At this point of the year, many of us are hitting the road and getting a better, more intimate look at Cape Breton Island than we typically achieve during the wicked winter weather (or even this year’s late-spring, early-summer Festival of Drizzle and Fog).
I’m considering myself very lucky to have seen Cape Breton from three distinct perspectives – from the air, from the land, and onstage.
Strangely, the first perspective came on the last leg of a five-day trip Cathy and I took to Newfoundland and Labrador at the end of May. We flew from St. John’s to Halifax and then from Halifax to Sydney. The latter flight gave us a skyward view of a place that we had only seen from ground level throughout our lives, and we enjoyed nearly an hour’s worth of picking out familiar landscapes and seascapes.
There was the entirety of Lake Ainslie, in all its glory. There was Waycobah First Nation and Whycocomagh, St. Ann’s Bay, Englishtown (still beautiful even when the ferry is out of service), Kelly’s Mountain, and the Seal Island Bridge. We even spotted Nova Scotia Power’s generating station in Point Aconi, moments before we touched down at the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Airport.
It may have been a routine flight for some, but it was an awakening for me, as the island I have called my home for nearly my entire life showed me an entirely new dimension of its beauty and grandeur.
Back on land, the adventures continued over two different weekends in June. To wrap up her first year as a Port Hawkesbury Girl Guide leader, Cathy joined several other leaders and a gaggle of Guides at their camp in River Denys.
While she shared the joys of nature with these enthusiastic girls, I revisited a few different nearby spots, having a nice lunch at Charlene’s Bayside Restaurant – which is celebrating its 10th anniversary of operation in Whycocomagh this year – before taking Highway 252 through Stewartdale, Nevada Valley, Brook Village, and Hillsborough to visit my long-time friends Leonel and Margaret LeBlanc in Mabou.
I first met Leonel 20 years ago this month, as we were both in the cast for Under The Map Theatre’s debut edition of The Wicked Celtic Hoot. On this particular day at the LeBlancs’ home, he showed me a couple of musical instruments that he’s been repairing, upgrading and constructing, including a combination mandolin-and-banjo. It’s called a “banjolin.” Yes, it exists. And it sounds beautiful.
Cathy and I ended the day with a delicious supper at the Farmer’s Daughter in Whycocomagh, and just a week later, we headed to Glace Bay to help our friends Wendy Markey and Francis MacPhee celebrate their wedding. It was a joyous affair, chock-full of friends, family, food and fun.
Since Wendy and Francis are both musicians, it’s only natural that music played a key role in this special day. Cathy and I hosted a lively pre-dinner kitchen party, which allowed us to reconnect with Bay-born musical friends like Shawn Bigley, Joan McNeil and Allan O’Donnell. And one of the most special moments for me came earlier, at the beginning of the ceremony, when Cathy sang the Lifehouse hit “You and Me” to welcome the bridal party.
Which brings me to the third stage – literally – of my recent Cape Breton experiences: The view from the musical stage.
Eighteen days into their marriage, Wendy and Francis had me along for the ride at their July 4 performance at the Louisbourg Playhouse. Considering that two of the musicians originally slated to play with us – including Cathy – were sidelined by health issues, the three of us enjoyed ourselves immensely that night, and welcomed Wendy’s daughter Ginny Markey for a lovely song to open the second set.
The crowd was small but enthusiastic. (From where I sit, the whole show was worth doing simply because one of the audience members described herself as being “from Glace Bay, with a L’Ardoise connection.”)
The following evening, I was honoured to MC the Festival of the Strait’s first-ever Cape Breton Cultural Concert, hosted by my friends and colleagues in the Port Hawkesbury Rotary Club.
We were blessed with a wonderful variety of entertainers, from Acadian and Gaelic singers, and Mi’kmaq drummers, to Celtic dancers, from communities as wide-ranging as Isle Madame, Mulgrave, Linwood, Antigonish, Wagmatcook, and Mabou. Only a small number of them had ever performed on Port Hawkesbury’s Granville Green stage before, and I hope we’ve now put the wheels in motion for local performers to appear on this much-celebrated band shell far more regularly than they currently do.
Thank you, Cape Breton, for touching my heart from the air, the land, and the stage – and for setting things up for one incredible summer.