On this leg of our Maritimes adventure we headed up north to Cape Breton Island, the northernmost island of Nova Scotia. Cape Breton Island accounts for 18.7% of the province’s total land area. As we drove along, we noticed that this part of Nova Scotia is pretty much uninhabited, unspoiled and teeming with history and diverse cultural heritage. And as is common in this part of the Maritimes, the colorful signage grabbed our attention along the way.
The island is connected to mainland Nova Scotia by the long rock-fill Canso Causeway, which on the day of our drive had some traffic due to ongoing road construction.
The traffic backup turned out to be a blessing, however, because Betsy was mysteriously running a bit warm and we just happened to be sitting in front of a nice big fuel station. We filled Betsy with diesel while waiting for the next batch of motorists to be flagged through, and wondered why she was running warm just a few days after we’d had the compressor hose repaired. Steve has an idea what’s going on and will keep an eye on it. There are no repair shops nearby, and we don’t intend to go back to Halifax unless we have to (as of this writing we made it back to the USA with no more overheating issues, which frustrates Steve as the problem is intermittent with no apparent pattern). Oops, I got sidetracked with Betsy’s woes.
Back to Cape Breton Island. As we settled into our campsite with a fantastic view, we calmed down and began planning our activities. We decided to visit the five cities in Cape Breton: Sydney, Baddeck, Chéticamp, Louisbourg and North Sydney. The base camp for our week stay was at the North Sydney/Cabot Trail KOA. Click here if interested in Steve’s review of this nice campground.
Our first excursion was to Louisbourg, where this largest historical reconstruction in North America took us back in time. The Fortress of Louisbourg is a Parks Canada Historic Site, and this year Louisbourg is celebrating the 300th anniversary of its founding in 1713. We joined a guided tour and learned that the fortress was built to protect France’s interest in the new world and its massive fishing industry against Great Britain in the 18th century.
While walking around the streets and going inside period homes, we were treated with the sights and sounds of the 18th century as costumed interpreters, re-enactors demonstrated to us what it was like way back then. The “maid servant” showed us the layers of her outfit and advised that they usually only bathed annually during those times. Ewe, can’t imagine that!
We also smelled gunpowder as we watched musket and cannon firing during a military demonstration.
We enjoyed our tour of the fortress and thought the reconstruction that took decades to complete was very well done. We learned a lot of Canadian history on this day.
In Baddeck, the most famous resident was Alexander Graham Bell, who built two homes on his estate called “Beinn Bhreagh”, Scottish Gaelic for “Beautiful Mountain.” We were familiar with him as the inventor of the telephone, of course, but he was much more. Going through the exhibits at the museum, we learned that he completed many other major achievements while in Baddeck. They included a hydrofoil which set a long-lasting speed record for watercraft, and assisting with the first manned flight of an aircraft in the British Commonwealth. He conducted many kite-flying experiments, and invented several devices used in the medical, aeronautical and marine industries. A very interesting man!
In Sydney, the port city of Cape Breton, the world’s largest fiddle was on display at the port. It stands 55 ft. tall and is made from painted steel which brings it weight up to a hefty eight tons. The Big Ceilidh Fiddle was created to recognize the pre-eminence of fiddle musicians, who have contributed so much to the musical heritage here. Fiddle music was first brought over by Scottish immigrants over 200 years ago.
North Sydney has a couple of food stops across the street from each other that caught our attention:
The view from our campsite just kept getting better as the sun began to set.