How to Experience Cape Breton Island

Today, we are going to take a look at the northern part of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island. An island located up on the north east coast of North Atlantic Ocean.


If you are curious about the name Breton, it is derived from the Brittany region of France.


I said it was an island but it is artificially connected to the mainland of Nova Scotia by the world’s deepest Causeway, the Canso Causeway, which is unique.


Another factor that makes the island unique is one of the world’s largest saltwater lakes, the Bras d’Or, which dominates the centre of the island.


As in Newfoundland if you’d visited Cape Breton Island 10,000 years ago you would have likely found the Paleo-Indians, the ancestors the Mi’kmaq. These were the people that inhabited the island when the European, Giovanni Caboto visited the region in 1497.


Historians cannot confirm whether Caboto visited Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island but still Cape Bretoner’s decided to commemorate him by naming a beautiful scenic drive, the Cabot Trail, and a Provincial Park located near the village of Dingwall, the Cabots Landing Historical site, and Provincial Park after him.


A few years after Cabot left in 1521, a fishing colony was established by the Portuguese on the Island’s north-eastern Peninsula. It is recorded that those fishermen stayed there until as late as 1570.


In the 1600’s, under the French, the island was known as “Île Royale” and remained so until 1659 when those settlers left. It remained vacate for more than 50 years until the French decided they want to improve their defences at the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and defend Frances fishing fleet on the Grand Banks.


They did this with the establishment of Louisbourg in 1713.


Louisbourg or (Louiebourg) as it’s also affectionately known, was captured twice by the New Englanders with British naval assistance in1745 and then again in 1758 and officially ceded to Britain in 1763.  Britain merged the island to its adjacent colony Nova Scotia, the mainland, and New Brunswick.


Some of the first settlers to the island, following the seven-year war, were Irish and upon arriving they quickly merge with the local French communities to form a culture rich in both music and tradition.


You can still find this on parts of Cape Breton today.


The first permanently settled Scottish community on Cape Breton Island was Judique, on the West Coast in 1775.


In 1784, Cape Breton became an independent British colony and soon after the island began to thrive.


Large-scale shipbuilding began in the late 1700’s, beginning with Schooners for local trade moving into the 1820’s where larger Briggs & Brigantines were built, mostly for British ship owners and this peaked in the 1850’s.


In 1820, the colony of Cape Breton merged for the second time with Nova Scotia which led to the large-scale development in the Sydney coal field and to an expanded fishery.


During the first half of the 19th century, Cape Breton Island experienced an influx of Highland Scots numbering approximately 50,000 as a result of the Highland clearances in Scotland by the English.


Today, descendants of the Highland Scots dominate Cape Breton Islands culture, particular in the rural communities.


To this day, Gaelic can still be heard on Cape Breton Island and was the first language for a number of Cape Bretoners. My mother, for example. She was born in the community of Iona and did not speak English until the age of seven. Even today, when she speaks with her siblings, it is still not uncommon to hear smatterings of Gaelic in their conversation.


In the late 1900th and early 20 Century, Cape Breton Island was home to two very famous inventors.


Alexander Graham Bell and Guglielmo Marconi.


Bell acquired land near the community of Baddeck in 1985, largely due to the surroundings which reminded him of his early years in Scotland. He established a summer estate, complete with research laboratories, where he worked for the deaf and he continued to invent.


Marconi’s pioneering work in Cape Breton marked the beginning of modern radio technology. Marconi station, the Marconi Towers just outside the community of Glace Bay became the chief Communication Centre for the Royal Canadian Navy during the First World War through the early years of the second war.


Today, when visiting Cape Breton Island, you will find a very strong Scottish influence as well as French. These would be Acadians, many of whom were descendants of those displaced in 1755.


You will also find the influences of the peoples of the Mi ‘kmaq Nation.


Cape Breton is famous for its music to traditions making Ceilidhs a popular attraction for locals and summer visitors alike. For those of you who are not quite sure what a Ceilidh is, think of it as a large Kitchen Party with all your old friends and new friends you have not met yet.


Musical talent on the island is very common. Many of its favourite sons and daughters have received significant recognition outside of Cape Breton including:

  • Rita McNeil
  • Natalie MacMaster
  • Bruce Guthro
  • The Rankin Family
  • The Barra MacNeils
  • The Men of the Deeps


Music Cape Breton

This is a male choral group of the former miners from the industrial Cape Breton area. By sharing these names I’m just scratching the surface of the talent in Cape Breton.


In 2009, Travel and Leisure Magazine “World’s Best Awards” named Cape Breton #3 in its top islands in the world rankings and the #1 Island to visit in North America.


Now, for years I have been asked what to do when visiting Cape Breton.


Well, the first thing you have to do is- RELAX.


Relax so you’re able to soak in your surroundings.


Tour the famous Cabot Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.


While on the tour you can visit both Acadian and Scottish influence communities. Explore the highlands and witness spectacular ocean views.


See moose and bald eagles in their natural habitat.


And even whales along the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Cape Breton Wildlife


You can cruise the Bras d’Od Lakes, visit the world-class historical reconstruction of Fortress Louisbourg and even descent into a coal mine beneath the ocean floor at the Glace bay Miners Museum.


Attend a Ceilidh as local bagpipers and fiddlers celebrate the Gaelic culture.


I have been asked, “what is the best way to enjoy Cape Breton Island?”


I would suggest spending a few days there.


If you have any comments or questions about Cape Breton, let us know and if you are looking for information or things to do when visiting, let “Nova Scotia is Amazing” be your resource.


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Nova Scotia, Cape Breton & Donald Trump
Nova Scotia, Cape Breton & Donald Trump


In the next video, we are going to take a look at the northern part of Mainland Nova Scotia.


Until then, have a fun day.


Image Credit for Post & Video


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