Except for the first and the last two posts, which were written on the days described, all the other posts were written long after the trip was over. So crowded was my schedule that I did not even attempt to write daily posts this trip, contenting myself instead with posting photos taken on the fly during the day as proof that I was still alive. Some days, these photos were few in number and other days plentiful; I have incorporated these photos¹ into these accounts.
Freed of the need to find time during the trip to whip my notes into shape each day, I still continued my usual mode of taking brief but fairly detailed notes on my iPhone as the day transpired (in some of the Celtic Colours concerts, I took notes instead in a paper notebook so as not to be accused of taking photos or recording—some venues are really picky—though I knew from past experience that, due to writing quickly in inadequate lighting, this often results in some illegibility after the fact). Except for the three accounts written on the days on which they were posted, the remainder result from editing, expanding, and assembling my notes into a coherent post here at home long after the fact.
¹ Because the iPhone makes it easy to share photos on Facebook, all of these photos were taken with the camera on my new iPhone7 Plus, which offers a significant improvement over my previous iPhone6s Plus; it amazes me how well this tiny camera and its software perform, sometimes even equalling the performance of my Nikon D5100 DSLR, though as often not even close. Some of the problems I caused, e.g., by failing to hold the iPhone steady or properly, so not all of the poor quality stems from the camera alone. Moreover, photos that seemed, on the small screen, to be acceptable for posting often reveal serious imperfections at the larger sizes shown on this page: you will see several such mediocre quality photos here, which I have nonetheless chosen to retain in these accounts as they were the ones I posted at the time.↩
Tuesday, 4 October — Jackson to Calais
I left Jackson in the dark this morning at 5h33 and I arrived in the dusk this evening at the motel in Calais at 18h30. The long summer days, alas, are gone for this year!
Relative to my last trip to Cape Breton, it was a much better one. I ran into moderate rain on the New Jersey Turnpike, which ended before I reached the Garden State Parkway, but I encountered no slowdowns until the approach to the Tappan Zee Bridge and there traffic mostly kept moving, albeit slowly; I got stopped on the Saw Mill River Parkway once more for construction. Much later in the day, I also ran into construction stops on the Airline (Route 9) in Maine. Other than that, traffic moved along smartly and there wasn’t all that much of it. The skies were occluded in New Jersey and New York and cleared at the Connecticut border; after breakfast in Newtown (Connecticut) they clouded up to Hartford, opened again in western Connecticut, clouded up at the Massachusetts border, opened once more east of Tewkesbury (Massachusetts), clouded up again at the Maine border, and opened up for good south of Portland for the rest of the trip, except for a brief spell around Augusta. When the skies were open, there were next to no clouds anywhere and when they were clouded there was no blue sky anywhere—there seemed to be no middle ground.
The fall colours on the trees were impossible to miss once the sun was up, though it’s still very early days yet. In eastern Maine, where they are furthest along, perhaps as much as a quarter of the deciduous trees had turned to some degree; it was much less than that in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but branches or tops of trees and some few whole trees were to be seen all along the highways there. A few brilliant reds were on offer, mostly in Maine, especially beautiful when the sun was out.
I had dinner in Baileyville, just outside Calais, and will be very soon off to bed. Tomorrow, Cape Breton!
Wednesday, 5 October — Calais to Port Hood
I got up at 6h30¹ to a lovely day but a very cool (0° (32)) one, with fog lying low on the St Croix River.
Yesterday, as I was crossing the Airline (Route 9) in Maine, I noticed a vibration that I took to be in the motor, especially noticeable when the engine was under load, as when climbing a hill, of which there are many on the Airline; the motor, however, was otherwise running fine, there was no indication anything was amiss on the dash lights, and the car had been checked and serviced just last Thursday. Still, the noise was persistent enough and I was worried enough that I decided to take it to a Toyota garage, the nearest of which to Calais proved to be in St John, I discovered. Accordingly, I cleared customs and continued on to St John, where I eventually found the Toyota dealer (it was my first time in downtown St John and the directions Google Maps gave were not helpful as I navigated the confusing streets). When I finally got to the garage, there were five cars ahead of me, but they told me they could look at the car in an hour and a half, so I decided to wait it out. The technician found that the noise was a heat sink underneath the car which had come loose, apparently some time yesterday on the trip to Calais, having lost a bolt that held one end of it in place—nothing wrong with the motor at all, fortunately! After that was repaired, I was on my way again, though later than I wanted to be.
The most vivid colours I saw anywhere on this trip were from east of St John to west of Moncton, where perhaps a third of the deciduous trees had turned, some of them very bright and even with some nice reds. Nova Scotia and Cape Breton had incipient colours, but were not very far along.
I stopped in Salisbury (New Brunswick) for a sub and ate half in the car as I continued uneventfully to Cape Breton. I crossed the Canso Causeway at 17h02, got gas in Port Hastings, and arrived in Port Hood at 17h43. I ate the other half of the sub for dinner as not enough time remained to both eat dinner out and buy my ticket for the show tonight at the Strathspey Place.
Sin Agad an Dòigh, which a Gaelic-speaking friend translated as That’s How It Is, proved to be a magical evening, full of energy and high jinks: although I was tired from the drive, it perked me right up. A collaboration between Howie MacDonald, Peter MacInnis, and Tracey Dares-MacNeil (and doubtless with contributions from the other cast members, Marilyn MacDonald-MacKinnon (Howie’s sister), Alasdair Cameron, Sarah MacInnis, and Jessie Helen MacNeil (the last three, cast members of Brìgh)), its hilarious skits and perfect accompanying costumes offered wry commentary on human nature in Cape Breton (and those from the “Boston States” who pop in for a visit) along with great fiddle music, songs, and dance. Steve Rankin’s fantastic photos were shown as a backdrop between the several sections of the show. Marilyn and Peter both have magnificent voices, the first time I had heard either sing, and Sarah, whom I’d heard before, is a marvellous Gaelic singer. Several of the skits left me in stitches (Alasdair has a great comedic future!), with side-splitting performances from the very talented cast. I couldn’t have been happier to attend this show; it will be offered again on 28 December and I heartily encourage you all to see it then.
Tired from the drive, I made my way back to Port Hood and was soon in bed.
I arose a bit after 9h30 to a blue sky over a low fog bank just above the water and to overcast inland; it later turned into a lovely blue sky day everywhere. After talking with my host at the motel, I had a late breakfast at Sandeannies and then drove to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, where I took care of a couple of errands and then listened a while to Rachel Davis and Kevin Levesconte at the lunchtime cèilidh. I continued on to Port Hawkesbury, where I took care of another errand and stopped off at the look-off on Granville Street for some photos. I then drove north to the Troy Station kiosk on the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail.
From the Troy Station kiosk, I hiked north on the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail. It was a lovely afternoon with blue sky and bright sun and there were signs, not as visible from Highway 19, of changed colours along the trail. This is a glorious section of the Cèilidh Coastal Trail, closely following the coast most of the way until it turns inland a bit as it nears Low Point. Just beyond the barricade north of kilometre marker 6, the packed sand surface changes to a paved rough asphalt surface that has seen better days, but is still very serviceable; I suspect this 2.8 km (1¾ mi) paved section long predates the current trail, as none of the rest of the trail is paved. 200 m (⅛ mi) north of kilometre marker 6, one arrives at Hefferman Pond, an estuary formed by the outflow of a brook rising on the Big Ridge east of Troy that the topographical map leaves unnamed. The trail crosses the brook on a wooden bridge and this area offers fine views of the estuary, of the mainland north and west of East Havre Boucher, of St Georges Bay to the northwest, and of Hefferman Point at the north end of the estuary. Over the next 3.5 km (2⅙ mi), the trail gains 19 m (62 ft) in elevation, a gentle climb over that distance, to be sure, but one I noticed very readily, pausing frequently to catch my breath. 3.1 km (1.9 mi) from the kiosk, one arrives at an embankment with a fine view of Cape Jack on the mainland; here, one is well north of the end of the mainland on the far side of the Strait of Canso. Another 215 m (⅛ mi) brings one to the end of the paved section and in another 210 m (⅛ mi), one is on a long straightaway between two ponds in a marshy area with fine views of the adjacent highlands. In another 330 m (⅕ mi), one reaches kilometre marker 9, where I turned around and then returned as I came, a total distance of 8.3 km (5⅙ mi) according to my iPhone’s Trails app. While I was on the trail this afternoon, I met two ATV’s, a lady with a dog pushing a baby carriage, a jogger from Howell (New Jersey) who passed me in both directions, two ladies who passed me in both directions, two men walking north, another man walking north dictating notes into his phone, and a guy with a dog walking south; I was delighted to see this trail getting some well deserved use. If you’ve not done this hike and you’re able to, you should do it!
I didn’t get back to the car until 17h30, later than I had intended. I drove back to Port Hood and got cleaned up from the hike. I grabbed a quick bite to eat at the Admiral Inn and then headed back to Judique for tonight’s Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling Masters’ Concert at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. This annual concert features the instructors who will be leading classes at the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling next week; missing were Kendra MacGillivray (PEI) and Liz Doherty (Ireland), who had not yet arrived on the Island.
The first half started with a great set of jigs by Kenneth MacKenzie, Kinnon Beaton, Wendy MacIsaac, Andrea Beaton on fiddles and Troy MacGillivray on keyboard. The remainder of the first half was a set of tunes from each of the instructors. With Troy remaining on keyboard, Kenneth started off with a tune for his wife, Jenny, composed by Wilfred Gillis, some strathspeys by Duncan Currie and another he wrote, and “then we’ll see where the reels go”. With Allan Dewar on keyboard, Kinnon played the Ashokan Farewell and followed it with strathspeys and reels; he was nervous enough he couldn’t think of the tune names, but his playing was fine. With Troy back on keyboard, Wendy played a tune the Rankins recorded and followed it with other tunes I didn’t get the names of into my notes. With Troy remaining on keyboard, Andrea then give us some jigs followed by strathspeys and reels, including the Kinnon tune The Judique Consolidated High School 1991 Grads.
After the break, the second half began with a grand rousing set of strathspeys and reels for step dance, with Dara Smith-MacDonald, Shelly Campbell, Kimberley Fraser, and Troy on fiddles and Allan on keyboard. With Allan continuing on keyboard (I think—my notes are silent), Dara then gave us a wonderful set beginning with Mrs Crawford and continuing with strathspeys and reels, including one she learned from Ian MacDougall’s playing. With Allan on keyboard, Shelly gave us a super-understated set beginning with The Rendez-Vous March, a strathspey she learned from a tape, and Betty’s Birthday Boy, among other tunes. With Troy on keyboard, Kimberley gave us a set beginning with Joan MacDonald Boes’ The Sweetness of Mary and followed it with Dan R MacDonald tunes, including Lime Hill. With Allan on keyboard, Troy played a long fantastic set (my notes are silent on any tune names). The concert ended with a grand finale with all eight instructors on fiddles and Allan on the keyboard, giving us a great blast o’ tunes during which Kimberley, Andrea, and Shelly each step danced. As I posted later that night, “if you missed the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling Masters’ Concert tonight, you missed one of the best you’re likely to see this October.” A fantastic job by all, featuring pure Cape Breton music in a wonderfully intimate setting!
After chatting with many friends in the audience, I drove back to Port Hood and relaxed in my room, unwinding from the wonderful evening. I made it to bed about 0h20.
Friday, 7 October — Port Hood
I arose a bit after 9h15. The sky was blue with a fair number of white clouds, which would burn off later in the day, and it was fairly mild, +14 (57). After breakfast at Sandeannies, I drove up to friends on Rocky Ridge, where I picked up the can of bear spray I had left with them last month and chatted for a while. I then took care of an errand in Mabou and picked up some car food at the Freshmart. I drove past a friend’s in West Mabou, but it looked like noöne was home (I later learned she was at home even though her car wasn’t there), so I returned to the motel for a nap, tired from the drive and from yesterday’s exertions.
When I got up after 15h30, I had tea and granola bar; I left a bit past 16h. It was by then +19 (66) and the sky was covered with thin white clouds that the sun had no trouble piercing and casting a fine shadow; it was a nice afternoon and I was sorry I was too tired to take advantage of it. As I left the motel in Port Hood, the traffic on Highway 19 was so heavy I had to wait more than two minutes to get onto the highway—most unusual in Cape Breton! As I drove to Port Hawkesbury, I also encountered lots of traffic in both directions on highway 19. I stopped briefly at a roadside pull-off just south of the rotary in Port Hastings I hadn’t previously noticed and took a few photos from there. I had dinner at the Fleur-de-Lis in Port Hawkesbury: a maple nut salad bowl (a treat I greatly enjoy) and the grilled haddock dinner with mashed tomatoes, lettuce, cole slaw, and iced tea. While there, I saw a couple of friends, one acting as stage manager at the Sunday show at Whycocomagh, where I learned that Dougie MacLean, in whom I had no interest whatsoever, would be the first half of that show (I had intended to catch the first half and skip out at the break to the Glencoe dance when I bought that ticket, as the half of the show in which I was interested had two players who were supposed to play at the Glencoe dance, which would only be possible if they were scheduled for the first half, but, unbeknownst to me, they had earlier switched with two others so as to be able to be in the Whycocomagh show).
After dinner, I drove out the Port Malcolm Road to Highway 104 and then on to Louisdale, where I turned onto the Whiteside Road and drove back to Highway 104; the sun was blinding along the Whiteside Road. The views of Caribou Cove and Inhabitants Bay from the Port Malcolm Road were poor, either obstructed by grown up brush or else hazy, though I did stop for some photos at the bridge over the Little River. By the time I got to Whiteside and Walkerville, it was too late to capture the views of the Big Basin I had hoped to get. I then drove back to Port Hawkesbury and parked near the Civic Centre for the opening concert of Celtic Colours.
As I entered the Civic Centre, I saw several friends in the lobby and chatted with them before taking my seat near the stage, where I found I was seated next to a friend from Truro I regularly see at many events in Cape Breton. After the piping in of the Vice-Regal party and some welcoming and introductory speechifying, Symphony Nova Scotia, under the direction of Scott Macmillan, led off with a short overture. Tonight’s show, the 20th anniversary of Celtic Colours, was titled Forever in Our Hearts and, in its first half, provided tributes to five Cape Breton titans who have passed on. First to be remembered was John Allan Cameron, memorialized by his son, Stuart Cameron, singing Getting Dark Again, accompanied by Symphony Nova Scotia; he continued by picking tunes on a 12-stringed guitar, inscribed JAC, again accompanied by Symphony Nova Scotia. Next was Howie MacDonald playing a medley of tunes in Jerry Holland’s memory, accompanied by Symphony Nova Scotia and by Stuart Cameron. Marion Dewar then came on stage and accompanied Howie in Jerry’s Boo Baby’s Lullaby and then continued into strathspeys and reels. To remember Raylene Rankin, Margaret MacPherson first sang Gillis Mountain and then Sarah MacInnis in beautiful voice gave us a marvellous rendition of An Innis Aigh (The Happy Isle), with both selections accompanied by Stuart and Symphony Nova Scotia. Ashley MacIsaac and Mary-Elizabeth MacMaster-MacInnis began a tribute set to Buddy MacMaster with his signature The Rosebud of Allenvale, accompanied by Symphony Nova Scotia; they then gave us five of “Buddy’s Picks”, with Symphony Nova Scotia again accompanying. The last to be remembered was Rita MacNeil, honoured by Joella Foulds, who sang two songs, the latter of which was Home I’ll Be, joined by a choir and by both Symphony Nova Scotia and Stuart; I had never heard Joella sing before and was bowled over by her amazingly gorgeous voice, a most fitting choice for this tribute; she received a most justly deserved standing ovation at the end of her performance.
