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; working on my iPhone, this is not quite as much work as it sounds, since I don’t have to reënter all of the information, though it does take a couple of hours for most posts. When the day ends with a late event, as most do, I do not normally attempt to complete the day’s account after the event, but defer its completion to the following day; the accounts for most days were therefore posted after the day in question. On this trip, with very busy event-filled days, I fell so far behind that some of the posts were over a week late and I did not even complete many of them before I returned home; as well, the accounts of the last two days were posted out of order. Once home, I finished and posted the missing accounts a day at a time from the notes taken on the days in question. All of the posts are present here, in chronological order.
Thursday, 1 October — Jackson to Calais
After packing the car, except for things that had to wait until this morning, I went to bed last night at 22h and slept through to 2h30; from 2h30 to 4h, I was semi-awake with my eyes closed, so I didn’t get all the rest I’d hoped for. I got up at 4h and left the house in the dark at 4h46. Two young deer crossed the road well ahead of me, so there was no danger of a collision, but I don’t like driving in the dark when unpredictable animals can dart out with no warning. I had planned on leaving at 5h30 to avoid the New York City traffic mess at the Tappan Zee Bridge, but was glad I left when I did as it was still rather a mess when I got there, still in the dark! (Though the mess was not as bad as it would have been later.)
I stopped for breakfast and coffee at the Blue Colony Diner in Newtown (Connecticut), again at the Charlton Plaza in western Massachusetts, once more for gas and an early lunch at Tewkesbury (Massachusetts), and a fourth time at the rest area outside Bangor (Maine). I was quite tired, but not sleepy thanks to the coffee. It was 15h when I arrived at Bangor, where I normally spend the night. I need to be in Cape Breton tomorrow afternoon as early as possible and I didn’t want to face a drive in the dark along the Airline where moose are not unknown in the early hours; since I had plenty of time for the 145 km (90 mi) drive, tired though I surely was, I decided to continue on to Calais. I walked around the rest area for twenty minutes to get the blood moving for what always seems a drive that takes forever. That had the effect of really waking me up, in part because of the chill wind—the highest the car thermometer registered anywhere today, including Jackson, was +16 (61)—and I was still wide awake when I got to Baileyville outside Calais about 17h15. After getting gas and having supper at the Irving there, I drove into Calais and got my motel room. Total driven today: 1004.2 km (624 mi).
The sun came out in a generally mostly cloudy sky as I reached Connecticut and stayed out until mid-Maine. It was too dark to see any leaves in New Jersey and New York, but there were very nice, if still very early, colours through Connecticut. They were at least a week further behind in Massachusetts, but returned again in southern and central Maine. Local spots of fine colour were on offer from Bangor to Calais, but the vast majority of the trees were more akin to those in Massachusetts than those in Connecticut.
I hope to get away in the morning at 6h (which is 7h on the other side of the river), which should put me in Port Hood in the early afternoon, assuming (a) that yesterday’s torrential rains in New Brunswick didn’t affect Routes 1 and 2—judging by photos and radar, Maine was hit as hard and I saw no evidence of any damage to the interstates on my drive today—and (b) that the rains forecast for tomorrow do not impede travel too badly. No rain is falling here in Calais and none is in the forecast for overnight. Now ’tis off to bed and a good rest for tomorrow’s drive.
Friday, 2 October — Calais to Port Hood
I awoke an hour early as, unbeknownst to me, my iPhone had automatically switched itself to ADT, whereas I set the alarm based on EDT. Once I figured that out, I went back to sleep and got up at 6h30 (this and all other times are ADT), refreshed from a good night’s sleep. I left the motel at 7h in the dark; the car’s thermometer registered +6 (43)! I drove down the street and crossed the bridge into St Stephen, where the customs lady, who had a great yawn just as I drove up, had few questions and only two of the standard ones, so I was quickly on my way. It became light about ten minutes out of St Stephen; the overcast skies let through a good amount of light, but it got darker and darker as I neared St John. There were next to no fall colours from St Stephen to St John. I stopped at the Irving in Rothesay (I wonder what kind of pull they had to get their own exit off the autoroute) for breakfast, my first time there. Canadian bacon (not what Americans call “Canadian bacon”, but just the regular bacon in Canada) is the best, so much better than what I had at the Blue Colony Diner yesterday that they aren't even competing in the same league! When I got back to the car, the temperature was +10 (50). I soon ran into mist, drizzle, and light rain, which continued to Sussex, where the sun popped out briefly; it must have been scared by what it saw because it disappeared for the rest of the trip. It was mist and drizzle again to Route 2, but no precipitation fell from there to Memramcook, contrary to last night’s forecast for heavy rain in Moncton. It was mist and drizzle again to the Cobequid Pass, where I stopped, as I was feeling drowsy and needed a good break. It was +8 (46) there, which helped get me awake again. The colours were more advanced from Sussex to Route 2 than they had been to Sussex, though they didn’t stand out well under the mist and drizzle. There was nothing to speak of for colours from Moncton to the Cobequid Pass and the rest of mainland Nova Scotia was spotty at best—just a few localized areas showing any colours at all. Once down out of the pass, there was no precipitation until New Glasgow, where it began to rain, varying from light to moderate until I reached the Canso Causeway. I stopped for gas in Lower South River, where a kind gentleman pumped my gas from the self-serve pump as I stood in the light rain watching him. At 13h51, I crossed the Canso Causeway Bridge and stopped for a brief rest at the Visitors’ Centre. Just occasional sprinkles fell from Port Hastings to Port Hood, where I arrived at 14h29. Total distance from home to Port Hood: 1651.5 km (1026.2 mi); distance driven today: 647.27 km (402.2 mi), a very short driving day, made possible by the extra long one yesterday.
After getting my motel room, I caught up on the news and relaxed. I then headed to Mabou, where I took care of an errand, and drove back to West Mabou, where I wrote this post to this point while enjoying the view from the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail kiosk there.
By then, it was time to head back to Mabou for the 40th Anniversary Dinner of the Mabou Gaelic and Historical Society at the Community Hall. I had called from New Jersey for a ticket and was glad I had as the event was sold out by the time I walked in the door. Margie Beaton (not Dawn’s sister) was the mistress of ceremonies and ran a tight ship, with the entire evening proceeding smoothly and like clockwork. My thanks to Elizabeth Beaton, who invited me to join her and members of her family, as always making me feel at home. After introductory remarks by Margie, the evening began with a speech by Dr Jim St Clair, more versed in the minutiæ of Cape Breton history and its cultures than anyone I've ever met—his weekly column in the Oran is the first thing I read when I look at the newspaper and is always full of excellent instruction. Crafted as finely as any Latin oration by Cicero, full of well chosen metaphors whose elaboration was interwoven into the telling from start to end, and delivered with masterful eloquence, verve, and timing, it recounted the founding of the society forty years ago and why it was then, and has continued to this day, to be a vital part of the community. A looping slide show was projected on the stage before, during, and after his speech and showed many of the society’s principals and other community members of its early years. The two presentations together filled me in on much that I didn’t know. A standing ovation and a brief presentation of a gift for his important contributions to the society followed. Each table had a card with a Gaelic phrase written on it that served to identify that table (ours was “Sgadan is buntàta” (herring and potatoes)—I hope I have that correctly spelt, if not please correct me in the comments), a neat way to impart a bit of Gaelic to each table’s non-Gaelic speaking diners. Margie called the phrases out two at a time and those seated at those tables came forward to the serving area where they formed two queues to get their plates and dinner (roasted chicken breast with mashed potatoes and dressing, carrots and turnip, cole slaw, and cranberry sauce, along with a choice of two desserts; tea and coffee were served at the tables). After the dinner, Ronald MacKenzie and Joanne MacIntyre treated us all to some Gaelic songs, on which many of the audience members joined in. The dinner was also a fundraiser with a “silent auction” of more than thirty items, whose winning bidders were announced after the bidding closed at 21h30.
Music for the evening was provided by Kyle MacDonald on fiddle, Kevin Dugas and Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes, Robert Deveaux on keyboard, and Patrick Gillis on guitar, in various combinations of players as the evening progressed. A square set was danced first, with some very fine stepping through the figures. Several waltzes followed. A jig set I assumed was for another square set was instead danced by a couple later joined by other couples in a free form round dance. The fine music continued in this vein until 23h30, ending with a spirited set that was not a formal figure but had several couples and threesomes and foursomes stepping gaily to the music as they promenaded around the hall. My congratulations to Margie and all the volunteers and to the kitchen staff for a very memorable evening.
I had mistakenly assumed the event would be over around 22h, so I didn’t get to the Shoe until much later than I had expected. Dawn and Margie Beaton were the evening’s entertainers and they were on fire! By the time I got there, only a small crowd was left, but it was very appreciative of the wonderful music the sisters played. And they kept on going well after midnight, ending with one barnburner of a set. Hairs were hanging off Dawn’s bow when she finished and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up in a frisson of awe. What a fantastic experience of the purest Cape Breton music!
Fortunately, it was a short drive back to Port Hood and I was quickly asleep, happy indeed to be back in Cape Breton once more! What a wonderful evening it had been!
Saturday, 3 October — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I got up at 9h and packed up as the motel was full up for tonight (hockey team, local wedding, and Chase the Ace travellers) when I made my reservations. I decided to head immediately for Chéticamp and drove north. I saw very little colour from Port Hood to Mabou, where mist hung in the air over Mabou Mountain, but at least there was no rain. North of Glenora Falls, the air above Cape Mabou was crisp and clear and the slopes were resolutely green. The Deepdale Road was a mess of potholes on both ends. Steady oncoming traffic on Highway 19 heading for Chase the Ace in Broad Cove and Inverness accompanied me from the Deepdale Road to the Shore Road, but the latter was no busier than usual. I found more colour along the Shore Road, but it was yellows and oranges mostly with occasional reds and very localized. I stopped at the Terre-Noire Look-Off, where I wrote notes about this morning and worked on Friday’s post. It was cloudy bright at the look-off and brighter still as I got to Chéticamp, though sprinkles fell from an overhead ugly black cloud as I passed through Grand-Étang. I had dinner at the Doryman: chowder (full of haddock, shrimp, scallops, and lobster pieces in equal parts)—superb—and the haddock plate with a huge haddock fillet and a side salad instead of potatoes, accompanied by fine fresh garden vegetables—excellent. I then completed and posted yesterday’s account.
Today’s cèilidh featured Shelly Campbell on fiddle, Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier on keyboard, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar. And what an amazing cèilidh it was! One fantastic set followed another as tunes I love were strung together in an audio necklace of sparkling gems. One set of jigs ended with a tune I didn’t know and I asked Shelly what it was; she said it was a tune she had made. Other tunes I recognized but don’t often hear; she’s one of the few players that keep them alive. Often “noodling” between the sets, Kathleen was wound up this afternoon, with fine accompaniments all afternoon and even a few keyboard solos and duets with Sandy as Shelly sat listening, only to dive in later in the set, often in a backing fiddle mode. Alas, the crowd was smallish—I assume as a result of Chase the Ace— and had few dancers; a handful of folks step danced at various points during the afternoon and some couples round danced to a few of the sets, but no square sets were danced. Nor did waltzes draw any dancers. During one interesting set, Shelly picked out tunes on the fiddle as if she were playing guitar, making for a stunning pickin’ sound over the keyboard and guitar accompaniment. What a marvellous afternoon of grand music it was!
The view through the Doryman’s windows showed constantly changing weather throughout the afternoon, from overcast to rain to bright sun near the end of the cèilidh. I drove back via the Cabot Trail to the Yankee Line Road in Middle River and across it to the Trans-Canada Highway at Wagmatcook, where I headed south to Whycocomagh. The road was wet from recent rain along St Patricks Channel and Whycocomagh Bay but it had stopped before I reached the Trans-Canada Highway. I got my motel room key and caught up briefly on the news.
Inverness’ Chase the Ace, a fundraising effort that succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its organizers, came to an end this evening after 48 weeks, drawing thousands of people from all over the Maritimes to a small town that coped with the unexpected hordes with smiles, affability, grace, and quiet competency. The unheard of (for Cape Breton) figure of $1,771,256.76, a substantial portion of which was raised today, went to Donelda MacAskill of Englishtown, who runs the excellent Donelda’s Puffin Boat Tours, during one of which I took the photos seen in this essay. The proceeds of this event go to two community organizations in Inverness and were the equivalent of fifteen years of fundraising. Kudos to the town and to the hard-working volunteers, many of whom sacrificed summer vacations, who carried this unexpected success off with aplomb. As I drove to West Mabou at 20h45, I encountered unending streams of cars on Highways 252, 395, and 19; I have never before seen the like in Cape Breton!
Tonight’s West Mabou dance was supposed to have featured Kyle MacDonald on fiddle and his brother Colin on piano, but given the traffic situation, neither was there at 22h. Nor was more than a handful of people in the hall. Melody Cameron on fiddle, Tyson Chen on piano, and Derrick Cameron on guitar filled in for the missing musicians. Melody played two great cèilidh sets and then turned the fiddle over to Joe MacMaster, who played a set of jigs and another of reels. At 22h45, four couples finally took the floor for the first square set, with Joe continuing on fiddle; a fifth couple joined them for the last two figures. Kyle finally arrived at 23h (Colin never did) and took over the fiddle for the rest of the dance. Three more square sets were danced, none with more than ten couples and the last with six. In Memory of Herbie MacLeod and another waltz drew one couple to the floor. The step dance sequence followed a jig set with no takers after the second square set; the dancers were Melody Cameron; Siobhan Beaton; Hailee LeFort; and Gillian Head, who all gave us great steps. After the last square set, neither enough people nor time remained for another, so Kyle filled the last ten minutes with cèilidh tunes. All the musicians tonight were excellent; Tyson’s piano was a rich delight, Kyle’s fiddle driving and with a perfect dance tempo, Derrick’s guitar beautifully enhanced the music, Melody is always a joy to hear, and Joe is an amazing player for his age. Even though poorly attended (Chase the Ace and a local wedding kept many away), it was a fine dance with great music.
The road was once again empty as I made my way back to Whycocomagh; the car’s thermometer registered +5 (41) and steam rose off the Mabou River and every stream crossing the highway—a frost warning had been issued for low-lying areas. Still tired from the drive to Cape Breton, I was glad to crawl into bed after a day of wonderful music.
Sunday, 4 October — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
I got up at 9h18 and packed the car as it’s back to Port Hood tonight. It was a lovely, sunny day with crisp, clear air. After breakfast at Vi’s, where I heard that frost hit places along Highway 252 last night, I drove out the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road, which was once again in poor shape from Highway 252 to Cove Brook Bridge; the washout had been repaired and the guardrails were back in place, but the shoulder was soft and marked with pylons—I sure wouldn’t want to depend on those replacement guardrails! The road was fair to good from the Cove Brook Bridge to the Kewstoke Brook Bridge with some potholes past the Rosedale Road; it was OK “up the mountain”, but a few rough spots required care. In Dunakin, slight haze coloured the distant views of Cape Mabou, but those closer by were clear. Reds, oranges, and purples were present all along from the Indian River Bridge west, but primarily on isolated branches or small trees; the landscape remains resolutely green. The Glencoe Road was in good shape except at the White Millers Bridge. I stopped at Long Johns Bridge for photos and spoke with Mark MacIsaac on the bridge; two good-sized red trees were there, one upriver and one downriver. The Rear Intervale Road was generally good to very good. I stopped at Michaels Landing for a few minutes, where I saw a blue heron. Plenty of white clouds were overhead—they started appearing at Glencoe Mills—but it remained sunny and nice. I drove on to Walkers Cove, where I finished drafting yesterday’s post; it would have been a lovely day for a hike along St Georges Bay, but music at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre was on the agenda. I was delighted, however, to see a family of six head south on the trail, the older ones walking and the younger ones riding bikes.
