25 July 2016

The Cabot Trail

Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS


The Cabot Trail

As usual, when we need to go somewhere we put the address in our GPS and go. Most of the time this works well. But sometimes it thinks it’s doing us a favour by taking the quickest or shortest route. On the way to Chéticamp, it took us up the Old Cape Breton Road which is not only gravel but is also quite narrow. Luckily it was only a couple of kilometres and no-one came the other way or I don’t know what we would have done. We were getting worried and we couldn’t turn around. After coming back on the highway for a short while, it then took us up a back road, named appropriately “Back Road” which had a few pot holes in it. It turns out that there is a check box to avoid dirt roads. Who knew?

lots of curves on the Cabot Trail

A week before we arrived I decided that I had better book a campsite. Luckily I did as there was only one spot left out of the two largest campgrounds that I looked at. Admittedly they do keep some allocated for first come first served but we didn't know that and would you want to take that chance anyway? The only spot that was available for us was unserviced, but it was 40' long and flat, so we would fit so I grabbed it. Interesting that they have the campsite length in feet and not metric. Having no hook ups doesn't worry us and as we were right next door to the showers we used theirs.

North east of the trail

I was really looking forward to Cape Breton as everyone we met said it was amazing. Whenever something has been highly praised, we often find that it’s disappointing. In it’s defence there were a lot of road works going on, so getting pictures of the rolling hills with the road winding through them was not very pretty when it should have been. The first couple of days were overcast which didn't surprise me as I'd heard it rained here a lot. We drove the famous Cape Breton trail, stopping at all the pull outs along the way. We thought we were going to Meat Cove but we missed the turn off and didn’t realise it.

One of the easy trails off the Cabot Trail

While cooking a barbeque one night Lindsay was chatting to our neighbour. Ken on the other side of our neighbour heard the Aussie accent and joined in. It turns out Lindsay knows his brother from sailing! That night we caught up with Ken and Julie for drinks. They are over here for three months, travelling in a very minimalist way. Buses, trains, ferries, some hire cars, hostels and some camping but without all the normal camping gear such as a stove. Not my kind of travel I have to say. Lindsay kindly boiled some water for them in the morning.

Skyline Trail

The most popular hike here is the Skyline trail that everyone goes to for sunset. We had also heard there was moose there. Where do we sign up! The first night as we were driving up to the trail head, the fog had already started to roll in. We had been warned that there was a short way and a long route. Take the left hand fork was the advice, which meant it was 7.5km for the short side, and 9.2km for the full loop. The trail starts off on a path as flat and wide as a road, except that you aren’t allowed to drive up it. I was hoping it would get better and it did. The path winds through fir trees with ferns skirting the pathway which was really pretty. We started chatting to a mother and daughter from New Jersey as we were walking. There is a small section that has been closed off to keep out the moose to see how it regenerates. The area was decimated by some beetles some years ago and many of the trees died. Now they believe that the moose inhibit the trees from rejuvenating, and they are probably right. They are not native to the area as they have come from Alberta and therefore they should not be allowed to stay. A lot of money has been spent on a cull to reduce the numbers which has upset a lot of people. I can understand the issues from both sides. We have never seen a moose with a rack and really really wanted to see one.

Mr Moose just before sunset

And there he was, sitting down amongst the undergrowth. Munching away. Lindsay wanted to stay with him as he didn’t want to miss him standing up. The mosquitoes made a beeline for me because I’m A+, so I didn’t want to stand in one place for any amount of time, and continued on to the end of the trail. I had to go through another larger section that has been fenced and gated off to keep out the moose. The fog was moving in and I was a bit worried walking by myself; it was a bit eerie in the fog. I nearly stood on a snake but I have good reflexes and missed him. Before I could get my camera out though, he had slithered away. I was more worried about bears. Luckily I didn’t know about the girl who was killed by a coyote on this very track two years ago… Towards the end of the track, you come across some boardwalks and steps, more steps and more steps. I couldn’t see any of the view because of the fog. Even though I was tired I went to the very bottom step – to the very end of the trail and then came back again. 

a much better picture of the Cabot Trail than from the road itself
Visibility was very low

There was no way there was going to be a sunset here tonight. But as I was walking back I noticed the clouds in front of me had a pink tinge, so I looked behind me. From my new vantage point, there was a sunset. This area hadn't been under fog when I came through and I’m sure the point would still have been under fog.


