We woke to a glorious sunny morning.
We left West Bay (which is right at the bottom of the main part of the lake – as per map below),and drove up the highway toward Sydney (which is where you can see the small forked section to the right of the long thin arm) along the easterly road that follows the main body of Bras d’Or Lake.
Not far from our hotel we made our first stop at St. Peter’s Canal. We were lucky to see a sailboat come from the lake and go through the lock into the Atlantic and a Coast Guard cutter come from the Atlantic into the Lake. The local people do not call it Bras d’Or Lake, they call it the Big Pond, or just the Pond.
Because Bras d’Or Lake is really an inland sea all the various types of fish and saltwater lifeforms live in the lake. The lake is only 97% of normal salt density because there are a few freshwater streams that feed into it around its long shoreline. There are 9 lobster permits trapping in the lake. The tide is only about a foot and it takes so long to go in and come out that there is virtually only one tide per day.
It is common for folks to stand on the top of the lock gates and fish. They just get off when the canal operator needs to open them for a boat.
I think it was a couple of the crew’s first time through a lock. They stood on the bow filming the whole way through.
The lock operator opens and closes the two sets of gates and also drives an ATV along the canal shore to come to the lake end and close and open the swing bridge on the highway. You can’t see him but he is standing on the opening arm having just secured the stop bar on the road.
While we were waiting at the other end for the sailboat to go out we noticed a jellyfish swimming near the gate. It was so close to the surface I was able to get some very clear photos of it.
Once we got to Sydney we drove a short distance toward North Sydney and then turned west on highway 223 that would take us down the side of St. Andrew’s Arm and around the bottom and up the other side to Baddeck. This is the two thinner pieces of the lake near the purple Cape Breton Highlands on the above map.
Right at the bottom of the two thin arms is the community of Iona. The Island of Cape Breton was settled in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by thousands of Gaels from Scotland. Significant socioeconomic changes were disrupting the centuries-old pastoral lifestyle of the Highland Scots so they looked towards Nova Scotia (which means New Scotland) for a new home. They brought their work ethic, their close ties to kin, their language and songs and stories. Sometimes entire villages set off together. And the various parts of the Scottish Highlands settled together on various parts of Cape Breton. Many people in this area spead Gaelic. All of the people in the houses of the Highland Village were fluent in the language.
The Highland Village was different than other heritage villages we have been to. The different buildings are from different time frames of the Scottish journey and settlement in their new country and the people in them enact the changing times.
The first house was not a Cape Breton house; it was, however a Black House of the type the Barra Scots would have lived in in Scotland.
They cleverly had three large flat rocks extend out from the wall to enable them to get to the roof for sodding or repairing.
The inside of a Black House is very dark and usually very smokey because they burn peat and the fire is never allowed to go out. They generally have fires burning in the houses, but with the unseasonably warm temperatures they were asked to not light them to reduce the risk of fires. I am sure none of the people objected.
The village was atop a steep hill and the view was gorgeous. It was possible to see all four counties of Cape Breton from up here.
The log house was the first permanent structure to be built. Most men cobbled together a stick shack for the family to live in while they cleared land and got logs to build a proper house. This log house was well sealed but they would have been chinked with moss and mud back in the day.
At the Centre Chimney house a group had gathered round the table to pre-shrink linen cloth. It would have been washed in urine, or sometimes just water, and then a group of people grasp it and thump it on the table and pass it along so it goes round and round as they sing songs. The thumping keeps the tempo of the songs and dries the cloth and the commarderie helps to make light work of a long tedious chore.
There is a carding mill is at the Village. The original mill run by an Irishman named Frank Cash in Irish Cove. He bought the machinery 2nd-hand from a fellow in Loch Lomond, Cape Breton in 1883 and it has been in running order ever since. Frank’s son Tom took over the carding business in 1921 and ran it until 1946. By this time, fewer families were spinning wool and there was little demand for the rolls, so it was only used for custom work. Tom’s son Charlie who worked at the mill with his father wanted it to be preserved for future generations and donated it to the Highland Village Museum where visitors are given demonstrations of the process. It is the only fully functioning carding machine from that era that they know of.
Right across from Cash’s Carding Mill was the shingle mill. This machine is made of wood and is 160 years old and also still going strong. John, having worked in a sawmill for 35 years was very interested to see how the tapering of the shingles was donel
It was almost 4:30 when we left the village and completed our circuit around the St. Andrew’s Arm of Bras d’Or Lake; stopping for the night just west of the town of Baddeck. Tomorrow we drive the Cape Breton Highlands. We did this in 2014 but it is a lovely drive and well worth repeating.
We have had a lot of short ferry rides as we have been driving Nova Scotia backroads and today was no exception.