The Sunday cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre featured Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Joël Chaisson on keyboard; they were joined later in the afternoon by Sandy MacDonald on guitar. Shelly began with a lively set of jigs that got no takers. A fine air/strathspeys/reels set followed. The next set was again of jigs and this time four couples took to the floor for the first square set. The following cèilidh set was simply fantastic and was greeted by lots of Cape Breton hoots and hollers at its end. Folks immediately took to the floor for a square set before Shelly even began to play; seven couples danced the second square set. Another great cèilidh set, this one in a minor key, followed, during which Edna MacDonald, Marion Graham, a lady said to be from Antigonish, and Hailee LeFort step danced. The third square set with eight couples in two groups was then danced. A set of waltzes beginning with “Faded Love” was next up. Brandi McCarthy ably relieved Shelly on fiddle and played a set of jigs that became the fourth square set with seven couples in the first figure and eight in the last two. Shelly returned and Sandy joined her and Joël for a fine cèilidh set. Jeff MacDonald and Shelly then sang a milling song, on which the audience joined the choruses. The fifth square set with nine couples continued the cèilidh; Shelly kept on playing after the third figure ended. The final set of tunes brought Theresa Gillis; Robert Deveaux’s very young daughter; Brandi; and Anita Lanyon to the floor to share their steps. What a fine cèilidh it was! Shelly is a nonpareil; her driving, energetic playing is a favourite of all who have had the pleasure of hearing her play, straight from the heart and as authentic and pure as it gets. She fed off the energy of the dancers, whom she encouraged to take to the floor at every opportunity, for this is first and foremost music for dancing. With Joël and later Sandy, both consummate players, laying down perfect accompaniment for her playing, it was one of those magical moments that happen with regularity in Cape Breton!
After the cèilidh, I drove to Port Hood and got my motel room key. I then continued on to Mabou for a dinner prepared by two wonderful ladies who befriended me during my first days in Cape Breton. Pork loin, mashed potatoes, gravy, and vegetables, beautifully cooked and presented, and accompanied by beet pickles and relish, were followed by a lovely homemade blueberry crisp, one of my favourite desserts (given my higher than desirable blood sugar, I have been eschewing desserts since being read the riot act by my doctor in July, but I made an exception in this case). Dinner was followed with tea and conversation as we caught up on each other’s news during the evening. After giving thanks for their kindness to me, I drove back to Port Hood and retired for the evening, still recovering from the drive to Cape Breton.
Monday, 5 October — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
Around 3h30 in the night, I awoke to a sharp stabbing pain in my right foot each time it rubbed against the sheet. I took a closer look and found a red blotch about the size and shape of a clarinet reed at the side of my foot; though I have poor circulation in my feet, I have no idea where it came from. It wasn't bleeding, but was oozing very small amounts of liquid I could feel when I touched it. I got out my first aid kit and wrapped it in gauze sealed with adhesive tape and went back to sleep. I left the bandage on when I got up some after 8h; it was still sensitive to the touch, but the stabbing pains were gone. I decided that instead of going for a hike, as the weather practically demanded, that I’d baby it today and give it, whatever it was, a chance to heal.
Over breakfast at Sandeannies (fish cakes, bacon, eggs, home fries, toast, orange juice, and tea), I noticed an e-mail from Ron Caplan of Cape Breton Books, asking for permission to use a winter photo I’d taken on the back cover of his forthcoming Cape Breton’s Christmas, Book Two, the royalties for which (like last year’s version) are donated to Feed Nova Scotia. I happily gave him the requested permission, but told him I couldn’t supply the full-sized image he needed until I got home, which was well after he had to have it in hand.
I drove up Rocky Ridge Road, which was being ditched, to visit with friends there and, on the way, remembered I had given them a copy of those photos on DVD as a thank you for taking me around the Cabot Trail in their SUV that winter. My friend located the DVD, found the photo, and sent it off to Ron. We then had a great visit.
I then drove to Green Point on the north side of the Mabou River and began a photo shoot that lasted much the rest of the afternoon. I drove down to the lighthouse and the wharves; up Mountain Road to the summit; out to the end of the road at Mabou Coal Mines; back to Mabou Harbour and across the Northeast Mabou Road to Hawleys Hill; down Murphys Hill Road to the Smithville Road in Glendyer; along Highway 252 to the Mull River Road; out it to the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road; and it back to Whycocomagh, a lovely ramble through and along Cape Mabou and the backcountry between Mabou and Whycocomagh on a stunningly gorgeous day. The colours are definitely arriving, though it's often hard to see them. On Cape Mabou near the summits, the colour is now a subtle orange-tinged green, but no longer the pure green it was. Big Bertha (my telephoto lens) revealed a goodly amount of colour up there, muted to the naked eye by the distance. It was less hidden along the upper part of Mountain Road. But, aside from the occasional bright red tree branch at the side of the road and other scattered spots of colour, the changes are very easy to miss. Beautiful quasi-random photogenic patterns streaked the placid waters of the Gulf, apparently currents marking faster water from more placid water. And at Murrays Bridge, the Mull/Mabou was back to its normal size again, though signs of its rampage last month were readily visible to the knowledgeable eye.
In Whycocomagh, I got gas, had a chat with my hostess and paid for my stay at the motel, and worked on getting yesterday’s notes into a readable form. I changed into evening clothes and had dinner at Vi’s: a chef salad and a hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots, all excellent if a bit salty.
I then drove back to Mabou for tonight’s production of Brìgh at the Strathspey Place; unfortunately, it was not well attended, but it was just as wonderful and fresh tonight as the two previous times I’d seen it. Fiddle music, dance, song, and story-telling, the Gaelic arts par excellence, all come together in this show performed by very talented and energetic local youngsters; it does the heart good to see them carrying this off with such professionalism, aplomb, and panache! Congratulations and kudos again both to the cast and those who had any part in this production.
Once it was over, I headed off to Brook Village for the dance tonight. (Unusually, the Brook Village dances have continued past their normal end in September all the way through Celtic Colours in order to raise funds for a playground.) Rodney MacDonald on fiddle, Allan Dewar on keyboard, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar provided tonight’s incredible music. At 21h30 on the dot, they started off with two fine cèilidh sets, as there was no hope of forming a square set from the few then in the hall. The first jig set at 21h42, when eleven non-workers were in the hall—barely a quorum—got no takers either. The next one suffered a similar fate, though people were beginning to trickle in. At 21h55, the first square set was danced with four couples. Six were danced in all, most of the rest with around a dozen couples (the high water mark was the fifth, with fifteen). By midnight, the hall was about two-thirds full, so it wasn't the bust it started off as. Waltzes were danced after the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth square sets, each drawing a handful of couples. Howie MacDonald, in great form, relieved Rodney on fiddle for the fourth square set. With Rodney back on fiddle, the step dance sequence brought Brandi McCarthy, Harvey MacKinnon, and Peter Parker to the floor to share some very fine steps. For the last ten minutes, Rodney played a set of reels, to which eight enthusiastic couples danced the third figure several times over until the music stopped. The absolutely fantastic music by three top-notch players thrilled the dancers, who gave it their all as the evening became morning, and the numerous listeners. A marvellous dance indeed!
About 23h, my foot began complaining again; it had been mostly quiescent all day long, with only occasional minor twinges, but nasty shooting pains every thirty seconds to two minutes did their best to distract me from the music. Once I got back to my motel room, I cut off last night’s bandage and had a look. It was not much different than the last time I looked at it, but a bit more inflamed perhaps. Still a very minor bit of oozing. I took a good look at my dress shoes and found that the tongue on the right shoe had bunched up, apparently responsible for the irritation in the first place and for the pain tonight; I hadn’t noticed anything while wearing it. I rebandaged it, a bit more thoroughly and with more gauze padding this time, applied an antibiotic cream just in case, pulled on a thick athletic sock over it, took two Tylenol, and went to bed. Definitely no hiking this week!
Tuesday, 6 October — Whycocomagh
After a very good night’s sleep, I arose at 10h30 to a sunny morning (I had peeked out earlier at 9h and fog prevented me from seeing Whycocomagh Bay, so I went back to bed). My foot felt just fine, an occasional minor twinge aside, but I decided not to push it, in spite of the fine weather outside, and stayed in my room, shoes off, where I had a makeshift breakfast from car food. After reading and catching up on the news, I completed Sunday’s account and wrote Monday’s and posted them both.
Monday, my friends on Rocky Ridge had invited me tonight over for an early dinner so I wouldn’t miss the Port Hawkesbury cèilidh, so I drove there, leaving the “dress” shoes in the motel room and wearing my “day” shoes instead. Highway 252 was showing a good amount of colour, mostly oranges with some reds, along much of the way; the trees are definitely gearing up for Celtic Colours. I again ran into welcome ditching work on the (New) Rocky Ridge Road, this time closer to the West Mabou end.
After a good visit, Marg led us to table for the feast she had prepared us. It began with bruschetta, small rounds of baguette browned and drizzled with olive oil and covered with fresh tomatoes and herbs from her garden. Scrumptious! Because I was driving, I declined her homemade blackberry wine, which smelled great. Dinner was roast beef and gravy, small roasted potatoes, carrots and turnips, and a dinner roll, garnished with mustard pickles. A piece of homemade apple pie I couldn’t refuse and tea completed the wonderful meal. I thought I was going to burst! After dinner, we chatted some more and made plans to get together again after Celtic Colours is over. I thanked them for their congenial company and her for all her work in putting the fine dinner together as I left for Port Hawkesbury, where I arrived just as it was getting dark after a drive along St Georges Bay watching the setting sun through grey clouds.
Tonight’s cèilidh, the last of this year, featured Nuallan (Kevin Dugas, Kenneth MacKenzie, and Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes) with Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard and the noted Gaelic singer, Mary Jane Lamond. Emceed by Bob MacEachern, it started off with two sets from Nuallan’s eponymous EP released this summer, with all three on highland bagpipes and Betty Lou accompanying on keyboard. Grand music indeed! How I love the pipes! Mary Jane Lamond then gave us a lovely Gaelic song a cappella. Kevin on small pipes and Betty Lou on keyboard next played a cèilidh set. Keith on highland bagpipes accompanied by Betty Lou on keyboard played two sets. He introduced the first set as a set of jigs preceded by a tune he had written, Cape Mabou Quickstep, a tune I had requested as one of the perks for supporting the crowdfunded Nuallan EP; although I had heard a preliminary chanter version on an MP3 Keith had e-mailed me in August, this was the first time I’d heard it on highland bagpipes and it was fantastic! I had asked for a march I could “play” in my head while hiking in Cape Mabou and this tune fits the bill perfectly (Keith grew up in Foot Cape at the base of the northern end of Cape Mabou and really knew where I was coming from). The second set started with Pigeon on the Gate and continued with other tunes. Mary Jane sang us first another Gaelic song and then, with Keith on choruses, gave us a milling song. Kenneth on fiddle with Betty Lou on keyboard next gave us a march/strathspeys/reels set. Kevin on highland bagpipes accompanied by Betty Lou on keyboard then gave us a fine set. With Kevin, Kenneth, and Keith all on highland bagpipes and with Betty Lou on keyboard, they played the “step dance set” of strathspeys and reels from their CD. The 50/50 draw and draws for five door prizes followed. For the finale, Kenneth on highland bagpipes and Betty Lou on keyboard began the beautiful lament in honour of Kenneth’s mother, Moladh Maureen NicCoinnich, as Mary Jane sang along to their playing. Mary Jane then started a puirt a beul with Betty Lou on keyboard to which Keith step danced as Kevin and Kenneth joined in on highland bagpipes. It was a fantastic cèilidh I thoroughly enjoyed; I don’t often get to the Port Hawkesbury cèilidhs because they fall on the same night as Karen and Joey’s cèilidhs in Mabou, but they are always top notch.
I drove back to Whycocomagh on the Trans-Canada Highway and was soon back in the room where I’d spent much of the day. Apparently the day’s rest was what the foot needed, as I heard nothing more from it. After unwinding a bit, I headed off to bed, well fed and well entertained indeed!
Wednesday, 7 October — Whycocomagh to Pleasant Bay
I got up at 9h and had breakfast at Vi’s and then replenished my car food supply at the Coöp. I had a rare free day—the only music on the Island tonight was at the Governor’s Pub in Sydney and that’s on my schedule for the week after Celtic Colours—so I planned on spending it in one of the places I get to stay in rarely, Ingonish, Chéticamp, or Pleasant Bay. On the way north on Trans-Canada Highway, which had unusually little traffic, allowing me to dawdle along Whycocomagh Bay, I decided on the latter, where I had spent only one night (in 2007).
In Wagmatcook, I explored MacLellans Loop and Humes Rear Road, neither of which I had previously driven; the latter ends at a school and sports field and has good views (with some utility wires) on way down, to which I hope to return on a day with better light. I then turned onto Middle River West Road, which is in poor shape south of the Gairloch Mountain Road; even though all the potholes have been patched with asphalt, it’s still bumpy: posted for 80 km/h (50 mph), it's really fit for only 40 to 50 km/h (25 to 30 mph). The road offers lovely views of the Cape Breton Highlands, but there was too much haze for photos today. Some early colours are appearing, mostly pastel oranges. I turned onto Gairloch Mountain Road and overshot Mill Road, which I had discovered working on the last photo essay and turned around and drove down it as far as I durst; the initial gravel road becomes grass crowned with two deep tracks, passable by truck but nothing I wanted to further risk my car on, so I turned around in a narrow spot twixt ditch and electric fence without setting eyes on the brook that should have been nearby, presumably once the site of a mill of some sort that gave the road its name. I was surprised to find a half dozen houses back there, most if not all still inhabited, though I have no idea why the field beside the road is surrounded by an electric fence, apparently powered by a solar panel at the corner of the field by the road. I found a fair amount of colour here, pastel oranges and brick reds mostly. North of the Gairloch Mountain Road, the Middle River West Road is in somewhat better shape and good for 60+ km/h (35 mph). In Middle River West, I turned onto the Cabot Trail and headed for Margaree Forks. I found Twelve O'Clock Mountain west of the Lakes O’Law as orange as green; Phillips Mountain between Northeast Margaree and Margaree Forks has some early reds and a fair number of oranges, but is still more green than coloured. I turned onto the East Margaree Road, where there was little real colour, but signs of change were evident. In Chéticamp, I chatted with the lady in the bookstore and she told me that the extensive damage from the August rains was still largely unrepaired; both the Chéticamp campground and the Trous de Saumons Trail are still closed. Other than occasional precursor trees and some yellowing, there are not many signs of fall along the coast to French Mountain, but noticeable yellowing is seen ascending French Mountain. On the summit of French Mountain, I found a few gold tamaracks, several yellow ones, and many partly turned. Very little colour was present in the Fishing Cove River valley, just spots here and there and some yellowing. The same was true of the MacKenzies River Valley. Roberts Mountain and the Highlands south of Pleasant Bay were essentially unchanged, though a couple of small groves on one slope were sporting some orange.
The last time I was in Pleasant Bay, I stayed at the Mountain View Motel, which has a fine view of Roberts Mountain. This time I decided to try the Mid-Trail Motel, which, I discovered, has a 360° degree panorama of Pleasant Bay, easily the best single spot from which to photograph the village and its spectacular site between mountain and sea. After getting my motel room, I spent some time taking photos there and soaking in the fantastic views. If you stay there, be sure to ascend the staircase up the hill and walk over to the edge where a number of Adirondack chairs are placed for your enjoyment. Also, on any but a warm day, take a good windbreaker, as it really blows up there, something you don’t realize in the lee of the hill! A truncated Nova Scotia flag was flying on top of the hill: only three-fifths remained, the right two-fifths having been blown away!
