enough traction that the car lurched forward and out of the cleft. Whew! I was some relieved! Glad it didn’t happen on Whycocomagh Mountain halfway to Scotsville, where I’d have had a very long walk had I been unable to free the car! Lesson learned: I’ll no longer trust a big puddle without first checking the bottom! After this misadventure, I continued to the end of the Rosedale Road and drove the Old Mull River Road to Brook Village, where I took Highway 252 into Mabou. Hillsborough still has good colour, including some reds; from Glendyer Station to Mabou, not much remains. I stopped off to say goodbye to two friends, but found neither at home. I still hadn’t decided whether I was going to stay for the weekend or not, so I left with a friend the bear spray I would no longer need for hiking, given the weather forecast.
I returned to Port Hood where I heard the shocking news about the Parliament Hill shootings and the life of a young soldier so wantonly taken. What wickedness hate can cause! I then completed and posted both Saturday’s and Sunday’s accounts, catching up a little bit. I fell asleep still debating what I would do tomorrow.
Thursday, 23 October — Port Hood
When I got up at 9h, it was cloudy with some blue sky showing and the sun shining, even though AccuWeather told me it was raining currently in Port Hood and would rain during the rest of the morning with 100% probability! Better than tea leaves, I suppose, but not by much!
I finally reached a decision: I’m staying until Monday! After breakfast at Sandeannies, I drove up the Alpine Ridge Road, where I discovered noticeable changes in the tamaracks, with a few already more than half the peculiar yellow-orange-gold they show here after turning. I then drove up the Southwest Ridge (Mabou Ridge) Road and stopped at numerous points on the way down into Mabou for photos. The sun remained out and it was generally nice, so I decided to hike a section of the Railway Trail/Celtic Shores Coastal Trail /Trans-Canada Trail/Mabou Rivers Trail that I hadn’t been on in a number of years: that from Mabou Station to West Mabou. I left the car in the new parking area beside the Cèilidh Trail where the Railway Trail crosses the highway. In addition to that, I found open views of the Mabou River I don’t recall from my last hike there several years ago. By the time I got to Dalbrae, the sun had disappeared. At West Mabou Road, I saw grey clouds to the south that looked to threaten rain, but the small patch of blue sky convinced me to keep going anyway. Not far south of West Mabou Road, I found a new bench in a cleared area overlooking the Southwest Mabou River just above its mouth along with a new interpretive panel. I felt a few drops of rain there, but continued on to kilometre marker 61, by which time the blue sky had disappeared too. I turned around there and headed back as I had come. I left the trail at West Mabou Road to follow the road far enough to bring all of Big Cove into view, where I took a number of photos of the southern edge of Cape Mabou in spite of the now rather dark lighting. At the kiosk, I found a new business directory sign. I managed to do an entire kilometre (0.6 mi) in one go; my time was 13:43 and this is dead level! A couple of years ago, I could do a mile (1.6 km) on the level in 20 minutes, or 0.1 mi every 2 minutes, so today I was 1:43 off that pace. Not very happy about that! When I got back to the car, there was no rain yet, though it felt damp and imminent, so I continued across the highway to kilometre marker 64 and a few steps beyond to the new bench, interpretive panels, and look-off I’d discovered this summer and sat there a while enjoying the views and the birds (an eagle made two passes upstream fishing, but my camera wasn’t out on either pass, and some other large bird, perhaps a hawk, was circling over the trees across the river). It soon began to spit rain, so I reluctantly left and returned to the car. The whole hike was a bit over 6km (3.7 mi). My thanks for all the continued improvements to the trail; the dedication of the volunteers who maintain and enhance it is greatly appreciated.
