My usual mode of writing these accounts is to take brief notes as the day transpires and then edit, expand, and assemble them all into a coherent post. If the day ends with a late event, I do not normally attempt to complete the day’s account after the event, but defer its completion to the following day. This trip was an extremely event-filled one, however, and I fell more than a week behind, far enough that I did not complete all of the posts before I returned home: most day’s accounts were therefore posted well after the day in question—whenever I found the time to complete them from my notes taken at the day’s events.
Wednesday, 8 June — Jackson to Calais
I left home this morning at 5h07 after a fairly decent night’s sleep. The day was coolish at that hour—+12 (55)—but the skies were clear. As the sun rose, it was blindingly bright at eye level on the New Jersey Turnpike whenever my travel pointed in its direction, not great in three lanes of fast-moving traffic! Once on the Garden State Parkway, it was only an occasional annoyance; by the time I reached the New York State border, the sun had hidden itself behind a layer of overcast, which, with occasional sunny breaks, lasted through Connecticut. Thereafter, the clouds disappeared and the sun was once again dazzlingly bright, but now high enough it didn’t matter for driving. It soon got up into the upper 20’s (high 70’s/ low 80’s) and I put the a/c on at a couple of points. By the time I reached Bangor, overcast skies had returned and the temperatures were much cooler—it’s +12 (55) again as I write this in Calais.
By comparison with other traversals of this route, the traffic was relatively light, especially at the Tappan Zee Bridge, where there was unusually next to no stop-and-go. I stopped four times on the way to Calais: breakfast in Newtown (Connecticut); gas and lunch in Tewkesbury (Massachusetts); rest at the rest area off Exit 17 in Yarmouth (Maine); and rest again at the rest area outside of Bangor. I got gas in Baileyville and ate dinner there at the Irving Big Stop, where the food (sirloin tips and haddock combo with rice and green beans, preceded by a cup of delicious homemade Italian vegetable soup) was considerably better than one might expect—a dear friend who was travelling with me at the time first made me aware of their reasonable prices and good food some years ago.
I will soon be off to bed, getting ready for the remainder of the trip to Cape Breton tomorrow morning, where I'll lose an hour just by crossing the St Croix River two minutes down the road. Ths trip, I intend to stay on a good while, returning home via Rollo Bay in mid-July. The concerts celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre are tomorrow night, Friday night, and Sunday afternoon. Hope to see many of you there!
Thursday, 9 June — Calais to Port Hood
Today’s drive was an interesting study in greys and greens. I slept in this morning and then had breakfast at the restaurant next door. When I left Calais a bit after 9h ADT, it was still +12 (55) and was overcast but with some open skies to the west. After clearing customs with no problems, I enjoyed looking at the many shades of green on the deciduous trees that had shown only bare branches my last time through here two weeks ago; the colours ran the gamut from pale, nearly white, greens to chartreuses to lime greens to pea greens to the common greens of summer, all in various combinations, as I crossed New Brunswick and mainland Nova Scotia. The skies at St Stephen were of several shades of grey, from light to medium and were bunched together sort of like a huge throw rug with ripples, refusing to lay flat. The hues got darker as I approached St John and light rain began falling from there to the junction of New Brunswick routes 1 and 2; the skies levelled out to a flat monolithic dark overcast as heavier rain fell from Moncton to Memramcook. Brighter but still occluded skies were visible over the Cobequid Pass in Nova Scotia, but notwithstanding the light, some misty rain was falling in the upper elevations. The hills to the north from Truro to New Glasgow were shrouded in fog/mist, but those to the south were clear and the highway was mostly dry. From New Glasgow to Antigonish, the southern horizon was bright, as if the sun might be shining there, but overhead the skies had resumed the rippled rug appearance they had earlier. Mist fell on the mainland hills above the Strait of Canso and turned to rain as I crossed the Canso Causeway bridge at 14h50 and followed me up the coast to Port Hood, where I arrived at the motel about 15h45 after filling the car up with gas at the local Ultramar station. In spite of the rain, the greens were as variegated and gorgeous on Cape Breton Island as those further west. I stopped to rest twice on the way: once at the Cobequid Pass tolls and once at the Visitors’ Centre in Port Hastings, where I picked up a number of brochures for later study. Still raining in Port Hood, the temperature read +12 (55) as I arrived, though it had been as low as +8 (45) earlier in the trip. Not great, but I prefer it to last week’s mid-30’s (low to mid 90’s) in New Jersey; nothing a sweater won’t fix!
Delighted the long trip was over, I relaxed in the room for a while before going to supper at the Admiral Inn, where I had a green salad and two fish burgers, all delicious (their usual summer dinner menu has not yet appeared this early in June). Back in the motel room, I enjoyed a cup of tea and wrote this account to this point.
It was then time to head back to Judique for the opening concert of the Tenth Anniversary of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre celebrations. This institution, which was housed in the Judique Community Centre in the first years I was on the Island, has become such an integral part of the Cape Breton musical scene that it would be impossible for me to imagine what that scene would have been like had I not witnessed it myself in those years. It is a magnificent tribute to those who had the foresight and vision that led to its creation in a building of its own with a performance space, an archival space, a recording studio, didactic interpretive and historical information displays, and a kitchen facility that produces amazing food for its small size. Visit the Centre’s web site for a good idea of the many and varied activities that take place there, from introducing tourists to the music and culture on a daily basis in the summer, to providing the best of the Island’s music in its year-round Sunday cèilidhs (well attended and appreciated by the locals and those from away alike), to taking an active rôle in propagating the music and culture to the next generation youth, to its Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling, to providing an on-line presence with the Cape Breton Live shows. Like so many Cape Breton institutions, it depends on a large group of dedicated volunteers, overseen by a board with a vision who have hired extremely competent managers with a drive for perfection. So successful has it become, it is hard to believe ten years have already gone by! Try imagining today’s Cape Breton music without it!
The inaugural concert in the celebrations was given by 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 have admired Kieran’s playing since I first heard him at a benefit concert for Jerry Holland in Boston in 2007; I knew of his wife, Liz, through her fine 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, including at a Celtic Colours concert last fall described here. I was surprised to learn from interviews Allan Dewar did last Sunday with Bob MacEachern on Highland Fling and with Barry MacKinnon on The Cèilidh that Allan and Kieran had played together in the band Glenfire in Kansas when both were young adults (Allan’s mother, next to whom I sat, gave me additional information not in the interviews); the friendship they formed then has lasted into the present and it was a coup for the Centre to snag this band, which has toured widely around the world, for these celebrations. The breathtaking technical virtuosity of these amazing players was on full display to the sold-out concert all night long. The arrangements of the several songs Pat sang still allowed Liz and Kieran ample opportunity to display supportive rôles for their instruments; Kieran’s pipe and whistle accompaniments were especially superb. On the instrumental sets, which slightly outnumbered the songs, one got a full helping of Irish music played at breakneck speed. A number of the tunes were taken from newly rediscovered Irish tune books dating back 150 to 200 years ago and others were related to tunes that have made their ways into the Cape Breton repertoire through players such as Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald. For me, the highlight of the evening was the plaintively beautiful lament Kieran played on solo uilleann pipes in memory of Joe Cormier, Arthur Muise, Marc Boudreau, and Jimmy MacInnis, all heavy losses to Cape Breton music this past year. Irish music is no longer my music of choice, although it together with contemporary Scottish music was all I knew of Celtic music in the long years before I discovered the traditional Scottish music of Cape Breton, but it was still a most fitting way to open the tenth anniversary celebrations, as shown by the standing ovation the audience gave the players at the end of the concert, garnering an encore.
After the concert, I chatted with friends and then drove back to Port Hood, where I worked on more of this post, but I ran out of steam a bit past midnight and gave in, falling asleep instantly.
Friday, 10 June — Port Hood
I got up a bit after 9h30 to a coolish (+9 (48)) grey day with some wind. I had a late breakfast at Sandeannies, where I spoke with the amazing photographer, Steve Rankin, who’s heading for Annapolis Royal on a camping trip this week-end. I then drove down the Shore Road to Little Judique Harbour and took the Joe Effie Road, on which I encountered a horse-drawn sulky, back to Highway 19; I stopped along the Colin L Drive to admire the views of Henry Island, Livingstone Pond, and Little Judique Harbour: a lovely spot with flowering trees in bloom at the moment on which some sun was breaking through the heavy overcast and certainly picture-worthy, but the light was wrong, so I took no photos. I returned to the Day Park in Port Hood to admire the views there, where the temperature had dropped to +8 (46) in the gusting breeze, and watched the big surf crashing into the breakwater at the northern end of Port Hood Island and lesser surf hitting Shipping Point. White caps were all over the grey-hued waters in the harbour and there was some brightening to the north, which eventually turned into blue sky holes between the clouds. I noticed anew that, like Arichat, Port Hood is a split-level town with buildings both along the coast and a higher tier inland. The sun did not appear and I was tired, so I returned to the motel for a postprandial nap. I slept longer than I intended and awoke after 15h, when the sun had broken through the still mostly overcast skies. I completed and posted Thursday’s account.
I then drove to Mabou for supper at the Red Shoe, where I had a spinach salad and the catch of the day: trout and a lobster tail served with a red chili chutney, carrots, turnips, asparagus, and mashed potatoes—scrumptious!
I drove to Judique via Mabou Road through beautiful backcountry: Glencoe Station, St Ninian, and the Rear Intervale Road to Highway 19. By the time I arrived a bit before 19h, the parking lot was nearly full. I picked up the just released Glendale Festival Live CD, containing remastered music from recordings of the 1973-1979 Glendale festival: Allan Dewar did the editing and mastering of the music and Cheryl Smith did the graphics and layout. I’m very much looking forward to giving this a listen!
The tenth anniversary gala concert was held in the Judique Community Hall. After opening remarks by Allan Dewar, Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton gave us a great march/strathspeys/reels set. Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar gave us another, starting with a concert march from the newly released CD. Shelly Campbell then introduced the Féis West group she leads, consisting of the Féis participants from the west side of Cape Breton Island and the Antigonish area (the Féis East group covers the east side of the island and is led by Kimberley Fraser): three keyboard players, three guitarists, two highland bagpipers, and seven fiddlers regaled us with two fine sets of tunes. Set up last year by Mac Morin, this program introduces its youth participants to many aspects of the culture, not only music, and exposes them to mentors of the highest caliber. Kudos to those whose vision and hard work has made this program so successful. As Allan remarked after they had finished, it is clear that the music and culture are in good hands in the coming generation. The remainder of the first half of the concert was given over to the Mary Jane Lamond Band: Mary Jane Lamond, Wendy MacIsaac, Cathy Ann Porter, and Brad Davidge, who gave us six numbers: an instrumental set with Mary Jane on accordion; a milling song from the North Shore; another instrumental set with Gaelic vocals; an instrumental set from just Wendy and Brad; a gorgeous rendition of Goiridh Dòmhnallach (Jeff MacDonald) and Brian OhEadhra’s Tàladh Na Beinne Guirme (The Blue Mountain’s Lullaby); and a final Gaelic song.
Following the intermission, the concert resumed with a fine set by Glenn Graham on fiddle, Mac Morin on keyboard, and Pat Gillis on guitar, beginning with Fear a’ Bhàta that had some in the audience singng along. Next, Andrea Beaton on fiddle, accompanied by Betty Lou on keyboard and Pat on guitar, gave us another superb set to which Hailee LeFort step danced. Donna-Marie DeWolfe and Hailee on dual fiddles (usually—each played one tune solo) with Allan on keyboard played more great tunes in a fine long set. The concert ended with Nuallan: Kenneth MacKenzie, Keith MacDonald, and Kevin Dugas on highland bagpipes, Mac on keyboard, and Pat on guitar. They began with a rousing Happy Birthday in a salute to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre and continued with jigs; the next set was a jig followed by strathspeys and reels; during the third, Keith MacDonald got up to step dance and was joined by Shelly Campbell, Glenn Graham, Wendy MacIsaac, Dale Gillis, Dawn and Margie Beaton, Edna MacDonald, and Andrea Beaton all together; their last set started with Lord Lovat’s; grand playing to end a grand concert!
After it was over, I chatted with friends and then drove back to the Red Shoe in Mabou, where Ian MacDougall and Hilda Chiasson were two hours into their cèilidh there. Joined by friends who had also come from the Judique concert, we enjoyed Ian and Hilda’s great playing for their final hour as we chatted between sets. It is so wonderful to have Ian back on the Island—he was away out west a few years ago—and once again playing regularly. Great too have a chance for a good chat with Pat Gillis and Kate MacInnis who arrived from the Judique concert along with many of the other performers there. After thanking Ian and Hilda, I drove back under starry skies to the motel in Port Hood and was soon fast asleep after a fabulous day in Cape Breton.
Saturday, 11 June — Port Hood
I awoke a bit after 9h30 to a glorious day: mild, sunny, bright, and made for photography. I had intended to catch the Doryman cèilidh, part of the Roots to Boots festival, but such days are so precious and rare that I decided to take as much advantage of this one as possible. I skipped breakfast and drove back to Colin L Drive, where the light was perfect and I began snapping pictures. I continued on to the Rear Intervale Road and took more photos there—the greens at Hillsdale and descending into Upper Southwest Mabou were stunning. More photos at Long Johns Bridge, of course, and descending “Mount Glencoe”. I saw lots of reddish-orangish-browns of newly unfurled leaves that hadn’t yet greened with chlorophyll on the interior hillsides, plentiful enough to stand out at a distance. St Joseph’s in Glencoe Mills and its long surrounding picket fence were both gleaming brilliant white in the full sun. More photos along the “Plains”, the open stretch of the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road with magnificent views to the south. At this point, a few puffy white clouds began appearing at the horizon. A really rotten patch of the road west of MacKinnon Road shocked me—it was passable, but that piece of the road hasn't been in such a primitive state in years! Most of the rest of the road was in good shape, with a few nasty, but easily avoided, potholes. And the glorious views of Skye and Campbell Mountains, bedecked in the newest of new spring finery were well worth the trip alone. With the great music on the new Glendale Festival Live CD playing in the car between stops, it was a perfect drive!
By the time I reached Whycocomagh, I was starving, so I stopped at Vi’s, where I had homemade turkey soup, a chef salad, and an egg salad sandwich, all excellent. When I left the restaurant about 12h45, the sky was littered with clouds, though the sun was still bright and the air clear. I travelled over the glorious Portage Road with its marvellous views of Whycocomagh Bay and the mountains on its far side, stopping twice for photos there: the lighting was no longer perfect, but still good. At the end of the road, I turned left and headed through Little Narrows and Hazeldale to South Cove. It had been some years since I last drove the Birch Point Road, so I decided to drive down it once again, wanting to refresh my memories of Birch Point, which I had captured in photos last year from Washabuck. (An aside: I took over 15,000 photos in Cape Breton last year and got some exceptional shots from MacKay Point, thanks to the kindness of Vincent MacLean; I have been busy working reducing them to a photo essay, which, given two unexpected trips to Cape Breton, is still in no shape to be published. Hopefully, I'll get it done by fall.) That desire nearly led to my undoing: Birch Point Road soon turned into a greasy, muddy, rutted mess punctuated with large puddles and with no plausible turn-around spot that triggered my car’s NO TRACTION light at several points along the way. But I somehow managed to reach the end of the road, where a dry spot on high ground greeted me, and I walked down to the shore, where I got some decent shots of St Patricks Channel and Northside Mountain on its far side. Some more white-knuckled driving and lots of luck got me back to South Cove without getting mired in the mud and I breathed a great sigh of relief as I arrived at St Columba Road and stopped for more photos at the cove. In Washabuck Bridge, I continued up St Columba Road and stopped at the first flagging tape I came to; this proved to be from new surveying work, not the falls I was looking for, so I continued on to the next flagging tape, which marked the short trail to the falls. Recent trail work and newly installed hand ropes allowed me to get a better view of the falls than on the previous occasions I was here. I continued along St Columba Road, which had suffered considerable damage since last fall (due to logging activities, I was later informed) and had several places filled with large chunks of grey-white stones that caused me to bottom out a couple of times. I made it to Fraser Road, which I’d not driven in a long time, and noticed some recently cleared open terrain, so I turned up there and discovered the panorama at the summit of “Washabuck Mountain” I’ve long been seeking; previously lined with trees on both sides, there were no views the last time I drove that road. Alas, the light was no longer optimal, with many clouds in the sky and haze over the water, but I took a lot of photos anyway. It was amazing to look down on the church at Highland Village and the views stretched from Boularderie Island to St Andrews Channel to Christmas Island to the Barra Strait to East Bay. It will definitely be at the top of my list of places to return to on the next perfect photography day! I drove back down to St Columba Road and drove it into to Iona Port; this portion of the road was in much better shape and I’d recommend accessing the Fraser Road views from Iona rather than Washabuck. It was now a lovely mild day (+19 (66)) as I sat admiring the views and working on Friday’s post.
About 16h, I drove to the Iona Heights Inn, where Andrea Beaton and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac were to give this afternoon’s cèilidh at the Frolic and Folk Pub and Grill there. I got a good seat and continued working on yesterday’s post until friends arrived, with whom I chatted. It was a magnificent afternoon of music filled with great tunes, including many of my favourites, beautifully played. Busy with school and super dedicated to her students, Jackie is too seldom heard these days in cèilidhs and dances, so it was a treat to be able to enjoy her beautiful keyboard accompaniments; Andrea tours the world over and is no longer regularly playing on Cape Breton Island (she now makes her home in Montréal), so it was likewise a joy to listen to her grand playing. All sorts of strathspeys and reels with waltzes and lush slow airs (one of which was new to me, perhaps a new Andrea composition) regaled the near-capacity audience. A few step dancers got up and shared their steps. About 18h50, Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton gave Andrea and Jackie a break and played as only they can for a half hour or so. Near the end of the cèilidh, a square set was danced; the music was a set of jigs and two sets of reels and the figures were, I was told, the local ones, more akin to the Sydney set than the Inverness set, though once they had a fourth figure that is no longer danced. I left about 19h50 in order to not be late for the West Mabou dance, thanking both musicians for their lovely playing.
As I drove back towards Whycocomagh, the sun was in my eyes, but clouds soon enough swallowed it up, removing that annoyance. I got to West Mabou with ten minutes to spare, where Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton (on keyboard), who had left Iona before the square set, were playing to an empty hall. They continued nearly non-stop until the first square set formed at 21h19 with six couples, growing to eight before the end of the first figure. Kinnon and Betty Lou played for the second square set, which got eleven couples. Andrea and Betty Lou played for the next two square sets, which got 25 and 23 couples, as a number of folks came in about the old starting time of 22h, swelling the crowd in the hall. Kinnon and Tracey Dares-MacNeil (on real piano) played for the next set, which had thirty couples. Kinnon and Betty Lou (on keyboard) played for the final square set, with Andrea joining them on the last two figures; seventeen couples were in this square set. No step dance sequence occurred tonight, alas, though the dancers in the square sets were stepping it off quite enthusiastically. It was a great dance and I was delighted to see the West Mabou dances continuing and thriving. Long may they do so!
After thanking the musicians and chatting with friends, I drove back to Port Hood and was instantly asleep. What an absolutely marvellous day!
Sunday, 12 June — Port Hood
I got up at 9h to a grey overcast, windy, cool (+11 (52)) day. I completed and posted Friday's account and had tea and an apple in my room, thinking I’d have dinner at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre and not realizing that their food service doesn’t start until tomorrow. I then worked on Saturday’s post. I left for Judique at 13h on a wet road under misty, glowering skies and stood in line waiting for the doors to open with a gaggle of other shivering people in the raw wind.
Today’s cèilidh was a Super Cèilidh, with three fiddlers instead of the usual one, the closing celebration of the Centre’s tenth anniversary. After welcoming remarks by Allan Dewar, the cèilidh got underway with Glenn Graham on fiddle, Allan on keyboard, and Pat Gillis on guitar playing a great driving ten-minute set. Glenn then started a jig and a square set with ten couples in two groups formed immediately; the second figure had a tune new to me, as did the third figure; his driving playing is a dancer’s delight! As he had done on Friday night, Glenn next played Fear a’ Bhàta, slow, loving, and lush, then went into strathspeys and reels, during which a teen-aged lad, Jay MacDonald from the Antigonish area, a cousin of Jenny MacKenzie and taught by the Pellerin brothers, gave us some superb steps, as did Glenn’s mother, Mary Graham. Andrea Beaton then took over the fiddle from Glenn and started a jig; again, ten couples instantly took the floor and the second square set was under way. Andrea’s phrasing was the epitome of danceability, with both lilt and drive. She followed with a waltz that brought seven couples to the floor. Another jig set brought eleven couples up for the third square set, which was just a bit slower to form. Shelly Campbell joined Andrea making dual fiddles and they played a long series of strathspeys during which Jay again step danced as did Edna MacDonald. Andrea stepped down and Shelly played a jig set, resulting in the fourth square set with thirteen couples; what super playing for a super cèilidh! A lovely, lush air gave way to strathspeys and reels that were perfection itself. Glenn made a fine presentation of a memento to AJ Campbell for his many years of great loyalty to and love of the music. Glenn, Andrea, and Shelly all joined forces on stage and played a fantastic set during which Siobhan Beaton step danced. Troy MacGillivray, who had just arrived home from Ireland, joined the other three fiddlers on stage for the fifth square set of the afternoon, this one with fifteen couples; the capacity crowd, composed mostly of locals, was clearly in a dancing mood! Once the dancers left the floor, the fiddlers kept on playing and eventually got a “diddling” chorus going in the audience. What an amazing afternoon and a most fitting finale to the tenth anniversary celebrations!
After chatting with friends and thanking the musicians and staff, I drove to the Red Shoe in Mabou where Wendy MacIsaac and Mac Morin were well into their cèilidh there. The Shoe too was at capacity when I arrived along with several at the Judique cèilidh, but a lot of come-from-aways soon left, freeing up tables; friends invited me to sit with them at the best seat in the house. Famished, I ordered dinner as soon as I was seated: a spinach salad and the Maple Curry Beef Tips (sliced striploin tips, sautéed mixed vegetables in a creamy Madras curry and Canadian maple sauce, served over penne pasta)—I normally go for seafood in Cape Breton, but this dish, new this year at the Shoe, had been highly recommended to me and I was very glad to have tried it. As I ate and after I had finished, more fantastic music followed, played by two of the very best, during which a few step danced, including Wendy as Mac supplied the music on the piano. Greeted by a standing ovation at the end, they continued playing well past 19h, the usual end time for the Shoe’s cèilidhs.
I stayed on chatting with my friends until about 20h30, when I drove back to the motel in Port Hood, where I read and relaxed. It had been an amazing day and, tired out, I went to bed early at 22h30 and was asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.
Monday, 13 June — Port Hood
Today was a decompression day, a time to rest and recover from the whirlwind of the past few days. When I arose about 8h30, it was a grey, cloudy day threatening rain, so I rested and relaxed instead of trying to go hiking. For brunch, I had the Sandeannies salad, a fish burger, and a glass of orange juice. When I left, some blue sky and even sun were visible through the overcast and it had warmed up to +13 (55). I returned to the motel and completed and posted Saturday’s account.
I then drove up to see friends on Rocky Ridge and had a good visit with them. Descending Rocky Ridge Road, the capricious sun lit up Hillsborough but nought else; clouds were scraping the tops of Mabou Mountain and the Cape Mabou Highlands north of the Mabou River. After taking care of an errand in Mabou, as I drove back to Port Hood, the car’s thermometer registered a very pleasant +17 (63). I caught up on the news and read and relaxed until it was time for supper.
The sun was out bright and the skies had cleared considerably as I drove back to Mabou for dinner at the Red Shoe. I had the catch of the day, pan-seared halibut with mashed potatoes, asparagus, and mixed vegetables, all fantastic. Tonight’s dinner music was provided by Christine Melanson on fiddle and piano and by Maxim Cormier on guitar. Many of the selections came from their newly released CD, Constellations, and were primarily traditional Scottish or Acadian tunes; I got a copy after they ended their performance and will give it a listen in the car this week. Hailee LeFort took over the fiddle and played a set with Christine on piano and Maxim on guitar.
After dinner, the skies had clouded up again, but I drove out to Green Point in the hopes that there might be a good sunset: it was cloudy bright at the horizon and there could have been a spectacular sunset as the sun slid down. I sat patiently in the car waiting for the appointed time to arrive, but it was soon clear no grand sunset was going to ensue, so I left and drove back to Mabou and then out the West Mabou Road to the Colindale guardrails, where the Four Points were partially lit by the sun piercing through a break in the clouds. A bit of colour showed up in the clouds overhead, but the sunset was otherwise a dud.
Back at Port Hood, I relaxed a bit and then wrote and posted Sunday's account. It was then bedtime and it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.
Tuesday, 14 June — Port Hood to Chéticamp
I got up past 8h30 and packed up, as I’m leaving for Chéticamp and then the northeast and east of the island. The skies were covered in dark grey clouds, but after breakfast at Sandeannies, some sun was breaking through. On the drive north, I listened to Christine Melanson’s CD—a couple of tracks aren't a good fit for my musical tastes, but I enjoyed the rest. As well as Maxim Cormier’s fine guitar accompaniments, there are guest accompaniments by the LeBlanc family of Prince Edward Island.
I drove down to the beach in Inverness, intending to walk the boardwalk, but ugly grey clouds were dumping a light rain when I arrived. I sat in the car waiting to see if the weather would improve, as it often does in the afternoon, and dozed off; when I awoke, it was raining harder. I read reports of Apple’s announcements at its Developers’ Conference but, with no sign of sun or an end to the showers, I left for Chéticamp at 13h50.
