Road Trip to Cape Breton, Part 2

Fortress Louisbourg from across the bay

We’ve decided to base ourselves in Sydney, Cape Breton for two nights. Sydney is only a short drive of about 30 minutes or so to Louisbourg where the restoration of the French fortress is.

Saturday September 23, 2017

The Fortress Louisbourg was established by the French in the name of King Louis in the early 18th century. While it was primarily there to watch over the lucrative cod fishing trade, there were military stationed as well, just in case, since there was always and inevitably another war just over the horizon. This was always a commercial town, with few farmers. It was filled with soldiers, fishermen and merchants and their families. There was a contingent of support with religious, medical and domestic servants, slaves and the like. There were inns, taverns, butchers, bakers, forges, all the services you need to contribute to a living community.

Bastion Reenactor maleThe site that’s there now as a National Historic Site represents the fort as it would have been in 1744, one year before the first time the British invaded. It changed hands between the British and French several times over the next couple of decades until it ended up with the British. They destroyed it in 1760. The current site is only about 20 percent of the original site. I didn’t know that before and it must have been enormous! There were five bastions for the army with barracks etc., 2.5 miles of wall surrounding and protecting the town and many, many merchants and businesses. Parks Canada began restoring the Fortress in the 1960s.

The park today employs seasonal workers who all dress in period costume in various roles and are very interesting to talk to. They all really know the history of the fortress and of the characters they play. They have events all summer, they have walking tours and special tours. There are often demonstrations of various types of things from cooking to crafts to musket fire and military drill. It’s pretty neat to step back 300 years in time.

View from the Bastion battlements over the town of Louisbourg

We arrived mid morning and at this time of year, near the end of the season, we could park right next to the site. Normally, you park by a visitor centre a couple of kilometres away and are bussed in. It was actually fairly busy because I believe there were a lot of tourists from a cruise ship in Sydney. We parked and headed to the visitor centre to get a map and off we went. We decided to investigate the King’s Bastion first, where the soldiers would be quartered as well as the unmarried officers. This one also included the Franciscan chapel, a jail where the prisoners would be shackled to the bunk, the governor’s quarters and a court. Graham and Malc walked around up on the battlements for a while leaving me to look into some of the other nooks and crannies and rest my bones in the sun as well.

Officers quarters coats

In the Officers’ quarters at the King’s Bastion, Louisbourg

We probably spent a good hour in the bastion and were starting to get a bit hungry. We made our way down the main street, looking into various buildings and listening to some of the staff talk. We got to the café but all it offered was tea, coffee and buns so we went to the main restaurant where you sit at communal tables and eat 18th century style with a pewter spoon and dish. That’s it. No fork or knife. The food they offer is all easily eaten with what you have. I had a really tasty piece of fish with vegetables and a vegetable soup to start with. Malc had French toast which he said was really, really good and Graham had chicken in a mushroom cream sauce, and pea soup, also really nice. I also had a small cup of French style drinking chocolate which seemed to be bitter unsweetened chocolate grated and melted in a bit of water or maybe milk. Different, anyway, very chocolatey.

Onward. We wandered around the site looking here and there, taking lots of pictures of course. If you take the time to talk to the various re-enactors, you can really steep yourself in the history of the fortress and the era it depicts.

Our feet finally gave out and we made our way back to the car. We stopped in the town of Louisbourg to have a look at the old train cars at a museum which was closed and we drove out to the old lighthouse as well. The original lighthouse on the site was erected in 1734 and destroyed in 1758 during the second seige of Louisbourg. The current lighthouse dates to the 1920s.

Tonight, we decided on an Indian meal at a fairly new restaurant I found while searching the area on Google, called Mian’s. It seemed to have good reviews but in the end, it was another disappointment, this time it was mine. Graham enjoyed his meal and Malc liked his. The samosas we started with were superb but my beef was dry and too chewy. Apparently the coffee was awful and they didn’t have milk for the tea, only cream. Unimpressed.

It’s back on the road tomorrow for home, stopping at a Highland Village open air museum on the way. A successful road trip indeed, with mostly spectacular weather!

Sunday September 24, 2017

The Black House Barra

The Black House, Highland Village, Cape Breton

The sun is up and shining and we are hopeful for another nice day. We are going to immerse ourselves in more history today.  This morning’s drive took us along the side of one of the lovely lakes though we mostly only saw it a bit through the trees.

