Monthly Archives: July 2018

Heading Back In Time

Our next stop was Louisbourg, about 35 km south of Sydney, where we planned to visit the Fortress, a National Historical Site,.  The site was founded by the French in 1713 and was twice besieged twice by the British (at least by “American” colonists, before being finally demolished in 1760.  It was reconstructed in the 1960s and encompasses one fourth of the original French town and fortifications.  What we in the United States call the “French and Indian War” was actually a part of the Seven Years War, the first real world war. In Canada, it included the expulsion of the Acadians, an event which resonates to this day. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Years’_War) Most Americans are unaware of the extent of French territories in the New World. This map may help:

You can see why Americans were so worried about the threats from the Spanish during the early years of the Republic and why Jefferson, despite massive opposition, was so eager to acquire Louisiana. Sad that so little of this is taught in US history courses.

We arrived in Louisbourg on a sunny afternoon, but too late to do justice to the Fortress, so we agreed we would head out in the morning.  We expected to spend a couple of hours there and then move on towards the mainland of Nova Scotia.  Next day dawned cold and misty, but we layered up and headed out.  Apparently such weather is quite common and the sea mists blow in on a regular basis.  It was chilly to put it mildly but we found our visit fascinating. 

We stopped at a fisherman’s hut, outside the city walls, where we learned all about the importance of cod fishing, because cod could be salted and then dried at which point it could be kept for years and was valuable back in Europe.  In 1731, cod exports were worth more than 3.1 million French livres (pounds). The industry was so profitable, that some fishermen came over only for the season and wintered in France. 

 

We then entered the Fort through the Dauphin Gate where we were greeted by a soldier in costume warning of the rules and regulations! (We were identified as English spies.)

We first visited the fortifications before heading into the town proper. 

There are a number of houses open for viewing, furnished according to the class of the people who inhabited them, from farmers to successful business people, to the Governor’s quarters.  

We stopped at one house where we met a musician who performed on a variety of instruments.  We discussed life in general during the era and then the instruments of the era.  He used a traditional ten string guitar, a recorder and also a hurdy-gurdy.  He brought it out to show us, and gave us a short concert.  (Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse, etc.) Fred has always been fascinated by the Hurdy Gurdy (Vielle a roue) and loved having the chance to examine one in detail.

Tune this nightmare!

Basically, it is a form of violin, bowed by a rosined wheel with the various melody strings stopped by wooden frets attached to keys. Tuning is an absolute nightmare as EVERYTHING, from the strings to the frets, is adjustable and everything responds to changes in humidity.

His instrument was a reproduction of an original which reposes on a bed, on display in the fort. His day job is repairing pipe organs and other musical instruments and he is hoping that one day they will let him restore the original Hurdy Gurdy. He told us he would be performing with a group of children, so we made sure to attend!

We went on to watch the fife and drum marching, and the musket and cannon firing, at the King’s Bastion, before visiting the displays and rooms belonging to the Governor. 

Then, cold and hungry we decided it was lunch time.  We headed for the Inn where “lower class food” was being served.  Fred ordered a meal, which turned out to be a bowl of soup and turkey pie with vegetables.  Denise ordered a bowl of soup, which came with bread baked in the Fortress bakery.  We both ordered hot rum to warm us up!   We were given pewter spoons with which to eat and large bibs to tie around our necks. Yes, the napkins were large enough for us to “make ends meet.” (You can see that we spend entirely too much time in historical recreation sites, we are even learning the language(s).) The food was good so we decided to try desserts, a cookie and a piece of rum cake.  The rum cake was the best, it was excellent.  Or maybe it was the hot rum we had imbibed!

After visiting some more houses, and watching our friend perform with the children, we headed back to the car park. 

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A thief gets his reward and the magistrate warns the wise guys in the crowd that there is room for two in the irons!

We decided it was too late to try and leave so we returned to the  Louisbourg campground for another night.  We set out the next morning back to the mainland after a wonderful ten days in Cape Breton.