In Chéticamp, I drove to the Visitors’ Centre to renew my season park pass for seniors; the centre has undergone significant renovations and the exhibit area is now gone. I browsed the books in the bookstore and picked up three new ones for reading this winter. I then drove back to the village and checked into L’auberge Doucet, where I read some more and relaxed.
I had intended to dine at the All Aboard, but it is closed Tuesdays, at the moment at least, so I went to Le Gabriel instead, where I had a cup of their excellent chowder, a fine garden salad, and lobster served with rice and mixed vegetables. They are advertising themselves this year as the “Home of Big Lobster and Crab” and the smallest lobster on offer is from 1.5-2 pounds, which I ordered; the one I got was huge and looked to weigh more than two pounds. It was my first feed of lobster this year and it was superb! And filling! I saved their great shortbread for the car as I had no room left for it.
My reason for being in Chéticamp tonight was to attend the Doryman cèilidh, which featured Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Troy MacGillivray on keyboard. The early part of the cèilidh was filmed by a CBC cameraman for a piece on the Doryman; his foot was a-tapping with everyone else’s as the great tunes rolled forth from Andrea's fiddle, with fabulous accompaniments from Troy. Among the march/strathspeys/reels sets, jigs were played along with waltzes and an explicit call for step dancers, but no dancers took the floor all evening long. After a break, Troy took over the fiddle with Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard and they gave us a long and grand blast of tunes. Andrea returned with Hilda Chiasson on keyboard and played a couple more fine sets. Kinnon Beaton took over the fiddle and, with Hilda on keyboard, gave us more lovely sets. The last twenty minutes, it was Andrea on fiddle and Troy on keyboard once again. What an evening of great music! Andrea returns to Montréal tomorrow and won't be back until KitchenFest! at the start of July; she'll be missed!
I drove back to the inn and wrote and posted Monday’s account. Then, it was off to sleep with the great tunes running through my head.
Wednesday, 15 June — Chéticamp to Reserve Mines
Got up after 8h to a grey, foggy day, +9 (48), with light rain falling. Had breakfast at L’auberge and drove to Belle-Côte, where I took the East Margaree Road; some brightening overhead at Fordview and Northeast Margaree convinced me to pull into the Lakes O’Law Day Park to wait a bit to see what would happen weatherwise. As I enjoyed the pretty views, the fog lifted and even a brief spot of sun shone down, but the showers continued and the fog began returning, so I gave up and drove on to Middle River and took the Yankee Line Road to the Trans-Canada Highway. At Buckwheat Corner, I turned back onto the Cabot Trail and took the Old Margaree Road into Baddeck, where I had soup and a salad for lunch. The rain had stopped by the time I reached Baddeck and it was relatively lighter in the east. I drove to Sydney and on to Louisbourg, where I turned onto Havenside Road and followed it to the lighthouse, a very bumpy drive once it turned to gravel with some magnificent and unavoidable potholes. It remained a very grey day, but wasn’t threatening rain and had warmed up to +15 (59), so I set off down the Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail, my first hike of this trip. In spite of the fairly poor light, I took many photos. This trail, which I've hiked many times in the past, never loses its allure. I made it up the side trail to the top of the cliff and enjoyed the extra height it gives to the views; the ascent was a bit muddy, and therefore slippery, but reasonably dry—more of a problem on the way down than on the way up. The rocks along this coast predate the first appearance of life on earth and the roiling waters and the waves splashing against them constantly take one’s eye. The main trail is in top notch shape, with a fine grey crushed stone surface and sturdy boardwalks over any wet spots; it is family-friendly even for young children and I've often seen prams being pushed along the fine surface. With its ups and downs, it’s a good cardio workout for an old geezer like me, but a fit youth would think it tame. The picturesque lighthouse intrudes itself into nearly every view to the west and the islands guarding the harbour entrance and the occasional glimpses of the fortress add to the great beauty of the scene. It’s not a long trail—2 km (1.25 mi)—and is studded with benches along the way for those who want to catch their breath or contemplate the scenery; very well done interpretive panels provide background information to enhance one’s enjoyment of the trail. Highly recommended if you've never hiked it (and even if you have!).
I got back to the car a bit after 17h and drove to Reserve Mines, where I got my motel room and relaxed. Then I drove to the Governors Pub, where I once again ran into the Maine couple who have been attending the same events as I have; they asked me to sit with them and we chatted as we waited upstairs for a table to become free. I had the vegetable beef soup and butter poached halibut served over a mushroom risotto and mixed vegetables, all excellent.
Tonight’s session was led by Chrissy Crowley (it was supposed to be Ryan J MacNeil, but they switched to accommodate a change to Chrissy’s schedule); Adam Young played keyboard the first hour and Mario Colosimo for the second hour (I left a bit past 22h, so don't know who played after that). Other than Joseph MacNeil, I didn’t recognize the other players, who included a bass player, a banjo player, two guitarists, a harmonica player and several fiddlers (and perhaps others—I didn’t have the best of views from the table where I was seated). I later learned that several of the participants were from Ireland.
I returned to the motel and unwound a bit; then I wrote and posted yesterday’s account. I read a bit more and then went to bed. A very satisfying day, in spite of its poor start.
Thursday, 16 June — Reserve Mines to Bras d’Or
I arose somewhat before 9h to a greyish day with sun breaking through the clouds. Although I saw signs advertising breakfast in Sydney, I didn’t see the establishments themselves, so I drove through downtown Sydney to no avail; I found breakfast at Missy's Diner in Albert Bridge.
I backtracked a short distance to Hornes Road, which I took to Mira Gut¹; I stopped at the small park before the bridge there; the sun had gone but small pieces of blue sky were in evidence. At least there was no rain! I stopped beside the bridge at Catalone Gut for photos, where the water under the bridge was moving fast into Mira Bay, as was also the case at Mira Gut. I continued on to Main-à-Dieu (pronounced [ˈmæn.əˌdu]), where I drove to the end of the harbour road. A residence, new since last I was there, now sits at the top of the hill, removing it as a vantage point for photos; the lower area above the breakwater is still available, but the views from there don’t have the same reach. I drove on, turning down to Baleine, where some sun was again shining through the clouds; Baleine has two claims to fame: it was the first Scottish settlement in Cape Breton (under Lord Ochiltree in July 1629), but it was short-lived as the fort they built was captured by the French in October of the same year and the settlers expelled; Beryl Markham, the first person to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic Ocean crash-landed there when her motor failed (she suffered only minor injuries). Plaques commemorate both of these events. A third significance of Baleine is that it is the start of the shortest trail leading to the cape for which Cape Breton Island is named; apparently, its shore reminded early European fishermen of the coast of Brittany and the name they gave the cape was soon extended to the entire island.
From Baleine, I drove through Little Lorraine to a set of guardrails a short distance southwest of town; an access road leads off to the shore of Gooseberry Cove. I had heard a good deal about this area, but hadn’t located the road into it previously—having GPS coördinates makes a big difference! Some friendly black flies greeted me but disappeared as soon as I applied some Deep Woods Off. I wore woods boots instead of my normal hiking oxfords as I suspected the terrain would be very similar to that on the hike to Lorraine Head I took some years back—it was, but not as wet and the oxfords would have worked just fine with some care. A six minute walk from the Louisbourg Main-à-Dieu Road along the two-track-and-crown access road brings one to the head of Gooseberry Cove (I had been advised not to drive my Prius down it; other than a couple of dicey spots, I could easily have made it, but I needed the exercise anyway and was glad I had walked it). Two hills, one inland east of and beside the head of the cove and the other beside the coast above Nichols Point at the east entrance to the cove, drew my attention. I first climbed up the inland one following a pretty clear path up the hillside; there was some tricky footing for a guy whose knees are no longer eager to step high, but my walking stick was a great help and I made ’er to the top slowly but surely. It is a wonderful vantage point, offering great views in every direction. The wind, alas, was at half gale force and felt doubly cold, so I took my photos and got down off the hill as quickly as was safe. I then headed for the hill above Nichols Point, the lower portion of the hill. The path there was easier, but longer, and skirted wet terrain I didn’t have to worry about in my woods boots. The views were just as good as, if not better than, those from the inland hill and the winds were just as strong. However, the sea-side of the hill was lower than the summit and broke the wind enough I was able to enjoy myself there. Besides the immediate views of the point and cove below, one could see to Baleine to the east and to the Gabarus Wilderness Area southeast of Gabarus—the Louisbourg Lighthouse was in the west-facing views here too! It filled in a lot of gaps in my photo library and hence knowledge of this coast and I was delighted to have visited it at last. There were two bars of LTE cell phone service there (no service at all where I parked at the side of the road), which allowed me to use Google Maps to identify points of interest. I stayed hunkered down there for the better part of an hour and then reluctantly headed back. The sun came out bright a few seconds on my way back to the head of the cove, but was gone before I got my camera out, as if it were sticking its tongue out at me.
I drove back to Sydney via the Trout Brook Road and the Gabarus Highway and continued on to Bras d’Or, where I got a room at MacNeil’s Motel and relaxed a bit. This is much closer to tonight’s music than the motel in Reserve Mines where I stayed the last time I attended a Northside session. Since the Blue Mist hosts the session, I ate dinner there. I was hungry, so had the chowder, a green salad, and the special of the day, corned beef and cabbage, which came with turnips and carrots as well as boiled potatoes; the food was excellent and delicious and filling. After dinner, I worked on yesterday’s post as I waited for the session to begin.
The music started about 20h10, with Paul Cranford leading on fiddle, Mario Colosimo on piano, Larry Parks on fiddle, and three Irish players (fiddle, concertina, and banjo) who were also at last night’s session at the Governors Pub. David Papazian joined them about 20h30 and Sarah Beck a bit later; three other fiddlers I don’t know (one of whom alternated between fiddling and knitting) and a guitar player rounded out the group. About 21h15, Doug MacPhee took over piano and played a solo; the others joined in after he finished a couple of tunes. About 22h, Brenda Stubbert replaced Doug for about twenty minutes, after which Mario resumed on piano. The music alternated between Cape Breton and Irish (even when playing Cape Breton tunes on a concertina or banjo, it sounds Irish to my ears), both musics were played well and enjoyable to listen to. I left around 22h30, with the music in full swing—the session runs until midnight.
As I made the two-minute drive back to the motel, the moon was shining bright in a sky littered with white fluffy clouds, auguring well for tomorrow. At the motel, I completed and posted yesterday’s account. I read a bit and then called it a day.
Friday, 17 June — Bras d’Or to Lower South River
Last night’s moon notwithstanding, the skies that greeted me this morning were grey overcast, though an occasional break did let a bit of sun through from time to time. After filling the car with gas for today’s trip, I drove to Jane’s in Little Bras d’Or for breakfast, but it was closed, so I backtracked a bit to the Bras d’Or View beside the gas station where I had filled up and had a good breakfast there. I then picked up the Gabarus Highway on the edge of Sydney and drove it to Gabarus, with a stop for photos along the road in Big Ridge, where great views of the Mira River Valley (though not of the Mira River itself) and of the East Bay Hills on its far side are on offer. In Gabarus, I drove out to the end of the Harbour Point Road, stopping for photos of the back of Gabarus Bay on the way, to the lighthouse, which had been moved 20 m (70 ft) in from the shore since I was last there (the lady who is president of the lighthouse preservation society, whom I met while she and her husband were walking their dog, told me it would have fallen over the embankment, which collapsed further in the winter, had it not been moved last fall). A carpenter was working at restoring rotted windows and siding as I arrived; when he quit for lunch, I had a chance to talk with him: he is from Mahone Bay, but has lived in Gabarus now for several years with his wife and six children and loves it there—he finds it a great place to raise a family and, unlike so many, he is never without work. It was +11 (52) in Gabarus and still overcast, though the sunny breaks were becoming more frequent. From the lighthouse, I drove to the old palisades, now covered with more breakwater-sized boulders: the old palisades, which featured a walkway along the top, was badly breached in a storm a couple of years ago by cobblestones hurled up by the ocean. It was my impression that the depth of the accumulated large cobblestones has been reduced since my last visit; before the destruction of the palisades, they reached nearly to their top at the east end of the beach. Some sun was out, the breeze was strong and cool, and a few holes in the clouds were showing blue sky, so I took a few photos of them in case I didn’t see them again for a while.
From Gabarus, I drove the Fourchu Road along Gabarus Lake, stopping for photos as it curves around the western edge of that lovely and quite large body of water with many arms. Not far south of the lake, Belfry Road leads off to Fourchu Bay. Belfry Beach was my primary destination for today: according to the "The Nova Scotia Atlas", it sits on the far side of Belfry Gut, the combined egress of both Gabarus Lake and Belfry Lake, the western edge of which is connected to Gabarus Lake, though the beach continues as well on the west side of the Gut to the south on a long spit of land beginning at the Gut. On my previous visits to the area, I had explored the piece of Belfry Lake that abuts MacCormicks Point, to the north of the beach, and the area beside the Gut. Since there is no way to cross the fast-moving waters in Belfry Gut short of swimming or a boat, I confined my exploration today to the long spit, which I had never before walked. The system of coastal waters inland of the spit and the series of barrier islands south of the spit is complex and unnamed in the The Nova Scotia Atlas, but many of those waters enter Fourchu Bay through an egress at the southern end of the spit, about 1.5 km (0.9 mi) from Belfry Gut. For the most part, this beach is composed of fine brown sand, with occasional admixtures of gravel; it is a popular swimming and sun-bathing spot for those few who know of it in high summer. I walked along the beach to the end of the spit, taking photos at many points along the way—the views reach from Winging Point to Fourchu Head and one is as close here to Guyon Island as it’s possible to get on land without crossing Belfry Gut. Since the tide was out, I was able to walk most of the way on the hard-packed sand near the water rather than on the cobblestones further inland or the loose sand on top of the spit, both of which are much harder to traverse. The strong wind was at my back going south and some sun and blue sky were most welcome; it was a more difficult trek back towards the Gut, but the sun helped a lot (for once). From the Gut, I followed an inland road back to the car, which I had parked near the end of Belfry Road (beware of driving all the way to the end of the road, as it becomes covered with loose and deep sand as it reaches the dunes, a good place to get stuck). All told, the Trails app on my iPhone said I’d walked 4.1 km (2.5 mi), the great majority of which was on sand, my longest hike of the week.
I reached the car at 15h17 and drove south through the wild and nearly empty coast, passing through Fourchu, St-Esprit, and L’Archevêque, with a quick side trip to the horseshoe-shaped harbour there (the fishermen had all left for the day, so no one was around), and on to Grand River, where I took the Soldiers Cove Road back to Highway 4. I continued through St Peter's and crossed the Canso Causeway bridge at 17h, arriving in Lower South River outside Antigonish at 17h32, where I got a motel room for the night.
Famished from the day’s efforts, I had a huge supper at Pipers Pub in Antigonish: a bowl of chowder, a large house salad, and Italian sausage with penne (they were out of haddock, which had been on special). I then drove to Maryvale, where I worked on yesterday’s post as I waited for the dance to start at 21h.
Tonight’s music was provided by Glenn Graham on fiddle and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on piano, who were doing a sound check as I entered the building. Five square sets were danced, with from eleven to nineteen couples, progressively growing as the night went on. A waltz set got four couples up and the step dance sequence brought John Pellerin, a lady whose name I don’t know, Mary Graham, and John Robert Gillis to the floor to share their great steps. Just before the break for “tea”, a feature of the Maryvale dances, John Pellerin took the fiddle and played with Jackie for another waltz that got four couples up and then another set of tunes, which had three couples up round dancing; I don’t often get to hear John’s fine playing, so this was an especial treat. I was still way too full to partake of the lavish tea, but I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with several of the attendees, including Elizabeth Beaton’s brother. The music was, it goes without saying, superb all night long and I had a great time watching the avid dancers out on the floor, feeling the building shake to their synchronized steps.
I drove back to Lower South River under a bright moonlit night and completed and posted Thursday’s account. I climbed into bed about 1h50 after a most enjoyable day.
Saturday, 18 June — Lower South River to Port Hood
What a marvellous day greeted me when I arose before 9h: sunny with a pure blue sky and a balmy (for this trip) +19 (66)! I had a banana, strawberry yogurt, cold cereal with milk, and an orange juice at the motel, not because I was especially hungry, but because it came with the room.
I then drove down South Side Harbour Road, the first time I had done so; it travels along a high ridge with superb views of the highlands surrounding Antigonish and of Antigonish Harbour below, formed jointly by the West and South Rivers; the road ends at Dunns Beach, though I turned around just before that point to avoid driving through a wet area; a few wharves where fishermen were working would have been an easier spot at which to turn around. It was a very picturesque drive, a study in blues from the sky and water and greens from the vegetation and especially the grasses of the many open fields and lawns.
Since, as I discovered, South Side Harbour Road does not lead into Antigonish, I returned as I came and drove into Antigonish via the usual way, Highway 4. About 35 minutes later, I was at Cape George, having followed Highway 337 through Lanark, Morristown, and the Lakevales. Some small amounts of haze obscured some views of Cape Breton from the lighthouse, but it was surprisingly clear, more so than on any of my previous trips there, and I could see many details with just my eyeglasses. I trained “Big Bertha” on the scenery and took as many photos as the camera batteries allowed (I had failed to remember the two previous nights to charge the battery I depleted at Louisbourg and the cold weather at Gooseberry Cove and Belfry Beach had taken its toll on the other one, but today’s warm weather had restored it enough to suffice). Past Sight Point, I trusted neither my eyes nor the camera’s optics: what I saw there appeared to be mirages. But the rest of the scenery was crystal clear through the camera lens. I was amazed at how huge and flat Cape Mabou appeared, dominating the southwestern end of Cape Breton Island. Clouds had started appearing about 11h, but not enough to change the bright hues of the reflecting waters. I am hopeful that at least a few of the photos I took will turn out well. I drove back to Antigonish via Livingstone Cove, Morar, Georgeville, and Malignant Cove, all along the Northumberland coast, and Maryvale and North Grant on Highway 245, a lovely trip on a gorgeous day.
At the Maryvale dance last night, I learned of a cèilidh at the Pipers Pub this afternoon that I did not know about when I made my original schedule (I had planned on attending the Iona cèilidh). Since I was already in Antigonish, I decided to take it in. It was a CACL (Canadian Association for Community Living) fundraiser with several musicians who donated their playing to the cause. Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton first played a set of jigs with no takers; Kinnon then played Andrea Beaton’s Buddy Memories from her new CD and followed it with strathspeys and reels; another set of jigs still got no takers; after another blast of fine tunes with several key changes, they gave the stage over to Glenn Graham and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac. By this point, the critical mass of dancers had arrived and their first set turned into the afternoon’s first square set, danced by 9 couples. A waltz attracted one couple to the floor and it segued into strathspeys and reels during which a step dancer whose name I do not know showed his steps. Rodney MacDonald and Betty Lou then replaced Glenn and Jackie and the second square set formed, growing to nine couples in the third figure. A set of strathspeys and reels brought two people out to step dance. Kinnon returned to the stage, this time with Jackie on the keyboard, and played for the third square set, this one danced by six couples. After the 50/50 draw and a draw for a hanging basket, Rodney and Glenn on dual fiddles and Allan Dewar on keyboard played a set of tunes, a waltz drawing one couple, and the fourth square set, with Kinnon joining them in the third figure, which was danced by 7 couples. The three hours of great music passed quickly: fine playing by all! I had a supper of a house salad and a fine fillet of haddock (the supply of which had been replenished overnight) and then chatted with Allan and two of his friends to whom he introduced me. I then drove to Port Hood, got my motel room, and, still a bit hungry, had a hamburger at The Bus, a mobile take-out on Main Street. I drove to the guardrails on the Colindale Road and took some photos of the Four Points and of West Mabou Beach in the declining sun (no spectacular sunset because there were few clouds).
The dance tonight at West Mabou featured Joe MacMaster, who still has one more year of high school to complete, on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton, his great aunt, on keyboard. Joe has only been playing for a couple of years, but he is already a very fine fiddler. He played several sets of jigs and a few other genres until the crowd was finally big enough to form a square set at 21h40 that grew to six couples. The second square set had nine couples in the third figure. Joey Beaton replaced Betty Lou for the third square set, which got eleven couples in the third figure. Betty Lou returned for the fourth square set, which got ten couples and featured Joe’s younger brother Matthew on bodhràn during the first figure only. Joe handed the fiddle to Kinnon Beaton, who, with Betty Lou, played for the fifth square set, attracting thirteen couples. Joe returned and got no takers for his jigs, so he switched briefly to cèilidh tunes and then played for a step dance sequence, which brought four young step dancers to the floor, of whom I can positively identify only Amanda MacDonald—though I have seen the other three often, my head hasn't yet been able to associate their names with their faces. A final waltz brought three couples out to dance. I greatly enjoyed Joe’s fine playing and choice of tunes, which included many of my favourites.
It was a lovely drive back to Port Hood under a full moon and a sky full of stars, though it was a bit chilly: +7 (45). Tired, I immediately went to bed and to sleep.
Sunday, 19 June — Port Hood
I got up at 9h45 and wasn’t particularly hungry, so decided to skip breakfast. I wrote and posted Friday’s account. I then drove to Judique via the Dunmore, Mabou, and Rear Intervale Roads. Once inside, I worked on Saturday’s account, but didn’t get far before friends arrived with whom I chatted.
Today’s cèilidh had Troy MacGillivray on fiddle accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboard, a fantastic combination of players! The first two sets were long cèilidh sets, lasting ten and fourteen minutes, played with lift, drive, and grace. As the music played, I had my first meal of the day, a green salad and the “Cape Bretoner’s Lunch”, a cup of fantastic chowder, a fish cake with green tomato chow, and a haddock taco with a sauce with a nice kick. A set of jigs brought six couples out for the first square set; Troy’s sister, Sabra, and very young niece, Ruby, danced parts of this set with Iain MacDonald, Sabra’s husband and Ruby’s father, as a “couple”, an interesting attempt that worked surprisingly well. With Cheryl Smith on snare drums joining Troy and Allen, we were treated to another great set, lasting fifteen minutes, that was beyond awesome. They continued playing for the second square set, with eight couples in two groups; Sabra and Ruby danced the second figure only, making nine couples for it. Beginning with a waltz that brought one couple out to dance, and followed by strathspeys and reels, the latter brought Sabra and Maureen Fraser (from Antigonish) out to share some pretty amazing steps during the seventeen-minute set! The third square set then got eight enthusiastic couples. Troy turned the fiddle over to Donna-Marie DeWolfe and she and Allan played a couple of fine sets. With Troy back on fiddle, a waltz set brought seven couples to the floor. Nine couples danced the fourth square set; after it finished, Troy kept playing and went straight into a call for step dancers, which was answered by Mac Morin and Hailee LeFort.
After thanking the musicians and chatting with friends, I headed off through the backcountry to the Red Shoe (it’s shorter and nearly as fast with a lot less traffic), where Glenn Graham and Joël Chiasson were well into their cèilidh when I arrived. While I was there, Harvey MacKinnon, Mary Graham, Rodney MacDonald, and Dale Gillis all step danced; a square set was also danced with four couples, a feat as there’s not much room between the tables and the players. A young lady from Halifax whose name I was told is Meagan Mann, relieved Glenn, and played a few sets with Joël in the Cape Breton style; she was quite good. Glenn returned and finished off the cèilidh with more great sets; his playing is just so perfect for dancing (and listening)!
After the cèilidh, I had the Red Shoe’s meatloaf, about which I’d heard many good things but which I had never tried before; served with mashed potatoes, a tasty onion gravy, asparagus spears, and a vegetable medley, it was delicious. I spoke with two ladies seated beside me from Washington State; it was their first trip to Cape Breton and they had several questions I was able to answer. I chatted with several friends and took a group photo AJ Campbell requested and got another of Pat Gillis and Kate MacInnes.
After leaving the Shoe, I drove to the Government Wharf in Port Hood to watch the sunset; clouds at the horizon made a colourful show as the sun set and I practiced my weak sunset photography skills.
Back at the motel, I relaxed a while and then finished and posted Saturday’s account, by which time I was ready for bed.
Monday, 20 June — Port Hood to Pleasant Bay
I got a good night’s sleep, so I was up earlier than usual at 8h. It was another lovely day, sunny, warm, and bright—maybe summer has arrived in fact as well as by date? I wasn’t hungry, so I drove north without breakfast, intending to stop at the Belle View in Belle-Côte, which wasn’t yet open for the day when I arrived. I gassed up in Belle-Côte and drove on to Chéticamp. I still wasn’t hungry, but I knew I would be famished after the hike I had planned, so I stopped at the Évangéline and had breakfast.
I then drove out Barren Road and turned onto Chemin Damase, where I found great wide views of the Cape Breton Highlands from the hill before reaching Chéticamp Back Road; I had often driven this route in the past, but always in the opposite direction, so they came as a surprise. I stopped for photos of the ever-glorious highlands; some utility wires were in the way, but they were easily avoided. A lot of construction is underway on the Cabot Trail north of Chéticamp. The rest area at La Grande Falaise is closed and traffic is rerouted there to allow construction of a new bridge. Erosion continues to eat away at the coast above La Bloc, which is now being blasted to make room for a road bed further inland.