The Highland Village Museum, part of the Nova Scotia Museum network, is high on a hill in Iona overlooking Bras d’or lake and gives you the experience of the Scottish immigrant to Nova Scotia between 1770 and 1830 and then the life of the community and Scottish Gaelic culture over the next 100 years or so as well.  Its staff are all dressed in period costume and talk to you of their lives for the period they represent. There are 11 period buildings on the site.

The first one was in a little “black house”, which is a stone shieling type of dwelling with a thatched roof. The woman there was very much into character and was really good. She told us lots of information about why and how the people in Scotland left home for a new life and what life was like in Scotland for these various clans in the western Hebrides islands. She’d speak partly in Gaelic and then in English which enhanced the experience.

Church and school view 1

Church and schoolhouse, Highland Village, Cape Breton

We climbed up the gravel paths slowly and talked to a few others in the next couple of homes and then it was all downhill. We were also overtaken by several groups of tourists bussed in from another cruise ship so we felt a bit flustered and rushed at times. Most of the buildings were brought here from other sites around the island to create the village and they often have demonstrations of various crafts and cookery.

I have a friend who told me that her late husband’s father and grandfather were ministers in the church, originally located in Malagawatch, that is now located here. He spent many a Sunday listening to long sermons in it! They have a general store, a school house and a forge as well as residential homes represented. The visitor centre gift shop has a good selection of nice things and there’s a small coffee shop on site. The whole village is very well done and informative and very much worth a stop.

Village view

Highland Village, Iona, Cape Breton

We started to lose the sun and from there, pointed the car in the direction of the Canso Causeway. We stopped in a market type place for lunch in Whycogomah and had another leg stretcher near New Glasgow and got home about 7. Brilliant few days on the road!

Mid 19c farmhouse matron hand spinning

Louisbourg Harbour lighthouse and the ruins of the original one, which was the oldest in Canada

Road Trip to Cape Breton, Part 1

Whale Cove Cemetery

Whale Cove Cemetery, Cape Breton

We’ve got a houseguest for a couple of weeks and he’s never been to Canada. We live in a really beautiful part of the country here in the east coast and wanted to show off some of the best of it so a road trip to the island of Cape Breton was organized. We headed out on the road and stopped for a pre-trip breakfast at Tim Hortons before getting on the rainy road to Cape Breton Island. Yes. Rain, most of the time just light showers but it made for a somewhat grim drive. Highway all the way to the island and then we were able to take a more scenic road, the 19, through the east side heading north to Cheticamp.

Malcolm had bought a map of Cape Breton at one of our comfort stops earlier and I had a look at it and spotted something called a Celtic Music Interpretation Centre. Does anyone want to go? Hell yes! We drive on to Judique where it’s located and head in. Malcolm was in heaven in the shop. So many of the cds calling his name! They also had live music in the café, a fiddler called Chrissy Crowley who was absolutely top notch. She was superb as was her pianist accompanist and both are fairly well known. We had a bit of lunch while listening to her play all the instrumental traditional ballads, jigs and reels and it was all I could do from stopping myself squealing out a “EEEEYAH!!!” when she was up to step dance speed.

The rain stopped more or less after that and we chugged along happily listening to one of the cds Malc bought. He kept track of where we were heading on his map and suggested a side scenic road. Good choice. It was quite pretty, following the coast closer than the other road. Then we spied a high open hill, with a little cemetery on the side and doubled back to check it out. It was a lookout spot over Whale Bay, according to the map. The cemetery was surrounded on by little brick chimneys. There’s a nearby area called Chimney corner so it’s likely to do with that. It was an absolutely beautiful spot.

On my way back to the car, I thought about the name “Whale Cove”. Why would it be called that? I turned around to have a look out at the bay. You never know. Yes, yes I spotted some dark shapes out in the bay and called back to the guys. Malc came out with his binoculars and said it looked like about 5 or 6 creatures out in the water. They were too far away to take even a full-zoom photo but we’re pretty certain they were whales which were likely pilot whales!

