Music In Their Soul

Blog header Bras d'Or Scenic Drive panoramic

We packed up and left Fundy National Park for a five- hour drive along TC (Trans Canada) 104 through New Brunswick to Nova Scotia.  We crossed over to Cape Breton Island at the Canso Strait and took TC 105 to Whycocomaugh Provincial Park. Whycocomaugh (pronounced as Y-cog-o-maw). This would be home for the next week.

The town of Whycocomaugh and the park are located on Lake Bras d’Or, aka Canada’s Inland Sea in the south central part of Cape Breton. The “lake” is saltwater and forms huge bay with a very small outlet to the Atlantic Ocean at its northern end and a canal at the southern end. We’d hoped to do some paddling here but Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. It was rainy, drizzly and overcast except for a few hours on two afternoons. Rain or shine this is a beautiful area. The park has only nine serviced sites and they stayed full so I was glad I’d made reservations. Our site was large and mostly open surrounded by fields. A real bonus was free WiFi at the registration hut.

We had one problem. When we hooked up the electricity we blew the breaker. Usually this would be no problem as the breakers are at the site. Not here. We had to get the maintenance man to open the electric panel to reset it. This happened three times before Steve figured out that our breaker for the wall outlets was the cause. So for the rest of our stay we had zip cords running across the floor. Naturally we thought the problem was with us. Steve researched RV repair places and found we’d have to live with the problem until we got to Halifax in about three weeks. As we write this we’re happy to report the problem turned out to be on the park’s side.

When we came into the park we were given several flyers and brochures about music events and square dances in the area. This is Inverness County and the center of Ceilidh events (Gaelic culture and music).  Almost every sign you see will be in English and then in Gaelic.  Cape Breton was settled by Gaelic Highland Scots who sought refuge from English tyranny. Their culture merged with that of Acadian French settlers to produce a unique blend of music, dance and food. You can hear common roots to our Appalachian music and Cajun tunes. The original Ceilidh  (meaning kitchen) were jam sessions of friends and neighbors each contributing an instrument, song or step dance. Today the public gatherings are more formalized events usually charging a small admission and held nightly from June through October along the Ceilidh Trail, from Baddeck to Judique to Inverness. Last summer we enjoyed the Crooked Road in Virginia and we looked forward to a similar experience. Our first stop was at the Celtic Interpretive Center in Judique where we heard a well- known fiddler by the name of Glenn Graham.  While we were there we met a woman from California and her husband. They came here several years ago and fell in love with the region. Now they return for six months each year and run a gift shop. They encouraged us to join in a square dance. We didn’t have a clue what to do so she danced with Steve and I danced with her husband. The first figure wasn’t too hard to follow. The second one was a bit trickier. On the third figure there were times I was a la mande left when I should a la mande right but they’d gently turn me in the right direction and continue. My sprained ankle held up but complained loudly the next day as did Steve’s knee that had been bothering him. As people left that night several locals stopped to say they hoped we had a good time and to come back. Music here is not just something performed for tourists. It is part of the people. They really do have music in their soul.

The couple from California had told us about a festival to be held the following Sunday and said it was a “must see” event. The Broadcove Scottish Concert was celebrating its 57th year.  We drove north of Inverness and followed signs to a field near an old church. The $20 per car admission was definitely worth it. The festival begins around 2pm and runs to 9pm. You can bring your own chairs or use the benches provided. Same for food and drinks, bring your own or purchase it at the festival. We arrived late afternoon and watched step dancers who will be competing at the World Championships in Scotland next month, a jazz piper, local fiddlers, guitarists and singers. The highlight of the evening for us was hearing a local musician who has gone on to become a famous musician, Ashley Mac Isaac. I’d never seen a violin played left-handed and being a lefty myself, I was fascinated. Ashley Mac Isaac is phenomenal. If you ever see that he is performing near your home, run don’t walk to the ticket booth.  If you are planning a trip to the Maritime Provinces we recommend timing your visit to attend the Broadcove Scottish Concert. Enjoy the video of four tunes he played at the festival along with a few still pictures. The video runs about 20 minutes with the following segments:

1- Glenn Graham plays while a local man step dances

2- Piper begins with classic bagpipes and then moves to a contemporary version

3- Ashley Mac Issac

4- Cameron MacDonald plays while Lisa Mc Donald step dances at the Red Shoe Pub

5- Ashley Mac Issac

Our last music event for the week was at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou. Music is available every night from 5-7pm free but after all this is a restaurant so you’re bound to eat or drink as well. It was crowded and the most ‘touristy’ of the three places we went but still excellent. The restaurant is owned by two of the Rankin sisters, a Cape Breton version of the Carters. We were at a table for four and had just ordered our beer when the manager asked if we’d mind sharing the table with another couple. “We’d be happy to share.” That’s how we met a couple from Vancouver, Canada who were celebrating their 25th anniversary. They suggested we visit Meat Cove and eat at the picnic table in front of the restaurant for great food and a killer view. You’ll get to see why in a later post.

The weather may not have been the best but it didn’t dampen our spirits.  Our feet didn’t stay still with music all around us.

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