My usual mode of writing these accounts is to take brief notes as the day transpires and then edit, expand, and assemble them all into a coherent post. If the day ends with a late event, I do not normally attempt to complete the day’s account after the event, but defer its completion to the following day. This trip was a very event-filled one, however, and I fell way behind, far enough that I did not complete all of the posts before I returned home: most day’s accounts were therefore posted after the day in question; as well, some day’s accounts were posted out of order, whenever I found the time to complete them from my notes taken at the events in question. The missing posts are present here, assembled after I got home from the notes taken on the days in question.
Wednesday, 24 June — Jackson to Bangor
Joyeuse fête nationale à tous mes amis québécois! Happy St Jean-Baptiste Day to all my Québec friends!
I left Jackson this morning at 5h22 and arrived in Bangor at 16h25 without event, though the traffic at the Tappan Zee Bridge was a stop-and-go mess even that early in the morning: I got on I-87 at 6h52 and exited the tolls at 7h44—52 minutes for about 17 miles.
Last night was a very short night, so I will be soon off to bed. I hope to leave here tomorrow at 5h and make Cape Breton tomorrow afternoon. Yeehaw!!! Beòlach and KitchenFest! Here I come!
Thursday, 25 June — Bangor to Port Hood
After a good night’s sleep, I left the motel in Bangor at 4h56 and arrived in Baileyville at 6h32, where I had breakfast. I see I was so tired last night I forgot to mention anything about the perfect weather yesterday: blue skies, full sun, and the mosaic of hundreds of lovely subtly different shades of green on trees and fields all the way from Western Massachusetts to Maine. Today was exactly like yesterday all the way to Creignish, except for some puffy white clouds that showed up as I reached Nova Scotia; I didn’t get to see much scenery in eastern Maine as the rising sun, out when I left Bangor, was in my eyes all the way to Baileyville, but the rest of the trip was beautiful, likely the best trip up I’ve ever made. I crossed the Canso Causeway at 13h52 with the usual jump in my heart as I entered Cape Breton. I drove into Port Hawkesbury and got my Canadian phone number from Telus for this year: (902) 302-4026. I then drove across to the Toyota dealer to check on a noise I’d been hearing off and on in the front right tire much of the way; it proved to be a missing wheel nut and both right tires insufficiently tightened. I don’t know how that happened, whether at the dealer in New Jersey last week when my tires were rotated and balanced or by some prankster in my driveway or in the motel parking lot, but I am very glad the noise is the only harm that ensued. Those problems repaired, I drove the Cèilidh Trail north, running into a nasty grey/black cloud and a few drops of rain at Craigmore. I arrived in Port Hood before 16h15, where I chatted with my hosts and got my motel room for the next few days.
I then got cleaned up and had supper, after which a friend drove me back to Creignish for the jam session there tonight; I owe him thanks, as it would have been a long drive back, tired as I am. But it was definitely worth going; it is great to see players of all ages playing together, sharing tunes, and making fine music. Ian Cameron deserves great credit for his vision in getting these sessions started and keeping them going. Sadly, this is the last one I’ll be able to attend since the Glencoe dances now start at 21h, making it impractical for me to take in both, so I was especially happy to be there tonight. I also had a chance to chat with several friends, whom it was great to see again.
Now ’tis off to bed and a good long sleep! Nothing is scheduled tomorrow until the concert tomorrow night at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, so I should be able to recover pretty well overnight.
Friday, 26 June — Port Hood
I slept in until 11h30 and awoke to a cloudy-bright day, with the sun trying to pierce through a thick bank of mostly white clouds. It was a brisk +11 (51), which I much prefer to the recent mid 30’s (90’s) in New Jersey. I headed out the Colindale Road where the greens were of a myriad of vibrant and gorgeous spring hues. I soon ran into fog with some wonderful illusions out on the Gulf—looked like a whole other shore out there where the fog bank sat low to the water. I could barely make out the real shore to Finlay Point from the guardrails, all veiled in streamers of thinning fog. In West Mabou, the fog was still so thick it was misting and I had to turn on the wipers. In Mabou, though, the sun was out while I had brunch at the Shining Waters—their clubhouse sandwich is awesome. Typical microclimates!
I took care of an errand in Mabou and drove to Inverness and took care of another. Then drove down to the harbour and then out the Broad Cove Banks Road to the Foot Cape Road and followed it to North Highlands Road and it back to the Cèilidh Trail, stopping for photos at a few points along the way. I found a newish bridge over the Broad Cove River with more water flowing than I ever remember seeing there before. Surprisingly, in spite of the clouds above Cape Mabou, by now grey and dark, which the sun was sometimes successful in piercing, the air was nearly hazeless even at a distance. Back in Mabou, I turned up the Mabou Ridge Road and drove out to Glencoe Mills, stopping at the Gillis Bridge for photos of the Mull River, which looked more like a river there than usual, with good flow and wider than I remembered it. I drove the Glencoe Road to Long Johns Bridge and stopped again for more photos of the Southwest Mabou River there; again good strong flow and much more water than last summer. It’s clearly been a wet spring here, doubtless a welcome change to the last two very dry summers. I drove the Upper Southwest Mabou Road back to the motel, where I caught up on the day’s news.
After a good supper of salad and fish at the Admiral Inn, I drove on to Judique for tonight’s concert with Beòlach at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre.
As those who follow me here well know, I’m not much of a fan of band music, but I have nevertheless been enchanted by the music of Beòlach ever since I first heard it more than ten years ago. I have both of their recordings, Beòlach and Variations and they are in regular rotation at home and on the road. Their sound is unique, with two fiddlers, a keyboard player, a guitar player, and a player of small pipes and tin whistles. Their arrangements of the traditional tunes always sparkle and amaze, no matter how often I’ve heard the sets. And they trade rôles and leads back and forth, allowing each of the super-talented players to display their artistry. No two sets have the same sound, so they never end up sounding like a band, even when all five are playing as one. They no longer regularly tour, but I constantly recalled during tonight’s performance one night in West Virginia a dozen or so years ago when they did and when my middle nephew, his wife, and two young sons, accompanied me to a concert Beòlach gave there. I’m sure my grand nephews had never heard this kind of music before and had no knowledge of step dancing, but, when the band asked audience members to get up and dance if they were so inclined, these two lads then of tender years took to the aisle and gave it their best shot. That’s just how infectious and joyous this band’s music is!
Tonight’s concert opened with Mairi Rankin, Mac Morin, and Wendy MacIsaac doing a percussive step dance with no accompaniment, just the synchronized sound of their dancing feet. On tour in the US, where close-to-the-floor step dancing is not often seen, this was always one of their most popular numbers. It was followed by many of the sets from their two recordings, though there was also some material I hadn’t heard from them before. In spite of the familiarity of most of the sets, their brilliant sound and fiery playing was as fresh and as original as the first time I heard it. Patrick Gillis and Ryan J MacNeil wove their accompaniments into the fiddle/piano fabric and shone when it was their turn to lead on their respective instruments. On one of the sets, Emerald Rae, Margie Beaton, Dale Gillis, Dawn Beaton, and Jenny MacKenzie shared their steps. On another, Wendy replaced Mac on keyboard while Mac did a solo step dance to the others’ music. Later, Mac gave us a keyboard solo with accompaniment by Pat. During the evening’s final set, Edna MacDonald step danced and was followed by Shelly Campbell. It was one fantastic concert and I hope it was recorded for possible broadcast on Cape Breton Live. It was certainly a wonderful start to this year’s concert season! And thanks to those who shared a table and conversation with me and those who stopped by to say hello. It always feels like coming home when I return to Cape Breton, so friendly and welcoming is everyone.
Saturday, 27 June — Port Hood
Up again at 11h30, apparently still recovering from the drive up. I had a fishcakes breakfast at Sandeannies and then drove the Shore Road to Little Judique Harbour and turned onto the Lower Shore Road, where I stopped for photos of Henry Island. I then drove on to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique for this afternoon’s KitchenFest! cèilidh featuring Rodney MacDonald and Glenn Graham on dual fiddles, Mac Morin on keyboards, and Brent Chaisson on guitar.
After an introduction in both Gaelic and English by Patrick Bennett from the mainland, the cèilidh began with a strathspeys and reels set including a Donald Angus Beaton tune and others recorded by the Beatons of Mabou. A jig set got no takers and was followed by a lush and gorgeous rendition of the slow air, Da Slockit Light, the first time I’d heard it with dual fiddles. Another fine set brought Marion Graham to the floor for some steps. The first of five square sets then got underway with five couples. Another lady I don’t know, but clearly a local, gave us some fine steps during the next set. Waltzes got no takers. The second square set got seven couples on the floor. During the break which followed, Patrick sang a Gaelic song in fine voice. A strathspeys and reels set followed and then the third square set with nine couples. Another waltz got a few dancers and another set saw Rodney doing a fine step dance. Brent then did a fine guitar-picking solo, with accompaniment by Mac and then Mac gave us a keyboard solo with Brent accompanying on guitar. The cèilidh concluded with a final square set. What amazing playing throughout! I was well positioned to watch Mac’s fingers flying over the keys as he added his beautiful accompaniment to the powerful playing of Rodney and Glenn and Brent’s guitar was the icing on the cake. What a wonderful afternoon of music!
During the cèilidh, Brent mentioned he had just finished recording a new CD, titled DOC, for the initials of the last names of its three musicians, Anastasia DesRoches on fiddle, Mylène Ouellette (Brent’s wife) on keyboard, and Brent on guitar. Needless to say, I picked up a copy and listened to it on the way back to the motel. Most of the tunes are compositions by various of the three musicians and are in both the Acadian and Scottish traditions. Very fresh and enjoyable listening indeed!
While inside at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, the skies had cleared and become pure blue; the air remained clear with very little haze. So, I drove back out the Colindale Road and stopped at several points along the way for photos; the sun added its setting golden hues to the lovely greens of the fields and trees and the blues of the sky reflected on the waters of the Gulf making this lovely scenery even more extra special—I can only hope to have captured a bit of the glory I saw. I drove to the end of the West Mabou Road for some photos there, but, given the clear air, as expected, the sunset colours were few.
Then it was back up the hill to the West Mabou Hall for tonight’s dance. I am delighted to see the square dances included in the official KitchenFest! programme this year, as indeed they should be. Tonight’s musicians were Karen Beaton and Howie MacDonald on fiddles (playing separately and not as dual fiddles), Joey Beaton on real piano, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar. Given the other goings on, the initial attendance was somewhat sparse, but many more folks came in as the evening progressed. Towards the end of the evening there were enough dancers on the floor that two queues were needed for the third figures. Howie played for the first two square sets, Karen for the second two and a waltz, and Howie for the step dance sequence (the step dancers were Annemarie Barry; Cheryl MacQuarrie; Amanda MacDonald and Elizabeth MacInnis dancing together; Sarah MacInnis; and Burton MacIntyre) and the last square set and a final waltz to finish the evening. Again, the music was magnificent throughout: Howie was on fire all night and his jigs in particular just sang in my ears; Joey’s inimitable piano was marvellous and perfect; Karen’s tune choices and playing were both a delight (it’s been too long since I last heard her play for a dance); and Sandy’s guitar was as superb as always. It was a great dance and I was delighted to be there.
When I got back to the car, the temperature was a frosty +4 (39) and the waxing moon portended frost in places by morning—and on the 28th of June, yet! What a strange year this has been for weather! I was too tired from the full day to finish this account and so promptly went to bed, happy indeed with the day and its grand KitchenFest! music.
Sunday, 28 June — Port Hood
I did a little better today: I got up at 10h15 instead of 11h30 and was not so tired, in spite of yesterday’s full day. Some sun was breaking through the overcast, a layer of thin white clouds. I worked on yesterday’s account and got it posted. I then drove to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre via the Hawthorne, St Ninian, and Rear Intervale Roads for the afternoon’s cèilidh. I was honoured to be asked to join Marion Dewar and her daughter Joan at their table and had a good chat with them before the proceedings got underway.
Joyce MacDonald of Mabou was the emcee and she began by relating a humorous Gaelic story with interleaved English sentence by sentence translation about two men on a spree who visited a wake in hopes of finding more “refreshment” after the last drop had been drunk from their last bottle. After introducing the musicians for the afternoon, Troy MacGillivray and Brian MacDonald on dual fiddles (except as noted), Allan Dewar on keyboard, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar, the first square set formed just as soon as the players started the afternoon’s music with a set of jigs. This was followed by a fifteen-minute march/strathspeys/reels set during which a young man whose name I don’t know gave us a fine long step dance to the powerfully played music. Again, as soon as the jigs started, the second square set was formed. Brian on fiddle, Troy on keyboard, and Sandy on guitar next gave us some waltzes, which brought three couples to the floor. The third square set immediately followed. With Troy on fiddle, Allan on keyboard, and Sandy on guitar, an air/strathspeys/reels set was next, during which the same young man, Edna MacDonald, a local gentleman whose name I can’t pull out of my memory, and Sabra MacGillivray all step danced; this twenty-four minute set was a tour de force with one tune after another as the power and intensity of the playing just kept on increasing. Amazing work from all three players! Cheryl Smith then joined the other three on snare drums and gave us a short set of tunes. Brian took Troy’s place on fiddle and the fourth square set formed as promptly as before. Then Marion replaced Allan on keyboard and, with Brian and Sandy, gave us a fine set of tunes. Brian on fiddle and Sandy on guitar next played a set of waltzes. With Cheryl on snares and, briefly, a young lad from Ontario on fiddle joining the four original players, the fifth and last square set concluded the wonderful afternoon. I don’t often get a chance to hear Brian, who played very strongly all afternoon—even between sets, his fiddle was rarely silent—and I very much liked what I heard. Troy, Allan, and Sandy are all superb master players and, with Brian, gave us a really strong and powerful afternoon of great music. I was some wound up by the end! And it didn’t hurt either that I won the day’s 50/50 draw!
When I got back to the car, the thin white cloud layer had been replaced by a much thicker and darker overcast and the sun was gone. I drove to Mabou by the Rear Intervale and Mabou Roads and paid a visit to Theresa “Glencoe”, whose birthday it was today. We had a good chat and I learned of her adventures on a winter cruise she took. Her son arrived while I was there and we caught up on each other’s news.
I was so late arriving at the Red Shoe, they wouldn’t take my admission fee. I caught the tail end of a set with Brenda Stubbert on fiddle, Tyson Chen on real piano, and Derrick Cameron on guitar, during which Mary MacGillivray and two other ladies step danced. Kenneth MacKenzie then took Brenda’s place and gave us two sets with Tyson and Derrick, one on fiddle and one on highland bagpipes. For the finale, introduced by Patrick Bennett, the evening’s emcee, Kenneth, Brenda, and Melody Cameron on fiddles; Mary Elizabeth MacInnis on piano; and Derrick on guitar gave us a great blast of tunes. It was yet another wonderful KitchenFest! session I was glad to have caught at least a bit of. Afterwards, I chatted with old friends and, after they left, was then invited to join Kenneth and Jenny at their table with Patrick and Peter MacInnis (actor filling most of the rôles, videographer, and producer of the awesome Cape Breton Chats on YouTube—if you’re not familiar with them, do yourself a favour and look them up!—as well as a very talented musician and actor). I then returned to the car and drove back to Port Hood in light rain and fog. What a grand day again this was! KitchenFest! rocks! I was soon fast asleep.
Monday, 29 June — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
Monday began as an overcast day. I was up earlier than yesterday and decided to skip breakfast. I drove up Rocky Ridge Road to wish a friend a happy birthday and to visit a bit with her and her husband before they head out to Rollo Bay for the Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival later this week. Afterwards, I had a fine lunch at the Mull in Mabou and next visited another dear friend in West Mabou. I then drove to Whycocomagh, where I’ll be staying through next Monday, a long stretch unusual for me but closer to the rest of the KitchenFest! events I’ll be attending than Port Hood. After getting my motel room, I completed Sunday’s account and posted it. I drove along the West Lake Ainslie Road to Inverness for tonight’s KitchenFest! cèilidh at the Cabot Public House. In spite of the big lunch at the Mull, I was still hungry and ordered a salad and some hot wings before the cèilidh began.
