What's It All About, eh?

Cape Breton evokes deep memories and strong emotions for me as well as a deep appreciation for the beauty of my adopted island. My hopes are that you too might find the photos evocative - maybe a view you've not enjoyed before, or an 'Oh I've been there', or if from away that you may be encouraged to visit this fair isle so that you might come to love and breathe Cape Breton as I do. One word about place names that I use - some are completely local usage while others are from maps of Cape Breton that I've purchased over the years. I frequently post travel and other photos that are of interest to me - and hopefully you.

On the right hand side bar find my take on Single Malt whiskey - from how to best enjoy this noble drink to reviews (in a most non-professional manner) of ones that I have tried and liked - or not. Also musings, mine and others, on life in general.

Photographs are roughly 98%+ my own and copy-righted. For the occasional photo that is borrowed, credit is given where possible - recently I have started posting unusual net photographs that seem unique. Feel free to borrow any of my photos for non-commercial use, otherwise contact me. Starting late in 2013 I have tried to be consistent in identifying my photographs using ©smck on all out of camera photos I personally captured - (I often do minor computer changes such as 'crop' or 'shadow' etc but usually nothing major), and using
©norvellhimself on all photos that I have played around with in case it might not be obvious. Lately I have dropped the ©smck and have watermarked them with the blog name.

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Ferguson's Lake at dusk

© August '09   photo by smck

Driving back from L'Archeveque the setting sun over Ferguson's Lake was so lovely that I had to stop and take a picture from Barren Hill Road.   As always the feeling of the fading day was ghosting over me like a pleasing shiver down my spine - no cars, no planes, no man-mad sounds just the breeze that ruffled the lake and sighed through the spruce and the tiny sound of wave-lets gently lapping on the stoney beach.  I waited while the sky above darkened into early evening and the old memories of Christopher Ferguson  and others that I had been lucky enough to know in the Barren Hill community ran through my mind - and how in the brief span of my later life it has reverted to a vast background of forest and lakes with only about two inhabited homes - one in which I know the family the other an unknown to me - the rest empty, fading away, or gone, the great arboreal forest  absorbing them back into its bosom, with this rural community like many others only a bit more alive by the influx of summer-from-aways like myself.  It was on Barren Hill Road that the best friend of my life was born and raised and he and his house is gone.  As much as I love rural living, this world of the future is steadily drawing most of the rural youth to its cities so that slowly, one by one, the small communities dwindle away or become summer colonies and the loss is profound - even if it is not of interest to the nation at large.  I drive on back toward Grand River appreciating the lonely street lights as I crest the hill at the highway garage.  Maybe Stewart and Sue are still up and I can stop and have tea and chase away my colly-wobbles, talking and laughing with my old friend's legacy, of son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren, to the future.  And it works, the great embracing feature of the rural life, rarely discerned in the city, the embracing of your neighbor, the looking the stranger in the eye, the easy hello, the sincere interest in what you are doing and how you are going, even when you might be estranged because of some imagined slight the urge to embrace breaks forth at someone's misfortune and old wounds are healed, at least for awhile.  It is like a large and scattered family that spends threads of communication through-out their scattering.  I love it and miss it.


Reynard came up the bank and paused

© August '09   photo by smck

Driving through Grand River I could scarcely believe it when this fox came up the bank from the river, crossed the road in front of my truck then turned toward Lola's house and paused on the verge of the road giving me his best profile shot.  Later I heard that he had been prowling this neighborhood for a couple weeks looking for handouts bold-as-you-please,  I got several nice photos but was never lucky enough to see him again.

Estuary and Sun

© August 09   photo by smck
The shore bar is to the left and the deep lake water stretching back toward Framboise is to the far right - but this is the shallows - soft mushy muddy bottom deposited over many years and teeming with all kinds of small water life.  Sea birds of all sorts stalk the exposed mud bars snacking away.  And I am laid back in the seat of the kayak, paddle shelved across the thwarts, as I try to take in the grandeur of this day, this day that the mystery of life has given me along with the companionship of my son.  I am in awe.

