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"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Nova Scotia’s Incredible Cabot Drive

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

By Bert Gildart

Ciamar a tha thu?

Distance wise, it’s a long way from our home in Bigfork, Montana, to Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia, but only about half as far in customs and culture. Cape Breton Highlands comprises a Canadian National Park, and it in turn is part of the Cabot Trail, a narrow black-topped road that threads along part of the St. Lawrence Bay of the Atlantic Ocean.

As it proceeds, it simultaneously passes through little villages with British and Scottish names; names such as Neils Harbour and Dingwall; French names such as Chéticamp and Presque ile. The first picture posted here is of the fishing village of Margaree with its harbor, and it was settled by the English, made particularly apparent by its Calvin United Church rising above the horizon.

Like most Americans Janie and I are a melting pot of European nationalities, in our case, English, Irish and German. At times, the English-based brogues were as thick as molasses, at times harkening back to even a bit of the Gaelic, which is, in fact, still taught at a college on the Cabot Trail devoted to the culture’s preservation. Still, we could usually discern the nuances of their speech, if only by rhythm and tone.

Ciamar a tha thu?

And we knew the correct response would be, “I’m fine, thank you.”

But the language that culturally separated us at times was the French, which has survived as a distinct Acadian dialect here in the Cape Breton region. It survives because of initial settlement, and because Nova Scotia lacked bridges and roads throughout. As a result pockets of the highlands remained so isolated that language survived, despite the expulsion of French Acadian hundreds of years ago.

That isolation manifests itself with almost every sweep in the Cabot Trail, which may connect with a number of small villages, but not before passing through endless sweeps of ocean vistas, or magnificent bays back dropped by small fishing villages flanked at times by endless sweeps of agrarian lands.

We began our 180-mile circular drive of the Cabot Trail at Chéticamp, a small fishing village that is also the gateway to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and which provides a campground within a mile of its entrance. It’s from here that we began wandering, but immediately backtracked to the studio of a local photographer I wanted to meet, and that indeed is one of the more insightful impulses I’ve had.

Russell Daigle and his wife live on the Cabot Trail about 15 miles south of Chéticamp near the tiny village of Cape Le Moine with its Joe Scarecrow display. Russell is of French Acadian descent, and his family is one that was uprooted by the English in the 1750s in the Great Expulsion. In fact, at Les Trois Pigeons, an Acadian interpretive center in Chéticamp, his family name is at the top of a genealogical tree.

Russell’s programs interprets part of the expulsion, but his DVD provides a wonderful introduction to the area, and that evening we played his program over and over; and then over the course of the next few days, we visited many of the harbors, coves and magnificent settings that his program featured. One of those areas was Les Trois Pignons, and here we met Jacqueline Burton, noted for her incredible hooked rugs and as an interpreter of her French Acadian ancestors. She said that her family is represented now at Chéticamp because the British relaxed their ruling in about 1765, allowing a return of French Acadians.

The expulsion was inhumane and tore families apart, relocating some to such distant points as New Orleans, where they survive today as the well known Cajuns. Some may recall the famous Longfellow book entitled Evangeline which retraces in literature the hardships endured by these peaceful French speaking people—essentially because they were culturally different from that of the British.

They occupied Nova Scotia because of a treaty, and then they insisted that the French Acadians change their beliefs, their culture—and their allegiance—which they could not do. Nevertheless, pockets remained and remained separated from other immigrants to Nova Scotia by virtue of the huge lakes and vast mountains, the very things that attract us today.

[Andrea Beaton, right] Other cultures also flourished here, and the Ceilidh Trail, easily accessed from the Cabot Trail, preserves the music of the Celtics in Inverness at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center. While there Andrea Beaton, a well-known musician, was performing and consented to photography. Over the years she’s produced a number of CDs and her fiddle music coupled with a stomping of her bare feet, celebrates a unique sound that that can only be described as Celtic. I photographed her with a single strobe bounced off a nearby white wall.

We discovered these various interpretive centers by making day trips south of our campground, but we found equally as enticing aspects traveling north—and into Cape Breton Highlands National Park. For miles, the trail winds past one incredible setting after another, where pounding waves from the Gulf of St. Lawrence shapes this Atlantic shoreline. Inland, but still in the park, we saw moose and then, several miles later, came to a site that celebrated the shelter that may once have been used here by Scottish sheep herders, but certainly in their native home.

Lone Shieling [Left] exists because Professor Donald Sutherland MacIntosh donated land for inclusion in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. He stipulated, however, that the park must retain and interpret a lone shieling, or sheepherders shelter, symbolic to MacIntosh of his native home in Scotland.

Today, the shelter is reached by following a short trail, and when I photographed it, all the “props” awaited me. Entering the dome-shaped shelter was a lone grey haired woman in the background, while in the foreground, autumn had touched the sugar maples that surround the Lone Shieling.

The lighting was perfect, and though I had to use a tripod to over come camera vibration of slow shutter speed, everything would have been blocked up in harsh shadows had there been intense sunlight.

We’ve now been here for five days, but it’s taken us that long to get our bearings. From here, we’ll be moving more rapidly along the Cabot Trail, and hopefully will find the place where John Cabot may have landed back in 1497, just several years after Columbus. Cabot, we’ve discovered, may be one of the world’s most under celebrated explorers, for in reality, it was Cabot who “discovered” mainland American. Columbus in his several voyages got no further then the West Indian Islands.



One Response to “Nova Scotia’s Incredible Cabot Drive”

  1. Anneke Says:

    My mother and I saw this from the road as we passed back in 2003 and had no idea what it was! Thanks for clearing that up for us!

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