Carmen MacArthur, the evening’s emcee, joined me at my table. I had not previously had the occasion to speak more than a few words with her and was delighted to have a long and, for me at least, very interesting conversation before the show. A Gaelic speaker and instructor, she is in the thick of the fight to bring Gaelic and its cultural adjuncts and attitudes back from the brink of extinction. It’s a hard battle and I wish her and those who think like her the very best of luck in fighting it.
The evening’s music began with Rankin MacInnis on highland bagpipes accompanied by Jake Charron of The East Pointers on guitar. They played three sets in the Cape Breton pipe style, which is intended not for marching competitions and military exercises but for dancing and listening. I enjoyed them all, but was especially taken with the lovely slow air with which he started his second set that he said was a mazurka he had learned from the playing of his cousin, Angus MacKenzie, and with the tune he wrote for his grandfather with which he began his third set. Next, while The East Pointers got set up, Carmen sang a Gaelic song whose chorus she had taught the audience. Tim Chaisson on fiddle, Koady Chaisson on banjo, and Jake on guitar are The East Pointers and they gave us a couple of numbers from their CD as well as a considerable amount of material I hadn’t heard before. Some was outside my narrow musical tastes and I was disappointed not to hear more of Koady’s fine banjo playing and of Tim’s traditional fiddle, but the traditional tunes they played I enjoyed. They have been a hit everywhere they’ve appeared in Cape Breton and it was great to have a chance to say hello to each of them. After the break, Carmen related a Gaelic story with its interleaved English translation. Rankin, this time with Tim supplying the guitar accompaniment, gave us three more superb sets, one including a well-known Gaelic song to which the audience sang the words, and during another of which Carmen and another lady step danced. It was then a bit past 21h and time for me to get on the road for the Brook Village dance, so I took my leave, regretfully missing the rest of the cèilidh. I imagine the finale must have been a doozie!
Brook Village dances begin at 21h30 and the music was just starting up as I got in the door. Nine couples danced the first square set with Rodney MacDonald on fiddle, Mac Morin on keyboard, and Pat Gillis on guitar. There were 25 couples for the second square set, which, like all the following square sets except the last, used two queues for the third figure; Glenn Graham was on fiddle with Mac and Pat. For the rest of the evening, except as noted, Rodney and Glenn were on dual fiddles with Mac and Pat. A waltz set after the third square set attracted nearly a dozen couples. 37 couples danced the fourth square set and 35 the fifth. The temperature in the hall was noticeably warmer after the fifth set! The step dance sequence followed; nine people step danced of whom I recognized Harvey MacKinnon, Dawn Beaton, and Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier; two young ladies ended the sequence doing highland dances. Dawn and Margie Beaton relieved Rodney and Glenn for the sixth square set; their playing was superb with some especially fine jigs. The hall was noticeably emptier when Glenn and Rodney returned for the seventh and last square set, which was danced by 15 couples—Tuesday is a work day and many left early after the sixth square set. The music was fantastic all night long—Rodney and Glenn were drivin’ ’er hard and Mac and Pat were both on fire—and the dancers were enthusiastic and clearly having as good a time dancing as I was listening and watching. A great KitchenFest! dance for sure! I drove back to Whycocomagh and was instantly asleep.
Tuesday, 30 June — Whycocomagh
I got up a bit past 9h to a day with considerable promise, but heavy cloud cover. I skipped breakfast and drove north to Chéticamp via Highways 395 and 19 and the Cabot Trail: today was the last day senior season park permits are on sale at half price. As well, I picked up some books at the small but well-stocked bookstore in the Visitors’ Centre. The sun had just broken through the overcast as I came back outside, so I decided to continue on to MacKenzies Mountain for a look at the fantastic coast from Pleasant Bay to Tittle Point, the furthest land one can see from there. Alas, the clouds were barely above the highland plateau at French Mountain and the views from MacKenzies Mountain were dark and disappointing. I suspect in another couple of hours, the overcast would have been burnt off and the sun would have illuminated the coast in fine form, but I was hungry and had my heart set on a lunch at the Dancing Goat, so I didn’t wait to see. South of Chéticamp along the coast the sun was out, but it was only tentative inland, trying sometimes with success to break through but most often hidden. It is lupin season along the Margaree River and there were plenty to be seen from the East Margaree Road in Ford View, but the huge field along the Cabot Trail between Margaree Forks and Northeast Margaree that is usually covered solid with lupins was pretty skimpy this year.
At the Dancing Goat, I had a magnificent chicken sandwich, a fabulous green salad, and a fruit bowl; on the way out, I was unable to resist picking up for later a raspberry white chocolate bar that looked absolutely scrumptious (and so proved to be when I ate it in the evening). The Dancing Goat’s food is too notch!
I returned to Whycocomagh via Middle River, detouring for a side trip on the Garry Road, which I’d never driven previously and hadn’t noticed until I was working on the last photo essay this winter. I didn’t drive past the Y junction some ways in as I was running out of time, but I expect I got most of the views on offer just after turning into the road from the Cabot Trail, where there are good open views of the Highlands. I continued on into Middle River and took the Yankee Line Road back to the Trans-Canada Highway and thence back to the motel.
After a brief pause, I drove the Trans-Canada Highway south to the Long Stretch Road and took the Crandall Road into Port Hawkesbury; some fine views, unfortunately spoiled by utility wires, are on offer on the north side of town from that road. Tonight’s KitchenFest! cèilidh was at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre where I arrived early—the schedule said 19h, but it wasn’t due to start until 19h30. I used the extra minutes to chat with friends and to work on yesterday’s account.
This KitchenFest! cèilidh was also the first of the Port Hastings Museum cèilidhs this year and offered their rich variety of musicians in a KitchenFest! setting. (I was very sorry to have missed Karen and Joey Beaton’s cèilidh in Mabou, kicking off their 20th season of superb cèilidhs, but this was my only chance to catch several of the musicians playing tonight.) Lewis MacKinnon was the evening’s emcee. Doug MacPhee began the cèilidh with a long set on solo keyboard and continued with a second set of slow strathspeys and reels; fine playing throughout. Kevin Dugas on highland bagpipes with Doug MacPhee accompanying next gave us two wonderful sets, the first set beginning with Hector the Hero followed by two jigs and the second one a march/strathspeys/reels set. Grand playing by both. Darrel Keigan then gave us three folk songs, two of which I didn’t know; the middle one was The Dutchman. Our emcee then gave us the lovely Gaelic song beginning Fhir a’ bhàta, na hóro eile, on which the audience joined the choruses. Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle, accompanied by Marion Dewar on keyboard, next gave us three fine sets of tunes nicely played. Next, John Pellerin on fiddle and Marion Dewar on keyboard gave us two beautiful sets, the second beginning with a lovely air I especially liked; it’s always a joy to hear John’s beautiful fiddle phrasing and Marion’s accompaniment was perfectly matched to his fiddle, a virtuoso performance by both. Joanne MacIntyre next gave us two Gaelic songs, the first one the first Gaelic song written on Cape Breton Island and the second one that was brought over from Scotland; Joanne’s exceptional voice is always a pleasure to hear. The last performer to take the stage was Mckayla MacNeil on fiddle accompanied by Doug MacPhee; she gave us two sets, a short one and a longer air/strathspeys/reels set, both masterfully played with incredibly fine tone and perfect tempo. I’ve watched this young lady, still in university, mature over the years into one superb musician; what a treat it was to hear her tonight! For the finale, Lewis gave us a segment of a Gaelic song and then John, Donna-Marie, and Mckayla on fiddles; Kevin on small pipes; Doug on keyboard; and Darrel on guitar played a final set of fiddle tunes to close out the cèilidh. Yet another great KitchenFest! evening! I chatted with friends after the cèilidh and met John’s parents, who were in attendance. I then drove back to Whycocomagh and was soon fast asleep after another wonderful day in Cape Breton.
Wednesday, 1 July — Whycocomagh
Je souhaite à tous mes amis canadiens une joyeuse fête du Canada! I wish all my Canadian friends a happy Canada Day.
I awoke on Canada Day to a lovely summer day, mid 20’s (70’s) and sunny and bright. I had a hard time deciding how to spend such a gift and, thinking hard about the choices, locked myself out of my motel room and car. Fortunately, my host lent me a spare key and I was again good to go and a bit more awake!
After breakfast at Vi’s, I finally made up my mind and decided to revisit Logans Glen Falls, which I first discovered two years ago, as described and shown on this page of my latest photo essay, and then take it from there. Once at the falls, a short drive from the motel, I clambered down the bank by the falls on the seat of my jeans and got better photos of the falls from the edge of the brook and from some boulders in the brook than the side-on views from before. The falls were not much fuller than they were the last time I was there, but plenty beautiful and noisy. When I managed to get back up to the road, Argyle Brook had once again cast its enchantment over me and I decided to follow it up the mountain—besides it had been too long since I’d had any serious exercise and the trek up the side of Whycocomagh Mountain on a lovely day would do my body a world of good. So, off I went on this beautiful Canada Day, a huffin’ and a puffin’ and resting each time I ran out of breath, a very frequent occurrence. But the merry songs of the brook kept me great company and the fairly gentle climb of Logans Glen Road through the beautiful glen was good exercise. The ditches have filled in over the years and water was running down the road, causing washouts in a few places where side brooks cross the road, but it is still passable by a high slung vehicle. As I climbed, I was reminded of my father’s hunting camp in the Adirondacks on the banks of a stream not unlike Argyle Brook with a waterfall not far from the camp and of my hikes back there as a lad; I guess I got my love of the woods from him, who spent some of his youth in a lumber camp on the Gatineau River not much shy of a century ago. At 13h15, I arrived at the driveway into the MacLeod homestead, the furthest point up the mountain that I had reached in 2013. Near there I saw the second of two yellow-winged butterflies with heavy black borders, like monarchs except that they were lemon-hued instead of orange. I was so content, I decided to continue on up the mountain. From there, the road climbs considerably more sharply than before as it passes up and along the edge of a ridge with Argyle Brook way down below. I soon found myself well above the tops of the trees in the ravine down by the brook. I marvelled at the ingenious and lasting work of those who built this road clinging precariously to the ridge: it continues to be serviceable with no maintenance in what appears to be many years. By 14h30, I had rounded the ridge and the road continued to climb on its back side; that was as far as I had time for today, though I’d dearly have liked to discover where it came out at the top of the mountain—Google Earth isn’t overly clear and there’s a maze of old logging roads there I didn’t reach. So, I reluctantly turned around and started back down. I stopped at a spot that I hadn’t noticed on the way up for photos of North Mountain on the far side of the River Denys Basin as seen through a gap between the two edges of the glen; I also talked briefly with a guy on an ATV who came down the mountain after looking for moose up top—he said he’d seen signs of them but no moose. A bit further down the road, I came across some fresh droppings that I didn’t see on the way up, so they’re on the mountain for sure. The trek back down was much easier on me than the trip up and I made it back to the car at 16h, with several enjoyable stops to listen to the brook on the way down. The GPS track measures 3.3 km (2 mi) from Logan Glens Falls to the point I turned around. The GPS said I was at 232 m (761 ft) of elevation when I turned around, so I still had more climbing to reach the top of the mountain. Still, not bad for my first Cape Breton hike this year. What a lovely way to spend Canada Day!
After returning to the motel and getting cleaned up from the hike, I drove to Mabou and had a wonderful pan-seared halibut steak and a lobster tail with asparagus and mashed potatoes, the catch of the day special at the Red Shoe. Then it was across the road for the Mabou youth concert in the community hall. The group Blàs, with Joe MacMaster on fiddle, Sarah MacInnis (I think) on keyboard, and Siobhan Beaton on guitar (minus one member, Hailee LeFort), started off the cèilidh with a fine fiddle set. Sarah MacInnis, in a fine, strong voice, next gave us a Gaelic song. Three lasses, whose names I didn’t get, gave us a song with a keyboard introduction and guitar accompaniment. Joe on fiddle then played, accompanied by Tracey Dares-MacNeil on keyboard, for Amanda MacDonald to give us some very fine steps. Two young ladies, one on keyboard and the other on guitar, gave us a beautifully played set of tunes. Jessie Helen and Nora, Tracey’s daughters, on dual fiddles with their mother on keyboard, gave us another fine set of tunes. Three of the four MacIntyre boys gave us two Gaelic songs and a puirt a beul; James, the eldest, then played some fiddle tunes on keyboard with great timing. A group of several youngsters of whom I can name only Keigan MacLennan and Jessie Helen MacNeil then gave us a rock ’n’ roll number to great applause from the audience. I took my leave at that point as I didn’t want to be late for the KitchenFest! cèilidh in Inverness I intended to attend. Clearly, there is no lack of up and coming musical talent in Mabou!
When I arrived in Inverness, I found the cèilidh was already underway, more than half over, in fact—it had started at 19h and was to run until 22h, instead of the 21h-0h I had written down. Thanks to the kindness of Mrs. Dunn, Jackie’s mother, I got a seat for the rest of the cèilidh. Joanne MacIntyre was the emcee and sang a Gaelic song whose chorus she taught to the audience. Then, Robbie Fraser on fiddle, accompanied by Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboard, gave us two dandy and powerful sets of tunes! Jackie moved to fiddle and with Wendy MacIsaac on keyboard gave us four very fine sets; it’s rare I hear Jackie on fiddle these days, so this was an especial treat. Wendy and Mairi on dual fiddles with Jackie back on keyboard closed the cèilidh with some extraördinary sets. Even though I was there barely more than an hour, it was some cèilidh and a delight to hear.
Fireworks lit up the sky above Inverness as I started back to Mabou to catch the rest of the cèilidh at the Red Shoe. Joan Cameron kindly invited me to sit at her table and I was happy to do so. Shelly Campbell and Andrea Beaton on dual fiddles, accompanied by Joël Chiasson on real piano and Buddy MacDonald on guitar gave us great sets of tunes the rest of the evening, with the exception of four folk songs Buddy MacDonald sang with audience participation. I regret I don’t have detailed notes for this part of the evening: my phone had discharged and I had nothing on which to record them. Some fine step dancing occurred late in the evening, including some steps by Joan. And it was a joy to hear these two fabulous fiddlers together—it had been far too long since last I was so privileged. What an evening! A perfect end to a perfect day! And Canada Day to boot!
Thursday, 2 July — Whycocomagh
When I peeked out the window this morning, fog covered the upper half of Indian Island and, as I drove to Vi’s for breakfast, two thirds of Skye Mountain. After breakfast, I decided to check out the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road by which I thought I’d be returning to Whycocomagh tonight. I found it in poorer shape than in several years, with constant often unavoidable car-shaking bone-jarring potholes all along the section from Highway 252 to Cove Brook. From there to Glencoe Mills, the road is in better shape, but nothing like it was last year. Even the section covered with Dunakin gravel, which packs to form a hard cover almost as strong as pavement, has some bad spots; clearly the winter was not kind to this road and no one has yet paid it any attention. I stopped at the bridge over Kewstoke Brook to look for a waterfall I’d found mention of near there, but saw nothing and heard only the song of the brook by the road. It was warm and humid, the remnants of the morning fog, so I didn’t feel much like tramping through the woods looking for them. A fresh coat of gravel has been laid between the Upper Glencoe Road and the Old Mull River Road, so that part of the road was in fine shape. I turned onto the latter to see if it would be a better choice for returning tonight, but found it in worse shape than last year, when it was poor—definitely not a road for an after-dark drive. I took Highway 252 to the East Skye Glen Road and turned down it. It was in very good shape all the way to the short paved section and showed signs of recent work. The piece southeast of the paved section was not quite so good, but OK. I didn’t take any photos because of the haze remaining in the air, but, feeling tired, returned to the motel where I had a good afternoon nap, after which I completed and posted Tuesday’s account. I had supper at Charlene’s, a delicious haddock plate, and then drove to Inverness for tonight’s cèilidh.
