This trip was completely unanticipated. On Tuesday, 12 April, I had the message from Marc Boudreau seen in this screen shot I took before the message disappeared:
On Friday, 15 April, I heard the unbelievable news that this incredible talent whom I was proud to call a friend had suddenly passed away the night before. I was completely devastated and began by posting to Facebook this YouTube clip of Marc’s fiery playing at the Atlantic Fiddlers’ Jamboree in 2009 with Kevin Chaisson on keyboard and Chris Babineau on guitar that I found online.
I then went searching through my photo collection and posted several photos of Marc playing that I had taken over the years as a tribute to him. Those photos follow here.
I shared to my Facebook timeline a lovely tribute to Marc that was organized by several of the Colaisde na Gàidhlig / The Gaelic College crew and their musical friends on 16 April during the East Coast Music Week and can be seen, if you have access to Facebook, here. I regret I can not embed that video here.
With the publication of Marc’s obituary announcing the funeral arrangements, which still can be found here, I started packing for the trip to Cape Breton, described in the following posts, as I knew I had to pay my respects to my friend.
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. On this trip, the posts were written and posted on the day described. As they appear here, the posts have been only very slightly edited, with typos corrected, some telegraphic sentences given proper subjects, and paragraphing added.
Sunday, 17 April — Jackson to Calais
I left Jackson this morning at 6h27 and arrived in Calais at 17h. It was a long day after a too short night, much of which I spent awake as I went to bed earlier than normal and was still very agitated, though my alarm rang for 20 minutes this morning before I came to. I stopped in Newtown (Connecticut) for breakfast, Tewksbury (Massachusetts) for gas, Bangor (Maine) for a walking break, and Baileyville (Maine) for gas again. I had dinner at the Wickachee down the road from the motel: a seafood platter and salad and a glass of Chardonnay—I'll sleep tonight! I hope to be away at first light in the morning. I am staying at the Auberge Doucet in Chéticamp, where I hope to arrive tomorrow afternoon; I will be there at least through Wednesday night and perhaps through Friday night. I missed Bob MacEachern’s tribute to Marc on Highland Fling on 101.5 The Hawk this afternoon¹—there is no T-Mobile service in eastern Maine—but I will look forward to hearing it when I get back home, if not sooner. I love Andrea’s new reel, Missing Marc: it’s absolutely a perfect fit to Marc! I shared it to my time line if you missed it.² The next two days are not going to be easy ones—I greatly admired Marc both as a wonderful outgoing person so full of life and joie de vivre and for his amazingly fiery playing. It’s going to be hard to come to closure after such a devastating loss! Now for some much needed sleep!
¹ As of 2017 June 9, that tribute and the one the week later are no longer on The Hawk’s web site, though they were there for a long time.↩
I left the motel at 7h, cleared customs two minutes later, had breakfast at Carman’s [sic] Diner in St Stephen, and was on my way once more. Unlike yesterday’s blue skies and warm temperatures, today’s skies were grey with some sun breaking through and the highest temperature I encountered all day was +5 (41) which, with the wind chill, felt like freezing (as I post this, it is -2 (28)). I stopped for a brief walk at the Cobequid Pass tolls, got gas in Lower South River, and crossed the Canso Causeway bridge at 13h19 (1602.4 km (995.7 miles)). The first snow I saw this trip was on the ground between New Glasgow and Antigonish. By the time I got to Cape Breton, the sun was out for fair again, though there was haze near the water. I drove into Port Hawkesbury and determined that my Telus SIM card could be used in my new unlocked iPhone6s plus (and they did the swap for me). I drove to Port Hood and got rooms there for this coming week-end. I stopped for a very brief hello at a friend’s in West Mabou and took care of a couple of errands in Mabou. There is no snow in Cape Breton, except some residual snow in shaded spots in Port Hood and north of Mabou. I then drove to Chéticamp and got my room there, where I'll be through Wednesday night at least and perhaps longer depending on the weather and my whims. I had a fine haddock dinner and large garden salad at the Doryman. I came back to the Inn and got dressed for the wake.