The second half was given over to Carlos Núñez Muñoz, an internationally-known Galician piper and multi-instrumentalist, and his band. Tonight, he was accompanied by Symphony Nova Scotia as well as his own band mates. His first number featured him on gaita, the Galician bagpipe, along with three local bagpipers, Kevin Dugas, Keith MacDonald, and Rankin MacInnis, and Jamie Troy, a piper from Victoria (BC). His second was a set of jigs on recorder. The third number was Paddy Maloney’s Galician Overture, during which the gaita, flute, whistles, and oboe were heard; at its end, there was a standing ovation for Symphony Nova Scotia and for Scott. The next number was a “dance of the pinkies”, with the audience standing and quasi dancing to music by Carlos, his band, Symphony Nova Scotia, the choir, and others on stage doing the dance. Another dance followed, with clapping and audience participation egged on from the stage, greeted by a standing ovation. The finale was another number by Carlos and the pipers with more clapping.
I am not normally a fan of Celtic Colours’ opening shows at the Civic Centre, which are over-produced and emphasize the “show” rather than the music, with lots of constantly moving lights and the fog machine pumping overtime; in this regard, tonight’s opener was no different from previous years. Nevertheless, the first half was so well done, a couple of glitches aside (it’s hard for a Cape Breton fiddler to stick to a preördained script, as was required by the Symphony Nova Scotia accompaniment—the orchestra cannot improvise the way a fiddler and accompanist can, though they recovered well when two of the fiddlers went off script), and so full of emotion and fond remembrance of major formative figures of this culture that I was completely won over. I grew up listening to symphonic music by choice and thought that Symphony Nova Scotia did a marvellous job tonight, with fine arrangements (I assume by Scott) of the beloved fiddle tunes; it was wonderful at first to hear them rounded out to full symphonic works, but, by the end of the evening, I started longing for the pure and simple fiddle/piano/guitar form—these tunes are plenty robust enough in their own right and in the end symphonic enhancement, no matter how well done, gets too close to gilding the lily, even though it is an interesting novelty to hear them as symphonic pieces every so often, as tonight and as in Scott’s fine MacKinnon’s Brook Suite, which I enjoy and profit from listening to every year or so. As regards the second half of the show, I have enjoyed Carlos’ high-energy performances full of great Celtic music each time I’ve seen him and his band, and tonight was no exception, though things so went off the rails towards the end that I was actually quite glad when the concert ended. Still in all, this had to be one of the best Celtic Colours opening concerts I’ve seen and I was glad to have attended.
After the concert, I headed to Creignish for the dance, arriving at 22h22 for the third figure of the first square set. Kinnon Beaton on fiddle and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboard provided the fine music for this well-attended dance. There were three groups in most of the second square set and four at its end, with 19 couples on the floor in the third figure. A waltz and the third square set followed while I was busy chatting instead of taking notes. Kyle Kennedy MacDonald on fiddle and Tyson Chen on keyboard relieved Kinnon and Jackie for the fourth square set, danced by 15 couples in its third figure. After they finished, I got Kyle’s new CD from him, which he autographed for me. With Kinnon and Jackie back, the next set of jigs drew only one couple, round dancing. The step dance sequence drew Siobhan Beaton, Brandi McCarthy, Harvey MacKinnon, Rachel Reeds (Boston), Mary Beth Carty, Dale Gillis, and Burton MacIntyre to share their steps, as well as three other ladies I didn’t recognize. The final square set was danced by twelve couples in its third figure. While at the dance, since I was no longer going to use it, I gave my ticket for the Whycocomagh Celtic Colours concert on Sunday to Burton, so that he could give it to whomever he chose (the waiting list to get into the concert was long).
After the dance was over, I drove north to Port Hood; it was +14 (57) leaving Creignish, but I ran into fog patches north of Judique and it was foggy and only +8 (46) when I arrived in Port Hood. It took me a bit of time to relax enough for sleep, but I was in bed just before 2h.
Saturday, 8 October — Port Hood
I arose a bit after 9h to yet another lovely blue sky day, cloudless and +14 (57); after breakfast, during which I got to chat with a friend who was also there, I drove out the Hawthorne and St Ninian Roads, where there was not much colour—some but very early. In Hillsdale, I took the Rear Intervale Road to Upper Southwest Mabou; just before arriving there, I stopped to talk with a friend living there, who showed me his hens and new kitten. At Long Johns Bridge, there were no changed colours upstream, but some downstream. Colours were out along Glencoe Road; I stopped for and posted some photos above the Parish Hall, where I encountered a lady now living in Maine who owned the house with the gate on the MacLennan Road on the “Rosedale Ridge”. There were also colours along the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road. In Whycocomagh, I drove out the Trans-Canada Highway to Iron Mines and then took the Orangedale Road to Portage Road and on to and through Iona, turning onto Saint Columba Road, which I drove up to Fraser Road, where I took lots of photos—I was not alone, as three vehicles passed along Fraser Road while I was busy taking photos. I continued on to Christmas Island for the afternoon Celtic Colours concert there, arriving in plenty of time to get a good seat near the front.
Còmhla Cruinn/Gathered Together opened with an introduction in Gaelic and English by a local lady, who turned the stage over to Griogair Labhruidh, a Gaelic speaker and traditional piper from the Glencoe area of Scotland and formerly a member of the well-known band Dàimh; he was accompanied on his last three numbers by a gentleman from the Isle of Skye, whose name I did not get and can not find, who played various percussive instruments (e.g., beat box and shakers). Griogair opened with a Gaelic song during which he played the bellows pipes between verses. He next gave us a set of strathspeys and reels on bellows pipes that he learned from his father, grandfather, and other family members. He continued with a Gaelic song from the 1700’s, accompanying himself on guitar, about an angry wife who wanted to be left alone. He concluded with a final song, also accompanying himself on guitar. I was very impressed; he is a fine singer and piper as well as a great raconteur and his music was “a pure drop of traditional music”. (Griogair is also now involved with Afro-Celt hip hop music, which was apparently in evidence in his performance at the closing concert, which I did not attend, but about which I heard many very negative comments; I was therefore most fortunate that he kept to pure traditional music, much more fitting at the Christmas Island venue.) Griogair was followed by Fr Francis Cameron on fiddle and his sister, Janet Cameron, on piano, who first gave us an air/strathspeys/reels set in which I was struck by Fr Francis’ beautiful and intricate playing. Next came a fine march/strathspeys/reels set. Their third set was of jigs from Hugh A MacDonald of Antigonish. Their final set was another march/strathspeys/reels set.
After the break, Glenn Graham on fiddle and his mother, Mary Graham, on piano, came to the stage. Their first set, of Beaton family tunes, included Donald Angus Beaton’s Fr John Angus Rankin Strathspey, Andrea Beaton’s Mike to the Rescue, Glenn’s own Water in the Gas, and Kinnon Beaton’s Joël Chiasson’s Reel. Their second set was of jigs. The third set was more Beaton tunes, beginning with Kinnon’s Wesley Beaton’s March and including Kinnon’s The Telephone Reel as well as the traditional The Snowshoes Reel. Melanie MacDonald then joined Glenn and Mary on stage, who played for her to step dance. Their final set began with Donald Angus Beaton’s Angus Donald Beaton’s Lament and included John Morris Rankin’s Betty Lou Beaton’s Strathspey and Kinnon’s John Angus Beaton’s Strathspey as well as a good helping of reels. Fantastic playing by both! Griogair then returned, alone this time, and played a mixed set of vocals and, on bellows pipes, William Lawrie’s John McColl’s March and jigs, including The Drover Lads, to which Melanie step danced. He concluded with a Skye song from the end of the 17th century. The finale brought all the musicians back to the stage, with Mary and Janet sharing the piano. A march/strathspeys/reels set and a puirt a beul concluded the afternoon, during which Melanie, Glenn, and Mary all step danced. It was a fine concert of great traditional music that I thoroughly enjoyed; if you are looking for a Celtic Colours concert featuring Cape Breton’s traditional music and its Scottish roots, you should plan on attending the Christmas Island concert, which rarely disappoints.
Once the concert had ended, I drove back to Iona to the Frolic and Folk Pub for dinner (a bowl of chowder, spinach salad, and pan-fried haddock, all excellent). Leanne Aucoin and Susan MacLean were supposed to have done the cèilidh there, but Brent Aucoin filled in for his sister. Later, not long before I left, Scott MacKenzie joined them on guitar. Brent’s powerful fiddle was great to listen to and the accompaniment was likewise excellent. I talked with friends there and left off a copy of the Highland Village Day photos I’d taken in August with one of them. I left early so as to get a parking spot at the evening Celtic Colours concert in Wagmatcook.
Emceed by the host of CBC Radio Nova Scotia’s Information Morning Cape Breton, Steve Sutherland, the concert tonight, Carry the Music, featured three performances that demonstrated how Cape Breton music has carried to some far-flung places. First up was Keyreel Raskolenko, a very talented classically trained Russian violinist who, mostly by watching YouTube videos, learned to play in the Cape Breton style. I met him in 2013, when he was in Cape Breton for the 40th anniversary of the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association Festival of Fiddling; he endeared himself to all who met him and heard him and he was a major reason I attended this concert. Tonight, he was accompanied on keyboard by Cape Breton’s own Kolten Macdonell, who had his work cut out for him, but he did a fine job of it, carrying off the complex music Keyreel often chose with aplomb. They gave us five sets of tunes, most in the Cape Breton style, but one was not; Keyreel’s tune choices often put me in mind of Dwayne Côté’s, with both selecting tunes from a vast repertoire that is otherwise not so often heard in Cape Breton. It was a great performance from both! Three Japanese musicians, known as the John John Festival, followed them on stage. Playing fiddle, guitar, and bodhrán/tambourine, they played four sets, the second of which was their rendition of the song You’ll Forget Me Not. Apparently among the most popular Irish/Celtic bands in Japan, they were all band and not to my taste, playing way too fast; they were definitely Celtic, but not Cape Breton. The best I can say about them is that they had an amazing energy level on stage. During the break, I got a chance to chat briefly with Kolten and learned that he and Keyreel had worked out the accompaniments in advance of the concert, as many of the complex tunes that Keyreel played were his own compositions.
After the break, Pepeto Pinto took the stage on steel pans, with Kolten accompanying on keyboard. Hailing from Jamaica and now living in PEI, I first heard him at a Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival a few years back and was mesmerized by the incongruous but beautiful sound he produces from his instrument; not only was he on the main stage there, but he held out for two and a half hours in the Tuning Barn afterwards, leaving me awestruck. He performs on steel drums which he has made himself and they are capable of sounding any notes on the musical scale used by Cape Breton fiddle tunes. Having lived in Cape Breton for three years, he picked up much of the Cape Breton fiddle repertoire and can very faithfully reproduce its tunes in this resonant and reverberant medium of steel pans. Pepeto and Kolten gave us three fine sets of Scottish tunes and I thoroughly enjoyed his music once again; if you have not run into his playing, I strongly suggest you seek it out. The final performance was by JP Cormier on fiddle and Troy MacGillivray on keyboard. The first set included Tulloch Gorum; the second was a great set of strathspeys and reels; the third was an air/strathspeys/reels set. All three were played with verve and technical prowess and the accompaniment was ne plus ultra. JP then invited Pepeto to return and the three gave us a set of tunes with an amazing sound. I skipped out just before the finale, about 21h50, as I was missing the West Mabou dance to attend this concert and didn’t want to get caught in the traffic delays as people regained their vehicles. In spite of my disappointment in the John John Festival, I was more than happy to have attended this concert and the steel pans continued to reverberate in my head as I made my way back to West Mabou, arriving there at 22h30, an hour and a half into the dance.
When I went into the hall, I found it as full as or fuller than it’s been anytime I’ve been there this year. Tonight’s music was by Rodney MacDonald on fiddle and Allan Dewar on real piano. As best as I could tell, 29 couples danced the third figure of the square set that was in progress as I took my seat in my usual corner; with two queues on the floor during the third figures, my counting was likely not spot on. Pius MacIsaac on guitar joined Rodney and Allan for the next set, which had at least 38 couples in its third figure. Siobhan Beaton on guitar replaced Pius and Rodney then played the step dance sequence, during which Stephen MacLennan, Iain MacQuarrie, Lewis MacLennan, Sarah MacInnis, Amanda MacDonald, and Hailee LeFort, along with one young lady whose name I don’t know, shared their fine steps. The final square set was smaller than the previous ones, but the floor was still so crowded I only got an accurate count for the nearer of the two queues, which had eleven couples. The music was top-notch, of course, and I thoroughly enjoyed the dance, sorry to have missed its start. If your goal is to hear authentic Cape Breton music, you must attend the square dances, where the music is played as it is meant to be, for dancers and not for listening—the feedback between the musicians and the dancers changes the quality of the music, bringing it to a higher level. After chatting with friends and thanking the musicians, I headed back to Port Hood and was soon very fast asleep.
Sunday, 9 October — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I arose shortly after 8h30 to a day with filtered sun at best—it was not casting any shadows—and a fairly warm +19 (66). After getting gas in Port Hood, I drove the Colindale Road to Mabou for the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Mabou Community Hall. I was befuddled when no one queued up before 11h, the traditional starting time, and eventually noticed a poster by the door with the new hours of 12h-14h, which doesn’t work with my schedule (I later learned that the new hours result from the changed time of Mass at the local churches, with one priest now doing the duty of four). I therefore drove to Vi’s in Whycocomagh, enjoying the now quite good colour along most parts of Highway 252 from Mabou to Stewartdale, and had their fine Thanksgiving Dinner special.
After dinner, I drove on to St Anns, where I enjoyed good colours along the Trans-Canada Highway under a sun that was somewhat less filtered than earlier. I had a few minutes to spare, so I continued on to the day park. There is a smallish tree there that is always bright red, but this year it was more magenta than red. I took some photos of the estuary at North Gut beside the day park; the yellows of the grasses in the estuary easily outshone the colours on the trees across the Gut. Back at the Gaelic College, I gave the CD’s containing the photos I took at this summer’s Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association concert to Betty Matheson, who invited me to partake of the fiddlers’ lunch in MacKenzie Hall; I had a couple of salads and a wrap, though I wasn’t very hungry, having just eaten an hour and a half earlier. As I stood in line waiting to enter the Hall of the Clans, I felt a good breeze and noticed blue sky beginning to appear and the sun strengthening considerably, though often in and out of the clouds.
