Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cape Breton Island

We’re just wrapping up a week on Cape Breton Island, which is the northeast corner of Nova Scotia. The weather has been okay for most of the week, but we have had on and off rain. Today (Sunday) it’s been raining all day. A highlight of this island is the Cabot Trail, which is a loop road of about 150 miles traversing the Cape Breton Highlands, thus named because they reminded the original Scottish settlers of the highlands at home. DSC_0041

The trail runs along the Atlantic coast and is quite pretty. There was a fairly heavy fog  just off shore, so we didn’t see any of the whales that allegedly frequent these waters at this time of year. Neither did we see any of the moose or eagles that supposedly hang out here.  Penny and I have decided that, just as in Maine, the Canadian moose exist only on the signs that warn you not to hit a moose with your car. Tomorrow we’re going to Newfoundland which is supposed to be loaded with moose, so we’ll see. (I’ll have more on the trip to Newfoundland later.


The Cabot Trail also runs through some picturesque fishing villages where the local fishermen are currently busy trapping lobster. The lobster season ends this week, so they gotta catch lobster when the catching is good. In case you were wondering (I know I was) why is the road named the Cabot Trail: Well, at lunch today we found out. The restaurant placemat had some historical information about Cape Breton and it mentioned that the area was discovered (if you don’t count the Indians who where here first)  in the  early1700s by a couple of explorers named Cabot.

One of the fishing villages on the opposite side of the island from the Cabot Trail is called Louisbourg. I would have named it Lewisburg, but since it was founded by the French, it uses the French spelling. Anyway, the French built a fortress here in 1744.


Within a few years England decided Canada should be part of the Empire, so they attacked Fortress Louisbourg and sent the French military back to France. Over the following years the Fortress fell into disrepair, and pretty much disappeared. Aside from fishing, the big industry on Cape Breton used to be coal mining. In the 1950s, oil had replaced coal as the primary fuel, and the mines closed, leaving thousands of miners unemployed. The Canadian government got a brainstorm…put the miners to work rebuilding Fortress Louisbourg as a tourist attraction.

The building foundations were still in place, and France, apparently willing to let bygones be bygones, gave to Canada thousands of pages of plans and documents describing the original Fortress. So, with the supervision of a few old-timers who knew the old construction techniques, DSC_0027the out-of-work miners resurrected the fortress on its original site. Fortress Louisbourg remains one of the largest historical reconstruction sites in North America.

Local folk still work at the fortress as guides and  costumed re-enactors.DSC_0002

This lady, and no, the French did not have female soldiers in 1744, did a musket firing demonstration. Her gun refused to fire in her first four attempts. Number five worked, but by then, the British would have already moved into the barracks.

Aside from the misfires, the employees at the Fortress where extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the history of the area and were very willing to answer questions from the silly tourists. While we were visiting the Governor’s Quarters a French naval officer snuck up on us and explained why he was visiting the Fortress (his ship was being repaired). He came across as a pompous ass, but he WAS portraying a 1744 French naval officer.


Another popular tourist spot on Cape Breton is the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site. Bell had a summer house here, and we thought it was open to the public.  Turns out the Site is a small museum which touches on his telephone work, but mainly features the research Bell did on flight and hydroplanes. I didn’t even know the Father of the Telephone did research on flight, which proves once again that one is never too old to learn something new.


Bell’s summer home, Beinn Bhreagh, which means “beautiful mountain” in Gaelic, remains in the hands of Bell’s descendants  and is not open to the public.

And to round out the communications section of this entry, Giuseppe Marconi made the first transatlantic wireless transmission, in Morse code of course, from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where a very small museum is set up on the site where the transmission array once stood. Marconi_tower

This is a picture of a model of the Marconi antenna array. The foundations are still there, and the land is preserved. A volunteer named Jim, who claims to be one of the last people in the Maritimes fluent in Morse code, told us he’d love the government to reconstruct the site and turn it into a significant historical monument, but he doesn’t think it will ever happen.

Tomorrow we leave for Newfoundland. That means a ferry ride across 100 miles of open Atlantic Ocean. The ferry looks more like a cruise ship than a ferry boat, so it should be fun.


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