I drove there and went through the line; it was heartbreaking. I said hello to friends waiting in line outside on the way out. I drove back to the Doryman where I unwound with a glass of red ale. Mike Hall and Hilda Chiasson were there and Hilda and I had a good chat. After they returned to the wake, a group of Marc’s high school classmates came in, of whom I recognized a couple, and they introduced me to the others. Douglas Cameron came in later as did Claude Bourgeois, and I spoke briefly with each. I drove back to the Inn and ditched the suit. I worked on this post up to here and then drove back to the Doryman, where Mike had said he hoped to get some tunes going. When I came in about 22h15, Mike on fiddle, Hilda on keyboard, and Maxim Cormier on guitar were playing. Douglas later took over Mike’s spot on fiddle. He was in turn replaced by Christine Melanson (from Moncton but often seen in Cape Breton), who played both Scottish traditional sets and other non-traditional sets. Mike replaced Hilda on keyboard, Chris Babineau replaced Maxim on guitar, and Andréa LeBlanc and Mike Barron took over the fiddle duties, sometimes playing alone but usually as dual fiddles. Hilda, Mike, and Chris gave us a final set. Some very spirited free-form large group dancing took place during some of the sets. Many in the audience were friends of Marc, several back home from out west. It was a balm for all our spirits. I drove back to the Inn and finished and posted this account. Surprisingly, I’m not tired after the long day, though I think I'll sleep very well.
Tuesday, 19 April — Chéticamp
I awoke at 9h to sun pouring in the window. I got ready for this afternoon’s service and remembrance and then drove out to La Pointe at the south end of Chéticamp Island. Neither boats nor fishing equipment nor any signs of activity did I see at the small harbour there; not surprising as it’s early in the season yet and was quite cool (+2 (36)) with an even cooler breeze. The beautiful Inverness County shore was under some haze, but it was clear enough to make out the sights past Margaree Island and as far as Sight Point at the horizon. As I noticed yesterday on the drive up to Chéticamp, Cape Breton at this time of year is very different: the trees are leafless, so the only greens are the darker ones of the evergreens, which run in bands through the mixed inland forests, but the sun turns the bare trunks and branches golden in the reflected sunlight. With the tannish yellows of the hay and the green-tinged browns of the fields, the effect is of a golden mantle rather than a green (summer), rainbow-coloured (autumn), or white (winter) one, as at the other seasons of the year. Cape Breton is beautiful any time of year!
I drove back into town for lunch at the Harbourview with Mike Hall and Hilda Chiasson; it was nice to have a chance to chat with them both and learn of things one doesn't pick up as an audience member.
After lunch, I drove to the church, the first time I’d been inside: it’s beautiful with whites everywhere. By the time the service started, the church was packed and people lined the balconies upstairs. A large contingent of EMS paramedics formed part of the cortège, with his close friends serving as pall bearers. The Mass was embellished by organ and choral music; Howie MacDonald and Ashley MacIsaac played Partons, la mer est belle, the song of fishermen leaving harbour under the light of the moon; the numerous fiddlers in attendance played a fine group number at the end.
We then drove to the Doryman for the reception to which Marc’s parents had invited everyone. A loaded table provided sandwiches and charcuterie and finger food and vegetables and all manner of sweets along with tea and coffee. More musicians were present than I usually see in a single place, a fine testament to the high esteem in which Marc is held; they played all afternoon long and well into the evening, finally finishing up after 22h. The music began with a powerhouse on stage: Mike Hall, Margie Beaton, John Pellerin, Ian MacDougall, Dawn Beaton, Kenneth MacKenzie, Kyle MacDonald, Wendy MacIsaac, and Glenn Graham on fiddles, with Mac Morin on keyboard, gave us a tremendous long blast of tunes powerfully played, the like of which is rarely heard; step dancers took advantage of the music to dance in tribute to Marc, who was also a fine step dancer. Howie on fiddle, Hilda on keyboard, Chris Babineau on guitar, and Gerry Deveau on spoons played a marathon set during which Gerry, Harvey Beaton, and Joël Chiasson step danced; another lady whose name I don’t know joined Gerry on spoons. The next set had Mary Beth Carty playing “bones” (clickers) replacing Gerry. Howie played Faded Love to which four couples waltzed. Their last set was fiddle-keyboard-guitar. Next, Brent Aucoin on fiddle, Allan Dewar on keyboard, and Brent’s father, Gaston, on guitar played several long sets; Mac, Wendy, Shelly Campbell, and Mary Beth step danced. Shelly on fiddle and Joël on keyboard next took their turn, playing several more sets. Mike on fiddle with Howie on keyboard played still more sets; Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier replaced Howie on keyboard as Mike played on. Marc’s parents gave Marc’s distinctive fiddle with the Canadian flag on the case to Mike and Mike played it for the rest of his sets. Hailee LeFort on fiddle played more sets, with Mike replacing Kathleen on keyboard. The last sets of the evening had Gillian Head on fiddle accompanied by Jason Roach on keyboards. (My apologies if I left anyone out.) It was a fantastic tribute in music and dance that helped everyone to heal, at least a little, from the horrible shock. I saw lots of folks I know who had come to pay their respects to Marc and got a chance to chat with a good number of them, including a long and very interesting chat with Yvon LeFort, a repairer of fiddle bows, whom I knew from previous brief encounters but not well. So this day I have dreaded so much is now finally past. In the words Marc’s parents chose for his remembrance card:
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief. Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief. Lift up your hearts and share with me…
Marc, thank you for your music and for your friendship, both of which I'll cherish for as long as I live. Godspeed!
