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Nova Scotia: The Province that has been Passed By
Chapter XVI. A New Inverness


Skirting the south coast of Cape Breton one comes to one of the places where Cape Breton gains an additional island by the presence of a narrow water passage between two sections of land. In this instance it is the work of man and not of nature. As man found Cape Breton, the whole four hundred and fifty square miles of water of the great interior lake of Cape Breton was by the Little Bras d’Or on the north-east coast, so that the early settlers wishing to go from the Strait of Canso to Sydney, for example, had to go and sail around the Cape Breton coast. This was intolerable, considering that at St. Peter’s Bay, a neck of land, half a mile wide, alone prevented a south-west passage to and from the Bras d’Or, not only a saving of hundreds of miles, but an abolition of the risks, sometimes serious enough, of navigating the coast. A century ago the importance of the scheme to cut a canal across this narrow isthmus of St. Peter's was realised, and in 1825 an engineer named Hall surveyed the isthmus and made an estimate for the cutting, which, I believe, was done for little more than $20,000. Up to that time there had been a portage here for very small craft. St. Peter’s was settled by the French even before Arichat, and came very near being settled as the site of the great French fortress which was destined for Cape Breton, and which was ultimately fixed at Louisbourg. At a spot in the locality called Briquerie Point the clay was dry for the brick used in building the town of Louisbourg. one of the very bricks of which lies before me on the table as I write.

The canal is about 2400 feet long, with a breadth of 55 feet, and a depth of 19 feet, debouching at its northern end into St. Peter’s inlet, which in turn tlows into the west part of the Bras d’Or. Through this canal the steamer from Mulgrave passes along the Strait, of Canso, and through Lennox Passage to St. Peter’s.

The sites of both English and French forts are easily to be traced at the present time. The latter, indeed, is close to the canal, and the house of the lockmaster is upon it. The old earthworks are plainly to be seen, and occasional finds of bayonets and other evidences of warfare are made. A few years ago a hooped cannon was unearthed, undoubtedly belonging to a period long prior to the building of the “Port Toulouse” fort here in 1749. It had probably been the property of Denys de Fronsac, who had a settlement here as long ago as 1636. Fort Granville, used after the English occupation of Cape Breton, was on the hill to the east of the canal lock. In this locality is Jordan Chapel island, where the first chapel for the use of the Micmacs is said to have been erected by the French over two centuries ago. It is the scene of several interesting legends still related by the Indians.

There is good bathing at St. Peter’s, and as a matter of course there is every facility for boating, both in the bay and the inlet at the other end of the canal. Excellent trout-fishing may be had by going a short distance. Some of the best streams are river Tiere and its branches, two miles distant; Scott’s R: per, seven miles ; Thom’s Brook, fifteen miles; and Grand River, a like distance. There are salmon in the last-named river.

A good deal has been said about the indifferent roads in Nova Scotia, but those about here are well made, and from the nature of the soil do not become muddy. Among attractive drves are those to river Bourgeois, five miles; and to Grand River along the shore through l’Ardoise. A favourite water excursion, on the Bras d’Or side, is to the quarries at Marble Mountain, a distance of fifteen miles. On the way thither is Point Michaux, or Cape Himlopen or Hi.nchinbroke. It has all three names, but is usually known by the first one. Here there is a beautiful driving beach, two miles long, and an eighth of a mile wide. It is very level, and of such bard, smooth sand that the hoofs of the horses make little more impression on it.

St. Peter’s Inlet is studded with islands clad in verdure, and there are times when the scene is unusually beautiful, even for a iand of which beauty is everywhere. On a calm summer morning, for instance, the peaceful sea is a mirror which reflects in rare beauty the red, purple, and golden hues which the sunlight gives the hills. On the land the colours are strangely bright, while the waters soften and blend the whole into a picture which must ever linger in the memory.

St. Peter’s may also be reached from Point Tupper on the opposite side of the Strait of Canso, by taking the Cape Breton Railway, a journey of thirty-one miles.

The tides run through the Strait of Canso at the rate of from four to six miles an hour, and they defy the tide-tables by rising superior to all rules by which men look for tides to be governed. Their course is determined to a large extent by the force and direction of the winds outside, and they may flow in one direction for days at a time. The tourist can tell whether the steamer is going with or against the tide by watching the spar buoys and noting the direction in which they point.

Arichat, situated on Isle Madame, with about seven hundred souls, was formerly the seat of the Bishop of Arichat, until the see was removed to Antigonish. It is built on high ground, and has a fine harbour. There is another good harbour at West Arichat. The situation of the island makes the climate delightfully cool In the warmest of weather. This place was one of the important stations of the Jersey fishing houses, and the Robins still have, an establishment here. In the town there are many Acadian French, some of the families having come here from Grand Pr6 at the time of the dispersion. Houses are easily procured at Arichat by those who wish to reside here during the summer, and several Americans have been regular visitors for years, making the village a centre from which to take various trips through the surrounding country.

