This section describes works presenting Cape Breton’s history that I have found useful enough to cite; they are listed alphabetically. If you are aware of other historical works not listed here that you think should be, please so notify me using the address in the footer.

History of Inverness County Nova Scotia

History of Inverness County Nova Scotia by J[ohn] L[orne] MacDougall, Sandy Group, [no place of publication], 1999 reprinting of a work originally published in 1922, hardback, 690 pages. Lacks either a table of contents or an index. ISBN 0-919302-54-8.

This book describes the history of Inverness County in eleven chapters entitled:

  1. The Pioneer Settlers: Their Races, What They Had to Do
  2. Some Outlines of Cape Breton History
  3. General Sketch of Inverness County, Its Prominent Features, And Some of Its Distinguished Sons and Citizens
  4. Farming in Inverness
  5. Religion in Inverness County
  6. Some Old Schools, and Old Teachers
  7. Geological Notes
  8. Our Roads and Bridges
  9. Our Fisheries
  10. Public Courts, Public Officials, Public Men, and Politics
  11. District Sketches

An appendix includes material that J. L. MacDougall received too late to incorporate into the District Sketches chapter, but which he deemed worthy of inclusion.

This book is an invaluable resource, but it is incredibly frustrating to use and to consult; the author’s stilted Victorian-era language further makes it very hard to read in a sustained sitting. The initial chapters contain lots of useful descriptive information on the state of Inverness County in the 19th and early 20th centuries, though it’s really difficult for one so far removed from the time and the location as I am to judge how reliable a witness Mr. MacDougall is to the people and events he chronicles. Facts abound, but so do opinions. The district sketches in particular are nearly unreadable: most contain information about the families who settled in a given area, obviously furnished for the most part by those families themselves, enumerating their children and kin, with other data of great interest to a genealogist, but of little use to one trying to obtain an understanding of the history of the district and the flavour of life in it; moreover, the sketches are written in a style which is not far removed from chapter ten of Genesis and rapidly puts one to sleep. Interspersed with all of the genealogy, one occasionally finds documents cited in toto (e.g., a petition to the provincial legislature requesting the naming of a magistrate for the settlements of Cape Mabou and Broad Cove (p. 597)) and here and there, one gleans other nuggets of very useful and sometimes illuminating information as one skims through the sketches; yet, given a lack of a photographic memory, finding them again is nearly impossible without an index, which this work sorely needs. The order in which the various sketches appear is nowhere given; they are all jumbled together in one humongous chapter (pp. 115-631 with addenda in an appendix from pp. 635-690). That place names are sometimes significantly different from those in current use (e.g., Poplar Grove is a place name I’ve encountered only in this work) is a further problem; there is no map to help. And so it goes… Yet, with all these problems, it does have one stellar merit: there is no other work of which I am aware that, in spite of all its warts, gives as good a picture of the early days of Inverness County as this one does.

The book was priced at $59.95 when I bought it some time after 2005 at the Bear Paw in Inverness village. I understand that it is not now readily available and have not seen it recently in Cape Breton bookstores, though people who want a copy of it can, with persistance, probably find one. [As of 2016 February 14, Amazon has multiple copies of a paperback edition in stock for $24.99, two hardcover copies for $38.67, and a MOBI-formatted copy for $0.99; at other times, it has been listed as “currently unavailable”.]

What appears to be an on-line version of this work can be found here, which turned up while I was doing a Google search for a photo essay topic. I do not know how complete this on-line version is, as I have little experience as yet using it, though the pieces I have examined do seem to be replicated from the original text. There are doubly underlined links in the text which result in (sometimes inane) ads showing up when one places the cursor over them and the web page surrounding the text is also chock-a-block with ads. Still, this version is both searchable and free, so it may well be worth putting up with the ads.

This work is also searchable through Google Books, though the search only turns up small snippets of four to five lines each and, when there are several matching snippets, only the first few are shown with no obvious way of examining the others, so this facility is pretty limited.

