And that’s why…

I didn’t do any posts in June.  Oh sorry, I guess I forgot to explain…We spent a goodly portion of the month in

Cape Breton.

cape breton ns

And this is how it all unfolded…

June 6th

After a few days of preparation (and a few months of planning) we dropped the grrls off at the kennel and made our way to Toronto.  Once there (and parked) we made our way (via UP Express) to Union Station and caught a shuttle over to the Toronto Islands Airport and boarded our Porter flight for Halifax.

Waiting…a favourite airport pastime.

Our arrival in Halifax (about 8:00 p.m.) meant that we only had time to shuttle our our hotel (it had been a “shuttlely” day), check in and grab a bite to eat (at the inn’s restaurant).  Fortunately our meal served as a comforting reminder that we had indeed reached The Maritimes…a  very tasty seafood casserole!

In case you wondered…that’s pastry lobster inside a pastry fish!

Before retiring we took the time to appreciate the sunset from our lovely lakeside location…here viewed from our balcony.

sunset at Fall River

June 7th

The following morning we shuttled back to the airport to pick up our rental car, a Nissan Note we nicknamed Nadine.

A short but enjoyable stay at Inn on the Lake* in Fall River.

(*I will be mentioning our accommodation throughout this journey because each location was well suited to our needs and comes highly recommended.)

After a drive of about four hours duration we reached Baddeck, our first official stop in Cape Breton.

We checked into our bed and breakfast, Baddeck Heritage House, and then set out for the Alexander Graham Bell Museum (National Historic Site) a few blocks away.

The site is situated by the beautiful Bras d’Or lake (actually an inland sea comprising both salt and fresh water).  The lake was designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2011.

bras dor viewed from museum grounds June 7
Viewed from the museum grounds…Bras d’Or Lake

We didn’t have long to enjoy the view because the museum was closing in about a half-hour.  Consequently we went for some of the larger displays at the back of the building.  These included…

bells hydrofoil June 7
a replica of Bell’s hydrofoil tested successfully on the Bras d’Or

The HD-4 (as it was known) set a world marine speed record of 70.86 miles per hour (114.04 km/h) in 1919.

replica of silver dart june 7
The Silver Dart, flown over a frozen Bras d’Or in February, 1909 (display is a replica)

The Silver Dart became the first powered aircraft to fly in Canada (and the British Empire).  It was designed and built by Bell along with several associates (A.E.A.)

There was (obviously) a lot more to be learned about the man and his connection to the Baddeck commuty.  Fortunately we had planned to return the following morning for further discovery.

An extended stroll along the town’s waterfront brought us to the home of Baddeck Lobster Suppers and a fine (and substantial) meal with which to finish our day.

Mmmm lobster supper June 7 Baddeck
A fine lobster dinner for Jane
…and salmon for me

June 8th

We began the day (as we did almost day every morning) by enjoying a full breakfast provided by our hosts.  On this occasion we were joined by other guests (from Washington, Germany and England) whose anecdotes (they were near the end of their trip while we were just getting underway) provided some helpful suggestions in formulating our own plans.  One of these suggestions was to include a sailing tour of the Bras d’Or offered on a local vessel, the Amoeba.  We had already contemplated this tour and, with this endorsement, we booked ourselves aboard for an afternoon sailing.  Meanwhile we had the remainder of the morning to revisit the Bell Museum.  This time we had opportunity to explore the site in far more detail and learn (for instance)…

  • that both Bell’s mother (Eliza) and his wife (Mabel) were hearing impaired
  • that his father and grandfather were elocutionists by profession
  • that Bell’s two brothers died of tuberculosis (Edward in 1867 and Melville in 1870)
  • Alecks’ own illness prompted the family to emigrate to Canada in 1870, eventually settling near Brantford, Ontario
  • aside from his many experiments and inventions, Bell was a teacher, working principally with the deaf (including Helen Keller)
  • his wife was, in fact, one of his students
  • much of his later life was spent at his summer home (in 1886, Bell started building an estate on a point across from Baddeck, overlooking Bras d’Or Lake and by 1889, a large house, christened The Lodge was completed…  two years later, a larger complex of buildings, including a new laboratory, were begun… the Bells would eventually name the place Beinn Bhreagh (Gaelic for beautiful mountain) after Bell’s ancestral Scottish highlands
  • that, while best known for his (controversial) patent for the telephone, Bell was continually engaged in invention, receiving about 30 patents during his career.
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)…quite a guy!