One of several motivations for having chosen Pleasant Bay as today’s destination was to check out a fairly good amount of information about the Red River area I stumbled across on the web page that I found while researching this Hinkley Glen page and this one in my last photo essay. The most interesting of those items to me was the Red River Falls. I therefore drove out to Red River and turned down the Hinkley Glen Road and drove it to the end; I crossed a couple of poor spots but most of road is in OK shape. I had to remove big stones in the middle of the road in three places that had either fallen there or, more likely I think, been deliberately placed there, for what reason I cannot fathom. The road ends at an old quarry on the banks above the river a half dozen metres/yards below. I followed the ATV trail, which quickly becomes a narrow path over slippery black rocks and descends the banks to the river’s edge, as the instructions said: “From the quarry, hike just a little farther along the same (SW) side of Red River to the big pool. Cross in front of the pool to the NE side to see the falls. Good swimming hole, but cool water. Best to visit mid-afternoon when sun hits the pool.” I didn’t see a big pool nor any feasible way of crossing the river except wading and it's a stony bottom deep enough one would need hip boots (“waders”) to cross and remain dry. At 15h in October, no sun was hitting the river, which was high on the slopes above, though it’s conceivable it might in high summer. A minor rapid spilled over rocks above where I stopped, but no falls did I see or hear, so this proved to be a wild goose chase, at least without crossing the river. I found moose and bear scat at the quarry and along the trail. A yellow sheen across the slopes above the river betrayed some changed leaves. I returned as I came and drove out to the end of the Red River Road at Archies Brook, the trail head for the Polletts Cove Trail, where a nice new sign announced the distance as 9.5 km (5.9 mi). The same source that described the trail to the Red River Falls also mentioned a Red River Lookout, just past the stupa at the Gampo Abbey, but I was unable to locate the parking lot described and what I took for the driveway mentioned was a narrow path through the grass ending at a tent. So that proved to be a bust as well. But I did see the trail to the Red River Beach mentioned, though I did not descend it, leaving it for a summer exploration. It was too hazy for any photos and clouds covered much of the sky as I slowly drove back to the motel; even then, this is one gorgeous drive!
It was near dark when I got back to the motel and I changed into dinner attire (minus the “dress” shoes) and walked over to the restaurant, at which I’d never before eaten, deciding to try the unknown instead of the tried and true Rusty Anchor. Well, dear reader, I am happy to report that Pleasant Bay has two fine restaurants! And it’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and welcomes those passing through as well as those staying at the motel. I had the chowder, full of all kinds of fish and seafood, which was superb; the “Mid-Trail salad”, a garden salad with raisins, nuts, and sections of fresh small sweet oranges that was delightful; and the halibut dinner, a great thick piece of halibut, twice the usual serving size, cooked to a fare-the-well and drizzled in butter, with rice, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli, all marvellous. Since I had walked over from my room, I also had a great glass of fine Chardonnay with the meal. What a feast!
Back in my room, I completed and posted Tuesday’s account and then retired for the night.
Thursday, 8 October — Pleasant Bay to Port Hood
I arose a bit before 8h30 to a mostly cloudy and grey morning, with some clearing along the northern shore. I had breakfast at the inn; the food again was top-notch. The light had improved considerably by the time I regained my room, so I climbed the staircase to the top of the hill (which I had failed to do yesterday) and got a lot of photos from there. I then checked out of the motel and drove down to the harbour for more photos there. Near gale force winds were pushing waves through the breakwaters into the well-protected harbour. A smallish coast guard vessel moored at a quay when I arrived there cast off its moorings, backed into the harbour, and headed out through the breakwaters and into very rough waters, making very slow headway against the strong winds and the heavy waves. Clouds were being spawned in the Gulf and pushed willy nilly inland and across the highlands; the sun shone through holes that quickly closed and reöpened elsewhere, making for challenging photography requiring the patience of Job, with which I am unfortunately not endowed. Still, I was hopeful I might get some decent shots, so I again drove out the Red River Road and stopped for photos at two places south of but near the Gampo Abbey, where the coast line out to “The Knuckles” beyond Delaneys Point is laid out in a stunning array. “Big Bertha” captured the details in a lot of photos at both places, having some difficulty autofocussing on the tree-covered sides of the highlands. The sun occasionally lit up some of the rock faces, but such highlights were brief. I got more shots at the lowest look-off on MacKenzies Mountain, where the sun lit the up coast at Tittle Point and the High Capes, albeit with some haze. This spectacular coast is the subject of this photo essay.
It was now time to begin the return trip, to Port Hood where I’m staying tonight. I found today definite yellowing in the Fishing Cove River Valley and on the slopes of Skyline Ridge, with some oranges on the French Mountain side of the gorge below Skyline Ridge, noticeable changes in a single day. I found the Deepdale Road freshly gravelled and in much better shape than a week ago. I stopped at the Mull in Mabou for an early dinner: as the waitress was seating me, my friend from Endicott (NY) came over and invited me to sit with his wife and him. We had a good long chat, catching up on our news. They have been coming to Celtic Colours longer than I have; we first met as I was standing in line for Festival Club at St Anns on my first Celtic Colours, where we were both surprised to find we had worked for IBM in the same building at Endicott in the 1970’s and we have enjoyed each other’s company ever since. Not really hungry, I had a garden salad and a smoked meat sandwich, which I finished after they left. I have been here nearly a week and still hadn’t driven out the Colindale Road, which I found badly washboarded, so I went that way to Port Hood; I didn’t take any photos as the lighting was poor. I got my motel room, relaxed briefly, and changed into dress clothes, again without the “dress” shoes.
Then it was off to Judique for the Masters’ Concert, featuring the instructors for the Buddy MacMaster School of Music this coming week. This is not an official Celtic Colours concert but, for the Cape Breton music aficionado, it is better as one gets to hear ten of the very best fiddlers in the style (only nine tonight as Ashley MacIsaac was not present) in one show, something one doesn’t often see in Celtic Colours shows, which usually attempt instead to cater to “wider” tastes. The individual styles of each of the players is a treat to behold; they are certainly not carbon copies of each other, but, while all play within the same tradition, each brings an individual and distinct way of playing that adds to the delight of the music. The concert was broken into two halves, with five instructors in the first half and four in the second. After remarks by Allan Dewar, Andrea Beaton, Kimberley Fraser, Dara Smith-MacDonald, Gabrielle MacLellan, and Troy MacGillivray on fiddles, accompanied by Allan on keyboard, took the stage with an opening set of “Buddy” jigs. With Troy on keyboard, Andrea on fiddle played her tune The Water Boiling Machine and followed it with strathspeys and reels, including some Donald Angus Beaton tunes. Kimberley on fiddle with Troy on keyboard played Crossing to Ireland, followed by strathspeys and reels. With Troy still on keyboard, Dara on fiddle played Road to the Isles, followed by strathspeys and reels. With Allan back on keyboard, Gabrielle gave us a lovely Reverend Archie Beaton followed by jigs. With Allan continuing on keyboard, Troy on fiddle gave us a set of tunes written by people connected with Buddy: an air and then strathspeys and reels, on which latter Cheryl Smith joined in on snare drums.
After the break, Kendra MacGillivray, Shelly Campbell, Wendy MacIsaac, and Glenn Graham on fiddles accompanied by Kimberley on keyboard, gave us a set of jigs. With Troy on keyboard, Kendra played Love of the Isles followed by strathspeys and reels, on which latter Cheryl again joined in on snares. With Allan back on keyboard, Shelly gave us a set of strathspeys and reels. With Allan remaining on keyboard, Wendy played a set of strathspeys and reels with Cheryl on snares. Glenn gave us a set of strathspeys and reels with Allan on keyboard and Cheryl joining in on the second strathspey. After the 50/50 draw, the finale brought all the instructors back on massed fiddles with Allan on keyboard for a blast of tunes during which all the instructors except Dara step danced (Glenn’s steps were especially fancy tonight!).
Normally held in the Judique Community Centre, this year’s concert was held in the much smaller Celtic Music Interpretive Centre (Natalie MacMaster and her family put on a fundraising concert at the Strathspey Place at the same time, drawing part of this concert’s usual audience away). The seating was cosy (all the tables had been removed), though not as cosy as it would have been next door, but the chairs were larger, far more comfortable, and not tied together, allowing for some freedom when a large adult body is seated beside another large adult body. The intimacy of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre changed the character of the evening considerably as well: from a concert, it became more of a huge house party. Sold out, in spite of the competition, it attracted more people than the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre had seats for. Kudos to Allan and Cheryl for all their hard work in organizing and preparing this concert, as well as for their rôles in it. It was an amazing concert both in the quality and quantity of the musicians and the tunes they chose, many related to Buddy in various ways, and was greeted at its end with a highly deserved standing ovation.
After the concert was over, I drove to Mabou for a square dance in the community hall I learned about after making up my schedule. Although not crowded, more people were present for a dance than I've seen there in many a year. And they were dancers, out on the floor expertly and avidly dancing to the music of Rodney MacDonald and Kenneth MacKenzie, who alternated on fiddle and closed on dual fiddles if my memory can be trusted (I didn’t take notes), with Mac Morin on keyboard. Fantastic music, of course, with the dancers ratcheting up the music another notch. What a grand way to pre-celebrate the start of Celtic Colours!
Friday, 9 October — Port Hood
I slept in late this morning, finally rolling out of bed just a bit before 11h. It was a bright, sunny day with brisk temperatures, warming up to +12 (55) by afternoon. I caught up on e-mail and news and worked on Wednesday’s account. After getting gas, I drove out the Dunmore Road, which was in great shape. I found little colour on the northern end but the southern end after descending the first long hill is further along, with a couple of small trees all turned, some half turned, and others with only branches or leaves: very early days yet. The Mabou Road, in generally very good shape, has colours too, but a bit fewer than the lower Dunmore road.
Mike Hall was finishing a set as I arrived at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for the lunchtime cèilidh about 13h. As the cèilidh progressed, I got to hear fine music from Hailee LeFort and Doug Lamey on dual fiddles with Kevin Levesconte on keyboard; Doug alone with Kevin; Hailee alone with Kevin; Kevin performing a long and fine keyboard solo; Mike and Hailee on dual fiddles with Kevin accompanying; Howie MacDonald on fiddle with Mike on keyboard; Kevin on solo fiddle then joined by Mike on keyboard for an extra special set; Howie on fiddle and Mike on keyboard… what fine music from all these players! I am unable to attend the Red Shoe and Doryman sessions where Mike is playing (he’s only here a few days and these are his only gigs), so I was especially pleased to get to hear him, however briefly, this afternoon. I dropped by the office, where I caught Cheryl and Allan together and thanked them both for their fine and hard work on the Masters’ Concert yesterday, which I didn’t have a chance to do last night.
I drove to Baxters Cove and admired the views of St Georges Bay from the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail kiosk there, where I completed Wednesday’s account, but was unable to post it because Facebook was not responding.
I then drove to Port Hastings, where I had the fishcake and beans dinner at the Fire Hall, reluctantly passing up the great looking apple crisp with ice cream. After the dinner, run most efficiently by the several volunteers (thanks, Margie), I continued on to the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre for performances on the Archie Neil Chisholm stage, a venue featuring younger performers that took place an hour and a quarter before the opening Celtic Colours concert, which I chose to skip this year. First up was Shannon MacKay, who ably sang some folk songs whilst accompanying herself on guitar; I had not hitherto heard of this young lady. One of Trina Samson’s dance groups, collectively known as The Island Steppers, gave us a fine step dance to recorded music. Hailee LeFort on fiddle and Siobhan Beaton on guitar first played for three of The Island Steppers to step dance and then gave us a couple of excellent tune sets, the second beginning with a gorgeous “Reverend Archie Beaton”. Six more Island Steppers then step danced to recorded music. Olivier Broussard on fiddle and Paryse Broussard on keyboard, brother and sister, gave us two fine fiddle sets; their brother, Julien Broussard, joined them for a third. The Island Steppers closed the performances with a final step dance to recorded music. This was my first experience of The Island Steppers, a group of a couple dozen talented dancers, and I certainly hope to see them again; I spoke with Trina, who also sits on the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association Board of Directors, and she was justly proud of her students. Held off to the side in the same room where merchandise was being sold and people were milling about and talking, I found it hard to hear and sometimes to see the performers, but it was a great opportunity for the artists who appeared that I hope will be repeated next year, hopefully in a more suitable venue and with better advance publicity (the people at the information desk in the Civic Centre knew nothing about it).
Back at the car, I finally got through to Facebook and posted Wednesday’s account. I then drove back to Creignish and worked in the car on Thursday’s account until it was time for the dance to start.
Andrea Beaton and Troy MacGillivray were the musicians for this fine dance. Ian Cameron, who has gotten very successful sessions going alternate Thursdays and who tried unsuccessfully last year to get both family and adult summer dances going at Creignish, cut back to three square dances this year, two of which I missed because I was off the Island. But this one must surely have warmed his heart, as the hall was almost full and the dance floor was crowded. Unlike last summer, when square sets were slow to form, tonight was very much better. The first square set was underway at 22h06 with Andrea on fiddle and Troy on keyboard; 19 couples in three groups danced its third figure. A long jig set followed with no takers, but thereafter the square sets formed promptly. Natalie MacMaster showed up with several of her children and danced the sets with them (the Creignish Recreation Centre has a “club” licence similar to that of the Canadian-American Club, so alcohol can still be served even though minors are present). Six square sets were danced in total. Troy played fiddle with Andrea on keyboard for the third and sixth square sets; for the others, the rôles were reversed. From twenty to thirty couples were in the next three square sets (multiple queues were used for the third figures with enough people on the floor that I found it heard to count accurately). For the step dance sequence, Andrea and Troy were on dual fiddles and Betty Lou Beaton was on keyboard; the dancers were Siobhan Beaton; a Mabou lass whose name I should know; Amanda MacDonald; one of Natalie’s daughters; Olivier Broussard; Kimberley Wotherspoon; one of Natalie’s sons; Natalie dancing with one of Mary-Elizabeth’s daughters (I think); and two ladies from Havre Boucher dancing together. The hall thinned out a good bit at 0h, but enough dancers remained that about ten couples danced each of the last two square sets. The dance ended with a waltz played by Andrea on fiddle and Troy on keyboard to fill out the time; it drew four couples to the floor. The music was perfection itself all night long and it was a marvellous way to start off Celtic Colours. I drove back to Port Hood and was soon fast asleep.
Saturday, 10 October — Port Hood
I arose at 9h54 to a blustery, raw morning with constant 44 km/h winds (27 mph) and considerably higher gusts; the harbour was awash in white water. I drove out the Upper Southwest Mabou Road, where the colours are still pre-peak, but getting there; parts of Glencoe Road and the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road were likewise approaching peak. The backcountry hills are no longer green, but mottled; I saw visible colour on the “Rosedale Ridge” and in Upper Glencoe. Fine colours greeted me as I “descended the mountain” in Dunakin; Skye and Campbell Mountains were more subdued, but not green either; some colours were quite pretty along the Indian River. I had lunch at Vi’s (a chef salad and a club sandwich) and then drove to the Christmas Island Fire Hall via Portage Road for my first official Celtic Colours show.
The program description for Còmhla Cruinn: Gathered Together sounded like a continuation of the superb traditional music shows I've seen at Christmas Island over the past years and the first half was. Joanne MacIntyre began with a lovely Gaelic song. She then invited her four sons to the stage and they then gave us a milling song and a song about the St Margaret, a boat. Finally, they concluded with puirt a beul during which Steven gave us a fine step dance. The MacIntyres never disappoint—see them if you don’t already know of their fine work. Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton followed them on stage. Kinnon on fiddle and Betty Lou on keyboard first gave us a great set beginning with the Goldenrod Jig and including the High Drive Reel and the Sean Maguire Reel. Another fine set followed beginning with a gorgeous slow air Kinnon learned from a Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald tape and followed by reels including Le reel de la tuque bleue, a Joseph Allard tune. He then gave us The French Lady’s Waltz (also known as The Swedish Waltz), a tune he learned from his daughter, Andrea, who picked it up in the Magdalen Islands. The final set began with Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban, two strathspeys, and a set of reels including Beaton’s Delight, Mrs Margaret MacDonald; three Buddy tunes, Old Kings Reel, The Bridge of Bamore, and one other whose name I didn’t get. At the break which followed, I was feeling very happy when I went outside, a mood made even happier by the lovely sunny weather outside the hall. Alas, the next performers, the Rachel Newton Trio from Scotland (Rachel Newton on harp and Gaelic and English vocals, Lauren McColl on fiddle, and Mattie Foulds on percussion), billed as traditional players, were anything but. What they played was definitely Celtic and even Gaelic (including three Gaelic songs), but it was as far from Cape Breton traditional Gaelic music as Meat Cove is from Manhattan. As I sat through the seven(!) selections they inflicted on us, I very much wanted to be outside enjoying the sun—anywhere but there! However, I was seated in the front row, so I could not easily leave without creating a scene, but I was sorely tempted! Finally, Kinnon and Betty Lou came back and calmed my nerves with a great set of tunes, ending with reels that removed some of the bitter taste in my mouth. The finale brought everyone on stage to give us a puirt a beul and then a fiddle tune set (to give them credit, the Scottish trio adapted themselves to the others and played traditionally—must be they had no clue about the Christmas Island Gaelic traditions or else they were out to “bring us into the twenty-third (sic) century”).
