In central Cape Breton, Lake Ainslie stretches its triangular shape out towards the north.
In the northeast corner of the river, marshes extend for the first few kilometres of its course. It flows under a two lane bridge that replaced one of the old iron bridges that were so common throughout Cape Breton and are now an endangered species.
This road leads to Inverness and makes a junction with Highway 395 that has skirted the shores of East Lake Ainslie and now follows the South West Margaree River.
This junction of the river and roads is the site of the little rural village of Scotsville. Some of the earliest settlers were Campbells, MacKinnons, MacKays, MacLeans, and MacGregors. According to a provincial archivist, its original name was “Outlet of Lake Ainslie” and its present name was adopted in 1883. In 1870, the community had a grist mill, two stores, and a school. Today the village has a fire hall and a country store, and of course, a number of homes that make up the fabric of the village. As in many small rural villages throughout Cape Breton, the fire hall has become centre of many social activities and has a strong cohesive influence.
Years ago, barite was discovered in the hills just above Scotsville. The broken rock from an open pit quarry was hauled by horse and cart down the hillside to a grinding mill and dock on the edge of Lake Ainslie and the South West Margaree River. It was shipped across the north end of the lake to a rail siding at Kenloch.
Two small shallow-draft steamers were involved in transporting the ore, the Minnie Ha Ha and the Donald Mac. Barite was mined sporadically between 1900 and 1920, depending on the fluctuating price of the ore. The Minnie Ha Ha was a favourite steamer for Sunday afternoon cruises on the lake.
Certainly sawmills were common in those early days. One fairly large one was located near the present site of the former Scotsville school, now an arts and crafts centre. Lumber was trucked by horses and bobsled on the frozen waters of North Lake to Kenloch. On one occasion, the load of lumber and horses all went through the thin ice. The waters of Cobb Brook were diverted to join with MacInnis Brook so that enough water power could be produced to run a grist mill and sawmill downstream. Needless to say, the early beginnings of cottage industries didn’t last.
The dominant landscape feature in the area is the river and the river marshes that line the banks of the river for the first couple of kilometres downstream. This last short distance before the river empties from the lake is the end journey for the spawning gaspereau who began their trip some many miles and obstacles before on their way to North Lake Ainslie. Their spawning destination is the warm shallow water of the north end of the lake, particularly in Port Ban. Eggs are laid, fertilized, and hatched. By mid-summer the gaspereau fingerlings start their journey back downstream to the ocean from where they came.
Fish that do a spawning run such as this are referred to as anadramous fish. Eels do a similar spawning run as this, except they reverse the spawning journey and travel downstream to the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean from where they came. They are referred to as catadramous fish.
After starting out with lazy slowness, the river soon picks up speed drops off through many short riffles and rapids. On one canoe trip, one of our canoes got caught broadside on the stakes of an eel weir.
Scotsville is one small rural village on some of the less-traveled roads of Cape Breton, scenic and quietly nestled in the hills of Margaree and Lake Ainslie. As we travel rural Cape Breton, we have to wonder how rural people and villages can withstand the pressures to move to the more urban growth centres of our island and province.