Songs in the Highlands (The Ceilidh Trail, Part Deux)

We then headed north to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ns/cbreton), where we had a reservation in one of their campgrounds, Broad Cove.  Having been told that all of the campsites would be full for Canada Day, we had decided that this would be the perfect place to celebrate.   Our site turned out to be huge with lots of trees.  No services but that is not a problem for us and the Blue Cat liked the site a lot. (It’s all about the cat.)

The weather on the day after our arrival was stupendous.  Sunny but cool and absolutely glorious for hiking.  We took the Middle Head hike of about two hours on a headland surrounded on three sides by rocky cliffs and ocean. 

 

It was quite beautiful with views of the ocean and the lobster boats out fishing.  At the very end of the headland, was a rocky cliff covered in seabirds. 

Quite spectacular.  We stopped on our way out to make some enquiries about a KitchenFest ceilidh  at the Keltic Lodge which we planned to attend that evening, and then had lunch on the cliff near the Keltic Lodge, overlooking Ingonish Cove. 

The ceilidh was excellent and featured four musicians playing a variety of fiddle, guitar, piano and pipes.

We walked on two more trails while at Broad Cove; around Warren Lake and on the Clyburn Trail. 

Both were enjoyable but the weather was foggier and gloomier and it did not inspire us to barbecue and eat outside.  We did attend a free KitchenFest ceilidh at our Campground on the night before we left.  It was quite wonderful with  Anita MacDonald and Ben Miller and a guitarist, Zakk Cormier. (https://benandanita.com)

Note the tap shoes and floor board. (And a pedal board that would make a rocker proud.)

Because of the weather we were in a small activity center instead of a large open air theater and the atmosphere was electric.  Great fun.  A true informal ceilidh or gathering. Fred enjoyed the explanations of the lowland pipes and discussion of chord playing in DADGAD tuning.

We were in two minds whether it was worth heading up to the very tip of the island but the next day dawned sunny so we decided to go, which proved to be an excellent decision.  We found the Meat Cove Campground (and Chowder Hut) perched on the mountain slopes at the very tip of the island.  It was literally the end of the road!  (http://meatcovecampground.ca)

The sites were not flat but we did not care. We could sit by our camper and stare at the ocean or watch the campers coming around each headland and descending each grade until they popped up in the campground.

We went down to the beach by the campground so Denise could dip her toes in the freezing water.  Just to say she had!  To be fair it was cold but only cold!  The views were spectacular with ocean on all sides, it seemed, lots of lobster pots and fishing boats doing the rounds to check them.  We decided to have dinner on the deck at the Chowder Hut, a very pleasant restaurant at the campground.  Denise enjoyed another lobster and Fred had a mixed seafood platter he liked also! Terrible name for a very nice facility. We were joined by a young lady from Seattle, traveling in a Westfalia camper with her dog. She was taking time off from software engineering. By the time dinner finished the campground was full to the limit with a big Class C camped in the restaurant parking lot. (Good deal, probably the largest, flattest site there.)

The next morning it was time to finish the Cabot Trail and head south.  We stopped at Pleasant Bay to visit the Whale Interpretative Center which was simple but most interesting. (https://www.novascotia.com/see-do/attractions/whale-interpretive-centre/1576) The harbor, industrial but pretty.  A lot of the fishing harbors are not picturesque at all, but simply places of work.  They can also be so touristy that they do not attract either. 

We continued south around the curves and the ups and downs of the Trail towards Cheticamp.  The grades are noticeable, in the 14% to 16% range for the most part, which Fred and the 917 found exciting at times. Let us say that Fred and the exhaust brake are good friends! Safely in Cheticamp, we headed for the Cape Breton Highlands National Park campground and checked in.  

It turned out that there was another ceilidh at the Campground Visitor Center that night, so we walked over to enjoy that!  The featured performer was a young lady on fiddle, accompanied by a pianist. Once again there was a subtle style shift, but not to the Francophone as we expected at an Acadian village. 

