Sadly, I had to say “farewell” to Cape Breton Island. I got my music and I got my seafood and a good dose of both.
It was worth the long drive to get there. If you ever wanted waterfront or water view property, Cape Breton is just the ticket. First, it’s an island, so right off the bat, you have lots of water. What makes it unique is that in the middle of the island is this immense lake with a shape that is indescribable… it’s full of inlets, coves, channels. Then there are rivers, streams, ponds… you have it all, calm lakefront, rough Atlantic, babbling brooks, water falls. It’s all there.
The place I stayed the longest was Cheticamp, a small Acadian fishing village on the far side of the island. Originally, the Acadians, of French descent, were farming people on the mainland of Nova Scotia, but the British kicked them out in the 1700′s and they found their way to the far reaches of Cape Breton. No farming here, Cape Breton (part of the Appalachian Mt range) is a big rock so the Acadians learned to live off the sea.
Now the fish are getting scarce and the Acadians may be faced with another career change choice… Tourism is on the rise, along with the Acadians, there’s lots of Celts on the island and music is the big draw… think Natalie McMaster, fiddles, reels, jigs… basic “get up off your ass and dance music”. On the way out to Cheticamp I passed a little building that looked like it had been a church, but the sign now read “Gaelic Music Hall”. I first encountered this music live in the Bayou country of Louisiana and they’re Acadians there as well.
The Acadians and the Celts (primarily Scots) are very distinct groups, so you’ll be sitting in a cafe and at one table people will be speaking Acadian French at another table Gaelic and at yet another, English… everyone speaks English at least as a second language.. Which church you go determines the language the service is in. I was there for Remembrance Day (our Veteran’s Day) and went to mass at the catholic church… I didn’t realize it would be in French… but since my temple is all Vietnamese, I’m used to getting in to my own space for religious services… gives me time to contemplate.
They take Remembrance Day very seriously, no shopping, even the grocery stores closed. There are only about 3,000 people at Cheticamp and the names of all the dead military from the 1st World War on were read. I was stunned to hear so many names read out from just a few surnames.
A very small part of the service was in English. The Priest talked about the reason we go to war and he used terms like “justice”, “democracy”, “freedom”. That got me thinking about that stuff. A lot. As it happens, Prince Charles was in Canada that week, and there were lots of protests, the protesters getting right in to where he was and confronted him about ending the Monarchy, separatism and the like. In the US, if we want to protest, we’re corralled with our little signs a good mile away from the President.
One night I went to this place, Rollie’s, a bar in North Sydney on the island. Every Thursday night Musicians from all over Nova Scotia and particularly Cape Breton island come to jam. I was hoping for a ceilidh (with dancing) but although there wasn’t dancing, the floor was constantly vibrating with all the toe tapping going on. Toward the end of the evening one of the musicians did put down his instrument and did some step dancing. People just sat down and played and the group got smaller and bigger then smaller again. Mostly fiddles, a whistle, a mouth harp and later on a couple of guitars as well. Those guys can play fast and there were some folks with less experience sitting and playing, when it got really intense, they just set their fiddle on their thigh and waited for a place where they could jump in again. Aside from the occasional bar, the Royal Canadian Legion Hall is where the action is… dances every weekend.
As it happens, my daughter and her family went to a celidhe in Harrisburg, Pa at about the same time. I’m told my granddaughter ( the 3 1/2 year old dragon slaying granddaughter) walked up on stage, picked up some spoons and started playing and stomping her feet to the music. It must be in the blood. If you’re where this kind of music is being played and your body isn’t moving, you might be dead.
Oh, and I picked up a bit of Cape Breton colloquialism… everyone is ‘Boy” male or female, you’re boy, but it’s pronounce “Bye” It’s used like we used to use “man” and the kids now use “dude” as in “hey, Bye, what’s up?” or “will you have gravy with the
I was able to avoid the deadly boring and long drive across New Brunswick. As it turns out, there is a ferry from Digby, NS to St John, NB and a good friend from high school had grandparents from around Digby… so I went there.
At the border at St Stephens, NB, I hesitated a bit, not wanting to leave ( I also had a pocket full of Canadian money I hadn’t yet spent). I drove around St. Stephens, skirting the border station a few times until I finally gave it up and came back to the USA. The next morning starting out on the highway, I had this warm enveloping feeling of gladness to be in the US again.. go figure. It’s kinda like going to bed, I don’t want to go at night and I don’t want to get out in the morning.