Old Farm at L'Archeveque

© August '09  photo by smck
Heading toward Sydney from Grand River this lovingly maintained old home, captured here as the setting sun casts long shadows, still looks out across the fields that were so labouriously cleared by the settlers of the 19th century.  And the spruce and fir still wait patiently for their eventual reclaiming of the land to return it to the arboreal forest of old.  The cities and towns grow larger in these years but the back roads of vigorous early days give way to neglect and nature.

Woodland Waterfalls

© July '06 ctmck
A good friend of ours told us about this falls and where to hike in a mile or so to find it.  A great hike indeed, as we were swept away by the ethereal streams plunging in myriad paths down the steep face of the rocky pitch. (well there's figuratively and then there is literally, eh?).  My younger son and his girl-friend did this hike-in later and none of us have been back since.  I better do the trek back in this summer for my own ethereal path seems to have quietly grown long of late.  The location is known to a few and I think I will leave it so.  No guide books here.

Heather - erosion control par excellance

© August '10  photo by smck
A large chunk of hillside was barren clay when I moved in so over a few years I transplanted about a half dozen Heather plants and spaced them four of five feet apart.  They have quickly spread and covered the large clay scar and keep trying to colonize the yard.  So in the summer after the grass itself has been subdued I next do the heather patrol and ruthlessly pull every small smidgen of heather moving in rank into and across the drive.   But the bloom is gorgeous and the feel of  Heather on the Hill  makes it all worth while.

Lovely French Cove

© August '10  photo by smck
French Cove was a joy to the eye and to the mind, a pleasant scattered group of houses and docks that looked substantial but hand hewn with working boats in general and all on a just un-bespoiled still real, beautiful, look at me bay.  And nature aided the view with blue sky, the puffy white clouds and the sun and quiet all around.  Cape Breton!

The Train No Longer Runs on This Line

© August '10  photo by smck
The end of the St. Peter's Coastal Trail - the old railroad right-of-way has been put to a good use with this pleasant walking trail along the bay. These sturdy concrete supports to the old railroad bridge are like monuments to a different era. 

Although the railroad had been proposed in 1890, construction was not started until 1901 - and which was completed in 1903.  It ran for nearly three quarters of a century until the last train rolled out of St. Peters in July 1977. [courtesy of  - The River That Isn't by Garvie Samson]

Grand River Falls in Spate

© August '11  photo by smck
In an earlier posting (Warning Falls Ahead) I mentioned the falls ahead and this photo gives some indication of the thunderous flume that I was worried about.  A few years ago a close friend of mine and I visited here when it was not quite as furious but still in impressive flow.  He was a master kayaker often leading large groups through some serious water.  When I asked him then whether he thought he could kayak down this stretch of water, without hesitation he replied in the affirmative with the only caveat being that he would walk down the ledge between the 'Salmon Ladder' on the left and the flume on the right to check the basic outlook of what he would expect on the downward paddle.  I had seen photographs of Dick plunging over perpendicular water-falls  of about the same drop as this flume so I had no reason to doubt his assessment. For my self I knew that even if I didn't die going over this drop in a kayak I would certainly at the very least be hurt rather seriously.  I'm glad I posted the blaze orange rain pants.

The salmon ladder on the left was built a good while ago.  I never could get an exact time from my friends in Grand River so I assume it was perhaps of their parents time in the Great Depression when many countries came up with relief work to keep families in enough money to survive.  It is a great piece of work standing up well to the severe weather of this northern clime.  In the 70's I would come here and watch various  anadromous fish leaping over and over against the mighty rush of the falls and being driven inexorably back into the relatively quiet pool at the foot of the falls.   But they would eventually find the entrance to the salmon ladder and gradually work their way up to the top of the falls.  Often the salmon would be resting in the small quiet stepping pools of the ladder as they gathered strength to move on thru the rapidly flowing openings to each small pool.  At that time fishing was banned along the ladder and the falls and for some fifty feet above and below the whole place.  And liberal though I am I still have serious reservation about the native Indian now flaunting with seeming impunity the conservation laws of the land by basically destroying the breeding stock of salmon within the salmon ladder itself.  