If you are interested in searching and have a Kindle, perhaps your best bet is the MOBI-formatted version from Amazon. I have not examined it, but I presume it is a full copy of the original. If nothing else, the price is right!

Memoirs of a Lightkeeper’s Son: Life on St. Paul Island

Memoirs of a Lightkeeper’s Son: Life on St. Paul Island by Billie Budge, Nimbus Publishing Ltd, Halifax, 2010, paperback, 186 pages. Includes black and white photos, and a detailed map of St Paul Island. ISBN: 978-1-55109-769-5.

Once I began reading, I was unable to put down this fine and vivid work that describes, from the point of view of a young lad, life on St Paul Island during the years from 1955 to 1960 when the author lived at the Southwest Light with his father, the lightkeeper, his mother, and his sister. Although a memoir and not a history per se, it nevertheless preserves a detailed picture of life at a time when lighthouses were manned year round and many were cut off for months on end by weather and ice. Recounting the hardships embraced and overcome with ingenuity, resilience, and steadfastness, it paints a memorable portrait of life in Cape Breton’s northern wilderness half a century ago.

This book is divided into seventeen chapters entitled:

  1. The Letter
  2. An Island to Shun
  3. All Aboard—Well, Half Anyway
  4. A Different World
  5. Tragedy on the Northeast
  6. The First Winter
  7. End of an Era
  8. Living on the Edge
  9. Summer on St. Paul
  10. Fire!
  11. The Duck Hunter Blues
  12. Water, Cockroaches, and Geologists
  13. A Winter of Sickness
  14. Ice, Seals, and More Ice
  15. Entertainment and Recreation
  16. Strangers in the Night
  17. Final Thoughts and a Reluctant Farewell

I got a signed copy of this book for $25.00 at the gift shop in the museum in Dingwall after a memorable afternoon there that included a visit to the since-relocated Southwest Lighthouse that plays such a central rôle in this book. It is likely available elsewhere in Cape Breton Island and can be ordered from Amazon here.

Patterson’s History of Victoria County Cape Breton Nova Scotia

Patterson’s History of Victoria County Cape Breton Nova Scotia with related papers compiled and edited by W. James MacDonald by George Geddie Patterson, edited by W. James MacDonald, College of Cape Breton Press, Sydney, Cape Breton, 1976 reprinting (with additions) of a work originally published in 1885, hardback, 223 pages. Includes black and white photos, several maps, and a nine-page index. ISBN: 0-920336-02-7.

Patterson’s history was written in 1885; this edition preserves the whole of the original work, but updates and corrects it through the addition of a section of appendices and footnotes (actually endnotes).

This book describes the history of Victoria County in nineteen chapters entitled:

  1. Topographical Description
  2. Prehistoric — Our Aborigines
  3. Early Visitors — Portuguese, French
  4. St. Anne’s Fortified — Capt. Daniel
  5. Nicholas Denys — St . Anne’s — Map
  6. Louisbourg or St. Anne’s — Which?
  7. M. de Boularderie — Captures of Louisbourg
  8. Some Statistics — Various French Remains
  9. Wreck of “St. Lawrence” — Moose
  10. First Settlers — Capt. Jones — Bentinck — First Arrivals at St. Anne’s
  11. Baddeck Again — Grantees and Grants
  12. Immigration — Grand Narrows
  13. First Settlers at Aspy Bay and other places to the North
  14. Baddeck — Middle River — Little Narrows
  15. Boularderie — St. Anne’s — North River — North Shore
  16. Difficulties of Early Settlers — Famine — Educational and Religious Conditions
  17. The Colonial Society — Mrs. McKay — Lives of Early Ministers — Rev. Norman McLeod
  18. St. Paul’s Island — Shipwrecks
  19. Division of the County — Conclusion

The appendices, added by W. James MacDonald, are titled:

  1. Sieur de la Roque, Census, 1752
  2. Inhabitants of Baddeck, 1818
  3. Ship Building Industry of St. Anne’s, 1845-60
  4. Report on Victoria County, 1861-1862
  5. Arrival of Migrants from St. Anne’s to New Zealand, 1851-1860
  6. Victoria County Censuses, 1870-71, 1880-81
  7. Place Names and Places of Victoria County
  8. Maps of Victoria County

This book is both readable and interesting, covering many aspects of the history of 19th century Cape Breton and describes earlier times as well. Patterson’s attitudes and prejudices are those of his era. MacDonald’s corrections to the unintentional misinformation supplied by Patterson are most helpful, as is the very useful index.

I got this book from Amazon for $27.95, who used their contractee Russell Books, 734 Fort Street, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 1H02. It was a used book, but arrived in fine condition. As of 2016 February 14, Amazon lists a used copy of the book at $57.99. I do not know whether it is available elsewhere; I have never seen it on Cape Breton Island.

Rise Again! The Story of Cape Breton Island, Book One

Rise Again! The Story of Cape Breton Island, Book One by Robert J. Morgan, Breton Books, [no place of publication], 2008, paperback, 225 pages. Includes eight (unnumbered) pages of black-and-white photos, twelve pages of footnotes, ten pages of bibliography, and a ten-page index. ISBN 10: 1-895415-81-0; ISBN 13: 978-1-895415-81-0.

This book is the first of a two-volume set whose goal is to describe the history of Cape Breton Island from its geological roots through the end of the twentieth century. Book One describes everything but the twentieth century; it is organized as an introduction entitled “The Geology of Opportunity” followed by nine chapters entitled:

  1. In the Land of the Mi’kmaq: Early European Settlement on Cape Breton Island
  2. Isle Royale, The First Boom, 1713-1758
  3. “A Little Republick of Our Own”: Cape Breton County and Colony 1760-1820
  4. The Hebridean Connection and the Roots of Discontent
  5. The Forced Marriage with Nova Scotia, 1820-1851
  6. “The Epidimical Fury of Emmigration”: Settlement in the 19th Century
  7. “Poverty, wretchedness, and misery”: The Great Famine Reshapes Cape Breton
  8. The 19th Century Economy
  9. The Cape Bretonian Emerges: The 19th Century Roots of Cape Breton Culture

According to the book’s back cover, “Robert Morgan has devoted his life to Cape Breton. As Senior Historian at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park, Director of the Beaton Institute archives, and Professor of History at Cape Breton University, Dr. Morgan fought to preserve local heritage properties and to keep the island’s story alive.”

This book does not read like a history book, though the sources for its information are documented meticulously and extensively in the notes collected at the end of the book. Rather, it reads much like an exciting novel that is very hard to put down: his character sketches are sharply drawn and his feeling for the often hard times its protagonists lived through is conveyed very well. I found especially enlightening his lucid explanation of the arcane issues of British constitutional law that continue to motivate those Cape Breton “separatists” who agitate for a province of their own, originally a colonial grievance but one which has continued down to the present day.

This book was priced at $21.95 when I bought it during the Celtic Colours festival in 2008 at The Herring Choker in Nyanza, the first time I had seen it offered for sale. It should now be available in book stores all across Cape Breton Island. It can also be ordered on-line from the publisher’s web site.

Rise Again! The Story of Cape Breton Island, Book Two, from 1900 to Today

Rise Again! The Story of Cape Breton Island, Book Two by Robert J. Morgan, Breton Books, [no place of publication], 2009, paperback, 280 pages. Includes eight (unnumbered) pages of black-and-white photos, sixteen pages of footnotes, eleven pages of bibliography, and an eleven-page index. ISBN 10: 1-895415-85-3; ISBN 13: 978-1-895415-85-8.

