“Cheticamp has the best hookers in all of Nova Scotia,” announced our tour director Heidi from the front of the bus. While some of the women lifted their eyebrows (and the men grew big grins), she added, “Rug hookers, that is.”
Acadian Art and Culture
We had just stopped at Les Trois Pignons, a museum dedicated to Acadian culture and the art of rug making. Some of these remarkable handmade rugs depicted presidents of the United States and a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy designed by Elizabeth Lefort, a noted artist.
This folk art form was brought to Nova Scotia by French Acadians in the 1700s. They were eventually ousted from their homes after the British claimed Nova Scotia as their possession, but some Acadians returned years later after the 1763 Treaty of Paris. American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about the plight of the Acadians in his epic poem Evangeline.
The modest fishing town of Cheticamp, northeast of Halifax on Cape Breton Island, was my first overnight stop on a 10-day bus journey with Caravan Tours. The journey took us through the glorious, green coastal region of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the exploration of Canada’s majestic Maritimes—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island (PEI).Besides rug hooking, music prevails throughout the province, particularly fiddle playing and lively Celtic songs brought by the Scottish hundreds of years ago.
Music and dance are part of the fabric of their lives, as is the strong European influence of the English, Irish, French, and Scottish. After all, Nova Scotia, means New Scotland. I also couldn’t help but notice the red, white, and blue French Acadian flags waving proudly throughout Cheticamp, and the giant welcome sign of Bienvenue by the water. The city celebrates its 225th anniversary this year.
It appeared that many Nova Scotians were raised with a bow and fiddle in their hands. Several of the ceilidhs (Gaelic for song and dance parties) that we went to were hosted by 16-year-olds, which was very impressive.
Along the Cabot Trail
After two days relaxing in the town, attempting whale watching (unfortunately, no whales or dolphins were sighted that day) and listening to music at Doryman Tavern, the town’s only bar, we were ready to continue along the most scenic route of all, the breathtaking Cabot Trail.
We snaked along the serpentine roads of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which unfolded into miles of craggy rock formations, sweeping coastlines, and densely forested mountain ranges—a photographer’s dream.
Pleasant Bay was our pit stop for a closer ocean view, where I climbed up on a small hill to observe the fishing boats bringing in huge baskets of crabs. This was definitely crab, lobster, and haddock country, judging by the menus at most of the restaurants and cafes along our route.
Our final day’s destination was the lakeside gem, Baddeck, also once the part-time residence of inventor Alexander Graham Bell. An interactive museum dedicated to Bell and his wife, Mabel, was built on a hill overlooking the clear, calm Bras d’Or Lakes. There I later went for a sail on the Amoeba, a 66-foot handmade boat.
The museum features an extensive retrospect of Bell’s life. I learned so much about this incredible humanitarian that I never knew before: how he was a teacher of the deaf, married one of his students, assisted and befriended Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan, and even invented the hydrofoil.
Bell once said, as quoted in my tour booklet, “I have traveled around the globe, and for the simple beauty, Cape Breton Island outrivals them all.”
Gisele’s Country Inn was the perfect stay for my two days in Baddeck. It featured gourmet-style meals, great service, and beautifully appointed rooms.
The next day we visited the famous Fortress of Louisbourg, just outside of Baddeck, which was built by the French in 1713 and almost totally demolished by the British in 1760. Restored today, the historic site of Louisbourg is the largest reconstructed 18th-century town in North America. Costumed characters roam about the grounds to give an authentic flavor of the era.
The Jewel of the Maritimes
Canada’s smallest province, with 2,185 square miles and 140,000 inhabitants, Prince Edward Island (PEI) stands as the jewel of the Maritimes. The colorful capital of Charlottetown, once known as Port de La Joie (Port of Joy), was renamed after the wife of George III of England. This historic city held the first meeting in 1864 which eventually led to the formation of United Canada.