We did some more walks the following morning, but found them a bit boring. Had we been spoilt elsewhere? The humidity was stifling and it was easy to take the afternoon off. After reading a few pages of my book, I headed over to the visitor centre to check my emails. While I was there I heard an Australian voice at the counter. It was Peter & Leanne that we met at the Mahone Bay coffee shop. We didn’t even know they were coming to Cape Breton.

There were supposed to be moose on this trail, but there weren't

One of the reasons, apart from the humidity that we took the afternoon off was that we intended to go back to the Skyline trail after dinner. Lindsay was determined to find the moose again to get a picture of him standing up. The humidity had dropped a little bit, but not much and it was hard to be motivated. We asked everyone we met along the trail if they had seen a moose. On the right hand trail seemed to be the consensus. Then a guy said, yes the right hand trail but he was near the third lookout. When we got to the diagram of the trail where it split we could see that the third look out was actually where the two trails met up again before the boardwalk and the steps began. So I suggested that it would be quicker to go on the left hand trail. After going through the fenced-in no-go-moose-zone, we were told – there’s a moose up ahead on the trail be careful. They can actually be dangerous. He was about 40 metres off the track amongst the trees and high undergrowth and it was difficult to get a clear picture. I’m going in says Lindsay. What? So I stay on the trail for a few minutes, then decide to follow. Moose eat 60 pounds of vegetation a day, but they don’t get much nutrition out of it. So if they are not sleeping, rutting or mating, they are eating. After we had taken a number of shots, he started to move towards us. Okay we get it, time to leave. There was absolutely no sunset that night, which made me feel better for not having the energy to go to the end of the trail, and it was still over 3kms to get back to the truck. The following night it rained, so there wouldn't have been any sunset either. 

Mr Moose in all his glory

Leaving Cape Breton

Cape Breton to Québec city is just over 1230 kms, about 12.5 hours. So we split it up into three days. Our first leg from Cape Breton to Moncton took us about 5 hours.

Bi lingual signs in New Brunswick

We passed a few dead skunks and porcupines on the road which is a bit sad. We haven’t seen either alive and we would love to.

Hwy 395 was a terrible road with lots of potholes. The other roads were rough and pot holed until we got down to the toll section - so at least you know they are putting your toll fees to good use. The Toll was $5.25 for our 5th Wheel.

This light represents the flag of Arcadia

the town of Chéticamp

We found our favourite stores all together in Moncton, NB. We went to Home Depot to get some magnets to stop some of our drawers from sliding out as we are travelling. Walmart to stay in overnight with wifi, this being one of the few times we didn't actually buy anything, and Costco to fill up with propane. They don't sell propane at all the Costcos, but it is well worth getting it when you can as it’s much cheaper here than anywhere else. All of them sell petrol (gas) but we have only found one very new one that sells diesel. We only found out on this trip that Canadian Tire also sells propane which is good to remember. 

Cabela’s & Marks were nearby and Lindsay wanted to see what cold weather gear they have for minus 40 as he needs to work out what to buy for Manitoba next year.

Thankfully the humidity we experienced in Cape Breton has reduced.

There were signs all along the road warning about moose but it is now all in French. I could translate a few of the signs, but others were a complete mystery. There are fences either side of the highway to reduce the chances of moose running out in front of traffic, with gates allowing them back into the forest if somehow they did get out.