It was marvellous to see KitchenFest! incorporating one of Alice Freeman’s legendary youth cèilidhs into their schedule. What an amazing number of fine musicians got a start or a boost from her encouragement, in my time on the island from Ian MacDougall to Robbie and Isaac Fraser to the Beaton sisters to Douglas Cameron and so many others. And the tradition continued tonight. The cèilidh began with Stuart Cameron, Hailee LeFort, and Joe MacMaster on fiddles with Margie Beaton on keyboard giving us a fine set of tunes. Next, Alice sang a verse of a Gaelic song. The MacIntyre boys, all four this time, gave us a Gaelic song; a milling song in which the second eldest sang the verses and the other three the choruses; and a puirt a beul during which the second eldest step danced instead of singing. What a talented group of youngsters! Next, Joe on fiddle and Margie on keyboard gave us two very fine sets of tunes, during the second of which David Rankin step danced; I sat beside Joe’s grandparents, who were beaming with pride at his superb playing. While Rose Cameron was getting set up, Alice led the audience in a Gaelic song. Rose, who had just graduated from high school, gave us a ballad in fine voice a cappella and a Joni Mitchell song self-accompanied on guitar. Douglas Cameron on fiddle and Margie on keyboard gave us two sets, beautifully played, the first beginning with an air new to me. Joe came back on highland bagpipes this time and with Margie on keyboard gave us a rousing set. Emily Walker then did the highland dance known as Flora MacDonald’s Fancy to accompaniment by Kevin Dugas, also on highland bagpipes. Cullen MacInnis next gave us a keyboard solo. Stuart Cameron on fiddle with Lawrence Cameron on keyboard began with a waltz and continued into other tunes and ended with spirited reels, a very fine performance indeed—he has made tremendous progress since last I heard him play; I’ll look forward to hearing him again later this summer. Hailee then step danced to music by Stuart and Lawrence. At that point, I regretfully ducked out of the cèilidh as I wanted to catch as much of the dance at Glencoe as possible; the earlier starting hour meant I’d already missed an hour of the music by the time I got there.
I arrived during the second figure of a square set with six couples. The music was provided by Stephanie MacDonald on fiddle and Amanda MacDougall on keyboard. After the square set ended, they gave us a waltz danced by three couples. Eight couples danced the next square set. Near 23h, the MacMasters arrived and Joe relieved Stephanie for the next square set, which had four couples in the first figure and six in the other two. History was surely made this night with Joe’s début at the hall most closely associated with his great uncle and he carried it off with aplomb; there were smiles aplenty on the faces of those in attendance. Stephanie returned and played for the step dancers, who were Michelle Greenwell, Burton MacIntyre, and Amanda MacDonald. The last square set got five couples. The music, nicely played, ended early as the hall had emptied out at the end of the square set. Stephanie is a fine fiddler whose music I do not get to hear frequently enough; I don’t recall when I last heard Amanda, but it was a pleasure to hear them together tonight.
Next Thursday, the Beaton sisters have organized a great benefit dance in Glencoe Mills that, like the one they did for West Mabou in the spring, will feature the cream of Cape Breton’s players. Come on out and make it a great success!
I ended up driving back to Whycocomagh the usual way, though it was slow going through the pothole-strewn lower portion of the road, even more challenging in the dark. Once again back at the motel, I was soon asleep with the tunes echoing through my dreams.
Friday, 3 July — Whycocomagh
I got up at 9h45 to a cloudy, damp morning with small patches of blue sky and the sun trying to pierce through the white clouds without much success. After breakfast, I drove Whycocomagh’s main street and stopped, in spite of the dull day, for photos of Indian Island and St Andrew’s Church and discovered a gorgeous bed of lupins beside the church; while there, my good friend Burton MacIntyre came by on his morning walk and we had a good chat. I then went back to the motel and worked on my overdue posts.
By 14h, the sun had broken through the clouds and I decided to circumnavigate Whycocomagh Bay. I drove north on the Trans-Canada Highway and turned off at exit 6 for the Little Narrows ferry. I took photos at the ferry ramp on both sides of the road, where there are lovely views of Whycocomagh Bay, St Patricks Channel, and Northside Mountain. It was a bit hazy at any great distance, but not too bad. Once across the narrows, I continued on to Estmere, where I drove Campbells Road to its drivable end (an ATV trail continues inland) and took photos of an inlet of Whycocomagh Bay and Northside Mountain from there, checking off a to-do list item. I then took Portage Road and drove it to the Orangedale Road, stopping for photos at a half dozen points along that beautiful road. The further south I got, the clearer the air became; by the end of the road, it was a nearly perfect day for photography. I was especially interested in the area of Whycocomagh Mountain near Logans Glen and trained “Big Bertha”, my 300 mm lens, on the area I had walked on Canada Day. Near the Wilburn sign, I ran into a couple from the Sydney area who geared up to go off fishing trout from along the shore as I was taking photos; we struck up a conversation and chatted for several minutes. More flowers are now out, crown vetch and daisies, among others; I also came across the first wild rose bush in full bloom I’ve seen this year. Summer, it seems, has finally arrived. What a lovely day and drive it was!
Back at the motel, I worked on this post and then got ready for the evening’s KitchenFest! cèilidh at the Red Shoe. I arrived early for dinner and started out in one of the high chairs by the window as all the tables were full. The salad and pan-seared scallops were superb, if anything even better than last year’s edition. Angie Smith, the hostess, kindly seated me with a couple from New Waterford, whom I convinced to stay on for the cèilidh and, although they had to leave half way through, they were happy they stayed for the first half.
K.C. Beaton was the evening’s emcee and introduced the three MacKenzie brothers: Angus on highland bagpipes, border pipes, and tin whistles; Kenneth on fiddle and highland bagpipes; and Calum on real piano. Great sets of tunes on the various instruments, magnificently played, enraptured the audience and the break arrived all too soon. After the break, Ronald MacKenzie, the lads’ father, gave us a Gaelic song with assistance from Ray MacArthur of Judique, after having taught the audience the chorus. They then played a set to which Jenny, Kenneth’s wife, step danced; her dance was followed by steps from Harvey Beaton, Burton MacIntyre, two ladies I don’t know dancing together, and lastly two gentlemen doing likewise. John MacLean’s beautiful and haunting Moladh Maureen NicCoinnich, a lament in praise of the lads’ mother, followed. Calum gave us a piano solo with guitar accompaniment from Pat. Kenneth then asked Pat to play a guitar solo and he obliged with a great pickin’ set, accompanied by Calum on piano. Then Kenneth on fiddle and Pat on guitar played a fine set with no piano accompaniment. Two sets with Angus and Kenneth on highland bagpipes, Calum on piano, and Pat on guitar ended the evening’s music. I regretted missing the dance at Southwest Margaree, but I was elated to have been present at this fantastic cèilidh, so full of music and instruments I love. KitchenFest! at its best! After giving the musicians my thanks, I drove back to Whycocomagh and was soon fast asleep.
Saturday, 4 July — Whycocomagh
Happy Fourth of July to my family and American friends!
I got up just before ten to a sunny warm day. I skipped breakfast and drove to St Anns as today was the last day of KitchenFest! and I spent the entire day there. The first event of the packed day was the Blas Math cèilidh, which featured a green salad, a fantastic lobster quiche packed with tasty lobster chunks, a dinner roll, strawberry shortcake, and tea, a delicious meal I thoroughly enjoyed; kudos to the fine kitchen staff at the Gaelic College. The music for the cèilidh was equally top drawer. Our emcee, David Rankin, began with an introduction and song in Gaelic, in his always fine voice. Mike Barron on fiddle, Doug MacPhee on keyboard, and Dave MacIsaac on guitar gave us a fine fiddle set. Next, Doug gave us a fine keyboard solo with Dave on backing guitar. Dave then played a guitar pickin’ solo with keyboard accompaniment by Maybelle Chisholm-McQueen. Mike on fiddle, accompanied by Maybelle on keyboard and Dave on guitar gave us three great tune sets to end the fine cèilidh. Mike is a fine fiddler whom I first came across in 2011 at a Celtic Tea Room Cèilidh at the St Anns Bay United Church, when he was accompanied by Adam Young; he was then working in the North Sea and has since then worked out west, so he is not too well known outside the Sydney area, though he is now permanently back in Cape Breton and has been appearing at various venues around the island. It had been quite some time since I heard him play and my very favourable initial impressions were confirmed today: the fine playing he demonstrated at the cèilidh will ensure that he becomes much more widely known and sought out. I had the pleasure of sharing a table with Danielle Martennson, Mike’s fiancée, whom I had first met many years ago; it was great catching up on the news with her and hearing about their plans to be married this fall at the Gaelic College.
The next event was the opening of Taigh Cèilidh, a building on the Gaelic College campus previously devoted to weaving which has been repurposed as a Gaelic home, intended to make Gaelic conversations and instruction more realistic by moving them from a classroom into a house-like atmosphere (the weaving activity has been moved to another location on campus). I was late arriving there after the cèilidh, so stood in the door for a while, but, unable to hear the remarks by the speakers within, I withdrew to the nearby porch of the Hall of the Clans, a shady spot, where I worked on a post.
From 14h30 to 15h, Nuallan presented a pipers’ cèilidh on a small stage beside the Hall of the Clans. Kenneth MacKenzie, Keith MacDonald, and Kevin Dugas on highland bagpipes, Mac Morin on keyboard, and Patrick Gillis on guitar gave us a couple of very fine sets in the open air. Joe MacMaster then approached the stage and asked to be allowed to play with the others; a chair was found for him and he played a set with the group. The final set was with just the original players. Fine music I absolutely love! How great it is to hear the pipes ringing on the campus of the Gaelic College!
From 15h15 to 20h50, the KitchenFest! outdoor closing concert took place in the natural amphitheatre at the Gaelic College. It was a fantastic concert I thoroughly enjoyed from start to end. Colin MacDonald and David Rankin shared the emcee duties; the following is the list of performances:
Now that’s a concert!!!
a great Gaelic milling song given by Brittany Rankin, Jeff MacDonald, David Rankin, Colin MacDonald, Màiri Britton, and four others whose faces I do not recognize from the photos I took
a fine fiddle set by Mike Barron accompanied by Doug MacPhee on keyboard and Dave MacIsaac on guitar
a nice piano solo by Doug MacPhee accompanied by Dave MacIsaac on guitar
a beautiful Gaelic song by Rita Rankin followed by the Song for Ireland
a dandy fiddle set by Robbie Fraser accompanied by Maybelle Chisholm-McQueen on keyboard
a grand highland bagpipes set by Joe MacMaster accompanied by Mac Morin on keyboard
two folk songs by Donnie Campbell, who accompanied himself on guitar
a fine mandolin set by Pius MacIsaac accompanied by Dave MacIsaac on guitar
a nice fiddle set by Brenda Stubbert accompanied by Doug MacPhee on keyboard and Dave MacIsaac on guitar
two songs by Buddy MacDonald, This Old House by John Ferguson and Ain’t Nobody Home No More
a fine dual fiddle set by Dawn and Margie Beaton accompanied by Robbie Fraser on keyboard
a figure of a square set¹ danced by the St Anns Bay Dancers to the music of Kyle MacDonald on fiddle, Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes, and Colin MacDonald on keyboard
a nice set with Anita MacDonald on fiddle, Ben Miller on small pipes, and Tyson Chen on keyboard in the latter part of which Màiri Britton and David Rankin step danced
two songs by Gordie Sampson, who accompanied himself on guitar, the latter of which was Sunburn
a wowzer of a guitar pickin’ set by Gordie Sampson, Dave MacIsaac, and Patrick Gillis
two great sets by the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, directed by Dara MacDonald and with Colin MacDonald on the keyboard: the Teviot Bridge set and the Memories of Father Charlie MacDonald set
two lovely songs by Connie MacAskill on vocals and Larry MacAskill on guitar, the first of which was Hush, Hush, Bonnie Baby
a grand dual fiddle set with Rodney MacDonald and Glenn Graham, accompanied by Joey Beaton on keyboard and Dave MacIsaac on guitar
a fine step dance by Harvey MacKinnon to the music of Rodney MacDonald and Glenn Graham on dual fiddles, accompanied by Joey Beaton on keyboard and Dave MacIsaac on guitar
a nice fiddle set by Donna-Marie DeWolfe, accompanied by Maybelle Chisholm-McQueen on keyboard and Dave MacIsaac on guitar
a great set by Nuallan: Kenneth MacKenzie, Keith MacDonald, and Kevin Dugas on highland bagpipes, Mac Morin on keyboard, Patrick Gillis on guitar, and Kyle MacDonald on drums
a lovely highland dance by the Change of Step Dancers (including Jenny MacKenzie) to the music of Nuallan
a fine Gaelic love song by Màiri Britton, joined by Jeff MacDonald, Colin Watson, and David Rankin
a beautiful Gaelic song by Jeff MacDonald, joined by Colin Watson, Màiri Britton, Keith MacDonald, Colin MacDonald, Kyle MacDonald, and David Rankin
a wonderful step dance by Harvey Beaton to the music of Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle, Mac Morin on keyboard, and Patrick Gillis on guitar
a long performance by the North Shore Celtic ensemble from British Columbia, a good-sized group of talented young players with many instruments, including bass, a sound box, a recorder, fiddles, and guitar, but no keyboard, producing a Celtic-sounding potpourri with a touch of Québécois music mixed in (La Bastringue) and including Irish dancers
a fine Scotch Four danced by Margie Beaton, Jenny MacKenzie, David Rankin, and Colin MacDonald to the music of Glenn Graham and Rodney MacDonald on dual fiddles, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard
two dances by Kelly MacArthur’s Capeland Dancers with music by Kevin Dugas on highland bagpipes
a great Gaelic song by Colin Watson followed by a puirt a beul march, strathspey, and two reels
two very nice fiddle sets by Shawn MacDonald, accompanied by Paul MacDonald on guitar, the second of which had a slow air beautifully played
a fantastic step dance by Kelly MacLennan, Melody Cameron, and Stephen MacLennan to the music of Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard
a beautiful and superbly played air/strathspeys/reels fiddle set by Douglas Cameron, with Lawrence Cameron on keyboard
a marvellous fiddle set by Andrea Beaton, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard and Gordie Sampson on guitar, just perfection itself!
a step dance by Melanie MacDonald to the music of Andrea Beaton on fiddle, Allan Dewar on keyboard, and Gordie Sampson on guitar
a superb fiddle set by Shelly Campbell, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard, full of strathspeys and an absolute joy!
the finale: Shawn MacDonald, Margie Beaton, Kayla Marchand, Shelly Campbell, Douglas Cameron, Mike Barron, Andrea Beaton, Dawn Beaton, and Kyle MacDonald on fiddles; Lawrence Cameron on keyboard; Paul MacDonald on guitar; during which Kyle MacDonald, Dawn Beaton, Kayla Marchand, David Rankin, and Brittany Rankin step danced
Once the concert was over, the final event of the day, a Pub Night, took place in the Hall of the Clans. It began with Darrel Keigan singing folk songs the audience was encouraged to join. The main event of the evening was the release party for the crowd-funded recording Nuallan: The EP; it began with a rousing set by Kenneth MacKenzie, Kevin Dugas, and Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes, Mac Morin on keyboard, Patrick Gillis on guitar, and Kyle MacDonald on drums. The second set had Kevin on highland bagpipes, Mac on keyboard, at Patrick on guitar. All the players were present for the third set, which featured the Change of Step Dancers. The fourth set featured Keith on highland bagpipes, accompanied by Mac on keyboard, Patrick on guitar, and Kyle on drums. The fifth set began with a march, Boc Liath nan Gabhar (The Grey Buck), played slowly by all three pipers and then followed by strathspeys and reels. Next, David Rankin, Colin Watson, Colin MacDonald, and Keith MacDonald gave us the Gaelic song Cha Thrèiginn Fhìn Mo Chruinneag Dhonn. One final set from all the musicians ended this segment of the evening, bringing on stage David Rankin, Brittany Rankin, Jenny MacKenzie, two ladies I didn’t recognize, Dawn Beaton, Shelly Campbell, Rodney MacDonald, Andrea Beaton, another lady I didn’t recognize, Anita MacDonald, Kay Dugas, Margie Beaton, and Mac Morin (for whom Colin MacDonald subbed on keyboard) to give their steps. After another set of folk songs from Darrel Keigan, Andrea Beaton and Mac Morin took the stage for two superb fiddle sets. They then played for a square set, joined on the last figure by Gordie Sampson on guitar, that was danced by six couples and ran way past the closing hour of 0h. What a fitting way to end another fantastic KitchenFest!