I received a comment on this posting that gave me a website with some information about the falls and the fish-ladder saying that it was built in the 1880s:
this is an interesting blog with the theme of ' the waterfalls of Nova Scotia' and is well worth visiting. 

Boggy Stream running to the shore

© Sept '08   photo by smck

The bare rocks and whitened dead spruce give evidence of the nearness to the shore. Large storm flung waves toss rocks - often of amazing size - far up onto low lying areas.  When the salt spray has been heavy enough trees are killed and slowly lose their bark and whiten in the sun while around them younger trees grow in.  The constant battle of the sea and the shore momentarily caught in a still-life tableau.

Grand River Running Full

© August '11   photo by smck

The River is running toward you from the left much higher than usual and moving at a good clip.  This is in front of my old place (known then as the old Finlayson Place even though I had bought it from Buddy MacAuley- and the Finlayson place indeed it was ever since it was granted by the Queen in August of 1853 to one Duncan Finlayson for Ten Pounds and eighteen shillingson Frank MacDonald Road  - at the very spot where the Duck-less Duck Race has been held for some years now.  The right hand stretch of river in the photo occasionally marks the demarcation of the highest tides of the year - tho usually the tidal effect is somewhat farther down stream.  It also is the place where I had several minor but enjoyable adventures back in '74 and '75 - one of which was caused by that line of demarcation itself.  One summer when the river was much lower than in the photo I was being novice nimrod 'the compleate angler' wading upstream in hip waders and casting beginner's floating loops of fly rod fishing in abortive attempts at catching a salmon for our dining pleasure.  The sky was blue with fleeting cloud, the stream was crystal pure, running in flowing patterns by my legs with that gentle murmur of water-flow, and from far away to my house on the hill came the faint and exciting strains of my oldest son playing the pipes in joy to the day.  Life gets no better than that to any man.

 another day I'll write of our winter kayaking adventure

Warning - Falls Ahead

© August '11   photo by smck
We wanted to kayak from Loch Lomond down to Grand River while the river was running full - but that meant that Grand River Falls would be in its' full furious spate and I surely didn't want to come paddling day-dreamingly along and get swept down the roaring chute.  Trevor had left an old beat-up pair of blaze orange rain pants in the garage so I secured them to a small tree above the falls just where they would be visible a fair distance up-stream on the turn for the last run.  And they worked fine (I had been apprehensive about the possibility that someone coming in to explore the falls might remove them thinking they were a careless bit of debris left thoughtlessly behind) giving us plenty of time to get the kayaks into the shore while the swift moving current was still manageable.  We then did the portage around the falls and continued on.

Eroding Drumlin above L'Ardoise Harbour

© August '11  photo by smck

Farm House onto the Bras d'Ors

© August '11  photo by smck

Spending my last weeks in August batching-it (an old expression of my father's for being alone without a woman - in this case my wife Carol - in the house) at Grand River Falls, and feeling at loose ends I decided to take a long Sunday drive along the Bras d'Or Lake.  Instead of following route 4 along the lake toward Sydney, I instead drove to St. Peters and turned out the road toward French Cove that led along the lake toward West Bay.  Then a familiar scene that had probably graced one of my calendars of Cape Breton suddenly appeared.   Even though the road had no shoulders I found room to park the truck and get out to take a photograph of my own of this evocative setting.  It was not hard for me to imagine some decades back when the road was gravel at best and working sailboats the quickest mode of transportation for the inhabitants of this remote area. 

The View from Cameron's Hill

© August '11  photo by smck
Stewart was mowing the front meadow field up to Norman Cameron's old place and I drove up to give him the time of day and get a few photos on one of the most glorious days that God gives to mere mortal men.  Mr. Cameron is long gone and the new owner's now have the place and its' feeling of being one with the village in its' day.  The trestle bridge, known as long as I can remember as the 'old bridge' and beyond it an even newer bridge which has replaced the old 'new bridge', backdrop the Black River and the Grand River respectively - although in actuality Black River is more like an offshoot of Grand River up into a fair sized lovely lake-like body of water in which long ago in the late 70's I watched an even half dozen of otter swimming, diving, and playing in general in front of my old second-hand much patched fiberglass canoe.  Across the river and up on the hill you can see the Presbyterian Church and the old elementary school where Stewart and my son Shawn spent many a learned day with Mrs. xxxxxxx. Today the school is a small group of apartments. And there, just to the right of the 'old bridge', is Cameron's old Store now long since closed and awaiting a happier  fate I hope.