Wednesday, 20 April — Chéticamp
I got up again at 9h to much the same beautiful, if cool, weather as yesterday, though with a weaker breeze so it felt warmer. I drove to the Dancing Goat for breakfast and a taste of the lovely Margarees in this season. Then it was back to Belle-Côte, where I visited with friends and had a lovely blueberry muffin with tea. After filling the car’s gas tank in Chéticamp, I drove to the Park, where I stopped at the Visitors’ Centre to get a season pass, only to discover the inside under extensive renovations and no park rangers present; I didn't realize they (and the book store) shut completely down in the off season, except for the washrooms, which were open and functional. I continued on to Meat Cove for a good visit with a friend there. I drove back to Chéticamp and had dinner at the Doryman. Then it was back to the Inn, where I’m writing this now.
A huge fog bank rose out in the Gulf as I drove south this morning, making it look like there was a shoreline out there—that always gives me a weird feeling that I’m not where I think I am! There was lots of haze along the water, much more than yesterday, but it was clear inland. Construction is already underway on the Cabot Trail at Corney Brook, between the two Fishing Cove look-offs, and in Big Intervale; I was stopped briefly at all three places on the way up and at Corney Brook on the way back. I ran into snow in dark places at the side of the road on French Mountain. Thereafter, snow was visible at sporadic places beside the road and from North Mountain to Meat Cove everywhere on the highlands, though not usually beside the road; the temperature remained steady regardless of snow or elevation. Roberts Mountain in Pleasant Bay was bare. I couldn’t make out either Polletts Cove or the High Capes from MacKenzies Mountain because the coast north of Kerrs Point was in haze, though snow-covered highlands inland were readily visible. At the summit of North Mountain, residual snow filled the ditches, but it was on its last legs. Nothing like the snow tunnel we drove through when I was there in 2011 (seen here)! South Mountain too remains snow-covered. The trip from Cape North Village to Meat Cove was absolutely glorious, along Aspy Bay at the base of North Mountain and then along the Meat Cove Road from Bay St Lawrence to Meat Cove—there is nothing like that drive to bring peace and awe to my soul! The Cabot Trail was as beautiful a drive as it always is too, though quite different in appearance from the other seasons I've travelled it. I stopped for a few photos, though perhaps not as many as I should have, as I wanted to be back in Chéticamp before the moose came out at dusk.
The fantastic run of fine weather is to continue tomorrow and Friday, though only partly sunny instead of the full sunny weather we've been having. But still, absolutely no complaints. Some less pleasant weather at the week-end, but those days I'll be inside anyway, so I've really lucked out this trip! I've decided to leave for the Sydney area tomorrow in order to take in the session at the Blue Mist in Bras d’Or tomorrow night. Friday nite, I'll likely be back in Port Hood.
I'll soon be off to bed; it’s been a busy last few days and, even though it's relatively early, I'll get a chance to rest up for what will likely be a fairly long drive tomorrow to take advantage of the weather and see more of this incredibly beautiful island in its early spring colours.
