Let me tell you about Cape Breton – we loved it!
Our time in Cape Breton started with a bit of an adventure. After flying to Halifax from St John’s and spending a day there (more on that in a later blog), we set out on Monday morning for Sydney. It was pouring rain in Halifax (after glorious weather on Sunday) and continued to do so for the entire 400+ kms.
We had a pit stop in Antigonish, home of St Francis Xavier University. It looked like a lovely town, but with the rain pelting down and the wind howling, we decided it wasn’t the day to stroll around.
We crossed into Cape Breton on the Canso Causeway. The Canso Causeway (Cabhsair Chanso in Gaelic) is a 1,385 m rock-filled causeway that crosses the Strait of Canso, connecting Cape Breton Island by road to the Nova Scotia peninsula. Its crest thickness is 40 m, carrying the two vehicle traffic lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway, as well as the single track mainline of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway. Constructed in an “S” shape, the causeway has a base width of 244 m (801 ft) in waters having a maximum depth of 65 m, making it the deepest causeway in the world. Cape Breton Island remains a true island as a result of the 24 m wide and 570 m long Canso Canal, which is located at the eastern end of the causeway to allow ship traffic to transit the Strait of Canso. The 94 m Canso Canal Bridge is a swing bridge which carries the road and railway line across the canal. We actually had to wait as the Newfoundland ferry passed through the canal.
We continued along Bras d’Or Lake, which is an inland sea of partially fresh and salt water, 100 km long and up to 50 km wide, in the centre of Cape Breton Island. We started to encounter some interesting road conditions and had to ford some rivers streaming across the highway. But with Harv’s good driving, our rented Kia Soul got us safely to the Cambridge Inn and Suites on the Sydney harbour (despite the Soul being one of the world’s homliest vehicles, IMHO).
The wind howled all night, the lights flickered occasionally but we stayed warm and dry. We woke in the morning to find the rain had stopped. Sydney had received the worst of the storm that hit Atlantic Canada – 228 mm of rain and sustained winds of 125 km/hr. This was of course the remnants of Hurricane Matthew, so Harvey is sticking with his story that he has now encountered a hurricane. Parts of Sydney and surrounding communities suffered severe damage – trees down and flooding.
As the day went by, the winds dropped off and the sun even shone. We attempted to visit the Fortress of Louisbourg, but it was closed for the day in the aftermath of the storm. We did get some exterior pictures and then returned later in the week (to follow in another blog post).
Across the bay from the Fortress, and part of the Canadian Historical Site, we stopped at Lighthouse Point. The Louisbourg Lighthouse is an active Canadian lighthouse with the current tower being the fourth in a series of lighthouses that have been built on the site; the earliest was the first lighthouse in Canada. The seas were still rough and we enjoyed watching the waves crash upon the rocky shores.
We toured the community of Glace Bay on our way to Port Morien, where we had plans for the evening.
While perusing the tourist information, I had discovered that the Celtic Colours International Festival was taking place in Cape Breton. I checked to see if there were any events close by on Tuesday evening and discovered that Port Morien (~30 minutes from Sydney) was hosting a community Fish Chowder Supper and a Cow Boy Ceilidh. Serendipitously, there were 2 remaining tickets available so we decided it might be fun!
The Celtic Colours Festival takes place for nine days in October when Cape Breton Island is home to a unique celebration of music and culture as the festival presents dozens of concerts all over the island, an extensive line-up of community events, and a nightly Festival Club. Over the years, artists have traveled from Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, Brittany, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Germany, and Cuba as well as from across the United States and Canada to join the finest of Cape Breton’s musicians, singers, dancers, storytellers and tradition-bearers for the annual Autumn celebration.
Since its introduction in 1997, Celtic Colours has grown to become one of Canada’s premiere musical events, and a cultural highlight of Nova Scotia’s tourism season, collecting accolades from regional music awards to national and international tourism awards. Everyone we talked to were amazed that we had just happened upon the event – they had purchased their tickets months ago and travelled specially to attend the events. The box office told us our event had been sold out for a long while, but our two tickets were returned just before we logged in – it was just meant to be!
The chowder supper took place at the Volunteer Fire Department Station and was a true community event, with the local ladies preparing and serving the chowder, buns and cake for dessert. The Ceilidh was held at the local community centre / Legion. It featured four acts. The evening started with Cape Bretoner Donnie Campbell’s songs that matter to him, from love songs to stories of tragedy and good times and memories. Next up was another native Cape Bretoner, Rosie MacKenzie. Rosie is an amazing fiddler and singer who now makes her home in Ireland. Accompanied by guitarist, Matt Griffiths, they mesmerized the crowd. Following intermission, accordion and guitar dynamo Tim Edey and virtuoso harmonica player Brendan Power from the U.K. took to the stage and were extremely entertaining as were Mec Lir, a 4 man band from the Isle of Man. The evening ended with all four groups on the stage for a rousing finale. It was a great evening! Sorry – no pictures were allowed. 🙂
Wednesday was a glorious day – sunny and warm. We travelled the Cabot Trail, which passes through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The 300 kilometre (186 mile) highway offers spectacular coastal views and highland scenery. The fall colours were absolutely spectacular and as we stopped at lookout after lookout, it seemed to only get better! The photographs can’t even capture the amazing array of colour!
As I mentioned, stay tuned for blogs on the Fortress of Louisbourg, as well as our time in Halifax.