Cheticamp Harbour Boats

Cheticamp, Cape Breton

Onward to Cheticamp to find the motel which was about 5 minutes the other side of the town, just at the entrance to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The woman working there, the owner, was really nice, showing us a few scenic routes and ways to get around some of the road construction going on and she also recommended a restaurant for dinner tonight and made a reservation. There’s going to be live music there, too, so it should be nice. What a great start to the holiday!

We drove back into the town and had a look at the harbour with the boats. The sheltered water was like glass, it was that still. It was just at dusk so there was still enough light for a few photos. The restaurant had a French woman singing in the dining room. She was all right, sticking to safe crowd favourites in both languages. Most were just not my taste really. The food was as good as predicted so we all enjoyed our meal. We relaxed over dinner and finally headed back to the motel to relax. Tomorrow is our whale watching tour and we’re really hopeful the weather and the sea cooperate.

Thursday September 21

Sunny, cool and crisp this morning. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit too windy and the whale watching tour was cancelled. The boats can handle the choppy seas but the passengers can’t always and it’s a safety issue. We had got up early, checked out, picked up hot drinks and breakfast at Robins donuts and headed out to Pleasant Bay in plenty of time but to no avail. We did ask what companies did similar tours in the Ingonish area where we’re staying tonight and she gave us the information and even tried to get hold of them to book for us but couldn’t get through. We decided to take in the Whale Interpretive Centre they had there which was very interesting. It showed the evolution of the animal, it’s current environment and habits. They had a model of a full size pilot whale which is very common in the Cape Breton area. It’s a good little museum and well worth a stop if you’re in the area.
Northeast Cabot Trail views
We went on a few drives along the lesser beaten paths and drove to the northernmost community in Nova Scotia, called Meat Cove, accessed by a gravel road. The name apparently came from early settlers driving the deer and moose over the mountain to this location to be butchered and salted and shipped to other locations. We found a good place for lunch in Cape North called Angie’s and filled up the gas tank as well. There aren’t a lot of stations around the long stretch of the Cabot Trail from Cheticamp to Cape North so you should take advantage of it when you find one. The road around the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is hilly and twisty, sometimes following the coast and sometimes cutting across inland. There are lots of trails to hike with fabulous views and there are a number of roadside lookoff spots, little craft shops and a few cafes along the way.

It’s such a lovely day for a drive, too! We made a few photo stops along the way and got to the motel, the Sea Breeze Chalets and Motel in Ingonish Beach about 4 p.m. I called the whale watching company and booked us three spots for tomorrow. The man I spoke to said they would likely be ok to go. The Ingonish area is a popular stop. There are lots of motels and holiday chalets for rent. Our rooms face the sea from across the road. We’ll sort out somewhere to eat tonight and have a recommendation for breakfast tomorrow. It’s only a 10 minute drive to the harbour where the tour boat is located so we won’t have to get up quite so early!

Whale Watching Graham and Mal

The lads

We ended up at the Main Street restaurant and I went all out for something different and had swordfish, caught locally in Neil’s Harbour. I thought it was very good. Graham was not overly impressed with his burger, thought it was ok but really didn’t like the fries but Malc enjoyed his vegetarian meal a lot. Back to the motel for the night.

September 22

We checked out and went to the café up the road that was recommended to us, the Bean Barn Café, and they did indeed provide delicious all day breakfasts. We found the Whale Watching company down a small side road very close to where we ate last night and bought our tickets. It’s another beautiful day, perfect weather to be out on the boat. It’s a smaller boat and there were about 12 passengers so it wasn’t crowded at all. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales but we did see seals, bald eagles and a sunfish which was a good sized fish and had fins and flippers. There was a demonstration on how the lobster traps work as well.

We drove from there to the pretty town of Baddeck to see the Alexander Graham Bell museum. Because this year celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday, all of the National Historic Sites and parks have free entry. This is one on the list. It’s a very interesting museum. We never realized how many things Bell invented or started that were cutting edge for the time. Not everything worked out but he was fascinated with how things worked and tried to find new ways to do things all the time. He didn’t actually invent the telephone here in Canada but he maintained a summer home here for many years from about the mid 1880s onward.

It’s off to the city of Sydney tonight for two nights. Sydney is an industrial city at it’s core though these days the former regional industries of coal mining and steel are things of the past. We checked into the Comfort Inn on Kings Road. Be warned, there is no elevator, but they only have two floors. Nice large room, good wifi and lots of space. Breakfast is free but leaves a lot to be desired.