Thursday, 21 April — Chéticamp to Reserve Mines
I got up at 8h30 this morning. I again drove to the Dancing Goat for breakfast, where I was joined by a friend for some good conversation. I continued on to Hunters Mountain, where I turned onto Highland Road, hoping to locate a tower I couldn’t place that appeared in one of the photos I took from MacKay Point last year and which I could see from Middle River. I didn’t get very far before the gravel road became covered with snow and I turned around because I had zero interest in getting stuck in either the snow or the soft road beneath it; resolving the tower’s location will therefore have to wait until the next trip. I drove into Baddeck, where I verified that it is “Old Margaree Road” and not “Margaree Road”, as Google Maps has it—for once my very fallible memory was right! I then drove south along the Trans-Canada Highway, answering a couple of other questions about the Inlet Baddeck area that came up during my work on the latest (and still incomplete) photo essay. I continued on through Whycocomagh and Glendale and turned off on Riverside Road, which I took to Highway 4, which I followed into St Peter’s, where I had a good visit with friends there, one unfortunately suffering from the stomach flu. I was treated to a very fine tourtière made of moose, beef, pork, and chicken encased in a lovely crust. I was also lent a book on the St Peters Branch Railway, which looks like it will answer some questions that arose during work on another section of the essay. I followed Highway 4 back to Sydney, hardly the shortest way from Chéticamp to Sydney, but a very scenic one indeed.
It was warmer today, reaching +13 (55) at one point, but the wind was brutally strong. About half the sky was covered with clouds, some grey and some white, but the sun was nearly always out during the drive. White caps lined St Patricks Channel and Whycocomagh Bay on the drive south and were all over the Bras d’Or Lake and East Bay on the drive north. Highway 4 has become a very fine road in recent years, reaching 100-series status from Chapel Island to Sydney; the section from Chapel Island to St Peter's shows signs of getting a much wider road bed, though no construction affecting the pavement itself has yet begun, and the bridge over St Peters Canal is in the process of being made into a two-lane swinging bridge similar to the one at the Canso Causeway. The most recently completed segments now offer views of the lake that were previously hidden, making the entire drive along the lake a much better experience.
I got my motel room in Reserve Mines and then drove to Little Bras d’Or, where I turned onto Alder Point Road. One block in, I turned right and arrived at Jane’s a few doors down on the left, an establishment recommended to me by two different friends this week. It is very unpretentious and fairly small, but the home-cooked food was excellent. I had turkey vegetable soup, a green salad, grilled haddock filets, mixed veggies, and turnips and it was all delicious.
As I came out of the restaurant after dinner, I was surprised to find myself in a snow squall, definitely not in the forecast. It was soon over and I filled the car up with gas for tomorrow’s trip to Port Hood. I drove back to the intersection and found the Blue Mist Tavern on the other side. It is the new venue for the Sydney area’s Thursday night fiddle sessions, which used to be hosted at Rollie’s Wharf, now closed, and which I rarely get to attend because they conflict with the Glencoe Mills square dances. Tonight’s fiddlers were Father Francis Cameron, Paul Cranford, Larry Parks, Mike Barron, Joseph MacNeil, Wilfred Prosper Jr, David Papazian, and three other gentleman I didn’t know. Mario Colosimo, Doug MacPhee, and a third gentleman I was told was John Allan Cameron’s brother, provided piano accompaniment; Mario also provided guitar accompaniment some of the time when he wasn’t on piano. Another gentleman I don’t know played harmonica. Joe Burton, an Irish tenor, give us two Irish songs. Brenda Stubbert was in attendance, but, claiming sore shoulders, didn’t play in the session. After it ended about 23h, however, Mike convinced her to play a set, which she did with Doug on the piano. I left after she finished her set, as I had a half hour drive back to Reserve Mines. All in all, a very fine evening of music.
I also got to speak briefly with most of the players and with Rannie Gillis, Cape Breton Post columnist, with whom I had a long chat. Somehow, he hadn’t learned of the effort currently underway on the Seawall Trail, a proposed single track, multi-day hike through the rugged wilderness of Northern Cape Breton, described here, so I brought him up to date on it; hopefully, he will devote space in one of his columns to get the word out to others who do not know of it.
Friday, 22 April — Reserve Mines to Port Hood
I got up a bit after 9h. I drove back to Little Bras d’Or, where I hoped to have breakfast at Jane’s, since I noticed a breakfast menu at the back of the dinner menu last night. However, I missed the sign on the door indicating their hours start at 11h, at least at the present. I tried a restaurant further up the road, but it was closed until May. I avoid Tim’s because of the high sugar content of their breakfast sweets and because of the way they closed their Chéticamp restaurant, so I drove back into North Sydney where the only other thing open was a Subway. I had their bacon/egg/cheese breakfast sub with spinach, tomatoes, onions, and black olives and found it surprisingly good. I had the whole sub, so I was well set for the day.