The Cape Breton Fiddlers featured the members of the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association in concert, both in group numbers—the sound of the massed fiddles never fails to thrill me—and in smaller cèilidh sets featuring various performers. The emcee was Wendy Bergfeldt, host of CBC’s Mainstreet Cape Breton radio show. The concert began with two group numbers by the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association with Dara Smith-MacDonald directing and Janet Cameron accompanying on keyboard; the first was a march/strathspeys/reels set and the second a set of jigs. After a summer of performances and practices, the fiddlers were in top form and sounded fantastic. After they left the stage, Stephanie MacDonald step danced to music provided by Dara on fiddle and Adam Young on keyboard. Dara and Adam stayed on to give us a dandy air/strathspeys/reels set—the air was especially lush and had wonderful tone. Fred McCracken sang My Love Is Like a Red, Red, Rose, accompanied by Janet on keyboard and with Mckayla MacNeil on fiddle playing between the verses. Mckayla, accompanied by Kolten Macdonell on keyboard, then gave us a great set of tunes: my notes read “Wow!” as I was too mesmerized by the amazing playing to even record what the set consisted of. With Kolten on fiddle and Lawrence Cameron on keyboard, Stephanie returned for another step dance. Lawrence then gave us a fine keyboard solo. The first half concluded with a second group number, again directed by Dara but with Adam on the keyboard this time; the first set was a set of jigs beginning with Donald Angus Beaton’s Over the Cabot Trail and the second was a march/strathspeys/reels set beginning with Marcel Doucet’s Space Available march and including the West Mabou reel. Again, the playing was extraördinarily crisp.
After the break, Keyreel Raskolenko, again accompanied by Kolten Macdonell, gave us five great sets, some of which I heard last night. The first was a wide-ranging set that put me in mind again of Dwayne Côté. The second was a Cape Breton set I heard last night. The third, greeted by a standing ovation at its end, was a superb set with mostly Cape Breton tunes. Another dandy Cape Breton set was followed by a set beginning with a clog or hornpipe and turned into a real barn burner of a set, with amazing playing by both musicians which earned them a second standing ovation. The Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association members then gathered for two final group numbers, the first a set of jigs ending with Pipe Major A. MacDonald’s The Baddeck Gathering and the second a march/strathspeys/reels set with lots of step dance tunes for Lauren Boudreau, Kolten, Janelle Boudreau, and one other lady; Mckayla, Brandi McCarthy, and Stephanie dancing together; and Betty Matheson. What a great concert!
Happy as a clam, I drove back to Whycocomagh, stopping at the Herring Choker in Nyanza to pick up a roast beef and cheese sandwich and a green salad (while there, I also acquired Otis Thomas’s The Fiddletree, a lovely illustrated volume telling the story of a tree that he made into musical instruments and including a CD of tunes composed and played in honour of that tree—I’d had this book on my list for a long time, but hadn’t come across it anywhere else). I checked in to the motel and had a half sandwich and some of the green salad—I was hungrier than I thought. Refreshed, I drove off to Mabou for the Parish Concert at the Community Hall.
Mabou is blessed with talent and can easily host its own show as the equal of any Celtic Colours concert; their Parish Concerts give one an opportunity to see up-and-coming talent as well as established performers. I was therefore not particularly upset to have missed the Whycocomagh Celtic Colours concert, even though it featured six stellar performers of Cape Breton music in its second half, Andrea Beaton, Wendy MacIsaac, Troy MacGillivray, Mairi Rankin, Shelly Campbell, and Allan Dewar, whom, of course, I’d have dearly liked to hear. Emceed by David Rankin, with Keigan MacLennan and Derrick Cameron on sound, the Parish Concert began with a set of Gaelic songs nicely rendered by Coisir an Eilein, with Margie (Mrs Stanley) Beaton filling in for the absent Fr Macmillan and with Sandra Gillis on keyboard. The three Campbell girls, whose names are, I believe, Seonaid, Eilidh, and Mairin, next gave us a fine traditional set on fiddle, keyboard, and guitar. Rankin MacInnis on highland bagpipes, accompanied by Lawrence Cameron on keyboard, played a stirring air, march, strathspeys, and reels set. Elizabeth MacInnis on fiddle accompanied by her sister Sarah on keyboard gave us a nice traditional set of tunes. Sarah then sang two Gaelic songs in her stunning voice. Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle, with Lawrence on keyboard, first played a great fiddle set and then for Iain MacQuarrie to step dance. Lawrence remained on stage to play a keyboard solo. Cullen MacInnis on fiddle, accompanied by Rankin on keyboard, played another fine traditional set. Sarah next sang a puirt a beul to which Melody Cameron step danced. Bonnie Jean MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by Lawrence on keyboard, then gave us a great set of tunes; she is not now often seen playing outside the Parish Concerts and Joey and Karen Beaton’s summer cèilidhs, but has a great knack for playing slow airs with the utmost grace and beauty that draws me to hear her whenever I can. At this point in the concert, I regretfully left, as it was time to head for the Glencoe dance.
I arrived at Glencoe at 21h02; by 21h10, only three people were in the hall, other than the workers and the musicians, Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Hilda Chiasson on real piano. But it started filling up quickly—the hall was a third full by 21h20! The first square set had two groups in its first figure, one of them apparently learning the figures, as they retired for the second and third figures, danced by seven couples. The second square set had two groups with eleven couples in its first figure and grew to fifteen for its second and third figures. Joe MacMaster on fiddle relieved Kenneth for the third square set, danced by seven couples in its first figure, eight in its second, and twelve in its third; a jig in the second figure was one I hadn’t heard before. With Kenneth back on fiddle, the fourth square set had way too many people to count in the first two figures, with four groups on the floor; twenty-eight couples danced its third figure. A waltz brought out three couples to dance. The fifth square set was another large one, with twenty-seven couples in its third figure during which Kenneth played highland bagpipes. The step dance sequence brought out Stephen MacLennan, Lewis MacLennan, Sarah MacInnis, Amanda MacDonald, Mairin Campbell (I think), and Joe MacMaster to share their fine steps. The last square set was very slow to form, danced finally by four couples in its first figure; the second figure was considerably larger (I didn’t get an exact count); the third figure was danced by twenty-two couples, many young, and a very fitting end to Glencoe’s last dance of this year.
It was raining lightly as I left the hall; the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road was a mess along the Indian River guardrails—that didn’t take long! Once back at the motel in Whycocomagh, I was soon in bed and fast asleep. What a glorious day of music!
Monday, 10 October — Whycocomagh
Je souhaite à tous mes amis et parents canadiens un joyeux jour de l'Action de grâces! Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends and family members!
I arose this morning well after 9h to moderate rain and drove to Judique. The Whycocomagh Port Hood Road was an even worse mess along the guardrails on the Whycocomagh end than last night and had become a mess beyond to the bridge over the Indian River; potholes were starting to form west of the Indian River bridge, but the road was still driveable at 60 km/h (35 mph); water was running down the road on the way up the mountain above the Kewstoke Bridge and in lots of other places; the Glencoe Road was in excellent shape, but a few potholes had appeared on the Rear Intervale Road. The colours in the backcountry were very good: it looks like the peak of colours there will be this week. There were some nice reds, even in the rain and some fog.
This week, the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre offers instructors’ cèilidhs at lunchtime; unlike the normal lunchtime cèilidhs throughout the regular season, these have a modest admission fee and feature the instructors who are teaching that day at the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling. Today’s instructors, Shelly Campbell and Dara Smith-MacDonald, are both public school teachers, who had the holiday off from their regular school classes but, like the dedicated teachers both of them are, chose to spend their holiday teaching. When I arrived, Hailee LeFort and Allan Dewar were playing. As I had lunch, Shelly took Hailee’s place and gave us some fine sets, including the tune Keepers of the Northeast that she wrote, which was new to me. Then, Dara took over the fiddle and gave us more fine sets, during the second of which Hailee and Shelly step danced. It was then time for the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling classes to resume, so Hailee returned to the stage and played more sets with Allan and, when he left the stage, with Kevin Levesconte. It was wonderful playing by all, a fine cèilidh indeed. I also got the chance to chat with some friends from PEI, who regularly come over for Celtic Colours week.
I got soaked in the hard rain that was falling when I went to the car after the cèilidh, even wielding an umbrella—the wind had become very strong and pushed the rain horizontally beneath the umbrella. I worked on my trip notes until it was time to go back in for a showing of Ron MacInnis’s the 1971 CBC documentary The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler, the reäction to which did so much to revitalize Cape Breton fiddle music; Ron spoke about his work, still incomplete, on a follow-on documentary revisiting the state of the music today and both Ron and Frank MacInnis (no relation) fielded audience questions. After it was over, Ron and I had a good chat. I stayed on for the community seafood choices dinner; I had the pan-fried haddock, which was scrumptious. During the community dinner, Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar provided tunes, with Marion Dewar taking her son Allan’s place for a couple of sets. Lovely music and a lovely dinner!
When I left the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for the short walk over to the Judique Community Centre, the rain had stopped, but the wind was still gusting strongly and it was very cold. Tonight’s concert was entitled Master and Apprentice, a show honouring mentors and those who have carried on the skills they learned from the masters. First up were Rodney MacDonald and Glenn Graham on dual fiddles with Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboard and Sandy MacDonald on guitar; they gave us three sets: one from Rodney and Glenn’s Traditionally Rocking CD; an air/strathspeys/reels set including Anna Mae’s Reel and Joan’s Reel; and a set of reels preceded by the Kennedy Street March, during which Glenn and then Rodney step danced in turn. Lewis MacKinnon first gave us a a Gaelic song with Brian England on backing vocals; next, Lewis’s father recounted a humorous tale; to end his set, Lewis then sang a Jacobite incitement song, with guitar accompaniment he supplied and piano accompaniment and backing vocals Brian provided. When they had finished, Joe MacMaster came on stage accompanied by a gentleman I did not at first recognize, who sat down with his back to the audience at the real piano; Joe played two very fine sets, one on highland bagpipes and one on fiddle, and it gradually dawned on me that the unknown pianist, who was not introduced, had to be Ashley MacIsaac, as no one else I knew of his physical size could have done such a fine job on piano! At the end of his set, Joe said only “This is the guy who got me started” and are we ever grateful that he did!
After the break, Mary-Janet MacDonald with her daughter Kelly sang You Are My Sunshine. They then gave us a “rocking chair” song and followed it with A Mother’s Love Is a Blessing, with Kinnon Beaton on backing fiddle; the three songs were each very well done. Fin Moore on bellows pipes, Sara Hoy on fiddle, and Allan Dewar on keyboard gave us a set of jigs, including Portree Bay; with Hamish Moore also on bellows pipes, they played a set of reels and then other tunes, during which Kelly and then Mary Janet step danced alone and then together; grand performances from all! Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton were next up, but Betty Lou was unable to attend due to a badly broken ankle (she was also supposed to play with Joe, which is why Ashley took her place), so Jackie filled in for her on real piano; Sandy accompanied on guitar. Kinnon’s first was a slow air he learned from Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald; his second was a set of strathspeys and reels, ending with Andrea Beaton’s King Arthur’s Reel; Jackie switched to keyboard and Rodney and Glen joined Kinnon for another strathspeys and reels set and they concluded with yet another; grand tunes and lovely playing by all! For the finale, all the performers took the stage and began with a song I know best in John Allan Cameron’s version, Heading for Halifax, and continued with fiddle tunes, during which Lewis gave us a puirt a beul and Kelly, Lewis, Rodney, Glenn, Fin, and Ashley all step danced. It was a great concert and I was very glad I had chosen to be there.
Before the concert, I learned from friends attending the Celtic Colours concert in Eskasoni that they were stranded there as the roads into and out of town had been washed out and they were “guests of the village”, being fed and kept warm at the venue (they got back safely later that evening). I was unaware of any advance warning of severe weather—the forecast I read mentioned the offshore passage of the remnants of Hurricane Matthew, but nothing about gale-force winds, just fairly heavy rain, and that not even beginning to approach the more than 220 mm (8⅔ in) of rain that fell on the east side of the Island, causing serious flooding in the Sydney area, where a number of roads were under water and homes had to be evacuated (see this web page for more information), and serious infrastructure damage all over eastern Cape Breton. I learned from friends at the concert that some roads were washed out or flooded in other areas as well. I had intended to attend the Brook Village dance after the concert, where Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Mac Morin were to provide the music, two of my favourite players, and, in any case, needed to get back to Whycocomagh where my room for the night was. When I went outside, it was blowing furiously, but the rain was minimal. Heading off through the backcountry was one option, but gravel roads wash out earlier than others; going back to Port Hawkesbury and taking the Trans-Canada Highway was another, and likely the safest, option, but that meant missing the Brook Village dance; in the end, I decided to try to make it to Brook Village, in spite of the Mabou River often flooding Highway 252 after heavy rains such as we had experienced today, but knew enough not to try to drive my Prius through water of any depth on the road. (Another option would have been the Rankinville Road between Mabou and Glendyer, but that requires one to climb the gravel road above Murrays Bridge, which would likely be one of the first to sustain damage from the rains.) So, off I went towards Mabou from Judique on Highway 19; it was one wild and wooly drive, with the winds buffeting the car and moving it on the road. Some branches were down, a couple protruding out into the road, but I slowly made it to Mabou and stopped at the parking lot at the Freshmart to consult the latest information on the internet, including the provincial road conditions site. Finding nothing about the local area, I headed off to Brook Village, descending Exhibition Hill with great caution. Although the river was nearly even with the road through the Landing, it was not on nor over the road and I had no problem making it through Glendyer and Hillsborough and on to Brook Village, where I arrived at 23h30 in the third figure of a square set. (I later learned that 15 cm (6 in) of water had been on the road a half hour previous, when some friends drove through it in their larger vehicle anyway.)
Given the conditions of the night, I was surprised at the number of folks in the hall; 27 couples danced the third figure of the next square set, during which the power went out. The emergency lights came on, Mac abandoned the keyboard for the upright piano at the right side of the stage (one of the few times I have ever seen it put to use), and Ian moved to centre stage beside him, and the dance continued! No mere storm was going to stop the last Brook Village dance of the year! Fin Moore arrived after I did and joined Ian and Mac on stage, playing bellows pipes to increase the volume of the now unamplified music for the dancers. A long pause ensued after the end of the next square set, danced by at least 27 couples, as the batteries powering the emergency lights ran down (they only last for about twenty minutes), but few if anyone left the dance. Eventually, various portable lights were brought into the hall and beamed onto the white ceiling for maximum effect, so the musicians played for the step dancers: I didn’t recognize the first lady, but the second was Kimberley Wotherspoon and the third, I think, was David Rankin. The music ended at 0h58 and, after thanking the musicians, I left.
The drive back to Whycocomagh was uneventful, with the winds having abated somewhat. When I got to the motel’s driveway, though, I found a large branch laying across it; I got out and, with some effort, was able to drag it off the driveway far enough I could get around it. Once in my room, it too was without power, but I was more than ready for bed and quickly got between the covers. The wind continued to shake the building, but I was soon fast asleep, oblivious to the last throes of Hurricane Matthew.