Moose next 7kms?
Dégelis - next two exits


Chéticamp Campground in the National Park

One thing often leads to another

Alexander Graham Bell Museum

Baddeck, Nova Scotia

On our way to Cape Breton, we stopped off in Baddeck to see the Graham Bell Museum.
The Bell Family

How often do you hear that they found that something worked while taking medication for something else. Quite a bit.

Alexander Graham Bell is known for inventing the telephone, named from the Greek language meaning "far speaking". I can't help but think that if he hadn't been so interested in helping deaf people, would have he invented the telephone? After all I'm sure what he learned about the ear had an impact on what he discovered.

single and double pole magneto telephone

At the age of 21, Graham used his father’s invention to teach the deaf to speak at a school he taught in London. Word of his achievements spread around the world.

Multiple Telegraph Transmitters & receivers

He was a very interesting man. In 1867 his brother died of tuberculosis. Then his other brother came down with the disease and Graham himself became ill. So his father moved the family from Scotland to Brantford, Ontario in Canada where the weather was better. Graham regained his health and went back to work.

His father was an elocutionist and teacher of speech. He created visible speech - a new phonetic alphabet. Graham used his father's invention to teach the deaf to speak. He explored the mechanics of speech, even teaching a dog to speak. He had remarkable success in teaching the deaf to speak.

Graham knew a little bit about electricity and a lot about speech, sound and hearing. He then had an idea about an electrical device that would work like the human ear, a talking wire. In June 1875 Graham had an assistant called Watson who accidentally plucked a transmitter reed on Graham’s apparatus which generated an electric current strong enough that Graham heard it on his receiver in another room. After making some modifications to his apparatus, Watson could then hear some muffled sounds from Graham.

When Graham received his telephone patent in 1876, it still hadn’t transmitted a clear message. It would take another month for a breakthrough to happen. When Graham was working on a new transmitter he accidently spilt some acidulated water on his clothes and called out to Watson. Watson heard the cry through the receiver. So Graham built a liquid transmitter which replaced the electromagnet with a container of acid and water.

Telephones of the 19th & 20th centuries

In 1877 he married one of his students who had been deaf since the age of 5. Mabel could lip read and spoke French, Italian, English and German. While on his honeymoon Graham sketched the basic shape of an airplane. In the same year, he founded the Volta Bureau for "the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf". He wanted day schools for the deaf instead of segregated boarding schools. His achievements regarding the deaf were more important to him than the invention of the telephone.

In 1880 when France awarded Bell the Volta Prize of $10,000 for his invention of the telephone he used this money to form Volta Laboratory, and hired two experimenters to help him where they worked out of Washington DC.

He used the prize money to set up a company that would work on other inventions. They created a photophone which transmitted speech over light waves. However, it didn’t work very well in bad weather but he still considered it a greater achievement than the telephone. Ten years after Edison created the phonograph which didn’t work very well, Graham’s team came up with the gramophone. It was a great success and became the basis for the record industry.

In 1885, Graham and his wife Mabel made Baddeck, Nova Scotia their second home, so that he could pursue his scientific and humanitarian interests away from the summer heat of Washington DC. Graham started a 32 year project to help local farmers – to breed ewes that would consistently bear twins.

In 1887, Graham founded the Volta Bureau to increase the knowledge relating to the deaf, it merged with another association that Graham inspired and financed and still runs today.

He also worked on hydrofoils and airplanes.

one of his planes

In 1914 he talked of the greenhouse effect to describe the heating of the earth and five years later advocated that we find a substitute for coal and oil to provide energy. He created some solar stills to convert saltwater into potable water.

He died in 1922 at the age of 75. A remarkable man clearly way ahead of his time.

24 July 2016

The History of the Fortress of Louisbourg

Louisbourg, Nova Scotia

If you are up to it, here is the long version …. I’m not sure how accurate it is, but it makes a good story.