I drove back to the motel in Port Hood and got cleaned up from the hike; I then unintentionally fell asleep in the chair. When I woke up, it was time to head to Port Hawkesbury, where I had dinner at the Fleur-de-Lis (maple nut salad and a turkey club sandwich, both excellent). In light rain, I drove back to the Creignish Recreation Centre and worked in the car on Monday’s account until it was time for the jam session to start. Mac Campbell on fiddle and Gordon MacLean were the session leads tonight. They were joined by Alasdair Lanyon on banjo, Marcellin Chiasson on fiddle, Ian Cameron on border pipes, and Wally Ellison on chanter. There were perhaps fifteen to twenty in the audience. I enjoyed the music: Mac has a repertoire with some tunes I don’t regularly hear and Alasdair, whom I’d not heard before, is a very skilled banjo player. Keep these alternate Thursday jam sessions in mind—live music isn’t that plentiful in the winter months and Ian deserves thanks for starting them up and support in keeping them going.
I drove back to Port Hood, where I completed and posted Monday’s account and wrote and posted Tuesday’s account. I also discovered a reply to my query about the colours at the top of the Island: “[many] of the leaves have been blown off the trees”. Then it was off to bed.
Friday, 24 October — Port Hood to Chéticamp
I got up before 9h and packed up to decamp to Chéticamp. It was a cloudy bright morning in Port Hood. After breakfast at Sandeannies, I headed north. From Mabou to Inverness, I encountered heavy rain with lots of standing water in the road, making the going rather slow. Although Cape Mabou was cloaked in clouds descending well below the plateau, in the poor light the colours on Cape Mabou still looked bright and one could still see some lingering reds. The rain became light north of Inverness and stopped altogether in Dunvegan. Cloudy bright conditions resumed on the Shore Road and, as I arrived at the Cabot Trail in Margaree Harbour, a great beam of sun lit up a third of Belle-Côte. I stopped off at the Terre-Noire look-off, where I watched quite a light show in the sky and its reflection on the waters of the Gulf as the sun came out full strength through a hole in the clouds lined with blue sky at its sides. Ultimately, the hole disappeared, swallowed up by clouds from south. The Highlands back of the coast were cloaked in a mantle of various shades of yellow that was photogenic even when the sun was concealed. I turned onto Carding Mill A Road (according to Google Maps, but I think the signage just said Carding Mill Road) and followed along the eastern shore of Petit-Lac until the road turned inland and started climbing, where I met a Chiasson gravel truck coming around a wide curve and realized that the road did not connect back to the Cabot Trail as I had thought, but instead dead-ended at the gravel pit on Squirrel Mountain; I must never have driven this road previously, though I thought I had. I retraced my steps and then drove the Chéticamp Back Road and on into the Park. I found some nice colours in the Rigwash-à-Bernard with some lingering reds and photographed a rain storm arriving from the Gulf at the Buttereau Look-Off—it caught up with me at the Weather look-off (my name for the look-off whose interpretive panels describe the challenges of winter weather on the area’s terrain and on the Cabot Trail), where I stopped for its fine view of the Cabot Trail as it proceeds along the flanks of French Mountain. Yellows, oranges, and browns predominated all the way out to Cap-Rouge. Bright yellows were visible on the side of French Mountain by the memorial at the uppermost look-off on the west side of French Mountain. Given the sad events of the past few days, it was fitting to pay it a visit: even though dedicated to the memory of those Canadian soldiers who are buried overseas or in the seven seas, it still recalls the service and sacrifice of those who gave their lives to protect our common heritage, as did the soldiers killed and injured so senselessly this week in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. As I sat there reflecting on this incomprehensible madness, I saw light once again to the south, where Sight Point could now be made out quite clearly through the light rain that was falling at the memorial. May the haters come to see the light of tolerance and reason rather than the darkness of execration and insanity! I made my way slowly back to Chéticamp, stopping often to savour the beautiful views; the sun was out in blue skies when I reached the village.
I had thought to research a couple of historical questions at les Trois Pignons, but found the museum closed for the season. As were the motel where I intended to stay and several other establishments! Tourist season is clearly at an end! I found an open motel on the edge of the village and got a room there; it too will be closing soon. I wrote and posted Wednesday’s account and then went to dinner at the All Aboard (mussels, salad, scallops au gratin, rice, carrots, broccoli, pecan pie, and tea, all excellent), which does not close completely, but remains open four days out of seven in the winter. I returned to the motel, wrote and posted Thursday’s account, and completed this one, so I’m finally now all caught up! (Tomorrow’s account will be delayed until Sunday, however.) I will soon be off to bed. I’m hoping for a morning with enough light to make a trip to North Mountain practical before the Doryman cèilidh starts at 14h.