Tuesday, 11 October — Whycocomagh to Chéticamp
When I arose a few minutes before 9h, there was still no power at the motel. The wind had buffeted the building all night long and some rain had fallen, judging by the driveway. It was cool in the room with no heat; the outside temperature was +7 (45), a light rain was still falling, and the wind was howling. I had breakfast at Vi’s and found the tea especially to be a great restorative, as I was chilled.
I had a ticket for Sounds and Supper by the Sea at Lower L’Ardoise, an annual event featuring a cèilidh at 13h and a lobster dinner at 15h, but I also had a ticket for the Fiddlers’ Homecoming: 50 Years at the Doryman concert at Chéticamp at 19h30. I knew when I bought the two tickets that it would be a tight drive from Lower L’Ardoise to Chéticamp, 2h25 according to Google Maps, but I hadn’t counted on the possibility that there might be weather and road problems too. What I learned from checking the internet was that the roads were bad, with some washed out in Richmond County (in which Lower L’Ardoise is situated); schools had been cancelled; power was out to 50,000 homes (a significant fraction, given that the population of Cape Breton is only 135,000); and serious flooding had occurred in Sydney and the eastern half of Cape Breton Island. It very much looked as if I were going to have to choose between the two and, given that the concert tonight was a tribute to the late Arthur Muise, Joe Cormier, and Marc Boudreau, I prioritized it over the afternoon, though very regretfully as it would be the first one I would miss since they started a few years ago. Accordingly, I texted my friends with whom I had planned to spend the afternoon that I would not be attending and let my friends in Lower L’Ardoise also know. (I later learned that there was no problem getting to and from Lower L’Ardoise and that the afternoon was a great success, as it always is.)
Instead of a rushed day, I now had a leisurely afternoon to spend in less than ideal weather, though it had improved somewhat while I was at breakfast. I drove out Highway 395 and stopped for photos of a very angry Lake Ainslie at the Trout River bridge. A lovely tree in full fall colours was a bit ravaged at the top from the winds of the past days, but surprisingly, given the strength of the winds, the rest was pretty much intact and so it proved elsewhere as well. I texted friends in Scotsville to see if they were up to an impromptu visit; they were, so I drove out Lakeview Drive, badly rutted from the run-off, and took some photos there; a few patches of blue sky were visible, but the sun was not yet successful in shining through the heavy overcast. I then drove back to my friends’ and had a good visit with them. I left them at 14h and continued north on Highway 395, where the paving of the road from Scotsville to just beyond Kiltarlity Road had been completed, but the traffic was still one-lane in places where guardrails were being installed; what a welcome change from the horror that that section has been in recent years! The colours were quite nice in Upper Margaree, even without any direct sun, as they were in the “Red Stretch” from Southwest Margaree to Margaree Forks. I took the East Margaree Road to East Margaree and stopped for more photos, but the light was poor; I was amazed to see the Margaree River out of its banks—a lot of water had clearly fallen here. I stopped at the look-off in Terre-Noire and worked some on yesterday’s and today’s notes and took a few more photos—the sun by now had successfully pierced the overcast to the south, though the light was still far from ideal for photography. I continued on to Chéticamp, where I checked in to my room and read until it was time for supper, by which time the sun had made its way there.
I went to dinner at le Gabriel, where I had my usual feast of chowder, green salad, and coquilles St-Jacques, with which I had rice and al dente veggies (beans, carrots, and yellow peppers); I continued working on today’s notes between courses. I then drove to the Place des Arts, stopping for a photo of a pretty sunset I failed to capture at its brightest, and finished the notes to this point in the car before going in to the concert.
The concert began with Howie MacDonald on fiddle, Hilda Chiasson on keyboard, and Chris Babineau on guitar; they gave us a great march/strathspeys/reels set dedicated to the late Arthur Muise. The emcee, Napoléon Chiasson, then came out and introduced the show. The three continued with a second march/strathspeys/reels set that began with Wilfred Gillis’ march Welcome to the Trossacks; fantastic playing by all. They next played a waltz by Kimberley Holmes whose title I didn’t get, followed by reels played way fast—music for listening, not for dancing. The next set had two tunes new to me, one Donny LeBlanc wrote and the second Howie wrote for the 50th anniversary of the Doryman, both of which I enjoyed. They concluded with a set of jigs, including Howie’s tunes Annemarie Barry’s and Francis Aucoin’s. Next up were Fin Moore on bellows pipes, Sarah Hoy on fiddle, and Mike Vass on guitar; their first set included a Scottish reel and a tune Fin wrote. With Mike on fiddle making dual fiddles, they next played Angus G MacLeod, a Scottish pipe march or slow air composed by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. Andrea Beaton joined them on fiddle and Mike returned to guitar for a set of jigs, including The Rock and a Wee Pickle Tow¹. The next set was dedicated to Angus Grant and Marc Boudreau; it began with a dual fiddles solo at the start and was followed by a slow march played as a lament and then reels. Amélie Larade, a fantastic young dancer (she is now fourteen) whom I hadn’t seen in a few years, closed out the first half of the concert with a great step dance to music provided by the four on stage.
After the break, Colin Grant on fiddle and Chris Babineau on guitar played a set beginning with a march or air I think Colin wrote and followed it with reels associated with Arthur Muise and Joe Cormier. The next set was of tunes associated with Marc Boudreau along with a tune Colin made in honour of the 50th anniversary of the Doryman, sent out to Marc’s family, who were present at the concert; in the middle of the set, Hilda came on stage and sat down at the keyboard and joined in. Andrea then replaced Colin and, on Marc’s fiddle, played O’er the Muir, Amang the Heather and continued with jigs. She next played a set full of tunes Marc loved to play: King George IVth Strathspey, King George V, Marry Me Now, King’s Reel, Missing Marc (the reel she wrote at the time of Marc’s passing that he, of course, never heard), and Dillon Brown’s Fancy (thanks to Celtic Colours, this whole amazing set can be heard here—note the Canadian flag on the fiddle she is playing, which identifies it as Marc’s). Next up were Donny LeBlanc on fiddle, Hilda on keyboard, and Gélas Larade on guitar; they gave us a march/strathspeys/reels set of tunes associated with Arthur Muise, a set of jigs, and another march/strathspeys/reels set; I was particularly taken with Gélas’ superb guitar (I don’t get to hear him very often). JP Cormier on fiddle, with Hilda on keyboard and Chris on guitar, played a set of fine tunes on Joe Cormier’s fiddle and followed it with another set of tunes that JP’s father, Joe’s brother, loved to hear Joe play. For the finale, everyone returned to the stage with Mike on fiddle; Fin and Hilda first played a duet and then all the others came in for a rousing blast o’ tunes, a wonderful conclusion to a fantastic concert. With three great musicians to mourn and celebrate, along with commemorating the 50th anniversary of the storied Doryman and the major rôle it has played in Cape Breton music over those years, it was a very emotional evening and the music much more than rose to the occasion.
After the concert was over, I drove to the Doryman, where the remembrances continued in a less formal atmosphere with music from several musicians as a tribute to the honourees and to the Doryman. When I arrived at 22h30, I was lucky to find a seat as the place was already full and would soon be packed. Robert Deveaux on fiddle was playing with Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier on keyboard and Mary Beth Carty on guitar. Dawn Beaton on fiddle, with Kathleen on keyboard and Chris Babineau on guitar were the next to play. Donny LeBlanc on fiddle with Hilda Chiasson on keyboard and Chris on guitar next took the stage. They were followed by Howie MacDonald on fiddle, Hilda on keyboard, and Mary Beth on guitar; during his sets, Kathleen and another lady step danced and Faded Love drew two couples to the floor waltzing. Colin Grant on fiddle with Jason Roach on keyboard and Chris on guitar concluded the evening, which ended a few minutes before 1h; Hilda step danced during one of their sets. I was delighted to have a chance to chat once more with Marc’s parents and partner; his tragic loss is deeply felt by all.
After the session at the Doryman, I drove the short distance down the street to the motel and, not ready to sleep, worked some more on the day’s notes and then read. I got to bed about 2h.
¹ Andrew Kuntz in his superb encyclopædic compendium of fiddle tunes, under the entry “ROCK AND THE/A WEE PICKLE TOW, THE/A”, explains the title thus: “a rock is a distaff, a device that holds the flax strick or the fiber for spinning. It is called a rock because the weight, or whorl, was frequently a shaped and pierced rock. A ‘wee pickle tow’ is a small piece of prepared short flax fibers combed from longer fibers called ‘line’. Thus it was a spinning song, the tune of which proved popular and served many purposes over the years.”↩
Wednesday, 12 October — Chéticamp to Whycocomagh
I arose at 9h and, as so often after a bad storm has passed through, to a gorgeous, sunny, bright, blue sky day with mild temperatures around +15 (upper 50’s to lower 60’s). I had breakfast at the Evangeline, which was full up, so the service was not the fastest, but the food was excellent. It was that once-a-year kind of day that is so perfect day for photography, clear with pellucid air, so I decided to spend it adding to my photo collection. I drove out the chemin Damase to the Chéticamp Back Road, stopping for the glorious views of the Cape Breton Highlands inland of the Chéticamp littoral, and continued on to Petit-Étang and into the Cape Breton Highlands National Park to the look-off above le Buttereau, where I turned around. Stopping for photos all along the way, I drove back to the Chéticamp Back Road and turned onto chemin Cormier and then onto Mountain Road and then took chemin LeFort back to the Chéticamp Back Road and out to the Cabot Trail. I stopped in Point Cross for photos of Squirrel Mountain and detoured out le chemin du Lac for photos of the lakes there; I stopped again in Grand-Étang for photos of the inlet, the harbour, and the highlands. It was one marvellous day! I continued on the Cabot Trail through Cap-le-Moine and Belle-Côte and stopped once again for photos of East Margaree from the Cabot Trail across the Margaree River—the traffic was light enough I was able to stop there without risking an accident. I then headed for Northeast Margaree, stopping again for photos of Philips Mountain and the beautiful colours, very close to peak in the Margarees, along the Cabot Trail there. I stopped off for a salad and a sandwich at the Dancing Goat and took half the sandwich with me for tonight and took advantage of the wi-fi to post the following:
My apologies for the photo bombing today, but it’s such a gorgeous day in such a stunning place at such a marvellous time of year I just couldn’t help myself. I hope at least some of you enjoyed the scenes I've seen this incredible day!
When I came out, it had mostly clouded over with wispy white clouds and a bit of haze; I would have gone to Portree anyway, but had run out of time. I found the colours in Middle River still early, just as they were north of Margaree Harbour. I took the Yankee Line Road in Middle River to the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 105) and it to the motel in Whycocomagh, where I arrived too late to make the fish chowder community supper in West Bay Road, which I had hoped to attend. After getting changed into evening clothes, I drove off to Glendale for the Celtic Colours concert there tonight and worked on today’s notes in the car until it was time to go in.
Emceed by Edna MacDonald, Cèilidh anns a’Bhraigh: Cèilidh in the Glen began with the husband/wife duo now based in the Scottish Highlands, Brian Ó hEadhra ([ˈbri.ən.o.ˈhɛ.rə]) and Fiona Mackenzie; in Cape Breton, Brian is probably best known for his 2004 Celtic Colours collaboration with Goiridh Dòmhnullach (Jeff MacDonald) that resulted in the lovely Tàladh na Beinne Guirme (The Blue Mountain’s Lullaby). Both proved to have fine singing voices that melded in beautiful harmonies. The first selection was the Newfoundland song, Walk My Love, in English, during which Brian accompanied on guitar. Next was a modern-composed song and an old waulking song, in Gaelic. It was followed by a Gaelic incantation against “beasties”, which was in turn followed by a song in Gaelic Fiona wrote fifteen years ago that sounded to my ears very modern and non-traditional. Their final number was a rendition of Tàladh na Beinne Guirme in which Brian sang the lead and Fiona joined in on the choruses and provided backing vocals on the verses. They were followed by Rachel Davis on fiddle and Tracey Dares-MacNeil on real piano. Rachel first gave us a set of fine jigs and then Nathaniel Gow’s Coilsfield House, a slow air lush and rich and expressive in her playing, with strathspeys and reels afterwards; the piano accompaniment was superb and perfectly matched. Her third selection was a Gaelic milling song Rachel learned at university, on the choruses of which she was joined by two of Tracey’s daughters.¹ Rachel and Tracey then played a fine march/strathspeys/reels set and then for Stephen MacLennan to step dance—needless to say, he turned in his usual amazing fiery performance.
After the break and its associated business, Tracey’s five daughters, with Tracey accompanying on piano unless otherwise noted, gave us four selections: a song whose title I heard as [i.ə.kəˈni.ən] and have no idea how it might be spelled; an a cappella version of a setting of the Gaelic version of Our Father Goiridh found; a fiddle number with dual fiddles and guitar; and their father’s, Paul K MacNeil’s, Pumpkin Orange song in English, with piano and guitar accompaniment. At the end of their set, they got a standing ovation from the audience, who clearly enjoyed what they heard. They were followed by Fin Moore, Sarah Hoy, and Mike Vass. Fin kicked their set off on highland bagpipes with a quick blast of tunes (to which Edna, off stage, but visible from where I sat, step danced). Next, Fin on bellows pipes with Mike accompanying on guitar, played a set of Galician tunes, including two jigs, the first of which I have heard Carlos Núñez play. Continuing on bellows pipes, with Mike still on guitar, Fin began another set, which Sarah joined in media res. Fin, Sarah, and Mike then played a pipe march/strathspeys/reels set and followed it with a set of jigs. Finally, they played for a Scotch Four danced by three of the MacNeil sisters and Stephen. The finale began with the two oldest MacNeil sisters singing a puirt a beul which the other sisters joined midway through; Brian and Fiona sang a puirt a beul to which Stephen MacLennan step danced; Tracey, Fin, and Sarah and Mike on dual fiddles played for the two oldest sisters to step dance and then for Stephen and then for the two youngest sisters; the guitar-playing sister then step danced; and the two oldest sisters finished off on dual fiddles. Another standing ovation greeted the end of the concert. Homey and much more in the spirit of a parish concert than a Celtic Colours show, it was another great concert, very much to my taste, and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
After a good chat with friends including Tracey, I regained the car and drove back to Whycocomagh. Wendy MacIsaac was at the Red Shoe, but it was so late there was no point in driving to Mabou for fifteen minutes and then driving back to Whycocomagh, so I relaxed in my motel room, finished the sandwich from the Dancing Goat, and was in bed by 0h.