After breakfast, I drove back to Little Bras d’Or and went out the Georges River Road. I turned onto the Long Island Road, which has the most amazing collection of huge potholes I've so far encountered on this trip, most circled in red paint and marked with orange and black striped signs at the shoulder preceded by a bump road sign a bit before the pothole. I was surprised the province had enough signs to mark all the potholes! In spite of the excellent signage, it was still hard to avoid hitting them because they were so numerous, sometimes lining up side by side across the width of the road. The lack of leaves on the trees opened up views I hadn’t seen before, even though I had driven this route several times previously, but I had almost no time to enjoy them between potholes. Once on the Grand Narrows Highway, the road improved immensely and, thanks to recent construction, became excellent and smooth as I got south of Boisdale. Again, I was amazed by the views that were available thanks to no leaves; Baddeck and the Cape Breton Highlands could easily be seen across the lake, something I hadn’t noticed before. The trip was also enhanced by information I had gleaned from my work on the photo essay in progress, especially around Shenacadie, whose harbour I had never before noticed. When I left Little Bras d’Or, about 80% of the skies were covered and the sun was mostly filtered through them, though the air was clear with no haze over the lake. At Grand Narrows, most of the clouds were gone and the sun was direct and warming. It was about +10 (50) this morning, a pleasant change from the previous days, but the winds continued to blow strongly and the lake was marked everywhere by white caps. I turned down Portage Road and enjoyed the always spectacular views of the mountains and Whycocomagh Bay it offers. I took Highway 252 through Skye Glen and the Nevada Valley; the skies began to cloud over again near Brook Village and, by the time I arrived a quarter hour after the agreed time at my friend’s in Mabou Harbour, they were overcast with fog rolling in from the Gulf.
When I arrived, I was surprised to see him waiting in a car for me. He proposed to chauffeur me about so I could concentrate on the views without having to worry about the driving. I was only too happy to accept! We drove first to Mabou Coal Mines and down to Finlay Point Harbour, where lobster traps were stacked neatly on the wharves, awaiting Setting Day at the start of May. The snow crab fishery is already underway and three boats loaded with crab traps were preparing to depart; my friend spoke with two fishermen he knew and I was surprised to learn they were headed for waters off Chéticamp—a long trip on a blowing day in a loaded boat! We drove back to the beach parking area and sat watching the fog driven into the beautiful coast from Coal Mine Point south towards Colindale, which appeared and disappeared at the whim of the wind, as we had a good chat and got caught up on each other’s news. We then drove back to Mabou Harbour and on to West Mabou and out the Colindale Road to Port Hood, where I got my motel room key for tonight. He was still game to keep on driving, so we drove out the Dunmore Road to the Mabou Road and it to Glencoe Station, where we went out the Upper Southwest Mabou Road. We turned down Morans Road, which he had never before driven, and admired the views from the bridge there. Then it was on to Long Johns Bridge at Upper Southwest Mabou, where we stopped for photos. Then up “Mount Glencoe” and down to Glencoe Mills, where we turned back towards Mabou. Again the lack of leaves opened up a number of views that would normally be hidden and I was surprised at how many of them were new to him. We ascended and then descended Mabou Ridge and then drove back to his place, arriving about 18h30, where I thanked him for his treat—I think this is the first time I've had the opportunity to travel these beautiful back roads without having to also pay attention to the driving. Most were in excellent shape, having very recently been gravelled and graded.
I had made arrangements with dear friends on Rocky Ridge to meet them at 19h for a visit and we had a great chat, catching each other up on our news. I was served a scrumptious almond cinnamon raisin scone, cheese, a superb chocolate walnut brownie (a favourite of mine as she well knew), and tea. When they realized I had gone without supper, she offered to make me some, but I wasn’t really hungry and so declined; the “tea” way more than sufficed. Still, she sent three more of the scones back with me. It was so great to see them both and find them in great health, ready for spring and gardening, which the wind and its chill are impeding.
When I left after 22h, the moon was shining bright through a layer of fog, but nowhere near as thick as one memorable night (last year I think) when it took me 45 minutes to get down off Rocky Ridge and back to Port Hood. It was a much easier descent tonight and I was soon back at the motel where I caught up on Facebook and then wrote this account.