As I drove back to Whycocomagh, I reflected on the amazing day it had been! If you missed it, you indeed missed a corker! It was, however, one of a kind with the whole of KitchenFest! What an incredible festival! My heartfelt thanks to the hard work of the organizers in putting it together and bringing it off so successfully as well as to the musicians who made the entire festival such a joy from start to end. It’s definitely not to be missed!
Sunday, 5 July — Whycocomagh
I got up very late, past 11h, tired from the long day yesterday and nursing an incipient head cold. I was too late for breakfast, so I worked some on Thursday’s post and did some other errands. The day was warming with some sun, but mostly obscured skies. I drove to Judique allowing extra time for the road, and was surprised to discover that the section from Cove Brook to the Kewstoke Bridge had been given a fresh coat of gravel, bringing it back to the state it had last year; hopefully, the same will soon be done for the section from Cove Brook to Whycocomagh. The Rear Intervale Road was in fine shape, so I arrived early for the cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre.
The afternoon’s music featured Mairi Rankin on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard and what wonderful music it was! I have been a fan of Mairi ever since I first heard her and her CD, First Hand, on which she is joined by Mac on piano and Patrick Gillis on guitar (among other artists), is in regular play at home and in the car. Since she now lives in British Columbia and is on tour much of the year with her band, The Outside Track, she is not often in Cape Breton, so this cèilidh was a great musical treat! Four square sets were danced during the afternoon, garnering nine couples in the third; the single waltz set garnered two couples. Marion Graham step danced twice and Mary MacGillivray followed her in one set. Near the middle of the afternoon, she played her lovely Lament for John Morris, present on her CD. Mac followed it up with a fine piano solo. She finished off the afternoon with a set beginning with Ashokan Farewell, a special request by an audience member. It was a fine cèilidh I thoroughly enjoyed.
Since I had eaten dinner during the cèilidh, I drove back to the motel, where I completed and posted Thursday’s account and caught up on some reading. I went to bed early, still tired, but minus the head cold.
Monday, 6 July — Whycocomagh
I got up about 8h after a great night's sleep. The morning was a nice summery one, but hazy across the water. Today is the day the Celtic Colours tickets go on sale and I didn’t want a repeat of last year, when, as every previous year I had waited until I got home to order tickets, and found two sold out concerts I badly wanted to attend (though, thanks to the kindness of friends, I was ultimately able to). So, I drove up to Sydney and located, thanks to the photo on the Celtic Colours web site and a very helpful receptionist on George Street, the box office (my GPS found Nepean Street with ease, but thought #37 was elsewhere than it proved to be). As I anticipated, the queue was long—there was only one ticket agent—but exceptionally well organized: a lady with a clipboard took our names and directed us to a waiting area where there were tea and chairs and we were entertained by Dawn Beaton on solo fiddle, who gave us some dandy tunes sumptuously played. I worked on Friday’s account when she finished playing. When my turn came an hour later, I was shocked to discover that the Pipers’ Cèilidh in St Anns and the Monday show in Judique were both almost sold out; I took the last tickets for one and nearly the last for the other, at the far back for both shows, as that was all that was left. This was two hours after the tickets went on sale, so I’m sure glad I didn’t wait! I guess I should have been there when the doors opened! But I’m certainly puzzled how folks managed to buy all those tickets in the first two hours of availability, given the unresponsive backlogged computers I've experienced on opening days in years past. Looks to me like both those shows are popular enough that they should be offered twice!
I tried to locate the No Quarter Deli and Market at 270 George Street on foot and by the car’s GPS, but didn’t find it, so gave up and had lunch instead at the Dairy Queen on George Street. Then, I drove out Highway 4 to Blacketts Lake and turned there and then took the Coxheath and Gillis Lake Roads to Highway 216. Thanks to reconstruction in the past couple of years, the last was in better shape than I’d ever seen it. North of Eskasoni, however, it was in very poor shape, with broken pavement and gaping huge potholes, some circled with paint, whether as a warning or an indication that it has been noted for repair I do not know. The road improves slightly near Benacadie, but still needs work. I turned onto the Pipers Cove/Derby Point Road (my car’a GPS uses both names), which had a recent fresh coat of gravel, and enjoyed the views, hazy though they were. I stopped for ice cream at the café in Grand Narrows and settled for a bowl of “caramel explosion” after I discovered that the maple walnut was out of stock; it proved to be delicious. The honest young lad who served me brought to my table the change I had intended as a tip and I returned it to him. I continued across the Grand Narrows Bridge and followed Highway 223 to Portage Road and so back to Whycocomagh. What a magnificent trip! The Trans-Canada Highway is beautiful along its whole length, with views of Highlands and the shores of the western side of the Bras d’Or Lakes system; the afternoon drive is just as scenic as it follows along the base of the Coxheath Hills, a range between the Boisdale Hills and those above the Mira River and roughly parallel to both; then along East Bay (the water) and its islands to Pipers Cove with the East Bay Hills beyond; then the coast around Derby Point with grand views of Pipers Cove and the Bras d’Or Lake; then the Barra Strait and more grand views of the Bras d’Or Lake from Iona and Jamesville; and finally the views of Whycocomagh Bay from Portage Road. Cape Breton beauty at its finest!
Back at the motel, the lad who works at the desk introduced himself to me and we chatted about music and hiking. I then worked on these notes and on Friday’s. Afterwards, I drove to Mabou and had dinner at the Mull.
Then, it was on to the Strathspey Place for the inaugural performance of Brìgh, which my Scottish Gaelic dictionary defines as “drift (of argument, etc.), energy, epitome, essence, force, gist, import, juice, matter, meaning, moment (of import), pith (metaph[orically]), point (in argument), purport, sense, significance, substance, tenor”. Presented every Monday at 19h in July and August, this show knocked my socks off and is an absolute “must-see”! The program lists Tracey [Dares-]MacNeil as the show’s producer, musical director, and pianist; Emily MacDonald as the Gaelic director and responsible for the audio/visual component; Joyce MacDonald as the scriptwriter; and Cindy O’Neill as the theatrical director; together they have conceived a program presented by a cast of twenty-four young local Gaels ranging in age from primary school students to high-schoolers that is a powerful and compelling celebration of Gaelic culture through music, dance, story-telling, and song. The backdrop to the set is a floor-to-ceiling projection of photographs of local scenery, some supplied by Steve Rankin, and is alone worth the price of admission. But it is the supremely talented young cast’s exuberant energy, verve, and élan in carrying off this varied production that will seize your attention and not let it go. The two story-telling episodes are based on local Gaelic tales and conducted in Gaelic, but with enough pantomime that this non-Gaelic speaker was able to follow the story lines pretty well. The choral numbers were fantastic, beautifully sung and with incredible energy: this cast has no shrinking violets and you’ll have no trouble whatsoever hearing them! The musical numbers were equally well done. And the dance numbers, a Scotch Four, two different step dance numbers, and the third figure of a square set were all one could possibly desire. In toto, the name chosen for the production proved perfectly apt: in a very concentrated dose, it conveyed the essence of Gaelic culture in a short time with energy and “juice”. Even if you have to drive some distance to see it, be sure to take this show in! I’ll definitely be back on my next trip.
After the show, I drove back to Brook Village for the dance, tonight with Kinnon Beaton on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard. For Brook Village, it was a smaller crowd than usual, but one in a dancing mood as seven full square sets were danced, with perhaps 25 couples on the floor at the high point of the evening. Robbie Fraser relieved Kinnon for the sixth square set. The first waltz set between the third and fourth square sets attracted more than a dozen couples; my notes do not say how many danced to Faded Love after the sixth square set. The step dance music which followed had no takers so Kinnon switched to jigs which began the seventh square set. No one got up for the jigs after the seventh square set, so Kinnon played a polka and then reels, for which five couples got up and danced the third figure of another square set to close the dance. It was a kind of strange dance for Brook Village in summer, but the music was excellent throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was soon asleep back at the motel, the tunes still playing in my dreams.
Tuesday, 7 July — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
I awoke to a decent day, though not for photography. After breakfast at Vi’s, I decided to go hiking and drove to Michael’s Landing across the backcountry. I was delighted to see new gravel on the initial section of the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road; while it didn’t fill in all the holes, the road, which I travel a lot, is now in a reasonable state and no longer the circus ride it was last week.
After admiring the scenery at the Landing for a few minutes and an application of sunscreen and Deep Woods Off™, I headed north on the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail (also known as the Judique Flyer Trail, the Trans-Canada Trail, and the Railway Trail) at 12h43. I stopped for photos at the bridge over what the sign there says is the Judique Interval River (the signage on Highway 19 says Judique Intervale Brook, as does the Nova Scotia Atlas), a lovely spot where I noticed a guy fishing on the bank by the bridge on the Shore Road. Thereafter, there are no equivalent vistas, just a trek through the forest, enlivened by lots of beautiful wildflowers (daisies were so prevalent in one section I named it Daisy Lane), now including red and white clover, hay in flower, and the yellow variety of the plant I know as Indian paint brush (what my wildflowers guide identifies by that name is something else) and its much bigger and shorter cousin whose name my wildflowers guide gives as “mouse-ear hawkweed”. In particular, no views of McKays Pond are available from the trail as it passes to the east and north, though semi-open views of a small brook that enters the pond can be seen. It was a warm day with a good breeze blowing in off St Georges Bay and I stopped frequently, often out of breath—and this is a level hike—but eventually reached kilometre marker 34. I turned around there and stopped soon after at the first driveway crossing the trail where I had a couple of apples, a granola bar, and two 500 ml bottles of water. Others were out on the trail as well: two cyclists heading south and a jogger who turned around at the driveway as I was eating, another gentleman was walking north as I returned south, and two different ATV’s passed by, one twice in each direction. It is good to see the multi-use trail being put to good use. I made it back to the car at 16h27, for a total distance of 8 km (5 mi) round trip (kilometre marker 30 is just south of the kiosk at Michaels Landing and I made sure to round it before returning to the car), for a most unimpressive rate of 2.14 km/h (1.3 mph). As I said, I move very slowly these days, even on the level. But it was nevertheless a lovely way to spend the afternoon and did me a world of good.
I drove on to Port Hood, got my motel room, and got cleaned up from the hike. I then drove to Mabou for a fine dinner at the Red Shoe as I listened to Anita MacDonald on fiddle and piano and Ben Miller on small pipes, accompanied by Anita’s sister, Lauren, on guitar, as they played in various combinations of instruments for the diners. After giving thanks to the musicians for their fine music, I walked across to the Community Hall for the cèilidh; just outside the door, I chatted with a couple from British Columbia, one of whom has roots in the Margarees, who were home for a few weeks and taking in some music.
Karen and Joey’s cèilidh tonight featured Kinnon Beaton as the guest fiddler. With Karen and Kinnon on dual fiddles and Joey on keyboard, they began with a set of three jigs, the first a Donald Angus Beaton tune in honour of Joe Chaisson, The Lame Duck, and The Irish Washerwoman. Next, they played a Rannie MacLellan march followed by two strathspeys and two reels. A medley of jigs beginning with Walking the Floor and ending with The Weaver and His Wife followed. Kinnon on fiddle and Joey on keyboard gave us a slow strathspey by J Scott Skinner that was not familiar to me and ended with the Lloyd Carr Reel by John Campbell. Kinnon, with Betty Lou on keyboard, then gave us an air he wrote for his late godmother and followed it with two strathspeys and some reels to end the first half. After the break, Joey played Nancy March as a keyboard solo. Karen on fiddle with Joey on keyboard give us a set of waltzes including Sweet Forget-Me-Not and Black Diamond Band. She then give us Joan MacDonald Boes’ The Sweetness of Mary, a fine slow strathspey. Kinnon and Joey then gave us The Road to the Isles (a tune he played at a wedding six years ago for a couple in the audience who danced to it as it was played) plus strathspeys and reels. He then played as Harvey MacKinnon gave us some fine steps. Karen and Kinnon on dual fiddles with Joey on keyboard closed the cèilidh with four fine tunes. I ducked out without giving my usual thanks to the musicians as the Scotsville dance was already underway and I wanted to get there as quickly as possible.
This year, the Scotsville dances are back on Tuesdays and, like Glencoe’s, now run from 21h-0h, making it hard to fit in both an evening cèilidh and a dance. I arrived at 21h43. Robbie Fraser on fiddle and Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier on keyboard provided the music, and fine music it was. The crowd, which grew to about 35 at its height (only a few left before the end), was clearly not a dancing one: only three square sets were danced in the time I was there, each one with just four couples. That gave Robbie a chance to play slow airs and marches and other non-dance tunes and he said later the lack of dancers didn’t discourage him because it give him a chance to share tunes with Kathleen. Two step dance sequences were played; Joan Cameron was the only one who step danced for the first one; on the second, a lady I don’t know, Joan, and Carmen MacArthur all give us their steps. Waltzes, like most of the jig sets, got no takers, but one set in 4/4 time got six couples up round dancing. In one of the square sets, the second figure was different and intrigued me; Joan told me later it is called the “ladies-in-the-middle” figure: the women form an X in the centre while the men circle around outside, something one doesn’t see every day. All told, it was kind of a strange dance, but that was clearly what those present wanted and the music was great, so I had no complaints and enjoyed myself thoroughly. It was a longer drive back to Port Hood than I liked, but no information on the Scotsville dances was available when I made my reservations. I’ll arrange to be in Whycocomagh if they continue when I return in August. I got back without incident and was quickly asleep.
Wednesday, 8 July — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I arose at 9h to an overcast day with sunny breaks. After breakfast at Sandeannies (fish cakes and bacon and eggs), I drove back down the Shore Road to where I was hiking yesterday to measure the distances from where I left off to Maryville Station. It would have been a good day for another hike there, but I was still tired and so decided to drive to Mabou Coal Mines instead. I stopped for photos of Coal Mine Point and lost my lens cap, attached via a sticky adhesive to a cord, to the force of the strong, gusty wind. I searched the adjacent tall grasses for it without luck; no biggie as I had a spare in my camera bag, but will have to be less trusting of the adhesive in the future (it held very well last year). No cattle nor horses were along the cliffs above the beach this year (nor, if memory serves, last year either); I miss them, especially the photogenic friendly horse who liked having its photo taken. I missed Landing Day (the day the lobster traps are pulled and brought to shore) this year, which was later than usual due to the late start of the fishing season, but got some photos of the traps still on the wharf at Finlay Point Harbour. If you’ve never seen the pragmatic, but also very artistic way they are neatly stacked with their lines and floats, do yourself a favour and have a look while you can; my thanks again to David Greenwell, whose stunning photos from a few years ago first made me aware of their wonderful symmetry and great beauty that he captured in a way I have never come close to achieving—he has an amazing eye! Drove to the Mabou Post Road Trail Head (Cnoc Aitein), where I found some cleared land for additional parking. As the light was good only for close-up photography and I was still tired from yesterday’s hike, I drove back to the motel in Whycocomagh via the beautiful Northeast Mabou, Blackstone, and West Lake Ainslie Roads; low, dark grey clouds accompanied me all the way.
After a short nap, I drove to Baddeck (the clouds were halfway down the mountain at the centre of the Washabuck Peninsula and the far side of the lake was invisible at Baddeck) for my first lobster dinner of this trip at the Baddeck Lobster Suppers establishment there: mussels, chowder, lobster with all the fixin’s (potato salad, garden salad, and cole slaw), topped off with blueberry crisp and tea. The lobster was excellent: I alternated tail and claw, never able to decide which I like better. A delicious meal indeed! On the hills above Baddeck Bay and further north on the Trans-Canada Highway, fog was at eye-level. However, I made it to St Anns with no problems.