Flying feet!

Most Celtic musicians perform seated and, in lieu of a drum set, there is a lot of foot tapping, nay, stomping. This can get quite extreme, with musicians using resonant wooden foot panels, like those used by tap dancers, and, in some cases, wearing tap shoes. The guitarist at the Broad Cove campground did this, as did the fiddle player at Cheticamp. Indeed, she told us that she actually started as a step dancer and so it was completely natural. The sound, and sight, are quite remarkable and we found ourselves imagining a friend who plays for the McLean Symphony tearing up some Beethoven in tap shoes. The mind boggles!

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Seriously, the beat is quite infectious. Much Celtic music uses exotic time signatures, but underlying it all is a steady 4/4 beat which makes it great for dancing. One musician told the legend that the seated foot tapping arose so that people could “dance” on Catholic holy days and a priest, looking in the window, would simply see people seated at the table. Don’t know if that is true, but a drummer might go hungry in this part of the world!  Especially when people add jingle bells to their trousers. (Same idea as in Bolivia.) We feel fortunate to have visited during the Celtic music festival called KitchenFest that has made so many ceilidhs available at different places.

 

Ceilidh is pronounced “KAY-lee.” (Part One)

On to Cape Breton Island and yet another Visitor Center for information – we are beginning to feel like real tourists!  The Visitor Centers are wonderful, full of charming and helpful people and lots of information.  We acquired a map of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park with nice hikes pre-marked for us, a calendar of the KitchenFest music festival and leaflets of other interesting places.  (https://kitchenfest.ca) They even helped with the next campsite reservation, so we headed off on the Ceilidh Trail hoping to hear some Celtic music.  Ceilidhs (pronounced “KAY-lee”) are music based gatherings and the music is traditional Celtic music of Scotland.  Most of the inhabitants of Cape Breton Island are of Scottish origin and to our surprise, Gaelic is frequently spoken and heard, in coffee shops and in supermarkets. Even some of the road signs are in Gaelic.

Music plays an important role in Cape Breton life and it has been an enjoyable experience for us to discover it in this form and meet some of the musicians. The Gaelic College in St. Ann’s is spearheading this and has organized the two week long KitchenFest music festival for the last five years. They organize other Gaelic focussed activities also.  By chance, we had arrived in Cape Breton during the KitchenFest festival so we have had lots of opportunity to listen to music.

We headed first for Mabou, which sounds like something from Star Wars, but is a thriving village on the west coast of Cape Breton in the heart of the Ceilidh Trail.  Our first night we went to the Red Shoe, a well known pub with live music. (https://www.redshoepub.com) The food was much more imaginative than you might expect and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner while we listened to our first local performers, Joe MacMaster and friends. This turned out to be Joe, on fiddle, and a pianist, name unknown. 

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Inspired by this and fascinated by the use of a piano to accompany jigs and such, we headed the next day to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, a town just south of Mabou.  (http://www.celticmusiccentre.com We first visited their interpretive room where we learned about the history of the Scots and Celtic music in Cape Breton, tried out a few dance steps and had violin lesson.  Never having touched a violin before, Denise found this fascinating.  We should add that Fred was (slightly) better than Denise was, due to his guitar experience!

We then headed into the restaurant for a light lunch and a Celtic music performance.  Lunch was excellent (lobster roll again for Denise!) and the performing musicians were Joe MacMaster, this time with Olivier Broussard on fiddle  and Allan Dewar on piano.  The music was even better than the food.  Joe played fiddle, bagpipes and finally piano and gave explanations as he went.  (Impressive for those of us who struggle with one instrument and even more impressive when you consider the vast differences in technique between these three instuments.) Fred asked Olivier about the differences between Francophone and Anglophone music and was fascinated to be told that there was no difference as there was only Gaelic music. (Easy to forget that the Bretons of France are Celts.) We stayed for the full event from about 11.45 to 3.00 PM. Then Denise sat down to discuss piano theory with Joe. Most of us think of the piano as a melody instrument, but here it was basically a replacement for a rhythm guitar (chords in the right hand) and a bass guitar (roots and arpeggios in the left). All of the pianists we heard were real theory monsters, responding on the fly to keys being called out at the beginning of each set.