This book is the second of a two-volume set whose goal is to describe the history of Cape Breton Island from its geological roots through the end of the twentieth century. Book Two describes the twentieth century; it is organized as an introduction entitled “Cape Breton on the Verge of the 20th Century” followed by nine chapters entitled:

  1. Cape Breton’s Second Boom: The Industrialization of Cape Breton, 1867-1914
  2. Cape Breton and World War One
  3. Standing the Gaff
  4. Co-operation and Technology Between the Wars
  5. Cape Breton in World War Two
  6. Years of Industrial Uncertainty
  7. Toward the New Economy
  8. The Emerging Cape Bretoner
  9. Rise Again!

Like Book One, Book Two is an exciting read; while it can be taken and digested in small chunks, I suspect you will have a hard time putting it aside. Its view is comprehensive: from the economy, which is central to the story; to the ways of life, beliefs, cultures, and politics, which governed and motivated the various communities; to the individuals, peoples, and external forces which shaped contemporary Cape Breton Island. This is definitely not just an urban history—its reach extends to the very different lives of the inhabitants in the isolated North, those in the Scottish west, and those in the French communities of Arichat and Chéticamp, as well as those who supplied and directed the labour of the mines and steel mills of the northeast. Insights and hard-to-come-by tidbits of information are found on every page, adding colour to an extremely well-told narrative.

Released in early 2009, my copy arrived as a gift of friends who knew how much I had enjoyed the first volume. This book is priced at $23.95 on the the publisher’s web site, from which it can be ordered on-line. It is now available in book stores all across Cape Breton Island.

These Were My People: Washabuck—An Anecdotal History

These Were My People: Washabuck—An Anecdotal History by Vincent W. MacLean, Cape Breton University Press, Sydney, Cape Breton, 2014, paperback, 390 pages. Includes local maps on the inside front and back covers, twenty-two pages of front matter, copious black-and-white photos throughout the work, ten appendices, twenty-seven pages of footnotes, five pages of select bibliography, and a nine-page index. ISBN 10: 1-927492-90-4 ISBN 13: 978-1-927492-90-1. Also available in EPUB® (978-1-927492-92-5) and MOBI (978-1-927492-93-2) formats.

This fine and very interesting book relates the story of the communities at the northern end of the Washabuck Peninsula and of the people who settled them and flourished there, written by one of their descendents who lives there still; he had access to all of his many relatives and fellow residents in this area and beyond, incorporating much generally inaccessible information into his account. Following Notes from the Editors, Acknowledgements, a foreward by A. J. B. Johnston, and an introduction, the following chapters appear:

  1. Washabuck
  2. Early Residents, Visitors and Neighbours
  3. The Gaels
  4. Surveyors, Land Grants and Early Land Owners
  5. Stores, Merchants and Shipping
  6. Education
  7. Religion
  8. Post Offices and Courier Services
  9. Vessel Construction
  10. Transportation
  11. Communications
  12. Alphas and Omegas
  13. Fires & Firefighter Services
  14. Forestry, Farming and Fishing
  15. Murder
  16. Melodic Memories
  17. Islands
  18. Community Organizations
  19. Military Salute
  20. Politics

The author is the son of the noted late Cape Breton musician, Michael Anthony MacLean, and is married to the sister of Jean MacNeil, mother of the Barra MacNeils. Full of information only one so closely connected to the communities could access, this work of many years assembles oral traditions and his own deep research using all of the available written sources he could unearth into a fine picture of this area and its culture. Reading it is very much like listening to a deeply knowledgeable and gifted story teller recount the tales of those who have gone before, often with humour and always with love and respect.

My copy is the very kind gift of the author, whom I serendipitously met for the first time when I sat next to him and his wife at a Celtic Colours concert in the Strathspey Place on 2014 October 14; at their invitation, I was privileged on two occasions in 2015 to participate in deeply interesting conversations with them at their home. This book is priced at $19.95 and can be obtained from the CBU Press web site. It should be available in bookstores throughout Cape Breton Island, though I had not encountered it in 2015 prior to the time I was given my copy and did not look for it thereafter.