Mointeach - Northern Pitcher Plant

© August '10  photo by smck
Will check out the proper name for these beautiful plants (see below) - you can see the liquid glistening in wait for insects in the pitcher with the crossed stems.  These are but one of the many plants that grow in these northern heaths. 

Sarracenia purpurea, commonly known as the purple pitcher plant, northern pitcher plant, or side-saddle flower, is a carnivorous plant in the family Sarraceniaceae. The species is the floral emblem of the Canadian province of  Newfoundland and Labrador.  (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Mointeach Factory

© August '10  photo by smck
This boggy heath peat factory down at the Mointeach still continues to turn out peat at a geological pace.  But the forest is making inroads into the production area on the inland side and the ocean is carving out large chunks on the the shore side, so it's possible that it might close down production in another half-millennium or so.

Red Sky at Night

© August '11  photo  by smck
Just another gorgeous sunset at Grand River Falls - I never see as many vivid sunsets anywhere as I do in Cape Breton.

The Mointeach

© August '11  by smck
The shore to the east of the mouth of Grand River has been called The Mointeach (mawn-yuck) since out of time by the descendants of the early Scottish settlers .  A Gaelic word meaning something like 'the place of the peat', it aptly described the composition of the overlying soil that had formed over centuries by composting marsh plants.  This day the waves were rolling in and up the beach in wondrous display.

Kempt Point - headed east

© September '11   by smck
One of the many small lakes along the shore barriered from the sea by low lying beds of stone, gravel, boulders, clay, and sand covered with opportunistic grasses, wild roses, wild peas,and small storm bonsaied  spruce.  Over years the scene changes as great storms deposit heaps of wave tossed stones and close exit guts with debris and in turn old closed guts give way when the shore lakes fill too deeply and the pressure pushes yet again to the sea - often in an amazingly short period of time.

Once in the late 70's I drove my then fairly new Blazer down the shore a little farther eastward toward St. Esprit Lake and across a reasonably firm closed gut - one that in the newness of this area to me then that I didn't even know was a previous exit of St Esprit Lake to the ocean.  We parked high on the beach and my several friends and I spent a few pleasant hours exploring old drumlin hills along the shore.  We started to return, driving easily in the sandy rocky shore in four-wheel drive.  As we crossed the old gut I suddenly felt the truck start to bog and tremble slightly.  As I pulled into four-wheel low I yelled for them to get out and push and luckily they did.  In only a minute or so of creeping four-wheel low we were back onto firmer ground while behind us the gut let go with a roar, the waters rushing, tumbling sand and small boulders out into the ocean.  I'm sure we would have survived if we had been on that stretch of beach that was now a wide several feet deep of lake water rushing headlong into the sea - but the Blazer would have been a loss.

Kempt Point in the fog

© September '11  photo by smck
Going down the shore at Kempt Point we gaze through fog across the brackish unnamed lake at a scene that could have been of the early 1900's (save for the lone power pole).  Chances are though that there would have been sheep roaming unfenced in the meadow - as there were as late as the late 70s when Kenny Angus's vast flock roamed for miles along the shore - and the meadow was probably larger.  The spruce, the lake, the shore, the ocean, the fog and the quiet solitude still convey the unchanging constancy of this beloved island.

Sail Boats on the St. Peters Inlet

© July '10  photo by smck

 Sail boats on the St. Peters Inlet of the Bras d'Or Lake

Sail boats on the St. Peters Inlet of the Bras d'Or Lake (a french name meaning 'Arm of Gold' - sometimes referred to as the Bras d'Or Lakes, ) as you come through the canal from the St. Peters Bay off the Atlantic Ocean.  The Bras D'or Lake is a very large salt/fresh water lake that supports oyster, lobster and salt water fish populations.  It lies in the center of Cape Breton Island with several connections to the ocean including the St. Peters lock Canal.