Saturday, 25 October — Chéticamp to Port Hood
I arose at 8h to misty rain, now lighter than it was during the night when I heard it hitting the roof. Although there was a promise of a better day in the light to the east, it didn’t look like a day to be in the Park, so I decided to instead pay a visit to friends in Belle-Côte. It was a lovely drive from Chéticamp to Belle-Côte, with clouds covering many of the summits and fog along the base of the Highlands, cloaked still in yellows accented with evergreens. My friends were out, so I left them a card and continued along the East Margaree Road. What a gorgeous drive that was! The colours are still brilliant, even in poor light, though the reds, as elsewhere, are scarce. And the Highlands above and across the river, garbed in streamers of fog over the colours, were just breathtaking! I drove on to the Dancing Goat for a final breakfast there (excellent as always, but I missed those luscious raspberries from last time in today’s still grand fruit bowl). Brilliance adorns the Highlands along the narrow Northeast Margaree River valley from Doyles Bridge to Northeast Margaree. Changing tamaracks are now very noticeable. It ain’t over yet, folks! The beauty of a Cape Breton fall is still on display at the end of October!
I drove back as I came, stopping a while at the Terre-Noire look-off, where it occurred to me I hadn’t emptied out the refrigerator when I left the motel this morning. I drove back to Chéticamp and the lady at the motel called to me as I got out of the car: she had my sack of goodies, among which was a partially eaten chunk of homemade Cape Breton cheese, a delicacy I was very happy to get back indeed!
At the Doryman, I found what I thought was a tour bus; it proved instead to be a charter. When I went inside, the half of the seating next to the windows overlooking the harbour was filled with fifty or so folks wearing blue tee shirts, some decoratively enhanced by creative sewers, emblazoned with “Steppin out with Hilary”. I had stumbled onto one of two annual outings to Chéticamp by a New Waterford club, organized by Hilary Romard, that gathers each week to square dance and learn various square set figures. What a wonderful concept! It deserves emulation by other communities. They had mostly finished their dinners by the time the cèilidh started, with Douglas Cameron on fiddle and Howie MacDonald on keyboard. They first gave us a march/strathspeys/reels set. Tables were moved freeing up half of the side in front of the musicians for dancing and the first of seven(!) square sets got underway with Douglas’ first jig set. Three groups of dancers were up in all these square sets and four groups were dancing in the later sets. The Doryman had become a dance hall! The dances did not use the Mabou figures (two jig figures and one reel figure), but a variety of different figures the group had mastered during its weekly sessions, including the Chéticamp figures in the first square set and the Sydney figures (both with one jig figure and two reel figures) and others I hadn’t seen heretofore in later square sets (one with two jig figures and one reel figure). I sat with Lawrence Cameron and his parents and uncle and, later, his wife, and he was most helpful in interpreting what I was seeing and added some historical background I was missing and need to follow up on. A thorough rereading of Right to the Helm by Jørn Borggreen, a Danish scholar, a green-covered paperback I own and have seen recently at both the Bear Paw and the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, is definitely in order for this winter! The square sets were nearly continuous, with only occasional breaks for march/strathspeys/reels sets, during which Hilary and folks he encouraged to get up with him step danced. Two ladies from Pictou County, whose names I didn’t get, relieved Douglas on fiddle mid-afternoon; they played quite creditably in the Cape Breton style. Douglas played a step dance sequence which was answered by at least seven in Hilary’s group. The tables were reärranged once again to make room for a long queue and the third figure of a Mabou set was danced in the space with well over fifteen couples. Ray Legere (at least that’s the spelling on his web site) was in the audience for a Doryman show tonight and was asked to come up and play; he did, choosing tunes from the Cape Breton repertoire, but played in a style Douglas, when asked, characterized as “Down East”, which I thought was a lot like the Ottawa Valley fiddle style; he had numerous couples round dancing. And Dan MacDonald gave us some steps during his super fast reels. Ray then played a set of jigs and a square set immediately formed; he demurred when asked to play reels for the second figure and handed the fiddle back to Douglas, at which point the square set evaporated. During the following strathspeys and reels, step dancers again took the floor, with some outside Hilary’s group sharing their steps, of whom I recognized only Joe MacIsaac. A Mockingbird set drew lots of round dancers to the floor. For the last set, Douglas turned his fiddle over to Howie and Howie’s brother Michael accompanied him on the keyboard; it was a fine set indeed and a pleasure to get to hear them together a second time. With all the continual activity on the dance floor, it was sometimes hard to concentrate on the music, but Douglas always plays beautifully and Howie is a perfect accompanist. It was one great afternoon of music and dance, very different from the typical Doryman cèilidh, but a wonderful experience for me and, I’m sure, for Hilary’s group. Way to go Hilary!