After the show was over, I drove back to Iona, where Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Howie MacDonald on keyboard were already playing for the cèilidh at the Highland Heights Inn when I got there. The pub was packed and I’d have had to stand had not two friends saved a spot for me at the bar, where I had supper (chowder and grilled haddock, both excellent). I didn’t take notes during the cèilidh, in part because I was eating and chatting with my friends between sets, but both Kenneth and Howie played extremely well. If memory serves, Kenneth played the last set of tunes on highland bagpipes. No room was available for a square set, but there were plenty of folks there who could have danced one had there been. It is a fine new venue with excellent acoustics, though a bit small even with the extra seating upstairs, but perhaps that’s a problem only during Celtic Colours. In any case, I wish the owners every success with their venture, which is apparently going to continue through the winter.
I drove to Mabou, again avoiding the ferry by taking Portage Road; a few minutes past 20h, a line stood outside the door of the Red Shoe, where I had hoped to catch a bit more of Kenneth and Patrick Gillis at 21h before the dance in West Mabou at 22h, but it was not to be, so I drove on to West Mabou and worked on Thursday’s post in the car until it was time to go in.
Tonight’s dance featured Marc Boudreau on fiddle and Hilda Chiasson on (real) piano. It was a dancing crowd with folks often on the floor before the jigs started up. It was not packed, but most of the six square sets danced had around twenty couples each, with fewer for the first and last ones. Hailee LeFort ably relieved Marc for the fifth square set. The step dance sequence brought to the floor Stephen MacLennan; Melody Cameron; Hailee LeFort; Siobhan Beaton; Mats Melin; and a lass whose name I'm not sure of (one of Mary-Elizabeth’s daughters, I think). The hall emptied quickly at the end of the last set at 0h52 and no music was played to fill the remaining minutes. Marc’s clear and driving fiddle style is at a perfect tempo for dancing, I’m told, and many of Mabou’s best dancers were on the floor tonight. It was a fine dance with great music by both musicians. I reflected as I drove back to Port Hood on how lucky I am to hear so much of this music in its native environment—I can never get enough of it for it stirs and rejuvenates my spirit like nothing else does. How different my retired life would have been had I not gone back to Judique on that fateful night when I first crossed into Cape Breton!
Sunday, 11 October — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
At 9h, I arose to a grey overcast windy morning but the winds were not as strong as yesterday and there was way less surf in the harbour. I drove to Mabou for the annual parish Thanksgiving dinner. Early colours along Highway 19 are appearing now with some nice red trees and varied other hues; Cape Mabou is no longer green when seen from a distance, while Mabou Mountain is still green, though up close colours can be seen on its upper slopes. Very early colours are also now visible along the Mabou River in the village. While waiting for the doors to open, I completed and posted Thursday's account.
Open to visitors and locals alike, the parish Thanksgiving dinner offers a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings and an array of locally made pies of every variety (somehow, I summoned enough will power to pass the dessert table without taking any, making do with my memories of years past). Janette and John Robert Gillis and Lester MacKinnon who was with them kindly invited me to sit with them and we had a good visit as we ate.
After dinner, I drove to St Anns for the Pipers’ Cèilidh. I found colours all along the way, with a fair amount of colour on Whycocomagh Mountain along Highway 252. It was greener on Salt Mountain and the south side of Whycocomagh Mountain. Lots of yellowing was visible all along the Trans-Canada Highway from Whycocomagh to St Anns; good early colours (pastels, partly changed trees, oranges, light reds) were most noticeable north of exit 6.
Kyle and Keith MacDonald emceed the Pipers’ Cèilidh. Kenneth MacKenzie piped in the vice-regal party and then, with Mac Morin on keyboard, gave us a blast o’ tunes; a set of jigs, the first written by his brother Angus, and played some fast!; and some turns of Johnny Cope followed by strathspeys and reels. Great playing as always! Paddy Keenan (from Ireland) on uilleann pipes, accompanied by John Walsh on guitar, played a set of jigs; an air; another set of jigs; an air started on whistle and finished on uilleann pipes with a fine guitar modulation from John as he switched instruments; and a set of reels. After the break and draws, young Joe MacMaster on highland bagpipes with Mac on keyboard, gave us a march/strathspeys/reels set, including the Scotsville Reel; a set of jigs; and, with Kenneth joining him on highland bagpipes, another march/strathspeys/reels set. His performance was greeted with a standing ovation at the end of the set. The final piper was Fred Morrison (South Uist) who played a solo on highland bagpipes; a whistle solo; a solo on uilleann pipes; and a solo on highland bagpipes (the portion of the audience in the rear of the hall, which included me, rose in a standing ovation at its end). With Paddy on uilleann pipes and John on guitar, Fred played a set on Northumberland pipes. Quite a variety of instruments, all gloriously played! At Joe’s prompting, the emcees mentioned the Glencoe Mills dance this evening; great publicity! For the finale, Fred was on Northumberland pipes, Paddy on uilleann pipes, John on guitar, Joe on fiddle, Kenneth on bellows pipes, and Mac on keyboard; they gave us a fine Hector the Hero and other tunes during which Kyle and Keith step danced; a full standing ovation greeted the musicians at the end of the set. Given my seat in the next to the last row (purchased just two hours after tickets went on sale in July, a circumstance I shared with several others seated near me, including Wally Ellison), it was impossible to see much of the players’ expressions on stage; fortunately the music came through clearly, thanks to the fine sound system and technicians. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful cèilidh full of variety and fantastic players and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
After driving back to Whycocomagh, I had dinner at Vi’s. Two thanksgiving specials were on offer; since I’d already had turkey at noon, I chose the ham, which came with a huge boiled potato, peas, cole slaw, and tea, to which I added a green salad and eschewed dessert; I sat with a friend from Truro whom I see regularly on my trips here—although his musical tastes are much wider than mine, he loves Cape Breton music as much as I do—and we had a good chat. The food was fine and, considering the crowd packing the building when we arrived, the service was excellent.
Then, I drove to Mabou for the parish Thanksgiving concert, always a treat given the large pool of talent in the parish and the chance to see artists that are too rarely seen elsewhere; I visited with friends while waiting for the concert to start. Emceed by David Rankin, Cullin MacInnis on fiddle and Rankin MacInnis on keyboard opened the concert with a set beginning with Moladh Maureen NicCoinnich and continuing with strathspeys (including Cutting Ferns) and reels. Joanne MacIntyre next gave us a Gaelic song a cappella; joined by her four sons (Cameron, Neil, Stephen,and James (youngest to eldest)), they sang a lovely Gaelic song. Bonnie Jean MacDonald on fiddle and Mary-Elizabeth MacMaster-MacInnis on keyboard played a fine march/strathspeys/reels set. Sara MacInnis gave us two milling songs on which the audience sang the choruses. Rankin returned on highland bagpipes and played an air solo, following it with strathspeys and reels which Mary-Elizabeth accompanied on keyboard. Rankin and Mary-Elizabeth then played for the Féis Mhàbu Dancers, who performed the third figure of a Mabou set with a very laconic prompter. Lionel and Margaret LeBlanc sang two songs, accompanying themselves on guitar, one of which was Stan Rogers’ The Field Behind the Plow. Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Mary-Elizabeth on keyboard first played for Melody to step dance and then played a great march/strathspeys/reels set. A break followed, during which I reluctantly left so as to not miss any of the dance at Glencoe (they begin early at 21h this year).
Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar were the musicians for tonight’s dance. They were tuning the sound system when I arrived at 21h. Three nonworkers were in the hall at that point (21h is too early to start a dance, especially on the Thanksgiving weekend when there is both a concert in Whycocomagh and the parish concert in Mabou), so Shelly and Allan played cèilidh sets. At 21h22, jigs brought three couples to the floor, who danced the first figure a couple short; a fourth couple was added for the second figure and yet another part way through the third figure, making five couples at the end. The second square set had five couples in the first figure, growing to eight as folks arrived near 22h; it was most remarkable to me for Shelly’s lyrical playing on the first figure’s jigs—absolutely out of this world! By 22h10, a good crowd had taken most of the seating, though only six couples danced the third square set. The waltz that followed also got six couples. At 22h36, the hall was almost full and the dance really got underway, with roughly twenty couples dancing up a storm in each of the three following square sets. A waltz after the fourth square set got two couples. Shelly kept on playing for two minutes after the fifth square set ended. The step dance sequence which followed brought Siobhan Beaton, Stephen MacLennan, Amanda MacDonald, and (I think) Hailee LeFort to the floor, fine dancers all. A happy birthday greeting and the sixth square set followed. Everyone had a great time and would have happily kept on dancing had the dance not then been over. The music was incredible—Shelly’s absolutely beautiful singing fiddle with Allan’s superb keyboard accompaniment, supercharged by the energy in the hall, made for one fantastic dance! My thanks to the volunteers at Glencoe who have been so generous with their time and efforts keeping the Glencoe dances going through the summer and on long week-ends; it has been gratifying to see their hard work rewarded with better attendance this year. May these fine family dances long continue!
I drove back down the mountain to Whycocomagh, hitting rather more potholes in the dark along the Indian River than I wanted to, and was soon fast asleep with Shelly and Allan’s marvellous music playing in my dreams.
Thanksgiving Day, Monday, 12 October — Whycocomagh
Je souhaite à tous mes amis et parents canadiens un joyeux jour de l'Action de grâces! Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends and family members!
I got up at 8h46 and decided to skip breakfast. I drove out Portage Road and on to MacKays Point in Washabuck and delivered the photos I had taken on their hill in July to Vince and Charlotte MacLean, along with those of all the Highland Village Day photos I’d taken over the years for the archives; in spite of it being Thanksgiving Day, they invited me in for a chat. I couldn’t stay long, but very much enjoyed the brief visit. Afterwards, I drove back to the St Columba Road and up it to Washabuck Falls, where considerably more water was falling than in July when Stan Chapman took me there. After some photos of the falls, I drove on to Iona; the gravel road is in much better shape than when I last drove it some years ago, making it a very feasible alternative to the horror that is the paved Gillis Point Road I last drove in 2014. I found some very nice colours on the mountain and views on way down I don’t recall from before—logging regularly opens up new vistas; I need to go back on a better day for photos. I ate lunch at the pub in the Highland Heights Inn, where I had a superb green salad with mandarin oranges, chowder, haddock, and tea. I then drove to Christmas Island and out Highland Road to the house of friends from New Hampshire undergoing renovation and restoration; after a whirlwind tour due to the short time I had available, I continued on to Eskasoni via the Benacadie Glen Road and Highway 216. The colours a ways inland were quite nice, but along Highway 216, not much other than yellowing was visible. In Eskasoni, I overshot the turn for the Sarah Denny Cultural Centre (my first time there), but saw the Celtic Colours sign, so I turned around and drove up to the lovely site. Once inside, I delivered the photos of this summer’s Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association gala concert to Betty Matheson and took my seat. The chairs in this venue are interconnected using a metal hook and eye, allowing them to be “tied” together but also to move a bit, and this construction makes wider gaps between the seats and so is a much better solution for adult bodies than the much smaller chairs held tightly together with plastic ties one finds in most other venues.
Promptly at 14h, Wendy Bergfeldt, the emcee, opened the concert, a tribute to the noted late Cape Breton fiddler and composer, Wilfred Prosper. The Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association members present, directed by Eddie Rogers and with Marion Morrison on keyboard and Jesse Lewis on guitar, played a set of jigs (including the Chéticamp Jig) and another group number. Next, Leanne Aucoin on fiddle and Bradley Reid on keyboard played for Stephanie MacDonald to step dance. Switching places, Brad on fiddle and Leanne on keyboard gave us a beautiful set beginning with a gorgeous slow air. Wilfred Prosper’s son, Wilfred Prosper, Jr, on accordion and Mario Colosimo on keyboard played a short set. Wilfred Jr, joined by three of Wilfred’s grandchildren on fiddles, with Mario continuing on keyboard, played a fine set. Then, granddaughter Shawnie, accompanied by Mario on keyboard, played a fiddle solo in honour of her grandfather that earned her a standing ovation. After the presentation of a plaque to Shawnie’s grandmother, the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association members with Doug MacPhee on keyboard, returned to the stage and played two more fine sets. After the intermission and draws, the Calvin Vollrath Trio (Calvin on fiddle, Kimberley Holmes on keyboard, and a guitarist whose name I didn’t get and have been unable to locate on the web), took the stage. Calvin is a noted fiddler and composer from western Canada, a master of the old-tyme and métis fiddle styles. Their first set sounded very Don Messer-like to my ear. The second set was in the métis style, ending with The Arkansas Traveller. The third set was in the French-Canadian style for his wife, Rhéa, to step dance, which won her a standing ovation from half the hall. He then played an air, A Poppa’s Love, that he had composed for his four grandchildren, who call him Poppa. Next, he gave us Wilfred Prosper’s Reel, a tune he said he had composed this morning for this show and played in the Cape Breton style. Rhéa then performed a very close-to-the-floor step dance to the Red River Jig. He completed his appearance with an old-tyme music set in the Don Messer style, way fast by Cape Breton standards, but a tour-de-force that won him a standing ovation. It was the first time I had heard him play live and I found his ability to switch fluently from style to style most impressive—it takes most fiddlers a good part of a lifetime to master just a single style. It wasn’t mostly Cape Breton fiddle music, but I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed the performance. Wilfred Prosper Jr on fiddle with Mario on keyboard next gave us some more fiddle tunes, this time in the Cape Breton style. The finale brought the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association back to the stage along with the Calvin Vollrath Trio and members of Prosper family, with Mario on keyboard, for a rousing fiddle set to close the superb show.
I then drove back to Whycocomagh, again via Portage Road, and continued on to Judique via Dunakin, Glencoe Mills, Upper Southwest Mabou, and Hillsdale, for the haddock supper at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre (haddock, mashed potatoes, carrots, and tea (I passed up the dessert most reluctantly)). Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar played for the diners and, at one point, gave us a gorgeous slow air in a minor key, Lament for Black River, that she wrote on the death of her grandmother. I stayed on until 19h listening; while there, Rannie Gillis, Cape Breton Post columnist and author of books on Cape Breton and Newfoundland, stopped by my table and we had a good chat.
I then went next door to the Community Centre for tonight’s show, Ray Mac’s Cèilidh, in honour of Ray MacDonald, host of a popular and tremendously influential radio show on CJFX in Antigonish that had a huge impact on Cape Breton fiddlers and their listeners. I was unable to take notes as the show proceeded due to the pitch black darkness at the back where I was seated (same story as for the Pipers’ Cèilidh)—turning on my iPhone there would have been like shining a spotlight on my face and too distracting to others nearby. At this remove, I can no longer recall who did what or in what order: the brief ex post facto notes I took at the half and at the end are incomplete and totally inadequate, made more confusing because the same performer frequently had multiple rôles, e.g., Ashley MacIsaac was both fiddler and piano accompanist. My apologies for the following account, which is the best I can come up with over a very full week later. Gabrielle MacLellan on fiddle and Tom Daniels on guitar opened the show, emceed by Bob MacEachern. Stan Chapman on fiddle was accompanied by Maybelle Chisholm-McQueen on piano; Howie MacDonald on fiddle was accompanied by Ashley on piano; Howie on fiddle and Maybelle on piano played for the Warner sisters (Melody Cameron and Kelly MacLennan) to step dance. After the break, Lucy MacNeil sang, accompanied by a guitarist whose name I didn’t get and whom I couldn’t see well enough to identify. Howie and Ashley played together; Ashley on fiddle was accompanied by Maybelle on piano; Stan on fiddle was accompanied by Ashley on piano. Everyone was on stage for the finale, during which the Warner Sisters step danced and then most of musicians also step danced one at a time. Although I couldn’t see the stage very well from my seat, I learned quite a bit about the decades before I became acquainted with Cape Breton music and the importance of Ray MacDonald’s radio show to the development of, and interest in, that music. And the tune sets were all a joy to hear—what a fine group of performers!