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating character, Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell  by Charlotte Gray (2006) comes highly recommended.

Our afternoon cruise dovetailed nicely with our morning experience.  The Amoeba trip features a “sail past” of the Bell property.  Much of the peninsula is still owned by descendants of Bell and his wife, Mabel.  The weather was perfect, the skipper informative and the lake inviting…all in all, a worthwhile addition to our Baddeck visit.

Sailing past Baddeck’s lighthouse
The lighthouse as seen from the Bell National Historic Site (museum)


Former barn for the Bell family…a barn no longer!


Guided by a young crew…


A seasoned captain at the helm…


Beinn Bhreagh finally comes into view (briefly)…
All too soon we bid farewell to Bell, Bras d’Or and Baddeck…


Leaving the Bells in silent conversation…


And leaving us with lasting memories.

After a two-hour drive we reached Chéticamp, located adjacent to Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  This time our accommodation was a former doctor’s home (built in 1895 by his brother, a priest) now transformed into an Inn, Maison Fiset.  Our helpful host suggested several possibilities for supper and directed us to the local beach.

Chéticamp, viewed from the nearby beach.


Walking along the ocean beach…


it’s impossible not to test the waters!

June 9th

We departed the inn in good time understanding that the forecast was for stormy weather later in the day..because this is our “park day”.

Not too far into Cape Breton Highlands National Park is The Skyline Trail.  There are many trails within the park but this one is one of the most popular and a manageable two-hour hike.  We found that the trail deserving of its popularity and, because we were visiting during “shoulder season” the path was relatively unpopulated.

Some pictorial highlights…

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Pausing to review our photos…

But the Skyline is literally only the beginning….

There was much to see, sights to be appreciated only by driving the two (plus) hours required to  traverse the park.  The highway meandered along dramatic slopes with the ocean periodically seen in background.  Occasional lookouts allowed us to pull off and appreciate the views.

A pause in the trek through the park…

Our only reservation (beyond periodic road construction, sometimes necessitated by rock slides) was the awareness that skies were becoming more clouded.

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Our eventual arrival at Ingonish, on the other side of the park, coincided with further deterioration in the weather.  Fortunately we were able to unpack, inspect our new accommodation/surroundings and slip over to a nearby grocery for a few supplies.  The Lochinver cabin at The Point Cottages in Ingonish was to be our home base for the next two days… and we were grateful.

View from the back porch on The Lochinver
The fishing boats continued their work even as the weather deteriorated and evening settled in
It was to be (literally) a dark and stormy night…

June 10th

We awoke early next morning to sunshine and clearing skies.  And busy fishing boats.  The day was spent relaxing, enjoying the immediate scenery and exploring the surrounding community.

A better morning lay ahead…best enjoyed with a cup of coffee.

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The day’s activities also included short excursions to  Green Cove and Black Brook Beach (both found within the National Park) as well as the Groovy Goat Farm and Soap Company.

Checking out the groovy goats

June 11th

More beautiful landscape and glorious weather!

With some regret we departed our cottage and Ingonish in the morning of the 11th, knowing that we had about three hours of driving ahead of us in order to reach Louisbourg, the reconstructed National Historic Site.  We experienced more of the Park and the highland terrain as we began our journey but eventually reached Sydney and made the right turn onto Highway 22 which would lead us directly to our destination.

We arrived in the town by early afternoon and made a pit stop at our accommodation for the next two nights, Cranberry Cove Inn.

Cranberry Cove Inn located in the town of Louisbourg.

Several kilometres beyond the town and the inn is the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site.  Even with only about one-quarter of the original eighteenth-century community rebuilt, it makes an impressive sight as we approach.

Fortress of Louisbourg

While we appreciated having completed this leg of the journey and were impressed by the scale and maritime situation of the fortress, by the time we entered the grounds satisfaction of hunger was becoming the dominant consideration.

Fortunately there was a dining facility of sorts on site (Grandchamp House) and the lack of crowds made finding a table a simple matter.  I use the phrase “of sorts” because the intent of the dining room was to provide the sort of meal which might have been served at Louisbourg in the 1740’s.  That meant soup (vegetable or pea), fish, carrots and traditionally baked bread, all served in pewter dishes and with only a spoon as dining utensil.  Fortunately it was all rather tasty (especially the fish!) and we departed fortified for exploration.