I turned into the campground at Rivière-à-Lazare (Corney Brook), which, surprisingly wasn’t closed to non-campers as it usually is. (It is delightful to see the original local names of natural features now appearing on Park signage, if only in one of the official languages.) After touring the short campground road for the first time, I parked across from the trail head beside the Cabot Trail. A Bailey bridge has been placed across the brook beside the old bridge, which traffic continues to use; I assume traffic will be rerouted to use the Bailey bridge later this summer. I walked out on the bridge and took some photos from it; it was not the best of vantage points, but I saw parts of the brook at its mouth I hadn’t previously.
It had been several years since I last hiked the trail beside the Rivière-à-Lazare and my memories were a bit hazy. Because I had more recently done the Skyline Trail and because some haze was present in water views, I chose this trail on this beautiful sunny day. Many varied views of the winding brook are available from all along the trail, which skirts the southern end of French Mountain beside or, at some points, as much as 30 m/yards above the sweetly singing brook. The trail traverses a beautiful Acadian hardwood forest and, after crossing a small unnamed side brook and twice crossing the Rivière-à-Lazare, it reaches the end of the box canyon 3.25 km (2 mi) from its start at a lovely three-stage waterfall, pouring down the wall of French Mountain (the upper stage is angled differently from the other two, so be sure to keep going past the lower two—if you've made it this far, you can climb another 50 m/yds to see the upper one). Once a short distance in from the Cabot Trail, there is no cell phone service. Several benches are strategically placed along the trail, including at the falls. The trail tread varies from dirt to gravel to stones and tree roots, but is well maintained. My memory of this hike was of a relatively flat course rising sharply at its end, but, in fact, it constantly climbs up through the canyon, ascending 140 m (460 ft) over its course; my older body was doing much more huffing and puffing than I had anticipated! It took me well over four hours for the hike today (the park signage suggests two hours suffices), with constant pauses on the way in to recover my breath and many stops for photos. The trail was not the herd path Skyline so often is, but, along the way, I did meet three couples and a dog accompanying a group of four in which a father was carrying his young daughter on his shoulders. Although I did apply bug dope before I left, the strong breeze coursing through the canyon kept any insects that might have been there away, as well as dissipating the heat my body generated on this warm day. I had a great time and will remember the beauty of this hike long after the bodily complaints are past.
After the hike, I continued north on the Cabot Trail and ran into a great mess on MacKenzies Mountain, where the pavement is gone from the Boarsback to the uppermost look-off, with lots of active construction and construction vehicles; a follow-me truck guides one through the mess, but I got hung up behind a waiting dump truck and, after it moved aside, encountered a couple of trucks coming at me before I got to the end of the guided area. I stopped at the third look-off for photos and discovered I was missing my left eyeglass lens and then that the frames were broken near the left earpiece—I have no idea where that might have happened nor how. I used an old pair of glasses I keep in the dash to drive the rest of the way into Pleasant Bay and will continue to use them until I get home and can get the broken ones replaced.
I got a room at the Mid-Trail Motel, where I stayed last fall, and enjoyed (and photographed) the grand views from the deck outside my room. There is no cell phone service in Pleasant Bay, a cause of considerable local discontent, but wi-fi worked, if rather slowly. Although I had an excellent meal at the motel’s restaurant last fall, I drove back to the Rusty Anchor for dinner: bacon-wrapped scallops, Rusty’s salad with creamy maple dressing, and the lobster dinner; it was a much smaller lobster, about half the size of the one at Le Gabriel and only four dollars cheaper. After dinner, I returned to the motel and took some more photos; it was getting cooler, so I came inside, even though it was still light enough to read outside at 21h40! I wrote and posted Sunday’s account and, tired from the hike, went to sleep earlier than normal. What a great day!
Tuesday, 21 June — Pleasant Bay to Cape North Village
I awoke a bit past 8h to a warm, breezy, sunny day with lots of clouds promising rain; indeed, it was misting as I crossed the parking lot to the motel restaurant for breakfast. I then drove over North Mountain to Cape North Village, continued south on the Cabot Trail to the Paquette Lake Road, and drove it to its end. On the east side of North Mountain, it was sunny with summery white clouds promising no rain, +25 (77), and breezy and humid.
I had intended today to hike to the Glasgow Lakes Look-off, which has long been on my hiking to-do list, but apparently that hike no longer officially exists—mention of it has been expunged on the Parks Canada web site, though the signage at Paquette Lake has not been similarly updated. Instead, the trail now leads to Mica Hill and paper maps show it to be under construction. Having photographed both the old and the new trail maps for subsequent reference, I set off from the parking lot. I immediately encountered a short side trail to the lake, a lovely tarn beaming in the sun. I then set off up the main trail, a world-class hiking path 2m wide with a crushed stone/gravel surface in beautiful condition. It climbs very smartly over its first kilometre and left me winded at several points. The hardwood forest at Paquette Lake soon gives way to evergreens, initially full-grown, but soon becoming stunted and opening up wide views of South Mountain and the Cape North Massif across Aspy Bay. The first observation platform is 1 km (0.6 mi) along the trail, having gained 47 m (155 ft) in elevation from the lake, though it felt like much more. The fine views were well worth the effort, however, and the “stunted taiga”, as the park’s description has it, was everywhere at hand, not much more than knee-high, adding its greens to the scenery, with very occasional larger trees that stood out from the rest. White stones mark off sections of the older trail route, still visible, replaced by new rerouted sections; thinking I’d save myself a few steps on the return, I took one old section and found it rocky, wet, much harder walking, and no shorter. Once past the first observation platform, the trail levels off considerably, continuing on a general southwest course inland and passing three more observation platforms, the last one 2.2 km (1.4 mi) from the lake and only 10 m (33 ft) higher than the first; it has the best views of any of the platforms as one can see all of the Massif from Wilkie Sugar Loaf to Money Point along with a piece of Aspy Bay. And at this point the world-class trail ends abruptly. A trail scratched in the terrain continues off towards one of the adjacent hills and soon brings one to one of the old trail sections; it presumably leads to the Glasgow Lakes Look-off, but is clearly marked as no longer maintained and a small blue sign with a hiker symbol points along the scratched trail. A wet spot occurs soon after leaving the fourth observation platform where a rill runs down to a small pond below. The scratched trail continues for another 2 km (1.25 mi), climbing another 80 m (260 ft) as it ascends Mica Hill; two sets of stairs, two boardwalks, and a bridge assist crossing what would otherwise be very troublesome spots (impossible for me)—as it was, it was a very tiring hike for me with much rougher going, requiring some high stepping, than I expected from a park trail, though, to be fair, it is under construction and its state will presumably be eventually brought up to the standard of the first part of the trail. But the views from the summit of Mica Hill, obviously named for the outcrops of mica and quartz lying all around, are fantastic: a 360° panorama across the barrens on South Mountain from Cape Smokey around to Money Point, with views of Mica Hill Lake lying below. A hiking couple from Ontario and their dog arrived on the summit shortly after I did. We chatted briefly and the lady, carrying a very long-lensed camera that puts “Big Bertha” to shame, started taking photos. It had gotten significantly cloudier and even looked to be threatening rain, which won't have helped our photos any. We were all a bit perplexed to locate the path back down: the sparse signage was not clear, pointing in two directions, but eventually the lady stumbled onto it and we all started down. I made no attempt to keep up with them, who were much younger and a lot more fit; they were back on the fine trail before I had gotten halfway down Mica Hill. The breeze became more sporadic and deer flies enjoyed buzzing around my head, even with a new application of bug dope, which was, however, enough to repel the black flies that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I was some happy when I reached the good trail again with its easy walking. The breeze returned, the rain-promising clouds disappeared, and the sun was out bright once more as I slowly made my way past the observation platforms, tired but happy. It then began clouding up for fair, promising rain, which arrived as I reached the car. The total distance was 8.3 km (5.1 mi). I saw several moose droppings on the trail but the only animal I encountered was a rabbit who ran across the trail ahead of me near the lake; I saw several birds of various kinds, including a pigeon-sized bird who ran off the trail into the brush.
I drove back to Cape North Village and got a motel room at MacDonald’s. I took a bath and relaxed. I had dinner at Angie's, just down the road: the chowder was good and very thick; the fisherman’s platter had shrimp, scallops, and haddock, all delicious; I had a green salad instead of potatoes. I was some thirsty: I asked the lad who was my server for a pitcher of water and drank nearly all of it by the end of the meal.
I returned to the motel and wrote and posted Monday’s account and then went immediately to bed. I am some blessed to be able at my age to still get around, albeit slowly, and see the things I have seen this day!
Wednesday, 22 June — Cape North Village
I slept like a log last night and awoke past 8h30 to a mild (+17 (63)), mostly grey day, with haze and some blue sky and even some sun. I ate the two bananas I had in the car, but, in spite of the fine meal last night at Angie’s, I was still hungry, so I went looking for breakfast. It didn’t prove easy to find. Danena’s in South Harbour was closed, so I took the White Point Road, beautifully resurfaced since last I drove it, and continued to Neils Harbour, where the Chowder House was closed until noon (I didn’t really expect them to be open in the morning). A new bridge by the hospital outside of Neils Harbour is mostly done; a new bridge over Black Brook is under construction and partly done, but the old bridge is still in use; a new bridge over Warren Brook is also underway, with the old one still in use. The Coastal Restaurant in Ingonish was closed until 12h, but the Bean Barn Café, new to me, was open. I had a fruit salad and beans and fish cakes and orange juice, stifling my hunger somewhat.
I then drove to the wharf in North Ingonish Harbour and parked there; my body was absolutely unwilling to contemplate any physical activity today and told me so in no uncertain terms. So, I watched the fishermen come in to the wharf, some trailing a cloud of gulls waiting expectantly for left-over bait to be dumped and then scrambling it for it as it hit the water. The amazing scenery beginning with Cape Smokey looming over Middle Head and the long arc of highlands behind the several Ingonishes took my eye in between times. Lots of haze lay over the highlands under patches of blue sky and occasional sun. I dozed off and on and finally shrugged off my lethargy and drove to Mary Ann Falls, where I walked the 200 m (0.1 mi) to the bridge over Mary Ann Brook and then down the stairs beside the falls, where I took photos of the falling waters. I laboriously climbed back up the stairs, my legs and knees complaining all the way and walked out to the belvédère that offers the best view of the falls of all and took more photos there; it’s amazing how many folks don’t bother to visit it—though it’s not especially well marked until one reaches the end of the trail, simple curiosity led me to see what else was along the trail; surprising, too, how many walk by the brook without stopping to listen to its gentle gurgles and explore the short trails there (I contented myself today with just listening from one of the picnic tables). Not a lot of water was flowing in the brook, and the falls were not as full as the last time I was there, though they were quite beautiful nonetheless. Some black flies, not particularly hungry, convinced me to return to the car. It had warmed up considerably by this time—the car’s thermometer read +24 (75) and was a reasonably nice day when I reached Warren Lake. Although the trail around the lake is pretty flat, my legs said No Way, so I admired the lake, so similar to many Adirondack Mountain lakes, and then headed back to Neils Harbour, where I had a late lunch of a green salad and crab cakes, both superb, at the Chowder House. As I was finishing lunch, fog started rolling in over the coast south of Neils Harbour and over the village itself and the temperature had plunged back to its morning levels by the time I reached the car. There was little fog in New Haven, but it closed off all the views from the White Point Road as I drove back to South Harbour and had soon spread up the slopes of South Mountain.
I had tried a few times during the afternoon to get in touch with the lady who runs the Meat Cove Lodge, but got no answer, so I decided to stay another night in Cape North Village, as I was too tired to drive to Meat Cove and not be sure of a room there and then finding MacDonald’s full up when I got back (it was already quite busy, in part from road crews). I relaxed a while in my room and then drove to Angie’s for dinner; I was shocked to find them closed on Wednesdays—I should have paid attention to the business hours sign on the door! Short of driving back to Ingonish in the fog, there weren’t a lot of choices, so I went across the road to the Country Market and ordered two cheeseburgers from their take-out; they took twenty minutes to make, but they are among the largest burgers I've ever eaten and were cooked on a gas grill to perfection. Not the seafood I had in mind, but excellent all the same. I ate them in my motel room and then wrote and posted Tuesday’s account. Still tired, I was off to bed early. Not a really exciting day, but it was all my body would hear of.
Thursday, 23 June — Cape North Village to Meat Cove
Bright sunlight was streaming through closed curtains when I got up a bit before 8h; there were a good number of clouds, some dark grey, and fog streamers hung onto the sides of the highlands. I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I drank a bottle of orange juice in my room.
As I drove out towards Bay St Lawrence, haze still hung on South Mountain and low fog was against the land around Aspy Bay to the south. The highlands to the left of the road from Cape North Village to Cabot Landing Provincial Park were crystal clear, with no hint of fog nor haze, and were accordingly stunningly beautiful and photogenic against the pure blue sky; light haze made the highlands much less crisp from the park to Money Point. Lobster boats were out servicing their traps and a mother and her young child were beach walking, the only other folks at the park when I was. I drove into Bay St Lawrence to what used to be St Andrews United Church, no longer active (its parishioners attend the church in Aspy Bay I later learned) and took photos there to fill a lacuna in my collection I discovered last winter. From Bay St Lawrence, I continued on to Meat Cove and got a room for the night at the Meat Cove Lodge, where a horde of butterflies, eastern tiger swallowtails I learned later, were flitting every which way in the driveway. The Welcome Centre is not serving food and likely won't again this summer, though the building will be open during the days for beverages and information. I had a good chat with Derek and let him know I'll be attending the fundraiser lobster boil at the Welcome Centre on Sunday, 10 July. At his suggestion, I drove down to the beach—the road is now at least driveable in my Prius if not in the best of condition—and took photos there: as he had said, it is very pretty indeed this year.
By then, I was getting hungry, so I drove to Bay St Lawrence for lunch. A bus load of people (literally) were in the Bay Café finishing up, but still occupying all the tables, so I ordered a green salad and a hamburger for take-out and ate them in the marina, watching lobster boats arrive at the wharf. Grey, rain-laden clouds began moving in from Aspy Bay along Bay Valley Road; the sun stayed out, but the blue sky was fast disappearing. On my way to the marina, I noticed that The Hut, an excellent take-out place, was open and offering lobster or clam rolls, so I stopped and got a lobster roll for supper. I then stopped at the Coöp for provisions for supper tonight and the hike I hoped to make tomorrow. I returned to Meat Cove, with stops along the way for photos and spent the rest of the afternoon on the deck by the brook relaxing and resting.
After supper (I added some oven-baked potato chips to the delicious lobster roll, chock full of lobster meat, and accompanied it with two glasses of skim milk, an apple, a granola bar, and a packet of raisins), I wrote Wednesday’s account. I drove to the campground to post it because the cell phone signal is too weak at the Lodge and there is no wi-fi. The sky was pure blue once again and looking good for tomorrow. The Chowder Hut had a Closed sign on it, so there is currently no food service in Meat Cove. Around 20h back at the Lodge, I was stunned by a hard rain that lasted a half hour; it was not now looking so good for tomorrow, though the skies cleared once again after the squall blew past: will have to see what the morning brings. I was relaxing inside with a cup of tea when a couple arrived to claim their room and went out to walk around the village at twilight (the holders of the third room had cancelled earlier). When they got back, they unloaded their car and started supper; I retired early at 22h so as to be able to get an early start tomorrow if conditions are favourable and was soon fast asleep.
Friday, 24 June — Meat Cove to Margaree Forks
Joyeuse fête nationale à tous mes amis québécois! Happy St Jean-Baptiste Day to all my Québec friends!
At 5h30, sunny blue skies with thin white fluffy clouds lay above Meat Cove; it was breezy and a tad cool on my skin when I stepped outside. It therefore looked to be a good day for the hike I had hoped to make up Grey Mountain, the companion mountain that lies southwest of Bear Hill (Bear Mountain locally) and separated from it by a col containing a great look-off above the Bear Hill Escarpment on the Cape St Lawrence Trail. After breakfast at the Lodge (hot oatmeal, milk, tea, raisins, and a granola bar), I drove to the end of the Meat Cove Road and parked beside the start of the Cape St Lawrence/Lowland Cove Trail.
At 6h53, I started up the mountain, beginning at an altitude of 82 m (270 ft). The trail up the mountain, which I have come to know well over the years, is often rocky and requires me to pay close attention to my feet; it is also steep and a real challenge for my lungs. The two recent hikes in the Park were good conditioning and the glorious morning made the hard slog easier, as I passed through the section with backward views of Black Point, reached the cattle gate (open and in a bad state of disrepair), the turn at the Meat Cove Look-Off Trail head (now unsigned), the long wet section where water runs down the trail (flowing smartly from last night’s rain), the entrance to the corral at the old Fraser homestead, and the final twisty section to the “summit” (actually somewhat below the top of the “Western Wall” of highlands rising above the Meat Cove Brook), where I arrived at 8h32, only about five minutes longer than my best time ever. The altitude there is 262 m (860 ft) and the distance is 1.9 km (1.2 mi) from the trail head, so you can gauge my slow climbing speed accordingly.
Alas, the level walking at the “summit”, with only tree-shrouded views of the area to the west and north, is very short lived, as the trail almost immediately starts down again and, about five minutes later, forks, the Lowland Cove Trail going straight and the Cape St Lawrence Trail, which I took, going to the right. That trail starts down and continues down pretty smartly on a varying tread of stones, gravel/dirt, grass, and needles/roots, the rocky sections slow going and the others easy going. Shortly after I arrived at the first view of Bear Hill through the trees, I came upon a tan/grey pigeon-sized bird with yellow markings making open diamond shapes on its back and wings, trying, I assumed, to lead me away from its nest; I have no idea what it was and don’t recall ever seeing anything like it. I stopped for photos at each of the two ponds on the way, the second just before the look-off, where I arrived at 9h58. I also took photos there; it has been nicely cleared off and wider than I remembered it. The lobster boat off shore, whose sound I’d been hearing on the way down the trail, hove into view.
The sign for the Grey Mountain Trail that was there when the trail was first cut was gone and it took me several minutes of wandering along the Cape St Lawrence Trail (the Grey Mountain Trail begins a few metres/yards before reaching the look-off) and searching in the fern-covered area west of the trail before I spotted the first of the red paint blazes that mark the path up Grey Mountain. It is badly overgrown and appears to not have been recently used, so following the blazes is essential for the ascent. The terrain underneath the ferns is mostly dirt with rocks that help stabilize it but make for tricky footing because they are invisible below the vegetation. Once one is part way up the slope, which is very steep, the trail becomes much easier to see and follow. It levels off, relatively speaking—there are plenty of ups and downs—once one is at the top. Great views of Cape St Lawrence and its coastal plain are available about halfway across the mountain. It’s 900 m (0.6 mi) from the Cape St Lawrence Trail to the western end of Grey Mountain, where the trail drops down to a rocky outcropping forming a natural belvédère, ending with a fantastic wide vista of the watershed of French Brook, ranging from the “Western Wall” around to Lowland Cove and “Tittle Hill” (the hill behind Tittle Point), with views of the Gulf beyond. Alas, when I arrived there at 11h22, the skies were mostly grey and a rain cloud hung over the valley of French Brook and continued inland over the “Western Wall”; no sun was out and the blue sky was mostly gone. The altitude at the belvédère is 236 m (775 ft), so it is exposed to the full force of the cool and damp wind, though it kept the bugs away; I put on my hoodie and was comfortable as I ate a lunch of a sub and a granola bar, whilst enjoying the views. It looked as if there might be some sun if one were patient, so I waited as the fast-moving clouds cleared away. It was lovely to see Lowland Cove and Lowland Point once again, even if from afar; by 11h41, sun was out on Grey Mountain and all over the valley below, though with some slight haze; fog streamers started appearing over the highlands to the west inland of Lowland Cove and I began to worry about being on a fog-covered Grey Mountain trying to find the blazes on my way back! A tannish brown bird, likely a juvenile eagle, flew up from below and had a look at me on two passes—sadly, I didn’t get a picture either time. The sun came out strong again and it was a lovely day once more, enough so I really didn’t want to head back. It had taken me 4h30 to get in and was likely to take not much less on the way out and I had to then head to Margaree Forks for their first dance of the season, so I couldn’t stay the whole afternoon, as I’d have liked—it’s one gorgeous spot! Judging by the amount of moose droppings along the trail, it must be a favourite moose hangout, though I saw none today (I'm one noisy hiker, so they'd have been long gone before I got near); I did also pass over a number of large bones I took to be from moose who had died on the mountain. At 12h39, it became noticeably cooler, as a squall on the Gulf pushing a cloud of fog ahead of it started heading for Grey Mountain. I left as soon as I got “saddled up” at 12h45.
It eased my mind to see a number of tree stumps, cut when the trail was cleared, painted at ground level in the same red as the blazes, making it easier to follow the trail in thick fog. About halfway back across Grey Mountain, a great view of Bear Hill opens up; I stopped for photos there, watching as the fog completely enveloped it and then, a couple minutes later, partly cleared off again; fortunately, I experienced very little fog on Grey Mountain itself. That good luck didn’t stop me from going way off the trail once, however, as I lost track of the blazes and had to backtrack to the last one I saw to pick up the trail again. Even though downhill, it was not an easy hike and I got very hot wearing the hoodie still as I descended. At 13h44, I arrived at the Cape St Lawrence look-off, taking a whole hour to come down off Grey Mountain, and shed the hoodie; of course, the sun was out now and blue skies were everywhere in view.
Now, it was time to climb the 1.7 km (1.1 mi) back up to the “summit” of the “Western Wall”, a climb of 94 m (310 ft) that took me from 14h05 to 15h11, surprisingly, a better time going up than down! From there, it’s all downhill, though often on tricky footing and tired legs. Although, at 8.8 km (5.5 mi), the hike was 500 m (0.3 mi) longer than the Mica Hill hike, I was far less tired today than on Tuesday and in a far happier frame of mind as I made ’er back to the car safely at 16h12.
I had failed to enquire of my hostess whether she had a room available for the night of the Seawall Trail lobster boil, so, when I saw her truck at the Lodge, I stopped off to thank her for the night’s stay and enquire about 10 July. She was full up that night, so I stopped in Cape North Village and reserved a room at the motel there. I drove on to Pleasant Bay, where I stopped for dinner at the Rusty Anchor and had their bacon-wrapped scallops, maple salad, pan-fried haddock (a huge portion), rice, veggies very al dente, and two large unsweetened ice teas. I drove on up MacKenzies Mountain, where the road construction crews had left for the week-end; the mess I had encountered there earlier in the week was all gone, replaced with a nice gravel surface. The spectacular drive along the Cabot Trail from French Mountain to Margaree Forks was as lovely as always on what had turned into a gorgeous evening. I got my motel room and cleaned up for the Southwest Margaree dance, the first of their season. I drove there and worked on Thursday’s post in the car until it was time to go in.
The fiddler tonight was Douglas Cameron, whom Shelly Campbell had asked to fill in for her due to the death of her aunt; he was accompanied by by Hilda Chiasson on keyboard and Chris Babineau on guitar. They sound checked until 22h15, when they played a set of jigs that got no takers. Another set of jigs got the same result. The first square set finally formed with five couples at 22h26. A very short waltz followed, again with no takers. The second square set had twelve couples in its third figure, the high-water mark, though the tables in the hall were mostly occupied. Two more square sets were danced, with eight and ten couples, respectively; a call for step dancers in between went unanswered. A lot of folks left before midnight and the next set of jigs had no takers. By the time the ensuing set of cèilidh tunes ended, there weren’t enough dancers left in the hall to make a square set, so, tired from the extraördinarily long day, I thanked the musicians for their fine playing (Chris’s guitar, which I hadn’t heard in a while, was especially delightful) and took my leave at 12h25. It’s a short drive back to Margaree Forks and I was asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. What a fantastic day!
Saturday, 25 June — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I got up at 9h to another gorgeous day: pure blue skies overhead, with only a hint of white clouds at the horizon, sunny, and clear air. What generally fine weather we’ve had this week! I had surprisingly little complaint from my calves and legs and felt great after yesterday’s work-out.
I drove to East Margaree to take care of an errand and came back by Fordview, where lupines are now out in force in the fields bordering the Margaree River, as they are along the Northeast Margaree River from Doyle's Bridge to Northeast Margaree as well. I had breakfast at the Dancing Goat, where I was greatly disappointed to learn that they have discontinued their great fruit salad; I tried their fruit parfait instead: it was OK, but no substitute; the rest of the breakfast was superb, as always. I completed and posted Thursday’s account, taking advantage of the wi-fi there (cell phone service in the Margarees is still sketchy at best inland of the coast). I then drove out to Margaree Valley and crossed the new Crowdis Bridge, a beautiful modern style bridge similar to the one now spanning the Chéticamp River, not the Bailey bridge I feared they might put in, and continued on to the Portree Look-Off for photos. The air in the Margarees was probably as clear as I've ever seen it and just called for photos—it would have been a magnificent day for a trip to Cape Clear! I completed the Portree loop (two were fishing from the Portree Bridge) and took the Crowdis Cross Road a second time, stopping before the bridge for photos of the highlands and for photos of the bridge itself (one was fishing in the river below). I drove on to Margaree Centre and took the Cranton Cross Road back, where the bridge is in bad shape, reduced to one lane of traffic. I found lupines everywhere along these roads, the great majority a bright purplish blue, with an admixture of minority pinks and whites in the bigger clumps. I stopped for photos of the lupine-covered fields along the Cabot Trail. I drove back through Fordview and on into Belle-Côte, where I got gas; I arrived at the Doryman at 13h10. I had lunch during the cèilidh, a green salad and chicken wings, both excellent; the haddock dinner I so loved is gone from the menu, but, I was told when I complained after the cèilidh, that pan-fried haddock remains available on request, though it won't come with veggies.
