Cape Breton Island: it is a place where ocean meets forest, forest meets story, communities make music together, and where, as some say, Mother Nature meets Father Time.
Cape Breton Island is the most northerly part of the province of Nova Scotia in Atlantic Canada.
It has long been a crossroads of cultures, languages, history, and ways of life.
First Peoples of the Mi’kmaq Nation first came to live along the shores of the the inland sea known as Bras D’Or Lake in prehistoric times. Across the centuries, immigrants and refugees from France, Ireland, New England, and especially Scotland came and brought their traditions, their food, and their music along. In recent times people from Ukraine, Hungary, and other places have come to call Cape Breton Island home as well.
Each of these cultures has influenced each other as they’ve as kept and evolved traditions. Today, when the time is right to visit, you will find warm welcome and vibrant communities ready to share what they love with you. At this time, it is best to explore at distance. Come along on this journey. Here’s an introduction:
To get an idea of the landscape, here is a brief look at what it is like in autumn, along with a song sung it Scottish Gaelic by Josie Duncan. It was recorded at the Celtic Colours International Festival . More about the festival in a bit.
When you are on Cape Breton Island, and while exploring at distance, you will do fine speaking and reading English. However, you are just as likely to find French, Mi’kmaq, and Gaelic spoken.
Colaisde na Gaidhlig/The Gaelic College in Saint Ann’s focuses year-round on programs which pass along and explore language, culture, crafts, history, music, dance and other traditions of people who immigrated from the Highlands of Scotland. It is the only institution of its kind in North America. You can learn Gaelic online, and when the time is right to travel, learn about kilt making, storytelling, hear music, and more, visit the Great Hall of Clans and explore more.
To learn about Acadian culture on the island, the Isle Madame Historical Society is a place to start, and you will also want to check out Les Trois Pignons in Cheticamp.
I had a bit more to say in the story Finding Acadia . For another aspect of the presence of France on the island, visit Fortress Louisbourg.
One place to learn about First Peoples culture on the island is through extensive online resources at the web site of Membertou Heritage Park.
Baile nan Gaidheal/Highland Village. at Iona, part of the province wide Museum of Nova Scotia, is an outdoor living history museum which traces the heritage of Gaels on Cape Breton Island. You will certainly hear Gaelic spoken, and you can learn a phrase or two yourself in this orientation video, and at the Village’s website too.
As you make a virtual visit to Cape Breton Island, you may want to make food for the trip. Your choices are wide ranging, from seafood, especially lobster, to seasonal vegetables of all sorts, to bannock, to cinnamon rolls. .
You will also need music to go along. On Cape Breton Island, music is a way of life all year round, never more so than in October, when it is time for the Celtic Colours International Festival. This is usually celebrated with dozens of concerts, as well as workshops, talks, art shows, craft demonstrations, farmers markets, community meals, and other events all across the island.
I’ve introduced you to Celtic Colours in the past; this year there will be a new adventure, as it becomes Celtic Colours at Home. with music and community events too being shared online. I will let you know more of this as plans evolve.
–> Update: Celtic Colours plans have evolved with music and community experiences going online. Learn about this year’s Celtic Colours at Home.
There’s much more to explore as you continue a visit to Cape Breton Island online. Here’s bit of Cape Breton music to be going on with. You met Margie and Dawn Beaton hosting the first video in this story. Here, they play together at a celiidh (that’s a Gaelic word which may mean gathering, celebration, or visit).
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