After the cèilidh, I drove back to Port Hood, where I’m staying for the next two nights. Light mist/rain was falling south to Point Cross, where it stopped just as night fell. It resumed again at Chimney Corner and became heavy south of St Rose, though not enough to require high speed wipers. From Strathlorne south, it was once again light mist/rain.
After getting my motel room key, I drove to West Mabou for tonight’s dance, with Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle, Kolten MacDonell on real piano, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar. The first square set got underway at 22h17, though the music started earlier, with four couples; seven couples completed its third figure. The high-water mark was thirteen couples in the second square set and slowly declined thereafter to six couples in the fourth square set and increased to eight couples in the fifth and last square set. A waltz that attracted three couples was danced after the third square set. A jig set after the fourth square set had no takers, so Donna-Marie switched to strathspeys and reels, which brought Sarah MacIsaac, Mary-Elizabeth MacMaster-MacInnis’s daughter, and Amanda MacDonald to the floor to share their fine steps. Even though the crowd was small, the dancers were seasoned locals and their steps were great to watch! The last square set ended at 0h35 and it was clear there was no appetite for another one, so Donna-Marie played a very long march/strathspeys/reels set to fill out the time for those of us who stayed around to listen to the great music, which I greatly enjoyed all night long: Donna-Marie is one powerful fiddler, with drive and lift in her music; Kolten matched her music with fine playing; Sandy, always a pleasure to listen to, added a third, rich layer on top. Together, they created a great sound with which to end my last square dance in Cape Breton this year. Kudos to Margie and Jimmy MacInnis for keeping these family dances going the year round! However, they need your support if they are to continue.
The rain had stopped when I got back to the car. I was quickly asleep when I got to the motel.
Note: I discovered last night that messages left in my voicemail are not reaching me. If your call has not been picked up because I am driving or out of reach of Telus, please let me know by e-mail. The Telus account will be closed on Monday morning, so my Canadian phone number will no longer work after that.
Sunday, 26 October — Port Hood
I slept in late this morning, not rising until nearly 11h. I completed and posted yesterday’s account.
I then drove the Dunmore and Mabou Roads to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique for this afternoon’s release party for Wendy MacIsaac’s CD, Off the Floor, the first five tracks of which come from a 2005 studio session at Point Aconi and the last four tracks of which were recorded live at West Mabou on 2014 August 21, as described here. Tracey Dares-MacNeil was on piano and Patrick Gillis was on guitar for both the studio session and the live recording. Today’s release party was more like a cèilidh than the usual release party; the CD in question was mentioned only once and in a very low key way. Moreover, Mac Morin, not Tracey, was on keyboard today. I hadn’t eaten breakfast this morning, so I ordered lunch (fishcakes, house salad, and blueberry bread pudding, all scrumptious) before the cèilidh started. Wendy and Pat started off an air/strathspeys/reels set, with Mac joining in later on. They next played a set of “Buddy jigs”, which turned into a square set danced by eight couples. Two more great sets of tunes followed, during the second of which a gentleman said to be from Chéticamp step danced. A second square set was then danced by eleven couples. Graham MacKenzie from Inverness (Scotland), who attended the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling last week, and his mother, Allison, relieved Wendy and Mac and gave us, with Pat accompanying on guitar, a beautifully played long flowing air followed by strathspeys and reels; the latter were played without much “dirt” but otherwise sounded great. Another set by the same musicians followed; I really liked the keyboard accompaniment, and the fiddle, although technically very well played indeed, sounded to me more in a Scottish dance style (such as one hears on Take the Floor on BBC Scotland) than a Cape Breton one, even though he chose tunes in the Cape Breton repertoire. Next, Hailee LeFort on fiddle, Wendy on keyboard, and Pat on guitar started off with a gorgeous lush slow air and then played a strathspey and segued into jigs, which quickly became the third square set, danced