Much of the landforms of Cape Breton are made up of hard resistant plateaus such as those of Northern Cape Breton.
The edges are steep and drop abruptly to the sea or to deep river valleys and ravines. Many of these streams start slowly, sometimes from vast sphagnum peat bogs and numerous springs. The streams pick up speed as their gradients increase.
As if rushing to get to their valleys below, they often hurry over precipices disappearing in plumes of white water and mist and crashing down into deep plungepools at the base of their fall.
I guess we could say that waterfalls occur where there is a sharp difference in the hardness of the rocks. Cape Breton has hundreds of waterfalls ranging from small rushes of cascading water to some that are several hundred feet high. Some are slides of water like Second Forks Brook near Cape Clear, some are mountain spouts that can be walked under (Turner Brook), some have a series of steps such as Piper’s Glen.
Some were the sites where early pioneers harnessed their falling potential and still others crash down through narrow ravines and are hard to get to. Usige Ban (white water), a tributary of the Baddeck River, and Bealach Ban (white gorge), a tributary that flows into the Aspy River, reflect the Gaelic presence of the island.
Strangely enough, waterfalls and their beauty are not commonly found in Gaelic song or poetry. I have difficulty deciding which one of the 150 waterfalls in Cape Breton that I have been to that I like the best.
I’m not really sure what the attraction of a waterfall is, but I have been drawn to them no matter where I travel. Maybe it’s the swirling white water . Maybe it’s the deep dark plungepool at the base of the falls. Maybe it’s the raging torrent of water that readies itself for the leap over the brink, or maybe it’s the spray that blankets the rocks and crags and tiny plants that seem to thrive in this misty environment.
On a trip to Iceland, I stood spellbound, on many occasions, at the base of a 300 or 400-foot waterfall that was the result of meltwater rivers of glaciers thundering over the edges of hardened lava plateaus.
Goldseekers first trekked up the many brooks of Cape Breton in search of those elusive riches. Mapmakers and geologists used the path of the brook to get an insight into the rocks and terrain of our island and in doing so mapped many waterfalls.
Early settlers recognized the potential of falling water and soon built log dams on many small brooks. They also harnessed the power of the brooks and waterfalls for their grist mills, sawmills, woolen mills, etc. Today we might be lucky enough to find the remnants of an old dam or the mill stones in the bed of a brook we might be traversing.
In many other places, accessible waterfalls have good parking facilities and hiking trails to these splendid features of our natural environments. Cape Breton has very few. I suppose we haven’t realized the ecotourism potential of Cape Breton’s waterfalls. Proper tasteful tourism development ensures the preservation of the site and the immediate forested lands around the falls. And yet many may argue that the sites should be kept as natural secrets for the few that have the stamina and desire to venture into these inaccessible places.
People who live in geographic situations where there is no relief of elevation, never experience the dynamics of a falling brook. Can you picture a landscape without flowing and falling water? On many hiking trips, a packed lunch always provided a few moments to sit quietly just out of the spray’s reach and contemplate the beauty of this special place.
But it was soon time to climb out of the gorge or trek back downstream. I was leaving a place where ruggedness and serene beauty come together, a place where gentleness and the power of the stream are side-by-side, a place where noise and quiet meet and linger with me until another day and another trip.
Ah! But I have taken a bit of this special place with me. It’s on the film in my camera.