So far I have spoken of the middle and the eastern Cape Breton. But there is, as the map will show you, another side, the western, where is situated the county of Inverness, whose coast-line stretches from St. George’s Bay northward to Cape Lawrence. All this region settled by Highlanders and French has been only recently opened up by the Inverness Railway, a line built to tap the great coal deposits in the vicinity of Port Hood, Mabou and Broad Cove. This line starts from the Intercolonial Railway at Point Tupper, and has opened up a fine piece of farming country, and provided a winter outlet for the large quantities of coal being produced at Port Hood and Inverness. The road follows the coast line for the entire distance from Port Hastings to Inverness, and an exceedingly fine panorama of land and sea is disclosed to the view. A daily passenger service has been inaugurated, connection with the Intercolonial being made at Point Tupper.

A steamer runs from Mulgrave to Port Hood, a distance of twenty-six miles, on regular days of each week. Port Hood is near the entrance to the Bay, and from there the 'ourncy may be continued to Mabou, Inverness, Margaree Harbour, and Cheticamp. My solitary fellow passenger was a gentleman from Antigonish, whom I neither flatter nor depreciate when I say he was the most typical Highlander I have ever seen. Tall and spare, with florid skin and high cheek-bones, and hair and beard which a decade ago or so must have been violently red, the beard jutting out in true Highland aggressiveness, it was something of a surprise to me to find that he did not say “whatever,” and an eternal disappointment that he spoke anything but Gaelic. But indeed he had the Highland brevity of speech, and glowered about him from under his bushy eyebrows much as such a man should properly glower when in kilts, and with a claymore in his hand.

“Who is that man?” I asked the conductor of the train.

“That—oh, that’s old MacTavish.”

“1 knew it.”

“Then what did you ask for?”

“I mean, I knew he must be a MacTavish. I was afraid you would tell me he was a Mr. Tompkins of Boston. He seems preoccupied.”

“Occupied? Aye, he’s a busy man is Senator MacTavish.”

I could not restrain a start of surprise. In the old days, a couple of centuries ago, in the old and real Inverness country, this man would have been a chieftain of freebooters and cattle-lifters, and doubtless played his part as deftly, as daring, and as dourly as under the changed conditions of our modern civilisation he plays it now. Afterwards, I had some conversation with Mr. MacTavish, and not once I am glad to say did he abandon his character or fall away from the high opinion I had formed of him at sight. I only mention this trifling rencontre, because shortly after my return to England, I read a telegraphic despatch in the Times to the effect that “Senator N. Y. MacTavish has been appointed to very high office in Nova Scotia.

While on this subject may I be forgiven a brief comment in this place upon the regrettable and utterly-perverted provision by which the official heads of society in these provinces are often created. Is it fair, is it just to a people cut off from the centres of culture, the schools of manners, and the academy of the amenities of life, and who look very naturally to a standard and an exernplar, as those of us who happen to live at the heart of the Empire look to the Court, should bow before the social hegemony of this manufacturer or that politician, whose notions of deportment and savoir-faire are hardly metropolitan? I have no doubt that many sub-viceroys of Canada are men of character and shrewdness; only it does seem to me and to others who, while despising snobbery in all its forms, yet pay some regard to the ornamental arts of life, that something more than rugged character and shrewdness are needed to represent the official head of society in any community. I shall be told that the Americans manage very well with that kind of man, but it may be noted that the Americans never send that kind to represent them abroad. And I do not forget that it was their Abraham Lincoln who told one of his intimates: “I always regret not having been more of a ladies’ man.” Depend upon it, a man may be first-rate at managing caucuses, but he is not complete unless he can cut a figure in the drawing-room. Every Canadian knows that that is the secret of much of Sir Wilfrid Lauirier’s strength; his polish, his savoir-faire. He at least can cut a figure at the drawing room. But perhaps I am doing an injustice to Mr. MacTavish. He, too, may be suave and expansive; he also in his official sphere may he a courteous and commanding presence.

We Canadians, in the sudden and overpowering rush after the purely material things of life, are apt to ignore the aesthetic things; but these are none the less important, and should be insisted on, if we are to be a complete people and not a mere unrelated fragment of civilisation.

The train has arrived at Port Hood, which is the county town of Inverness. There are not many of the amenities of life here, and one could not reasonably expect more, because the two thousand souls here are in the swirl and centre of the Port Hood coal boom. The property worked at present by the company is on the coast, sixteen square miles in extent, and there are two principal seams, some seven or eight feet thick, supposed to contain nearly 150,000,000 tons of coal, which are being mined at the rate of some 500 tons a day. Yet Port Hood is already looking up as a summer resort, and many denizens of towns and cities who wish to leave the beaten track have fixed upon this place and its picturesque environs as a capital centre for boating, fishing, and bathing.