Troy MacGillivray on fiddle and Joël Chiasson on keyboard provided today’s music. And what fantastic music it was! The first set, of jigs, was some gorgeous, with lots of my favourite tunes; the second was even longer, with great strathspeys and reels. Simply perfect playing by both! Hilary Romard from the Sydney area was present and had brought a contingent of his fine square dancers with him; they danced a Sydney set (one jig figure and two reel figures). The next tune set got Burton MacIntyre up to share his steps. A waltz set followed. Jigs brought Hilary and his dancers back for the second square set, using the Chéticamp figures this time (two jig figures and one reel figure). The next set began with a lovely air and continued with strathspeys and reels, during which Hilary step danced. Gerry Deveau took to the stage with his spoons and played a set with Troy and Joël, during which Hilary step danced again. Hilary’s group then danced the third square set, a composite using the first figure of the Sydney set and the second and third figures of the Cape North set (again two jig sets and a reel set)¹. Leading off with a waltz and continuing with strathspeys and then Tulloch Gorum and reels, during which both Hilary and Burton step danced again, the musicians finished up the first part of the afternoon by taking a break. A lady I don’t know played a few short selections on solo fiddle in a non-Cape Breton style, possibly classical. With Troy back on fiddle and Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier on keyboard, a Mabou set was danced with six couples, becoming five in the third figure. Joël then came back to the keyboard and Troy issued a call for step dancers, answered by Hilary, Kathleen, a lady I don't know, and a dancer in Hilary’s group whose name I also don’t know. The following jig set got three couples up round dancing and the next set, of waltzes, brought two couples to the floor. A set of strathspeys and reels brought out a group of chairs below the stage on which members of Hilary’s group sat and “chair danced”, i.e., step dancing while sitting. The final set of a march followed by reels concluded the absolutely wonderful afternoon cèilidh. What a privilege it was to hear these long and great sets, impeccably played and watch fine dancers taking advantage of the music!
On the drive back to Port Hood, I stopped off at the Belle View in Belle-Côte, where I had bacon-wrapped scallops and a crab roll with rice. In Port Hood, I got the motel room key and drove out the Colindale Road to the West Mabou hall.
Tonight’s music was by Hailee LeFort on fiddle and Lawrence Cameron on acoustic piano. Sound checking continued until 21h20, when the initial set of jigs went without takers. Five couples took the floor before the music started up again at 21h29; an additional couple joined the third figure. The second square set again started with five couples and grew to nine in the third figure. By the end of the third square set at 22h39, twenty couples were dancing the third figure. Dara Smith-MacDonald took the fiddle for the fourth square set, which had sixteen couples. Joe MacMaster took up the fiddle and played for the step dance sequence, during which we saw fine steps from Sarah MacInnis, Stephen MacLennan, Hailee, Lewis MacLennan, Melody Cameron, Elizabeth MacDonald, and Amanda MacDonald². A waltz set got two couples out dancing. With Hailee and Joe on dual fiddles, the fifth square set started with three (!) different groups in the first figure; at least twenty couples danced the third figure (the multiple queues made it hard to be sure of the count). A few minutes remained until midnight, so the musicians played some reels to run out the clock, during which Joan Currie and Roddy Graham danced briefly. Another evening of superb music and dance at West Mabou Hall! It is such a delight to listen to these very accomplished young players accompanied by a fine pianist.
I drove back to Port Hood very happy indeed with the music I had heard this day! Only in Cape Breton!
Sunday, 26 June — Port Hood
I slept in late because I could, not arising until nearly 10h30 to a sunny, bright day with high white clouds. I read and relaxed and then wrote part of Friday’s account. By the time I looked at the clock, it was 13h, time to head for Judique and the Sunday cèilidh.
Kinnon Beaton, substituting for Howie MacDonald (recovering from a minor operation), was on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard. The initial jig set went with no takers and was followed by a cèilidh set, after which dancers took to the floor before the music started up again and then danced the first square set, reaching seven couples. The next cèilidh set was followed by jigs; although a bit slow to form, ten couples in two groups danced the second square set. A waltz drew four couples and the call for step dancers drew only Harvey Beaton, who gave us a great set of steps. The third square set was faster to form; I forgot to record how many couples danced it, but likely more than ten as there were two groups. A cèilidh set followed. Kinnon then passed the fiddle to Dara Smith-MacDonald, who played a fine 15-minute set filled with great reels. With Kinnon back on fiddle and Harvey Beaton giving Mac a rest on keyboard, the fourth square set was danced with eight couples in the third figure. Joe MacMaster took over the fiddle and Mac returned to the keyboard for a grand march/strathspeys/reels set; Joe’s masterful playing won him loud applause. With Kinnon back on fiddle, a bouncy march/strathspeys/reels set followed. The fifth square set ended the cèilidh, bringing eleven couples to the floor. It was a bit strange hearing Kinnon without Betty Lou, but Mac’s playing was perfection, though noticeably different. It was a most pleasant afternoon of the very best pure Scottish traditional music, enjoyed with friends. Although there were some unfamiliar faces in the crowd, most were locals enjoying the great music as much as I did.
After thanking the musicians, I headed off to Mabou through the backcountry, stopping for photos of Cape Mabou above St Ninian Road. When I arrived at the Red Shoe, a kind lady from Alberta with an adorable very young granddaughter graciously offered me a seat at her table. Chrissy Crowley on fiddle and Jason Roach on keyboard were in the midst of a pretty exuberant set. Hilary Romard step danced during the following set. Chrissy’s fiddle was way overpowered by Jason’s keyboard and I found his pounding bass just way too heavy for the traditional tunes; I thought I was in a hard rock bar! But my ears are old and the audience seemed to be eating it up. I was on the verge of leaving when a square set formed; I liked Jason’s accompaniment for it much better, though it was still way heavy on the bass, so I stayed on. A couple jitterbugged during the square set and there were clappers galore—I felt like a grumpy old man in an audience having a great time. When the square set finished, Chrissy passed the fiddle to Kate MacInnes. What a contrast in Jason’s playing with her—it was superb and very tasteful, subdued when appropriate and just a perfect match for Kate’s beautiful traditional playing, especially on the slow airs she chose in her second set. My jaw just dropped. I had never heard Jason accompany anyone so beautifully before! It had been far too long since I last heard Kate play and I would love to hear her again in the very near future. When Chrissy took back the fiddle, Jason reverted to his previous style of accompaniment and they finished off the afternoon with a couple of barn burner sets.
After the cèilidh was over, I drove up Hunters Road and stopped for photos on this gorgeous evening. I got some scallops and a bacon cheeseburger at The Bus in Port Hood and took them back to my motel room where I read as I ate them. After unwinding a bit, I finished and posted Friday's account. I was in bed relatively early at 23h30.
Monday, 27 June — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
Up shortly after 8h, I found some sun shining through grey rain clouds, with patches of blue sky at the coast; it was a pleasant +17 (63). After breakfast at Sandeannies, I drove out the Hawthorne Road, where lupines lined much of the road, and continued on the St Ninian Road to Hillsdale. The Rear Intervale Road there was being resurfaced in the direction towards Judique, with flag men and one-way travel. I turned towards Upper Southwest Mabou; I met four gravel haulers kicking up great clouds of dust on the way. There was very little water in the Southwest Mabou River at Long Johns Bridge, with lots of rocks sticking up above the surface of the water. I took the Glencoe Road there; recently regravelled, it was in great shape, as the other roads were as well. I ran into some mist on the way up “Mount Glencoe”; occasional lupines decorated the left of the road above the Parish Hall and I met yet another gravel hauler on the way up as I descended into Glencoe Mills, seeing the sun out bright over Upper Glencoe. The Whycocomagh Port Hood Road from Glencoe Mills to Whycocomagh was in generally excellent shape; the section west of MacKinnons Road I found a few days back in a primitive state has been fixed; the Indian River section was a bit rough in spots, but is as good as it ever gets—those potholes survive every resurfacing, even after they have been filled in. Everything should be in great shape for the first Thursday Glencoe dance later this week. Mist/haze/fog lay over Campbell's, Skye, and Whycocomagh Mountains as I reached Whycocomagh.
I booked my rooms for this trip at the Fair Isle and had a good chat with my hostess there. I drove to the Day Park and read in the car, falling asleep at one point. Refreshed, I drove via the West Lake Ainslie Road to Inverness (the new bridge over the The Pond near the mouth of the Hays River, another in the modern style, is now in place and the old bridge is gone), where I took care of some errands in town. I then drove down to the beach and worked on Saturday’s post. When I arrived, it was +24 (75), breezy, and humid; by 16h15, when I left, it had turned into a beautiful day with clear blue skies and bright sun.
I drove to the Red Shoe in Mabou for dinner (house salad, pan-seared scallops served with sautéed potatoes, leeks, and peas in a creamy fondue, drizzled with a warm bacon vinaigrette); Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Pius MacIsaac on guitar provided the fine dinner music as I enjoyed the delicious meal and after I had finished. I then drove out to the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail kiosk in West Mabou and continued working on Saturday’s post. I next drove back to Mabou and out the Rankinville Road to the Mull River Road and took it to Murrays Bridge, where I found the river back to normal, all grassy and green in the places the torrent from the overflowing river raged when I was there in April. After looking things over at the bridge, I continued on to Brook Village for tonight’s dance.
Tonight’s fantastic music was provided by Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard. Unlike those at other venues, Brook Village dances run from 21h30 to 1h; the musicians were there setting up and sound checking when I went in at 21h15 and started playing tunes before 21h30. The first square set set began at 21h40 with four couples, growing to nine in the third figure. The next two had thirteen couples in each of the third figures. A waltz got eight couples out. About this point a good number of young folks I took to be of college age or a bit older came in and things got really lively; not that they weren't before—Brook Village dances are renowned for attracting the very finest Cape Breton adult dancers—but these youths were wound up and ready to party, as they showed by their vim and vigour out on the floor, an absolute joy to see. The fourth square set was danced in four groups with about twenty-four couples on the floor (two queues were used in the third figure from then on, making it very hard to count from where I was sitting); the group nearest me was really exuberant, exhibiting some fine and incredibly vigorous step dancing through the figures by a young man I’d never seen before, but the fellow members of his group were nearly as good dancers as he: the building was a-shakin’ more than I can ever remember it doing before. The fifth square set broke into five groups for the third figure, but had, I think, only about twenty couples; the dancing again was spectacular. A waltz gave folks a chance to catch their breaths and got only two couples. Shelly signalled Douglas Cameron to come take the fiddle and he and Allan played some very fine tunes for the sixth square set, which again had about twenty couples and more tireless dancing. Shelly, back on fiddle, played for a step dance sequence which brought to the floor a young lady I didn’t know, Cheryl MacQuarrie, Neil MacQuarrie, John Robert Gillis, Steven MacDonald, Burton MacIntyre, and Peter Parker, superb step dancers all. The seventh and last square set had three groups and about twenty couples, again exuberantly danced. At its end at 12h48, Shelly and Allan kept on playing until the clock ran out. As wonderful as the dancing was, it was the music that had my full attention, perfection itself that set up an amazing synergy with the dancers. I can recall no other Brook Village dance—and there have been many superb ones over the years—where the energy level was so high and so infectious and just so fun! After thanking the musicians for their magnificent playing, I drove back to the motel in Whycocomagh, but I was so wound up I didn’t go to bed for another hour, reliving the excitement of the evening and savouring the beautiful music I had heard all evening long. Only in Cape Breton!
Tuesday, 28 June — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
A lovely warm (+25 (77)) sunny day with white clouds in a blue sky greeted me when I arose at 9h; in spite of the warmth, the air was crystal clear. After breakfast at Vi’s, I drove out the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road, now daisy-lined at Glencoe Mills. The gravel haulers are still working: I followed one and met another on the way. Yellow flowers similar to what I know as “butter ’n’ eggs” (but without much white)—my wildflowers guide calls them “birds foot trefoil” and “meadow pea”—were abundant, intermixed with buttercups and far outnumbered the daisies on Alpine Road, which also showed clover along the roadsides. I backed into a side road I thought was unused and was working on Sunday’s post when a lady arrived and turned into the road where I was parked; I pulled out to let her pass—we were each quite surprised to see the other! I had no idea anyone was living along that road!
I then continued on up Rocky Ridge and had a good visit with my friends there; her birthday is tomorrow and I dropped off a card, as they are headed to Rollo Bay for the PEI Bluegrass Festival tomorrow. Today is also Theresa “Glencoe” MacNeil’s birthday and I dropped off a card there too; she was home and we also had a good chat.
As I drove north to Margaree Forks, the skies were cloudier, but the sun was still out; it had gotten up to +28 (82) and felt quite humid. I got my motel room key and congratulated my host on the birth of his latest child, who arrived a few days ago.
After reading and relaxing in my room, I drove to Chéticamp for dinner at the Doryman: chowder, green salad, pan-fried haddock, and tea, preceded by a red ale, all superb. Tonight’s cèilidh featured Chrissy Crowley on fiddle and Jason Roach on keyboard, two technical wizards on their respective instruments. Unlike Sunday’s cèilidh at the Shoe, however, tonight the instruments were properly balanced (the Doryman’s owner is a great sound tech and personally adjusts the sound before each cèilidh, making sure it is audible in all parts of the pub and that the instruments sound right, with none drowning out any other), and Chrissy’s fiddle was clear and bright, as it was not Sunday. I found Jason’s accompaniments tonight very interesting to listen to, as I had when I last heard him play with Colin Grant, sometimes a bit heavier in the bass than I like, but generally appropriate and usually within the tradition; several times he reached the perfection he showed when he played for Kate on Sunday. I have had the privilege a few times to hear Chrissy play with Maybelle Chisholm-McQueen, a combination that I reäct to very differently from Chrissy and Jason; as I listened tonight, I tried to get my mind around why. Chrissy’s tempo with Jason is far too fast for dancing and the two seem to me to transform it into bleeding edge new age Celtic music, though all the tunes are the traditional Cape Breton tunes I've been hearing for years; without being tied to the need for dancers to keep time, their music seems to me to often go off the rails. With Maybelle on piano, Chrissy slows things down enough she sounds like a traditional musician playing for dancers. That’s the best hypothesis I can come up with after tonight’s cèilidh. Doubtless, the faster pumped-up version goes over better with those who haven't experienced Cape Breton dances—it’s more akin to the musics they have grown up with and certainly is encouraged by their audiences when they tour in the States, clapping and all. And it certainly went over well with their audience tonight, the majority of whom appeared to be passing through: a number of them purchased copies of Chrissy’s CD, which she autographed for them. But it often leaves me frustrated, longing for the real thing, clearly my problem, not theirs. Still, there were a lot of very good moments throughout the evening. No one square danced; Jason’s father (I think) and Colin Grant step danced.
I drove back to Margaree Forks on the still warm (+24 (75)) and somewhat humid evening and finished and posted Sunday’s account. I then went to bed.
Wednesday, 29 June — Margaree Forks to St Peter’s
When I got up a bit after 8h30, I found a grey day with clouds down over the Margaree Highlands; big puddles in the driveway at the motel left no doubt that some rain, which I’d never heard in the night, had fallen. It looked to be a good day for visiting, but proved not to be as the three friends I had in mind were either away or otherwise unavailable.
Although my schedule had called for me to go to Sydney, catching the Governors Pub session there tonight, the weather forecast offered only a 50% probability of rain in the St Peter's area and, after dithering for a good while, I decided to take a chance I could hike the St Peter's Coastal Trail from St Peter's to River Tillard, which has been on my to-do list forever: a 50% chance of rain often doesn’t materialize and I was prepared to accept conditions less than ideal for photos, especially with the possibility of driving to Grand River Falls and St-Esprit on Thursday, whose forecast was not much different from Wednesday’s.
Accordingly, I drove to Whycocomagh, detouring via the South Side Southwest Margaree Road in Southwest Margaree; I found it very wet and better than last time I drove it but still with numerous major potholes. The river was flowing as fast as always and was full from last night’s rain. It was a grey but still pretty drive along Lake Ainslie. I had a good lunch at Vi’s: turkey vegetable soup, a chef salad, and a turkey club sandwich. I also filled the car with gas.
I took the fast route via the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 104; heavy fog lay above the road, only occasionally obscuring the road itself, from Port Hawkesbury to St Peter's, with the sun trying to pierce through. As I passed by the entrance to the Little River Reservoir, I noticed that it had already been mown. While waiting for the weather to decide what it was going to do, I parked beside the canal near the start of the trail, watching the lobstermen landing traps and cleaning boats—it must be the end of the lobster season here as it is in southern Inverness County. The fog lifted invitingly to above the tree level, but then it started to rain at 15h, so no hike was in the cards today. I got a room for the night and hoped tomorrow’s weather would be better. I finished and posted Monday's account as I watched through my cabin window the fog lower and rise several times over St Peter's Inlet, ending up completely socked in in the continuing light rain. I looked closely at the Celtic Colours programme and worked on my fall schedule, gnashing my teeth at some very hard choices and bemoaning some impossible ones, e.g., the Féis Mhàbu concert honouring Jimmy MacInnis and the Pipers’ Cèilidh are in the same time slot. Grrr! In the middle of this work, I drove into town in by now pounding rain (50% chance? Hah!) to Louie’s Cosy Corner for dinner; I skipped the menu entrées and selected instead their chowder, a Greek salad, and the bacon-wrapped scallops, all excellent, though the bacon around the scallops was overly sweet—likely a honey-flavoured or a heavily sugar-cured bacon was used. As I drove back to the motel in light rain, the low tire pressure indicator lit up on the dashboard; I kept going and made it back to the motel: something to deal with tomorrow! I worked some more on the Celtic Colours schedule and then relaxed and read. I was in bed by 23h.
Thursday, 30 June — St Peter’s to Whycocomagh
I arose at 8h10 to mist/light rain/fog, after a night of heavier rain. A break with little precipitation falling allowed me to check the tires; I now always carry an air compressor with me that runs off the cigarette lighter in the car, so I unloaded the rest of the trunk and got it out. I have long since learned that one can’t gauge tire pressure by just looking, so I checked each one: three were at or about 32psi but the rear left tire came in at 23psi. I topped them all off to 35psi and went back inside. In another ten minutes I checked again and it was holding at 35psi. With the car’s low tire pressure light now off, I reloaded the car, checked out, and, not wanting to trust everything was OK, drove to the tire shop on Toulouse Street. They found a puncture hole which had mostly self-healed, keeping the air in, but, afraid of a slow leak, I asked them to do a proper repair, so they dismounted the tire, sealed the puncture hole, and rebalanced and remounted it.
Given the heavy rains overnight, which would have been hard on the gravel roads I hoped to travel east of St Peter's, I drove back to Port Hawkesbury, encountering heavy rain on the way, and on to the museum at Port Hastings where Capt’n Kenny’s Fresh truck was parked and open at 11h. I ordered his Greek salad and the Voodoo shrimp without fries (I love French fries, but now generally avoid them)—what a huge serving of giant shrimp and with three excellent dipping sauces! I was so full, I didn’t have room for the salad, which I took with me for later in the day. I then drove to the Canso Canal Park, where I wrote these notes as light rain was falling; +18 (64) registered on the car’s thermometer. I then drove to the day park in Whycocomagh, where I read in the car until it was time to check in at 15h; some clearing and brightening was noticeable as I drove to my motel room, where I continued reading and relaxed; after a bath, heavy rain resumed, so I worked on Tuesday’s post and ate the Greek salad from Capt’n Kenny’s for my supper.
I left for Glencoe Mills at 19h50; by now, blue skies and bright sun were out in force; since the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road runs generally west, the sun was often in my eyes, making it very hard to see all the potholes the heavy rains had opened up again, making the Indian River section and beyond to the Cove Brook Bridge a mess and leaving some less nasty puddles past there: what an effect from just two days of rain! The road crews must be disheartened at seeing all their recent hard work in restoring this road to good shape undone!
I finished up Tuesday’s account sitting in the car and posted it. When I went inside, tonight’s musicians, Katie MacLeod, Douglas Cameron, and Kolten Macdonell were sound checking. As I have observed at the other dances now starting at 21h, too few people are in the hall to form even the most minimal of square sets; people still prefer to arrive after the traditional starting hour of 22h and even then things don’t get into full swing until 22h30, by which time half the dance is already over. Tonight, the first set of jigs “for real”, with Katie on fiddle and Kolten on (real) piano, started at 21h32 and both it and the following jig set went without takers. Two minutes in, at 21h45, the next jig set finally mustered enough couples to form a square set, danced by six couples in its first and third figures and seven in its second. The second square set, played by Douglas on fiddle and Kolten on piano, had four couples in the first figure, but exploded to thirteen couples in the second figure as people began arriving for fair, and had fourteen in the third figure. The third square set again started with four couples; between the first and second figures, Douglas and Kolten switched instruments, a rare sighting, in my experience, of Douglas on piano, with dancers adding themselves to the second figure; I was so busy watching Amanda MacDonald and Stephen MacLennan dancing so beautifully and enthusiastically with several other fine young dancers that I forgot to get a count of the dancers in its third figure, probably twelve couples. The dancers were complaining of the heat at its end! Katie took up the fiddle for the fourth square set and Robbie Fraser, home from the west, took over the piano; again, the square set started at four couples in the first figure, growing to thirteen for the third. They then played a waltz, with no takers. Douglas back on fiddle played for the step dance sequence, which brought Stephen MacLennan, his brother Lewis, Katie MacLeod, and Elizabeth MacDonald to the floor to share their fine steps. Douglas’ following jigs got no takers and, with time running short, he switched to reels, which brought out seven couples for an isolated third figure, ending at 0h02. While no one would mistake tonight’s Glencoe dance for one from the first years I was on the Island, when the hall was packed to overflowing with hardly enough room for the dancers to dance, it was pretty well attended by today’s standards and a real joy to see so many young folks on the floor having such a great time. The organizers deserve great praise for keeping these dances going and enabling the transmission of the culture to the next generation. The players’ music drew many favourable comments. I rarely get to hear Kolten these days and it was great to listen to him again tonight. I’d heard Katie at Broad Cove concerts in the past, but don’t recall having seen her play for a dance. And Douglas, of course, was top notch as always.
On the way back to Whycocomagh, I encountered numerous fog patches and the thermometer registered a damp +18 (64), fogging the windshield and requiring me to turn on the defroster to clear it off. Back at the motel, I was soon in bed, falling asleep almost immediately.
Friday, 1 July — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
Je souhaite à tous mes amis et parents canadiens une joyeuse fête du Canada! I wish all my Canadian friends and family a happy Canada Day.
This Canada Day, like last year’s, was a gorgeous and memorable day. When I arose about 9h, it was sunny, bright, and warm, with some haze over the water and thin white clouds at the horizons. After breakfast at Vi’s, I drove out the West Lake Ainslie Road, stopping for photos at a few points along the way, including at the new bridge over the Hays River, where nice new views have opened up. I drove down into the parking area beside the boat launch at the mouth of the Hays River, which I have dubbed the “nosebleed” parking area in honour of an epic 45-minute nosebleed I experienced while there a number of years ago, finally getting it stopped using a styptic pencil from my shaving kit. A small amount of haze lay over the lake and it was a balmy +24 (75) accompanied by a nice breeze with a bit of a cool feel to it as I got out for more photos. I surprised a large family of ducks swimming beside the boat ramp and they flew/swam excitedly back up the river. It is hard to get a good photo of the mouth of the river because of the way it winds around the land before emptying into Lake Ainslie. The mouse-ear hawkweed, which I know as Indian paint brush, outnumbered the daisies by a good margin.
I drove on into Inverness and parked at the Miners’ Museum parking lot, where the outside temperature was a bit cooler at +23 (72) with a fine breeze. My goal today, as I started my sixth traversal of the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, was an easy one: reaching the Deepdale Road. The signage at the kiosk near the start of the trail in Inverness gives the trail’s entire distance as 92 km (57.2 mi), but the final kilometre marker is number 89, just south of the Beach access road, so something doesn’t compute: it is only 300 m (0.2 mi) from the parking lot to kilometre marker 89. Adjacent to kilometre marker 89 is a set of fine interpretive panels and a covered picnic table. The initial part of the trail, from kilometre marker 89 to Highway 19, is very photogenic, with nice views of MacIsaac’s Pond, Inverness Harbour, and Cape Mabou; a couple of benches are provided so you can savour the views. Once across Highway 19, you are on a tree-lined path, with, except for one nice open view of Cape Mabou, at best tree-shrouded views of the adjacent terrain. A side road and a snowmobile trail enter the trail, but only the birds and wildflowers are likely to take your eye as you pass kilometre markers 88 and 87. Just south of kilometre marker 87, you reach the renowned Deepdale trestle over the Broad Cove River, looking rather diminutive as it flows some 24 m (80 ft) below. From the trestle, which now has side railings and flooring for acrophobes like myself, you will see great views of the canyon the river has carved, whose steep sides rise well above the trestle. For me, this is the high point of this section of the trail. Just south of the trestle is another excellent interpretive panel and an unshaded picnic table, a great spot for a lunch. I continued on to the Deepdale Road, which again is tree-lined like the section before the trestle. In 2014, I did not locate kilometre marker 86, but this time I found it 300 m (985 ft) north of the Deepdale Road. The distance to the trestle is 2.7 km (1⅔ mi) and to the Deepdale Road is 3.8 km (2⅓ mi), both from the Miners’ Museum parking lot. I was the only hiker on the multi-use trail today, but not the only person: five ATVs and eleven cyclists passed by me on the trail. I had a long and very interesting chat with one of those cyclists who worked on the railroad much of his life, in all of the Canadian provinces and in thirteen American states, and was working on the Inverness Railroad when it was abandoned in the 80’s: to stay in shape, he now rides his bike regularly to Mabou and Port Hood from Inverness. Unlike me, he has no fear of heights and fondly recalled as a kid and young man walking across the trestle (and some of its supporting beams below), without the benefit of the flooring and side rails added much later, a feat that would have turned my legs to jelly. I also talked briefly with two western visitors, who had rented their bikes in Inverness, a service I wasn’t aware was available (I found this site, which offers bikes at $50/day (including helmet)). It was a lovely day with amazing weather, perfect for hiking and photography, +28 (82) with a good cooling breeze when I got back to the car.