by eight couples. Returning to the fiddle, Wendy next played a waltz which brought three couples to the floor. Mac next started off with a keyboard solo, on which Pat soon joined with subtle guitar accompaniment; then, suddenly, he was in the lead, picking out a tune on the guitar with Mac accompanying; they traded lead back and forth a few times—it was one of those spontaneous magical things that happen at cèilidhs like this one where the musicians have a total control of their instruments and an almost telepathic rapport. Fantastic set! Wendy then invited John Pellerin to take her fiddle; with Mac and Pat accompanying, he gave us an airs/strathspeys/reels set; six couples waltzed to the two airs; Edna MacDonald step danced alone and Wendy and Dale Gillis step danced together during this set. John continued with a second air/strathspeys/reels set to which a lady I don’t know step danced. John’s beautiful playing is always a treat and frequently includes tunes I don’t often hear others play. With Wendy back on fiddle, the jigs she began quickly turned into the fourth square set. Another fantastic set of tunes brought the gentleman from Chéticamp back to step dance; later on, Hailee and Joe Rankin also step danced. The final set started up with barely a pause after the previous one ended; Elaine Bennett and Joe step danced. It was one magical cèilidh, the kind one remembers with fondness and amazement long after it’s over, a grand “last hurrah” for what has been nearly a month of incredible music for me. I thanked the musicians at the end and here I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart the hard-working staff, servers, cooks, board members, and volunteers who have made the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre into a perfect venue for music and dance—the magic we experienced today occurs more frequently there than at any other venue I can think of.
After the cèilidh, I drove in steady rain back to a dear friend’s house in West Mabou, where I had been invited for dinner with another dear friend. It was a lovely meal of pot roasted chicken with potatoes and vegetables, followed by homemade apple pie à la mode, all very tasty and delicious. I enjoyed the conversation with them before, during, and after dinner. While there, we conducted an experiment: my friend called my phone, which did not ring, left me a voicemail message when I did not answer, and then hung up. I then called voicemail and was told I had no messages. My apologies to anyone who attempted to call my phone and left messages when I didn’t answer that I never received. I know I did receive calls on my phone here, the last one being from Ottawa on the 16th, and I also received a couple of voicemails earlier in my stay. I don’t know the cause of the subsequent failure, but it will become moot as I will close my account for this year in the morning before leaving for home.
After saying goodbye to my friends, I returned to Port Hood and completed this account. I will shortly be off to bed. It has been one incredible time! Wonderful weather, fantastic colours, the best music anywhere, and unbelievable acts of kindness from the friendliest people on earth. Thank you to all the many kind souls who made this the best October since I’ve been coming to Cape Breton.
Monday, 27 October — Port Hood to Lewiston
I was up at 8h and, after breakfast at Sandeannies, drove to Port Hood to the Telus store, where I closed my phone account for this year. My Canadian number will no longer reach me nor will voicemails left in its mailbox. When I told them about the phone not ringing and the missing voicemails, they called my phone and it worked just fine, so I didn’t know what was up with that until I got to Lewiston and replaced the Telus chip with the T-Mobile chip I use in the US. I found the missing voicemails there! I never realized my friends were calling my US number and not my Canadian one. Mystery solved! Anyhow, my US number is back in service and will be until I return to Cape Breton next June.
I crossed the Canso Causeway at 10h29 and reached Lewiston without incident at 19h45 ADT. No problems at Customs and one gains an extra hour at the border, so I only had one hour of night driving after battling sun in my eyes for an hour on the Airline Road. It was cold, gusty, and raining steadily in Port Hood; I lost the rain west of Antigonish, but it remained heavily overcast and gusty to Moncton, where the sun broke through the overcast, which broke up into fluffy white clouds lined with dark grey west of St John. The winds diminished somewhat past there, but gusts still shook the car occasionally all the way to Lewiston.