¹ One of the daughters was Jessie Helen; I regret that I did not get the names of the other four, thinking I could find them when I got home as I’m sure I have them written down somewhere. Unfortunately, I have so far been unable to do so.↩
Thursday, 13 October — Whycocomagh
I got up just before 9h to an overcast and cool (+11 (52)) morning and drove to Judique for the instructor’s cèilidh there. The Whycocomagh Port Hood Road survived the storm better than I expected, but the stretch from Stewartdale to the Indian River bridge was pretty rough. Under the day’s grey skies, it was hard to tell the state of the colours, especially as a lot of trees were stripped bare; they struck me as at or slightly past peak, but were mostly oranges and yellows with a few pastel reds, but no brilliant reds other than the occasional small tree. The first really brilliant reds I saw were just down the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road from its junction with the Glencoe Road in Glencoe Mills—I detoured just to take their picture. It wasn’t obvious whether there would be more such reds later or not. Near Judique, the sun came out enough to cast weak shadows, but it was still a pretty grey day.
Today’s instructors’ cèilidh kicked off with Kevin Levesconte on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard. When the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling students and their instructors arrived, Troy MacGillivray on fiddle with Allan on keyboard gave us some grand sets of tunes, during which Marie Arsenault Livingstone (from PEI), Mats Melin (from Sweden but now living in Ireland), and Mary-Janet MacDonald step danced—fabulous dancers all! Liz Doherty on fiddle with Allan on keyboard played more fine sets, after which the instructors and their students returned to their classrooms. My notes don’t say, but I think I remember that Kevin came back on stage and played with Allan. I left about 14h, after having a good chat with Mats.
When I got outside, the day had improved considerably; it was at least partly sunny and now +18 (64). Since I was going to return to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for dinner later, I decided to take a spin around the area looking for photo opportunities, so I first headed south to Centennial Road, which I drove to its end; I found some, but not much colour there, and a newly gravelled surface that had suffered bad erosion from Monday’s storm in spots. I turned around and then turned down MacLean Road, where I found some individual trees had changed, but not otherwise a lot of colour; after passing the General Line Road, MacLean Road becomes the Chisholm Road, where there is often good colour on the hills to the south and east, but they were still unchanged for the most part. I drove back north on Highway 19 and, in Judique South, turned onto the Campbell Road, where I found some colour at a sharp bend about 2.5 km (1½ mi) from Highway 19; at that point, one has gained enough altitude that one can see St Georges Bay from the road. I continued on another 700 m (⅖ mi), but the road had suffered enough storm damage that I turned around instead of going on down to the bridge over the Graham River as I had planned (beyond that bridge, Campbell Road, which continues on to Rear Judique South on the River Denys Road, becomes undriveable for my Prius). I returned to Highway 19 and drove north to the Hillsdale Road at the southern edge of Judique North. Once over the hill and descending into Lower Hillsdale, I found colours again, but mostly oranges, brick reds, and yellows. I stopped at the bridge over the Judique Intervale Brook in Lower Hillsdale, still flowing smartly, for photos. Beyond the bridge, the road had really bad puddles and had also suffered erosion from Monday’s storm; I should have turned around at the bridge: between Lower Hillsdale and Hillsdale going up the hill by the house with the school bus in the yard, I hit my bumper, although it seemed to have suffered no damage, and there was neither sun nor good colours on this stretch of the road. In Hillsdale, where I turned towards Judique on the Rear Intervale Road, the sun was fickle, but I caught its last glimmers at the bridge over the Judique Intervale Brook, where I stopped again for photos. By the time I got up the Gussieville Road, with its often fine views of the Judique littoral reaching as far as Henry Island, I had lost the sun. After regaining Highway 19, I drove out the Shore Road as far as McKays Point, where I turned around, but took no photos as there was no sun. I then drove back to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre for the pork chop dinner, where I enjoyed grand music by Troy and Allan along with my delicious food. Not wanting to navigate the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road again, I then drove back to Whycocomagh via Highway 19 and the Trans-Canada Highway and got ready for tonight’s concert in Baddeck.
As readers of these posts know well, I’m not a great fan of “band” music, so my choice of the Celtic Pub show tonight at the Inverary Resort in Baddeck merits some explanation. Beòlach, with two fiddles, pipes/whistles, keyboard, and guitar surely qualifies as a “band”, but their music has always struck me as perfectly traditional Cape Breton music, and, played with verve to perfection, it cannot fail to enthral even me. Of the other bands that have come along since, only two, Còig and the East Pointers, both with deep roots in traditional Scottish music but, especially in the case of the East Pointers, often significantly evolved away from it, have taken my fancy; both were on the bill at tonight’s show and I took advantage of the opportunity to see them both again.
It was the first time I had ever been at the Inverary Resort and, after dark, I found the signage too minimal on their large campus to know where to go or to park and, unlike most concerts, no one was there to direct traffic to the parking area. Driving around, I finally located an empty parking spot and set off on foot to find the venue. Luckily, I was not far away, as it turned out, and found a huge conference hall set up with tables, each seating eight to ten people and most of which were already occupied when I arrived well before 19h; since this was a “pub” night, bar service was available to those who wanted it. I found an open seat about halfway back from the stage and waited for the concert to begin. Emceed by a Mr MacAulay, whose first name I didn’t get, it opened with Buddy MacDonald, substituting for the sick Darrell Keigan, on guitar; Rachel Davis on fiddle; and Darren McMullen on mandolin or bouzouki. Buddy gave us seven selections, all songs, including Bright Blue Rose, Down Where the River Flows, Islanders, and Nobody Home, accompanied by Rachel and Darren except for the third song, which was done a cappella. Next up were Fin Moore on bellows pipes, Sarah Hoy on fiddle, and Mike Vass on guitar. They began with a set of tunes none of which I recognized and followed it up with the Galician set from last night and Angus G MacLeod from two nights ago; Fin on highland bagpipes with Mike on guitar gave us a great set; switching back to bellows pipes and with Sarah joining in again, they gave us a march and reels; their final set featured Sarah on solo fiddle playing a slow strathspey and then joined by Fin and Mike for a finale of fast tunes. (This was the fourth night in a row I had seen Fin, Sarah, and Mike, and, although I did not realize this would be the case when I made out the schedule, I have no complaints—they make for a very fine trio indeed.)
After the break, Còig, now a quattuor instead of the original quintet that was responsible for its Gaelic name, was introduced: Rachel Davis on fiddle and vocals, Chrissy Crowley on fiddle, Jason Roach on keyboard, and Darren McMullin on banjo/mandolin/bouzouki/guitar. With Darren on banjo, they first gave us a brand new set of jigs they’d arranged this week. Rachel then sang Down the Road, accompanied by Darren on guitar and later joined by Chrissy and Jason. Next was a fine instrumental set from their Christmas CD, Carols, with Darren on banjo, ending with a nameless reel written by Kimberley Fraser and Koady Chaisson; the whole set epitomized what I so like about this group—it was just plain fun to listen to! They then taught the audience the chorus to a Gaelic milling song, which they sang for us, with Darren on bouzouki and Mike Vass joining the group on fiddle providing instrumental interludes between the verses. Their last number was a great blast o’ tunes that earned the group a partial standing ovation. Tim Chaisson on fiddle and stomp box, Koady Chaisson on banjo, and Jake Charron on guitar form the East Pointers (named for PEI’s East Point near Souris, though Jake is originally from Ontario); with only three members, the East Pointers is small for a “band”, but their manic playing is as full-bodied as that of any larger group and their sound is unquestionably that of a band. Koady led off their first set with fantastic picking on banjo, while Tim’s amazing coördination in simultaneously playing a blazing fiddle and keeping perfect time on the stomp box was on full display; unfortunately, this number was badly marred by first Jake and then Tim encouraging the audience to clap along, which overlays and obscures their music and adds nothing (no audience can really keep proper time with these guys)—if there is to be clapping, which I detest, it should come from the audience and not be solicited from the stage, a sign they’ve attended too many folk festivals where this is the norm. I was unable to detect much of a break between their first and second selections, but there was a change in the music. They next sang Blaine’s Laughing Eyes, a sad anthem that is one of their regular numbers. Another frenzied instrumental set followed, with an introduction by Koady talking over the fiddle and guitar that I couldn’t make out. Next was a song with Tim on lead and backed by the other two that I hadn’t heard before, in which Koady’s banjo sounded like a tambourine. Koady and Jake began their next number with a nice banjo/guitar duet at a refreshingly slow tempo, which Tim joined later on fiddle, and then segued into more usual East Pointers fare, constantly increasing speed and ending with break-neck fast playing from all three, leading to a partial standing ovation at the end; a guy and two gals from the audience got up and danced near the stage during this set. Their last set begin with Tim strumming his fiddle like a guitar and Jake clapping on stage again and continued with some very fine guitar playing from Jake, accompanied by Tim and Koady, that Koady then led on banjo to a barnburner of a conclusion for their performance and a full standing ovation at its end. Three amazingly talented musicians! The finale featured all of the evening’s performers: Fin on bellows pipes; Darren and Koady on banjo; Jason on keyboard; Jake on guitar; and the rest on fiddles. Koady and Darren played a banjo duet with Jake on guitar; the fiddlers then came in and then Fin, with Jason accompanying the very high-energy tunes that closed out the evening, with a blonde lady step dancing near the stage. It was a very fine concert indeed, but I had definitely sated my modest taste for “band” music for this year.
I regained the car in light rain and mist, where the car’s thermometer registered +14 (57); I was back at the motel in Whycocomagh by 23h and went promptly to bed.
Friday, 14 October — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
I arose a bit before 9h and found an overcast day with light mist falling (after a harder rain during the night that had left puddles in the parking area); the car’s thermometer registered +15 (59). Avoiding the back road to Glencoe Mills that I knew was in terrible shape from Monday’s storm, I took the longer way to Judique. On Highway 252, moderate rain started falling as I passed through Skye Glen. The colours were now at or close to peak all along Highway 252, especially at junction of the Old Mull River Road west of Brook Village and all along the Mabou River; greens were now definitely in the minority and a lot of those that remained were brush. Of course, this was no day for photography, so I took no photos of the beautiful colours, bright even in the rain. On Highway 19, the peak colours petered out south of Southwest Mabou. I took the Shore Road in Harbourview to avoid a slow-moving truck and stopped at McKays Point, where the rain had stopped, for a shot of Creignish Mountain, whose summit was under the clouds, and Long Point.
When I arrived shortly thereafter at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, I got a place at a table and placed my lunch order for chowder and a biscuit, two fish cakes, and a side salad, which I enjoyed as I listened to Rachel Davis on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard open the lunchtime cèilidh and play until the morning classes at the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling arrived for their lunch. Today’s instructors were Kimberley Fraser and Kendra MacGillivray, who with Allan accompanying, played some very fine sets as their students ate lunch. It had been some time since I last heard Kendra, a beautiful player indeed, and Kimberley is always a joy to hear playing traditional music. After the instructors and their students returned to classes, Rachel returned and continued the cèilidh.
On the way north after the cèilidh, I stopped off at a friend’s in West Mabou for a visit and then drove north to Inverness, passing by a Cape Mabou shrouded in mist and fog, to renew my annual subscription to the Oran, which I now receive electronically instead of in the paper edition. I drove down to the boardwalk at Inverness and sat in the parking area for a few minutes looking at the grey views, but it was too wet and raw to consider a walk on the boardwalk. I drove on to Margaree Forks, where I got my motel room, and read and relaxed until it was time for supper (I was tired enough for a nap, but feared I would not awake in time for the evening’s activities). I drove on to Belle-Côte and had dinner at the Belle View; they were out of the advertised salt cod dinner when I got there (and halibut as well—they are closing for the season on Sunday), so I ordered bacon-wrapped scallops and pan fried haddock with rice and cole slaw, all excellent. Some slight clearing was evident as I drove back to Inverness via the Shore Road—it’s about a half hour and way shorter than via Margaree Forks; the road is mostly OK but is suffering from heaves in a lot of places, especially on the north end. I sat in the car at the Inverness Academy until it was time to go in to the concert; as I went inside, it was a raw +8 (46), with very strong gusty, winds off the Gulf—not good for the leaves!
The Celtic Colours concert at the Inverness Academy was titled 60 Years at Broad Cove and was a celebration of the annual Broad Cove concert, always held on the last Sunday of July, and which saw its 60th edition in 2016. The concert featured some of those who have performed on its stage over the years. It opened with a great step dance from Harvey Beaton to the music of Katie MacLeod on fiddle, Lawrence Cameron on keyboard, and Dave MacIsaac on guitar. Joe Murphy, the emcee, then came out on stage and officially introduced the performers and the concert. Katie, Lawrence, and Dave continued with an air/strathspeys/reels set. Next, Kevin Dugas on highland bagpipes, accompanied by Harvey on keyboard and Dave on guitar, played a set of jigs; a slow air he learned from the playing of Ben Miller; and a great blast o’ tunes—oh, how I love the music of the pipes! Joe then gave us a Gaelic song about the Broad Cove concert. Hamish Moore and his son, Fin, playing on Scottish small pipes with Dave accompanying on guitar, gave us a fine set of beautiful tunes, beautifully played, ending with the Inverness Reel; a dandy set of jigs including Blue Bonnet and Hot Lunch; and a great march/strathspeys/reels set dedicated to the late Willie Fraser. Fin, Harvey, and Dave finished off the first half of the concert with music to which Bill and John Pellerin gave us a great step dance; now in their early 50’s, they were six and five the first time they danced at Broad Cove.
Following the break, several members of the Broad Cove parish, assembled as the Broad Cove Gaelic Singers, gave us a grand milling frolic with a Gaelic song whose title translated into English is I Arose Early on a May Morning; Joe gave us a nice English translation of the song’s words. Douglas Cameron on fiddle, Lawrence on keyboard, and Dave on guitar played a gorgeous march/strathspeys/reels set; an air/strathspeys/reels set which began with an air not frequently heard played flowingly and fairly lush, getting sustained audience applause after it ended; and a set of tunes to which Sheena Boucher step danced. Dave on fiddle, with Lawrence accompanying, played a fine set of tunes his father played as a youth before he left for up north; Dave’s fiddle playing is a real treat I don’t get to hear very often, an older style with lots of Gaelic in the bow. The Outside Track, a band featuring a fusion of Scots, Irish, and Cape Breton songs, tunes, and step dance, and including Cape Breton’s own Mairi Rankin, gave us Lennie Gallant’s song, Peter’s Dream, accompanied by fiddle, guitar, accordion, and harp; an instrumental set; the song Get Me to December; and another instrumental set to which Mairi step danced. They remained on stage to play for a Scotch Four, danced by Melanie MacQuarrie, Sheena, and the Pellerin brothers. The finale began with Joe singing the verses to Blow the Bugle alternately in Gaelic and English; some vocals from the Outside Track; and a pipes and fiddles blast o’ tunes to which Harvey, Sheena, Bill and John, Melanie, and three ladies wearing sashes step danced individually and then together. It was another grand concert in what has been a string of smashing concerts this year and I greatly enjoyed the evening.