Once the show was over, I drove to Brook Village for what proved to be their final square dance of this year. I arrived about 23h and found Ian MacDougall on fiddle, Tyson Chen on keyboard, and Pius MacIsaac on guitar playing for the third figure of a square set (the dance started at 21h30); the hall was not jam packed but full, so I sat on the stairs. Four more square sets were danced after I got there, varying from 27 to 42 couples, and the next-to-the-last one with Mike Hall on fiddle while Ian took a break. A waltz with twelve couples followed the fourth-from-the-last square set. The step dance sequence was played before the last square set and saw Maggie Olette (Detroit and in high heels), Harvey MacKinnon, John Robert Gillis, Jimmy MacIsaac, Mats Melin, Burton MacIntyre, Rachel Reeds (Boston), and Carmen MacArthur sharing their steps. The dance ended at 1h06 and, after thanking the musicians, I drove back to Whycocomagh, where I fell asleep almost instantly, exhausted from a very long, but very rewarding day of music. Of such days is a typical Celtic Colours festival made!
Tuesday, 13 October — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
I got up a bit before 9h and packed up, as tonight I’ll be staying in Port Hood. It was a grey morning with sunny breaks; clouds sat on the summits of Skye and Salt Mountains. No longer just yellowing, but actual colours can now be seen all over both mountains. I had breakfast at Vi’s, where I worked on Friday’s account, before, as I waited for it to arrive, and afterwards, as I drank my tea.
The Sounds and Supper by the Sea event took place today at the Lobsters ’r’ Us in Little Harbour (Lower L’Ardoise), so I set out down the Trans-Canada Highway from Whycocomagh. The colours were glorious and near peak along the highway, especially in Glendale. Clouds hung over the Big Ridge. Riverside Road was colourful, but behind Glendale. Highway 4 was also colourful and at or near peak from Grande-Anse to River Bourgeois, but there was little colour at River Bourgeois nor on the lower slopes of Sporting Mountain. The lower portion of Grant Road had good colours, though pre-peak, but elsewhere in the area (the upper slopes of Sporting Mountain, on Morrison Road to Seaview, along the upper part of Grant Road, on Mountain Road, on Morrison Road to Oban, and on Oban Road to St Peter’s) some colours were visible, but they were early. I stopped briefly in St Peter’s to visit friends whom I hadn’t seen at recent dances; both were fine, but had moved back to St Peter’s from their summer quarters in Whycocomagh. I continued on from there to Lower L’Ardoise, where I arrived a few minutes after 13h. The area in which the dinner is held, beautifully decorated with nets, a quilt constructed using fall leaves as a motif, and fall harvest ornaments, had been expanded by a tent in which numerous vendors of books, crafts, and food offered their wares. The costumed Lobster Lady was missing again this year, too busy with other duties to be able to attend, but in much better health than last year. For the first two hours, music of various genres was played, mostly by musicians I don’t know and whose names I didn’t get: a lady who accompanied herself on guitar sang English and French folk songs, with help on backing fiddle from Allie Mombourquette; Jaidon Seymour, now fourteen, stood at the keyboard both singing and playing; Allie on fiddle and Al Martin on guitar first gave us a cèilidh set and then played for four couples who danced the four figures of the Roddy MacKenzie set, a set peculiar to the L’Ardoise area, finishing off with a group of waltzes; a gentleman on guitar sang both English and French folk songs; Patrick Lamey entertained us as only he can; the first singer returned for more songs accompanied by a gentleman on bass. The dinner started about 15h and we were all served efficiently over the next half hour as tables were called in order to pass through the lines to get their food. The large lobsters were served with drawn butter, rolls, potato salad, macaroni salad, small ears of corn, and an array of desserts I somehow found the will power to pass by. As always, it was a delicious dinner and a wonderful opportunity to spend an afternoon conversing with friends in a lovely informal environment. My thanks and kudos to the supper’s organizers and performers for a very fine event.
Once the supper was finished, I drove back to Port Hood, where I got my motel room and relaxed a bit. It was then time to drive to the Strathspey Place for tonight’s Celtic Colours show, Close to the Floor. The show opened with a bang as Fileanta (Jenny MacKenzie, Melody Cameron, Margie Beaton, Dawn Beaton, Colin MacDonald, David Rankin, Kyle MacDonald, and Mac Morin) danced a figure of a square set to music by Nuallan (Kevin Dugas, Kenneth MacKenzie, and Keith MacDonald), accompanied by Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard and Pat Gillis on guitar. Once they had finished, Derrick Cameron came out to officially open the show; he shared the emceeing duties with others as the show progressed. Mary Jane Lamond next gave us a Gaelic song and then sang a puirt a beul to which Harvey Beaton step danced. Kinnon Beaton on fiddle with Betty Lou on grand piano played jigs for a called figure of a square set danced by Fileanta; gave us a march/strathspeys/reels set; and played for Mac to step dance. Next, eight members of the cast of Brìgh, which Margie reminded us should be pronounced with a rolled R, danced the second figure of a contemporary Mabou square set to music supplied by Nuallan, with Mac on keyboard and Pat on guitar. They then played the Grey Buck set from their CD and a second set beginning with Keith’s Cape Mabou Quickstep and ending with Kevin’s Inverside Reel. With Betty Lou on keyboard, they then played for a double Scotch Four danced by Fileanta. After the break, Mary Jane sang a Gaelic song with assistance from Keith, Kyle, Colin, David, and Kevin. She then told a story in Gaelic, which David translated sentence-by-sentence. A milling song with Mary Jane doing the verses and the gentlemen doing the choruses followed. David then danced to a puirt a beul sung by Mary Jane. Kinnon on fiddle and Betty Lou on the grand piano next played waltzes for Fileanta to dance; Jimmy and Hilda MacIsaac, known as among Cape Breton’s finest waltzers, were thanked for their coaching assistance for this number. Kinnon and Betty Lou then played for Harvey to step dance. Kenneth on fiddle, Mac on grand piano, and Pat on guitar next played for Melody to step dance. Accompanied by Pat on guitar, Mac gave us an amazing tour de force on grand piano beginning with Wesley Beaton’s March, a tune composed by Kinnon Beaton. Nuallan, accompanied by Mac on keyboard and Pat on guitar, then played for a jig number danced by the ladies of Fileanta using original choreography. All Fired Up (Colin, Kyle, and Keith) began with a lovely slow air and continued with strathspeys and reels, during which Dawn and Margie step danced together. Nuallan, with Mac on keyboard and Pat on guitar, then played John MacLean’s haunting Moladh Maureen NicCoinnich, during which Jenny, dressed in white, performed a dance she had choreographed as Mary Jane sang words to the tune; it was a very emotional and moving number for those in the audience who knew Maureen and her work. The finale brought all the performers back on stage, with Mary Jane opening with a Gaelic song accompanied by Kevin; the third figure of a Mabou set was then danced by the eight Brìgh cast members on one side of the stage and eight fine adult dancers from the area on the other; Harvey step danced; and Fileanta returned to dance. [My notes, written in the dark with pencil and paper, are severely garbled here and I may have omitted parts of the finale.] It was a wonderful celebration of the Gaelic culture of Cape Breton with no extraneous intruding elements, likely the best Celtic Colours show I have ever seen: I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. My congratulations to the performers and those who put this wonderful show together; it would be marvellous if the video streamed live could be made available in the form of a DVD—I’d gladly purchase a copy.
After the show was over, I drove into town to the Red Shoe, expecting to not get in; however, it was not as packed as I had expected and I found a seat with some local folks enjoying the music by Marc Boudreau on fiddle and Hilda Chiasson on (real) piano. I didn’t take notes on the music, but it was top notch and got some folks up to step dance while I was there. Dale Gillis on fiddle also played two fine sets with Hilda, relieving Marc for a bit. It was a fine conclusion to a very busy day full of fantastic music and dance. I was a happy guy indeed as I tumbled into bed back in Port Hood.
Wednesday, 14 October — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I arose before 9h and, skipping breakfast, headed for Sydney via the Trans-Canada Highway. I found very dull colours north of St Anns. I stopped for lunch at the Cedar House Bakery and Restaurant on Boularderie Island; as the waitress was seating me, Phill and Jan MacIntyre from Maine, founders of the Skye Theatre who have done so much for Cape Breton music in New England, invited me to share their table. Phill is a volunteer for Celtic Colours each year and had been unable to arrive sooner because of his musical commitments in Maine, but was looking forward to the rest of the festival. We had a good chat before my lunch arrived (salad and fishcakes and beans, both excellent), at which point they left; the service was exemplary this time, unlike my last stop there in 2013, when I waited an hour for my food to arrive with no more people in the restaurant than there were today.
After my lunch was done, I continued on to Cape Breton University for today’s North Atlantic Fiddle Convention (NAFCo) keynote, workshop, and launch of two books. I do not know my way around the CBU campus, but managed to find an empty parking spot in a lot that turned out to be within a five minute walk of the Great Hall where these events were to take place. I found the site of the keynote, where some folks had already gathered well before the 14h starting time, including Ashley MacIsaac, the keynoter, who had still not recovered from a miserable night spent battling abdominal pain. He chatted with those present, conveying some of the information he was to repeat in the keynote. When we were finally allowed into the auditorium, I was sitting waiting for the keynote to begin when Ken Heaton approached me; Ken is a Wikipedia author of articles relating to Cape Breton (e.g., Wilkie Sugar Loaf, Grand Narrows Bridge, and Sgurra Bhreac) and had come across my web site whilst researching for his writing. He was involved with the afternoon’s activities, so we couldn’t chat long, but I was very pleased to have met him.
The keynote got underway about 14h15 and addressed the general question of the inheritance of talent in musical families, based on Ashley’s own experience. He came down squarely on the side of those who say that musical talent is not inherited: for whatever reason or motivation, a musician decides to learn to play and keeps on practicing until s/he becomes one. In Ashley’s case, it was a purely mercenary decision: after growing up in a family where money was a daily problem or at least a topic of discussion, his first check for $9 after playing fiddle in the glebe house at age of nine made him choose music over hockey—he liked both, but got more money in the pocket from playing music than from playing hockey and hence went with that. But Ashley also demonstrated that there is more to his career than the pursuit of money: he has a clear artistic sensibility that makes him unsatisfied with certain aspects of his playing and he is constantly trying to improve his technique and his rendering of certain tunes, e.g., Tulloch Gorm, and he illustrated his points by playing the fiddle. Obviously still suffering physically, he nevertheless gave a well-received keynote that I found quite illuminating.
I next attended a slide show presentation by Janine Randall entitled The Boston States: A Presentation of Familial Cape Breton Musical History And……the importance of the Piano in Cape Breton’s fiddle music………………, which was based on her experience of growing up in Boston in an expatriate household where house parties were frequent and Cape Breton music was constantly in the air. It was another well-done presentation I quite enjoyed, though I was unable to stay until its end—the schedule had been displaced by fifteen minutes and I had to make it back to Glendale in time for the concert there tonight. Just before leaving CBU, thanks to the assistance of Joyce Rankin, I managed to pick up a copy of one of the books being launched: Liz Doherty’s The Cape Breton Fiddle Companion (the other, Mats Melin’s One with the Music: Cape Breton Step Dance Tradition and Transmission, I had already obtained from Mats at the Glencoe Mills dance on Sunday). I would have liked to have met Liz, but she wasn’t in the area and I had to leave, so I returned to the car. I can heartily recommend both of these books. I read Mats’ fascinating book in its thesis form in 2012 and look forward to reading the revision this winter. I have so far only browsed Liz’ book, a fantastic encyclopædia of Cape Breton traditional music: alphabetically organized, it contains articles on all aspects of this music as it exists in 2015, focussing on “three overarching themes: ‘people’ (primarily musicians but also other key stakeholders), ‘music’ (instruments, techniques, resources), and ‘other’ (various topics such as festivals, events, venues[,] and support agencies.” [p. xxvii] It contains biographies of current performers and significant past performers, descriptions of venues where the music is played, cultural institutions important to keeping the music alive, and general topics, e.g., “audiences”, “ceilidh”, “ear players”, “ornament”. The extensive cross references between related articles turn a simple browse into a broad and deep coverage of a topic of interest. It is a book to which I will return repeatedly. (Full disclosure: I contributed photos to both of these books.)
I then drove to Glendale via Highways 125 and 223, Portage Road, Orangedale Road, and the Trans-Canada Highway, stopping in Beaver Cove for a quick supper of two chicken burgers, and arriving as it was getting dark. Tonight’s concert, Gach Taobh Nam Beanntan: Both Sides of the Mountains, referred to the long friendship between Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac, who lived on either side of the Creignish Hills; the old roads over the mountains that once tied the communities of Glendale and Creignish together have been largely replaced by the much longer routes along Highway 19 and the Trans-Canada Highway below the mountains. Scottish Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes, accompanied by Irish harpist Laoise (pronounced [ˈliʃə]) Kelly, gave us a Gaelic prayer in a beautiful, strong voice. She followed it by another Gaelic song, this one, of all things, in praise of a politician: a Scottish MP who worked to get Gaelic schools established in Scotland. Laoise then played a fine set of jigs on solo harp; the tunes were not familiar ones to me. Kathleen next gave us a lullaby dating from the Napoleonic wars, with Laoise accompanying on harp. Another harp solo with lively tunes and a final Gaelic song with harp accompaniment followed. Fileanta (Dawn Beaton, Margie Beaton, Melody Cameron, Jenny MacKenzie, Colin MacDonald, Kyle MacDonald, Mac Morin, and David Rankin) then danced a figure of a Glendale square set to music by Kathleen and Laoise. Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Mac Morin on (real) piano next played a march/strathspeys/reels set. Fileanta then danced a double Scotch Four to the music of Wendy on fiddle and Seph Peters on guitar. Following the break, Mary Jane and Sarah MacInnis sang a Gaelic song together, with Mary Jane doing the verses and both singing the choruses. Sarah then sang a Gaelic song alone, on which Mary Jane later joined on the choruses. The two then sang a puirt a beul. Kathleen next joined the two ladies, with Sarah singing the verses and the other two (and the audience) the choruses; Mary Jane did one verse alone and some together with Sarah. Next, Wendy on fiddle, Seph on guitar, Cathy Ann Porter on percussion, and Mary Jane on accordion played a set from their acclaimed CD, Seinn. Mary Jane then gave us a song with Cathy Ann on the piano and back-up from the other two. Another set followed, with Wendy on fiddle, backing fiddle, and backing vocals; Cathy Ann on “box” and shakers; and Mary Jane on tambourine and vocals. Mary Jane then sang the Blue Mountain Lullaby, with Wendy on backing vocals and backing fiddle, Cathy Ann on accordion and vocals, and Seph on guitar; this was dedicated to Delores and the late Frank Casey, stalwarts of the Glendale music scene. Mary Jane sang a puirt a beul, accompanying herself on accordion, with Wendy on fiddle, Seph on guitar, and Cathy Ann on percussion, during which Mac and Wendy step danced; this set won them a standing ovation. The show concluded with Fileanta dancing two figures of a square set to music by Wendy on fiddle and Seph on guitar. This was another fine Celtic Colours show I quite enjoyed.
I’d have loved to have gone to the Red Shoe after the show where Andrea Beaton was playing, but by the time I got there, her session would have almost finished and I’d have had to drive back to Whycocomagh afterwards, so, having driven enough this day, I just returned to the motel in Whycocomagh and went to bed a bit early. Another fine day at Celtic Colours!
Thursday, 15 October — Whycocomagh to Margaree Harbour
I got up at 9h and packed up, for I will be spending the next two nights in Margaree Harbour (the Margaree Lodge in Margaree Forks closed for the season on 12 October). I drove to Judique via the backcountry: Skye and Campbell Mountains were very colourful; peak colours prevailed along the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road from Stewartdale to Glencoe Mills; colours were near peak on the Glencoe Road and on the Rear Intervale Road to Hillsdale; Highway 19 was colourful, but not so far along as further inland. Alas, it was a grey overcast day (I ran into sprinkles in Glencoe Mills), so I took no photos.
Today’s instructors’ cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre featured Kimberley Fraser and Ashley MacIsaac along with the regulars (Hailee LeFort and Doug Lamey) so I was not surprised to find the parking lot as full as for a Celtic Colours concert; since the students at the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling eat lunch during the cèilidh, taking up a number of the tables, the crowd already there made it pointless to even go in (I later learned that it had been full up since 9h30), so I drove to Sandeannies in Harbourview and had their chicken vegetable soup and Sandeannies salad, a variety of chef salad, both excellent; while there, I completed and posted Friday’s account.