There were still decent colours along Highway 19 south of Port Hood in Cape Breton and along the Trans-Canada Highway on the mainland, though clearly post-peak in both places. Thereafter, it was either no colours or yellows, many from changed tamaracks much further along than those I saw in Cape Breton, until outside Bangor, where I ran into more post-peak colours. It was dark at Newport, so I don’t know what the colours are like in central and eastern Maine.
I had dinner at the restaurant just down the street from the motel: salad, lobster macaroni and cheese (!—a strange concoction new to me, but very interesting: the cheese sauce was too creamy and it lacked onions, but otherwise it was quite good and had lots of lobster chunks in the sauce under a layer of broiled bread crumbs), and chocolate cake à la mode.
I am now past the worst of the moose country, so will leave tomorrow at dawn and hope to be back in NJ mid-afternoon. Now, it’s bedtime!
Tuesday, 28 October — Lewiston to Jackson
Up before 6h, I left Lewiston at 6h09; it was pitch dark and remained so until southern Maine. Thereafter, the sky was mostly covered with a layer of thin white clouds through which the sun shone. The colours were excellent along I-495, with reds still showing. It was rather duller to the west, where a large number of trees were bare, but in Connecticut and south, there were lots of pastels and unchanged greens along with some occasional more vivid red and orange specimens. It was a lovely +22 (72) when I got out of the car in Jackson at 14h25; the house was much colder inside, a rather chilly +8 (46), indicating some rather brisker weather previously than today’s, so I opened the doors and windows to let the outside heat in.
Here in Jackson, the red oaks are a third changed, showing a reddish brown, and most of the other trees are greens tinged with yellows. In spite of their early start here, most of the leaves are still on the trees and the few bright red maples in the area are still unchanged, consistent with most other years, where the peak comes at or a bit after Halloween.
I’m very glad the long trip is safely completed and will be off early to bed tonight to recover from it. For the record, I drove 6729 km (4181 mi) this trip, about half in Cape Breton and the other half going and returning. I will have some final reflections tomorrow on the wonderful Celtic Colours festival, but that’s it for today. Thanks for reading and for your support.
Last year, after Celtic Colours 2013 had ended, I wrote a post I titled Reflections on a Wonderful Festival, which you can read here. Some of the details differ, such as the number of venues (40 in 2014), and the two minor map errors I noted last year were corrected in this year’s edition of the map, but the overall points I made there remain valid. Rather than rehash them here, I’ll refer you to the original post.
I think the organizers did a better job this year than in the past of providing shows catering to those of us who come to hear traditional Cape Breton music. Although I ordered seven tickets, I attended nine concerts, thanks to incredible acts of kindness that got me tickets for the two concerts that were sold out when I ordered the others (16 days after they went on sale!). That’s one more concert than last year and more than I really had any expectations of attending when I wrote last year’s reflections. Of those nine, only two had non-Cape Breton content, and of those two, one was tolerable given all the rest that was on offer while that content effectively spoiled the other concert for me. As regularly happened in the past, there were other pure traditional shows that I’d have liked to attend this year, but they were scheduled in the same time slots as other shows I did attend, while other time slots offered no pure Cape Breton traditional music shows at all.
I have never before seen concerts sell out as quickly as they did this year (Louisbourg excepted, which is usually gone on the first day of ticket sales). Next year, I will make a special trip to Sydney and purchase my tickets there rather than waiting until I return home.
Celtic Colours is indeed a wonderful festival, nine days of frenzied activity and great music that I recommend unreservedly. This year’s concerts were top-notch, better than those of any previous edition of the festival I can remember. My congratulations and thanks go to the whole organization, from the Board of Directors and permanent staff members to the army of individual volunteers without whom the festival would not succeed, for a well-run festival and for presenting fantastic Cape Breton musicians and dancers for us to enjoy. It was indeed “a time”! I’m already looking forward to next year!