Coal is the great factor of Cape Breton, and it would make a Londoner’s mouth water to see how cheap and accessible it is. There are places where, as has been said, a man can, without leaving his farm, go down to the seashore and dig his winter’s coal as easily as he digs his potatoes. Coal in abundance is frequently struck in digging for fence posts, and around Port Hood in Inverness county you are sure to strike it if your spade goes deep enough.

There are a couple of islands off Port Hood, one of which had a great interest for me. It is called Smith’s Island; that, this is no arbitrary title will be gathered from the fact that of the fifteen families on Smith’s Island, thirteen are Smiths. But then, of course, Smith is almost as much Highland as MacGregor. These thirteen families of Smith have divided the 500 acres of the island into farms, producing four or five tons of hay to the acre, root crops, and maize. Each family goes in for sheep-rearing, and there are fifty or sixty cows besides. But this does not exhaust the resources of the Smiths; they are fishermen, and make use of the fish offal as manure, which practically accounts for the land’s fertility, and there is a flourishing business in lobster canning. The fish caught is not dried exclusively, as was formerly the case, but a proportion of it is shipped fresh in government bait freezers and refrigerator cars, a system which is happily coming into vogue throughout Maritime Canada. Now I feel sure that if a similar colony of Browns, Jones, and Robinsons would emigrate and settle on Outer or any of the other islands about the coast, a like prosperity awaits them.

From Port Hood the railway goes on northward to Mabou, and to still further coalfields. Beautifully situated is Mabou on a stream a few miles from Mabou harbour, and there is an abundance of trout fishing hereabouts. Past Mabou the line skirts Lake Ainslee, the largest freshwater lake in Cape Breton.

Inverness, now the chief town of Western Cape Breton Island, is only about a decade old. In 1800 the population was less than 100. In 1910 it had nearly 4000 souls.

The locality was formerly known as “Broad Cove Mines,” or “Loch Leven,” and it was originally the “Siiean.” “Shean” means, I was told, the “home of the fairies.” It nestles under the towering heights of lofty Cape Mabou, close to the waters of the gulf.

The inhabitants of Inverness are already infected with the spirit of enterprise, and have a gude conceit of them-selves. Take the following description by a local witer;—

“Looking down upon this site, the town of Inverness, much like a picture on the bottom of a piece of eighteenth century crockery ware, you behold by night the electrically bejewelled homeplace of about 4000 souls; by day you note that the erstwhile fir-thatched roof of the home of the fairies is covered over with workshop and cottage, bankhead and power-house, halls, schools, and churches, the homeplace of the modern fairy and his co-workers in other avocations—the homeplace of the hard-working, thrifty, fearless and frugal coal-miner and his family.”

Is not that wonderful? And yet there are people— even Canadians—who say Nova Scotia is not going ahead fast enough!

From Cheticamp, where :s an old establishment of the Jersey fishing firms, the coast becomes higher, barer, and more rugged, and more dangerous to mariners, until Cape Lawrence is reached. Of this coast it was said long ago: “The north-west storms of November and December hurry many a vessel on to this long straight lee-shore, where the wretched crews, even if they effect a landing, wander in ignorance of the course to be taken, until their limbs are frozen, and they are obliged to resign themselves to their fate. In some instances they have succeeded in reaching the settlements to the southward, though eventually with the loss of hands and feet. Often, however, the only record of their distress is the discovery of their bones, whitening on the shore.” I am glad to say these tragedies are very infrequent nowadays, owing to a greater knowledge of the coast and the interior, and also to the existence of settlements hereabouts. The northern extremity of the island is only eight miles wide, that being the distance between Cape St. Lawrence and Cape North, the intervening shore forming a crescent, the land southwards sloping down to the water, and sheltered by the two capes. It is said to be of good quality, and, indeed, agriculture and grazing are not neglected there. Cape North has been called the Watch Tower of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but this was before the Straits of Belle Isle came to be so generally used. It is the northernmost bulwark of New Scotland, a promontory two miles wide, extending four miles into Cabot Strait.

Who, standing on the promontory of Cape North, can look unmoved on that terrible island of St. Paul, which looms up ten miles to the north-east? This barren, rocky isle shares with Cape Sable the infamy of having been the grave of thousands of brave men. St. Paul, since the erection of a suitable lighthouse, has been largely robbed of its terrors for the living, but nothing can blot out the memory of the past. I have now all but completed my itinerary of New Scotland. From one extremity of the peninsula to the other had I travelled and remarked the people and the prospect. There is still an important corner, where it joins the New Brunswick mainland, undescribed. Let us retrace our steps.


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