Tag Archives: Cape Breton Island

August 19: A long, long drive, and another enormous bridge

The result of my decision last night is that I drove a long way today. Oh, I suppose I could have broken the drive up with another night in Nova Scotia, but that’s not what I wanted to do.

I got up and out early and headed for the Canso Causeway. The main road from Louisbourg to the mainland goes north almost to Sydney (a distance of about forty miles, so not that big a deal), and then southwest along the western shore of Lake Bras d’Or back to St. Peters, where I spent my first night on the island, and then down to the causeway by the same route I came onto the island.

Lake Bras d'Or on a sunny morning (of course the weather got better as soon as I decided to leave).
Lake Bras d’Or on a sunny morning (of course the weather got better as soon as I decided to leave).
A lot of the signs in certain parts of Cape Breton Island are in Gaelic as well as English.  So a different kind of bilingual than what I was getting used to.
A lot of the signs in certain parts of Cape Breton Island are in Gaelic as well as English. So a different kind of bilingual than what I was getting used to.
There's actually a hamlet called Local Inhabitants, which I found vastly amusing.
There’s actually a hamlet called Lower River Inhabitants, which I found vastly amusing.

The drive along the lakeshore was lovely, and I enjoyed the views. When I got to Port Hastings (the tiny town at the island end of the causeway, I stopped twice, once at a McDonalds (I’ve finally figured out the tea issue – I order a small hot tea and a large cup of ice, then I let the tea brew for a few minutes and pour it over the ice – then I go out to my cooler and add lemon juice and I’m in business [wry g] – hey, it works), and once at a museum at the end of the causeway that told about how it was built back in the 1940s, which was fascinating. I’d wondered about that big scar on the waterfront on the mainland side. Apparently that’s where most of the rock to build the causeway was blasted from. Next door (and the main reason I’d stopped) was a small shop selling quilts. The lady was very friendly, and she had some nice (albeit machine-quilted) quilts for sale.

Looking at the Canso Causeway from the parking lot of the museum about it.
Looking at the Canso Causeway from the parking lot of the museum about it.

And then it was over the causeway and back to the mainland, where I hit the main highway and headed west, thinking I’d catch the ferry to Prince Edward Island (PEI), because it was a bit shorter coming from the east than driving around to the bridge. Well, I got to the ferry landing and discovered you have to have reservations. They were full up for today. So much for that. So I stopped to call and make a reservation for a campground near Cavendish (more about that tomorrow) on PEI. A campsite for tonight, and a cabin for tomorrow night.

I know this is local First Nations.  What I don't know is how to pronounce it.
I know this is local First Nations. What I don’t know is how to pronounce it.

And then I got back on the highway and booked. All the rest of the way across northern Nova Scotia and over the border into New Brunswick, where I turned north almost immediately, heading for the Confederation Bridge, which opened in 1997.

The beginning of the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island.
The beginning of the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island.
A quick snap of the view over the Jersey barriers on one side of the bridge.
A quick snap of the view over the Jersey barriers on one side of the bridge.

It’s another bridge on the scale of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, only without any tunnels. It’s 13km long, which is apparently the longest bridge of its type in North America. It’s seriously impressive (it darned well better be – when I cross it again on my way west, it will cost me $46 – you only pay leaving the island, not arriving).

I stopped at a welcome center on the PEI side of the bridge to get a provincial road map. The CAA map of the Maritimes isn’t all that good, but the provincial maps cover everything.

Welcome to Prince Edward Island!
Welcome to Prince Edward Island!

The campground was less than forty miles away at this point, but the road was – and this still sort of makes me giggle – winding and up and over and around, and it reminded me of nothing so much as the little backroads I drove in northwest New Jersey a few weeks ago. Weird, huh?

The campground is very nice, heavily wooded and private, and quiet. And close to both Charlottetown and Cavendish. If only the wifi actually worked…

August 18: A windswept fort and feeling stretched

Today I drove the forty or so miles down just past the modern-day town of Louisbourg, walked through a visitor center, and caught a shuttle bus into the past.

Louisbourg Fortress (a fortified town, as opposed to a fort, which is just a fort) was built by the French, back when they were battling the Brits for supremacy in North America. The current fortress is something like Williamsburg, only even more so. With Williamsburg they had a few existing buildings to start with. With Louisbourg they had archaeological digs and historians. What they’ve achieved with that is pretty astonishing. You really do feel like you’re walking through an 18th century (they’re portraying the 1740s here, the height of Louisbourg’s prosperity) walled town. You almost feel like you’re in France, not Canada, which is rather disconcerting.