Saturday, 23 April — Port Hood
I got up a bit past 9h to another bright blue sky day with lots of sun and only a few clouds. It was already +10 (50) when I drove to Sandeannies for my favourite Cape Breton breakfast: fish cakes and eggs with a side order of bacon, home fries, toast, orange juice, and tea—scrumptious and filling. I drove back along the Cèilidh Trail and turned up Hunters Road, where I took photos of the five-star views from there. I drove into Mabou, out Highway 252 to Glendyer, took the Smithville and Blackstone Roads to the West Lake Ainslie Road, and took it to Kenloch. I was surprised to find the Strathlorne Scotsville Road newly paved, though still without centre line markings, at least halfway to Scotsville; it was the smoothest ride on that road I can ever remember! I got photos of Cape Mabou from the road as it climbs outside Kenloch. In Scotsville, I turned onto Highway 395 and drove it back to Highway 19 in Southwest Margaree. In Margaree Forks, I went right briefly and took the East Margaree Road to Belle-Côte; as I was passing through East Margaree, a friend was outside doing yard work with her sisters and granddaughter and I stopped for a quick chat with them. When I got back to the car, the thermometer registered +21 (70)—a lovely April day indeed! I continued on to the Doryman in Chéticamp, arriving there about 13h30 for the afternoon cèilidh.
Today’s music was by Colin Grant on fiddle and Jason Roach on keyboard. They took two breaks, but the rest of the afternoon was filled with very fine Scottish traditional fiddle music powerfully played by both. Colin gave it his all in each set, working up a sweat from his exuberance and drive; in his sets, he played a few tunes I couldn’t recall having heard before and several more I don’t hear very often. Jason, like Colin, a virtuosic player and super talented musician, now has a much wider dynamic range as an accompanist than I remembered, though the bass was a bit heavy at times; his distinctive accompaniments are becoming very interesting to listen to. The pub was more than half full, with the side by the windows almost full and the other side very sparse. It was not really a dancing crowd as no square sets formed during the several excellent opportunities provided. Four young ladies step danced as a group twice to advertise a La Swing du Suête concert tonight at the Place des Arts; I was very tempted to go, as I haven’t seen the troupe in some years now and I was told they sadly would not be performing again this summer, but it would have made me quite late getting to West Mabou and I didn’t want to miss that. Five other ladies also step danced, three of them during the final set, offered as a tribute to Marc.
I had dinner at the Doryman (large green salad, pan-fried scallops, and, unusually for me, French fries with gravy—all excellent) during the last part of their performance. By the time I left, it had become overcast. I then drove back to Mabou, where I stopped for an errand and left a calling card at the house of a friend who was out. I continued on to Port Hood, where I wrote this account to this point.
I drove back to West Mabou in light rain, arriving there as usual around 21h20; I had completely forgotten that the West Mabou dances had been moved up an hour for the winter and now run from 21h-0h instead of the traditional 22h-1h (it hasn't yet been decided whether they will remain there for the summer). So I ended up arriving late anyway! Tonight’s music was by Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle and Joël Chiasson on piano, both consummate players. I hadn’t missed much as sound checks were still in progress when I entered the hall. The first square set got underway at 21h38 and five square sets were danced in all; most had from five to ten couples. A number of waltzes were played, but only one couple danced to one of them. One jig set had no takers. The dance went overtime: Donna-Marie started strathspeys at 0h and Stephen MacLennan, Amanda MacDonald, and Melody Cameron all shared their very fine steps. The crowd was small, picking up some after the play at the Strathspey Place ended; it had a good mix of adults and young folk, most very experienced dancers. A mother and father each danced with their two young daughters to teach them the figures—it’s always a delight to see the culture being passed on to the next generation. It was a fine evening of music and dance that I enjoyed thoroughly. The rain had mostly stopped as I drove back to Port Hood, very happy at the music I’d heard today.
Sunday, 24 April — Port Hood
The amazing string of sunny days has come to a halt, hopefully brief, as this morning grey skies and puddles greeted me when I peered out the window after getting up about 9h30. How lucky I've been to be able to tour the Island this early in the year and encounter day after day of bright sunshine! The forecast called for a 50% chance of rain/snow mix today, which did not so far come to pass, and a high of +5 (41), quite the change from yesterday’s balmy temperatures! But the drive home on Monday and Tuesday should again be under, at least partly, sunny skies. I lolled about in the motel room until nearly noon, reading and catching up on the news. Then, I drove to Sandeannies for another fine breakfast, the same as yesterday’s. On Friday, I had been told about the roast beef dinner at the Mabou Parish Hall today, but completely forgot about it until I saw a post on Facebook after I’d finished breakfast. Drat! My memory these days leaks like a sieve!