Tonight was the cèilidh for the first youth session week at the Gaelic College; it gave the instructors for the many disciplines taught a chance to present their artistry to the students and the public alike. Emceed by Margie Beaton, the cèilidh began with Ryan MacDonald playing three great sets on small pipes, accompanied by Mac Morin on keyboard. Next, Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Mac on keyboard gave us a great rollicking rousing set with lots of shouts of approval from her fiddle students. Wendy then played unaccompanied while Mac gave us some great steps. Stacy MacLean sang the verses of a Gaelic song on which Bernard Cameron joined her for the choruses. Then, Bernard told a fine Gaelic story with broad gestures as Stacy interleaved his sentences with their English translations. With Wendy accompanying on keyboard, Maxim Cormier gave us a great set of tunes picked out on the guitar. Boyd MacNeil on fiddle with Lawrence Cameron on keyboard next gave us a set of jigs. His wife, Lisa Gallant, joined Boyd for a fine dual fiddles set with Lawrence on keyboard. Boyd and Lawrence then played for Lisa to step dance. Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes, joined by Maxim on guitar, played a great set of tunes. Kevin Dugas played with Keith on his second set, with Mac on keyboard and Maxim on guitar; Janine Lespérance performed a highland dance later on in this set. Mairi Rankin began her set, accompanied by Mac on keyboard, with a lovely tune she wrote for a wedding and followed it with strathspeys and reels. For the finale, Wendy, Mairi, and Boyd on fiddles; Lawrence on keyboard; Maxim on guitar; and Keith on highland bagpipes provided the music while Kevin gave us some steps, after which Lisa, Mac, and Janine step danced together. It was a fantastic cèilidh, greatly appreciated by all present, youth and adults alike. How lucky these youngsters are to have such masters as teachers! The Gaelic College is truly a most important institution in promoting and propagating Cape Breton’s musical culture and traditions!\
When I left the Gaelic College, the fog had been replaced by heavy rain. I was delayed nearly an hour by an accident on the Trans-Canada Highway north of the Baddeck Inlet bridge; the RCMP, fire trucks, and EMT trucks were all on the scene after roaring past me with lights and sirens. I used the time waiting to write much of this account. I couldn’t see much as I passed by when we were finally allowed through, but it appears a van had been on fire. The rain had stopped by then and the rest of the trip back was blessedly uneventful. Still tired, I will soon be in bed.
Thursday, 9 July — Whycocomagh
What a morning greeted me when I awoke today! A beautiful day with blue skies, clear air, and sun, a mild day perfect for so many activities. I decided to skip breakfast, as I was still full from yesterday’s lobster repast, so drove out to East Lake Ainslie and stopped three times for photos. The wind was strong and white caps reached as far as the eye could see. Surprisingly, the far shores were indistinct with what appeared to be haze, but those adjacent and the mountains behind me were crystal clear. I was more interested in the forms of the distant highlands than in details so I shot merrily away anyway. I then drove back to the West Lake Ainslie Road, which I took to the Lake Ainslie Chapel Brook Village Road (freshly gravelled, but wet from last night’s rains) and it to Highway 252. Drove into Mabou where I had a giant and delicious mozza burger with hash browns for lunch at the Shining Waters, garnished with chipotle mayonnaise the waitress said, which gave it a delightful bite. Then drove out Mabou Harbour Road to Green Point, where I again found haze in West Mabou and clear air on the adjacent Cape Mabou Highlands. Stopped for a good visit with a friend in Mabou Harbour, whom I found outside tending his innovative vegetable gardens planted in no longer used crab traps filled with soil so he doesn’t have to bend over to weed them. I was glad to catch up on his news and to share mine. Then drove the Rankinville Road and crossed Murrays Bridge over the Mull River and up the hill to Hillsborough and back to the motel, where I fell asleep in my chair, still tired from Tuesday’s hike, I guess. I worked on Tuesday’s account, but didn’t get it completed.
I grabbed an egg sandwich and a green salad to go from the Farmers Daughter and headed off to Glencoe Mills. I was delighted to discover that the initial section of the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road had been freshly gravelled, making it fit for travel again; fresh gravel had also been laid from the Glencoe Road to the MacLellan Road, so the only section needing a bit of work is the section from the MacLellan Road to the Kewstoke Brook bridge, which has a couple of protruding rocks and a few bumps needing filling, but is otherwise already in pretty good shape. The newly laid gravel sure made the trip up and back a joy!
I got to the Parish Hall at 20h04, where I found ten cars already there. After eating half the egg sandwich in the car, I went inside, where, as promised on the poster, a walk-through of the three figures for those new to the Mabou set was in progress, led by David Rankin with help from a few friends. They then did a run-through with music supplied by Margie Beaton on fiddle and Paryse Broussard on real piano. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to get the piano miked properly, a keyboard was brought in and used for the rest of the evening. The first square set finally got underway at 21h22, with Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle and Margie on keyboard; two queues were used for roughly 20 couples. Thereafter, the floor was so full of dancers I couldn’t get any accurate counts, with giant groups formed before the musicians were tuned up and ready to play; two queues were used and both were full as far as I could see, with 20 to 25 in the nearest queue and likely as many in the other for the rest of the night. Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton played the second square set. Kyle MacDonald on fiddle with Mac Morin on keyboard and Sandy MacDonald on guitar played for the third square set; Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes joined them on the second half of the first and third figures (and perhaps all of the second figure—my notes are unclear). Wendy MacIsaac and Mairi Rankin on dual fiddles, with Mac on keyboard and Sandy on guitar played for the fourth square set and then for the long step dance sequence, during which Stephen MacLennan, Amanda MacDonald, MacKenzie Greenwell (with clickety taps on his shoes in an amazing dance), Siobhan Beaton, Kimberley Wotherspoon, Mary-Janet MacDonald, David Rankin, Burton MacIntyre, Harvey MacKinnon, and seven ladies whose names I don’t know gave us some very fine steps. Dawn and Margie Beaton on dual fiddles, with Lawrence Cameron on keyboard and Sandy on guitar, played for the fifth square set. After midnight, the MacKenzie brothers, Kenneth and Angus on highland bagpipes and Calum on keyboard with Sandy on guitar, played the final square set; while there were a few less people in the hall by then, there were still 23 couples in the nearest queue. With musicians like these, the music all night long was of the highest calibre and the dancers reäcted to it with great joy and enthusiasm, stepping through the sets with energy and verve on a very crowded floor. Given the figure for the gate I heard, there must have been 250 paying attendees (children under twelve are admitted free), an incredible number of folks I haven’t seen since the last time Natalie MacMaster played there! And it was a real Glencoe dance, with lots of children dancing, some under five, often with help and encouragement from the other adults present and not just their parents. It was just what I remember from my very first Glencoe dance in 2001, with five generations on the floor passing the culture on to the younger dancers and having a great amount of fun doing so. And so it was tonight—way beyond awesome! What a great joy to see! My sincerest thanks to the Beaton sisters for organizing this benefit for the Glencoe dances; to all the musicians, who donated their services to keep the Glencoe dances going strong; to the volunteers who have kept these dances going through some tough times in recent years; and to all those who turned out to show their support for these amazing family dances. I hope the rest of the summer sees them continuing to be successful. I drove back to the motel a very happy person indeed! After finishing the sandwich and the salad in my room, I was instantly asleep.
Friday, 10 July — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
I got up at 9 to a beautiful summery morning. I decided to skip breakfast in favour of a lunch at the Dancing Goat. I drove north on the Trans-Canada Highway and ruled out a trip to Washabuck as some light haze showed across the water. Turned onto the Yankee Line Road just north of Wagmatcook and drove into Middle River, where I took care of three items on my list. I had photos of one of the two side-by-side churches there, but not the other; I now have them both, together and separately and from a few different vantage points. I drove the Church Crossing Road to the West Side Middle River Road and it to the MacLennans Cross Road, where I found a crew at work on the foundations of the bridge over the Middle River there, and it back to the Cabot Trail. I headed back towards Middle River and turned left onto the MacIntyre Road just past the bridge over MacLeods Brook. This was another road I’d never previously driven that I happened upon while writing my last photo essay. I drove it to its end and photographed the two ponds I found, a smaller unnamed one along the road and a larger one called MacKenzie Pond in Google Maps and Grants Pond on local signage at the end of the road. Google Maps shows MacIntyre Road continuing on into the highlands, but the only way forward I saw was a driveway into the farm house above the pond, which my car’s GPS said ended there. I retraced my steps to the Cabot Trail and drove north to the Dancing Goat, where I assuaged my hunger with a wonderful Black Forest ham sandwich, a green salad, a fruit bowl, and tea.
Properly refreshed, I drove out the East Big Intervale Road, in excellent shape with a fresh gravel coat (the section between the second and fourth bridges was being graded as I passed through), to Kingross and Big Intervale and answered another question on my to-resolve list: how many bridges are there between Hatchery Road and Kingross? The correct answer is four, but somewhere I had gotten it into my head that there were five. I drove into the Big Intervale cemetery, which I came across working on last fall’s photo essay, on an overgrown two-track-and-grass-crown road that was still readily drivable and found some great views of Sugarloaf Mountain and the adjacent Margaree Highlands across an open field; also took several photos of the older tombstones. I continued on to the Northeast Margaree River, where, alas, the green truss bridge no longer stands, removed as I had expected after I was there last fall, leaving only the new Bailey bridge. I then drove back to Hatchery Road and took it to Portree. Unusually, no one was fishing in the river, but at least ten were in swimming, mostly young folk. I got more photos there and at the look-off further on. Hatchery Road and the section of the West Big Intervale Road to Crowdis Crossing Road, both paved, are in bad shape, very bumpy and irregular with the patched patches needing more patches. I drove to Margaree Centre and took the Cranton Cross Road back to the East Big Intervale Road and it to the Cabot Trail; the bridge on the Cranton Cross Road is weight limited to 5 tonnes with one-way traffic controlled by stop lights, forcing heavier traffic to use the green truss bridge at Portree. It had became quite warm and, as I approached Margaree Forks, I decided to visit the ice creamery just across the bridge over the Southwest Margaree River and had my first Scotsburn maple walnut ice cream of this trip, a delicious treat I have been looking forward to all winter. I got my motel room and wrote this account to this point. Then I finished up yesterday’s account and posted it. I drove to Southwest Margaree and, having arrived way early, worked on Tuesday’s account in the car.
The dance was the strangest one I’ve ever attended in Southwest Margaree: very few people were here when I came inside at 9h50 and there weren’t enough couples for a square set until 22h24—unprecedented in my experience of these dances stretching over fifteen years! Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton, who supplied the evening’s wonderful music, played strathspeys, marches, and other tunes to fill in the gaps between sets. Six square sets were danced, all with four couples each, except for the fourth and fifth which had six and five couples, respectively. Three waltz sets got a few couples up for each. There were even two jig sets with no takers! At Southwest no less! Unbelievable! Still, the music was great and I enjoyed catching up with the friends I’ve made there over the years. It was a great evening and, back at the motel room, I was again quickly asleep, the cool air of the night perfect for sleeping.
Saturday, 11 July — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I got up at 9h15 to a hazy morning. I drove to the Dancing Goat for breakfast: bacon, eggs, multi-grain toast, fruit bowl, and tea, all great. Mary MacGillivray joined me at my table and we had a good chat as we each enjoyed our food. The haze was somewhat abated by the time I drove back—just a thin shimmering blue layer against the greens of the highlands—but it was thick along the coast at the look-off at Terre-Noire, with Sight Point mostly obscured and barely distinguishable in the distance. The waters of the Gulf were flat and placid, but more a steely blue reflecting the layer of thin high white clouds above. I stopped off at the harbour in Grand-Étang for more photos of lobster traps, as neat there as at Finlay Point, and of the boats in the harbour below Squirrel Mountain. A lovely range of highlands and fields rose in the Gulf to the west, continuing way north of La Pointe, an illusion caused by a huge fog bank and the sun playing on it. I drove the Old Cabot Trail to Point Cross and the Cabot Trail into Chéticamp; the Old Cabot Trail is every bit as pretty as its replacement and I was delighted to see the two horses still there, though they were beside the barn and too far away for photos today. As I was way early for the Doryman cèilidh, once inside, I completed and posted Tuesday’s account.
The Doryman cèilidh today featured Troy MacGillivray on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard. I have been privileged to enjoy a lot of great music on the Doryman’s stage over the years, but none was finer than the wonderful music I heard today! Troy’s seemingly unstoppable playing poured forth in a torrent and had lift, bounce, and drive and his slow airs were lush, exquisite, and oh, so expressive (a connoisseur of the music taught me early that “slow airs best reveal a fiddler’s talent”); Allan’s keyboard wizardry was the perfect enhancement to all of Troy’s tunes, laying down the rhythm and adding graceful embellishment and inventive enhancements that made the tunes robust and whole. What an absolute delight to listen to these two masters play a huge number of my favourite tunes! They have so often played together that each knows the other’s music to a T. It was not a dancing crowd and the hall was only half full at the start, adding more as the afternoon progressed, but never reaching the packed state it so often attains in high summer. They began with a jig set full of my favourite tunes, but no one got up for a square set. Two more wonderful jig sets at widely spaced intervals also got no takers, but one square set was finally danced with four couples at 16h45. After the square set finished, Andrea LeBlanc on fiddle and a lady from Moncton on keyboard (she told me her name, but it evaporated from my very short term memory before I could get it written down) relieved Troy and Allan, giving us three fine sets. A step dance sequence was then played; it brought two ladies whose names I don’t know, Kimberley Wotherspoon, Margaret Courtney, the gentleman collecting at the door, and another lady whose name is unknown to me to the floor to share their steps. Les MacKinnon, my table companion for the afternoon, requested Dusty Miller and Picnic Reel; a gentleman at our table step danced during the set containing these tunes. Simply an unforgettable, marvellous afternoon of music!
During the proceedings, I had a delicious salad and huge haddock fillet, followed by a bowl of baked ice cream drizzled with tasty chocolate and caramel sauces, so I had no need to stop for supper afterwards. The fog bank was just off Chéticamp Island when I left the Doryman and had apparently come ashore further south while I was inside enjoying the music. Noticeable and often thick haze covered the entire coastal area from Chéticamp to Inverness and doubtless along Cape Mabou and further south, as it was very visible in both Mabou and Port Hood (I bypassed Inverness by taking the Deepdale Road, which, freshly gravelled, was in fine shape, rather different than the sorry state it was reported to be in this winter in the Oran); clouds decorated the upper flanks of Squirrel Mountain and the furthest one could see from the Terre-Noire look-off was Cape Grey just south of Margaree Harbour: no trace of Sight Point nor of Margaree Island was to be seen. It was fine for driving but not for seeing any distance. In Port Hood, I got my motel room and worked on this post. Although Port Hood Island was visible across the harbour, the drive back to West Mabou was very hazy and the southern edge of the Cape Mabou Highlands was very fuzzy. There was nothing like a typical sunset either. Hope this does not portend bad weather for the Glendale concert tomorrow!
The dance at West Mabou featured Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle and Allan Dewar on real piano, sounding as fresh as if he hadn’t played all afternoon at the Doryman! The first square set got underway at 22h17 with fourteen couples in two groups. It wasn’t a packed high summer dance, but the five following square sets numbered from fourteen to nineteen couples and frequent changes of personnel on the floor, so it was fairly well attended, especially considering the other local events going on tonight. Troy relieved Donna-Marie for the fourth square set. The step dance sequence brought to the floor Stephen MacLennan, as amazing as ever; MacKenzie Greenwell (no taps tonight, but just as impressive steps); Andrea Leblanc; Kimberley Wotherspoon; Amanda MacDonald; and two of Mary-Elizabeth’s daughters. Waltzes followed the last square set and the dance ended a bit early as the hall had emptied out. Fine music and good dancers—what more could one want? I was soon fast asleep back in my Port Hood motel room.