I drove to Margaree Forks, got my motel room, cleaned up from the hike, and caught up on current events. I then drove out to The Lakes restaurant in the Lakes O’Law, where I had their lobster “salad” (a cold lobster served on a bed of veggies) and two glasses of milk. After dinner, I drove back to Southwest Margaree to await the dance, where I completed Wednesday’s post, but couldn’t post it because no cell service reached there.
This year’s second Southwest Margaree dance featured Howie MacDonald and Robbie Fraser, who were both there and sound checking before the appointed hour of 22h, but the hall did not yet contain the critical mass required for a square set. About 22h10, with Howie on fiddle and Robbie on keyboard, five couples took the floor, growing to six for the last two figures, for the first square set. A waltz followed, bringing one couple to the floor., and the second square set was larger, with a dozen couples in its third figure. Robbie and Howie switched instruments and played for the third square set (9 couples), a waltz (5 couples), and the fourth square set (14 couples). With Howie on fiddle and Robbie on keyboard, they played for the fifth square set (12 couples), a waltz (2 couples), a step dance sequence (a lady I didn’t recognize and Katie MacLeod), and the last square set (8 couples). While not packed as during high summer, most seats at the tables where taken: just a lot more listeners than dancers. As happened last week, an exodus began around 0h, though more slowly this week, and continued until 0h40, by which time, most had gone or were going. Robbie “noodled” and played tunes on the keyboard, but it was clear the dance was over. The music was fantastic all evening long, regardless of who was on which instrument; one couldn't find better dance music. Just a superb dance!
After thanking the musicians, I left about 0h45, posted Wednesday’s account from my motel room, read a bit, and got to bed about 1h30.
Saturday, 2 July — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
Today is the official start of KitchenFest!, an island-wide celebration of Cape Breton music and culture at 94 events spread across 28 venues from one end of Cape Breton Island to the other. Many of the events are Cape Breton kitchen parties, intimate and magical, unlike the far more formal Celtic Colours concerts which only rarely attain that level, and the talent on offer is uncontaminated by the foreign elements that infest much of Celtic Colours (and which some celebrate and enjoy). As well as kitchen parties, there are square dances, cultural events, concerts, and community meals on the schedule. In its third year, KitchenFest! has been moved from the last week of June to the first week of July. It is a festival I now eagerly anticipate each year.
I arose at 9h to some white clouds in a sunny blue sky, a warm and lovely day. I drove to East Margaree, stopping for photos of the lupines in Fordview, which appear there in massive numbers along the Margaree River; I continued on to Belle-Côte for breakfast at the Belle View, now open at 8h, where I had an excellent yogurt parfait topped with fresh fruit, orange juice, eggs and bacon, homefries, and toast. When I left the Belle View at 11h, the skies had become mostly overcast with white clouds intermixed with some grey, leaving only a few spots of blue sky, and a cloudy bright day without direct sun; it remained a very pleasant +24 (75). I drove down to Margaree Harbour, where I found the wild roses out and very fragrant; I took numerous photos, including several of boats making their way into the harbour. Surprisingly, the roses along the Shore Road are not yet out. I then drove south to Port Hood, got my room key, and continued on to Judique via the Dunmore, Mabou, and Rear Intervale Roads, arriving at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre at 13h50.
Paul Strogen, also known as “Bandana Man”, was already there and I sat with him; from San Francisco, he has been coming to Cape Breton longer than I have, attracted to the Island by a dance workshop conducted in California by Mary-Janet MacDonald; an avid folk dancer, he also spends lots of time in Europe, mainly Central and Eastern, participating in folk dances there. We had a great long chat while waiting for the cèilidh to begin.
Some music started up at 14h53, with jigs associated with Buddy MacMaster’s playing, by Andrea Beaton and Kenneth MacKenzie on dual fiddles, Allan Dewar on keyboard, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar. It proved to be mostly a sound check, as the cèilidh didn’t get underway until Sarah MacInnis welcomed us in Gaelic and English at 15h13. Two wonderful march/strathspeys/reels sets followed and the magic had begun! Kenneth then switched to highland bagpipes and gave us another wonderful set; my only regret was that, at eight minutes, it was too short. Kenneth left the stage, leaving Andrea on solo fiddle, and she gave us a march/strathspeys/reels set that she made sound so easy! She followed with a set of jigs, all Cape Breton tunes, composed by Dan R MacDonald, her grandfather Donald Angus Beaton (two), Andrea, and Dan Hughie MacEachern; following the applause, she continued with hardly a pause into strathspeys and reels. On solo fiddle, she played by special request Hector the Hero; Allan and Sandy joined in after a bit and she continued with strathspeys and reels; perfect playing and perfect tempo—the definition of heaven itself! Sarah then gave us a Gaelic song in fine voice. After an explicit request for square dancers, Andrea and Kenneth on dual fiddles played for the first square set, danced by two groups with nine couples in the third figure. Andrea then left Kenneth alone on stage; he gave us a lovely tune whose name I should know but can’t pull out of my failing memory banks and followed it with strathspeys and reels, during which Sarah step danced. Switching to highland bagpipes, Kenneth played a great march/strathspeys/reels set. Andrea replaced Kenneth, giving us another fine march/strathspeys/reels set and then a set of jigs (with no takers) and a set of strathspeys and reels. Saran sang another lovely Gaelic song. With both Andrea and Kenneth on dual fiddles and another explicit invitation for square dancers from the stage, a square set was danced by five couples. With Kenneth now on small pipes, the finale was a grand barnburner march/strathspeys/reels set. What a magical afternoon, so typical of the wonderful KitchenFest! cèilidhs! Magnificent playing by all melding into perfection itself. It just doesn’t get any better!
Then, I was off to Inverness; ugly grey clouds lay just above the tops of the Cape Mabou prominences as I drove north on the Cèilidh Trail. This was the first of the sessions at the Cabot Public House I had attended; Joe MacMaster on fiddle and Janine Randall on keyboard, with someone I didn’t know on bodhrán, were the first to play. Robert Deveaux on fiddle with Janine on keyboard next played several sets, a treat as Robert does not play widely. Robert then relieved Janine on keyboard and Joe resumed playing fiddle, giving us a Tulloch Gorum and a second set ending with The Road to Errogie. Kevin Dugas then joined Joe and Robert for another set of tunes. I left at that point in order to not miss any of the West Mabou dance, but I certainly enjoyed what I heard and hope to make it to another session there in the future.
On the drive back to West Mabou, some clouds had descended below some, but not all of the Cape Mabou prominences, and it was now a damp, cool +17 (63).
The KitchenFest! dance at West Mabou featured Kyle MacDonald on fiddle, Hilda Chiasson on acoustic piano, and Derrick Cameron on guitar. Shortly after 21h, they let forth with a great blast o’ tunes that apparently served as a sound check. Their first set of jigs had no takers. The first square set set slowly formed at 21h25 with six couples in the first figure, growing to nine in the second and ten in the third; the second also had ten couples in its third figure. By 22h15, many more people had arrived and the third and fourth square sets each attracted seventeen couples. Next came In Memory of Herbie MacLeod, a waltz by Jerry Holland; from my vantage point, I saw no one dancing it, but that point, while providing superb views of the players and the front of the hall, hides the back part of the main hall, so I might have missed dancers there. The waltz was followed by the step dance sequence, during which Stephen MacLennan, Melody Cameron, Amanda MacDonald, Elizabeth MacInnis (I think), Lewis MacLennan, Elizabeth MacDonald, John Robert Gillis, Burton MacIntyre, Sarah MacInnis, and a lady I don’t know all step danced; Kyle ended the sequence step dancing while fiddling, a virtuoso performance by all! After that, two more square sets were danced, the fifth with at least 23 couples (it used two queues in the third figure, so was hard to count) and the sixth with a dozen couples. After it ended, at 0h11, the musicians kept on playing for a while longer, most uneager to close the evening down. Kyle is a powerful player with great timing and drive, who is a joy to listen to; he played a lot of my favourite jigs and reels. His lively playing, so finely complemented by Hilda and Derrick, must have been equally fun to dance to. The dancers, both young and old, certainly seemed to be having a wonderful time and there was some great stepping in the sets all evening long.
As I returned to Port Hood, I reflected on how truly blessed I am to partake of this great musical fellowship. KitchenFest! is well and truly underway with two magical events on its very first day!
Sunday, 3 July — Port Hood to Margaree Forks
A bright, sunny blue sky with some white clouds greeted me when I arose a bit before 9h. Drops of rain on my windshield led me to wonder whether it had rained overnight—another clue that it had was that the air was clear of haze. After breakfast at Sandeannies, I worked on Thursday’s post. I then drove down the Shore Road, stopping for photos of Creignish Mountain at MacKay Point; the Maryville Ponds were blue from the sky, as was St Georges Bay, with Cape George readily visible across the water. In short, a lovely day with a good breeze and a lovely +18 (66). Back on the Cèilidh Trail, I noticed more traffic than usual; it looks like the summer tourists and residents have now arrived in some numbers. I continued on to Walkers Cove, where I parked in the parking area adjacent to the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail there, and finished and posted Thursday’s account and began work on Friday’s account, watching the lovely scenery in the rearview mirror as I wrote. Beach goers and hikers arrived in several cars as I worked.
I left at 13h to go to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, stopping for gas in Judique on the way. I again sat with Paul Strogen, who got there before I did. Today’s Sunday cèilidh was an official KitchenFest! cèilidh with music by Howie MacDonald and Robbie Fraser on fiddles, Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboard, and Colin MacDonald on guitar. Allan Dewar was in the sound technician rôle today, running the whole system from an iPad and doing a fantastic job ensuring the sound was crystal clear. Some jigs before the cèilidh started served as a sound check and Colin, who was today’s emcee, then began the cèilidh with remarks in Gaelic and English. Howie and Robbie on dual fiddles started the official music with a great march/strathspeys/reels set. Robbie left Howie alone on fiddle for the rest of the first hour; his jigs immediately brought eight couples out for the first square set—no invitation from the stage needed today! Howie was on fire and kept playing after the dancers left the floor. Two back-to-back waltz sets respectively brought six and three couples onto the floor. My notes here read “perfect playing by Howie and outstanding accompaniment by Jackie and Colin”, but that was true throughout the cèilidh! The next set of jigs turned into the second square set; a bit slow to form, nine couples danced the set; again, Howie kept on after the dancers had returned to their seats. Another waltz brought five couples out and concluded the first hour of the cèilidh. Colin then taught the audience a few of the responses to the question, “How are you?” in Gaelic. Robbie played for the next hour. His initial jigs turned quickly into the third square set, danced by eight couples. His following march/strathspeys/reels set brought Harvey Beaton out to share his superb steps. At this point, Howie replaced Jackie on keyboard and Bill MacDonald replaced Colin on guitar; they then gave us another fine set of tunes. The fourth square set with eleven couples followed. Robbie’s fiddle is full of dirt, the constant idiosyncratic embellishments and grace notes that so distinguish the Cape Breton fiddle style from others, and his tempo is just perfect for dancing; now living out west, getting to hear him on his all-too-short trips home has become a rare treat indeed. Colin then taught the audience the chorus to a Gaelic song, which he then sang. Howie returned to the stage and, with Jackie and Colin accompanying, gave us a slow air followed by strathspeys and reels. Jigs quickly turned into the fifth square set, danced by a dozen couples. With Howie and Robbie now on dual fiddles, they played the call for step dancers, which went unanswered. Alas, the cèilidh was now at an end. What a wonderful afternoon of amazing music! Yet another magical cèilidh!
I then drove to Margaree Forks, got my motel room key, and continued on to the Doryman in Chéticamp for the evening’s KitchenFest! cèilidh there, with music by Andrea Beaton and Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddles, Joël Chiasson on keyboard, and Pat Gillis on guitar. The sound checks were ongoing with all the musicians on stage when I arrived about 19h30. The cèilidh got underway at 20h04 with greetings from Kenneth in Gaelic and English. The first two sets, a march/strathspeys/reels set and a set of jigs, had both Andrea and Kenneth on dual fiddles; no square dancers were in the crowd, so sadly no square sets were danced tonight. Andrea left the stage, leaving Kenneth alone on fiddle; he played a great march/strathspeys/reels set and then gave us a great set of tunes on highland bagpipes followed by a lovely slow air or lament on fiddle that was gorgeous. Andrea then replaced Kenneth on fiddle and first gave us a great set of jigs. During the subsequent long march/strathspeys/reels set, a gentleman step danced. Another set of jigs and a superb march/strathspeys/reels set followed; Andrea’s nickname is “Cuts” and she employed a huge quantity of them; my notes for this set read: “strathspeys [are] something else! Wow!” Kenneth then replaced Andrea on fiddle and gave us another march/strathspeys/reels set and a fine set of jigs, both wonderfully well played. A long, fantastic set on highland bagpipes followed; I was in heaven! Andrea again replaced Kenneth and played a set of jigs, a grand set of tunes, and a slow air in a minor key that I love. Kenneth again replaced Andrea and gave us more jigs. At 22h41, Andrea joined Kenneth on stage and they played together on dual fiddles one barnburner of a set in a long finale that had numerous key changes, each one raising the level of intensity a notch higher, ending well past 23h. Joël and Pat provided ne plus ultra accompaniments all night long, each in their own unique and delectable ways, rhythmically grounding and embellishing the music into a great work of art. It was yet another magical KitchenFest! cèilidh! Three in just two days (and a great dance as well): KitchenFest! is well and truly off to a magnificent start!
After giving my thanks to the musicians, I headed back to Margaree Forks and, too excited still to go to sleep, read and caught up on mail and such, finally climbing into bed at 0h30 and quickly falling asleep.
Monday, 4 July — Margaree Forks to Whycocomagh
I’d like to wish my American friends and family a happy and safe Fourth of July.
The amazing weather continues: I awoke in Margaree Forks at 8h to a gorgeous, sunny, breezy, bright blue sky day with hazeless air and a bracing +15 (59); a few white clouds hugged the northern horizon. I couldn’t make up my mind how to spend such a gift of a day. After breakfast at the Dancing Goat, I decided to explore the nearby Hunters Mountain area and check off some to-do list items there.
Accordingly, I drove east on the Cabot Trail, stopping for photos on the Middle River Bridge and, on Hunters Mountain, of Washabuck, the Bras d’Or Lakes visible from there, and Macmillan Mountain. Two of my to-do list items were to check out MacLean Road and Tower Road, both off the Cabot Trail on Hunters Mountain. I overshot both and had to turn around at the Old Margaree Road and go back up the mountain. In that direction, one first reaches Tower Road at 601/603 on the Cabot Trail; it was blocked by a gate, so I continued on to MacLean Road, the signage for which I missed initially because it was on the opposite side of the road, one post serving for the signs in both directions contrary to the usual practice. I turned up it and drove the short distance to the end of its crumply asphalt, where a dirt mostly two-track-and-grass-crown road followed the short paved portion. It looked very promising for views, but I hit bottom hard in a rutted section and turned around as soon thereafter as feasible on a very narrow road with just enough room between ditches for the maneuver; fortunately, no damage was done to the underside of the car. I walked past that point up a small hill where I photographed the views of the highlands towards Middle River available there. MacLean Road, at least at one point in time, continued on back down to Nyanza, coming out near the Trailsman Motel; it might be worth hiking and it might even still be possible to drive it, but it definitely now needs a higher vehicle or, better, an ATV, to see how far the road goes now. In a car, I certainly don’t recommend going past the end of the crumply asphalt.
Highlands Road is just north of MacLean Road, so I turned onto it in search of an airstrip I had come across this winter in Google Earth while working on the still incomplete photo essay. (According to Google Maps and my car’s GPS, this is the Crowdis Mountain Road, but everyone I know who knows about this road calls it Highlands Road and so shall I.) Highlands Road runs north from the Cabot Trail to the Chéticamp Flowage, just south of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park boundary. It is mainly used by logging trucks carrying logs harvested from crown lands in the highlands south of the Park; the southern two-thirds is kept in tip-top shape, a wide gravel superhighway posted at 80 km/h (50 mph). But it is also a great way to explore the Cape Breton Highlands Plateau by car, providing views available in no other way, and one will come across other vehicles up there as well, e.g., the car I met towing a trailer loaded with canoes and camping equipment, perhaps belonging to a backcountry expedition guide. From the Cabot Trail, Highlands Road climbs steeply up Macmillan Mountain and then levels off crossing Crowdis Mountain, running roughly parallel to the Baddeck River Valley to the east; as one discovers, the plateau is crossed by streams which have carved deep valleys, so there is a considerable amount of significant up and down on the plateau. Since I had the GPS coördinates of the road into the airstrip, I had no problem locating it (it is perhaps 5 km (3 mi)—I’m guessing from Google Maps’ scale on my iPhone—north of Warehouse Road, one of the signed intersections on Highlands Road). When I reached the road into the airstrip, I encountered two guys having lunch beside a grader; one turned out to be a trainee learning to operate the grader and the other was his instructor. They assumed, given previous experience and the New Jersey license plate on my car, that I was lost and wanted directions back to civilization. Disabused of that notion, they knew that the road led to the airstrip but neither had been curious enough to investigate it, so could tell me nothing about it. I therefore started down the road and very shortly found myself at the south edge of the paved airstrip, which is 800 m (0.5 mi) in length, as measured by the Trails app I have on my iPhone. The access road continues beyond the airstrip and I had noticed this winter that it loops around back to the north end of the airstrip, with some open spots along the way from which I hoped to get some shots of the Baddeck River Valley below (the airstrip is by air perhaps—guesstimating again—4 km (2.5 mi) northwest of the Uisge Bahn Falls). The access road was driveable for my Prius only for a short distance past the airstrip, so I left the car by the airstrip and set off on foot. I have no idea what these adjacent roads are for, but they have been maintained to some degree; a pick-up could drive most of the loop if the owner were willing to scratch its sides on the encroaching evergreens that now partially block the road, but someone is clearly keeping the brush in the road down to 30 cm (1 ft) in height, as there is nothing higher than that in the centre of the road. 1.4 km (0.9 mi) from the south end of the airstrip, a side road heads off briskly down the mountain, offering a distant view of the Baddeck River Valley; the views might get better (and might not) and the road dead-ends some distance away, perhaps a third of the way to the falls. It didn’t look promising in Google Maps and I didn’t want to take the time and effort to check it out, as just completing the loop, with its ups and downs would be enough for the day. At the 2 km (1 1/4 mi) mark, I reached the large open spot I’d seen in Google Earth; sandy and devoid of vegetation (again raising the questions of who keeps it in that state and why), looking for all the world like a parking lot; the only views on offer were of the adjacent trees. The loop road then changes character, becoming a forest path instead of a two-track-and-crown road, though showing tire track marks in wet spots. I came across a clucking bird who was unhappy I was by her nest and a huge hare who startled me, but naught else in the forest. The forest path dumps one out at the northern end of the airstrip, which I then walked back to the car, making a hike of 3.7 km (2.3 mi) all told, with some good cardiac exercise. I later learned that the airstrip was built in World War II for training purposes and is now used only for emergencies; a second one was built at the same time further north along Highlands Road, which is now on my to-do list to check out (Google Maps imagery shows a possible site west of the Gisbourne Flowage and I was told it was near Doyle Road and Mile 28 Road, neither of which Google Maps shows, but will likely be seen as posted crossroads).
I decided to return via Fielding Road, which connects Highlands Road to Margaree Valley; it was further north from the airstrip to Fielding Road than I had thought, but I enjoyed the drive, encountering the grader and its operators, to whom I waved as I passed by, along the way. Fielding Road was in generally OK condition on the plateau, with some potholes and minor water erosion, and has been supplied with a new look-off along a ridge where I stopped for photos. However, it was in very poor shape on the descent into Margaree Valley; the last time I drove it, it was in good to excellent shape all the way. The damage appeared to have been caused by water running down the road (proper ditching is badly needed), exacerbated by heavy vehicles deepening the ruts caused by the water. It is still driveable in a Prius-class car, but, at the moment anyway, you won't enjoy it! I stopped off at the Dancing Goat for a sandwich and a garden salad—both delicious and enough for a full meal! I then drove back along the Cabot Trail to St Anns for tonight’s KitchenFest! cèilidh at the Gaelic College.
The music was by Rodney MacDonald and Glenn Graham on fiddles, Mac Morin on keyboard, and Brent Chaisson on guitar. David Rankin opened the cèilidh with remarks in Gaelic and English and then gave us a Gaelic song in fine voice. Rodney, Glenn, Mac, and Brent next played a blast o’ tunes and then a set of jigs, ending with Kinnon Beaton’s composition Buddy’s Order of Canada. Rodney then step danced with no music at first, after which the other three started playing while Rodney continued to step dance. Sarah MacInnis gave us a Gaelic song and then another she learned from Goiridh Dòmhnullach (Jeff MacDonald), both a cappella; what a lovely clear voice! The quatuor then played a set of primarily Donald Angus Beaton tunes, including one he wrote for Buddy. Brent next gave us a great guitar pickin’ solo. Sarah continued with a third Gaelic song, again beautifully done a cappella. Mac, with subtle accompaniment by Brent in guitar, gave us a blast o’ tunes on the keyboard, ending with a technical tour de force playing a very complex Donnell Leahy composition. A final blast o’ tunes from the four, starting with the Christy Campbell strathspey and including a number of John Morris Rankin tunes, concluded the first half of the cèilidh. I took my leave at that point and drove back to Brook Village so as not to miss any of the KitchenFest! dance there.
The music tonight was provided by Andrea and Kinnon Beaton on fiddles, Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard, and Brent Chaisson on guitar. After a sound check, the first square set got underway at 21h31, with Kinnon and Andrea on dual fiddles; five couples danced its first figure, six its second, and seven its third. Kinnon retired from the stage and Andrea played for the second and third square sets, each danced by eighteen couples. Andrea took a break and Kinnon played for a waltz bringing a dozen couples to the floor. Andrea relieved Brent on guitar (!) and Kinnon and Betty Lou played for the fourth square set, danced by at least 35 couples (two queues were used and I was not well positioned to get accurate counts). Versatile Andrea took over the keyboard, relieving her mother, and with Brent back on guitar, Kinnon played for the fifth square set, danced by more than thirty couples. Andrea on fiddle, accompanied by Betty Lou and Brent, played a waltz to which at least nine couples danced and for the sixth square set, with too many couples to count—six groups were in the first figure, with more joining as the set progressed, and the floor was full. Kinnon, with Mac Morin on keyboard and Brent on guitar, played for the seventh square set, danced by twenty-five couples. Andrea and Kinnon on dual fiddles, accompanied by Betty Lou and Brent, then played for the step dance sequence, danced by Mac Morin, Breagh MacDonald, Harvey MacKinnon, Margie Beaton, and Neil MacQuarrie. They continued playing in that configuration for the eighth square set, danced by more than thirty couples. It was another fantastic Brook Village dance, with the very best of music and enthusiastic and vigorous dancers; the active young adults that so enlivened last week’s dance were here again tonight and again contributed vim and vigour to the later sets.
I reflected on the amazing day I had spent and the wonderful music I had heard tonight as I drove back to Whycocomagh. The afternoon hike left me ready for sleep and I was asleep almost instantly once back in my motel room. Only in Cape Breton!
Tuesday, 5 July — Whycocomagh
It was a way too short a night! I got up at 6h48 and drove to the Celtic Colours box office in Sydney, where I arrived at 8h30 and was #11 on the sign-in list (the box office opens for sales at 10h). My fellows on the waiting list were entertained as we waited by Joella Foulds serenading us with folk songs as she accompanied herself on keyboard and by Dawn Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Joella. I completed most of Friday’s account as I listened. By 10h57, I had purchased my tickets, getting very decent seats (unlike last year, where, having arrived only two hours later, nearly got shut out of some shows and got next to the worst seats in three of the shows I wanted). A friend who was also in line purchased his tickets on his iPhone while waiting and had them printed out there; it looks like the computer system and software have undergone some sorely needed upgrades, so maybe I'll try that next year and avoid the drive to Sydney.