Since the sun was trying mightily to break through the overcast, I then continued my backcountry ramble by driving out the Upper Southwest Mabou Road to Long Johns Bridge, where I took a number of photos—the colours were lovely but the overcast was too dark to bring them out well; cloudy bright skies at Hillsdale didn’t improve matters much. I drove back to Judique and continued to Campbell Road on the southern edge of town, which I took as far as I durst drive, to the bridge over the Graham River; while the first part of the road is in good shape, the last 0.8 km (½ mi) to the bridge, which does not appear to be maintained, descends a steep hill on a two-track-and-grass-crown section and turns stony as it approaches the river (the road continues past the bridge and apparently ascends up to River Denys Road, but it’s not driveable past the bridge in my Prius). Nice colours were present all along the road, while those at the bridge were mostly early; alas, the light was such that the photos don’t show them off to advantage. I returned back to Highway 19, stopping for photos of Cape George across St Georges Bay at a vista opened up by new logging, and drove to Walkers Cove, where I worked on Saturday’s post. I then drove back to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre where Ashley, feeling much better than he did yesterday, was just wrapping up the jam session about 16h. The Centre puts on two dinners, one before each Celtic Colours concert held in Judique, so I had the pork chop dinner (two pork chips, mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, Apple sauce, and a roll (I declined the dessert, which I’d have loved to have had) as I listened to some fine sets by Doug Lamey on fiddle and Troy MacGillivray on keyboard. I then drove to Margaree Harbour and got my motel room, where I continued working on Saturday’s post and wrote today’s notes to here.
It was then time to leave for the concert in Terre-Noire, a short distance north of Belle-Côte. Tuneful Times started off with the third figure of a Margaree square set danced by Fileanta (Dawn Beaton, Margie Beaton, Melanie MacDonald (from Sydney, substituting for Melody Cameron), Jenny MacKenzie, Colin MacDonald, Kyle MacDonald, Mac Morin, and David Rankin), to music supplied by Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard. After remarks by Joella Foulds, the evening’s emcee, Shelly and Allan played an air/strathspeys/reels set beginning with Gordon MacQuarrie’s The Bonnie Lass of Headlake; my notes comment “pure bliss!” A fine set of jigs followed and then a gorgeous air/strathspeys/reels set in G minor that Shelly dedicated to Arthur Muise, with whom she shared some tunes after the Doryman cèilidh on the fourth. Next up was the group Open the Door for Three, consisting of Liz Knowles on fiddle; Kieran O’Hare on uilleann pipes, flute, and whistles; and Pat Broaders on bouzouki and vocals. (I first met Kieran at a benefit concert for Jerry Holland in Boston in 2007 and admired his playing and his set of pipes, the like of which I had not often, if ever, encountered in the past; I knew of Liz through her performances with the group Cherish the Ladies; he and Liz spend time in Cape Breton each summer and I have since heard them playing there. Kieran, knowing my strong feelings about “foreign” material in Celtic Colours concerts, had greeted me in the lobby as I came in with the words “I don’t come to Cape Breton to hear Irish music either.” Since all I knew of Celtic music before my first trip to Cape Breton was Irish instrumental music, I was perfectly content to tolerate some this evening, especially if it included Kieran’s fine piping.) They began with an instrumental set I quite liked. It was followed with the song Mary and the Soldier. Another nice instrumental set beginning with a tune Liz wrote about falling off a mean mare (The Gift of Falling) ended with jigs. A song followed it. Next was a set of three fine reels dedicated to Mike and Marlene Denny. The first half ended with another tune set during which Nic Gareiss danced. After the break, Shelly and Allan played jigs to which Fileanta danced the second figure of a Margaree square set. Shelly and Allan then played a clog and two reels. Allan spoke whilst Shelly retuned her fiddle for a high bass set and they then played John Morris Rankin’s The Last March, strathspeys, and reels. Open the Door for Three returned to the stage and gave us two songs. Mac and Nic performed an acoustic close-to-the-floor step dance with changes in dynamic range (soft to loud to soft) and tempi, on which the musicians joined later. Shelly and Allan then joined Liz, Kieran, and Pat on stage, forming an ensemble that seemed very comfortable playing together. Shelly, Liz, and Allan started off with a tune Shelly wrote after the passing of Jerry Holland, John Campbell, and Dougie MacDonald and followed it with strathspeys and reels on which Kieran and Pat joined in, a fine set that I found it a joy to listen to. During the finale, Margie step danced; Jenny, Melanie, and Dawn step danced together; the rest of Fileanta came out and together danced another figure of a square set as the five musicians provided the music. The concert, which had much of the feel of an intimate house party, was very enjoyable; I could have done without the songs, but the rest was definitely to my taste.
I drove back to the motel in Margaree Harbour and was soon off to bed, as it felt cool in the room and there was no individual room thermostat to raise the temperature. In retrospect, I think this is the point where I first started wrestling with the flu, though I didn’t realize it then.
Friday, 16 October — Margaree Harbour
I got up well after 8h and had a head cold with sniffles. I had breakfast at the inn: orange juice, a lovely fruit salad in yogurt (fresh raspberries, kiwi fruit, grapes, bananas), fish cakes, eggs, toast, and bacon. It was a sunny day with mostly blue skies; mottled greens were showing on the highlands to the north of the Margaree River. I drove out to the East Margaree Cross Road and stopped for photos at the bridges there; I stopped again at the bridge over the Gallant River by the Kinsmen Centre south of the village. I turned up the Arsenault Hill Road, which I hadn’t driven in a few years and drove to its end; in spite of the poor state of its pavement with missing chunks and eroded shoulders, it is definitely worth a drive as it offers constantly changing views on the descent, starting with views of the Gulf from the summit. I stopped numerous times on the way down for photos; my memory is of more vibrant colours than those I see in the photos I took there that day, which are still predominantly green except in the Scotch Hill area. By the time I reached the bottom of the road, white clouds had taken over the sky and the sun was now more muted. I drove on to Doyles Bridge and took more photos there, including one of the brilliant reds I’d been seeking, which are so rare this year. I then drove across the Cabot Trail and continued on Doyles Road all the way to its end in a open pit quarry, the first time I remember having driven past the trout farm, scaring an eagle there which flew off from a pond with a small fish in its talons. Doyles Road is in good shape, with only a few potholes and some minor water erosion, and not at all as I remembered it. The slopes on the unnamed mountain to the west of the quarry were as colourful as those at Scotch Hill, but elsewhere greens still predominated. I then drove south from Margaree Forks along what I named last year as the “Red Stretch”, the section of Highway 19 from Margaree Forks to Southwest Margaree. I found reds there again this year, but nearly all were not the brilliant red of the maple leaf on the Canadian flag, but pastels or blends of reds and yellows or darker reds; only one of the trees I captured is the red that I was looking for, a stunning change from last year when the brilliant reds were ubiquitous. From Southwest Margaree, I drove out the East Side Southwest Margaree Road, where the colours were mostly yellows, oranges, and, most of all, greens; any reds there were either pastels or darker reds. I turned around midway and came back to Southwest Margaree and turned onto the Coady Road, which I followed back to Margaree Forks. I got some fine views there of the mountains, which were draped in a mottled orange, but few trees at the side of the road were showing anything but yellows and oranges. I took the Cabot Trail back to Margaree Harbour and continued on the Shore Road to friends who rented a spot north of Whale Cove. They had invited me to visit and we spent some time talking about Cape Breton music, which has really taken over our lives.
I returned to the motel and got dressed for the evening. Friends in East Margaree had invited me to dinner at their home before the dance, which they were also planning on attending. She prepared a lovely dinner with a beef stew and all the fixings (I told her in advance I wouldn’t be eating dessert) and we got a chance to converse; they are avid dancers and lovers of the traditional dance music, so we had a lot of topics to chat about. It was a most enjoyable evening for which I thank them both very much.
We made our separate ways to the dance at Southwest Margaree, where Marc Boudreau on fiddle and Hilda Chiasson started a set of jigs at the appointed hour; although there were barely enough in the hall for a square set, no one got up. The next set of jigs did much better, adding couples on the fly, with eight dancing its third figure. Howie MacDonald then took over the fiddle and, with Hilda continuing on keyboard, played for the second square set, which had 13 couples, and for a waltz which got six couples. Marc played for the third and fourth square sets (21 and 27 couples, respectively), by which time the hall was almost full up, with standees in the back. Howie played for the fifth and sixth square sets (21 and 17 couples, respectively), a waltz (2 couples), and the step dance sequence, during which a lady unknown to me, Dan MacDonald, and Kimberley Wotherspoon shared their steps. Marc and Howie on dual fiddles with Hilda on keyboard played for the second and third figures of the final square set, danced by 9 couples. With these players, the music was, of course, fantastic and I very thoroughly enjoyed the dance. Since I was staying in Margaree Harbour rather than Margaree Forks, it was a longer drive back than usual and through moose country, but I saw nothing, and was soon safely back in my motel room, where I was almost instantly asleep.
Saturday, 17 October — Margaree Harbour to Port Hood
When I awoke this morning after 8h30, I still had a head cold, but it seemed relatively stable. In spite of the fine breakfast I had at the inn yesterday morning, I wanted another crack at the Dancing Goat, so I drove out the East Margaree Road, where I found the colours on the highlands to the west at or close to peak, but with very few brilliant reds. (A question that had been bugging me for the last few days, viz., why does East Margaree have that name when it’s clearly west of the Margarees (Margaree Harbour and Belle-Côte excepted), got answered by my East Margaree friends last night: it was so named because it’s on the east side of the Margaree River and was likely given that name before much settlement took place further east; interestingly enough, the “The Nova Scotia Atlas” labels the locality as “Margaree” without any qualification.) After breakfast, I drove out the Cabot Trail and turned onto Egypt Road; it, too, had good colours, but again the reds were dark or pastels. As seen from the Margaree Airstrip, the Margaree Highlands were mottled with a yellow/orangey hue and lots of remaining greens. I drove out to Portree Bridge and back along the West Big Intervale Road, which I found in horrible shape from the bridge to Crowdis Cross Road (Crowdis Bridge is still out, but work on the replacement is clearly in progress): the road is heaved as bad as in spring and the pavement edges are badly worn or missing altogether, making for trouble when meeting another vehicle. I continued on to Margaree Centre and took the Cranton Cross Road back to the Cabot Trail. It was then time to head for the concert in Mabou, so I returned to Margaree Forks and took Highway 19 south. I found better reds from Southwest Margaree to Dunvegan than I did on the “Red Stretch”, though again very few were brilliant red. Cape Mabou appeared quite green compared to the Margaree Highlands, though the trees at the summits were mostly bare.
Comunn Féis Mhàbu hosts this Saturday concert each year and I’ve been privileged to attend many of them; fortunately, the horrible conflicts of last year were resolved this year and I was once again able to attend this fine concert. For those of you who don’t know, Comunn Féis Mhàbu is a crucial Mabou institution for passing on the local Gaelic traditions through mentoring and other learning opportunities offered by accomplished masters to the current generation of aspiring young performers, be they musicians, dancers, story tellers, or Gaelic learners. Today’s concert, this year titled Cèol nan Gàidheal: Sounds of the Gael and held at St Mary’s Parish Hall, offered proof of its continuing success. Emceed by Derrick Cameron, the concert began with the Féis Mhàbu Singers, all members of the cast of Brìgh I think, who gave us a Gaelic milling song, a Gaelic song that transitioned into a puirt a beul, and another milling song the audience was invited to sing along with them; it was beautiful work and a pleasure to listen to. Next, Abigail MacDonald sang Goiridh Dòmhnallach (Jeff MacDonald) and Brian OhEadhra’s Tàladh Na Beinne Guirme (The Blue Mountain’s Lullaby), accompanying herself on guitar. With Abigail on keyboard, Brian MacDonald on fiddle gave us a fine set of jigs. Marion Dewar then took over the keyboard and with young Mark MacDonald on snares, Brian gave us another fine set of tunes. Abigail returned in a sailor suit and danced a hornpipe to music by Brian and Marion. Brian and Marion then played for Stephen MacLennan to step dance and what an amazing set of steps he gave us! Next up were Lewis MacKinnon and Brian England, both playing guitar; Lewis sang an English song, a Gaelic song a cappella, and another Gaelic song with Brian providing backing vocals as well as guitar accompaniment. Joined by the Féis Mhàbu Singers, who sang the choruses, Lewis finished off the first half singing the verses to a milling song. After the break, it turned out I won the 50/50 draw; I contributed my share back to the Féis as a thank you for their fine work. With Marion on keyboard, Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle played for the third figure of a Mabou square set, which was danced by members of the cast of Brìgh and was called (prompted) by a very laconic caller. Wendy and Marion then played the slow strathspey Lady Madalina Sinclair and followed it with other strathspeys and reels. Next, they played a set of jigs Jerry Holland often played and some from Wendy’s Off the Floor CD recorded at West Mabou and ending with Buddy’s Order of Canada. An air/strathspeys/reels set followed. Next, Kelly MacLennan and Melody Cameron step danced to music provided by Wendy and Marion; Melody left the stage midway and Kelly step danced with her young son. Mark returned to the stage and gave us a Gaelic story. Amélie Larade et Christopher Poirier, both from Chéticamp, step danced to recorded music; it has been a while since I last saw them dance and they are as fantastic as always. Mark next gave us a humorous story in English. Lewis and Brian (England) returned and sang a Gaelic song, requesting the audience’s help on the choruses. They then gave us a cider song from Brittany translated from Breton (a sibling of Gaelic) into Scots Gaelic. With the Féis Mhàbu Singers, Lewis gave us the anthem 'S E Ceap Breatainn, familiar to anyone who has attended one of Alice Freeman’s Thursday cèilidhs in Inverness, singing the verses while the Singers sang the chorus. Wendy on fiddle and Marion on keyboard supplied music to which Stephen, Amélie, and Christopher step danced together; Stephen step danced alone; Amélie and Christopher step danced together; Abigail step danced alone; one of the lasses from the Singers step danced; and finally, all of the Singers step danced together. It was a very fine concert, sparked by the energy of the young folk who participated in it; they should be justly proud of their accomplishments.
After the concert, I drove to Port Hood and got my motel room key; I worked on Sunday’s post until about 18h45, when I drove back to the Red Shoe in Mabou, where I claimed a seat for the 21h cèilidh with Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar and had dinner (the seafood pasta, delicious and packed with lobster). Their playing was straight from the heart and a pure delight, as always, but I sadly had to leave after a half hour as the square dance at West Mabou had been designated as a tribute to the late Buddy MacMaster, the fiddler who first introduced me to Cape Breton music, and I simply had to be present in remembrance of that.
The music for the dance was supplied by several members of Buddy’s family. The sound check saw some music from Joe MacMaster on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard. The first square set was played by Joe on fiddle and Sara MacInnis (I think) on keyboard; it brought about eleven couples to the floor. The second square set was played by Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Betty Lou on keyboard; around twenty couples danced that set. Elizabeth MacInnis on fiddle and Betty Lou on keyboard played for the third square set, which brought nearly thirty couples out to dance. Mary Elizabeth MacMaster MacInnis on fiddle and Sarah MacInnis on keyboard played for the first two figures of the fourth square set, which had about twenty-five couples; Lorraine MacDonnell played keyboard for the third figure, an especial treat as I rarely get to hear her play. Elizabeth MacInnis and Joe on dual fiddles with Andrea on keyboard played for the fifth square set, which got about fifteen couples. Joe and Betty Lou played for the step dance sequence, which brought to the floor: Stephen MacLennan; four lasses dancing together whose names I still don’t know; Siobhan Beaton; Amanda MacDonald; Sarah MacInnis; Elizabeth MacInnis; two young MacNeil sisters dancing together; and Melody Cameron. Joe on fiddle and Mary-Elizabeth on keyboard played for the first two figures of the sixth square set, which had about ten couples; Sarah took her mother’s place on keyboard for the last figure. A group of youngsters from Denmark attending Celtic Colours were on the floor and dancing much of the night. It was a great tribute to Buddy and a joy to see the family displaying their talents in his memory; for sure, his music will live on, on its own but also through his descendants.
