Ceilidh in Cape Breton


We left Prince Edward Island this morning, kind of happy to be going on to the next part of our journey.  Whether it was because of the constant rain, the night’s lodging (Dave called it our Hotel California, if you get our drift) or the meal from the night before, we escaped the fictive Green Gables  narrative and the failing local economy and enjoyed the boat ride over: the white accouterments of the ship against the gray sky were soothing.  See this post for more ferry shots.


Dave snapped this when we stopped in Pictou for a walk around in the sun, the logo over the local Royal Canadian Mounter Police. And then. . . WE SAW SUN!  We were so excited, we decided to get out of the car and walk around a little bit.

This tall ship is a replica of the one that brought the first Scottish settlers here to Nova Scotia, which, by the way, means “New Scotland.”  These new immigrants arrived in September of 1773.  That’s just three years before our Declaration of Independence was signed. It’s strange to think of these parallel histories–that of immigrants arriving on separate shores, within such a short time of each other.  So often we focus only on our own history. I wondered–as I read the plaque on the giant rock there–what if my Scottish great-grandmother had come here to Pictou, instead of to America?

Dave and I would have gone onto this ship, but it’s closed because of local budgets.  Given the raft of closures of our state parks, I guess some things are the same everywhere.

Local tourists at Pictou Harbour waterfront.

To emphasize their connection with their homeland, these signs were scattered along the waterfront.  Didn’t find my MacArthur sign, though.

Their lighthouse on the harbour has been turned into a museum.

After looking for a lobster roll, but unsuccessfully choosing a spot to linger for lunch, we decided to press on, and glimpsed a bit of Canada’s industry, pollution and all.

We traveled Highway 4 east, pressing on to lunch in Antigonish (“auntie-go-NISH”) where we snagged some delicious homemade pizza and cinnamon rolls at the Easting Bread and Honey Company (how can you pass up a place with that name?).  We ate it in the car in their teensy parking lot, then got back onto Highway 4 and headed east, then north, over the over the Strait of Canso into Cape Breton. We found the little town of Mabou (“MAH-boo,”on Cape Breton’s Highway 19), smack dab in Celtic Country.

The signs, instead of writing everything in French and English, now were in English and Gaelic, thereby reinforcing the notion that Cape Bretoners, while a part of Nova Scotia, are really apart from Nova Scotia.

We decide to explore the little road to the Harbour Mouth, as I’d picked up a brochure for a quilter’s studio to go see (somewhere around here).  We never did find here (and after reading about her on the web, I’m really sorry about that), but we did see some different sights.

The churches here all remind me of something right out of New England–tall spired, white clapboard buildings, sternly invite the visitor to worship.  I enjoyed seeing them all, with their peaked windows.  This church’s red window, uppermost in the spire, triggered a spate of “white and red building” sitings.

This was just after we turned back onto Mabou Harbour Road from the little rutted road down to the waterfront.

I loved the sideways window detail in the eaves.

Like a lady fluffing her skirt before she sits down, this barn has a flaring side wall.

The red and whites kept coming, even as we headed back into town, then down a side road and up another teensy rocked road en route to our bed and breakfast in Glendyer.

Side view of above.

The Inn at Glendyer.

This lovely, perfect, divine bed and breakfast (can you tell I liked it?) is run by an American woman who used to be a corporate lawyer living in Los Gatos.  She decided, after her divorce, to leave the rat race (I know you’ve heard that somewhere before) and move to Canada and run this bed and breakfast.  She was delightful and I loved her inn. Just before going in, we checked the odometer for the total driving thus far: 733 kilometers.

The hallway upstairs, looking out from our room (we had #1).

Looking in.

A chair similar to my grandmother Bickmore’s rocking chair–armless, with a spindled back.  That little room to the left is our bathroom, which used to be a hall landing before the owner renovated it into a bathroom.  I loved the staircase going up to the third floor (you can just see the angled wall of those stairs) as we used the steps for our toiletries–such a welcome change from the last bed and breakfast where there was no room to put anything.

I explored the house (at her invitation) and in the “gathering room,” as she called it, was a piano with this songbook on it.

Flipping through it, I found a song that Dave should sing to me every morning: My Wife’s a Winsome Wee Thing.

The innkeeper had suggested the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou, run by the Rankin Sisters.  At the time I didn’t know anything about the Rankin sisters or their family and its musical legacy, but the special of lobster and asparagus fettucine pulled me in and was incidental to the music that night.  Or so I thought initially.


Kolten Mac Donnell and his nameless friend on the piano entertained us while I scarfed down the linguini, and soon we began to be pulled into the local flavor of Cape Breton music–a different kind of celtic music than I’d been hearing the states.  That music was sort of insipid background music played at craft sales and little boutiques and soon became little more than Celtic Muzak.  This was of an entirely different sort, and was invigorating.  It made me want to get up and dance. In fact one young woman came up beside the fiddler for a time and did a little jig while Mac Donnell played.  Click on this Rankin sisters link to see them do a little step dancing themselves at the end of their song.

I wrote, on YouTube:

Kolten MacDowell strikes a melodious set, but what I was most interested in what the rhythmic percussion brought in by his moving foot. Recorded June 28, 2010 at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou, Cape Breton, Canada.

We ended the night at a local ceilidh (“KAY-lee”), where we heard three different fiddlers, two different pianists although not all at the same time and a 70-year-old gent perform some step dancing to the jigs.  Splendid!

June 29th–We visited Mabou, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and they had a Ceilidh there in the local church hall. This is a short clip of the event, with two fiddlers and pianist. The guest fiddler is Robert Deveau, and the pianist is Joey Beaton. Karen, Beaton’s wife is the other fiddler–they are all amazing.

from what I wrote on YouTube:

June 29th–We visited Mabou, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and they had a Ceilidh there in the local church hall. This is a short clip of the event, with two fiddlers and pianist. The guest fiddler is Robert Deveau, and the pianist is Joey Beaton. They called up a local resident, Harvey MacKinnon of Whycocomagh, Cape Breton to show us some step dancing.

I wanted more and more of this as it was so entertaining,  but instead we headed home to our little inn in the woods.

One thought on “Ceilidh in Cape Breton

  1. I’m reading your entries in reverse order, but I am STILL noticing that you are consuming far more than your fair share of lobster.
    It’s good I read your commentary instead of just watching the videos. I might have thought that was DAVE doing the jig (except, of course, that gentleman looks way, way, WAY too old to be your Dave).

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