After breakfast, I took a very leisurely drive down the Shore Road and the Lower Shore Road to Judique for this afternoon’s cèilidh, stopping off at Michaels Landing to enjoy the views there and continuing on to Baxters Cove south of Judique, the road to which is very easy to miss even when looking for it. Two boats were in the water in the harbour, but lots of lobster traps were stacked on the piers ready for Setting Day, so more boats will soon join those two. The wind hadn’t abated much from the previous days and the water was roiling and white-capped—it looked to be miserably cold and raw out there.
Today’s cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre featured Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard and was simply a fabulous afternoon of the purest Scottish traditional music played to perfection. These two master artists gave us tune after tune in sets that were pure joy to hear, with Kenneth’s powerful, soaring, and expressive fiddle backed by Allan’s superb and tasteful complex accompaniment. The Centre was nearly full, though not packed, and the people young and old knew the music well. The first jig set had no takers, but those that followed did: three square sets were danced, the second getting ten couples in two groups with the other two having fewer couples in one group. In between were grand march/strathspeys/reels sets, some lovely slow airs lushly played, and some waltzes. Today’s Féis Cape Breton youth players were Brienne MacDonald on highland bagpipes accompanied by her sister, Abigail, on keyboard, both daughters of fiddler Brian MacDonald now residing in the Antigonish area; they played well and were roundly applauded at the end of their set. Kenneth invited Joe MacMaster to the stage and he played two very fine fiddle sets with Allan while Kenneth took a break. Joe passed the fiddle on to Kyle MacDonald, who gave us two more great sets—I kept hearing echoes of Willie Kennedy's memorable playing in Kyle’s. Kenneth came back for a final fiddle set and a stirring set on highland bagpipes, during which Kyle, Edna MacDonald (who had also danced earlier in the cèilidh), Shelly Campbell, and Dale Gillis shared some very fine steps. I couldn’t have asked for a better afternoon of music, one of those simply magical cèilidhs that so regularly occur at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre.
It was great to greet and chat with so many friends; a special thanks to Shay MacMullin who came over and discussed the Gaelic immersion class she’s conducting—it is so encouraging to see the positive response to the efforts to make the Gaelic language relevant here once again, slowly undoing the repression (and self-repression!) of the misguided past and restoring a rich culture and heritage to its rightful place. I stood around chatting afterwards and gave my thanks to the musicians. I am very sorry to be leaving for home tomorrow, but it won't be long before I’m back once again in June for the 10th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre—how quickly those years have flown—and for a good full month of music, including KitchenFest!
A shout out too to the great folks at Rollo Bay, who, from the video that I've seen posted tonight, had a packed house at their fundraising concert last night. Rollo Bay attracts many Cape Breton players and attendees, so it is not just a PEI event. There is no event like this in Cape Breton, spanning three days of nearly non-stop fiddle music, on stage and off, whose goal is to raise funds for free fiddle lessons for anyone in the area wanting them. This is a tradition that is most worthy of being continued into the future and Big Field Tradition, a group of Chaisson cousins who have stepped up to try to ensure that it does, need all the support they can get. If you can contribute to this effort in any amount, small or large, please visit their GoFundMe web page¹ and thank you if you have already done so.
After the cèilidh, by which time the sun was out, I drove to Mabou via the back roads (Rear Intervale Road and Mabou Road to Highway 19) for dinner at the Mull, one of the top restaurants in Cape Breton. I had their chowder, chock full of lobster and scallops and other seafood, in a thin creamy sauce; I followed it with the special of the day, seafood jambalaya. Anyone who knows me knows that I love spicy food and this dish was spicy, indeed, so spicy I couldn’t believe I was eating it in Cape Breton, which is most definitely not known for its spicy food. It was chock-a-block with chunks of lobster and scallops (shrimp would have been there too the chef said had they been available) in a peppery hot rice, okra, tomato, bell pepper, and onion sauce that was just out of this world. I was some glad I didn’t put any more pepper on it before I tasted it, as I normally do in Cape Breton and had done with the chowder! I lobbied unsuccessfully for it to be added to the main menu, but it will be available as a special on some Sundays only, so, if you like spicy cooking, keep your eyes out for it! Highly recommended.
Friends I had hoped to say good-bye to were out and about, so I came back to Port Hood and wrote this account. I will now be immediately off to bed and, hopefully, away in the morning at first light.