In 1715 the French lose their fishing bases in Newfoundland and Acadia (Nova Scotia) with the war that ends the Spanish secession. They receive two islands – Île Saint John (Prince Edward Island) and Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) as compensation. Prince Edward Island was to be the bread basket for Louisbourg but they got there too late in the season and it would take a good 3-4 years before any food would be available to feed the new town. They needed a capital town for their new colony and the French decide on Louisbourg, so it became a planned, walled, fortified town. The French military told them it wasn’t a good idea as the hills were as high or higher than the walls they would be building, but the decision makers didn’t listen. The military wanted to use Baddeck, which had nice high cliffs, and was easy to defend. Louisbourg was a direct route from back home which was important for the civilians coming here and it was also close to the Louisbourg fishing banks. The fishermen who were living here had their land expropriated and they were given land outside the city walls. It was very cosmopolitan town, with the French, the Basque, Portuguese, Mik'maw, Celtic, Scotts, Irish, and Germans. As a mercantile trading colony, they were only allowed to trade with their mother country and other French colonies. But if they did that they would have to wait 6-8 weeks for the round trip to get their supplies from France, the West Indies or Quebec. Whereas if they traded with the British along the coastline, who shouldn’t have be trading with the French either, it was only 4-6 weeks. A blind eye was turned and the British and French were trading back and forth. This is why the British knew so much about Louisbourg. They had sailed in the harbour and they walked the streets. They knew that Louisbourg was protected at the harbour side but not so well on the landward side. At the mouth of the harbour was an island that was fortified, and there was also a royal battery on the other side of the harbour. On the landward side, there were a few small fortifications, but not major ones.

The barracks and other military offices

There were two sieges in Louisbourg’s history, one in 1745, the other in 1758. The 1745 war was over the Austrian secession. The simplified version of the war was that there was a female on the throne and they didn’t want a female on the throne. Louisbourg then received a letter telling them that they were at war with the British. So they send an expedition up to Grassy Island and took the British as prisoners and brought them back to the fort at Louisbourg. In the C18th, Officers were not kept in prison during daylight hours. Which meant the British Officers were allowed to roam around town with the stipulation that they were not to be making plans of the town or going near the fortifications. They had given their word as they are on parole. The lowly British soldiers that were captured were kept in prison. By that time, the British in Boston received their letter to say that they were at war with the French. They knew Louisbourg, as they traded with them. They knew that it had a beautiful harbour that didn’t freeze over in winter but that 3-4 months of the year, the ice flows came in, so no supplies could get in and they were not self sufficient, so would be desperate without those supplies. The only commodity they had to export was fish, everything else they needed had to be imported by ship. So the British decided to make things a little more difficult for them. The French had 200-300 prisoners and 3000-4000 citizens. So they decided to do a little privateering. Which is really Government sanctioned piracy. You get a letter from your government to say that you can capture a particular vessel, you keep part of the booty and the Government gets the rest. So with privateering going on, their supplies were not getting through and winter would soon be there. So they worked out an exchange. French prisoners in Boston for British prisoners in Louisbourg. So the British Officers go home to Governor Shirley in Boston and tell him that Louisbourg is strong by harbour and weak by land, so if you are going to attack, land is the way to go.

The British New Englander’s then come by sea, but go onto the land 6-7 miles down from the town, and set their cannons up on the hills and bombard the town. They outnumber the French by three to one and within seven weeks the French surrender. It’s only supposed to last seven weeks, then you get reinforcements and move on. But their reinforcements didn’t arrive, so the French leave with dignity and go home to France. So the British take over Louisbourg and all the French territory becomes theirs – Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island and they settle in quite nicely as the won’t be attacked.

After four years a peace treaty is signed and all the French territory that was ceded to the British is ceded back to the French. It’s the way the military chess game was played in the 18th Century. We’ll have this and you can have that. So the British moved from Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island to Nova Scotia and founded Halifax in 1749.