After getting my tickets, I drove to Jane’s in Little Bras d’Or for brunch, where I had a green salad, turkey vegetable soup, and a roast beef sandwich, all in copious servings that were delicious. I drove out the Hillside Boularderie Road and returned to the Trans-Canada Highway via St James Road, stopping for photos along the way in spite of the generally grey overcast. I stopped off at the Gaelic College and picked up tickets for the remaining Gaelic College KitchenFest! Events. I drove up the road constructed last summer to the new windmill south of Exit 10 and talked with a guy there; the windmill should be on line in two or three weeks. My interest wasn’t so much in the windmill, however, but in the views from the road. They turned out to be quite fine, mostly from the road but also some at the top. I took a bunch of photos, again in spite of the grey, but will definitely return on a better day for another photo shoot. After refilling the car in Whycocomagh, I drove to Mabou and took care of a couple errands; I then drove down to the marina and read and relaxed. I had dinner with two good friends at the Red Shoe, where we all had the pan-seared halibut, as delicious as always, as we listened to Stuart Cameron and Pius MacIsaac playing dinner music. Stuart plays accordion and had a fine array of instruments with him; the accordion, a long-standing favourite of mine, barely surfaces in Cape Breton, so it was a special treat, though the music he played was more Newfoundland style than the French and Scottish styles I’m far more accustomed to. I very much enjoyed the fine playing by both.
After dinner, it was off to the Gaelic College for tonight’s KitchenFest! cèilidh there. Mary Jane Lamond was the emcee; after the customary introduction in Gaelic and English, she gave us a fine Gaelic song. Next, Joe MacMaster on fiddle and Hilda Chiasson on keyboard played an amazing set: technically accurate, with beautiful phrasing and perfect dance tempo, he demonstrated a maturity some of his elders have yet to achieve. Following up this masterful performance, he returned on highland bagpipes and, with Hilda accompanying, gave us a stirring set of pipe tunes. An amazing talent and a fine young gentleman! Howie MacDonald then took the stage and, with Hilda supplying great accompaniment—the two, as Howie reminded us, have played together for many years, gave us a great fifty-minute recital. He began with the first set from his first album in 1984; the second set began with a lovely slow tune lushly played followed by strathspeys and reels; the third set was of jigs beginning with two Buddy tunes and then including Annemarie’s and Francis Aucoin’s, both of which Howie made; the fourth set began with waltz and continued with some rippin’ reels, all by Kimberley Holmes from the Truro area; the fifth set started with Grand-Étang, a march he wrote for Hilda, and was followed by reels; the final set started with Wilfred Gillis’ Welcome to the Trossacks, included What’s up, Doc? (a tune Howie made for Glenn Graham, who recently earned his Ph.D.), and ended with Devil in the Kitchen. What a tour de force performance by two Cape Breton treasures! To music provided by Howie and Hilda, Fileanta (tonight, Dawn Beaton, Kyle Kennedy MacDonald, David Rankin, and Melanie Craig MacDonald) danced a Scotch Four. After the intermission, Mary Jane sang a Gaelic song and then a puirt a beul strathspey and reel to which Hilda step danced, in high heels, yet! What a classy, talented lady! Next, Nuallan (tonight, Kevin Dugas, Keith MacDonald, Kenneth MacKenzie on highland bagpipes, Hilda on keyboard, and Pat Gillis on guitar) took the stage. Melanie, Melody Cameron, and Dawn step danced a cappella; when Nuallan started playing, Colin MacDonald, Kyle, and David came out and danced with the ladies. Nuallan then gave us a fine set of tunes. Colin, David, and Kyle next sang a Gaelic song to droning by the Nuallan pipers, who later played full out. Another great set on the pipes followed. During the next set, both Keith and Kevin step danced. The finale began with several verses of Cape Breton’s Gaelic anthem, Òran Do Cheap Breatainn (beginning with the words “S e Cheap Breatainn tìr mo ghràidh”) sung by Colin, Kyle, David, and Mary Jane; David next step danced to a puirt a beul; Nuallan, with the pipers on small pipes instead of highland bagpipes, and with Joe and Howie on fiddles, then began playing for several step dancers: Melanie, Melody, Kyle, Colin, Dawn and Margie Beaton together, and a group of dancers in front of the stage. It was just one fantastic cèilidh from start to end! KitchenFest! did it yet again!
As I drove back to Whycocomagh, rain spit on the windshield as lightning flashed over St Anns Bay. Tired from arising so early this morning, I was off to bed early and instantly asleep.
Wednesday, 6 July — Whycocomagh
A good night’s sleep reduced yesterday’s sleep deficit, without erasing it entirely. I got up at 9h, dealt with e-mail, read, and relaxed. After chatting with the motel manager, I left for Port Hastings. Again, I paid a visit to Capt’n Kennys Fresh, where I tried his Crispy Calamari Curls, delicious, but a huge order I could only eat half of, and a Greek salad.
I then drove the 104 to St Peter’s, where I turned down Corbetts Cove Road and followed it to its end in Barra Head; there, I followed highway 104 to the Soldiers Cove Road, and it to Grand River, where I turned down the East Side Grand River Road, stopping for photos at several points. Past the 90° turn to the left towards L’Archevêque, the East Side Grand River Road is in very poor shape; I was also surprised to now see lots for sale at the mouth of the Grand River and along the shore to L’Archevêque. It was a lovely, sunny day for photos with lots of clouds, some dark grey hued. At L’Archevêque, I took more photos and then worked on Saturday’s post as I sat enjoying the lovely scenery. Any day I get to spend part of in L’Archevêque is a day I am especially blessed! I left at 17h30 via Fergusons Lake, Grand River, and Lower L’Ardoise, looping back to St Peter’s.
Tonight’s KitchenFest! cèilidh was held at the front of the MacBouch restaurant in St Peter’s, which was full up when I came in; a good friend from Lower L’Ardoise invited me to sit with her and her sister at their table and we had a good chat while waiting for the cèilidh to start. Allie Mombourquette stopped by and I got to see some photos of her two-month old baby daughter. I also had a burger and a salad as the cèilidh got underway. Melody Cameron on fiddle, Mac Morin on keyboard, and Derrick Cameron on guitar opened with a fine set of jigs and followed it with two delightful march/strathspeys/reels sets. Patrick Lamey and Adam Cooke then sang a chantey a cappella and gave us three folk songs with keyboard and guitar accompaniment. Allie, whom I hadn’t heard in a concert setting in some time, on fiddle, with Mac accompanying on keyboard, gave us a jig set; a beautiful slow air she wrote (with super fine accompaniment from Mac, who was likely hearing it for the first time) and then into reels; a lovely waltz; a slow strathspey and then strathspeys and reels, during which Charlie Samson, 93 years young, step danced to great applause. Melody, Mac, and Derrick then returned for some fine strathspeys and reels. Mac gave us a slow air on solo keyboard, with guitar accompaniment by Derrick, on which Melody later joined, a beautiful moment indeed!
As they left the stage, I left the cèilidh, for I had planned tonight as a KitchenFest! twofer and left at 20h20 to head for the Red Shoe, a good healthy drive from St Peter’s, where I arrived shortly after 22h to standing room only, an hour into that cèilidh, emceed by Margie (Mrs Stanley) Beaton. JJ Chaisson on fiddle, Joël Chiasson on piano, and Pat Gillis on guitar were playing and Burton MacIntyre and Raymond Beaton step danced during the last of their sets. Kenneth took JJ’s place on fiddle and, accompanied by Joël and Pat, played for a square set. (I was standing by the door out to the patio, somewhat in the way of the waiters serving folks out there; the eldest son, perhaps in his early twenties, of a family of four, from Detroit as it turned out, seated at the table beside me, kindly offered his seat to me; I declined, as I had been sitting for the last several hours, and wasn’t uncomfortable standing yet, other than being somewhat in the way, but he got up and insisted I sit down. To say I was astonished at this very polite and gentlemanly behaviour is to understate the case! I hope I repaid his kindness by suggesting several places for his family, their first time in Cape Breton, to investigate off the Cabot Trail, which they had yet to tour: White Point and Meat Cove primary among them.) After the square set, Kenneth invited JJ to give us a guitar pickin’ set with Joël accompanying; as anyone who’s heard JJ rip the tunes off on guitar knows, this was a real treat! For the very long finale, Kenneth and JJ on dual fiddles, with Joël and Pat, gave us a fantastic tour of keys, ratcheting up the excitement with each key change; Jennifer Bowman step danced during the finale. When they completed, the audience stood as one to honour the incredible music of the cèilidh’s conclusion. After chatting with friends and thanking the musicians (JJ had the 3h30 ferry to PEI to catch), I drove back to Whycocomagh, but didn’t go to bed until 1h30, as I was still so revved up from the day’s marvellous music. It is of days like these that makes KitchenFest! the great festival that it is!
Tuesday, 7 July — Whycocomagh
Last night was a chilly one: I heard early morning reports of +9 (48) at Terre-Noire, +4 (39) in Northeast Margaree, and +2 (36) outside Whycocomagh, where I spent the night. When I awoke at 9h, I found a lovely, if cool, bright, sunny day with lots of white clouds, a perfect day for hiking: I thought seriously about hiking Salt Mountain, but I feared the fantastic views from its summit wouldn’t reward the effort required, given a weather forecast for mostly cloudy skies this afternoon, so I decided instead to hike another segment of the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail. After breakfast at Vi’s, I drove to Kenloch the long way, via Scotsville, with several stops for photos. I have rarely driven in broad daylight from Scotsville to Strathlorne (returning from the Scotsville dances, it was always night) and found the views better (or at least more novel to me) in that direction than in the other. The Strathlorne Scotsville Road is now in generally quite good shape and the Scotsville end even has centreline markings, missing for several years now; they inexplicably left a few sections of old deteriorated road between the new ones, making one wonder if asphalt is in as short supply as paint (the Strathlorne end still has no markings).
Today’s Celtic Shores Coastal Trail hike was from the Kenloch churchyard to kilometre marker 86 on the north side of the Deepdale Road. The temperature registered +17 (62) in the car when I left for Deepdale. Three ATVs passed through churchyard and on across to Church Road just after I left. On the trail, I also encountered four bikers, a motorbiker, and, unusually, both a pick-up truck loaded with canoes and another hiker, who said he has sugar problems and walks from Inverness to Kenloch four times a day for his health—I can certainly also attest that walking does wonders for lowering blood sugar; his father is buried in Kenloch cemetery. On this great day for hiking, with the sun in and out of the clouds, I saw plenty of wildflowers, mostly of yellow hues and primarily varieties of hawkweed and buttercups. The initial views are of the southwestern end of Godfreys Mountain, but, soon after crossing a couple of cross roads (one still marked with a school crossing sign—how many years old it must be!), the trail soon becomes lined with trees on both sides, with fine stands of white birch at several points. 2.1 km (1.3 mi) from the churchyard, a short tractor path leads to the edge of a field with fine wide views of Cape Mabou. Just shortly beyond that junction is what appears to have been a major washout, now repaired with crushed stone and with huge breakwater stones on top of the sluice, with signs of fresh fill leading down to the sluice; it made me wonder what happened there as the brook appears to be little more than a rill. A few hungry mosquitos were out in the areas the breeze didn’t reach, but a bit of insect repellent kept them from biting, though they annoyingly remained only inches away from my face. By the time I reached kilometre marker 86, where I turned around, the skies were mostly overcast with no sun, making me happy I hadn’t gone for the Salt Mountain climb; the breeze felt cool when sitting for a bit, not a bad thing on a hike. On the return hike, views of the ridge running above the Black River are visible in the far distance rising above the trail close to the Strathlorne Scotsville Road. The hike (going and returning) came in at 7.1 km (4.4 mi), good for both the body and the spirit.
I took the West Lake Ainslie Road back to Whycocomagh; its middle section, from south of the Hays River to just north of Cameron Road, is a mess, with badly scalloped pavement, bumpy and heaved and patched patches, while the initial and final sections are in generally excellent shape except for an inexplicable pothole and a couple of depressions. After a shower, I finished the rest of the crispy calamari from yesterday (warmed up in the microwave and kept fresh in the refrigerator in my motel room) and ate the Greek salad with tea, also made in the microwave. I put on a long-sleeved shirt, as it remained cool, and left for Glencoe Mills. The sun, back out once again, was directly in my eyes at several points along the way, making it difficult to see the road (why is it that the sun is there when you don’t want it but not when you do?).
The music for tonight’s KitchenFest! dance was supplied by Karen Beaton and Ian MacDougall on fiddles, Joey Beaton on keyboard, and Pius MacIsaac on guitar. The musicians where there and sound checking when I came in at 20h45; as is customary with the dances rescheduled to begin at 21h, there weren’t enough people in the hall to dance, so we listened to music supplied by the musicians until, at 21h26, a couple got up to dance to a waltz played by Ian and Karen on dual fiddles, with Joey and Pius accompanying. The first square set started at 21h35 with five couples, played by Karen, Joey, and Pius. Ian took the fiddle for the second square set, danced by six couples. Karen on fiddle played for a waltz getting two couples up and then for the third square set, danced by eleven growing to seventeen couples by the third figure as the hall began filling up about 22h30. The fourth square set, with Ian on the fiddle, started with three groups and had more than twenty-five couples—I got varying counts in the third figure because so many folks were on the floor I couldn’t see well! Ian and Karen on dual fiddles then played for a waltz, danced by four couples, and the step dance sequence, danced by Stephen MacLennan, Lewis MacLennan, Harvey MacKinnon, Burton MacIntyre, and Jimmy MacIsaac, fine steppers all, but a most unusual sequence as no ladies took the floor. Karen and Ian continued with the fifth square set, danced by 9 growing to 18 couples. Great music by all the whole night long and, once enough people had arrived, a great dance with fine dancers on the floor.
I encountered light rain and fog as I drove back to Whycocomagh; the car’s thermometer registered +10 (50) on the way down the mountain. I relaxed a bit and went to bed at 1h15, another great day in Cape Breton!
Friday, 8 July — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
When I arose after 8h30, a very different morning greeted me from the one in the photo I posted yesterday from my motel room: fog, mist, and light rain obscured the nearby terrain. I packed up the car and was out the door by 10h, decamping to Margaree Forks tonight. After filling the car with gas and my belly with breakfast at Vi’s, I drove to Scotsville and visited with friends there. Afterwards, I continued on to Margaree Forks and got my motel room key for tonight. When I got there, the weather had improved somewhat but it remained mostly overcast. I drove to Marsh Brook for a look from there at the Cape Breton Highlands rising above the Aspy Fault, one of Cape Breton’s most glorious sights. I then drove to the Margaree airstrip and posted a photo of it so those who had confused the Highlands airstrip with it could see how different they were. I then completed and posted the account for Saturday, 2 July, as I enjoyed the lovely scenery that surrounds the airstrip on all sides.
Then, it was off to the Gaelic College for the final KitchenFest! events there. First up, was a codfish dinner with codfish (I’m not quite sure how it was cooked, likely baked or roasted, but definitely not sauced, as my mother prepared it) with chow and cottage cheese, boiled red potatoes, peas, turnip, and “scrunchin’s”, a fantastic bacon and onion mixture I had not previously encountered; the dessert was a rhubarb square, which I couldn’t resist, and tea. Kudos to the kitchen at the Gaelic College for another very fine meal! A friend sat with me for dinner, allowing us to discuss various topics; a lady to whom I’d provided a photo came over and introduced herself to me; another friend also came over for a chat after dinner. I worked on Sunday’s post in MacKenzie Hall and then, as a queue began to form in front of the doors of the Great Hall of the Clans, I went outside to stand in line; it was cool and damp, with occasional drops of rain. I continued working on Sunday’s post until my hands got so cold I had to put them in my pockets; fortunately, the doors opened promptly at 18h30 and I got a front row seat, where I continued working on the post until the cèilidh started.
Rodney MacDonald opened the final KitchenFest! cèilidh with remarks in both Gaelic and English. Colin Watson gave us a fine Gaelic song and, with Brittany Rankin, sang the Gaelic anthem of Cape Breton (Òran Do Cheap Breatainn) and followed it by another song to which they taught the audience the chorus. Ryan J MacNeil on whistle and Brian Doyle on guitar next gave us a blast of reels and then a waltz and jigs; switching to bellows pipes, he then played a gypsy air followed by tunes, some of which were not standard Cape Breton tunes. Scott Macmillan and Brian Doyle, both fantastic guitarists and musicians with a very wide range of music and musical tastes, then took the stage; unfortunately for me, they mostly chose to play jazzy blarey electronica so far out I did not at all appreciate it, even if much of it was based on traditional tunes. They did give us a fine pickin’ set on acoustic guitars and a set beginning with the Bonnie Lass of Headlake and followed by strathspeys and reels, but mixing in foreign material that didn’t, in my estimation, belong. The audience, however, ate it up and delivered a standing ovation for their performance.
After a 15-minute break allowing us to get up and stretch, Ashley MacIsaac took the stage and, on solo fiddle, gave us the beautiful Memories of Willie D [Chisholm], written by Maybelle Chisholm-McQueen (who was unable to serve as Ashley’s accompanist tonight), the strathspey Reel of Tulloch, and Mason’s Apron. He then invited Scott to accompany him on guitar as he played: a set of jigs; a beautiful air he co-wrote with Gordie Sampson; Elmer Briand’s Beautiful Lake Ainslie followed by clogs in F and ending with a Dan R tune, these latter super fast and technically brilliant. Scott retired from, and Betty Lou came to, the stage and accompanied on keyboard while Ashley played for Stephen MacLennan to share his amazing steps. Ashley then played two fine sets with Betty Lou on keyboard, during the first of which he broke a string midstream and repaired it in media res; Rodney step danced after he resumed playing where he had left off. The second set was a magnificent slow air from Angus Chisholm via Buddy MacMaster, beautifully played, lush and gorgeous, followed by strathspeys and then into Tulloch Gorum. It was a fully traditional Ashley playing tonight and a joy and a delight to hear. During the finale, Colin and Brittany sang accompanied by Ashley, Betty Lou, Brian, and Scott; tunes followed during which Brittany, Anna MacDonald, and Margie Beaton step danced.
From St Anns, I drove back to the Southwest Margaree Parish Hall for the final KitchenFest! dance, where, when I arrived at 23h21, I found a small crowd present, with only four couples dancing the first figure of a square set to music by Dawn Beaton on fiddle and Lawrence Cameron on keyboard; Dawn is a fine traditional player with great timing, lift, and drive. The next square set, danced by six couples, had Gabrielle MacLellan on fiddle with Lawrence on keyboard; I had not had many (if any) opportunities of hearing her play for a dance in the past and I found her playing as fine as for a cèilidh, where I hear her more frequently. Dawn returned and played a set of jigs with no takers, so she switched to step dance music, which brought one step dancer to the floor (I did not know her, but she was said to be from Port Hawkesbury). Dawn then played a waltz, which brought one couple out to dance. Since there were not enough people left to form a square set, Dawn and Lawrence just played tunes for the few left. I departed at 0h36; I doubt they played out the rest of the hour. The short drive to the Inn was a godsend, as I was tired from the day and fell asleep almost instantly.
What a wonderful KitchenFest! this year’s festival has been! Thanks and kudos to the organizers and the musicians who made it such a memorable one!
Saturday, 9 July — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I was late getting up this morning and had to bustle to leave at 10h10. It was long-sleeve weather, +17 (63), sunny, bright, and with some clouds. After a stop at the bridge in Margaree Forks to take photos of the Southwest Margaree River just before it joins the Northeast Margaree River to form the Margaree River, I continued on to Belle-Côte, where I had breakfast: a fresh fruit salad “cup” (really a bowl) of watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, and peaches, all fresh and crunchy; a large orange juice; bacon; eggs; home fries; toast; and tea, all excellent and with superb service from the lad who waited on me. I stopped at the Terre-Noire look-off for photos and to write down the morning’s notes; the skies were clearer along the coast with remarkably little haze, though Sight Point was not too sharply etched. I stopped again at Grand-Étang for photos of the fjord. I drove to Chéticamp Island stopping for photos at several points along the beautiful route to the lighthouse at Pointe Enragée; the road was freshly gravelled and in the best shape I've ever seen it—I saw no potholes and no cattle were about. This beautiful drive is unknown to many, but it offers the best spot from which to observe the Cape Breton Highlands from Red Head (north of the Skyline Trail) all the way south to the mouth of the Margaree River; while you’re on Chéticamp Island, it’s also well worth driving to the end of the road at La Pointe, where you will find a small fishing harbour and fine views of the coast to the south.
Today’s cèilidh at the Doryman featured Robbie Fraser on fiddle, Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier on keyboard, and Gélas Larade on guitar. The afternoon began well before the appointed hour with a set of jigs and a march/strathspeys/reels set—it was clear Robbie was eager to play! There were no square dancers in the crowd, so no one answered the repeated lovely sets of jigs that occurred throughout the afternoon. Faded Love drew one couple to round dance as did a set of jigs. For the first two hours, the music just flowed, with superb playing by all three musicians, a real joy to hear! After a break at 15h50, Kathleen and Robbie switched places and, with Gélas continuing on guitar, gave us a set of jigs followed by other tunes and a second set of jigs, which brought a couple to the floor round dancing; it is always a treat to hear Kathleen on fiddle! Robbie and Kathleen switched again and Gerry Deveau played a set on spoons with them and Gélas, during which Gerry step danced as did someone I didn’t see. Gervais Cormier replaced Gélas on guitar and the three played a set of jigs and another set of tunes. Donny LeBlanc took over the fiddle and Robbie took the keyboard and, with Gélas back on guitar, played a set of jigs to which a couple round danced; a short second set of tunes; another set of jigs; and a set of strathspeys and reels to which a gentleman step danced. With Robbie back on fiddle and Kathleen back on keyboard and with Gélas continuing on guitar, they gave us a great set of jigs; a march/strathspeys/reels set during which a lady I don’t know step danced; Johnny Cope, with a fine keyboard introduction by Kathleen, followed by other tunes making up a fantastic set; and a final march/strathspeys/reels set in high bass tuning. At its end, the audience rose as one to give the musicians a very well-deserved standing ovation. Although KitchenFest! was now over, this cèilidh was fully in its tradition of providing magical moments throughout the afternoon. I ate dinner during the music, enjoying a fine green salad and two big beautifully cooked pieces of pan-fried haddock with rice.
On the way back, I stopped off at the Cabot Public House in Inverness to listen to a session led by Hailee LeFort on fiddle and Kevin Levesconte on keyboard. Since I didn’t have my motel room key, I couldn’t stay long, but was there long enough to hear the lovely slow air Lament for the Death of the Rev. Archie Beaton beautifully played by both and a few more tunes. After getting my key in Port Hood, I drove back to West Mabou via Hunters Road, always a gorgeous drive with its panoramic views of Cape Mabou and the inland hills from Smithville in the north to Judique in the south.
The music for tonight’s West Mabou dance was provided by Mike Hall on fiddle and Jennifer Bowman on piano; both were here and sound checking with Derrick Cameron at 20h50. There weren’t enough people in the hall at 21h to form a square set and no music was played until 21h18, when Mike started a set of jigs. There were no takers for that set, but the next set of jigs at 21h24 eventually got five couples to the floor for the first figure and added a couple for the second and third figures. The second square set at 21h45 got eight couples in the first figure and grew to 17 couples in the third. The third square set was similar, starting with a few couples and growing to 18. Mike then passed to fiddle to Jennifer and Joey Beaton took over the piano; they played for the fourth square set, a much larger affair, with two queues in the third figure and at least 21 couples on the floor. Mike on fiddle and Jennifer back on piano then played for a waltz that got five couples out dancing, and then went straight into jigs and the fifth square set, danced by perhaps 25 couples. The step dance sequence followed, with fine steps from Stephen MacLennan, Lewis MacLennan, Siobhan Beaton, Hailee LeFort, Sarah MacInnis, and Melody Cameron. The sixth square set had eighteen couples in its third figure and ended at 0h11, with Mike playing overtime to make up for there being no music at the start. The music throughout the evening was top notch, both musicians playing their hearts out, and the dancers were superb, stepping through the sets.
What a fine day of photography and music! I was sufficiently tired, however, that I went to bed as soon as I got to my room in Port Hood. Another fantastic day in Cape Breton!
Sunday, 10 July — Port Hood to Cape North Village
A fully overcast sky and a coolish +16 (61) morning greeted me as I left Port Hood at 9h this morning for Meat Cove. From Dunvegan north, the overcast was less monolithic and some sun was breaking through. I again had breakfast at the Belle View in Belle-Côte, but was disappointed that they were out of their fine fruit salad. When I finished breakfast, the sun was gone again. I drove out the Chéticamp Back Road and on into the Park. The bridge work is done at La Grande Falaise, but the viewing area there is still closed and apparently undergoing renovations. No road crews were working on Sunday, of course, so there were no delays in the other construction spots; MacKenzies Mountain was rough but wide—it will be very nice when done. I took photos at the MacKenzies Mountain look-off, where there were some blue sky patches but no sun and the temperature held at +16 (61), but couldn’t post any because no cell service exists in the Pleasant Bay area. I arrived at Meat Cove at 13h26, where the temperature was +17 (63).
I have long been enamoured of the incredible coast of Northwestern Inverness County: I have hiked the area from Meat Cove to Cape St Lawrence and to Lowland Cove and I have seen the coast from Cape St Lawrence to Polletts Cove from the water (see my photo essay The Spectacular Northwestern Inverness County Coast for a good selection of views). I was therefore overjoyed when I first learned of the Seawall Trail project (see its web site for photos and information). As currently contemplated, this will be a world-class three-to-five-day hiking trail in the Aspy Fault-Polletts Cove Wilderness Area, one of the most beautiful and pristine areas of Cape Breton Island. The coastal route will not follow the old inland route between Meat Cove and Archies Brook (north of Red River) across the bogs on the plateau, but will instead stick close to the spectacular coast with its open views from the edges of the highlands; the ups and downs which that route necessarily entails are part of the appeal to long-distance hikers. An inland route from north of the Blair River canyon will cross the plateau following the edges of the canyons of the Polletts Cove River system to North Mountain, again with many open views, and then cross it, ending at Big Intervale. As is usual on long trails, lean-to’s or huts will be provided at points along the trail in which hikers can overnight.
