The Nova Scotia and
Cape Breton Adventure

October 9-18, 1999

Funny how one small event can lead to so much. Who would know that one little trip to a Chieftains concert would one day lead us to a trip to Nova Scotia and a week of music and sightseeing!! All loosely connected to a performer named Natalie MacMaster.

We flew out on Saturday, October 9th, and went, via Toronto, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. We arrived there about 6:30 in the evening, and headed pretty much straight to our "bed and breakfast" nearby after renting a car at the airport.

Dumb mistake number one: When you clean out your wallet so you don't carry along a lot things you don't need, like library cards, extra credit cards, etc., you really should remember that you will need your driver's license. You really shouldn't leave it home, like I did. So Joan rented the car. Okay, I still drove, but it added a bit more drama to the situation!

Off we headed the next morning to the tidal the Bay of Fundy. What you really see is the great effect of the tide, on a monumental scale. Acre upon acre is covered at high tide, and recedes at low, and at places it is dramatic. We saw a lot of this on our little sojourn, and in places, you really had to pay attention so you didn't get trapped by the quickly changing tide.

We picked fossils along one stretch of beach...and found some nice specimens. The wind blew long and hard, but the temperature was tolerable. That evening, we headed toward the Tidal Bore Lodge, and had a nice meal right next to the changing tide. Also, a beautiful sunset was on hand to see us during the meal.

The next morning we headed slowly toward Cape Breton, and our next adventures. We arrived on the island in the early afternoon, and had a lunch downtown. We gave Carole a call, a person who I'd met on the Internet, and who offered to assist us in our sightseeing. Boy, did she ever! It was like having our own personal tour guide and chauffeur!Carole and me on a windy beach

We went to our cabin which was about five miles out of town, but about a mile from where Natalie MacMaster's parents live. I called Natalie's mom also, and let her know we were in town, and that we'd probably see her at the concert that night, since it was one that Natalie was hosting.

Carole was kind enough to chauffeur us to the concert which was only about 15 miles away in Judique. We got there about a half hour early, but it was crowded in line already. We got in, and somehow managed to get some seats on the left side in the third row. It was a wonderful show, and really, the best one we saw in many ways. It was called " My Roots are...Here!"

(Natalie's last album had been called, "My Roots are Showing".) and Natalie invited all the folks that she felt were influential in her career. Her uncle, Buddy MacMaster, who is 75, played a number of tunes, and he was just great!

He is so well known in that area of the country and is considered the premier player. Carole used to work with him, so she introduced us, and I got his autograph and we got our picture taken with him. What a talent he is.

Then Natalie introduced her brother, who she had to bribe to play in public. He got a trip to the Vatican with her for doing a couple numbers. And then, as they were playing, their mom, Minnie MacMaster, came on stage and did a step dance number! She's an older woman, but in her younger days, she was quite famous in the area as a step dancer, and taught it also. But she said after the show that she hadn't been on a stage in 15 years, and was absolutely terrified! She did fine, though, and the crowd really enjoyed it. There were a number of other musical presentations during the evening too, and then the finale when they all played together. Oh, that music is really something when you are in a place that small and with a crowd that is so appreciative. I would guess that 80% of the crowds were local people....not a whole lot of us tourists.

The next day was Tuesday, and we did some sightseeing around the south Cape Breton area. The Atlantic Ocean was rough and cold, but somehow invigorating. We drove through some quaint little fishing villages that reminded us of Ireland....except I could drive on the right side of the road, rather than the left! We tried to stop for lunches at places that would have some local food...seafood particularly.

Tuesday evening we headed for another concert, this one entitled, "Old Friends", and Buddy MacMaster was kind of the main attraction at this performance. There was also a Scottish fellow named Alisdair Fraser who was an excellent fiddler, and the two of them were amazing together. The stamina Buddy has for being 75 is amazing. There was also a flute player that was astonishing. We again visited a bit with Buddy after the performance, and with Natalie's parents...they invited us to stop in the next day for tea, so that was neat. Of course, we did!

Wednesday morning we toured the area a bit more, and saw more beautiful country. In the afternoon, we headed over to the MacMaster home, and Minnie and Alex were there. Natalie was in the north of Cape Breton doing an acting part for a Canadian television series called "Pit Pony", and she was playing a fiddler on the series. Type casting I guess. We visited with them for a while, and about six other people also dropped by. They gave drinks and food to everyone, and I have the feeling that is the way life is for them. Lots of company, lots of entertaining, lots of music.

Wednesday evening was, yes, another concert! This one was in a little town called Glendale. This one started a little earlier because the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) was doing a live broadcast before the actual show. We went a little late, but they escorted us right to the front row! Natalie played, as did a guitarist named Dave MacIsaac, who is wonderful also, and the most eccentric trio of musicians who were two sisters and a brother. They were in their seventies, and had played together for over 50 years.  The piano player literally attacked the piano, and you could see it bouncing and shaking from the pounding it was getting. The two fiddlers, a brother and sister, were not as aggressive, but could play some mean fiddles. They were the McLellan Trio, and this evening was a tribute to them.

A person who knows them was telling about how "eccentric" they were, and the strange way they of them will not wash her hair all winter because she may catch cold. The one fiddler reminded me of Ma Perkins, from the old movie series!