The French families came back to Louisbourg, as this was their home. They came from Newfoundland in the 1600’s, so therefore they had no connection to France. The Military said there needed to be a navy in the harbour to protect the fishery but also to protect the gulf. They also needed to secure Quebec, the seat of government for New France. There wasn’t always a navy here as the French navy had gone down in strength and they needed to keep the main navy closer to home as there was always a war going on in Europe and the West Indies. Louis XIV was building Versailles at the time so was using up all the money, neglecting his military. Louis XV then tried to build up the navy but he was playing catch up. He who had the biggest navy in the C18th ruled the world.

Then the 7 years war began also known as the French/Indian war. Which was at the same time as the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755/56.

Louisbourg was attacked in 1758 by land and sea at the same time in a more formalized attack. There was a breach in the wall and they were outnumbered 4 to 1. They didn’t get their reinforcements, so they had to surrender and were sent back to France again. The British didn’t want the fort at Louisbourg getting back into French hands again as a fortress. So after the fall of Quebec and Montreal 1760, they sent engineers over and mined under the walls and systematically destroyed all the walls using exploding mortar. In 1763 The Treaty of Paris was signed and all of New France fell into British hands.

In 1768 the last British military man left Louisbourg. They now had Halifax, which was a much better naval port.

Related Posts:
The History of Louisbourg
The Life of a Soldier

23 July 2016

Stepping back into the C18th

Louisbourg, Nova Scotia

23 July 2016

From Halifax we drove to Sydney, Nova Scotia. We had good roads, with three lanes, one for each way and a third that alternated as a passing lane for each way.

Louisbourg Lighthouse in the fog

Louisbourg is about a 40 minute drive from Sydney. I knew there was a lot to see, so we wanted to have a full day there. It had been a foggy, but warm and humid in Sydney, so we wore shorts. By the time we drove to Louisbourg, the fog had gotten heavier and the temperature had got a lot colder. After seeing a sign for a lighthouse we went to investigate and nearly didn’t see it in the fog.

Fortress of Louisbourg

Louisbourg in it's heday
the gate to Louisbourg

You can’t drive directly to the Fortress of Louisbourg. At the visitor’s centre, you have to wait for a bus which takes you down to the old settlement. It was still foggy and cold, so we put on our jumpers. We hadn’t counted on waiting for the bus for over 20 minutes when we wanted to do a walking tour at 10:30am. The ride down there seemed to take forever and we still had our tickets to buy at the other end of town. Luckily we made it. The tour really made the whole experience.

the French military uniform of the day

After the British left the fortress fell into ruins. In the 1800’s a few people lived in Louisbourg but they didn’t build on the old foundations. It was designated a national historic site in the 1920’s. When they excavated they had to go down 6-18” to find the foundations. Upon these foundations they rebuilt one fifth of the buildings during the 1960’s, ’70’s and ’80’s when the coal miners were out of work. But it wasn’t as simple as just rebuilding. After they got the original plans from Paris, they had to teach the tradesmen how to build these buildings the same way that they had originally been built so that they looked like they were from 1740 and not the 20th century. Carpentry techniques have changed over the past two hundred years, so they had to cut, hew, hand plane, bead and dowel all the wooden features. They weren’t used to shaping wood, stone and iron. With training they soon acquired the skills they needed. And what a wonderful job they have done. You can see the tools they made as they couldn’t use modern tools. You can see the big wooden beams for floor joists. From detailed records, they know who lived where and what they did for a living.

We didn’t take hats in with us due to the fog, so when the cloud lifted we got very sunburnt.

We were there on a Sunday and there was a Cultural Fest going on, so there were a few other activities going on that normally wouldn’t have been there.

Meticulous detail of recreating the buildings

Our tour ended in time for us to watch the cannon and musket demonstration at 12pm.