Oh yes, with a small cup of hot chocolate as beverage…
Pea soup in pewter…

It is perhaps a good time to mention that this year (2017) represents the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Dominion of Canada (1867).  One of the federal government’s contributions to this celebration includes free admission to all National Parks and Historic Sites.  While this means that these sites will be very popular this summer they are also more economical to visit.  I mention this because an enhancement such as the available guided walking tour is not included as a “freebie” (with admission) but, as we discovered, it is a valuable addition in order to appreciate the historic, geographic and cultural context of this reconstruction.

We were blessed with a very knowledgeable guide for our tour

As much as the architecture and the setting, the presence of costumed inhabitants (acting in character) brought the period to life.  The lack of large numbers of visitors (shoulder season) in the fortress added to the feeling of authenticity.

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And yes… there was architecture…

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When we finally decided we’d seen all we could absorb in one day, we headed back to the inn.

June 12th

We arose next morning, sat down to a hearty breakfast provided by the inn and set out for a second day at Louisbourg.  This time we had several specific goals for our visit.

Welcome again to Louisbourg…

First we wanted to see the period interiors.  On our previous visit we got a good overview of the complex from the outside.  As a bonus there is also an extensive display of the reconstruction process (begun by Parks Canada in 1961) which has resulted in the present fortress.

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Second, we were interested in taking the “Ruins Walk“.  While much of the original community has been reconstructed, much more remains untouched.  The point stretching out into the Atlantic beyond the current fortress is home to ruins of original structures, burial grounds, plaques and memorials.  The Atlantic is reclaiming portions of this land and local experts are now engaged in “rescue archaeology” in an effort to save artifacts.  Since it was a beautiful day to walk the trail we spent much of the morning on the ocean’s edge beyond the reconstructed portion of the site.  There was even an app which, when downloaded to a cell phone, provided an audio guide which activated as certain points were reached along the path (using GPS).

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A few facts about Louisbourg (BTW)…

  • in 1713, as a result of the Treaty of Utrecht Britain laid claim to French possessions in Newfoundland and Acadia
  • France, needed an alternative post on the Atlantic, chose Louisbourg and fortifications were underway by 1719
  • it should be noted that Louisbourg was not simply a military installation…it was also a seaport town, commercial centre and fisheries hub
  • over the next twenty-four years construction of the fortress continued
  • while providing a formidable face to a seaward attack, the inherent weakness in its defenses were to be found on the landward approach
  • the British took advantage of this in 1745 (during the War of the Austrian Succession) by attacking from higher elevations “behind” the fortress and capturing it easily
  • in 1748 Louisbourg was returned to France as part of agreed peace terms
  • that lasted until the Seven Years War (1756-1763)… the British attacked again in 1758 (under Wolfe) and again captured the fortress with relative ease
  • this time the victors had no interest in seeing the fortress returned to the French and it was demolished

All in all it had been a day well spent…but by later afternoon we were spent and opted to retire to our very pleasant room at the inn.

June 13th

With a goodly drive ahead of us (almost three hours) to reach Antigonish (and Antigonish Evergreen Inn) specifically we set out immediately after breakfast.  We had planned one specific stop en route and by about 11:00 a.m. we had reached our destination.  Near Iona and by Bras d’Or Lake sits Highland Village, a Nova Scotia living museum which celebrates Gaelic history and culture.

The village traces the emigrants from the Scottish Highlands to Cape Breton shores and the evolution of their culture as generations adapted to their new home.  As with Louisbourg, part of the magic is derived from costumed guides who take on the role of their ancestors for visitors.  Our visit even included a cèilidh!  Many of the period buildings (including the church) were moved to the site in order to preserve the architecture and provide a sense of authenticity.

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All too soon we needed the day had passed and we needed to reach our night’s lodging in Antigonish.

June 14th

We enjoyed the breakfast provided by our hosts (as well as their Maritime hospitality) and made our way back to Halifax airport. There we bade farewell to Nadine (our rental car) and boarded our plane for the return flight to Toronto.

June 15th…home again

The grrls rejoin us from their kennel and we all settle in for a little rest.

Good to be home…


Although you can find all the accommodation mentioned easily enough on the Internet, here a summary (with links)…

Inn on the Lake  Fall River (Halifax area)

Baddeck Heritage House  Baddeck

Maison Fiset  Chéticamp

The Point Cottages  Ingonish

Cranberry Cove Inn  Louisbourg

Antigonish Evergreen Inn  Antigonish

We can’t speak for every visitor’s experience…but each of these venues proved very well suited to our needs.