Sunday, 18 October — Port Hood
When I arose after 9h30, my head cold was better, but not yet gone, thanks to Buckley’s Complete, a very viscous and extremely foul-tasting over the counter concoction for coughs and colds I picked up yesterday at the Freshmart. Since I couldn’t find any of my usual remedies for coughs and colds there, I decided to try it, of which I had never heard before. My first sips last night were indeed a shock; I hadn’t had anything that tasted so bad since my mother fed me cod liver oil as a child! But, it seemed to have helped as I slept well, my head was clearer, and the coughing was suppressed when I got up. White clouds and blue sky prevailed at the shore, but grey rain clouds ruled inland. I decided to have breakfast from “car food” and completed and posted last Sunday’s account.
I drove to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for the afternoon’s cèilidh via the Dunmore and Mabou Roads; the colours were less vibrant there than in the Margarees; the few reds were mostly red/yellow blends or pastels and there were lots of yellows and oranges and orange/red blends. The music today was by Howie MacDonald on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard. The cèilidh began with an air/strathspeys/reels set, beautifully played. A long set of jigs got no takers, but Howie’s beautiful singing fiddle reminded me once again of what a treasure he is! A march/strathspeys/reels set followed and then the first square set brought seven couples to the floor. A waltz that had three couples dancing was followed by a march/strathspeys/reels set. The second square set was followed by Faded Love. The next set was especially stunning, beginning with a gorgeous, lush slow air that was almost hymn-like; Howie said it was composed by Shetlands fiddler Willie Hunter in honour of a river in Scotland, but he didn’t know the exact name. The third square set got eight couples and Howie kept on playing after the dancers finished. The call for step dancers brought to the floor Hailee LeFort and then Shelly Campbell and Dale Gillis dancing together. Christine Melanson, a fiddler from Moncton, took over the fiddle to give Howie a break; she played very well, but got no takers for the jigs she chose. It was Melanie Holder’s birthday today, so, with Howie back on the fiddle, a “Happy Birthday” was sent her way and was followed by a waltz that got three couples, including Donald and Melanie if memory serves. The fourth square set was slow to form, but eventually got four couples, growing to six by the third figure. It was a lovely afternoon of wonderful music by two masters of the tradition, one to treasure during the coming musical drought this winter.
I decided tonight that I will stay on for the coming week, as I had originally planned, instead of heading home on Tuesday, in spite of the forecasts, which are not particularly great: I’m not satisfied with the fall colours photos I’ve amassed to date, which are mostly in poor light and not very photogenic, the leaves remain on the trees, and I want to spend some time at the top of the Island. With Celtic Colours now over, there’s very little music anywhere on the Island until next Saturday (just a Wednesday session at the Governor’s Pub in Sydney led by Mike Barron and a Thursday session at the Blue Mist in Bras d’Or). Since past experience has often shown that the weather forecasts, especially those for a week out, are very unreliable, I’ll hope for the best and try to get to at least one of the mid-week sessions.
Monday, 19 October — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I arose before 8h to reports of snow on Cape Breton and Prince Edward Islands and in New England, but saw none in Port Hood, though it was a cold, raw, blustery day with some sunny breaks through heavy grey/black clouds. After packing up the car, I had breakfast at Sandeannies and got two orders of orange juice as my head cold and cough, alas, was still with me, though, thanks to the Buckley’s, had been kept under control.
Today was a visiting day, a relaxing way to recover from the hectic pace of Celtic Colours. I first drove to Hillsborough, where I visited with friends there, getting a tour of their beautiful house which I hadn’t yet seen, and enjoying its gorgeous views, which reach from the Southwest Ridge to Rankinville to Rocky Ridge to the valley of the Mabou River to Mabou Mountain to Hawleys Hill, though, alas, not under the best of lighting. Fall colours were visible all across this panorama, but unchanged greens were also everywhere: clearly the peak of the colours has not been reached in this area. Next, I drove back to Rocky Ridge, where I spent some time helping my friend with a number of software-related questions. And then I drove out to Mabou Harbour, where I visited with another friend as we discussed the just past Celtic Colours week, selected concerts of which he had watched on the live streams and some of which I also attended. I then drove back to Mabou, where I had dinner at the Mull: chowder, chock full of lobster, a salad, haddock, broccoli, carrots, and tea, all excellent. At the Freshmart, where I ran into Kate MacInnis and Patty Gillis and had a good chat with them, I replenished my car food and got another bottle of Buckley’s. I then drove to Whycocomagh where I stayed the night; there was a raging blizzard from Mabou to past Brook Village with snow sticking to the road that made the driving rather exciting—I couldn’t see the road with my high beams on because of the rapidly falling snow and my low beams didn’t carry far enough ahead: it’s a good thing I knew the curvy road well! I breathed a great sigh of relief when the blizzard stopped at the Nevada Valley.
Today was federal election day in Canada, the reason the last dance at Brook Village was cancelled when it was realized Elections Canada had the use of the building until 23h30 (though only a single car was there when I drove by). I eagerly followed the election returns in my motel room until 22h30, when it was clear that the Liberals had swept the Maritime provinces: solid red! It would be some time before the results from the rest of the nation would be known, so I finished up the first bottle of Buckley’s and retired at 22h30.
Tuesday, 20 October — Whycocomagh
I arose around 8h30 and immediately checked the election results: a stunning Liberal majority!!! Certainly, no one can contest that a free people has chosen a very different path from the one on which Canada was heretofore embarked. We in the US would do well to learn from the shortness of the election campaign (4 August to 19 October—2½ months!, still the longest in recent Canadian history) and the strict limits on the influence of moneyed classes and groups in the campaign (no individual may contribute more than $1,500 to each political party and an additional $1,500 to all the registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates of each registered party combined).
After breakfast at Vi’s, in spite of the heavy grey overcast, I decided on a backcountry ramble, hoping the morning gloom would improve, as it frequently does. I drove out the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road to Glencoe Mills; surprisingly few leaves were down and the colours would have been fine had there been better light. I turned down the MacKinnon Road, which I hadn’t yet driven this year; the bright reds of previous years were missing, as they have been nearly everywhere this year. In a pasture, I came across a pair of horses that were new this year and also met a conservation officer in Upper Glencoe who was very curious just what a car from New Jersey was doing there so late in the year: he was an officer from Waycobah out patrolling and checking that no illicit hunting was going on—I told him I sure was hunting, but for photos, not for game. I drove up the Glencoe Road just a short ways past the Parish Hall to an area cleared a couple of years ago that offers fine views of the terrain I had just traversed and then turned around and went back down across the Mull River to the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road, which I followed to the Southwest Ridge Road and down to Highway 19 in Mabou, where I stopped off at the marina and then took care of an errand. I next drove out the Mabou Harbour Road to Northeast Mabou and took the Northeast Mabou Road to Highway 19. Then I continued north to the Blackstone Road and took it to the Smithville Road and back to Highway 252. This is always a beautiful drive in the fall when the colours are normally blazing, but today’s light didn’t do the colours justice at all. And still no brilliant reds where they are always found other years. Then, it was on to the Lake Ainslie Chapel Brook Village Road in Brook Village; I turned on to the Meagher Road and took it to the Melrose Hill Road and from it took the Hayes River Road to the West Lake Ainslie Road. The Hayes River Road is a very pretty scenic drive, with distant vistas of Lake Ainslie and the “Great Central Interior Plateau” on its far side; it’s not particularly great for fall colours, however, even under good light. The construction on the bridge over the Hayes River at The Pond continues, but has a ways to go before it will be ready to replace the old green truss bridge. The drive back to Whycocomagh along the lake was pretty, even without the sun, but it was just too dark a day to stop for photos of the fine lake scenery. The hoped for improvement in the lighting had never materialized, but I nevertheless took a lot of photos all along the ramble, ending up with a large collection of mostly dull fall photos.
After I got back to the motel room, I read more about the day’s amazing news and then got ready for dinner. I drove back out to the West Lake Ainslie Road and on to the Tulloch Inn at the side of the Lake, where I met two friends to treat them to dinner as a thank you for the lavish meal I had at their place. It was a fine dinner (I had scallops and brie and grapes for dessert) and a good chance to converse with friends. I then drove back to Whycocomagh, where I soon was in bed, still fighting the head cold and cough that just doesn’t seem to want to go away and hoping for brighter weather on the morrow.
Wednesday, 21 October — Whycocomagh to Reserve Mines
I got up after 8h to a lovely morning, a sunny, blue sky day with few white clouds, perfect for photography. Still full from last night’s fine dinner, I skipped breakfast and, after getting gas, drove out the Trans-Canada Highway towards Glendale. The mountains around Whycocomagh still had lots of green and, in the sun, looked more green than coloured.
In Melford, I turned up the River Denys Road and started up River Denys Mountain; as Rannie Gillis had told me, the bad problem at the sluices towards the summit had been fixed and, except for a few potholes, the road was again in decent shape. I stopped for photos at the St Margaret of Scotland Church, dating from 1841, which was gleaming brightly in the morning sun, making me wonder if it might not have had a new coat of paint since my last visit there a couple of years ago. Not many maples are found on the mountain and the colours showing were mostly yellows and greens with occasional splotches of other colours. I returned to the Trans-Canada Highway via the River Denys Mountain Road, which I found in worse shape than the River Denys Road: I hit bottom three times on the way down. The situation was just the reverse of my last trip there: it proves that one can rarely rely on the state of a gravel road being the same each time one traverses it. By the time I got back to the Trans-Canada Highway, the skies had become considerably cloudier, though the sun was still out. I drove on to Kingsville, stopping for photos of the Big Ridge, and turned up Maple Brook Road, which I followed around back to Trans-Canada Highway, taking a detour up Mason Road to capture again the views I discovered there on a previous trip. I then drove back to the River Denys Road in Melford and went the other way, turning off on the Southside River Denys Road, where I actually found a couple of trees with brilliant reds, enhanced by the sun, and another church gleaming white in the sun, the Forbes United Church. I was puzzled to see fine views of North Mountain I didn’t remember from my drives on this road before until I realized that I had always previously driven it in the opposite direction. In River Denys, I continued along the Southside River Denys Road to Valley Mills and found another brilliant red tree along the way! I turned onto the causeway, where a grader was at work, and took more photos there; fall colours were out all around the River Denys Outflow and on North Mountain, but it was the unchanged greens which still predominated. I took the Marble Mountain Road into Orangedale and continued along the Orangedale Iona Road through Gillis Cove and West Alba on the south and east sides of the isthmus leading out to the Washabuck Peninsula; I found a new vantage point just outside of Orangedale I had somehow missed on past trips, but, given the preponderance of evergreens, I was not surprised to see few fall colours along this very pretty road bordering the River Denys Basin and Portage Creek, an inlet of the Bras d’Or Lake. I turned on to Highway 223, drove to Iona, and found the café closed in Grand Narrows; I stopped for photos in Benacadie and a couple of times in Eskasoni and at Northside East Bay across from Ben Eoin. By the time I reached Highway 4, I was getting pretty hungry, so I drove into Sydney and had a 14h30 lunch at the Subway on Kings Road.
After assuaging my hunger, I drove back out Highway 4 to Blacketts Lake for photos, where, for the first time today, the sun played coy: the sky over the lake was full of clouds, many tinged with black, blocking the sun and skies on the lake. But I got some photos anyway, full of greens and far fewer fall colours. From there I continued south on Highway 4 to Morley Road, which I drove to Marion Bridge, stopping for photos in spite of the general lack of sun at several points along this scenic route over the East Bay Hills with great views of both the Sydney River and Mira River Valleys. I had intended on doing a loop from Marion Bridge to Grand Mira South to Victoria Bridge to Grand Mira North and back to Sydney from Marion Bridge. Accordingly, I set out for Grand Mira South, where the sun was semi-coöperative in the photos I took there. I continued on to Victoria Bridge and took more photos from the bridge. While there, however, I noticed that the Upper Grand Mira Road had been improved since last I was there and I decided to see for how far. It narrowed quite a ways past Victoria Bridge and remained in very good shape even after it narrowed; I soon found myself at MacArthurs Lake, the small but pretty lake seen here. When I last drove this road in 2008, I had to turn around about 2.6 km (1.6 mi) past MacArthurs Lake at the south end of MacMullin Lake, as the road became badly rutted and was too much for my Camry to handle beyond that point. When I reached it this time, the road, while no super highway, was perfectly passable in my Prius and I decided to see how much further I could go. So I continued along the chain of lakes (Middle Lake, Lauchies Pond, and Giant Lake) that empties into the Northeast Framboise River; views of the lakes were on offer along the way, but it was less than an hour to dusk so I didn’t stop for photos, especially since the light wasn’t all that great anyway, leaving these views for a future trip. (There was also a junction with the New Caledonia Road that leads north into the valley of the Northeast Framboise River that I would like to explore at that time too; a sign at the junction read “No Exit” on that road, a condition the topographical map confirms when the road dead ends up there, about as far off the beaten track as you can get in Eastern Cape Breton.) When the Upper Grand Mira Road reaches the Richmond County border, it becomes the North Framboise Road, which ends on the St Peters-Fourchu Road in Framboise, near the bridge over the Framboise River. (From Victoria Bridge to Framboise, the Upper Grand Mira/North Framboise route is 17.3 km (10.8 mi) long, so allow plenty of time if you drive it.) From Framboise, I took the Fleur-de-Lis Trail back through Fourchu and Gabarus Lake, turning onto the Gabarus Highway outside Gabarus, and driving back to Sydney through Big Ridge, Marion Bridge, Caribou Marsh, and Dutch Brook. This certainly is not the direct route from Whycocomagh to Sydney! But it was generally a lovely day, an even more marvellous backcountry ramble than I had intended, and I got the best scenery photos of the trip to date!
I got my motel room in Reserve Mines and changed into evening attire. I drove back to the Governors Pub in Sydney and had dinner upstairs there: ham and potato soup with a tea biscuit, the seafood trio (haddock, scallops, shrimp), the Cape Breton maple salad, mixed vegetables (corn, carrots, turnips, spinach), and tea, all excellent. It turned out that Mike Barron had to cancel leading the session due to an exam the following day, so Colin Grant filled in for him. The session started small, with three players: Colin and a lady I don’t know on fiddle and a gentleman I don’t know on guitar. A harmonica player and later a keyboard player joined the group. Trip to Mabou Ridge was among the tunes played. Another fiddler arrived at 21h30 and Mario Colosimo shortly thereafter; Mario brought his guitar but took over the keyboard and another lady played his guitar. Later on, Jason Kempt took over the keyboard and Mario went back to his guitar. I quite enjoyed the tunes and found the noise level this time much lower than at the last session I attended there. Although it was scheduled to end at 23h, the session was still going strong at 23h15 when I left. I drove back to Reserve Mines and was soon fast asleep.
Thursday, 22 October — Reserve Mines to Meat Cove
I arose before 8h30 and again skipped breakfast as I wasn’t hungry after last night’s fine dinner. The morning was sunny, though chilly, and I hadn’t had a chance recently to explore the northeastern corner of Cape Breton. Accordingly, I drove out to Dominion, where I had hoped to walk in the park there. I’d forgotten it was a provincial park, which, like all other provincial parks in Nova Scotia closed down on Thanksgiving Day. (In the words of the web site, “Nova Scotia Provincial Parks have closed for the season. You can still visit the parks, however, please note that entrances will be gated, parking may be limited, and no services are provided.” This is right smack in the middle of Celtic Colours and makes absolutely no sense while tourists are still around; they should remain open at least until the end of October (tourists are still around until then) or, preferably, as long as the weather holds. But there is no entry fee for Nova Scotia’s provincial parks, unlike state parks in the US, so one can’t complain too much.) Because of the gate, cars were parked helter-skelter both in front of the gate and alongside of it, leaving no space nearby on a busy road. I took some photos from the car and then sought out back streets leading to the coast, visiting the cliffs north of Connaught Avenue and at Table Head. I then made my way through Glace Bay out to the coast at the hospital. This is not an area I know well and my car’s GPS was invaluable in steering me through the city. I continued on around Glace Bay (the water) to Donkin, where I had a long wait for road construction. The trails along the cliffs at Schooner Pond Cove appeared to be closed off due to the mining activity that is supposed to be ongoing. I continued on along the beautiful coast from Donkin to Port Morien, stopping regularly for photos, including some of the Flint Island lighthouse east of Northern Head. I drove down into the harbour at Port Morien for more photos and got some of an airborne flock of geese heading south. I stopped again at Phalens Bar south of Port Morien for a few shots of Waddens Island and South Head and then continued south to Mira Gut, where few fall colours were present along the Mira River—most deciduous trees were either green or had only begun to change. I encountered a curious pretty black and white cat beside the road there, but it ran off as I approached it. From Mira Gut, I took the Brickyard Road to the Louisbourg Highway in Albert Bridge and it to Highway 125. I then drove to Bras d’Or, where I had lunch at the Bras d’Or View (soup, chef salad, and chicken wings, all excellent), while enjoying the views of the Little Bras d’Or Channel through the windows. The sunny skies, alas, had become overcast by the time I got there, though the cool, near freezing temperatures of the morning had warmed up enough I took my jacket off (I normally don’t wear a jacket, but, with the head cold continuing, I didn’t want to take any chances).