We had supper at the Old Triangle, a sister pub to the one in Halifax. Food was good but the first young man playing music was inadequate to the task. Reminded me of a busker who wants to play everything like it’s a party tune, and faster than it’s meant to be. The main act came on at 9:30. They were much better singers and players but their choice of tunes was mediocre middle of the road. We didn’t stay.

I’ll be back with part 2 very soon, where we visit the Fortress Louisbourg and the open air Highland Village museum.
Sunfish

Whale Watching eagles

Ingonish Beach area

2017 Travel: Cape Breton

Baddeck lighthouse on the Bras D’or lake, Cape Breton

I’ve been blogging about our big trip to British Columbia and Hawaii in November, but there’s another shorter trip that we’ve been looking forward to, as well. We have a house guest visiting form the U.K. in mid September and we’re planning another “Three Amigos” tour, this time to Cape Breton Island (The last Three Amigos tour was to Northumberland in the UK, read about that here)  Cape Breton, an island off the east end of Nova Scotia, has often been voted one of the best islands to visit, not just in Nova Scotia but in the world. The magazine Travel + Leisure had it ranked number one  and number 3 in two different years in the past few and it’s also been mentioned by other travel magazines.

It’s not your usual beach and resort type island. There are beaches, yes but the real beauty is in the scenery and the history. Hiking, fishing, golfing for those that want active things to do. The mountains of Cape Breton and the winding Cabot Trail around the tip of the island, with lots of little coastal towns and villages along the way will take you a full day of driving with stops for the local craft shops and tea rooms and cafes. Fortress Louisbourg brings you 300+ years of history. The small city of Sydney has arts and culture and a nice waterfront area. Discover Alexander Graham Bell in Baddeck where he had a summer home. You can go whale watching and spot the seals and birds and other nature from the boats. There’s even a whiskey distillery in Glenora near the Margaree Valley.

Louisbourg gates

Gates at Louisbourg

We won’t get to do all of that, but we do hope to go whale watching somewhere off the Cabot Trail and we will definitely go to Louisbourg. (My photos here) It’s an easy day trip from Sydney where we’ll land after a day or two driving around the Cabot Trail exploring. I also fancy seeing the Highland Village Museum  and we’ll likely stop in at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. It’s really very interesting. . We have a couple of motels and a hotel already booked. All we need is a picnic lunch, some flasks for coffee and tea and a full tank of gas to get us on the road! The great thing is that this year, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, all of the national parks and historic sites are free to enter!

Nova Scotia’s Bluenose II

We have a few more of those on our list besides the ones in Cape Breton. We are thinking of other day trips to go on to take our friend around more of this beautiful province. A big bonus, the schooner Bluenose II has been refurbished and will be taking public sailing out of Lunenburg, another World Heritage Site, while our friend is here so we’re going to make plans to drive down the south shore and do that. I’ve never been out on the water in the Bluenose. It just never worked out, timing wise.  Lunenburg is a beautiful town as is nearby Blue Rocks,  Mahone Bay and Chester, also very nice places to stop.

There are museums and the Citadel fortress here in Halifax that he’ll enjoy. Maybe we’ll get into the Annapolis Valley. He might like the Grand Pre National Historic Site commemorating the French Acadian settlers who were the first non-Indigenous settlers in Nova Scotia (which was called Acadie back in the 17th century, thus…Acadians).

September is usually a month of pretty good weather so we’re hoping for as much sun as we can get.

Blue Rocks, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia

A Photo A Week Challenge: Props

Nancy Merrill Photography’s blog has a weekly challenge and this week’s theme is Props. It’s often easier to take portraits of people if they have familiar items with them, especially for children to try to keep them focused. People like to show off their things, creations, anything that gives you an idea of who they are. In my post, I’ve decided to show some photos from a historical fort, Louisbourg, in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia where the staff dress in 18th century period costume and portray what life was like in the French fortress in that era. To see more of my visit to Louisbourg, check out my Flickr album.

Declaration

He’s guilty! (Sentenced to having to stand in an iron collar for two hours a day for three days in a row. All for stealing a bottle of wine.)

Costumed "inhabitants"

Passing the time of day.

Louisbourg Drummer

The Drummer Boy

Basket Weaving

Basket Weaving 101