The Real Boats of St. Peters

© August '11 photo by smck
A few work boats in the shelter of the St. Peters Canal on a sunnier day in Cape Breton.  This time of year campers, tourists, locals, summer-from-aways like myself  and fishermen of all stripes walk along the pleasant canal enjoying the pleasure of being alive but - so far - it never seems crowded.  I've heard that the flounder fishermen do reasonably well some days.  This canal connects the famous Bras d'Or lake with the Atlantic ocean and so it sees not only the local working boats but the occasional world traveler from afar.  Some years back in the late 70's I chanced into conversation with a young man who was sailing a classic wooden ship the Valeda.  It was a 30's beauty but the maintenance was constant.  (More on the Valeda later on one of my page posts).

St. Peter's Canal

© August '10  photo by smck
Work and Luxury leave the St. Peter's canal on a grey day. 

I had been into town for groceries and got a bagel and a cup of coffee at my favorite quick food place, Tim Hortons, and while drinking my coffee at the rear of the parking lot snapped this contrast of culture co-existing here in this quiet corner of my world.  (and tho I am not normally a quick-food person I do like their coffee and the Canadian approach to even a big business.  However they have in recent years been bought out by an American company, Wendy's I believe, and already a change in style toward rewarding the drive-thru with quicker response to an order is in evidence - and sort of depressing me at the head long rush to the impersonalessness of the United States) 

Did you ever get a view like this from McDonald's? 

Lovely Yellow House

© August '10  photo  by smck
The small road that I am taking this photo from, dead-ends at the old shore road to the left of this scene. The old shore road itself is mostly gone, washed away by the eroding sea although four-wheelers still make their way along the shore - but not my two-wheel-drive F150.  The encroaching sea and the encroaching arboreal forest both work patiently against the works of man.  However, the boldly yellow farmhouse and the red and white Canadian flag man the bulwarks.  This is just a glorious scene.

Lower L'Ardoise Harbour

© August '10  photo by smck
Standing on a small hill along the shore road looking toward Lower L'Ardoise Harbour with the late afternoon sun tinting the clouds and grasses - unbidden the words 'the peace of the universe' sing through my mind - Can you imagine a piece of the universe - and even though I've slewed the words the meaning's the same.  

For a fabulous photos illustration of 'Song of the Mira' check out the blog 'Where the Wind's Like a Whetted Knife'  ( http://rexton.wordpress.com/2006/06/25/song-for-the-mira/)


Fullers Bridge - near Fourchu

©  August '09  photo  by smck

We had taken the kayaks down toward Fourchu and parked in the field at Fullers bridge.  Here the clamming marshes stretched out in this lovely view of the salt grasses, the spruce and the channels winding toward the ocean.  A perfect day of solemn beauty, the background sound of crows and sea birds above the distant low voice of the mild surf breaking on the Framboise Cove barrier bar gave the feeling of being alone in the world.  We followed this particular channel down to the bar but did not find the gut leading to the ocean.  Looking at the map later it seemed we should have paddled upriver then crossed to the other side of the marsh and headed downstream on that side but we enjoyed our small adventure and the journeys into the back waters of the lakes toward Framboise.

The Land of the Pointed Firs

©  August '10 photo  by smck
Looking out from the house of Grand River Falls Road on a foggy morning in August the spruce covered hills seem to beckon endlessly into the distance.  Over population seems to be some future problem  not of this time and place.  We hotten up the tea, grab a book and ease back into our favorite snuggery .

Larcheveque Harbour

© September '08 photo  by smck

Looking out to L'Archeveque Harbour from the old carriage house hill - boats all up - cranberries ripening - and a cold breeze telling me that it is getting time to leave for home.  And every time I do I get that strange gone-ness feeling of leaving friends and a way of life as if I were born to it behind, perhaps for the last time.