After lunch, I took the Trans-Canada Highway to St Anns, with several stops for photos along the way; there were some colours on Boularderie Island and from the Seal Island Bridge to the hairpin curve there were even some reds at the base of Kellys Mountain that, had the sun been out, might have qualified as brilliant. The Bras d’Or and St Anns Look-Offs are always worth a stop for their stunning views, even in poor light; I was surprised when a car at the St Anns Look-off honked at me—it was Minnie and Alex MacMaster, who had been at a funeral earlier and were on their way back home. I took the Cabot Trail past the Gaelic College as it is a beautiful, if curvy, drive around St Anns Harbour with gorgeous vistas and usually excellent fall colours. They were there today, for sure, but outnumbered still by the unchanged greens and the light didn’t really begin to do them justice. I donned my jacket again as the temperatures had gotten significantly cooler. Construction between North River Bridge and Indian Brook, which I’d run into in August, continued full bore this day, though the delays were not very long at the two spots I had to wait; it looked to me like there was still a long ways to go before the road would be done, so I don’t know if it will be finished before winter or not. At and north of Indian Brook, the colours had fewer greens but the light made them appear fairly dull; I did espy a fine red tree below the bridge over Indian Brook on the Cabot Trail. There were good colours on the south side of Ingonish Harbour, but the north side was still predominantly green. I left off stopping for photos, as the light was too mediocre to justify them, and continued straight on to Meat Cove, where I arrived at 17h15 and will stay tonight and tomorrow night. I stopped in Cape North Village for some groceries at the Cabot Trail Food Market when I discovered that Angies had closed for the season. It gets dark early in October in Meat Cove, so I didn’t get much of a chance to see the gorgeous scenery and evaluate the colours; besides, the light wasn’t very good anyway. After unloading the car, I made supper in the Lodge’s kitchen from the supplies I’d picked up at the market. After supper, I dozed, relaxed, read, and worked on last Tuesday’s account, before retiring around 23h.
Friday, 23 October — Meat Cove
I slept well, tired from the last three days’ driving and still fighting the flu; the Buckley’s has kept it from going into my chest and greatly reduces the concomitant constant coughing.
I had a leisurely breakfast at the Lodge (orange juice, oatmeal, pineapple chunks in syrup, two strawberry yogurt, a granola bar, and tea). It was a raw, rainy morning that began clearing a bit by mid-afternoon. The views were occasionally obscured by fog, but were mostly clear under leaden skies; as in most other places I’ve been recently, the fall colours were out, but lots of still unchanged greens were in the mix. On the inland highlands above Meat Cove Brook, the colours were a wild mosaic of oranges, yellows, and greens, but above the village, the greens still carried the day. I spent the morning reading and quietly enjoying the fantastic scenery through the kitchen window; it was too cold to be out and about, especially given that I was fighting the flu, though I did take a great number of photos periodically from the two decks of the Lodge.
There was a little bit of brightening in the afternoon, so I drove down to the village for photos from the road there. The campground and the Chowder Hut are now, of course, both closed for the season. From the campground, I photographed a cruise ship heading for Sydney; it would have been a pretty miserable day out there in the gloom and rolling seas, though the ship looked large enough to be pretty stable. The valley of the unnamed brook above and alongside which the Meat Cove Mountain Trail ascends had the fewest unchanged greens of anywhere in the Meat Cove Brook Valley, with lots of oranges as it reached the summit of the mountain. Just a bit closer to the ocean, the valley of Edwards Brook was almost wholly green, and those leaves that weren’t green had a chartreusey lime colour, with tinges of orange visible on a few scattered trees. For a few minutes, the sun broke through the heavy overcast and lit up small sections of the landscape and a bit of blue sky even appeared over Meat Cove Mountain. The profile of St Paul Island loomed below the clouds out in the Cabot Strait, but no details of its terrain were visible. While I was taking photos on the road, my host came along on an ATV and we spoke briefly—he was a very busy guy who had had a very busy week. I stopped in and had a good visit with Derek MacLellan, who was looking much perkier than in August; by the time I got back to the car, all traces of the sun and blue sky were gone. I drove to the Coöp in St Margaret Village and got some food for supper along with another bottle of Buckley’s, stopping for photos of the Jumping Brook Valley and again at Black Point and at the look-off near Black Point Brook—all very dull grey looking in the poor light. Back at the Lodge, I made and ate supper (chicken noodle soup, chilli with added chunks of cooked beef, instant noodles, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, and tea). After supper, I read and relaxed, retiring at 22h30 after a restful, peaceful day. Meat Cove is a wonderful place to “replenish one’s batteries” and I was absolutely delighted to get back there one final time this year!
Saturday, 24 October — Meat Cove to Port Hood
I arose at 7h to overcast skies. I made the same breakfast as yesterday and relaxed for a while, enjoying the wonderful views out the kitchen window and catching up on the news. Around 9h, the sun broke through the overcast, offering hopes of a better day than yesterday. I packed up the car and then took some more final photos from the decks of the Lodge. A few small spots of blue sky and occasional blasts of sun breaking through lit up small areas of the terrain seemingly at random. I stopped at Black Point for more photos and again at a couple of spots in Capstick and then at the Salmon River Bridge. Although closed, of course, I stopped at the entrance to the Cabot Landing Provincial Park for photos of Wilkie Sugarloaf across the road and of the colours along the slopes of North Mountain; I stopped again at the edge of North Harbour for views of the harbour and of South Mountain and at the bridge over the North Aspy River, where I saw a red tree that might have been brilliant had the sun struck it. Although hard to tell in the mostly dark lighting, the colours still appeared to be pre-peak, with plenty of unchanged greens mixed in with the oranges and yellows on the slopes. At the Sunrise Look-off, a few blasts of sun lit up some of the slopes, confirming the pre-peak status of the leaves above the Aspy Fault. I drove down Blaze Road, where the reds have been spectacular in years past, but there was nothing of note there this year. I stopped at a couple of points on North Mountain, where the colours were a bit more vibrant with a few reds in the mix, though, without sun, they didn’t stand out. The Rusty Anchor was closed in Pleasant Bay, but the Mid-Trail Motel was open (it closes at the end of October). At the Fishing Cove River Look-offs, the sun was out somewhat more and the patches of blue sky were getting bigger; the colours were still overwhelmingly green, with only small amounts of orange showing. The same was true in the inland parts of the Jumping Brook Valley below Skyline Ridge. Judging by what I saw today, the peak is still to come; the colours are really late this year!
I arrived at the Doryman about 13h, as the sun came out more strongly; the skies would clear considerably as the afternoon progressed, a bit too late for my photography. Today’s cèilidh featured Douglas Cameron on fiddle and Kolten Macdonell on keyboard. They gave us lots of fine march/strathspeys/reels sets throughout the afternoon, with the marches occasionally replaced by airs; the interspersed jig sets went without takers—it was definitely not a dancing crowd. At the height of the afternoon, there were perhaps around forty in the pub. Three calls for step dancers were played: a lady said to be from Cape North answered the first, no one danced for the second, and two ladies danced in the aisles for the third. About 17h, a fiddler from New Brunswick, Matt Haynes, a member of the Hert LeBlanc band playing at the Doryman later tonight, gave Doug a break, playing perhaps five sets in the down east style before he turned the fiddle back over to Doug. Although very enjoyable listening, it made quite the contrast with Doug’s pure Cape Breton playing! I had dinner (chowder and roll, haddock, vegetables, salad, cole slaw, and dinner roll, all excellent) during the latter part of the cèilidh. It was a grand afternoon of music, my last Doryman cèilidh for this year, so I savoured it even more.
After the cèilidh ended, I drove to Port Hood and got my motel room, where I relaxed and read until it was time to leave for the dance at West Mabou. The music tonight was by Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Mac Morin on (real) piano. The music started with a cèilidh set that ended about 22h15 when couples took the floor indicating they were ready for a square set; from the initial six couples, it grew to nine by the end of the third figure. The second square set had one more couple in the third figure, which ended with Malcolm Finlay’s Reel, composed by Peter Parker’s grandfather I was told. A waltz set including Moladh Maureen NicCoinnich in 3/4 time brought two couples (that I could see from my corner) to the floor. Fourteen couples danced the third square set, the third figure of which was played on highland bagpipes. Joe MacMaster on fiddle and Sarah MacInnis on piano played for the fourth square set, which was danced by five couples. With Kenneth and Mac back, the step dance sequence brought to the floor: Siobhan Beaton, Amanda MacDonald, one of the Campbell sisters, another of the Campbell sisters, Jenny MacKenzie, and Margie Beaton. The fifth square set drew eight couples and the sixth got eleven by the third figure. Not a huge crowd, but the music was fantastic nonetheless. How lucky this area is to have weekly dances the year round, weather permitting!
Sunday, 25 October — Port Hood
I slept in late, arising a bit before 10h to a grey, overcast day. I read and caught up with the news. Since it was late and because the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre’s kitchen is closed for the season, I skipped breakfast and had dinner at Sandeannies: a Sandeannies burger (ham, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and hamburger on a homemade bun), a Sandeannies salad (chef salad without turkey but with bacon), an orange juice, and tea, all excellent (I love bacon!). After dinner, I drove to West Mabou and said good-bye to a friend there. I then drove via Mabou Road to Judique with a short detour to, and stop at, the bridge over the Judique Intervale Brook for photos; I could not recall ever having stopped there before.
At the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, I picked up three books: a tune book called CMIC Collection Vol. 1 that includes sixty-five compositions by several local composers, but also by several others who I didn’t realize were composers, e.g., Shelly Campbell, John Pellerin, Mike Barron, and Mike Hall; Jørn Borggreen’s fourth edition of Right to the Helm, a compilation of the square set figures formerly danced in communities all over Cape Breton Island, several of which Fileanta danced at the Celtic Colours concerts I attended, and recently updated with a set from St Peter’s; and Barry Shears dance to the Piper: The Highland Bagpipe in Nova Scotia, a history of the Gaelic-speaking pipers in Nova Scotia and their traditions, which includes a CD of historic recordings. I was intrigued to note that Shelly’s Lament for Black River is in the tune book; I greatly enjoyed hearing this tune this summer and it’s one I’ll pick out on the piano in an attempt to commit it to memory. The other books will make for good winter reading.
The cèilidh today featured Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Joël Chiasson on keyboard. They began with a fine march/strathspeys/reels set and followed it with jigs that got no takers. Another fine march/strathspeys/reels set followed, disappointing the four couples who had made their way to the floor for a square set. Joined by a fifth couple, the first square set followed. Two more very fine cèilidh sets were next. Hailee LeFort on fiddle relieved Kenneth; with Joël on keyboard, she played two excellent march/strathspeys/reels sets. When Kenneth took back the fiddle, the second square set was danced by seven couples with an eighth added for the third figure, which was played on highland bagpipes. During the following march/strathspeys/reels set, Hailee step danced. Three couples waltzed to In Memory of Herbie MacLeod and another tune. The fourth square set brought five couples back to the floor. Kenneth again left the stage, replaced this time by Joe MacMaster on highland bagpipes; with Joël continuing on keyboard, Joe gave us two lively sets. Joe then switched to fiddle for the final square set. After it ended, Kenneth and Joe on dual highland bagpipes played the final set of the cèilidh with Joël. It was a fantastic afternoon, but a slightly melancholy one, as this was my last Celtic Music Interpretive Centre cèilidh of the year and, indeed, my last live music of the year in Cape Breton. What a jewel the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre is! Top-notch players there all year long keep the music and dance going strong and create lots of magical moments. My thanks to them for another wonderful year of marvellous music and fine food.
After the cèilidh, I drove up on Rocky Ridge and, plied with a lovely “tea”, visited for a while with my friends there, wishing them a good winter (unlike last year’s) as I said good-bye. I then drove back to the motel, where I was soon in bed, resting up for the long drive home in the morning.
Monday, 26 October — Port Hood to Lewiston
After a good night’s sleep, I got up at 6h30 [all times ADT—I revert to EDT tonight] and found it was still dark outside as I packed up the car. I had a final breakfast at Sandeannies. Light rain accompanied me to Judique; thereafter it was just sprinkles. After getting gas at the Canadian Tire in Port Hastings, I crossed the causeway bridge at 8h47, where waves pushed by roaring winds were splashing over the barrier rocks and onto the roadway as I drove across. Intermittent rain fell from the causeway to Antigonish and ended there. The overcast lasted from Antigonish to the Cobequid Pass, where I stopped for my first break; by the time I reached Amherst, it had cleared enough to let the sun break through the clouds. The colours on the mainland were similar to those on Cape Breton, at or near peak with substantial numbers of unchanged deciduous green trees, ensuring the colours will last for a good deal longer, though leaves had been stripped from numerous trees. I found few colours in New Brunswick, which has more evergreens and fewer hardwoods; many of the tamaracks had partly or completely changed and the rest of the deciduous trees were mostly yellows and oranges; loads of trees had been stripped of their leaves. I stopped again at Norton, where I got gas. From St John and for the rest of the trip, the skies were pure blue and the sun was out in force. I had no problems at customs (they asked no questions about fruit this time). I stopped for a break in Baileyville, where I got a cup of coffee and left at 15h05. I found more colours along the Airline, becoming ever more vivid once past the St Croix River Valley and up into the mountains. But only yellows and oranges and greens and mixes of those colours: no bright reds (as on the Canadian flag) did I see, though occasional exceptional pastel reds or dark reds or flaming magentas were seen here and there. I stopped once more at the rest area outside Bangor and the sun was constantly in my eyes from there to Lewiston; why couldn’t it have been out last week when I wanted bright photos on the east and north of the Island?!!!
I got my motel room and changed the SIM card in my phone back to the US one: calling my Canadian number will no longer reach me so use my US one. I had a voicemail from my sister wondering if I was home yet, so I called her to let her know where I was; she said the bright reds were missing in the North Country too this fall. I then read and caught up on Facebook and the mail. It will be early to bed again tonight for the drive home tomorrow.
It has been a great trip and I wish to extend my thanks to all those hard working folks who made it so—hosts, musicians, organizers, volunteers, and friends. What a wonderful time I had!
Tuesday, 27 October — Lewiston to Jackson
I got up at 6h21 and found ice on the car windshield; the car’s thermometer registered -2 (28). The streets and turnpike, fortunately, were bare and dry. Yesterday’s bright weather continued through the morning, though with rather more clouds—high, thin, wispy ones. The fall colours from Lewiston to Massachusetts were mostly oranges and browns, with quite a few unchanged green trees and a number of bare trees. In eastern Massachusetts, the browns were replaced again with yellows. I stopped in Tewkesbury (Massachusetts) for breakfast. In central Massachusetts and Connecticut, I judged the colours pre-peak, as many other shades of colours joined the mix and a multitude of unchanged greens were seen everywhere. I stopped again in Montvale (New Jersey) for a green salad for lunch, where the skies were overcast with the sun breaking through the edges of the clouds; it had warmed up to +16 (61). The colours in Westchester and New Jersey were pretty similar to those in Connecticut, though perhaps at peak rather than pre-peak. I arrived home at 15h30; total distance driven on this trip was 7490.7 km (4654.5 mi).
The car is unloaded and I have gone through accumulated e-mail and voicemail. My computer software was out of date and had to be updated, a task now complete. I am now ready for a good night’s sleep!