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DOWN TO EARTH IN GOD'S COUNTRY
 
(2015 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: CAROL ANN DAVIDSON



It might appear unpronounceable, but the meaning is crystal clear: “A hundred thousand welcomes.”That translates to one welcome per Cape Bretoner as, at last count, the island is 100,000 strong.

Just about anyone who ever lived in or visited this beautiful and majestic heart-shaped island will tell you it seeps into your blood and never leaves. It’s a gem—not a flashy one like a multifaceted diamond—but more a deep-green emerald encircled in platinum, like the sheen of the sea that surrounds it. The sheer number of events, museums, outdoor activities and authentic characters to meet and chat with along the way (and Capers love to chat) rivals the fresh lobsters practically leaping onto your plates or the wide-reaching spray of breaching whales.

 A Golfer’s Haven

May is never too early for the inveterate golfer. Nestled along the ocean, the Cabot Links offers a month-long opportunity to play 18 holes and be charitable as well. The United Way is pairing with this world-class, true Links course to raise money for underprivileged kids in Cape Breton. Tee off there and then treat yourself to a night or two at the award-winning Cabot Links Lodge.

Two other golf courses of note provide opportunities for the avid or casual golfer:  Highlands Links in Ingonish, near the iconic Keltic Lodge, and Seaview Golf & Country Club in North Sydney, on a hill overlooking an inlet of the ocean.

Time to Celebrate

If you haven’t do-si-doed yet, try a little “swing your partner”at traditional square dances held year-round at a Mabou Ceilidh where storytelling, foot tapping and fiddle playing are signature staples of Cape Breton life. A few years back I did a bit of square dancing myself in a big, old barn at the cosy Normaway Inn in Margaree Valley.

Square dancing just might lead to fiddling. Where best to do this but at the Festival of Cape Breton Fiddling on the grounds of the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s. On August 15 and 16, 2015, concerts and fiddle classes will culminate in an event featuring the best of the local, national and international talent.

Come September, leaves begin to change into a magical canopy of colour. It’s time for North America’s biggest Celtic music festival. Celtic Colours takes over the entire island from October 9–17 when performers and visitors from around the world come to the 10,311-square-kilometre island to celebrate Celtic music and culture. And celebrating in Cape Breton has to be experienced to be believed.

Historic Sites

Many famous Americans made their homes on the island but none so famous as Alexander Graham Bell—inventor of the telephone—who, with his deaf wife Mabel, built a home in Baddeck on grand Bras d’Or Lake at the end of the 19th century. This marvel of a museum showcasing his prolific inventions is a must-visit and a newly created music-drama about this iconic couple, The Bells of Baddeck, premieres there on July 3.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention three museums that preserve and commemorate the uniquely rich heritage of the Island.

The Miners Museum in Glace Bay is a testament to the toil, camaraderie and often tragedy of those miners who risked their lives daily in the depths of the coal mines that fuelled their lives.

As of July 1, visitors to the historic Fortress of Louisbourg can sip an authentic rum punch made from an 18th-century recipe, and then “have a blast”as a cannoneer for a day invited to fire a cannon. At this largest reconstructed fortress in North America and former French stronghold, authenticity is key and dramatized in the activities of daily life.

Also new this year is the Old Town Trail to the second-oldest lighthouse in North America.

The Whitney Pier Historical Museum in “the Pier, dear,”as Capers often refer to it, tells another story of great significance. Once a synagogue, the museum celebrates the unique diversity of the multiple cultures and creeds that settled around the thriving steel plant at the turn of the 20th century. Sandra Dunn, one of the curators, lovingly talks about the photos and artifacts that represent this richly interwoven community. “Some people may think Winston Churchill’s cookie tin is considered the most valuable item here, but I think everything here is ‘priceless’.”

Downhome Pleasures

You can’t really know Cape Breton until you’ve tasted the salty sea of the ocean. In a way it defines the island, protecting it, challenging it, providing the people with a livelihood and the simple pleasures of walking on one of its sandy beaches or, dare I say, swimming in the bracing North Atlantic. If you just happen to have a sailboat you can also join in the Race the Cape from July 12–18 along Bras d’Or Lake and the rugged Atlantic coast.

Hiking the Cabot Trail is to experience one of the great scenic journeys on this planet. No exaggeration. Camp in Cape Breton Highlands National Park and take day trips with friends and family, or join a group of far-flung hiking enthusiasts from September 11 to 20 for the Hike the Highlands Festival. It will leave you breathless, if not for lack of training, certainly for the sublime views of waterfalls, meadows, mountains and moose. The winding road along Smokey Mountain with its astonishing views is alone worth the trip to Cape Breton.

What you can purchase, however, are the many arts and crafts sold in charming little stores along the highway that meanders through the Cabot Trail. Each store has its own personality and each item has its own story.

Travel Planner

For more information on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, visit: Destination Cape Breton: cbisland.com

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site: pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/grahambell/visit.aspx

Cabot Links Golf: cabotlinks.com

Cape Breton Highlands Links: highlandslinksgolf.com

Cape Breton Miners Museum: minersmuseum.com

Celtic Colours International Festival: celtic-colours.com

Fortress Louisbourg Association: fortressoflouisbourg.ca

Gaelic College Foundation: gaeliccollege.edu

Hike the Highlands Festival: hikethehighlands.com

Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa: kelticlodge.ca

Race the Cape: racethecape.ca

Seaview Golf & Country Club: seaviewgcc.com

The Normaway Inn, Cabins & Suites: thenormawayinn.com

Whitney Pier Historical Museum: whitneypiermuseum.org

 
 
 
 
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