Louisbourg Fortress from the shuttle bus across the bay.
Louisbourg Fortress from the shuttle bus across the bay.
The soldier who wanted to be bribed with rum to let us in [g].
The soldier who wanted to be bribed with rum to let us in [g].
The main gate into Louisbourg Fortress.
The main gate into Louisbourg Fortress.
Looking up the hill at the main town.
Looking up the hill at the main town.  The big yellow gate is actually fronting on the water.
A lovely tapestry in one of the buildings.
A lovely tapestry in one of the buildings.
A pantry exhibit in one of the buildings.
A pantry exhibit in one of the buildings.
A painting of what it must have looked like here in the 1740s.
A painting of what it must have looked like here in the 1740s.
One of the gardens.  I was rather surprised that lavender does this well in this climate (the cool windy summers as much as the cold winters), and ended up in a nice discussion about the local climate with a man working in the garden.
One of the gardens. I was rather surprised that lavender does this well in this climate (the cool windy summers as much as the cold winters), and ended up in a nice discussion about the local climate with a man working in the garden.
Piles and piles of slate shingles.  Those were for the houses of the rich.
Piles and piles of slate shingles. Those were for the houses of the rich.
I've never seen an oven like this one before.
I’ve never seen an oven like this one before.
Another bit of garden.  Not sure precisely what the yellow flowers are, but they may be Jerusalem artichokes.  They sure do look like the googled images of them, anyway.
Another bit of garden. Not sure precisely what the yellow flowers are, but they may be Jerusalem artichokes. They sure do look like the googled images of them, anyway.  The green bristly things in the foreground are teasel, used to card wool back in the day.
An interesting part of the church paraphernalia inside of the building in the next photo.
An interesting part of the church paraphernalia inside of the building in the next photo.
This was officially the officers' barracks, but there was also a church and a jail in there -- along with a huge exhibit on how Louisbourg was researched and rebuilt back in the 1960s.
This was officially the officers’ barracks, but there was also a church and a jail in there — along with a huge exhibit on how Louisbourg was researched and rebuilt back in the 1960s.

The living history part of the deal is toned down here, though. Not a lot of demonstrations, at least not today. But a good many of the buildings were filled with exhibits, about how they did the research and the rebuilding, and telling the stories of some of the people who lived here. I was surprised (although I have no idea why I was surprised) to discover that a few African slaves lived here. I was also fascinated by the hierarchy of the place, who was on top, and who was unfortunate enough to be at the bottom. I learned about the soldiers’ lives, and saw where they lived, and all in all it was another part of history that I didn’t know about. I also had a very nice chat with a gardener about the local climate, and another with a soldier on the ramparts about how most English language military terms come from the French language.

I’ve been charmed by the way I’m greeted with “hello, bonjour” ever since I crossed the border into Canada. I keep meaning to mention it, but what I’ve learned is that this is how they ask you which language you speak.  You’re supposed to respond in your language so that the person addressing you knows how to go on. Which is pretty nifty, IMHO.

I spent most of the day at Fortress Louisbourg, in a misty moisty morning and cloudy (and windy) was the weather, and then just in the brisk wind that made me glad I’d put my hoodie and my raincoat on.

After I left Louisbourg, I wasn’t in the mood to make a decision as to what I was going to do the next day, so I stopped at a provincial park campground nearby – and promptly got read the riot act for speeding in the campground. I had not been speeding. I’ve been paranoid about the whole kilometers vs. miles thing ever since I crossed the border, and I know for a fact that I was not speeding. But I didn’t argue with the man, and he didn’t do anything more than fuss at me.

I’ve already been feeling sort of weird about Cape Breton ever since I got here. I’m not sure I can explain it, but I’m more than ready to leave. It’s almost like I’m a rubber band, with one end fastened in western Washington, and apparently Cape Breton was just stretching me just a little too far.  That’s also part of the reason I didn’t go on to Newfoundland.

There’s more to see here, and I could have stayed another night or two, but I’m ready to head west. Not directly west, not yet, but west.

August 16-17: November in Washington, aka August on Cape Breton Island

Yesterday was mostly a driving day, from Halifax to Cape Breton Island, and a nice relaxing afternoon at Cape Battery Provincial Park’s lovely waterfront campground.