At the end of the concert, I hastened to Southwest Margaree for the dance there, the last of the year, with Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Robert Deveaux on keyboard. I arrived late, well after 23h, to find it very well attended, with more people than I’ve seen here all year. Thirty-one couples danced the third figure of the square set underway when I arrived, making the floor almost too crowded to dance, and the next square set had twenty-four couples in its third figure. Two waltzes, In Memory of Herbie MacLeod and Faded Love each drew at least twelve couples. The following square set had twenty-one couples in its third figure. The step dance sequence drew a young lady; Màiri Britton; three other young ladies each dancing alone; Jimmy MacIsaac; and ended with one of the young ladies who had danced previously. The final square set was smaller, with only nine couples in its third figure. Ian’s fiddle really sings and his tune choices, with so many of my favourite tunes, made it an even more pleasurable evening; Robert, whom I haven’t heard a lot in recent years, was icing on the cake with his fine accompaniments. What a great way to end the Southwest Margaree dance season!
It was a raw night with bitter winds when I regained my car and drove the short distance back to Margaree Forks and the motel room. I fell asleep hoping that the leaves would survive this beating and stay on the trees so I could enjoy them next week once the music was over.
Saturday, 15 October — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I arose shortly after 9h to a fine, lovely, blue sky day, cool but with none of yesterday’s strong winds. I drove to the Dancing Goat for breakfast, passing a number of cars stopped where the Margaree River passes beside the Cabot Trail with folks out taking photos of Phillips Mountain and its beautiful leaves, which seemed to have survived the winds fairly well there and elsewhere and are now at or close to peak all over the Margarees. After breakfast, I toured the Margaree Valley, stopping at Crowdis Bridge, the Portree Look-off on the West Big Intervale Road, along the Marsh Brook Road, and along the Cranton Cross Road, enjoying the beautiful colours. Immersed in the gorgeous scenery, I sort of lost track of the time; when I realized how late it was getting, I hurriedly started south for this afternoon’s concert, so I failed to get photos of Phillips Mountain, where the colours were the brightest I saw this day in the Margarees, and only made one stop for photos along the glorious “Red Stretch” from Margaree Forks to Southwest Margaree. The colours between Dunvegan and Southwest Margaree were the brightest I ever remember, but I again failed to stop, hurrying past before I realized how bright they were. Cape Mabou was still green on its northern end; there were more colours in Northeast Mabou, but, unlike those in the Margarees, they were still not at peak.
Every Celtic Colours poses difficult choices, but this day’s was simply impossible: the Pipers’ Cèilidh and a Féis Mhàbu tribute to Jimmy MacInnis were both jammed into the same time slot! In July, I bought tickets for both, but then decided I’d go to the Féis Mhàbu concert out of respect for Jimmy and gave my Pipers’ Cèilidh ticket away, but I’d have dearly loved to have been at the Pipers’ Cèilidh as well—I haven’t missed very many over the years I’ve been attending Celtic Colours.
Titled Young Gaels, the Féis Mhàbu concert was held in the Mabou Community Centre and emceed by Brandi McCarthy. It began with the Féis Mhàbu Dancers dancing the third figure of an Inverness set, accompanied by bellows pipes, fiddle, and piano played by members of Fuaran nan Eilean, young Gaels from the Isle of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides Islands of Scotland. Joined by more of their fellows and under the direction of Anna-Wendy Stevenson, they gave us a set of tunes arranged as Suite Uist, a celebration of fifteen years of traditional music education at Lews Castle College in Benbecula, scored for harp, accordion, flute, four fiddles, bellows pipes, guitar, and penny whistle; sounding symphonic at times, they received a partial standing ovation at its end. Tracey Dares-MacNeil next gave a long and heartfelt tribute to the late Jimmy MacInnis, an untiring supporter of young musicians and dancers and host for many years of the West Mabou dances where they were always welcomed; it concluded with a subset of the cast of Brìgh who sang in Gaelic a hymn from that show with guitar accompaniment. The first half closed with the group Ùr: The Future of Our Past, musicians from the Royal Conservatory of Scotland, taught by Phil Cunningham, who joined them on stage for their first number, a set of traditional tunes. Their second was a set of their own tunes, performed with cello, guitar, three fiddles, uilleann pipes, and whistles; I found the set rather unusual, though clearly Celtic, not always tuneful, sometimes symphonic, but, on the whole, I quite enjoyed it. They continued with a Gaelic song sung by a soloist with a gorgeous voice whose name I didn’t get, later joined by cello, whistle, and accordion, and then the rest of the musicians and then concluded with an English song accompanied by whistles.
After the break, as is customary at each Celtic Colours concert, the draw was held for the Celtic Colours plaque signed by all the musicians performing at that concert, won most appropriately on this day by Margie MacInnis, Jimmy’s wife. Brìgh returned an gave us the Priest’s Shoes skit from their show. The Féis Mhàbu singers sang a Gaelic milling song a cappella and then another, broken in the middle by a dance interlude with accompaniment on piano, fiddle, beat box, and guitar. Ùr: The Future of Our Past returned to the stage and played a beautiful set of traditional tunes and then gave us an English song with backing vocals and accompaniment from the group. Phil returned on accordion and we heard a Gaelic song and some puirt a beul with the group backing up the singer. A standing ovation greeted the end of their performance. The finale first brought a group of Brìgh dancers who step danced to the music of Melody Cameron on fiddle and Tracey on piano; an a cappella step dance joined by accordion; a Gaelic milling song with Féis Mhàbu and Fuaran nan Eilean on the verses; a Gaelic song accompanied by Ùr followed by puirt a beul; and many step dancers on the floor below the stage, including Stephen MacLennan, Mac Morin, and Amanda MacDonald. The end was greeted with a prolonged and very well-deserved standing ovation. It was a fantastic close to the great Celtic Colours series of concerts I attended this year.
After the concert, I walked across the street and had dinner (spinach salad and scallops) at the Red Shoe; in conversation with the manager, I learned that the work on enclosing the patio area was still in the architect’s hands, but that they hoped to have it done by opening in 2017. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with, as the seating in the Red Shoe is often very crowded and having the patio usable on cold and inclement days with the ability to hear the musicians inside will be a godsend at peak times of the year. After dinner, I drove back to Port Hood and read and relaxed, taking time to capture a photo of the beautiful sunset over Port Hood Island.
It being Saturday night, I headed back to West Mabou for the dance, with Ian MacDougall on fiddle and Allan Dewar on real piano. While there before the dance started, I met Loretta MacDonald, president of the West Mabou Hall Committee, who looks after the building while Melody and Derrick Cameron do the booking, publicity, and sound for the dances. With Jimmy gone, it is great to see the community stepping up and sharing the work so that the dances can continue. My sincerest thanks to all who work so hard to keep the music and dance alive and the youth involved in both. By 21h10, the sound checks were complete, but there were too few for a square set, so Ian and Allan gave us a dandy march/strathspeys/reels set. At its end, enough were present to start the first square set, which had four couples growing to six in its first figure, nine in its second, and ten in its third. The hall was rapidly filling up during this square set, so the second square set occupied the whole dance floor, with twenty-six couples dancing the third figure. The third square set was even larger, with thirty couples in the third figure. My notes at this point read, “some very fine dancers, young and old, on the floor!” The fourth square set had twenty-two couples in its third figure and the fifth twenty-one; my notes here read, “singing fiddle!!!” The step dance sequence brought out Stephen MacLennan, Lewis MacLennan, Melody Cameron, Amanda MacDonald, Sarah MacInnis, and, I think, Elizabeth MacDonald. After it was done, most of the young folks all disappeared somewhere, so the sixth and final square set started with six couples and ended with seven. It was a fantastic dance, with the great music previously alluded to from Ian and equally fine accompaniments from Allan (since he usually plays keyboard rather than the real piano, they were an especial treat), as well as superb dancing both on the floor and in the step dance sequence. Tired, but very content, jolted awake by the very brisk temperature of 0 (32) on the way to the car, I drove back to Port Hood under a full moon and, once in my bed, fell instantly asleep.
Sunday, 16 October — Port Hood
I didn’t arise until nearly 10h, when I found herringbone skies and some sun; the temperature was +8 (46) as I left Port Hood on a backcountry drive to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre: I headed north on Highway 19 and then turned onto the Upper Southwest Mabou Road, where I found mostly greens on the initial section of that road, known as “Irish Road”. By the time I had reached Glencoe Station, the temperature was up to +10 (50) and the colours started to appear more freely. I turned down Morans Road and drove to the bridge over the Upper Southwest Mabou River, a lovely spot known to locals both for its beauty and its fishing. The colours there were very nice and I took several photos of the fall colours. South of Morans Road along the Upper Southwest Mabou Road, there was good colour, but the reds there were mostly brick or pastel or already gone. At Long Johns Bridge, the colours were gone on the river banks downstream, though the trees were still mostly green upstream. The initial stretch of the Rear Intervale Road had some colour, but was mostly green (many of its trees are tamaracks and conifers) except for some small brightly-coloured trees in the ditches, but the closer to Highway 19 I got, the more brilliant the colours became.
Once I arrived at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, I sat with friends from New York who have been attending Celtic Colours longer than I have and we had a great visit until the music started. Provided by Rodney MacDonald on fiddle, Allan Dewar on piano, and David Rankin on guitar, it began with a march/strathspeys/reels set. The following jigs brought nine couples up for the first square set. A couple of very fine tune sets separated the first square set from the second, danced by eleven couples. Edna MacDonald gave us some fine steps during the following set of tunes, after which the third square set brought fourteen couples up to dance. Stephanie MacDonald replaced Rodney on the fiddle and gave us more fine tunes and stayed on to play for the fourth square set, danced by twelve couples. Rodney returned and gave us a waltz and then some tunes for step dancing, when Maureen Fraser, Màiri Britton, Burton MacIntyre, and Siobhan Beaton shared their steps; Brandi McCarthy took over Rodney’s fiddle so he could step dance as well. More tunes and the fifth square set, danced by seventeen couples, completed the afternoon’s great music. I said good-bye to my friends, who were to return to New York on Monday, and drove to Mabou.
At the Red Shoe, Mairi Rankin on fiddle and Mac Morin on piano were playing for the Sunday cèilidh when I arrived two hours in and took a seat that had just been vacated. I got to savour the last hour of the lovely music they played for us; near the end of the cèilidh, Mairi chose tunes for step dancers, which brought Màiri Britton, Melody Cameron, Raymond Beaton, Brandi McCarthy, Joe Rankin, Andrea Beaton and Shelly Campbell dancing together, and Dale Gillis to the floor. This was the last day the Shoe was open this year and the festivities continued long after the cèilidh officially ended—no one wanted for the day to end. I got to visit with several friends, met the manager’s husband, and had a good chat with Calum MacKenzie, who has recently released an album with his wife, Alexis MacIsaac, titled The Bay Street Sessions.
Around 22h, I left the Shoe and drove back to Port Hood, where I read and unwound. Although Celtic Colours officially ended yesterday, in my mind, this day is always part of Celtic Colours, which just isn’t over until the final cèilidh at the Shoe! Around midnight, I was finally ready for bed and was soon fast asleep.
Monday, 17 October — Port Hood to Pleasant Bay
I arose at 8h10 to an overcast day with signs of recent rain, though none was falling as I loaded up the car; its thermometer registered +13 (55) as I drove to Harbourview for breakfast at Sandeannies. They go on winter hours on 11 November and resume 7-day-a-week operation on the long week-end in May. The forecast showed partial sun at 15h so I was in no hurry to head north; as I sat in the Port Hood Day Park soaking in the scenery, it began misting and then stopped; three cars of people were there out beach walking, but I didn’t have the ambition to join them. A bit past 10h45, I drove to Mabou and tended to an errand.
As I drove north towards Inverness, Cape Mabou appeared to be very colourful as best as I could tell through the clouds, fog, mist, and light rain that accompanied me on the way. I took the Strathlorne Scotsville Road and drove to Scotsville, stopping for photos at the bridge over the Southwest Margaree River; while I was there, a local friend recognized me and asked me to drop by for tea, which I did. I left there about 13h.
Guardrails were being installed along the repaved Highway 395 as I drove north through Upper Margaree, where I stopped at a new pull-off for some photos of the colours, at peak there, as they were along the Strathlorne Scotsville Road. Along the Cabot Trail north of Margaree Forks, I found beautiful colours along the west side of the Margaree River, but not as much colour north of Margaree Harbour up to the Chéticamp River. There were great colours in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, but much of the Highlands was under clouds; that didn’t deter me from stopping and taking photos at several points anyway—although I am not normally much of a fan of such photos, sometimes foggy/cloudy pictures turn out better than expected. I waited for a follow-me truck at the Corney Brook construction where they were spreading gravel. Traffic up French Mountain was one lane, controlled by an automated light, as they’re blasting the rock cliffs to move the road inland from Jumping Brook; it was scary with dense fog yielding 10m or less visibility. Once on French Mountain, the fog was mostly above the Cabot Trail and I had no problems. I stopped at the French Lake look-off where I wrote these notes and observed some of the tamaracks showing early changes.
There was now pavement from Benjies Lake to the uppermost look-off on MacKenzies Mountain, making for a greatly improved drive, though a second layer of pavement was still being laid on the north end. New parking areas had been constructed at Benjies Lake and the southern Fishing Cove trail head. At the very northern end of the construction, the temporary pavement markings were almost impossible to follow when the visibility in the dense fog, which reäppeared near the northern Fishing Cove look-off, was under 10m (30 ft), so I was some glad to get back to the normal markings. My apologies to the jeep driver behind slowpoke me: he was in a hurry but couldn’t see to pass, so I got off at the first look-off to let him by. Descending MacKenzies Mountain was fog free and offered good views of the colours. It was much nicer in Pleasant Bay, though the forecast clearing at 15h hadn't yet materialized at that hour.
I got a room at the Mid-Trail Motel in Pleasant Bay, where I took more photos from the motel. My room was in the mountain-view section instead of the ocean-view section, but it had just as fine views as where I stayed previous times. I read and relaxed until it was time for dinner; the sun didn’t appear until sunset, as I walked over to the restaurant in the main building; grrr… For dinner, I had mussels (different, but good, with onions and a bitter taste (from beer?) and a pinky orange colouring); a bowl of chowder (OK, but not as good as many); a house salad (large and tasty—top drawer with nuts and raisins); and the halibut dinner (two large inch-thick cuts grilled to perfection and moist and juicy, served with rice pilaf, a vegetable medley (carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower), and coleslaw, all superb); it was very reasonably priced. I then returned to the room and, still tired from Celtic Colours, retired at 22h.
Tuesday, 18 October — Pleasant Bay to Chéticamp
Just before 7h30, I got up well-rested and recovered from Celtic Colours. It was an overcast morning with a strong, raw wind out of the north. After breakfast, I drove out to Red River on a road that looked to have been newly replaced; it was in top notch shape and even had bright new yellow lines! I continued on slowly to the north end of the Red River Road at Archies Brook, the Polletts Cove trail head, stopping frequently for photos at several points along this gorgeous drive: even if the day’s grey skies and poor lighting left much to be desired, it was just much too beautiful not to get out of the car and admire the scenery. Yellows, oranges, and greens predominated on the slopes, with the red trees very few in number. I returned just as slowly on the way back to Pleasant Bay, again admiring the views, which differ considerably from those on the way north, and drove down to the harbour for more photos there.