I, of course, wanted to show my support for this project, so I went to Meat Cove to attend the lobster dinner fundraiser for the Seawall Trail and to get some idea of the current state of the project. I had a good chance to talk at length with some of the board members and learned that the project has buy-in from the local communities and businesses, who are represented on the board and have taken care that it not impact them adversely; its potential economic impact on Northern Cape Breton is significant, running into the millions of dollars of new revenues. The trail is currently in its initial stage, which includes public consultations, fundraising activities, trail flagging and alignment, and other planning activities; it is thought that all of this preliminary work, which will cost between $75,000 and $125,000, will be completed in 2017. Part of today’s fundraising activities included a guided hike of the Cape St Lawrence Trail, which I would have loved to have done but physically couldn’t in the five hours allotted (that trek, for me, is now a full-day hike); it was encouraging to note that two of the twenty who did make the hike were a member of the federal parliament and a member of the provincial legislative assembly. I came away convinced that the project is not a pipe dream, but a well-thought out realistic project that, given proper support, has an excellent chance of materializing. It was very encouraging, for example, to see Scotiabank match the funds raised by the lobster dinner, doubling the $2950 raised from today’s events to $5900. Added to the funds raised by on-line donations, the stage one funding goal is not out of reach, though additional efforts will clearly be needed to close the gap.
The lobster dinner was delicious. I had a chance to watch the lobsters being cooked and learned that a secret is to use sea salt in the boiling water. The lobster was accompanied by big scoops of homemade potato salad, cole slaw, and veggies; two homemade desserts were available. I knew from past experience how good the cooks are at the Welcome Centre and I certainly was not disappointed. (I also learned that the restaurant is to be opened for the summer, good news indeed to anyone visiting Meat Cove!)
After the dinner was over, I drove down to the beach and took photos there and back at the campground. I stopped at Black Point and at the look-off near Black Point Brook for more photos. I got to my motel room in Cape North Village shortly after 20h, where I completed and posted last Sunday’s account and worked on last Monday’s account, going to bed at 0h50. Although the weather was not perfect for photos, it could have been much worse. I was very sorry to have missed both Mairi Rankin at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre Sunday cèilidh and the Glendale parish concert, also scheduled for this afternoon, but I was happy to have interacted with the Seawall Trail organizers, to whom I wish full success in their endeavours.
Monday, 11 July — Cape North Village to Whycocomagh
It was a cool (+13 (55)), rainy day, with fog on South Mountain, when I got up at 9h. Unfortunately for me, this meant that the drive back south would not have very good views. I stopped for breakfast at Denena’s in South Harbour, which opened 6 July and will remain open through Celtic Colours. When I came back to the car, the rain had stopped and there was some brightening in the skies, so I drove out the White Point Road and on to New Haven and Neils Harbour. Overcast followed me along that route and turned into sprinkles north of Ingonish and rain in Ingonish. I stopped at the Cape Smokey Provincial Park, where the car was buffeted by wind-whipt rain. I stopped off in Indian Brook to visit friends, who were not home. The Indian Brook and Tarbotvale sections of the Cabot Trail are in need of work, but it was a joy to ride on the new road north of North River Bridge, which as yet has no lane markings and needs them. The sun was trying to come out at the same time sprinkles were hitting the windshield; it never made it out on the way back to Whycocomagh. Once in my room, I had a good restful nap. I had been given two lobsters to take with me yesterday at Meat Cove, which I put in the refrigerator in my room (many motel rooms in Cape Breton now usually come with a refrigerator and often other appliances). I had picked up a Greek salad to go at the Herring Choker in Nyanza on my way south, so I had it and one of the cold lobsters for dinner in my room, a fine repast that would have been even better with some of the excellent potato salad from yesterday’s lobster boil. I completed and posted last Monday’s account and then set off for the Brook Village dance.
The music tonight was by Rodney MacDonald on fiddle, Allan Dewar on keyboard, and Colin MacDonald on guitar. The first square set got underway at 21h37, with nine couples in the first figure, growing to 21 couples in the third figure, an unusually fine showing for a first square set at Brook Village. The second square set had 17 couples in its third figure. A waltz brought five couples to the floor, growing to 10 couples by its end. By the time the third square set got underway, the hall was pretty full and six groups formed on the floor for its first figure; from this point on, I couldn’t get accurate counts, but there were at least 37 couples in its third figure. The fourth square set had more than 35 couples. The following waltz had fifteen couples out dancing. Mike Hall relieved Rodney on fiddle and played for the fifth square set, with the floor full of dancers. Rodney played another waltz when he reclaimed the fiddle, getting 15 couples up. Around 0h, the hall began to thin out a bit (tomorrow is a workday for many, of course), but even so the sixth square set had as many couples as the fifth. Joey Beaton relieved Allan on the keyboard for the remainder of the dance. The step dance sequence followed the sixth square set and was danced by four ladies I don’t know (one said to be from Boisdale), Katie MacLeod, and Harvey MacKinnon. The following waltz brought ten or so couples out to dance. The seventh and final square set was danced by 27 or more couples. The music was very fine all evening long, with lively jigs and reels played with beautiful lift and drive, as one would expect from these great musicians, with lots of my favourite tunes appearing in the sets, and the dancers gave their all stepping through the figures.
Before the step dance sequence, Andrea Beaton arrived with her fiancé, Hans Thorhauge Dam, to whom she introduced me and showed off her new engagement ring. They make a radiant couple and I wish them all the best in the future.
After the dance, I drove back to Whycocomagh and was soon fast asleep, the tunes and the rhythms of the dancers replaying in my head.
Tuesday, 12 July — Whycocomagh
A fine day greeted me when I arose late at 9h45: +19 (66), clear air and bright sun in a lovely blue sky. I skipped breakfast and drove over the back country to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, stopping for photos at several points along way. I took care of some errands there and stayed on for lunch and to listen to the lunchtime cèilidh, today with Hailee LeFort, Allan Dewar, Mike Hall, Kevin Levesconte, and Mac Campbell. When the cèilidh was over, I drove to Inverness and took care of more errands, after which I drove out the Strathlorne Scotsville Road to the Dunbar Road and drove up it and turned around at the Y at the top of Shaws Mountain, where I was surprised to find a parked SUV and a guy with two dogs; the road was driveable in my Prius with care, but not in as good shape as the last time I was up there. Introduced to it some years ago by a good friend, on the return trip down the mountain it offers good, if narrow, views of Lake Ainslie and of the Lake’s western shore south of the Hays River.
I continued on to Scotsville, where I was invited to dinner at friends. A lovely plate of roast pork, mashed potatoes, carrots, turnips, dressing, gravy, chow, and beets was the main course and I succumbed to the homemade blueberry pie with ice cream that was served for dessert; Cape Breton has some very fine cooks! Another gentleman whom I knew but to whom I hadn’t been introduced was also a dinner guest and the conversation was as excellent as the dinner. We had arranged the dinner so I would still be able to get to the Port Hawkesbury cèilidh on time, but I managed to get stuck behind five slow-moving cars on highway 395 that delayed me by a quarter hour, so I was late arriving.
The Port Hawkesbury cèilidhs run on Tuesday nights in the summer, unfortunately conflicting with Karen and Joey Beaton’s fine cèilidhs in Mabou, which I normally attend since they were responsible for first introducing me to Cape Breton music. However, tonight, the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association was giving the cèilidh in Port Hawkesbury and I wanted to see and support them. When I arrived, Joe MacNeil, accompanied by Lawrence Cameron, was singing a ballad. Next, Stephanie MacDonald on fiddle and Lawrence on keyboard gave us a fine set of tunes. Four of Sabra MacGillivray’s Celtic Touch dancers then danced a reel to recorded music. Marcellin Chiasson on mandolin, Lawrence on keyboard, and James Boudreau on guitar continued with a nice set of tunes. The Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association members present, directed by Dara Smith-MacDonald and accompanied by Janet Cameron, took the stage and gave us two fine group sets of tunes; their massed sound is always thrilling to hear. Fred McCracken, accompanied by Janet Cameron, sang some folk songs. Dara Smith-MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by Lawrence Cameron on keyboard, played a fine set of tunes and then for a young lady, whose name I didn’t get, said to be a MacDonald from Queensville, to step dance. The Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association returned, this time with Lawrence Cameron on keyboard, and gave us two more great group sets. During the second set, several folks step danced: a lady I didn’t recognize together with the young lady who had step danced before; Betty Matheson; Stephanie MacDonald; another lady whose name I’m not certain of; and Burton MacIntyre. I got to touch base with several friends after the cèilidh had concluded, thanking them for their performances in the cèilidh.
As I drove back to Whycocomagh, I encountered some fog; the car’s thermometer registered +17 (63). Once in my room, I read and relaxed a bit and retired at 23h30.
Wednesday, 13 July — Whycocomagh
After a good night’s sleep, I got up before 8h to a lovely, clear, blue sky day with bright sun; at +21 (70), it was a perfect for a hike. I gassed up the car, had breakfast at Vi’s, and headed for Port Hastings and the Canso Canal Park, the southern trail head for the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail. After taking photos in the Park, I headed north on the trail at 11h04. The trail, initially of the two-track-and-grass-crown variety, runs directly beside the hillside and behind the Coast Guard facility, separated from it by a chain link fence once past the parking area. The early part of the trail is good walking and the grassy areas at either side were a riot of beautiful wildflowers. At 1.1 km (0.7 mi), one reaches the bridge over the outflow of Long Pond. North of the bridge, the trail crosses Ghost Beach, a narrow spit of land lying between the Strait of Canso to the west and Long Pond to the east. A few stunted evergreen trees have established themselves on the south end of the spit, giving hope for stabilizing the trail by protecting it. At 1.6 km (1 mi), one reaches the end of the two-track-and-grass-crown trail and is on the “hike your bike” section referred to by a sign near the start of the trail: it’s mostly an ATV-able jumble of small rocks and loose rounded cobblestones that I find very hard walking. There is very little vegetation here—that any is present at all is a testament to its will to survive, for the highlands on either side of the Strait of Canso funnel the winds (and the salty waters they push) into a fire hose, as anyone who has crossed the Canso Causeway in a blow knows, heaving rocks and water half the height of the huge pylons bearing power lines across the Strait. Ghost Beach gets those ferocious blasts before they reach the causeway, so there’s really not much the trail maintainers can do about this section—putting down sand or even crushed stone would only have it blown away in the next storm. Huge breakwater stones do line the west side of the spit to provide a modicum of protection, but the spit is regularly hit by high waves that crash over the stones and onto the trail. At the north end of the spit, 4 km (2½ mi) from the parking area, the trail reverts to two-track-and-grass-crown again, a real relief after the long slog across the unstable rocks and stones—my walking stick sure came in handy crossing that section! I continued on another 400 m (¼ mi) to the northern end of a small pond east of the trail, due west of the trailer park in Troy, but, given that I had to redo the hike across the spit, turned around there instead of going on. Other than kilometre marker 0 at the kiosk beside the parking area, no kilometre markers are present on this portion of the trail, the first one being kilometre marker 5, 600 m (⅓ mi) north of where I turned around. On the way back, I was facing into the southerly winds that were blowing this day and that had been at my back; strong enough to keep pushing my sun hat off my head, they were cooled by the water over which they had crossed: this would definitely not be a bad spot on a hot day! The difficulty of this section of the trail is way more than compensated by its tremendous beauty: the views from the spit form a 360° panorama, making it the best place to see Cape Porcupine and the highlands on either side of the Strait. (Although the views are even better somewhat further north, just doing the initial two-track-and-grass-crown section will take you to some superb views, so don’t hesitate to explore the initial part of the trail if you don’t want to do the whole of Ghost Beach.) Sailboats are often seen sailing in the Strait or at the southern edge of St Georges Bay (though today I saw only one sailboat under power) and the ocean-going freighters and cargo vessels that traverse the Canso Canal (which can handle any vessel that can transit the St Lawrence Seaway) pass directly adjacent to Ghost Beach. Long Pond, into which Mill Brook (the outflow from Horton Lake) flows, is a lovely body of water when seen under blue skies, with intricate shores that constantly attract the eye. I took full advantage of the many rest stops I needed to photograph the beautiful scenes, both coming and going. When I got back to the car at 16h51, I was tired, but very happy to have made the hike.
I drove back to Whycocomagh, got cleaned up, grabbed a chef salad and a “thunder crunch burger” (breaded chicken breast) at Vi’s, and drove to St Anns for tonight’s instructors’ cèilidh. Colin MacDonald opened the cèilidh and gave us a Gaelic song. Brian MacDonald on fiddle and Susan MacLean on keyboard next gave us a fine set of tunes. They stayed on and Colin came out on guitar to play for Cheryl MacQuarrie to step dance. Susan MacLean, who is celebrating her 20th year of teaching at the Gaelic College, gave us a beautiful keyboard solo. Bernard Cameron related in Gaelic, with interleaved sentence-by-sentence translations from Colin, a humorous story he got from his father. Keith MacDonald, on unaccompanied highland bagpipes, played a fine set of tunes. Marielle Lespérance, the current world champion in highland dancing, danced to Keith's music. Mike Barron and Kolten Macdonell next played a grand set of jigs and a dandy march/strathspeys/reels set. To their music, Margie Beaton, Cheryl MacQuarrie, Gerard Beaton, David Rankin, then danced a Scotch Four. Kevin Dugas on highland bagpipes, accompanied by Kolten on keyboard during the later part of his set, played a great set of pipe tunes; the two then played for Gerard to step dance. Kolten on fiddle, accompanied by Susan on keyboard, played a nice set of strathspeys and ended with two Brenda Stubbert reels. The finale began with Hector the Hero and continued with strathspeys and reels, with Kevin and Keith on bellows pipes; Mike, Brian, and Kolten on fiddles; Susan on keyboard; and Colin on guitar; during its latter part, David, Gerard, Cheryl and two of her children, Bernard, Colin, Marielle, Susan, and Kolten step danced.
After talking to several of the musicians, I drove back to Whycocomagh. Tired from the afternoon hike, I was soon in bed and fast asleep.
Thursday, 14 July — Whycocomagh
Je souhaite à tous mes amis français une joyeuse fête nationale! Happy Bastille Day to all my French friends!
I arose somewhat after 8h to a very warm day (+28 (82)), warmer than I like and with a bit of humidity. I wrote and posted the account for 4 July and worked on my August schedule, after which I made some reservations for that trip. I skipped breakfast and went to lunch at the Bayside, where I had a cup of chowder (milky—I prefer creamy—but otherwise superb: chock-a-block with lobster and seafood—and more of latter than broth!) and the codfish dinner special (codfish, chow, cottage cheese, potato, turnip, cabbage, and a delicious concoction served in a lobster butter dish reminiscent of the Gaelic College’s “crunchin’s”, but very different (the waitress said it was bacon bits in rendered bacon grease)), a delicious meal with prompt and fine service.
Afterwards, I drove towards Inverness and found the road crew patching a very bad stretch of Highway 395 between Highway 252 and the West Lake Ainslie Road; they had already patched some bad spots and were working on more. It was great to see, as its current state is really dangerous and unsafe whenever meeting a car, since the road is badly broken at its edges—it is in dire need of resurfacing and rebuilding, but it looks like that may await another year. At least, the patching will help some. I turned into the “nosebleed” parking area area beside the mouth of the Hays River and enjoyed the strong breeze blowing through the open car windows; it was hazy across the water and the sun was burning down in a sky with lots of high white clouds.
As I left, I apparently had a “senior moment” as I thought I was turning right onto the West Lake Ainslie Road: instead, I turned a bit too soon and drove off the access road and down an embankment about a foot high that I knew full well was there. I stopped as soon as I felt the wheels go over, but backing up was of no avail as the tires just spun. So, I drove forward as gently as I could, but I scraped bottom badly and also loosened the back bumper on the driver’s side as it hit the embankment (breaking the bracket that held it in place, I later learned). Other than the bumper, the car was running fine and I could see no damage underneath, so I continued on my way. I drove across the Hays River Road, the Meagher Road, and the Lake Ainslie Chapel Brook Village Road to Highway 252 in Brook Village and took it to Mabou, where I tended to an errand. I then drove to West Mabou and up the Rocky Ridge Road, where I visited with friends, leaving the bear spray with them until the next trip; the car’s thermometer registered +30 (86) when I left. I then drove on to Southwest Mabou and took the Alpine Ridge Road, where a goodly sized bear, the first I’d seen this year, ambled across the road in front of me and into the adjacent brush about 1.5 km (0.9 mi) before the junction with the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road. I turned onto it and took it to the Old Mull River Road, which I took back to Highway 252; it was in the best shape I've seen it in many years. In Whycocomagh, I picked up a green salad at the Farmer’s Daughter and read and relaxed in my cool motel room (I’d kept the windows closed so it hadn’t picked up the hotter air outside). I then had the second lobster I’d been given along with the salad for dinner.
The back bumper was flapping a bit in the wind on the drive back to Whycocomagh and I tried to push it into place at the motel, but it just jiggled loose again on the way to Glencoe Mills, during which drive I also had to contend with a blinding setting sun at several points—fortunately, that road has little traffic. The music tonight was by Mike Hall on fiddle and Mac Morin on acoustic piano. They started playing about 21h10, but there were scarcely ten people in the hall and several of them weren’t dancers; during this time, I heard Mike play a jig that was new to me. Folks from away are now beginning to show up at the dances. The first square set got going at 21h22 when a local couple that wanted to dance offered to teach six others from away the figures so as to get things going. The second square set had seven couples in the first and second figures and grew to eight couples in the third figure. The third square set grew a bit more, with ten couples in its third figure. By its end around 22h30, the benches in the hall were nearly full, but the fourth square set only had eight couples in its first figure, growing to thirteen couples in the third figure after Burton MacIntyre got several couples up and taught them the figures. Céline Doucet (from Chéticamp but now living in Halifax) took over the fiddle, but not to play jigs, as she give us a set of other tunes to which no one danced. Mike took the fiddle back and, with Céline’s sister Danelle relieving Mac on piano, played for the fifth square set, which got fifteen couples in its third figure; for the first time, the dance floor looked full, with three different groups dancing. With Mac back on piano, the step dance sequence brought out Stephen MacLennan, Lewis MacLennan, Danelle first alone and then with Céline, a barefoot lady I don’t know, and Jennifer Bowman to share their steps. Many folks left at this point, so the last square set was slow to form, but nine couples danced its third figure, which ended several minutes after midnight. With Mike working out west, I don’t often get to hear him play these days, so I was delighted he had the fiddle tonight; his music was as superb as always and Mac’s piano accompaniments were perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and, once the hall filled up, the dancers on the floor, who were having fun.
I took it slow on the way back down the mountain to spare the rear bumper as much as I could. I was quickly asleep once I got back to the motel.
Friday, 15 July — Whycocomagh to Rollo Bay
In order to make the ferry to PEI, I had to get up early this morning. I was awake at 6h15, but didn’t get out of bed until just after 7h. It was spitting rain under ugly, dark grey skies as I loaded up the car. I experimented with using adhesive tape from my first aid kit to hold the back bumper in place, as I was afraid it might come loose in the air flow around the car at highway speeds. In Upper River Denys, the rain became moderate. I crossed the Canso Causeway Bridge at 8h57, sad to be leaving Cape Breton, but looking forward to a wonderful week-end of music at the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival. The rain stopped, but the heavy overcast remained, with the sun breaking through at French River and Sutherlands River but not elsewhere during the drive to the ferry. In spite of the rain, the tape held most of the way, but gave way past New Glasgow. Beyond the Pictou roundabout, I heard a loud grating noise and stopped. I assumed, incorrectly it turned out, that it was the tire guard scraping against the back bumper, so I retaped it and continued without further ado to ferry lane 12, where I arrived at 10h22 for the 11h45 sailing. As I was waiting in line, an observant gentleman pointed out to me that the panel beneath the front bumper was very close to the ground; that was the source of the grating noise, not the rear tire guard, as was obvious from the bad scrapes on its front edge. It must have been loosened yesterday on the embankment, but had held, as it hadn’t been a problem yesterday, only to come loose on the drive to the ferry, likely from the air flow during the drive; I’m not sure why it didn’t continue to scrape past the roundabout, but it was obvious it was going to be a problem, so I found a piece of twine in the trunk and used it to secure the panel to the front bumper, lifting it well off the road. With that modification, I got on the ferry, which left at 11h52, amazingly close to being on time given the huge number of vehicles that were loaded onto the boat—I was lucky to be where I was in line as only a few more cars were allowed on after me.
In PEI, it was sunny, hot, and humid, with a good strong breeze. I stopped in Montague to replenish my supply of adhesive tape and sun screen; the traffic there was heavy and I had to reverse direction to get out of the parking lot at the drug store as there were no gaps to get across the road on a left turn—likely not a problem most of the year but definitely a problem in high summer! I arrived at the Rollo Bay Inn at 15h07 and made my reservations for next year. I had dinner at the Sheltered Harbour Café and Pub on Breakwater Street in Souris (bacon-wrapped scallops with a balsamic vinaigrette on a bed of lettuce and “hard-seared” halibut with a superb mushroom and lobster sauce on a fine potato cake (similar to a fish cake but without the fish), served with potato salad and sautéed vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and beans), very al dente); what an excellent meal!
I then drove to the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival. Things have definitely changed this year, as I discovered on reaching the field. First of all, no cars are allowed past the small building at the head of the access road: one now parks on the adjacent field and either walks to the main field or gets a ride in one of the golf carts that ferried folks to and from the centre of action. Passes are now sold out of the small building instead of at the road; a week-end pass for a senior cost me $55, an incredibly low price for two full days and a night of non-stop music! Trailers and campers are now all in the field behind the cèilidh barn and separated from the main field by fencing. Only golf carts are allowed on the main field. A lot of work has been done to stabilize the buildings around the main field, which were suffering from dry rot and a lack of funds to properly maintain them; the wooden benches have been pulled out and replaced with a grassy surface—no loss, as nearly everyone sat in field chairs anyway. As I learned later, many of these changes were made for insurance reasons and to limit liability from any incidents that always seemed to be waiting to happen but somehow never did.
It was great to see a number of the friends I’ve made in PEI and to get to chat with several of the Chaissons, however briefly. I learned from Kevin Chaisson of a freak accident his son Darren had earlier while playing with a ball on the festival grounds in which he sadly badly broke his clavicle and was in hospital in some pain and likely facing surgery; alas, there’d be no music from him this week-end and it was bothering him badly as he so much wanted to be at and participate in the festival.
The evening cèilidh began promptly with Tim Chaisson serving as emcee. It was greatly changed from previous years, with lots of foreign elements that I’d not encountered in previous years: past Friday night cèilidhs had been showcases for local youth talent in earlier years and, in more recent years, featured tune-writer circles or local groups (such as the DOC CD release and the East Pointers concert of last year). Tonight’s first group was Luascadh ([ˈlus.kɑ], meaning "Swing" in Irish), an Irish-sounding music, song, and dance performance group based in the British Midlands playing bodhrán, fiddle, flute, and concertina (and doubtless a few other instruments that didn’t make it into my notes); they gave us a set of slides; a set of tunes; a song; and a bodhrán solo followed by more tunes. OK, but not what I was in Rollo Bay to see and hear. A young girl step danced to their music and was then joined by Kevin and Donna Chaisson and several others towards the end of their set. Next up was DOC, a PEI group formed of Anastasia DesRoches on fiddle, Mylène Ouellette on keyboard, and Brent Chaisson on guitar; they gave us a set of tunes, a set of jigs, and a third set of tunes from their CD, released last year. This I thoroughly enjoyed, even though it was material I’d previously heard. The Australian singer Liz Stringer, accompanying herself on a bangy guitar, gave us four songs: the kindest word in my notes for her performance was “excruciating”; it was way beyond anything I ever expected to hear at Rollo Bay and a great relief when she finally left the stage (in fairness, the audience seemed quite happy with her offerings). She was followed by Fru Skaggerak, three Scandinavian ladies, one each from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, all on fiddle; they played traditional Scandinavian music, a good deal of which was foreign to me, though I quite enjoyed the Danish traditional music set and the fine polkas at the end. At least it was fiddle music! The Mae Trio, again from Australia, played fiddle (ukulele on the second number), banjo, and cello and sang; their a cappella set wasn’t too bad and the ladies have some interesting vocal harmonies, but the rest of their set left me totally cold (again, in fairness, apparently unlike much of the rest of the audience). Finally, Cape Breton’s Mairi Rankin on fiddle and Outside Track band mate Allie Robertson from Scotland on harp redeemed the evening for me with some lovely sets; I’ve not heard much fiddle/harp music before and, while there were some funky moments I didn’t care for, I ended up rather liking the interesting and very complex music that they played, all based on traditional tunes, a fair number of them from Cape Breton.
After the cèilidh ended, chairs were reärranged and the “Young Chaissons” (JJ, Koady, Tim, and Darla [MacPhee]) played for a single square set using the Souris figures. The rest of the evening was given over to “traditional disco”, recorded traditional music to which folks were expected to dance disco-style. This evening, a large break with past Rollo Bay traditions, left me wondering if the overall direction was to turn the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival into just another folk festival, like the ones Tim and the East Pointers play at all over the world—it sure looked like it to me and I wasn’t particularly thrilled at the prospect.