Sunday, 12 July — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
Up again at 9h as I’m once more between motel rooms. Drove to Sandeannies for breakfast, but found the parking area there so full of cars there was no place to park. So, I drove to Mabou and had an excellent breakfast of French toast and bacon at the Shining Waters, where I encountered some friends also out for a Sunday breakfast. I intended to visit the Farmers Market in the Mabou Arena, but it was so heavily frequented that the parking lot was full and cars were strung out along the road for half a kilometre (0.3 mi) on both sides of the road in both directions from the arena. It was a dark overcast morning with haze covering everything and I couldn’t make up my mind whether to go to the Glendale Parish Concert, as I had planned, or to the cèilidh in Judique. I decided on a backcountry ramble to see how the weather developed. I took the Northeast Mabou Road and the Murphys Hill Road and the Mull River Road and continued on to Glencoe, where I needed to decide one way or the other; raindrops in Northeast Mabou and sprinkles along the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road hinted but didn’t provide a definitive answer, so I drove the Glencoe Road to the top of “Mount Glencoe” where cell service was again available and looked at the weather radar map, which showed big patches of green (representing rain) in the Gulf and along St Georges Bay, extending inland and heading for Glendale, which was then dry according to the map, along with a prediction for heavy rain at 100% probability. So, Glendale, which is held outside in a field, looked to be a no go, if the forecast were to be trusted (it often isn’t). I therefore decided on Judique and drove down to Upper Southwest Mabou and on to Hillsdale, where I took the Hillsdale Road. Its unpaved section is in parlous shape, with deep ruts and shallow troughs extending crossways across the road and numerous protruding rocks, all made worse by logging operations in progress; I hit bottom twice trying to avoid perils. It’s nevertheless a very pretty drive, so I hope the road sees some TLC later this summer once the logs are out. I drove down the fine paved section and on to Michaels Landing, where I wrote this account up to this point. While there, it began raining for fair, chasing away the three other cars parked beside the rail fence enjoying the views (and a couple having a picnic lunch at the covered picnic table). The rain, though a bummer for the Glendale Parish Concert, is needed: the Southwest Mabou River was quite low once more at Long Johns Bridge. Once inside the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, of course, the sun came out full and it became a beautiful day. But, by then I’d already missed a good part of the concert.
Today’s cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre featured Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Troy MacGillivray on keyboard. The crowd was a dancing one: six square sets were danced during the afternoon and each attracted from eleven to fifteen couples in from two to three groups just as soon as it was clear a jig was being played; I’m sure even more would have been dancing had there been more room in the packed performance space, as some dancers sat through some sets to give others who wanted to dance a chance. In one set, a father danced the first figure with his young son while carrying an even younger son on his shoulders. Two waltz sets were also played. Cheryl Smith first joined Andrea and Troy on the call for step dancers, when a young man whose name I don’t know danced for a good long spell; he was followed by a lady I don’t know; a young lass; Kimberley Wotherspoon; Rosemary Poirier; Mary MacGillivray; and Marion Graham. Cheryl played snare drums off and on for the rest of the afternoon. For the third square set, Troy was on fiddle and Andrea on keyboard. For the fifth square set, Kinnon joined Andrea on fiddle and Betty Lou took over on keyboard; Betty Lou remained on keyboard for the sixth square set while Troy joined Andrea on fiddle. On the closing number, the Tennessee Waltz, Kinnon joined Andrea and Troy making triple fiddles, with Betty Lou continuing on keyboard. It was another afternoon of first rate fantastic music, the equal of yesterday’s Doryman session. Andrea’s fiddle is powerful and beautiful, with all the embellishments that make Cape Breton fiddle music such a joy to listen to and her slow airs are exceptionally gorgeous. Troy’s accompaniments are quite different from Allan’s, but just as intricate and inventive, and just as interesting and enjoyable to hear. Cape Breton keyboard accompaniment is pure improvisation based on long experience with the tunes and usually also the fiddler, never twice exactly the same, but always responding to the tune, the fiddler, and the moment. It never ceases to amaze me how it can be done both so perfectly and so on-the-fly tune after tune for hours at a time! It leaves me breathless! In addition to the music, I enjoyed the conversation with my companions at the table; I also had a lobster sandwich accompanied by potato salad and a green salad, with a fabulous dish of blueberry bread pudding smothered in a maple sauce—all simply scrumptious.
When I left the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, the sunny skies had became occluded again, though the sun broke through at various points. I drove the Rear Intervale Road to the Mabou Road and it to Highway 19 and into Mabou for the evening cèilidh in the Parish Hall in celebration of the Mabou Cèilidh festival. This has in recent years occurred the same week-end as Rollo Bay, so I was delighted to be able to attend this year. Mabou has a tremendous amount of local talent, both established and upcoming, so a parish cèilidh is always rich and rewarding. My hearing is poor and my short term memory too short to remember names long enough to get them written down, so apologies in advance for missing and wrong identifications and misspelled names; comments providing corrections are welcome. The evening began with an introduction by Màiri Britton, a Gaelic speaker from Scotland. Michelle Greenwell was the evening’s emcee. The Gaelic choir, Coisir an Eilein, under the direction of Father Macmillan, with Sandra Gillis on keyboard, gave us two Gaelic songs, one from the old country and one from Cape Breton. Bonnie Jean MacDonald on fiddle with Mac Morin on keyboard played a lovely slow air then strathspeys and reels; although she often plays at parish cèilidhs, she is hard to catch elsewhere and always a pure delight to hear. Next we had Rita MacNeil’s song My Island, Too from a couple whose names I heard as Emil and Jessie Margaret LeBlanc, accompanying themselves on dual guitars. Dawn and Margie Beaton on dual fiddles, accompanied by Mac on keyboard gave us the Kennedy Street March followed by strathspeys and reels. Màiri next gave us a Gaelic immigration song. MacKenzie Greenwell did a percussive dance on the hall’s wooden floor below the stage that was simply awesome in its complex rhythms. Andrea Beaton on fiddle with Tracey Dares-MacNeil on keyboard, started with a gorgeous, expressive, exquisite slow air and continued with strathspeys (including Bog an Lochan) and reels. KC Beaton gave us a Gaelic song in which the audience spontaneously joined the choruses; what a lovely voice she has! Hailee LeFort on fiddle accompanied by Mac on keyboard and Siobhan Beaton on guitar played a nice set of tunes. Three Campbell sisters, perhaps Seonaid, Eilidh, and Mairin, gave us a Gaelic song with keyboard and guitar accompaniment (the singer also played fiddle between the verses). Andrea on fiddle with Tracey on keyboard then played for a Scotch Four danced by Kelly MacLennan, Melody Cameron, Benedict MacDonald, and Mac. The youth group which performs in Brìgh, a weekly show this year at the Strathspey Place on Mondays at 19h in July and August, next performed a number from their must-see show; the sound in the Strathspey Place version is even more powerful than that they gave us tonight. Cullen MacInnis on fiddle with Tracey on keyboard played a fine jig set with great dance timing. Kyle MacDonald with Mac on keyboard played for Stephen MacLennan to step dance and what a fiery dance it was! Kyle, with Mac remaining on keyboard, played a fine fiddle set he dedicated to the memory of the late William Kennedy. Joanne MacIntyre and her four sons sang two Gaelic songs. Melody on fiddle accompanied by Tyson Chen on keyboard (Derrick was unable to attend as he was delivering a calf) gave us another lovely slow air, beautifully played, and continued with strathspeys and reels. Andrea on fiddle with Tyson remaining on keyboard closed the concert playing reels for the third figure of an Inverness square set, danced by Dawn, Margie, Kelly, Melody, Bernard Cameron, David Greenwell, MacKenzie, and Mac. Thanks and kudos to both the organizers and the performers for a wonderful cèilidh that I enjoyed very much.
I drove back to Whycocomagh, where I’m staying tonight and tomorrow night (I already had the key), and completed this account. It has been another wonderful day of Cape Breton music. I am tired, though, and will soon be fast asleep.
Monday, 13 July — Whycocomagh
I slept in late this morning because I could and because I was tired. When I arose after 11h, it was a quite hazy day, very warm, and far more humid than I like. I decided to go try the food at Capt’n Kenny’s Fresh, a food truck which has been getting rave reviews for its innovative seafood and fresh salads, and which, according to a Facebook post last night was supposed to be at the Port Hastings Museum today from 12h-18h. He wasn’t there, so I drove to Tri-Mac Toyota, his alternate site, but he wasn’t there either, so I drove back to the Fleur-de-Lis in Port Hawkesbury and had fishcakes and a maple nut salad, as superb as always.
After lunch, I drove out Highway 104 looking for the trail head of the Little River Reservoir hike Michael Haynes describes in the second edition of his Hiking Trails of Cape Breton (hike #25). Thanks to the GPS coördinates he gave, fortunately in the same coördinate system as my Prius uses, I found the very nondescript spot quite easily. About 2 km (1.25 mi) west of exit 44 and marked only by a gate of the kind used by Nova Scotia parks, though painted blue instead of the usual yellow or orange, the trail leads inland to a reservoir that once collected water that served industries in Point Tupper. It is a two-track-and-grass-crown trail that rises and falls gently along the side of the reservoir, which is occasionally barely visible through the adjacent trees, and ends at the site of the former pumping station on an arm of the reservoir. I saw my first orange Indian paint brushes along the trail, which has not been recently mown, so many of the July wildflowers I’ve mentioned in earlier reports were also out in full bloom, especially the crown vetch. Traces of the osprey nest Haynes’ 2011 photo showed remain, but the nest is much smaller and clearly has not recently been actively used. I climbed gingerly down the rock-lined embankment to the shore by the pumping station building and got a few photos, but no wide view of the reservoir is available from there. I retraced my steps and located the path to the causeway on which the railway to St Peter’s once ran; the initial part was a pretty dubious trace of a path through high grass and brush and trees, but in about 30 m/yards, it opened up to a large crushed stone surface with ground cover plants (brambles, juniper bushes, and hay grasses) attempting to establish themselves in the stones. The causeway, which rises well above the water level, divides the reservoir into two halves, with no obvious way I could see for water to pass from one half to the other. The views from the causeway are very photogenic and vary as one crosses the causeway, which brings some arms into view as it hides others. I walked to the other side and verified that the trail continued there as Haynes describes, but turned around and returned as I came: his description from 2011 talks about the young alders growing quickly in the abandoned rail track that have to be “worked around”, so I expect it might be even more of a challenge now than it was then. Just off the highway where the trail forks, I took the other fork and soon found myself on the earthen dam I had seen from the causeway; that dam is at least 15 m (50 ft) above the land below as the tops of many of the full-grown trees are below eye level and runs for more than 500 m (0.3 mi) in a large arc. At the far end of the dam and around a curve in the trail one finds the mechanism that was used to control the water level in the reservoir; the outflow is channelled through two huge underground culverts and comes out below where one is standing. If one walks downstream from the culverts (there is no well-defined path, but the going is fairly easy), you will find a beautiful and fairly wide multiple cascade of perhaps 4.5 m (15 ft) high in total, which I greatly enjoyed; this is the spot Haynes describes as the picnic spot and it is lovely indeed. Little River flows into the western half of the reservoir, but I can not make out how the water gets from there into the eastern half, given the lack of any passage through the causeway, but its outflow is much easier to follow: after passing under Highway 104, it soon empties into Murray Cove, at the north end of Inhabitants Bay, along the Port Malcolm Road; this fall photo shows Little River from the bridge on that road just before it widens out and enters the cove. If I were to repeat this hike, I’d skip the pumping station, and, after seeing both sides of the reservoir from the causeway, also very useful for grasping the lay of the land, go directly back to and across the dam and spend as much time as I had enjoying the liberated Little River below the falls. My hike today comes in just over 6 km (3¾ mi); I highly recommend checking out this lovely, unheralded area just across the Richmond County border from Port Hawkesbury.
I drove back via Lower River Road and Riverside Road to Kingsville and the Trans-Canada Highway to the motel. After cleaning up from the hike, it was too late to make this week’s performance of the superb Brìgh show at the Strathspey Place that I saw and so greatly enjoyed last Monday, so I had supper at Charlene’s, more hungry than I thought I’d be after the delicious meal at the Fleur-de-Lis, and thirsty enough from the hike to drink three huge glasses of water—almost a full pitcher. I then worked on this post back at the motel until it was time to leave for the Brook Village dance.
Eight square sets were danced: the first four had Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Troy MacGillivray on keyboard; for the fifth, it was Troy on fiddle and Andrea on keyboard; for the sixth, it was Troy on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard; for the seventh, Robbie Fraser on fiddle and Joey Beaton on keyboard; and for the eighth, Kinnon Beaton on fiddle joined Andrea and Troy making triple fiddles with Betty Lou on keyboard. Only seven couples danced the first square set, but thereafter two queues were needed for all the dancers, with six groups during most of the second and third figures and at least 38 couples on the floor at the high point of the dance (it was hard to get accurate counts from where I sat). Kinnon and Betty Lou played a waltz set that got more than eleven couples on the floor; no step dance sequence was played. The last square set was smaller than the previous ones, but still had 25 couples dancing well past 1h on a work night. The hall wasn’t packed to the gills as it usually is at a high summer dance, but a few more of the CFA’s (come-from-aways) that are normally here by now showed up for the first time tonight, though the crowd of young adults that usually comes in after the Red Shoe session ends was considerably smaller than normal. The music was fantastic all night long and the dancers enthusiastic and shaking the building with the power of their rhythmic steps. It was a grand night I thoroughly enjoyed. Once back at the motel, I was instantly asleep.
Tuesday, 14 July — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
Je souhaite à tous mes amis français une joyeuse fête nationale! Happy Bastille Day to all my French friends!
I got up at 9h on this Bastille Day, though I’d have happily slept in later. The day was very summery, warm bordering on hot, fairly humid, and hazy, typical of the weather preceding a hurricane (tropical storm Claudette is now forecast to pass to the east of Cape Breton tomorrow and hit the middle of Newfoundland head-on). I drove to Rocky Ridge to wish a friend a happy birthday (it occurs while I am back in NJ) and had a good chat with them. I then drove to Mabou for another fine super clubhouse sandwich at the Shining Waters. I couldn’t make up my mind what to do—I had thought of going out St Peter’s way—but I instead returned to West Mabou and drove into the park as it was likely to be a cool spot with good breezes on a hot day and so proved to be. I found the main parking lot full and parked in the adjacent overflow lot, where I wrote this account to this point and completed and posted yesterday’s account. After that was done, I drove the Colindale Road back to Port Hood, chatted with my host, and had a nap—I found it just too warm for physical activity and the haze ruled out photography.
I then headed for the Red Shoe where Melody and Derrick Cameron were providing the dinner music. I had supper, sharing my table with three ladies from New Brunswick who had just returned from their first trip around the Cabot Trail and had, on excellent advice, driven to Meat Cove, which they found as awesome as I do. Brian Doyle sat in for Derrick for one set. Melody played Gramps ‘Doc’ Waltz, a lovely tune she wrote years ago for Stanley MacNeil, several slow airs, and a great number of favourite tunes; I always enjoy her fine playing and Derrick’s spot-on accompaniments. My table companions enjoyed the food and the music a lot and I expect they will make a return visit in the future. While there, Jeff Gosse, a master fiddler in the Cape Breton style living in the Toronto area, a former student of Sandy MacIntyre who now plays regularly with him, sat down at the table next to mine with his young son and some relatives. I was delighted to see him back in Cape Breton and exchanged greetings with him; he’s here only briefly and staying with family in the Antigonish area. You never know whom you’ll see in the Red Shoe!