Once done looking around the harbour, I drove east on the Cabot Trail, again with many stops for photos along the way. Some sun deigned to brighten up spots on the landscape, but the skies remained resolutely cloudy. Even without the sun, the colours were glorious, but again the reds were few and far between. I discovered a small waterfall I hadn’t known about on the side of North Mountain beside the uppermost left pull-off on the Cabot Trail when descending; it was singing cheerily as it tumbled down. Yellows and oranges with some seasoning of dark greens from the evergreens were the predominant hues, with the terrain looking yellower on the Pleasant Bay side of North Mountain and much oranger in the Aspy Valley and on South Mountain. From the always glorious pull-off in Sunrise, I was surprised that the visibility was good enough I could see St Paul Island in the Cabot Strait. I then turned down Blaze Road, where the reds are normally brilliant in the short stretch between the Cabot Trail and South Ridge Road, and found none at all! South Ridge Road was in slightly better shape than I had last found it, its views were as grand as always even though I encountered some mist/light rain briefly, and it even offered a stunning red tree, albeit a small one, beside the South Aspy River at the bridge.
I continued on through Cape North Village to Bay St Lawrence and thence to Meat Cove, taking photos at several points along the stunning Meat Cove Road, and then dropping in for an impromptu visit with a good friend in the village. When I set out yesterday, I had planned on staying in Cape North Village tonight, but I received a message from Robert Deveaux last night that he and Kenneth MacKenzie were to play at the Doryman tonight and I didn’t want to miss out on that: music on a weekday after the end of Celtic Colours is almost unheard of and I wanted to do everything I could to encourage it! It is amazing how fast restaurants and motels close at the end of Celtic Colours, though there was some improvement this year with more staying open through the end of October, as they should—I was not alone staying on after Celtic Colours, as I counted over 150 vehicles on the Cabot Trail the short time I was on it this day and many did not have Nova Scotia license plates. So, I drove back to Chéticamp, being surprised to have to stop at an RCMP checkpoint outside Sunrise: it was a sobriety and seatbelt check with a friendly officer curious as to why I was still in Cape Breton. The sun finally made it out on my way up North Mountain, but I had no time to stop for more photos; I ran into long construction delays descending French Mountain and again at Corney Brook.
I was shut out of three of the reasonably priced motels I normally stay at in Chéticamp because they had already closed for the season, but found a room at l’Auberge Doucet, where I changed into good clothes and went back to the Doryman for dinner (chowder, salad, and haddock, all excellent). Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Robert Deveaux on keyboard provided the music for the night and it was fantastic; I didn’t get much pub music during Celtic Colours as I was mostly at concerts, so it was an extra-special treat. The music just flowed off Kenneth’s bow and I very much liked Robert’s accompaniments: lovely tunes impeccably played. Kenneth also did a fine bagpipe set, which I captured on my iPhone. Alas, there weren’t many in attendance that evening, but one lady did get up to step dance. It was a fine evening of music I thoroughly enjoyed, especially as it’s been too rare these last few years for me to hear Robert playing in any capacity. I was back at the motel and in bed at 23h15 after another great day in Cape Breton.
Wednesday, 19 October — Chéticamp to Baddeck
I arose a bit before 8h30 to a rainy, windy morning, but a bit warmer at +16 (61). I had breakfast at the motel (it was included in the room price) and got gas in Chéticamp for today’s drive; by the time I got there, the rain had quit. I stopped at the bridge over the Chéticamp River, where the fall colours were outstanding, even in the poor light of the grey skies, though, as at most places this year, one had to look closely to find any reds. This would be my last time here this year, so I took the opportunity to get a number of photos.
At Corney Brook (Rivière-à-Lazare) I had a long wait for the follow-me truck that was completely unnecessary as no one was working beside or even very near the road and the route was clear. I got stopped again at the traffic light on French Mountain, but once the the green light appeared, there was no fog on the way up. French Lake, however, was partly hidden by fog and there was more fog ahead. I stopped again for a follow-me truck at construction on MacKenzies Mountain past La Tourbière (The Bog); it was again totally unnecessary as pylons clearly marked the route to follow. But these are minor complaints: once the construction is completed, the improvements will have been way more than worth the inconvenience. The winds kept the fog off the road, but from the summit of MacKenzies Mountain, only the barest outlines of the coast north of Pleasant Bay were visible through the clouds/fog. The colours were ablaze in the valley of the MacKenzies River and I stopped for photos both at the overlook of the valley and at the bridge over the MacKenzies River at the foot of MacKenzies Mountain.
From Pleasant Bay, I drove on over North Mountain to Cape North Village; on the east side of the island, patches of blue sky were visible through the clouds and the sun shone a spotlight on selected spots wherever it could breach the cloud cover. I stopped at the Sunrise pull-off to admire the views, which were better than yesterday’s but didn’t include St Paul Island. I continued on south on the Cabot Trail and part way up onto South Mountain, where I turned onto the Paquette Lake Road. The best reds I found there were in a ground-cover plant beside the road: they were blazing. I continued on to the end of the road at Paquette Lake and hiked the short distance from the car to the side trail to the lake, but the colours I’d hoped to see were dominated by the evergreens which blocked many of them out.
The day was becoming progressively better as I left Paquette Lake and I decided to back track to South Harbour. For some reason, I had never before driven the Shore Road there (I only became aware of its existence this year), so I headed down it. I found a few excellent red trees along it, so will make a point of revisiting it another year when the reds are more prevalent. The Shore Road crosses an isthmus between Middle Harbour to the north and South Harbour to the south. About a kilometre (0.6 mi) in from the Cabot Trail, one reaches the northwestern arm of South Harbour, with views to the other side. A bit after 2 km (1⅓ mi), the road turns to gravel and continues on to a parking area with an ominous sign warning about the rough road down to the beach; I parked there and walked about 400m (¼ mi) downhill to the beach, very glad I hadn’t attempted to drive it indeed (there is a steep drop from the end of the road to the beach and no room to turn a vehicle around, while the condition of the road itself is more suitable to a jeep than to a car). It had turned into a much nicer afternoon with the temperature now at +18 (64), enhancing the gorgeous views of Aspy Bay both to the north of the Cape North Massif and to the south and east of the shore out to White Point. I enjoyed the views and took a number of photos; I definitely hope to return to this beautiful spot. On the way back, I encountered a bird in the middle of the road; it startled me more than I it and took enough time crossing the road that I was able to get a shot of it, which a friend later identified as a spruce grouse. As many years as I have been coming to Cape Breton, there’s always something new to discover!
The day continued to improve as I drove back to the Cabot Trail from South Harbour. My destination for the day was Baddeck and it was getting on in the afternoon, but I couldn’t resist a drive out to White Point, as gorgeous a drive as any section of the Cabot Trail. I stopped for photos of South Harbour along the White Point Road, where grand views of North Mountain and the Cape North Massif rising in the distance over South Harbour are on offer, and for photos of the dramatic southern coast of Aspy Bay past Smelt Brook, which looks out on White Point from above. The views one used to have descending the hill into White Point are gone—the roadside brush is now too high to offer any but screened views, a shame as this vantage point is closer to White Point than that in Smelt Brook. Although I knew it would make me a bit later than I had intended, I couldn’t resist hiking ten minutes out to the hill beyond the Two Tittles bread and breakfast, which overlooks both the island at the tip of White Point and the coast to the south running out to Burnt Head. The sun was even kind enough to cast a spotlight on the point while I was there.
From White Point, I continued on into South Haven and Neils Harbour, where I picked up the Cabot Trail once more. The new bridge over Black Brook was still not yet in use, though it looked as if it soon would be. The sun was now a late afternoon one and there was no time for stops, so I hastened through the Ingonishes in spite of the beautiful colours with even some reds showing. At Ingonish Ferry, I couldn’t resist the sun beaming down on the autumn leaves, which I captured from the side of the Cabot Trail just before the sun disappeared behind a cloud, leaving the area in the dark, though still shining on Middle Head. What a beautiful spot on a gorgeous afternoon!
The Cape Smokey Provincial Park was, of course, closed, it being beyond Celtic Colours, so I didn’t stop there and perhaps the sun wouldn’t have been right anyway at that hour of the day. The newly rebuilt Cabot Trail is now a joy to drive from Cape Smokey south, though the final unreconstructed piece through Indian Brook was undergoing construction and they were working late: I got stopped twice again for follow-me trucks that were mostly useless. I took the Cabot Trail south to St Anns rather than the ferry to Englishtown and got behind some slow-moving vehicles, so I just decided to enjoy the marvellous views as the sun sank slowly out of sight, bathing the landscape in a golden glow as long as it was above the highlands. I arrived at the Baddeck Inn after dark, got my room, and then drove back into Baddeck, where the Telegraph House dining room was already closed for the season, so I went to the Lynwood, which was still open (though it was to close on the 22nd), where I had escargots with Parmesan cheese and garlic butter in mushroom caps (excellent); spinach salad with apple, boiled egg, and maple sauce (superb); Atlantic scallops, very like the coquilles St-Jacques at le Gabriel, but with a non-stringy cheese and tons of mushrooms (very good); and tea. It was a lovely dinner to end what hd turned into a lovely day. I returned to the motel and read and relaxed a bit, turning in at 22h.
Thursday, 20 October — Baddeck to Whycocomagh
I awoke just before 7h30 to a lovely day, sunny and bright with some haze and lots of white clouds in a blue sky. I had a continental breakfast at the Inn (included in the room price) and then sat on the chairs provided outside my room whilst enjoying the views and the sun. There was little apparent colour on the Washabuck Peninsula across St Patricks Channel, though it wasn’t getting the benefit of the bright sun yet, and lots of greens were visible on this side as well. After packing up and loading the car, I drove north on the Trans-Canada Highway to the Big Hill Crossing Road and crossed up and over the side of Big Hill and descended down to its crossroads with the Rear Big Hill Road, where I turned around; the road was passable, but parts were not in the best condition. Unfortunately, I found no views from the road that were picture-worthy, as I had hoped the elevation might provide. On the way back, I met a gentleman on an ATV from Big Harbour and we both stopped, he to ask if I were lost and I to tell him I wasn’t but was looking for views of and information about Bald Mountain, which I had hoped to espy from Big Hill, but hadn’t. He was a big-hearted Cape Bretoner and kindly invited me to get in touch with him next year and he’d get me there on an ATV! I will certainly do that and look forward to seeing the views from there in person, something I had never assumed I’d be able to do, as it is said to be a long hike. He also said there was a good vantage point to which I could drive, recently cleared by logging activity, from which to survey the Rear Big Hill area, which I added to my to-do list for next year. Lucky I was indeed to meet him by chance! I continued back down the Big Hill Crossing Road and turned back south on the Trans-Canada Highway. I stopped for some photos of Kidston Island just north of the turn-off for the new windmill and then drove up the road leading there, which I had explored in the summer. Today, no one was there, the windmill was still not operational, and the views were better, though the earlier blue sky patches had mostly disappeared, leaving too many clouds interfering with the lighting; I took a number of shots anyway.
From the windmill, I drove on to Baddeck and turned off onto the Old Margaree Road at Exit 9. I drove to the Big Farm Road and turned down it, as it usually has good fall colours and also offers great views of the highlands to the north. I drove it to the end, admiring the lovely terrain through which it passes and stopping along the way for photos of the foliage, mostly yellows and oranges, and the highlands across the Baddeck River. If you don’t know this road, you should definitely explore it! A fine red tree I have photographed in other years was brilliant in the sun and I stopped to take its picture again this year. I drove back out to the Old Margaree Road and continued on into Baddeck Bridge, where I turned left towards the Cabot Trail. More beautiful colours required stops for photos, though the reds I found there in previous years were in very short supply. Once at the Cabot Trail, I turned towards Buckwheat Corner and stopped there for some photos of the highlands above Wagmatcook, whose trees, in spite of having lost many leaves in the higher elevations were still quite bright. I also stopped on the outskirts of Wagmatcook for a shot of St Patricks Channel and the terrain across the peninsula on which Portage Road runs and beyond it to North Mountain in the far distance, a shot I’ve had on my to-do list for a long time—with the minimal traffic this time of year, it was a good time to get one.
At Exit 6, I turned down Highway 223 and drove to the ferry, not because I intended to cross, but just to look at the foliage, which I remembered from previous years. It did not disappoint! The whole road was lined with brilliant red maples, quenching somewhat my so far mostly unslaked thirst for reds. What a beautiful drive on a now gorgeous day! I drove back to the Trans-Canada Highway and on to Whycocomagh and then across Highway 252 to Mabou, for an afternoon visit with a friend in Mabou Harbour. Colours there were in Skye Glen and Centreville, though much more towards the yellows and oranges, and even along the Mabou River, they lacked the brilliance of other years. Cape Mabou was glorious basking in the sun, but again mostly clad in yellows, oranges, and greens, with a few red trees visible at the base of the Cape; most of the trees even at the summits, still had their leaves.
My friend and I passed much of the afternoon visiting, catching up on each other’s news and doings. When I left after wishing him a good winter, I drove to Mabou, took care of an errand, and continued on to Scotsville and from there to East Lake Ainslie, where I had been invited to dinner with friends. I was the first of their guests to arrive and got a tour of their fine new digs as we chatted about their future plans until the others had arrived; as the sun was setting, I took a photo of the scene from their home, which overlooks the lake. The new arrivals joined in our colloquy and it was soon time to sit down to a lovely dinner featuring a delicious, chewy shrimp risotto with a great salad and other fine accompaniments. More lively conversation followed during and after dinner, continuing late into the evening. After thanking my hosts for the great dinner and evening, I drove back to the motel in Whycocomagh and was in bed by 23h.
Friday, 21 October — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
I got up past 8h15 and packed up the car. On the way to breakfast at Vi’s, I said good-bye to my hostess and staff at the motel and turned in my key; it was another fine stay and I really appreciate the flexibility that being able to keep the key affords my packed schedule. Skye Mountain had lost a lot of its leaves, especially on the upper slopes; there was still some colour but it was well past peak. I drove out the Orangedale Road to Orangedale and continued on out the Stoney Point Road, which I had explored this summer, as I was curious to see how the leaves were there. I turned around at MacLeans Cove: it was a very pretty drive along the water of North Basin, but numerous evergreens made for fewer colours than I had hoped. I returned to Orangedale, which, given its autumn colours this year, would be more appropriately named Yellowdale, and then took the Marble Mountain Road towards Valley Mills. The bridge is currently closed at Valley Mills, so I followed the detour onto Eden Road and drove it to River Denys. Both the Marble Mountain Road and Eden Road had nice colours, but the few reds in evidence were mostly pastels. Eden Road had been freshly gravelled and graded; they were still working on its northern end.