Natalie played spectacularly again, as did two other fiddlers and a guitarist, and Mary Jane Lamond sang some beautiful songs a capella in Gaelic. We talked to her a bit at intermission, and she said she was very sad that the last of the "North Shore Gaelic Singers" had died the week before, and she had gotten to know him quite well. You could see that she was quite affected by his passing. She was just a treat to talk to because she was really attentive, and even introduced us by name to someone else.  Natalie's family was there again, so we said hello, and after the performance, even though Natalie had to rush off, I insisted upon having my picture taken with her on her way out....Joan had the camera, but really didn't even have time to focus, so it's a bit blurry, but that's okay.

Carole had heard that there was a "ceilidh" (pronounced "KAY-lee) at Mary Jane's house after the performance, and that she had been invited, and we should come we did! It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, because we could really see the source of the music, and how it is right in the fabric of their society. They would never play a stereo at a party...only have live music with the traditional tunes. Everyone who had an instrument had it with them, and they just took turns in groups of about three....guitar players, fiddlers, keyboardists, stepdancers, and even a bagpipe!


Mary Jane was a wonderful hostess, and was so easy to talk was an old farm house that she really hadn't done much too, but it had a ambiance that fit the evening. It was a very friendly crowd, and believe it or not, we stayed until 3:00 A.M., visiting and listening to the music.

Then back to the cottage, and another day of sightseeing on the morrow. I had lost my coat, I think at Mary Jane's house, but Carole loaned me a windbreaker for the duration of our stay.

Then off to our last concert in a little town called Indian Brook. We stayed at a bed and breakfast very close to the concert, after a cold and rainy day and a dark and rainy night. We did go to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and did some souvenir shopping, but it was not a day for being outside.

The Indian Brook concert was the smallest concert we attended, with maybe 150 people in attendance, and it was entitled "The North Shore Gaelic Signers", and it was in honor of the group that had been together for many years, but was now all gone. Mary Jane Lamond sang beautifully again, and since she had known many of the original singers, the last of whom had died the previous week, you could just see how difficult this evening was for her. She broke into tears onstage singing some of the songs she had learned from them, but her voice was just beautiful. It was very moving evening, with lots of Gaelic singing and a bagpipe thrown in with the fiddles and guitars.

There was also a fellow who had never been on stage before who had written a song about one of the North Shore Gaelic Singers, and although he said he didn't know if he could go through with it, he sang, without accompaniment, an absolutely beautiful song he had written about the one gentleman, who had fought in two world wars. It was probably the most emotional evening we experienced, and it really showed the love these people have for their music and their heritage. As Mary Jane Lamond had told us the night before, it is hard to explain how much this music is woven into the very fabric of the culture.

From Glendale, we headed north toward the Cabot Trail, which is a very large piece of country that has been designated as a national park. The weather was much nicer, but cool. Oh, the scenery in this part of the country is absolutely spectacular! With ocean waves crashing, and steep rock cliffs, and miles and miles of breathtaking beauty in the changing hues of the trees. Mountains were covered with this brightly colored carpet that you could literally see for miles and miles.

We went as far north as we possibly could to find our next (and last) bed and breakfast, and we arrived there about 4:00 in the afternoon. We got checked in and then headed on a drive for a place called "Meat Cove". This was down a long and winding mountain road, to a very small town right on the ocean. The drive itself was exciting enough on the cratered dirt road with a few hairpin turns thrown in periodically. The scenery at the end of the road was very impressive too, with the surf pounding the rocks below. The drive back was on the same road, but we went out to eat at a restaurant a few kilometers down the road to have another great seafood meal.

On the way home, in the dark, on a winding road, heading back toward the bed and breakfast, we encountered a female moose on the road ahead of us. Luckily, I had seen this movement next to the road ahead of us, so had slowed down before it decided to cut directly in front of the car, and then wander down the center of the road ahead of us! Eventually, it headed off into the ditch. It sure was large.

The next morning we were on the road by 7:00 A.M. We had told the lady at the bed and breakfast we might just leave very early, and that she needn't worry about preparing breakfast for us, and sure enough, we awoke early, and were on the road.

Shortly after sunrise, we stopped at small park and walked back to a very pretty waterfall. It was about 50 feet high, I would estimate, and it fell against rocks most of the way down, until it formed a pretty little stream and continued down the mountain.

Soon, we were back in the car, heading south toward Halifax, which was about four hours from us yet. More beautiful scenery, mountains of trees, and ocean views, and soon we back to Halifax, and checking into the Airport motel. We got our car returned, and found that we had driven a couple thousand kilometers, or about 1,200 miles.

One more great seafood meal, and we re-packed all our luggage, getting ready for our flight home very early the next day. About 5:00 A.M., we headed for the airport.

The flight home also had a layover in Toronto, but all the connections were pretty much on time, and we arrived back in Minneapolis about noon on Sunday, the 17th. A short ride to the car, and a drive home, and that was that. The leaves had fallen, and everything seemed to have turned brown in our absence, especially, I suppose, in contrast to all the fall color that we had just left.

And so another vacation adventure comes to a close, and a wonderful one it was. We both enjoyed it immensely, and treasure the people we met, the sights we saw, and the unforgettable musical experience.