Another musket demonstration

Louisbourg started out as a French colonial seaport. It became a fortress which means it was a fortified village. So while there was a military base here, there were also civilians. It was built by the French and as they were not allowed to build anything without French approval, plans were sent to Quebec and then onto Paris, back to Quebec, then back Louisbourg. They never built a church as they would have had to have the plans approved, and didn’t want Quebec telling them who their priest would be.

The very, very, short version of their history is that it was built by the French, the British attacked and got all of the New France colonies into the bargain. A few years later everything was given back to France and then the British took it back again. The British then made sure it could never be used as a Fortress again by blowing up the fortress walls and that was the end of that. A link to the long version is at the of the post.


There were 300-400 slaves in Louisbourg, some from African descent others were indigenous people. Six slaves obtained their freedom. One because he saved his master on the battlefield. Marie Margaret Rose got her freedom in her 30’s. She married a Mi'kmaq (first nations) man and they built a business. So being freed was a good and bad thing, who was going to employ a woman in her 30’s, which is the equivalent now of being 40-50?

Military Band

The Brother’s of Charity ran the hospital which was self sufficient. It had it’s own bakery, mortuary. They had land to build their own church but don’t build it as they didn’t want the Bishop in Quebec to assign a priest to them. They were a Roman Catholic community, but no church was built. The community love the Rackalay Fathers who are part of the Franciscan Order so they use the military chapel.

The flag pole would tell people many things. The white flag lets you know this is French territory. A red flag meant caution, there is ice in the harbour. Yellow flag meant quarantine. There were two small pox epidemics in the 1730’s.

Local shops

The wall around the town has disintegrated as the weather is very harsh and the tradesmen of the 18th Century may have cut corners and not washed the salt out of the sand.

The houses are furnished in period pieces

Under the English system, when your husband dies, everything goes to the oldest male. Under the French system they had prenuptial agreements. 50% goes to the wife and 50% is held in trust for the children.

The establishments had signs with pictures as most people couldn’t read. Greenery hanging on the door meant that alcoholic beverages were served. You didn’t drink the water. They drank wine, cognac and spruce beer which was a good source of vitamin C. The main community well was right in the middle of the drainage system, which is basically the centre of the street. All their rubbish was tossed out the windows and eventually made it down to the harbour. Most of the wells were flush to the ground, they didn’t have sandstone walls around them, so anything coming down the street went straight in there. So you didn’t want to drink the water. The water from the wells were only used for cleaning and cooking.

the main town well
We got to try some of the pastries they had baked

The picture above is the Engineers residence, he didn’t own it, the Government did. He is like a town planner. Plans were sent to Quebec, then onto France, okayed or not, then sent back to Quebec and back to Louisbourg, that was the chain of command. Garden’s in Louisbourg were styled like Versailles. Raised beds, geometrically designed, mirror imaging. Each plot is a mirror image of the other plot. They grew root crops for this climate. Carrots, turnips, beets, currants, gooseberries. They also grew flowers, which may have been eaten, used for medicines, dyes and soap. They also had animals, chickens, and geese. The soil for the vegetables had to be imported from the Myra river as the soil in Louisbourg was full of rocks.

Fixing the wounded

Ladders were left on the roof so that you could get up there and put out any chimney sparks. One spark could mean that you would loose a whole section of town. There also should be a ladder on the ground to get up onto the roof. The 18th C style was wide a the bottom, narrow at the top.

Public shaming for crimes

There was a red pole near the waterfront. People who had been convicted of a crime were marched through town and down to this pole in the morning. The iron collar was put around their neck and a sign was put around your neck saying what their crime was. But of course, 80% of the population couldn’t read or write! They would be left there for 3-4 hours for public humiliation. Then it would be done again the next day and the next. The interrogator wouldn’t use torture during his interrogations if he knew you weren’t guilty.

Wooden houses were easier to maintain

They built the houses they were used to back at home

If you are interested in a more depth account of the history of this area, then read on....

The History of Louisbourg
The Life of a soldier

Note: C18th means The 18th Century - 1700-1799