I got up a bit past 6h—I didn’t hear the alarm go off again in the middle of an apparently very deep sleep. I left the motel just a hair past 6h30 under pure blue skies with the sun not very far above the horizon on a very crisp morning—+1 (34). I crossed the Canso Causeway bridge at 6h58 and stopped in Aulds Cove for gas, but skipped breakfast as I was still full from last night’s dinner. Clouds came and went as I proceeded west, but never covered the sun; the temperature increased steadily, reaching +15 (59) by the afternoon. I reached New Brunswick at 9h41 and continued on to Salisbury, where I finally had breakfast at the Irving Big Stop. I stopped again in Norton for gas and, after clearing customs with no problems, at Baileyville outside Calais for a small coffee, as I had felt a tad drowsy west of St John. I stopped again at the rest area outside Bangor for a walk to clear the cobwebs out of my head and reached Lewiston about 16h45 ADT. Since I’d made such good time and the coffee left me wide awake, I debated going on to either Portland or even Tewksbury, but decided to stay in Lewiston as planned, in part because I didn’t want to tempt fate and in part because I wanted to pay another visit to Fish Bones, the restaurant rated number one in Lewiston on TripAdvisor.
After getting my motel room and unwinding a bit until the dinner hour arrived, I drove downtown and had dinner there. A cup of clam chowder, a fine piece of grilled haddock served on top of unshucked small pea pods (but not sugar peas) accompanied by a potato pancake and fine breads, followed by a fruit parfait of strawberries, blueberries, and cream over a wee piece of caramel cake (which the menu didn’t mention or I’d not have ordered it) made for one very fine repast indeed! I drove back to the motel, filling the tank for tomorrow on the way, and wrote this account. I will soon be off to bed for as early a start in daylight as I can manage. I couldn’t have asked for a better day or a nicer drive.
Tuesday, 26 April — Lewiston to Jackson
When I left Lewiston this morning at 5h57, the temperature was +5 (41) and the sky, covered by ugly grey-black clouds, let no sun through. By the time I reached Portland, the temperature had dropped to +1 (34) and just south of Portland, I ran into a snain squall that continued for some miles before changing entirely to rain. Thereafter, the rain was light and intermittent, the clouds turned a friendlier-looking grey, and the temperature had risen again. Nearly all the trees in Waterbury (Connecticut) were in full leaf, the first I had seen like that, though they were not so far along elsewhere west of Waterbury until I reached Westchester, where many were in full leaf and the rest were half leafed out, a condition that held into New Jersey. I lost more than a half hour just outside Waterbury and then east of Newtown (Connecticut), where road workers were trimming brush and removing fallen tree trunks; people refuse to pay any attention to lane closure signs, placed so as to give plenty of advance warning, and drive in the closed lanes right up to the point where they can’t any more—if they queued early as directed, there would be no crunch merge point, saving the serious loss of time everyone pays as the lanes force merge into one. Grrr! My first stop was in Newtown, where, by now quite hungry, I had my favourite dish there, the broiled halibut, which came with a green salad, corn, and potatoes—delicious! I also had a cup of coffee to wake me up for the drive around New York City. As I continued west and south into Westchester, fog descended, though not to the road level, and the intermittent rain became heavier. The work on the new Tappan Zee Bridge is proceeding apace, though it won’t be open for another year or more. I stopped at Montvale (New Jersey) for another short rest. The fog was soon gone, the temperatures lifted, the sun managed to pierce the clouds enough to cast dull shadows, and even a few spots of blue could be seen in the skies. It got progressively warmer in the car, reaching +30 (86) when I got onto the New Jersey Turnpike! After getting home at 14h34, we had a thunderstorm and then heavy rain just after I got the car unloaded, sun to dry everything off, cooler temperatures, and yet another rain shower. Weather-wise, it was quite the day!
I would like to thank everyone for their multiple kindnesses on this trip, especially given the circumstances which caused it to be undertaken. The weather, except for today’s, was superb for travelling; the views were as magnificent as always and had the added tweak of offering the new perspectives of a season I had so far missed; it was great to be able to visit with so many friends; and the week-end’s music was a great help in lifting my spirits. Now, I need to get cracking and get the incomplete photo essay finished; only six weeks remain before I head back for the opening concert kicking off the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre!
Wednesday, 27 April — Postscript
In celebration of what would have been his 31st birthday, here is the earliest photo of Marc Boudreau I have in my collection, playing with Joël Chiasson at the Doryman on 2005 July 2. I’m sorry the quality isn’t better: I was not seated in my usual position and the camera’s exposure was a bit off.