I left at that point for conversation and catching up with some friends in their trailer on the grounds, enjoying their delicious traditional festival bowl of chowder and biscuits. On the short drive back to the Inn, the front underside was again scraping on the grass and gravel driveway; my earlier repair would need looking at again in the morning. It was a very hot and humid night and I sweat buckets during the cèilidh and after; it was a relief to turn on the a/c in the Inn. I was in bed at 0h, gearing up for a long day at the festival tomorrow.
Saturday, 16 July — Rollo Bay
I was up at 9h to a glorious day, but one that looked to be brutally hot under the sun and clear blue skies with nary a cloud to be seen. After breakfast at the inn, I wrote and posted the account for Thursday, 7 July. I then went down to the car and inspected the front. One of the panels beneath the front bumper was again hanging down, this time on the passenger side—the one on the driver side that I had tied with twine still held; I’m not much of a débrouillard, but I scrounged around in the trunk and found a bungee cord, which I hooked into the dragging panel and attached around and through the front bumper, with enough tension to keep it taut and the panel well off the ground.
I arrived at the festival field at 12h10. I asked Kevin Chaisson about Darren and learned that his break was a bad one requiring surgery either today or tomorrow and that Darren was badly bummed out to be missing the festival. I toted my gear (field chair, back pack, camera, and umbrella—I always take one, having found often keeps the rain away) down to what used to be the first row of benches and got myself set up in my usual spot in front of the main stage, a great place for taking photos of the performers. I was sad to note that Mabel Gallant and her food stand were not here this year; she only saw me once a year at the festival, but she always remembered my name and loved to chat. She always had wonderful Digby scallops that I ate as many of as I could manage; I later learned it was not her health, as I had feared, that kept her away, but her reluctance to conform to the changes being made at the festival. Instead, three food stands were on the grounds this year: the Evergreen Café offered pizza, fish chowder, sandwich wraps, tea, coffee, cookies, buns, and the like, a bit healthier fare than Mabel’s perhaps; a group whose name I don’t recall offered hamburgers, hot dogs, and excellent sausages from the very mild to the fiery hot; an ice cream vendor sold hard and soft ice cream. Together, they provided a pretty reasonable alternative, though they didn’t keep Mabel’s hours, who was open all hours of the night and day in years past. Two Cape Bretoners now living in PEI joined me and we had a good chat before the afternoon concert got underway on the main stage outdoors in the beautiful natural amphitheatre. The sun was brutal and liberal applications of sunscreen were duly applied; I wore my “coolie” hat, which is great for keeping the sun off my head and neck. The breeze from nearby Rollo Bay kept the heat from being stifling.
The afternoon concert kicked off with JJ as the emcee at 13h04. First off were the brothers Kenny and Kevin Chaisson on fiddle and keyboard, with Kevin’s son Tim on guitar; it was grand playing and exactly what I was in PEI to hear (if you’re really lucky and happen to be in the same place as Kenny when he visits Cape Breton, you might get to hear him there, but otherwise you need to be in PEI). DOC (Anastasia DesRoches on fiddle, Mylène Ouellette on keyboard, and Brent Chaisson on guitar) played a set of jigs composed by Anastasia and followed it with a set of traditional Scottish tunes, both very nicely done indeed. Rannie MacLellan on fiddle and Kevin Chaisson on keyboard next gave us a lovely set of beautiful tunes; I was sad they didn’t continue with a second set, as I rarely get to hear Rannie’s fine playing these days. Colette Cheverie then gave us folk songs and ballads, with Tim accompanying on guitar and Emmanuelle LeBlanc on bodhrán or flute or whistle and backing vocals for the first two; Colette’s sister, Donna Marie Deagle-Peters joined her on piano for the third; Tim and Emmanuelle returned to accompany Colette for the fourth. Andrea Beaton, with Kevin Chaisson accompanying on keyboard, first gave us a fine set beginning with Dougie MacDonald’s march Marble Hill, continuing with a Donald Angus Beaton strathspey, and ending with a reel she wrote and Gordon Duncan’s High Drive; next was a set of jigs ending with a Kinnon Beaton tune; and a final blast o’ tunes beginning with Donald Angus Beaton’s Memories of Paddy LeBlanc and another Kinnon Beaton tune; grand playing by both and a real treat! Christa Campbell then introduced Francis MacDonald, an original member of the PEI Fiddlers Society, on fiddle, with Kevin Chaisson accompanying on keyboard, who gave us a fine long blast o’ tunes, a set of jigs, and a march/strathspeys/reels set; I very much enjoyed this nice, older fiddle style, which, alas, is becoming rarer and harder to find. Kim Wempe, originally from Saskatchewan and now living in Antigonish, gave us some songs she had written, accompanying herself on guitar and “stomp box”; as far as I was concerned, she went downhill from her start: I found her repetitive—repeating the same line a hundred times does not a song make—and soon tuned her out. The current incarnation of the Chaisson Trio, Rannie MacLellan (substituting for the late Peter Chaisson) on fiddle, Kevin Chaisson on keyboard, and Louise MacKinnon (substituting for the late Lemmy Chaisson) gave us three songs, all of which I had heard Lemmy sing; as you know, I’m not much into folk songs, but these were very nicely done, in contrast to some others I’d heard this week-end. Karine Gallant on fiddle, Iain MacInnes on bellows pipes, and Zakk Cormier on guitar first gave us a Scottish-Acadian fusion set, a bit incongruous, but it worked for me; with Iain switching to whistle, they gave us a set of waltzes I enjoyed very much; and with Iain on highland bagpipes, they played a great final blast o’ tunes. Ward MacDonald on fiddle and Zakk next gave us a set of Buddy tunes; with Emmanuelle on keyboard, Ward and Zakk played Barefoot in the Grass, a waltz; with Emmanuelle remaining on keyboard, they concluded with a great blast o’ tunes; very fine playing from all three! The end of the afternoon concert began with JJ’s great and emotional remarks about the late Peter Chaisson, in whose honour this 40th edition of the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival was dedicated, followed by tunes from JJ on fiddle, Darla MacPhee on keyboard, and Tim on guitar: a heartfelt, beautifully played Hector the Hero reflecting his previous remarks and then into reels (those three should make a traditional Scottish CD!), during which JJ’s mother, Donna Chaisson; his son, Brady; Darla’s aunt, sister, and daughter; and one lady on the grass in front of the stage all step danced. JJ then invited Luca Hall, a 9-year old fiddler from Charlottetown, to join him on stage with Darla and Tim; he’s a very competent player and played two sets, one with JJ and one by himself, during which JJ step danced. At this moment, I realized that what Rollo Bay has always been about—nurturing young local players—will continue into the future and I felt very much better about the festival than I had so far; it was simply a wonderful and unforgettable moment. After Luca retired from the stage, JJ played a final march/strathspeys/reels set, during which Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc step danced.
In past years, there was a two-hour break between the afternoon and evening concerts, leaving enough time to unwind a bit, relax, and have dinner; not this year: from 17h15 to 18h45, the Cèilidh Barn Stage offered scheduled music. I grabbed a couple of sandwich wraps from the Evergreen Café stand and quickly made my way to the Cèilidh Barn. First up was Tim Chaisson, who gave us two of his songs; I love his fiddle playing, but I’ve never been able to get into his songs and tonight was no exception. Mairi Rankin on fiddle and Allie Robertson on harp then played four sets: the jig Exploding Bow followed by two Cape Breton reels; a Danish tune, the Editor’s Favourite strathspey, an Irish reel, and Alasdair Fraser’s Welcome to Cape Breton; a set they call Fishcakes and Brandy; and another they call the Round House set; as I did last night, I enjoyed their playing very much. Two New Brunswick players whose last name I didn’t get, Cara on fiddle and Jeff on keyboard, gave us Skipping Lambs, a Jerry Holland tune, and a French tune. Allan MacDonald, who has attended every Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival, on fiddle, accompanied by his son Ward on keyboard, gave us a set of jigs and a march/strathspeys/reels set; his playing is fluent and great fun to listen to. Finally, Elmer Deagle, who has missed recent Rollo Bay Fiddle Festivals, took the stage on banjo, accompanied by Tim on guitar, for a grand pickin’ set of tunes; a magnificent second set beginning with three tunes Elmer composed; for the third set, he switched to fiddle and gave us In Memory of Herbie MacLeod followed by rollicking strathspeys and reels, during which a lady I don’t know step danced. This was the first time his young daughters had seen him play on stage, but he was familiar to most other members of the audience, who were electrified to hear his superb playing once again and gave him a standing ovation at the end.
The evening concert started about twenty minutes late with Mairi Rankin and Wendy MacIsaac on dual fiddles and Mac Morin on keyboard. Their first set sounded like a familiar Beòlach set; for their second, Jake Charron joined them on guitar for a new set they had recently put together, including a jig by Mac and ending with a tune Wendy wrote (if I heard correctly). For their third set, Mac tuned the keyboard to sound like an organ and Mairi played a lovely slow air, in the style of a prayerful hymn, eventually joined by Wendy and Jake. Their fourth set was a synchronized step dance a cappella by Wendy, Mairi, and Mac, a wonderful thing to see and hear! Their final set was another Beòlach set with the West Mabou Reel. A PEI group, War Horses, was up next, but only one member of the group was present, who accompanied himself on guitar as he sang three songs, the second dedicated to the Chaisson family in memory of Peter; none of this was my cup o’ tea, but I have definitely heard worse. He was followed by Fru Skaggerak, Liz Stringer, and the Mae Trio, all of which I skipped out on as I’d had enough (more than enough, really) of them last night; instead, I went back to the Cèilidh Barn and had ice cream and tea. About 21h20, Ashley MacIsaac and Kevin Chaisson came on stage and gave us a lovely and lush slow air that Ashley remembered playing when he was last here in 1992 followed by an equally lovely and lush Hector the Hero and strathspeys and reels. Next, he played a set of jigs in honour of Charlie MacCuspic. He then give us the March of the Cameron Men and strathspeys and reels associated with Buddy’s playing. Tim came out on guitar as Ashley played strathspeys for step dancing, calling for Marlene Gallant to come on stage to step dance, as she did. Ashley’s last number was dedicated to Peter, which began with a slow air played by Ashley and Tim, with Kevin joining in on the strathspeys, including a fine rendition of Tulloch Gorum, and reels. Fantastic playing throughout, Ashley at his very best! The East Pointers (Tim Chaisson on fiddle and “stomp box”, Koady Chaisson on banjo, and Jake Charron on guitar) took the stage to close out the evening concert, playing their usual sets; as they started playing, people began gathering in front of the stage and danced to their tunes, partying in great style as they encouraged the players. About ten minutes into their performance, a rain shower arrived, dumping enough rain that I had to put up my umbrella to stay dry, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the from 100 to 200 people, young and old and everything in between, now dancing in front of the stage in the rain. By all logic, I suppose I shouldn’t enjoy their music as much as I do, as it is band music and, while based on traditional tunes, has evolved a long way away from traditional Scottish fiddle music, but enjoy it I do and I was very happy to hear them play once more. The dancers in front demanded and got an encore at the end of their set and groans were heard when they left the stage after 22h45.
The rain shower devolved into sprinkles during the end of the East Pointers’ performance and I packed up my field chair, camera bag, hat, and umbrella and took them back to the car. I returned to the Cèilidh Barn for the square dance that follows the evening concert to find Kenny Chaisson on fiddle and Ashley MacIsaac on keyboard playing tunes. Kenny wanted to turn the fiddle over to another player, but Ashley convinced him to play on for the first square set, using Souris figures, and a following waltz; it was one of the longest sessions I have heard Kenny play and it was absolutely delightful! Ashley took over the fiddle and Darla MacPhee, Kenny’s daughter, the keyboard for a fairly wild set of tunes that drew several step dancers, including Kenny; they continued with a second square set. The official schedule ended with the dance at 0h30, but the unofficial music in the tuning barn, of course, continues to the wee small hours. I was tired and simply didn’t have enough strength to make it out to the tuning barn tonight, so I caught a ride on one of the golf carts back to the car; I shouldn’t have left my umbrella in the car, as it was raining hard after the dance. Tonight, I had no scraping problem with the car’s front bumper on the way back to the Inn. I was asleep almost as soon as I got into bed.
Sunday, 17 July — Rollo Bay
I awoke hungry a bit past 8h and went downstairs for breakfast. I then returned to my room and went back to bed, as I was still tired from the long day yesterday. I got up about 10h45 to a sunny day that was cooler than yesterday, with a good breeze and lots of high white clouds. I arrived at the field around 11h30 and got a ride in a golf cart, shared with Ashley MacIsaac and JJ Chaisson, from the parking area to the main field—I could have walked, but they stopped to pick me up so I got in with all the gear I was carrying. I again got set up in my customary location; while doing so, I had a good chat with JJ.
I then walked up to the Cèilidh Barn, where a Tunewriter and Songwriter Circle started the day’s scheduled music off at 11h30am. I missed most of Jake Charron’s performance, intentionally skipped both Kim Wempe’s and Liz Stringer’s, and listened to both Andrea Beaton’s and Koady Chaisson’s. It ended at 12h30; I’d have had something to eat to tide me over the afternoon concert, but none of the food vendors had yet arrived. While waiting for the afternoon concert to begin, I chatted with Dara Smith-MacDonald and Adam Young, who were both at the festival.
The afternoon concert got underway at 13h07 with Marlene MacDonald emceeing; in years past, she had emceed both concerts on both Saturday and Sunday, so it was great to see her on stage once more doing her customary very fine work. First up were the Queens County Fiddlers, directed by Aaron Crane with a lady on keyboard whose first name was Jennifer and whose last name I didn’t hear; they gave us a set of jigs; Moladh Maureen NicCoinnich played as a march followed by strathspeys and reels in a fine blast o’ tunes. The Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival raises funds for free weekly fiddle lessons for anyone in the area who wishes to learn to play; this year’s Rollo Bay Fiddle Students next took the stage and, with Kevin Chaisson on keyboard and Katherine Dau-Schmidt directing, gave us first the PEI Waltz and Ryan's Polka and then a set of strathspeys ending with Silver Spirit. A group of amateur fiddlers who form the Rollo Bay Kitchen Group, previously led by Peter Chaisson, accompanied by Darla MacPhee on keyboard (Kevin played fiddle in this group) and Chris (whose last name I didn’t get) on guitar, gave us two sets: the first had the Stone Frigate, a Brenda Stubbert tune whose name I didn’t get, Rannie MacLellan’s, and Silver Spear, while the second had Fingal’s Cave, Cutting Ferns, another whose name I didn’t get, and Jerry Holland’s Brenda Stubbert’s Reel. Elmer Deagle on banjo and Tim Chaisson on guitar gave us two superb sets; switching to fiddle, with Darla on keyboard, Elmer played In Memory of Herbie MacLeod and followed by strathspeys and reels on which Tim on guitar joined in; again, fantastic playing from all three that the audience greatly appreciated. When the Mae Trio took the stage, I took the opportunity to visit the food vendors, two of whom, it turned out, didn’t open up until about 16h, so I had an ice cream from the one vendor that was open. I returned as the Trio left and, since it had become overcast and cooler, put on a long-sleeved shirt. Tim on fiddle and Jake on guitar then gave us a grand set of jigs and reels; I really like Tim’s straight traditional playing. With Darla on keyboard, several of the Chaissons (Kenny, JJ, Stephen, Tim, Andrew, one whose name I don’t know, and Elmer) on fiddles with Brent and another whose name I don’t know on guitar, joined by Richard Wood and Buddy Longaphie, both on fiddles, played a very moving tribute to Peter Chaisson that for me, and I suspect many others, was one of the most emotional moments of this year’s festival. Next, Richard Wood on fiddle, accompanied by Darla on keyboard and Brent on guitar, played a great blast o’ tunes; a set of jigs; and a set beginning with Howie MacDonald’s Grand-Étang march and continuing with strathspeys and reels. Cynthia MacLeod on fiddle, accompanied by the multi-talented Jake Charron on keyboard and Brent on guitar, gave us a set of jigs and Inisheer, a lovely Irish slow air, followed by strathspeys and reels. Andrew and Stephen Chaisson on dual fiddles, with Jake remaining on keyboard and Tim on guitar, next played some lively tunes; very fine playing from all four. The sisters Charity Deagle on guitar and vocals and Donna Marie Deagle Peters on vocals sang four songs: Fields of Gold, Rise Again, Some Day When I Stop Loving You, and Over and Over. Next, Buddy Longaphie, another old style player I always enjoy hearing, on fiddle, with Kevin on keyboard, played a fine march/strathspeys/reels set during which JJ step danced. Ward MacDonald on fiddle with Jake on guitar gave us Piano in the Garden and then strathspeys and reels; with Kevin joining them on keyboard, Ward played John Morris Rankin's The Last March and followed it with some great strathspeys and reels. Lovely playing from Ward, as always. The concert closed with another appearance by the East Pointers (Tim, Koady, and Jake) who gave us an instrumental set; the song, Blaine’s Laughing Eyes, which has become a sort of local anthem, done a cappella; the song Eighty-Two Bars; and a final instrumental set.
Towards the end of the concert, word came that Darren’s surgery had gone well and that he had been released from the hospital and was on the festival grounds, so he was able to attend at least a small part of it, even if he couldn’t play on stage. Good news indeed that was greeted with a round of applause!
In the fifteen minute break between the concert and the start of more scheduled music in the Cèilidh Barn, I sampled one of the fiery hot sausages at the meat purveyors and found it excellent; I later had a second one along with some wraps from the now open Evergreen Café. When I got to the Cèilidh Barn, JJ on fiddle, with Darla on keyboard and Koady on guitar, played a barnburner of a set beginning with a lovely slow air. Jenna Cyr, a young lady I’d heard in previous years, on fiddle, with Kevin on keyboard, next gave us some fine tunes; after her first set, she was joined by two other young ladies whose names I didn’t get and, with Brent on keyboard, gave us a nice triple fiddle set. With Brent on keyboard and Tim on guitar, Theresa Doyle, whom I’d not previously heard of, proved to be a very talented lady, singing in Gaelic, French, and English, and ending with some jigging (puirt a beul); I really enjoyed her performance and hope to run into her again. At this point, the call was made to move the evening concert into the Cèilidh Barn because of impending rain—it had already been sprinkling; I left to collect my gear from the field and take it to the car. When I got back, a country singer was entertaining with Kevin accompanying on the keyboard. Kate McNally, a Boston fiddler, accompanied by Janine Randall on keyboard, gave us a couple of fine fiddle sets. This concert ended with Tim on fiddle and Kevin on keyboard, playing a fine set of fiddle tunes; as I’ve mentioned, I’m very fond of Tim’s playing and wish there had been more opportunity to hear other sets like this one.
The evening concert got underway a bit late in the Cèilidh Barn about 19h10; I didn’t get the emcee’s name, but he was bilingual and introduced each performer in both English and French. As before, I skipped both Fru Skaggerak and Liz Stringer’s performances, so for me the evening concert really began with Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Jake Charron on guitar, who gave us a set of jigs, including one by Brenda Stubbert and two by Liz Carroll. Their second set was a clog followed by reels, ending with what I heard as Potatoes and Herring (though I can find no tune of that name on the web). Ashley joined the two on keyboard for their final set, a march/strathspeys/reels set, which rightly earned them all a standing ovation. JJ made some general comments on the festival and its financing before giving us a grand pickin’ set on guitar, with Darla on keyboard; at the end, he too got a standing ovation. With Jake accompanying on guitar, Ashley played: a set including The Maple Leaf Forever and the strathspey Reel of Tulloch; a set of jigs in E-minor; and a set beginning with Beautiful Lake Ainslie and including Silver Wells. Darla came to the keyboard for his final set. Fantastic, pure traditional playing again from Ashley, Jake, and Darla; they were greeted with another standing ovation. The final performance of the evening was by PEI’s Vishtèn, who won the 2016 ECMA for Roots/Traditional Group Recording of the Year for their newest album Terre Rouge; composed of twin sisters Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc from PEI and Pascal Miousse from les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, this multi-talented group now tours all over the world promoting their fine Acadian traditional music. Emmanuelle supplies bodhrán, piano, jaw harp, whistles, percussive dance, synthesizer, and vocals; Pastelle contributes piano, accordion, percussive dance, and vocals; and Pascal adds blazing fiddle, mandolin, electric and acoustic guitar, and vocals. With seemingly boundless energy and switching instruments on the fly, they gave us songs, instrumental sets, and step dancing, encouraging the audience to sing along with them in French. It was one phenomenal performance, earning them a well-deserved standing ovation. Ignoring the first hour, it was simply one amazing concert, the likes of which are to be had only at the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival.
After the concert, the chairs were moved and JJ and Kevin played for the first square set, two waltzes, and Faded Love played as a two-step. Ward took over the fiddle and, with Kevin on keyboard, played for the second square set. Tim on fiddle with his father Kevin continuing on keyboard played for the final square set of the evening and the festival, which ended at 0h33 with a line dance snaking in and out of the hall with no break in the music.
Once again, with the non-stop music and especially after the powerhouse of the evening concert, I was just too tired to even think about going over to the tuning barn where, in previous festivals, a celebratory after-festival party takes place with great music and dancing to the wee small hours of the morning. This marks the first time I haven’t made it to the tuning barn even once during the festival—I’m certainly beginning to feel my age! I returned to the Inn and was asleep immediately.
I would like to thank Big Field Traditions, the not-for-profit group of Chaisson cousins who came together to save and perpetuate this amazing festival, for all their tireless hard work in mounting this fantastic 40th edition of the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival; their pre-festival work was on display and several got very little sleep while running a very well-managed event. Changes from previous years there were aplenty, some good improvements and others that I hope are reconsidered or done differently next time around, but the essence of what makes this festival so important has survived intact: its emphasis on home grown traditional Scottish and Acadian music and providing a stage for PEI’s local players, many of whom I never get to hear elsewhere, to share their talents. The Chaissons are an amazingly talented musical clan and their hearts are as wide as the great outdoors. Thank you all for a great time and a great festival!
Monday, 18 July — Rollo Bay to Bangor
Today, I begin my 75th year, grateful indeed for my continuing relatively good health and reluctantly accepting that I’m no longer able to do everything I want to and once did.
I awoke at 7h, but didn’t get out of bed until 8h. It was a sunny day, humid and warm (+23 (73)), with lots of clouds in a blue sky. I had breakfast at the Inn and got the car packed up and ready to head home, putting a new set of adhesive tapes on the back bumper. I stopped off to visit a lady, originally from the North Country where I grew up but now living in Charlottetown, who had invited me to stop by and meet her husband. I crossed Confederation Bridge, arriving on the New Brunswick side a couple of minutes past noon. The tapes holding the back bumper broke loose on Highway 15 near Moncton; I got off at exit 450 on Highway 2 and applied new ones. I stopped at Salisbury for a sub, of which I ate half while enjoying the a/c; by now, the car’s thermometer registered +27 (81). I ran into fog in St John, where the temperature dropped to +17 (63) and didn’t see the sky again until I reached St George, where it was again +27 (81). I had no problems clearing customs and no queries about red apples (I had two spoiled ones to give them if they had), having eaten the other two on the way. I stopped in Baileyville for gas and a pit stop and, given the big ugly thunderclouds to the west I saw there, used their wi-fi to check the weather. The radar said they would miss Airline Road. They didn’t, and I had a hellish drive through two widely separated squalls which each featured dark-as-night lighting, torrential downpours, and near-zero visibility (again making me think very kindly of the inventor of edge-of-the-road white lane markings!). When I finally made it to Bangor, with the tapes on the back bumper still holding, amazingly, I was much too tired to continue on to Lewiston, as I normally would have, and got a room at the Motel 6 there; I had the other half of the sub in my room; it was not much of a birthday supper, but I was just too tired to go out and not really all that hungry anyway. After posting my thanks for all the birthday wishes on Facebook, I was soon in bed and fast asleep.
Tuesday, 19 July — Bangor to Jackson
I arose at 5h30 and left Bangor on a lovely, cool, morning with clear air after applying a new set of adhesive tape to the back bumper. I stopped off in Newport for breakfast at the Irving big stop and once more at the Kennebunkport (Maine) rest area. It clouded over from Kennebunkport to Lowell (Massachusetts), where it began clearing with the sun shining through lots of white clouds. I stopped for gas at Sturbridge (Massachusetts), where I found the tape was still holding well. As I approached New York State, electronic road signs indicated that the Tappan Zee Bridge was closed (I later learned because a crane fell across it, injuring five and blocking the road bed); I ignored the signs, but was then forced south on the Sawmill River Parkway (I should have gone north and taken the Bear Mountain Bridge). I used Google Maps to navigate home via the George Washington Bridge and it did a very fine job, taking into account current traffic conditions and the proper lane to be in. Lots of cars were changing lanes all the time in the blocked stop-and-go traffic—I don’t know if that's normal in New York City or not, but no one seemed to mind. I got home around 17h, very glad to be off the road and able to rest up for the next trip in August.
The car’s odometer said I had driven 9565 km (5943.4 mi) on this trip. I got the trunk unpacked and made an appointment with the car dealer to get the damage to the loose front panels underneath and to the back bumper repaired. After supper (from the freezer), I relaxed and started going through collected e-mails. I was soon off to bed, just too tired from the trip to stay up to my usual time.
I would like to thank everyone who made this trip such a memorable one, musicians and friends alike. Once I get rested up again, I’ll be already to do it all over again in August!
And thank you for your patience for the late posts, which are now once again caught up.