From River Denys, I took the Big Brook Road to West Bay Road, stopping for photos at the railroad crossing and at Archway Falls, where it began to mist. In West Bay Road, I turned onto the Cenotaph Road and drove it to West Bay, where I took the County Line Road to Cleveland and Highway 4 to MacIntyre Lake, by which time the misting had stopped. I captured the colours along the lakeshore there. The Barberton Road ends on Highway 4 close by and I didn’t remember having driven it previously, so I turned onto it, or so I thought; it was the old road, which dead-ended at the new road with no access to it, so I backtracked to Highway 4 and then turned onto the new road. It is paved and, as it descends towards its end on the Long Stretch Road, has some fine views of distant highlands, most likely part of the Big Ridge, but the lighting was very poor and I could not identify with any precision what I saw; I definitely want to return here with “Big Bertha” next year. Along this road, the colours were well past peak, though some yellows and oranges were still pretty, and the tamaracks were well along in transition to the fall yellows. I turned onto the Long Stretch Road, where the conditions were the same as along the Barberton Road, and took it to the Trans-Canada Highway near the Port Hawkesbury airport. As I was descending into Port Hastings, I saw some very nice colours across from the electric substation, but I couldn’t stop due to vehicles behind me, so missed out getting any photos there.
From Port Hastings to Port Hood and beyond to the Rocky Ridge Road, the colours were now at peak on Highway 19, though a fair number of trees exposed to the winds had lost their leaves and stood bare. Highway 19 was less busy than the Trans-Canada Highway, so I stopped above and at Mill Brook for some photos there. In Troy, I dropped in for a nice visit with friends there and then made my way to Port Hood, where I got my room and cleaned up for the evening.
Dear friends on Rocky Ridge had invited me for dinner, so I drove up there. Pleasant conversation with them and the other dinner guests ensued. The lady of the family is a marvellous cook and we sat down to a beautiful table prepared for a grand meal, beginning with a dinner salad with croutons and cheese and followed by a main course of seafood pasta penne, made with lobster, shrimp, and scallops in a delightful creamy sauce, and finished with a sugarless apple pie served with frozen yogurt. Scrumptious doesn’t do it justice! Sated, we all sat in the living room and continued conversing; I stayed on long after the other guests left, chatting about many topics, as this would be our last visit until the coming year. I then drove back to Port Hood and read and unwound; it seemed I was coming down with a cold and the post nasal drip was starting to make my throat sore, so I cracked open a bottle of Buckleys and went to bed about midnight. At least the cold had the decency to wait until my trip was almost over!
Saturday, 22 October — Port Hood
I arose at 9h to a rainy day, warm, but with gusty winds. After catching up on the news, I headed north towards Chéticamp. As I was passing by Big Cove in West Mabou, I missed a great shot of a rainbow over the Mabou River—I was just past the turn when I noticed it and there was traffic behind. I turned off into the Marina in Mabou, but the rainbow was gone when I got there. The colours were still good to excellent all the way north, even along the Shore Road, but definitely past their peak. It had turned into a nicer day by the time I got to Margaree Harbour, where some blue sky was visible and the sun was brightening up spots of the landscape where it penetrated the clouds. I continued on to the Doryman, where I had a bowl of chowder and a salad, both excellent, before the cèilidh started.
This afternoon’s cèilidh was a CD release party for Kyle MacDonald’s new self-titled CD, which I had obtained at the dance at Creignish earlier in my stay. Hilda Chiasson on keyboard accompanied Kyle’s fiddle, enhancing his playing with grace and beauty (Howie MacDonald does the honours on the CD). It was not a big crowd—about forty at the height of the afternoon—and there were no dancers, neither square dancers nor step dancers, so the fine sets of jigs went without takers, as did the call for step dancers at the end of the afternoon. I heard a number of my favourite tunes and was impressed again with Kyle’s fine playing during some grand sets, both of jigs and march/strathspey/reel sets, as well as during a lovely slow air I thoroughly enjoyed. Sales of the CD were brisk, as well they should have been.
After the cèilidh, I drove back to West Mabou. It was raining in Chéticamp when I left and continued off and on during the drive south; puddles in the road and some wet leaves required caution—fallen leaves can be as slippery as ice. I stopped off at the Freshmart in Mabou for another bottle of Buckleys and some supplies for the road. My eyes were very tired when I got to West Mabou Hall, not helped by the cold I was fighting.
The dance tonight featured Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Joël Chiasson on (real) piano. There was no quorum at 21h, so Shelly and Joël played various tunes while waiting for the dancers to arrive. The first square set got under way at 21h27 with four couples; the magnificent jigs drew two more couples for the second figure and another for the third. The second square set was a bit bigger, with nine couples in its third figure. My notes read “perfect tempos—no better dance music!” Enough people had arrived by 22h that the third square set, the largest of the night, had at least three groups, with 17 couples in its third set. It was followed by a waltz that was new to me. Two more square sets followed, each with from 12-14 couples, and then Sarah MacInnis and Amanda MacDonald answered the call for the step dance sequence. The next set of jigs had no takers nor did the following one, so Shelly gave us a fantastic Johnny Cope, followed by reels to finish out the evening. It was amazing playing by both from start to end and, in spite of my cold, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I drove back to Port Hood, had a dose of Buckleys, and was asleep in a flash.
Sunday, 23 October — Port Hood
Up at 9h, I went out to Sandeannies for breakfast; it was grey and overcast when I left the motel, but, by the time I finished breakfast, some sun and blue sky patches were piercing the general cloud cover. I returned to the motel, where I read and relaxed for a while. I was to meet friends at the Shrine in Mabou at 12h30 for a visit with other friends on Mabou Ridge, who have a home with fantastic views of Cape Mabou, the Mabou River, and Rocky Ridge. I left early enough to arrive there on time after including a trip up Hunters Road on Rocky Ridge for photos, a marvellous spot with panoramic views overlooking the Southwest Mabou River, the Mabou River, Cape Mabou, Hillsborough, and Mabou Ridge, capturing views I would not again see this year.
We all got into one car and headed to Rankinville for the trip up Mabou Ridge, which always brings to my mind Dan Hughie MacEachern’s great march, Trip to Mabou Ridge, Buddy MacMaster’s version of which I have as a ring tone on my iPhone. Our friends there graciously allowed me to get photos of their magnificent views and insisted we stay for a fine and copious tea. Cape Breton hospitality is simply amazing!
I arrived at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre cèilidh about twenty minutes after it started; today’s music was by Chrissy Crowley and Jason Roach. Shortly thereafter, dancers took to the floor, forcing the musicians to play for a square set, danced by four couples. Another square set followed a few minutes later, again danced by four couples, the last of the afternoon. A waltz set, ending in “In Memory of Herbie MacLeod”, also brought four couples to the floor to dance. Edna MacDonald and Kimberley Wotherspoon both shared their steps during a set towards the end of the afternoon. One final blast of music and a good visit with my music-loving friends for my last day in Cape Breton!
After the cèilidh had ended, the same friends with whom I had travelled up to Mabou Ridge had invited me to dinner in West Mabou, so I drove there, stopping on Mabou Road for some final pictures of Cape Mabou in the late afternoon sun, and enjoyed a lovely evening of conversation as well as a fine home-cooked dinner (baked hake, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, biscuits, beet pickles, and lemon meringue pie, a favourite dessert which I had no will to decline). It was a marvellous opportunity to catch up on our news one last time.
I got back to the motel, got most of my things ready to load into the car in the morning, and was soon in bed, as I was facing a long drive tomorrow. The Buckleys had kept the cold under control most of the day, so I dosed myself again and was soon fast asleep.
Monday, 24 October — Port Hood to Bangor
I arose a bit before 7h¹ to a grey day with raw wind and a cool +8 (46), less considering the wind chill. I packed up the car and went off to breakfast at Sandeannies. I had an errand to tend to in Port Hawkesbury, but had to wait until 10h to do so, so took a final slow drive down the Shore Road with stops at Michaels Landing and Christy’s Look-Off. The further south I went, the brighter it got, with some sun breaking through as I returned to the car after completing the errand. I got gas in Port Hastings and crossed the Canso Causeway Bridge at 10h29. So, sadly, my time in Cape Breton came to its end.
The winds of the past few days removed many of the remaining colours along highway 19 in Cape Breton and along the route I travelled in mainland Nova Scotia, in New Brunswick, and in Maine. Except in low-lying, relatively protected areas, where the yellows and oranges often remain, it is now the grey/black branches of the stripped trees that colour most views, commingling with the dark greens of the evergreens and the yellows of the tamaracks. Considerable sun was out in mainland Nova Scotia and much of New Brunswick east of Fredericton, but was mostly in hiding beneath thick black clouds, peeping out only sporadically west of Fredericton. Temperatures were all over, reaching +12 (54) in mainland Nova Scotia and dropping to +4 (39) during a brief shower north of Fredericton.
I drove for the first time the newly opened stretch of the Antigonish bypass, which removes the slow-down in Lower South River. Except for a construction stop on the Canso Causeway, where traffic was reduced to a single lane, and to pay the toll at the Cobequid Pass, I drove straight through to Salisbury (New Brunswick), where I stopped for a sub, half of which I ate there. An inquiry of Google Maps there told me it was only nine minutes longer to Bangor by Houlton than by Calais. Because I hadn’t been to Houlton since my cousin and I passed through there returning from a trip to the Gaspé Peninsula many, many years ago (so long, in fact, that most of I-95 from Houlton to Bangor was then two-lane/untwinned/single carriageway (what in Nova Scotia is called a “super-two” highway, like highways 104 and 105 in Cape Breton), I opted to check out that route to vary this trip home. This route follows highway 2 in New Brunswick to Woodstock, where highway 95 leads to the American border near Houlton, both four-lane/twinned/dual carriageway highways in excellent condition, as is I-95 itself now. The distance from Salisbury is 459 km (285 mi) via Houlton vs. 395 km (245 mi) via Calais; the driving times are so much closer (4h10 via Houlton vs. 4h01 via Calais) because the Airline is posted for 90 km/h (55 mph) in the east and 80 km/h (50 mph) in the west and even lower in villages, whereas I-95 is posted for 120 km/h (75 mph) from the border near Houlton straight through to the outskirts of Bangor. The Houlton route also lacks the vigorous ups and downs and twists and turns of the Calais route in Maine and is roughly a wash in terms of climbing in New Brunswick. And you can’t get stuck behind slow-moving traffic on the I-95, as sometimes happens on the Airline. Even though the driving times are close, the Houlton route still felt considerably longer, probably because it’s not as scenic as the Airline, which latter also compels one to pay attention to one’s driving more closely, making the time seem to pass more quickly. I’m not sure which route I'll pick in the future, but am glad I now am better informed about the Houlton route.
I stopped for gas in Oromocto; crossed customs in Houlton very amicably (where today’s concern was green peppers of Canadian origin and red apples were just fine, wherever they came from—I have to believe a reïncarnated Kafka dreams up these arbitrary regulations!), and chatted with the border guard about the merits of I-95 vs. the Airline in winter (he hadn’t driven the Airline, but assured me I-95 was faster then and in all seasons). I stopped at the rest area just south of the Penobscot River, where I swapped telephone SIM cards and currencies, and arrived in Bangor at 19h05, where, since it was dusk and quickly getting dark, I decided to stop for the night.
I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to all those who made this trip such a special one: to my hosts and hostesses at the places I stayed; to my friends who shared the fantastic music with me, spent time with me, and invited me to dinner at their homes; to the myriad volunteers and movers and shakers without whom this festival would not exist; to the musicians both in Celtic Colours concerts and at the dances and cèilidhs and concerts outside of Celtic Colours, whose world class music so vivifies my soul and those of my like-minded fellow listeners; and to the weather gods who blessed us with fantastic weather for much of my stay and produced a spectacular display of fall colours, even if the reds weren’t quite as plentiful as I’d have liked. What a memorable trip!
I arose at 5h30 under night skies and a very brisk +3 (37). My first stop was in Newport (Maine), where I had breakfast and got gas; when I came out, it was starting to get light in the east, but was still dark in the west. My second Maine stop was in Kennebunkport, where I got a cup of coffee to battle driving hypnosis. I got gas again in Tewkesbury (Massachusetts) and then stopped at the rest area down the road in Chelmsford for a good while, again to focus my eyes and mind on something other than the hypnotic road. It had become a lovely day, sunny with white puffy clouds and plenty of blue sky, though it only reached +8 (46). My fifth stop was in Newtown (Connecticut), where I had a late lunch of soup (good for the cold I’m battling), salad, and a swordfish steak, which was on lunch special today; I also consumed two more cups of coffee, which finally did the trick, making me hyper-alert for the heavier traffic from there south. A final stop at Montvale (New Jersey) and I was ready to do battle with the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike. I arrived home, very tired, but in one piece, a bit after 17h; the sun had disappeared under grey clouds in North Jersey, but reäppeared south of New Brunswick (a city in New Jersey, not the Canadian province of the some name) and the temperature reached a relatively balmy +14 (57). I got the car unloaded and called my sister to let her know I was safely home. I had more chicken soup to fight the cold and will soon be in bed.
From Bangor to Augusta, there were noticeably more fall colours than yesterday between Houlton and Bangor, but they were comparatively dull and well past peak, with many trees stripped altogether of their leaves. South of Augusta, the trees were more intact: while some showed signs of stripping, there were far fewer than to the east; moreover, unchanged green deciduous trees started appearing regularly in southern Maine and became ubiquitous in western Connecticut and further south. In this stretch, partially turned trees were the majority, with green/orange or green/yellow mixes predominating. As in Cape Breton, the most vivid and noticeable turned colours were oranges and yellows, with vivid reds very rare (pastels and brick reds were more common, but still fairly scarce). South of New Brunswick, the trees had barely begun to change at all and oranges and yellows were quite rare, so I will get to experience a second fall, though in Jackson the red oaks mean the change is from green to red-brown rather than to more vivid colours.
While I’m sad to no longer be in Cape Breton, I’m glad to be home. Once I shake the cold and get rested up, I will begin writing the missing trip posts from my notes and posting them to my timeline. Then, I should get back to work on the web site.¹
¹ As events turned out, this did not happen. While I was diligently working on the trip posts, once I had recovered from the cold, the totally unexpected and devastating US presidential election results and the equally dismaying congressional results put me into a state of such deep disgust, depression, despondency, and despair for our country that, for the rest of the fall and much of the winter, I experienced near total writer’s block as this boastful, bullying, egomaniacal, misogynistic, narcissistic, petulant, xenophobic president, uninformed about public policy and totally unaware of the depths of his ignorance as well as unable to foresee the predictable consequences of his erratic actions, nominated the most incompetent cabinet in history and perpetrated daily shocking violations of longstanding public norms of presidential propriety, ethical behaviour, and standard democratic practice, whilst the craven, amoral party whose nomination he won refused to utter a peep of protest over his constant shameful lies, his corrupt behaviour, and his totally out-of-bounds conduct: in this horrible environment, where the future of our democracy is at stake, I simply could not find the words to do something so simple as to transcribe my trip notes, with the result that completing each day’s post took many days of effort. The writer’s block mostly remains at this juncture, but I have at least finally managed to finish up this task to my satisfaction, though the other work on the web site I had planned on has not even been started. I apologize for the long delay in getting these promised trip posts completed and up on my web site and hope you will be understanding of my failure to do so.↩