Satin clouds over Nova Scotia's north shore.
Satin clouds over Nova Scotia’s north shore.
The drawbridge section of the Canso Causeway (there's what looks like a lock under that bridge).
The drawbridge section of the Canso Causeway (there’s what looks like a lock under that bridge).
The view from across the road from my campsite last night.
The view from across the road from my campsite last night.
Purple loosestrife at the campsite.  If it weren't such a noxious weed, purple loosestrife would be gorgeous.
Purple loosestrife at the campsite. If it weren’t such a noxious weed, purple loosestrife would be gorgeous.

It was gorgeous and sunny and everything (although breezy and cool, not that I was complaining about the cool part, anyway), then, in the middle of the night, I heard rat-a-tat-a-tat on Merlin’s roof, and was suddenly really glad I hadn’t left anything outside, oh, like my folding camp chair, because when I woke up this morning, it was to the kind of rain I normally associate with a Pineapple Express in the winter back home. Well, it wasn’t that cold (although it never got above 62dF today, according to Merlin’s thermometer), but it was easily that wet. This is the kind of weather that words and phrases like “driving rain,” and “teeming” were invented for. Oh, and it was windy, too, so it’s been raining sideways pretty much all day.

I didn’t want to spend the day cooped up in the back of my van, so I went ahead and drove to the town of Baddeck, on Lake Bras D’Or (did you know that Cape Breton Island has a huge lake in the middle of it? I didn’t – although since there is a water passage from the lake to the ocean, I’m not sure it really qualifies as a lake, even though it’s named that way), where Alexander Graham Bell had a summer home, and where there’s a National Historic Site dedicated to him.

You can read the caption [g].
You can read the caption [g].  By the way, Bell got married the year before Charley did, and the same year as the Little Bighorn.
The view of Bras d'Or Lake from the front of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, taken the one moment today when it wasn't pouring rain.
The view of Bras d’Or Lake from the front of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, taken the one moment today when it wasn’t pouring rain.

There was a visitor center/museum, which was very crowded because I wasn’t the only one looking for something to do indoors out of the rain, but it was still well worth visiting. I didn’t know much about Bell, except for the obvious that he invented the telephone and that he and Helen Keller had met several times (which isn’t as ironic as it, er, sounds – his wife was deaf, and one of his major passions was helping deaf people). I had no idea how much of an inventor he really was. Among other things, he was involved with early aviation and hydrofoils.

But the most arresting thing, at least sensorily, was the “try it!” display of an old-fashioned (omigosh, really?) dial telephone. The sound of it was just – wow, it was weird. I hadn’t heard the sound of a dial phone in decades. That seriously made me feel old. When I walked up, a woman was teaching her little kid how to dial it. So. Very. Weird. Sorry.

So. I really wanted to be indoors (not just in the van, but real indoors) tonight, and there were no rooms to be had in Baddeck (ba-DECK, not BA-deck), so I got a late lunch at a café with terrible service called the Yellow Cello (a 12” hot dog dressed like a Philly cheese steak, which was better than it sounds), and headed the thirty or so miles north to the Sydneys (there are three of them, Sydney Mines, North Sydney, where the ferry to Newfoundland leaves from, and just Sydney, which is the biggest city on Cape Breton Island), where I found a nice, warm, dry motel room.

The weather is supposed to improve somewhat, at least so far as the rain goes, by late tomorrow, but it’s supposed to stay windy and chilly, and that’s about what’s decided me to not take the ferry to Newfoundland. Four hours one way on the open ocean in weather like this (I get seasick unless the water’s pretty calm, and I should have realized long ago that it wasn’t going to be) does not sound like fun. Plus, the whole trip would probably take me at least a week, what with a day each on the ferry on either end, plus two days driving each way to get to L’Anse aux Meadows once I arrived on the island and just one day there. And that doesn’t even count seeing any of the rest of it (the other part I’d like to visit, St. Johns – Great Big Sea territory! – is clear on the opposite corner from L’Anse aux Meadows – probably a three-day drive one way, plus three more days back to the ferry). It seems like so much effort and time and money without as much return as seems reasonable. I’ve spent a lot of time driving through rather monotonous taiga in the last few days, and a lot of getting anywhere in Newfoundland is going to be 99% taiga.

So I’m afraid that’s just not going to happen. Still, I’m glad I got this far. Tomorrow I will probably go see Cape Breton Highlands National Park if the weather is improved enough, and I also want to see Louisbourg National Historic Site before I leave Cape Breton and head west, once and for good.

I can’t believe I’m saying that. Wow.