Some Cape Breton music trivia:

— The dominant instrument is the violin, or fiddle. Why do Scots play the fiddle? Seems that after the Battle of Culloden Moor in 1745 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Culloden), the English banned the bagpipes as a way of weakening Scottish identity and introduced the violin as a way of “civilizing” the Scots. So the Scots happily started playing traditional pipe tunes on the fiddle, a practice that continues to this day.

— We heard it argued that Cape Breton music is more traditional than contemporary Scottish music as the island, and its musicians, were always more isolated. A similar comment has been made of US vs. UK English pronunciation – that is that the US pronunciation is older.

— We listened to a piper from Mabou who has been playing in Scotland for the last twenty years. Why? Bigger market. He introduced us to the Lowland or Border pipes, a simpler version of uilleann or “elbow” pipes. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_pipes) The uilleann pipes are more commonly associated with Ireland. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uilleann_pipes) And for the really hard core, Google will be happy to introduce you to a least a dozen other bagpipes. Who knew?

As it was pouring with rain the next day, we decided that an indoor event would be fun and stopped to visit the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site at Baddeck.  (https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/ns/grahambell) A most interesting visit. Bell started his career studying speech and working with the deaf. His father had developed the system of “visible speech” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visible_Speech) and Alexander Graham Bell continued these efforts. It was his understanding of sound, coupled with a knowledge of electricity that led him to invent the telephone, even if it took him 20 years to prove it. He also developed a light based telephone, but this was less practical, until you get to the present day and consider fiber optic cable communication.

Bell was an early pioneer in aviation, using the money he made from the telephone. He, along with Glenn Curtiss, was a founder of the AEA, the Aerial Experiment Association (https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/alexander-graham-bell-aviation-pioneer/) He was instrumental in helping to develop the first manned airplane in Canada, the Silver Dart which flew in 1909.  The replica on display was built using the original specifications and materials (where practical) and flown again in 2009 in honor of  the centennial of the first flight.  He also worked on a series of hydrofoil designs. A most fascinating man.

We also enjoyed a cup of excellent latte in a nice coffee shop in Baddeck (Bean There Cafe http://visitbaddeck.com/bean-there-cafe/) and were fascinated to hear Gaelic being spoken around us.  We had no idea that Gaelic was so prevalent.

From Baddeck, we continued to the Broad Cove campground were we planned to hunker down for the the Canada Day weekend.

Canada Here We Come

So, we set off for Canada and stopped for a homemade, pot luck brunch to eat up as much open food as possible in case Canadian Customs wanted items destroyed.  Well, the border was absolutely deserted and we passed through with no questions of food items in the camper or pets on board.  Like true tourists, our first stop was the information office just over the border.  They were exceedingly helpful and told us where the supermarket was and suggested we visit St. Andrews by the Sea, a nearby resort town. We followed their advice and spent two nights there, camping right on the ocean.  (http://www.kiwanisoceanfrontcamping.com)

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They had live music there the first night and we listened until we got too depressed by the country music they were playing.  None of the songs ever end happily!  So we went back to the 917 and fixed dinner. That did end happily.

The next day we walked the small town and booked a whale watching cruise on a tall ship.  (http://jollybreeze.com).  The sun went in before we boarded and it was a chilly afternoon on board but a cup of hot chocolate followed later by homemade pea soup, warmed us up. we saw a couple of Minke whales, plus a selection of basking seals and several porpoises. Minkes are not exceptionally large whales, but they do meet the test of having-seen-a-whale. It was a well run and fun cruise. Fred spent much of the voyage chatting with the owner’s father, who was crewing. The Jolly Breeze was built in New Zealand from the plans of an English pilot boat.