At 19h, I went across the street for Karen and Joey Beaton’s Tuesday night cèilidh, tonight featuring two 17-year old lads: Stuart Cameron on fiddle and accordion and Cullen MacInnis on fiddle and keyboard and step dancing. Before the cèilidh, I had a good chat with Stuart’s parents, Sharon and Donald Cameron, who have become good friends over the years. The cèilidh opened with Karen, Stuart, and Cullen on triple fiddles with Joey on keyboard; they gave us The Boy’s Lament for His Dragon and Jenny Dang the Weaver. Karen on fiddle and Joey on keyboard next gave us a set beginning with a lovely slow air (Heroes of Coluna if I heard correctly) and including Southern Melodies, a Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald tune. Cullen on fiddle with Joey on keyboard gave us Mo Mhatair (My Mother) followed by Road to Skye and a traditional jig. Stuart on fiddle with Joey on keyboard gave us the Scotsville Reel and several other tunes. Joey closed the first half with a lovely march with no known name that Winston Scotty Fitzgerald played; he called it the Lobster Party March following, he said, a suggestion (of which I no longer have any recollection ) I made to him upon hearing it following a fine feed of lobster. The proceedings resumed after the break with a jig set played by Stuart and Cullen on dual fiddles with Joey on keyboard. Cullen then gave us a fine step dance to Karen’s fiddle and Joey’s keyboard. Karen on fiddle and Joey on keyboard gave us a nice set beginning with Road to the Isles and Scotland the Brave that included the Crooked Stovepipe. Stuart then played two sets on solo accordion, the first a medley of tunes and the second a waltz followed by a reel; I love the accordion, which is rarely heard in Cape Breton, so this was an especial treat. Cullen next gave us a keyboard solo. Karen and Joey, alternating rôles, each sometimes leading and then accompanying, gave us Paper Roses. The finale had Karen, Stuart, and Cullen on fiddle and Joey on keyboard for a fine rousing set of tunes, during which Cullen again step danced and then left the stage. It was a fine cèilidh and a fine performance by both Stuart and Cullen; as Joey remarked, the music is in good hands in the upcoming generation.
I again bolted from the cèilidh so as to get as much of the music at Scotsville as possible, given their starting time of 21h this year. At the bottom of Hawleys Hill, just past the bend with the web cam, the car in front of me came to an abrupt and complete halt, as did I. The cause was a large male black bear at the side of the road investigating a garbage box in a driveway there; he was huge, the largest I’ve ever seen in Cape Breton (the last bears I saw were a considerably smaller mother and her cubs crossing the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road some years ago in a far less frequently travelled area). Two cars coming in the opposite direction also stopped to see what the problem was and the bear quickly moved off down the driveway. Pink skies reached well back over Cape Mabou as the sun set; the sunset must have been gorgeous along the coast. I arrived at Scotsville with no further ado, always on the lookout for moose along the Strathlorne Scotsville Road.
The music tonight was supplied by Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Sandra Gillis on keyboard. I have heard Sandra play before, but never for a whole dance; it was a delight to hear her playing, a different, more traditional style I very much enjoyed. Kenneth was playing concert sets when I arrived; only six (besides workers and musicians) were in the hall at 21h30. The occasional jig sets went with no takers until 22h16 when Joan Cameron got eight of the thirteen attendees then in the hall up for the only square set of the night. Subsequent jig sets were ignored. Kenneth gave us one fine set on highland bagpipes, of which I can never get enough! Only one set of strathspeys drew dancers to the floor: Joan and Beth MacGillivray shared their fine steps. By the end of the dance, the attendees had increased to twenty-one, even less than last week. I remember when the floor was full at these dances some years ago; it is sad to see so few turning out for them now. Too many young folks gone west, I suppose. But the music was great all night long and had some very attentive and knowledgeable listeners in the audience who appreciated it as much as I. I drove back to Port Hood without incident and was quickly asleep.
Wednesday, 15 July — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I arose at 9h in Port Hood to a grey overcast day, damp, and cool. After breakfast at Sandeannies, I drove the Shore Road to the Joe Effie Road and it to Highway 19 when I recalled I hadn’t yet checked out Livingstone Road, on my to- do list and of whose existence I only became aware this spring. I drove it to its end, where it becomes a grassy lane leading to Livingstone Pond that appears to be private, so I turned around and drove back to Highway 19; a couple of spots offered bucolic views of fields, but none of Livingstone Pond itself. I then drove south to Baxters Cove, where lots of lobster pots remain on the wharf, some here stacked on their small ends, a practice I hadn’t noticed before. I drove back to the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail parking area and, trying to decide what the day was best fit for—the sun was trying to make it through the overcast and I even saw a small patch of blue sky—I wrote this account to this point and got some more done on yesterday’s account. I drove on to Walkers Cove, also on the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, where last year’s new parking lot had been cleared of some surrounding brush and given a picnic table with a fine view of Long Point. Cape George was in and out of the thick haze across St Georges Bay; what a lovely spot to watch the water! The sun broke through the clouds occasionally and it got warmer and more humid. As I drove south towards Creignish, I stopped at Christy’s Look-Off, where the clouds still covered the top of Creignish Mountain: I had thought of crossing Creignish Mountain but this was not a day for that! I had also thought of paying a visit to a friend in Creignish who invited me to stop by, but his driveway was blocked by paving vehicles working on laying down the last bit of paving; the road from there to the end of construction in Troy is now in superb shape, lacking only centre and side lane markings. I stopped off at the Troy kiosk for the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail and enjoyed the views of the strait from there: wind-blown streamers of clouds dipped down well below the mountains bordering the strait, blurring the beautiful landscape, where as yet the sun was unable to penetrate. Yet another gorgeous spot along this beautiful trail! I drove back on the Trans-Canada Highway to Whycocomagh, where I’m staying tonight. Clouds hid the tops of the Big Ridge, Skye, and Salt Mountains too. Quite a bit of traffic was going south, exacerbated by two spots where construction reduces the two lanes to one. Last night was a short one and the weather was resolutely overcast, with no sun penetrating the clouds in Whycocomagh, so I decided to have a nap.
When I awoke, I worked some more on yesterday’s post. It was then time to leave for dinner at the Lobster Galley in St Anns, where I had a great feed of lobster, my last this trip. Clouds again hung down from the Highlands and not a lot was visible any distance away from the windows at the Lobster Galley, Murray Mountain nearly invisible through the fog reaching the surface of St Anns Harbour; I was very happy indeed not to have to cross Kellys Mountain tonight!
The instructors’ cèilidh was fantastic from start to end. This week’s Gaelic College session is another for youth; they seemed a bit less numerous than last week and a good deal more serious, at least judging by those sitting next to me, who paid very close attention to what was transpiring on stage. Very little of last week’s cheers and boisterousness were evident. Colin MacDonald, the emcee, greeted us in both Gaelic and English and introduced Leanne Aucoin on fiddle and Mary Elizabeth MacInnis on keyboard, who played a nice fiddle set. Colin, joined by Sara MacInnis and Brittany and David Rankin gave us the Gaelic song, new to me, whose title’s English translation is Molly Brown, about a ship; it was similar to a milling song and was led by Colin with the others joining on the choruses. Sara then led in another milling song that I have heard before. Accompanied by Leanne on keyboard, Kenneth MacKenzie next gave us a great set on highland bagpipes. With Leanne still on keyboard, Angus MacKenzie on border pipes joined brother Kenneth on fiddle for another grand set. Mary Elizabeth returned on fiddle this time with Leanne on keyboard first for a jig set and then a march/strathspeys/reels set; I rarely get to hear her these days, so it was a real treat to again listen to her fine playing. Mary Elizabeth and Leanne then provided the music for Jenny MacKenzie’s step dance. Angus returned on highland bagpipes; unaccompanied, he gave us a slow air and jigs, a fine set. Kenneth on highland bagpipes joined Angus, and with Margie Beaton on keyboard, played a rousing and rollicking set: fantastic! The three then played for Marielle Lespérance, the current world champion highland dancer, who performed a highland dance. Beth Ann MacEachen recounted an amusing Gaelic story she learned from Jim Watson who in turn learned it from a gentleman whose name I didn’t get; Colin interleaved the English of her sentences into her story. Marielle, Jenny, David Rankin, and Gerard Beaton danced a Scotch Four to Kevin Dugas on small pipes accompanied by Margie on keyboard. The finale saw Kevin on small pipes, Angus on highland bagpipes, Kenneth and Leanne on fiddles, Margie on keyboard, and Colin on guitar; during their set, David, Gerard, Keith MacDonald, Brittany, Marielle, Jenny, Margie (replaced by Mary Elizabeth on keyboard), and Colin (replaced by David on guitar) step danced. What a great evening of music!
After the cèilidh, I drove back to Whycocomagh, where I caught the last hour of the family square dance (it ran from 20h-23h) with Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard at the Whycocomagh Waterfront Centre. The youngsters, mostly elementary students with a few teens when I arrived, had a ball dancing; I suspect that they took the wonderful music for granted as they went through the sets, with one or two word prompts from Shelly, but they were dancing and most were stepping it off. That is where the future lies—no dancers means the living Cape Breton musical tradition dies down the road—so it is extra special to see them out learning and enjoying the sets. I had the shortest of any drive after music of this trip back to the motel and was soon fast asleep.
Thursday, 16 July — Whycocomagh
After a longer than usual night’s sleep, I arose early (for me) at 8h to a day nearly perfect for photography—tropical storm Claudette apparently dragged a high behind her. After breakfast at Vi’s, I headed for MacKays Point on the Washabuck peninsula. Last fall, at a Celtic Colours concert in the Strathspey Place, I was seated by Carlotte and Vincent MacLean, whose home overlooks the Point; we introduced ourselves and, when they learned of my interest in photography, invited me to drop by for photos from the hill above their house. I waited for the best possible day and today looked to be it. Although a small amount of haze could be seen across Whycocomagh Bay as I drove north on the Trans-Canada Highway, it was just about as good as it ever gets. When I arrived at MacKays Point, the doorbell went unanswered, so I went back down to the road and started taking photos there. I never heard Vincent as he returned from a walk, but he came over and invited me up the hill for photos. What a wonderful panorama from that hill! The Cape Breton Highlands west of Baddeck, St Patricks Channel and the islands and coves of Washabuck, Baddeck and Baddeck Bay, Beinn Bhreagh, the Great Bras d’Or Channel, Kempt Head and part of Boularderie Island, St Andrews Channel, and the Great Bras d’Or Lake with its coast extending south towards Christmas Island. And as clear air as one could hope for to capture it all. I sure hope the photos I got turn out properly! After the photo shoot, Vincent invited me in for tea and I talked with Vincent and Charlotte, who had been outside when I rang the doorbell, for the next couple of hours, covering a wide range of topics. A retired teacher at Nova Scotia Community College in Port Hawkesbury, he presented me with a signed copy of the history he wrote of Washabuck entitled These Were My People—Washabuck: An Anecdotal History, which was on my list of books to acquire, and a copy of the 2 CD album, Good Boy M. A., of the music of the noted fiddler, the late Michael Anthony MacLean (Vincent’s father), which the family prepared after his passing and for which I’d been looking without success. He refused any remuneration for either gift—another example of the incredible generosity of Cape Bretoners to strangers!—but did ask for the photos of the Highland Village Day concerts I’d taken in past years and I promised him I’d bring them up for Celtic Colours, not having enough time to get them ready on this short trip home, along with a copy of the photos I took today. After leaving the MacLeans, I stopped at the Holy Rosary Church for photos of the great views from there. As I was snapping photos, Stan Chapman’s wife, on a walk, greeted me and invited me up to their summer trailer just down the road a bit from the church. Stan then took me on a short uphill walk to another fine vantage point for photos. When we got back to the trailer, he then drove me to Washabuck Falls, beside the St Columba Road, of which I was previously unaware. Very little water was falling this day, so it looked nothing like the photo on the back of Vincent’s book, but it would be impressive after a good rain. I will return again at a time there is likely to be a good flow. From Stan’s, I drove to Iona to check out the revamped Highland Heights Inn. The restaurant has been converted into a pub with a space for musicians and the recent Saturday afternoon cèilidhs there, unfortunately at the same time as the Doryman’s, have included top-notch players. I had an early supper there: a superb pan-fried haddock fillet with a fine green salad. I then walked over to the adjacent new Jills chocolate shop and selected a variety of bonbons from those on offer; those I sampled in the car on the way back to Whycocomagh were rich and oh so tasty! On the way out, I noticed that the chocolatier also offered ice cream, so I returned for an ice cream stick, rich vanilla ice cream dipped in melted dark chocolate and crushed nuts (my choices—several others are available), a worthy dessert I consumed in the car while enjoying the stunning panorama from the hill on which the Inn sits. I wish the Inn’s new management the success they deserve for their fine efforts in bringing it back to life. I then drove back to Whycocomagh, had a good chat with my host at the motel, and worked on posts until it was time to leave for Glencoe.
The Glencoe dance had Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Troy MacGillivray on real piano. Not many folks were there at the starting hour of 21h, so the first square set didn’t get underway until 21h20 and only had three couples for the first figure until a fourth finally joined them towards the end of the figure. Natalie and Donnell Leahy and their children and Alex and Minnie MacMaster entered the hall during the first square set as did Jeff Gosse and others continued to arrive thereafter, including a large contingent of the Gaelic College instructors and staff. The second square set garnered four couples for the first figure, five for the second figure, and six for the third figure. Thereafter, the floor was full, though not packed, and only one queue was used for the third figure except for the fifth square set when two were used. During the fourth square set, I heard guitar and looked up and saw Allan Dewar, who recorded the dance for release on Cape Breton Live (you can sign up for it here, accompanying on guitar; he may well have been doing so earlier—I had been watching the dancers, not the musicians, who were not well lit, and, not expecting a guitarist, hadn’t heard one until then. Lots of Glencoe yells, more than one from Natalie herself, enlivened the lively figures; enough folks were by now in the hall that it felt like the old days! And it sure looked like it on the floor too—several generations present, grandparents dancing with grandchildren, and great fun being had by all. Troy on fiddle with Allan on piano played for the fifth square set, which saw 28 or more couples (I couldn’t get an accurate count for the further queue). Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton played for the sixth square set. Andrea and Troy on dual fiddles with Betty Lou on piano played the final square set, which ran well past 0h. What a wonderful dance! The organizers were well pleased with the turn-out. And the incredible music all night long made this a great close to my Cape Breton stay. I drove happily back to Whycocomagh and the tunes were still going in my head as I fell asleep. What a wonderful day it had been!
Friday, 17 July — Whycocomagh to Rollo Bay
I was up at 9h and had the car ready to go at 10h. After thanking my host for her kindness during my stay, I had one last breakfast at Vi’s and headed south on the Trans-Canada Highway. I encountered two construction delays, one in Blues Mills and one in Kingsville, each of about five minutes. At 11h40:15, I crossed the causeway, sorry as always to leave Cape Breton, but happy that I’d soon be returning for another wonderful stay. I arrived at the ferry at 12h55, just missing the 13h crossing by about fifteen cars. I sat in the car and worked on posts while I waited for the next one at 14h45, which left promptly with a sizeable number of cars that couldn’t fit. Saw several friends on the boat that were also headed to Rollo Bay. We arrived in PEI at 16h03 and I was at the Rollo Bay Inn exactly one hour later.
I met Les MacKinnon at the Inn for dinner as we had arranged last Saturday at the Doryman; this is his first Rollo Bay, so I had planned on showing him around Souris. It turns out that Donald MacIsaac, Wendy’s father, who had arrived yesterday and spent the night in his car as he couldn’t find a room in Charlottetown, had already done those honours earlier in the afternoon. We tried to get into 21 Breakwater and I was completely shocked when we did, as I’ve been trying without success ever since it opened—reservations are normally required. I had a cup of chowder (excellent, except it was milky rather than creamy), a wonderful garden salad of all kinds of greens and veggies garnished with feta cheese and strawberries, and their poached haddock, a gourmet delight in its wonderful sauce. The restaurant’s reputation is very well deserved indeed!
