Highlights from Home
Now that the jet lag is gone, Maeve’s teething is (mostly) under control and the mad pile of laundry that awaited my return is (mostly) under control, I have some time to sit down and reflect on my summer in Cape Breton.
It was a different summer. Not in a bad way, but in an “I have a baby now” way. Baby always take precedent, and rightfully so.
Still, I got a part-time job baking pies, biscuits and desserts for the summer. My mom eagerly made use of her alone time with Maeve, teaching her new words (we’re still hearing about crows, or “Ohhh’s” over here), blowing bubbles with her and taking her around the garden when the black flies weren’t too bad.
I hung out with Dan from Tourism Cape Breton and went on lots of fun tours, day trips and meals. I have so many things to write about.
We had a two-day stopover in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and one of my dearest friends flew from Toronto to meet us there – it was so wonderful to see her and spend time with her family.
Before I put my 2014 summer away in my “memories” folder, I thought I’d share some of the biggest highlights of the summer:
This was a fabulous day. I think the last time I visited The Fortress of Louisbourg I was 2 or 3 years old – definitely not old enough to remember anything. A trip to this 18th century French fortress was absolutely in order. It was supposed to be stormy that day so we weren’t sure if we’d make it. With Louisbourg, a little misty rain and cloudiness can add to the atmosphere but torrential rain does not a great day make.
It turned out to be one of the most beautiful days of the month. We were lucky, and we had an amazing day with my aunt, uncle, cousins and all our little people. In true Cape Breton style, the bus driver knew my Uncle Donnie. We had a great auld chat (he also told us there’s a Louisburgh in Ireland! Go fig.).
Fun fact: Louisbourg is the largest reconstruction in North America, right down to the actors knowing the actual stories of the people who owned each establishment. The French eventually lost Cape Breton to the British, but Louisbourg still looks the same as it did in 1744.
The Miners Museum
From the 1700’s to the early 1990’s, coal mining was Cape Breton’s largest industry. Except it wasn’t, where I grew up. Mine was a farming community. I never thought much about coal mining, as a result, until I visited the Miners Museum in Glace Bay.
The funny thing is, I come from a family of coal miners on my mother’s side. Her father and all of her uncles mined coal, and so did my uncles until the mines were shut down. What I learned about coal mining – about how the mining companies owned the houses the miners lived in and the shops where they bought their food, and how they never paid them enough so the miners were always in debt to their employers – opened my eyes. When it was no longer considered profitable, the mines were all shut down and the miners, who had never done anything else, were out of a job.
I think my family members were a bit better off by the time they started mining – they had some benefits by then and better pay – but it was still an extremely dangerous job dealing with toxic fumes, explosions and other serious workplace hazards. My aunt told me my grandfather used to have to fight the rats for his lunch.
The museum has an actual mine replica and a former miner is your guide. You get a real feel of what it was like underground.
In true Cape Breton style, our mining guide knew my grandfather and my great-uncle Wes.
We had a really good lunch at the Miner’s Village Restaurant – crispy haddock and oatcakes? Yes, please.
There are a lot of babies in my family right now. In the past year I think there have been at least eight or nine born and one or two more on the way. Since there weren’t any babies for a long time before this, everyone’s in great cheer. Babies just bring out the best in people.
Maeve had so much fun with her cousins this summer and I’m so glad she got to spend time with so many of them. Some were too little to play, but Maeve enjoyed tickling their toes. I really have a wonderful family and, even though I love living in Ireland, I miss them every day.
Did you know: Cape Breton has North America’s first ever single malt whisky distillery. And it’s awesome.
The distillery is called Glenora and their whisky is known as Glen Breton. They were actually sued a few years back because the Scotch Whisky Association doesn’t like other areas using the term “Glen” in their branding. Sorry Scotland, but when so many of your inhabitants moved to Cape Breton they called a lot of areas “Glen something-or-other” – I mean, the distillery is located in a place called Glenville!
At the distillery, you can take a tour, have a tasting, stay at one of their gorgeous chalets on the hillside, eat some tasty food in their pub and listen to the talented musicians who play there every day. Besides their whisky, which is excellent, the pub has a great selection of local beers and wines.
I had a great seafood gnocchi when I visited and as a starter we tried their bacon-wrapped, whisky-glazed scallops – which were phenomenal.
I should mention that their gift shop is one of the nicest on the whole island. You can buy their whisky but also handmade, local crafts, artwork and knick-knacks. There are a lot of gimmick-ey gift shops in Cape Breton where the trinkets are all made in China – this is not one of them!
On that note, let’s go on to…
Cape Breton Centre for Art & Design
Cape Breton is home to some truly talented artists and craftspeople. The Centre for Craft & Design, located in Downtown Sydney, has some of the most beautiful pottery, paintings, jewelry, leatherworks, glassworks and weaving around. They feature juried artists from around the island – many with their own small shops; well worth checking out – and work hard to garner support for the arts in Cape Breton.
Aside from their gorgeous gift shop, they also have a space for art shows and rooms for workshops. They put on summer camps for kids and do a lot of good in the community.
Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Before we left for Newfoundland, we visited my alma mater in Wolfville – a small town about an hour from Halifax.
I went to Acadia University for my undergrad so it was a lot of fun showing Pat around and buying swag at the university shop for Maeve. We even got her picture taken on the sign (a time-honoured tradition).
Aside from checking out the university (and visiting my favourite former professor), we visited Paddy’s Pub, Joe’s for Scot Skins (it’s an Acadia thing), The Library Pub, Just Us! Coffee (where I used to sling espresso) and The Rolled Oat (to visit some good friends).
I wanted to see the Benjamin Bridge Winery, but apparently it’s not open to the public! Also, we tried to have dinner at Front & Central, a restaurant that made last year’s Top 100 Restaurants in Canada, but it was closed for some reason.
I still managed to smuggle some Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 into Ireland (it’s exquisite. It’s sitting in my fridge now, waiting for an occasion).
The amazing new Westjet flight from Dublin to St. John’s gave us the perfect excuse to spend a few days exploring Newfoundland. We could have taken the ferry from North Sydney in Cape Breton to St. John’s, but the plane ride was only an hour long.
I have so much to say about St. John’s it will have to be another post. For now, let’s just say: I had the best meal of my life, the coziest brunch ever, drank beer made from an iceberg, ate fries, dressing & gravy, got blown away by a tropical storm and soaked in an ocean swell. And that’s just the beginning.
‘Til next time!