 

Minke Whale

Denise has noted and enjoyed a mass of lupins wherever we are both in New England and Maine and now in New Brunswick.  It brings back memories of reading the children’s tale “Miss Rumphius” to our daughter when she was small.  She even bought a Miss Rumphius t-shirt with a scene from the book.  Lupins do not grow wild in Virginia!

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Lupins were to become a constant theme during our time in Canada, flowering along almost every road.

We decided to visit the Museum of New Brunswick in St. John’s so we went to the campground in Rockwood Park. (http://rockwoodparkcampground.com) A lovely spot; a huge park only about thirty minutes walk from the old downtown. We headed into town on foot, enjoyed the museum and a cup of coffee in town before heading back. 

Most US history books imply that there was general rejoicing at the end of the American Revolution with all of the colonialists ecstatic at winning their freedom. In fact, the country was deeply split with at least 100,000 loyalists fleeing to Canada. St. John was founded as a loyalist refuge, growing from a tent camp to a city in only one year. There are some interesting aspects of the loyalists that are overlooked in most US history courses. They include:

— Black Nova Scotians. The ships carrying loyalist refugees to Canada had an odd admixture of black passengers – free blacks who had gained their freedom by enlisting in the Royal Army, and, on some of the same ships, enslaved blacks being taken by their loyalist owners to Canada. 

— Militias. It is an article of faith of (too many) Americans that we won our independence with home brew militias that somehow defeated the regulars of the Royal Army. The truth is very different – rebel militias were notoriously unreliable, prone to desert at harvest time and unable to withstand the fire of British regulars. Washington depended on the Continental regulars and thousands of French soldiers to win our independence. (A tip of the hat to Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and our other first diplomats for negotiating with the French for ships and troops and with the Dutch for recognition and money.) In fact, there were more French troops at the battle of Yorktown that Cornwallis was not entirely out of order wanting to surrender to the French. What all of this have to do with loyalists? Only that there were loyalist militias as well as patriot militias and, with the end of the war, they wanted to escape the United States to avoid retribution.

One of the attractions of downtown St. John is the preserved loyalist house, survivor of innumerable fires and urban development.

We think our round trip was probably close to 4.5 miles with the last part decidedly uphill!  So we stopped by the lake in the park to listen to live music and enjoy a glass of wine before tackling the last hill to the camper.  An enjoyable interlude.

Leaving the next morning, we headed towards the Hopewell Rocks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopewell_Rocks) to discover all about huge tides (up to 46 feet) of the Bay of Fundy.  We checked into the Headquarters Campground of the Fundy National Forest (https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nb/fundy/activ/camping/avantpays-frontcountry/administration-headquarters) and watched the rain fall.  As the afternoon progressed, it began to clear a little so we added layers and raincoats and headed for the Rocks as it was almost low tide.  It was indeed amazing.  We visited all the viewpoints and descended to the beach where we ambled among the shaped rocks  on the sea floor.  Somewhat chilled, we headed back to our campsite for dinner.  We returned in the late morning of the following day and with much better weather, and duly admired the views with high tides, this time in shirt sleeves! The “rocks” themselves resemble nothing so much as the “temple” monoliths of the Capitol Reef in the western US being made of compressed earth with lots of rocks mixed in.

Low Tide

High Tide

Low Tide

High Tide

Denise down on the sea bed.

We stopped in Moncton to shop and continued just over the border into Nova Scotia. We spent the night at a lovely RV Resort called Loch Lomond https://www.lochlomondrvpark.com). We always like it when campgrounds don’t make us pay for the hookups we don’t use! The next morning we headed for Cape Breton. Picking a side road at random to stop for lunch, we ended up at the Barney’s River school museum. It doesn’t open until July, but we were able to have lunch safely off the road. (https://www.novascotia.com/see-do/attractions/barneys-river-station-school-museum/1455)