After dinner, we drove to the Rollo Bay Cèilidh Barn for the evening’s concert. It had two parts, a release party for the DOC CD I got when Brent Chaisson was in Judique for KitchenFest! and which I’ve been enjoying ever since in the car, and an appearance by The East Pointers. During the first part, Anastasia DesRoches on fiddle, Mylène Ouellette on keyboard, and Brent Chaisson on guitar played tracks from their CD. The rôle of speaker passed in turn among the three players, as they shared interesting and revelatory anecdotes about the stories behind the tunes they were about to play, such as Millie on the rum, Trip to the swamp, and Mille-feuilles; all of their tunes were either composed by one of the three musicians or by their friends. It was a fine hour of music as the by now familiar tunes were played live, always the best way to hear this music! The East Pointers were greeted by a hometown crowd, full of young adults and oldsters alike, all eager to hear their music. Two of the selections were vocals, not my cup of tea, but the rest were all instrumental sets, demonstrating the incredible musical talents of Tim Chaisson on fiddle, “stomp box” (an invented percussion device he plays with his foot while fiddling), another invented tambourine-like device, and a “shaker”; Koady Chaisson on banjo and step dance; and Jake Charron on guitar. Their tunes are mostly traditional, but include several made by the musicians alone or in various combinations, and arranged and played by the group at near breakneck speed in a very high energy mode (my notes use the adjectives rollicking, roistering, and noisy at various points) designed to appeal to their contemporaries, but so infectious and so well-played they attract a much wider audience, among whom I count myself. The musical skills of the three are all outstanding: Tim’s fiddle is fast, furious, yet expressive and his dexterity in playing both fiddle and foot-controlled instruments simultaneously is amazing; Koady’s banjo is always spot on and a pure delight, regardless of the tempo and that is often blindingly fast, though there are a couple of slower-paced sets; Jake’s guitar fills a lot of rôles simultaneously, robustly filling out the sound of the two higher-pitched instruments and adding texture and counterpoint to the melodies of the other two. Their amazing instrumental sets are breathtaking, yet they remain as cool and collected as if playing a slow air. During this performance, Christine Carr from the Ottawa area gave us a fine dance in shoes with taps, no easy feat given the super fast speed, and Koady also shared his steps. Their performance this evening won them a well-deserved standing ovation, for which we were rewarded with an encore.
After the concert, a jam session took place, along with a lot of conversation between friends and returnees from away. Near its end, Dan Sullivan gave us a couple of tunes on hammered dulcimer and Kevin Chaisson joined him playing on fiddle, an extremely rare and delightful treat! It was a fantastic start to this year’s Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival! I was soon back at the Inn, resting up for the musical marathon of the next two days.
Saturday, 18 July — Rollo Bay
Today, as I begin my 74rd year on this planet, I give thanks for the priceless gift of relatively good health and the ability to enjoy it in the Maritimes in the summer, where the people, scenery, and music are the best I’ve ever encountered anywhere.
I arose reasonably refreshed in time to make breakfast at the Inn, which closes at 10h. I then completed and posted Thursday’s account and worked on Friday’s post, but didn’t finish it before leaving for the festival grounds; I was there way early at 12h10 (the afternoon concert didn’t start until 14h), both to get set up for the concert and to visit with others before it started. I strolled over to Mabel Gallant’s fast food stand for my annual order of scallops (repeated throughout the weekend—they are great, served this year on a wooden skewer that can be ordered without the “chips” (French fries), which I try to avoid, though hers are not at all greasy and oh, so tasty) and a chat with her—she’s been at Rollo Bay way more years than I and is a fixture both here and at the many other festivals she serves. I saw lots of friends as the outdoor amphitheatre began to fill up, many stopping by to wish me a happy birthday and to chat.
Marlene MacDonald, the festival concerts’ quasi-permanent emcee, started the afternoon concert off promptly at 14h. A wonderful lady who loves the music, she does a great job of presenting the musicians, keeping order backstage, and ensuring things run smoothly on stage. The following is the list of the afternoon concert’s performances [I wish to acknowledge the kind assistance of Anne McPhee for the Rollo Bay posts, who corrected a typo and several of my misspellings and supplied names I was lacking—apologies in advance for any names I missed, heard wrongly, or misspelled: I’m effectively working with one ear at this point and my short term memory is short]:
The concert ended late, around 17h30 (the nominal ending time is 17h). It was a great concert with lots of fantastic fiddle music interspersed with a few other genres. The weather was great for an outdoor concert, warm but not blazing hot and with mostly overcast skies so that sunburn was not a major concern. My Deep Woods Off!™ was effective against the few insects around me in the afternoon.
a traditional fiddle set with Tim Chaisson, accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard
a traditional fiddle set with Shelly Campbell, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard
a traditional fiddle set with Allan MacDonald, accompanied by Ward MacDonald on keyboard and Zakk Cormier on guitar
a traditional fiddle set with Nathalie Arsenault, accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard
a traditional fiddle set with Darren Chaisson, accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard and Koady Chaisson on guitar
a traditional fiddle set with Chrissy Crowley, accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard
sets by the Monday Night Fiddle Group of beginners and intermediate players, directed by Kathryn Dau-Schmidt and accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard
a set with Anita MacDonald on fiddle, Ben Miller on small pipes, and Tyson Chen on keyboard
a set with Father Charlie Cheverie’s fiddling group (Father Charlie Cheverie, Linda Moran, Marlene Gallant, Lorraine Lynch, and Carolyn Drake on fiddles) accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard
a traditional fiddle set with Kenny Chaisson, accompanied by Darla MacPhee on keyboard, during which Nathalie Arsenault step-danced
selections by the Blue Sky Orchestra Group from southwest of Ottawa, whose players range in age from 8 to 80, that has been playing together for fifteen years
a traditional fiddle set with Andrea Beaton, accompanied by Troy MacGillivray on keyboard and Brent Chaisson on guitar
two sets of fiddle tunes and the slow air Inisheer by Peter Chaisson’s Rollo Bay Kitchen Group, though Peter did not join them on stage, accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard; the third set included Lemmie Chaisson’s Jig by Rannie MacLellan
songs by Charity Deagle and Donna Deagle Peters including Songbirds and Book of Love
a traditional fiddle set with Rannie MacLellan, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard and Zakk Cormier on guitar
a traditional fiddle set with Troy MacGillivray, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard and Brent Chaisson on guitar
songs by Kelly Mooney self-accompanied on guitar including Your Cheating Heart and Alleluia
a traditional fiddle set with Wendy MacIsaac, accompanied by Allan Dewar and Brent Chaisson
Following the afternoon concert, I had some more scallops at the stand and a hamburger with lots of lettuce, tomato, and onions (a sort of make-shift salad), and finished it off with some ice cream. As well, I got a chance to visit with friends who also remained on the field.
The evening concert, which normally begins at 19h, started late since the afternoon concert ran late in order to give folks time to get supper. The following is the list of the evening concert’s performances:
The concert ended just a hair after 22h. Rannie MacLellan and Suzanne MacDonald constructed a birthday cake out of six cupcakes and two large candles, one in the shape of the digit 7 and one in the shape of the digit 3, and brought it forward below the stage. What a pleasant surprise! I thanked them for their kindness and wish to thank everyone for their birthday wishes, whether sent via Facebook or delivered in person.
a traditional fiddle set with J. J. Chaisson, accompanied by Darla Peters, during which his mother, Donna Chaisson, and son, Brady Chaisson, step-danced
a traditional fiddle set with Ward MacDonald, accompanied by Zakk Cormier on guitar, playing Piano in the Garden, Dot MacKinnon’s Reel, and other tunes
a set by the PEI Fiddle Camp “crew”, consisting of Ward MacDonald, Chrissy Crowley, Linda Jensen-Moran, and another lady I didn’t recognize (from Maine whose first name is said to be Heidi) on fiddles; Marion Pirch on keyboard; Will Woodson on flute; Zakk Cormier on guitar; and Mark Douglas on small pipes
a set of jigs, strathspeys, and reels by Ben Miller and Will Woodson on small pipes, accompanied by Zakk Cormier on guitar
a traditional fiddle set by Jesse Francis, accompanied by Ward MacDonald on keyboard
a surprise: a traditional fiddle set by Kevin Chaisson, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard
sets by the Morell Fiddle Group, accompanied by Marion Pirch on keyboard
a traditional fiddle set by Wendy MacIsaac, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard and J. J. Chaisson on guitar, during which Jocelyn Arsenault step-danced
songs by Jacinta Collins, self-accompanied on guitar, and with Kevin Chaisson on keyboard, including I Still Miss Someone and the Rita MacNeil anthem The Working Man
a traditional fiddle set with Buddy Longaphie, accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard
a dance by the Celtic Steppers (three Judy MacLean Dancers, Olivia MacNeill, Alyson MacCormack and Callie Chaisson), to the music of J. J. Chaisson on fiddle and Darla Peters on keyboard
several sets, all instrumental, by The East Pointers (Tim Chaisson on fiddle, “stomp box”, “foot tambourine”, and “shaker”; Koady Chaisson on banjo; and Jake Charron on guitar); the performance was filmed for a video and the group invited their many fans to dance to the music in front of the stage
a traditional fiddle set with Francis MacDonald, accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard
a non-traditional number by Roy Johnstone on fiddle accompanied by Zakk Cormier on guitar
a traditional fiddle set with Shelly Campbell, accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard and Jake Charron on guitar
We all adjourned to the Cèilidh Barn for the square dance that follows the evening concerts. It was well-attended and attracted a goodly number of couples to the floor (I did not try to count them). Initially, the music was by Kenny Chaisson on fiddle accompanied by Darla Peters on keyboard; they played for square sets and a waltz. Later in the evening, Shelly Campbell on fiddle, Allan Dewar on keyboard, and Jake Charron on guitar played for a square set and a waltz. Great music from all the players and with dancers to watch to boot!
Once the dance was over, I walked over to the Tuning Barn, where Pepeto Pinto was playing on steel drums; Jason Roach sat down at the piano and the two gave us an amazing piece with just fantastic sonorities, enhanced by the acoustics in this small space, the first time I had heard this combination. Just after they finished, Andrea Beaton, Shelly Campbell, Troy MacGillivray, and Kenny Chaisson on fiddles, accompanied by Allan Dewar on real piano, began playing tunes, one after the other, without a break. Chrissy Crowley joined them for a time and then was replaced by Anita MacDonald as Chrissy somehow managed to get a square set going in the very small and very crowded space (I stood behind the piano with my friend Dan Crook and we were both awestruck by the fantastic music which poured forth in an unstoppable torrent). A break in the music occurred about 1h35 and my body said “Get thee to bed! NOW!” I didn’t want to leave, but had I not, I’d have been on the floor. As I left, the music had resumed and I found myself in a light rain, which had had the decency to hold off until after the dance had finished. I made it back to the Inn and was instantly in bed, exhausted, but oh so happy! What a birthday! Rollo Bay rocks!!!
Sunday, 19 July — Rollo Bay
I was still tired when I arose Sunday morning just in time to make breakfast at the Inn. I then worked on posts, but it was soon time to head for the field, as the Sunday afternoon concert starts at 13h and is an hour longer than the Saturday afternoon concert. It was raining lightly when I arrived, again way early, and I had some more scallops from the fast food stand. A decision was made to move the concert into the Cèilidh Barn as the weather forecast was unpromising, so I headed over there and got my camera set up for the indoor lighting—I was too close to use both lenses, as I had yesterday.
The concert got underway a bit late at 13h13. The performances were:
Marlene spoke over the microphone from the back of the hall asking for a blanket while Andrew was still playing, though he completed his set. We then learned that Peter Chaisson was lying unresponsive in the back of the hall; the ambulance had been called and the concert was suspended. The audience was deeply shocked and we stood about quietly talking to each other, hoping for the best. It was not to be and Peter was gone before the ambulance got there. In total disbelief, we commiserated with one another over the loss of this giant of PEI fiddling, a humble, dedicated, and hard-working man, a player well-liked and respected wherever he was known, whose tireless work over so many years to propagate traditional fiddle music on the Island and to pass it on to younger generations had come to such an abrupt end. I made plans to meet Rannie MacLellan and Suzanne MacDonald for dinner at the Sheltered Harbour restaurant on Breakwater Street and then returned to the Inn, where I tried to digest this shattering news.
a great traditional fiddle set by Tim Chaisson, accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard, followed by another fine set featuring tunes composed by Koady Chaisson
a fine traditional fiddle set by the amazing 12-year old Jenna Cyr on fiddle, accompanied by Aaron Crane on keyboard
a nice fiddle set by the “Fiddle Monsters” at Brackley Beach with Jenna and two of her friends on fiddles and a third friend on keyboard (I’m sorry I didn’t get their names)
a fine fiddle set by Andrew Chaisson, accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboard and Tim Chaisson on guitar
We were joined at the restaurant by Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar. Although we all enjoyed our meals, our hearts were heavy. Rannie passed on to me the information that the Chaisson family had invited everyone to meet back at the Cèilidh Barn for a musical session at 18h30 in tribute to Peter. Accordingly, we all drove back to the festival grounds and I took my place once again in the audience as nearly all of the performers at the festival and numerous other amateur musicians gathered in a huge circle at the centre of the hall for a torrent of tunes in Peter’s memory, some written in his honour and most of them ones that he played and cherished. What an amazing sound from the massed fiddlers poured forth for the next couple of hours! A sample can be heard in this video uploaded by Anne McPhee. A square set was also danced towards the end of the session. While it did not erase the pain of his enormous loss, it was balm to the heart to attend this most fitting musical and dance tribute expressed in the music Peter so loved and did so much to foster.
After the session was over and after saying goodbye to friends and offering condolences to some of the Chaissons, I made my way back to the Inn. The rain had been coming down during the afternoon and the grass was slick in the parking area, causing my Prius a bit of grief in getting back to the main road out of the field. I was unable to stay for the wake and the funeral as I had medical appointments awaiting me after I returned home. After the exuberant joy of yesterday, today’s shock left me deeply sad and dispirited, so I immediately went to bed to rest up for the long trip back.
Monday, 20 July — Rollo Bay to Lewiston
I arose refreshed from a good night’s sleep and left the Rollo Bay Inn at 9h45¹ after breakfast there; my reservation for next year is already made, but conditioned on there being a festival. The day was dark and grey, but the rain had ended; very damp and cool (+16 (61)). I crossed Confederation Bridge two hours later after fairly light traffic. The drive from there to Moncton was hellish: heavy driving rain with fog and next to no visibility on a heavily travelled (mostly) two-lane road—what a day to be dragging round hay bales by tractor and wagon! The fog diminished west of Scoudouc and the rain ended on the western outskirts of Moncton. I stopped at Salisbury for gas and a sub I ate in the car. The skies brightened as I proceeded west and blue sky and sun were the order of the day from St John westward. The US customs are on again about apples: I had to dig my two out of my backpack, but was allowed to keep them as they were in a bag labelled Nova Scotia Apples (apples of US or Canadian origin are OK but anything else, including unlabelled apples, are contraband and will be seized). But there was no full vehicle search this time, so I counted myself lucky. I arrived in Lewiston at 19h and got a motel room. It got progressively warmer and more humid west of Salisbury, making it uncomfortable in the car without the a/c on; up to +29 (84) in Lewiston, but was above +31 (88) in Bangor. Some change from this morning! Went out for a salad and will soon be asleep, glad the driving is over for today.
Tuesday, 21 July — Lewiston to Jackson
I arose a bit before 5h and left Lewiston at 5h22; thanks to light traffic on I-495 around Boston, I arrived home without incident at 12h58, which must be some kind of a record. Total distance driven on this trip: 6888.5 km = 4280.3 mi, unusually short for my first trip of a year, though it was truncated by ten days this year.
I stopped for breakfast, such as it was, at the Charlton Rest Area in western Massachusetts; stopped once more at the Montvale Rest Area in northern NJ. Heavy fog that usually was just high enough off the road that it didn’t impede driving prevailed from Lewiston to southern Maine; white clouds overcast with occasional sprinkles that didn’t wet the road to eastern Connecticut; sunny thereafter. +30 (86) in Jackson, but low humidity, though it still feels overwarm to me, conditioned as I am now by the cooler Maritime weather.
My thanks to everyone who made this trip so enjoyable and memorable, especially the organizers of KitchenFest! and all the musicians whom I was privileged to hear. It was a great trip! Now to get things in order for the next one!