Thursday, 25 July 2013

Lochcarron Weavers?

In the last post I had arrived at the Gaelic College at St. Ann's on Cape Breton Island.  It's where Rev. Norman MacLeod eventually arrived with his congregation after leaving Assynt in the Highlands of Scotland. In the Great Hall of the Clans is an exhibition area which follows his journey and arrival, with another section showing how the settlers progressed in their new surroundings.

Whilst I saw the two exhibition areas the main hall area had work going on for future events, but there was still plenty to see.

Of course the Gaelic College is much more than an exhibition, it's mainly an educational establishment.  Included within its activities are short courses demonstrating the culture that was brought by the settlers.

Here is a group learning about the  'Gaelic Milling Frolic', singing as they work the material. However, this is what I have always known as a 'Waulking Song', perhaps the term is different in various parts of the Highlands of Scotland, as is often the case?

At the far end of the table, in red & black is Chief Executive Officer of the Gaelic College, Rodney MacDonald.  When I did an interview with him he described himself as politician, CEO & fiddler, and you can see him talking about fiddle music below, and he's also a step dancer too !
Rodney MacDonald was Premier of Nova Scotia from 2006/9, but I think it's fair to say he doesn't take himself too seriously as you can see on this video online .  He's a well known fiddler, he's playing on this link and a bit of Gaelic thrown in too !  As I mentioned I did do an audio interview with Rodney which I will get online later.

You may recall earlier I mentioned a Lochcarron connection?  When I walked through the front door at the Gaelic College the reception area and gift shop are together.  As everywhere in these parts they welcome you and when we got to being asked the actual village I was from and said "Lochcarron", this was when I got the immediate response "Lochcarron Weavers".  I was immediately ushered to the side of the shop and there was Lochcarron Weavers tartan items for sale and their pattern books!

I asked if they had the Lochcarron tartan, but it wasn't even in their sample books.  I had a tie in my vehicle to give to someone, so brought it in to show the staff.  They had never seen it before, and asked if they could show their kiltmaker.  Within a few minutes the receptionist returned and said the kiltmaker would like to meet me.
Master kilt-maker, Ann Cantwell, boasts over 20 years of experience making one-of- a-kind, hand sewn kilts.  She has created kilts for Canadian dignitaries, films such as Disney's The Princess Diaries, and regularly ships fine tartan hand crafted products all over the world. 

An assistant makes ties that are sold downstairs at the shop in their own packaging, which you can see above in the middle of the 3 pictures of the shop.

The visit to the Gaelic College lasted about 4 hours, a great experience, wonderful folks I met there too.  Outside in the heat piper Ian was still playing, we had another chat.  Turned out I knew of of his bagpipe tutors from Scotland that had visited the College.  Because of the connections with the Gaelic College in Skye he played the Skye Boat song for me, which I recorded and will add to the site later.

It's now early afternoon and time to head towards the north tip of Cape Breton Island along the Cabot Trail ...

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

How far is that from Assynt?

It's time to leave St Ann's Motel at South Haven, Cape Breton Island.  

As the eagle flies away across St Ann's Bay, I head only a short distance to the other side of the bay.

In fact it's only just over half a mile away, past the restaurant, over the causeway then up the hill with woodland on either side as on the map, there's a few clues there too ! Check it on the map, I'm travelling from A to B, there's a few clues there too !

Around the corner there's a sound of bagpipes, a solitary piper is playing, initially it's as though he's in the middle of nowhere !

Then it becomes clear that he's by the entrance to a car park, turns out he plays there all day, despite the heat and humidity, even when I arrive at 9am this sunny morning.

It's an impressive frontage to the Gaelic College, as most buildings I've seen in my journey so far it's mainly built of wood. The grounds and surroundings are beautifully maintained. This was just a few days before the celebrations commenced for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the College.  More about that another time !

The questions I have been asked so far on this trip start by querying where I are from, which I start by answering "Scotland", but I had already discovered it would never end there !  My next reply would be "North West Highlands of Scotland", which on further enquiry became "On the West coast mainland, but near the Isle of Skye".  

That would satisfy most folks you meet when travelling, but not in Nova Scotia, and especially on Cape Breton Island.  Which village? "Lochcarron", to which you then get the response "Ah yes, Lochcarron Weavers !". They do indeed immediately associate the village with Lochcarron Weavers, there seems to be more tartan in Nova Scotia than in Scotland!
But more of the Lochcarron Weavers connection later, because there's still another question that will follow mention of Lochcarron.  "How far is that from Assynt?"

Now I'm sure that for anyone living in the Lochcarron area that would come as an unusual question, indeed when I ask around in the village quite a few people have heard of  Assynt, but aren't sure where it is. I'm maybe one of the few who could immediately answer that it's 110 miles north by road from Lochcarron, it's just north of Lochinver, and extends nearly to Kylesku.  

Assynt is etched on my mind, I drove there and back many times twenty years ago, but why? Perhaps for those that still don't know, there's a clue immediately behind the Gaelic College, in fact look through that open door in the picture above, the circle and rectangle beyond the persons hand.  So let's have a closer look ...

The answer is right there on that plaque, indeed there's one commemorating the same event back in Assynt.  When the one in Scotland was unveiled around 20 years ago the St. Ann's Pipe Band from the Gaelic College, Cape Bretton Island, was there is Scotland.  
Need another clue, let's have a closer look at the text on the this plaque ...

For anyone having difficulty reading it, the top / English version reads:

"Reverend Norman McLeod  1780 - 1886
As clergyman, schoolmaster and magistrate, he moulded the characters of this community for a generation. Born at Stoer Point, Assynt, Scotland, he emigrated to Pictou in 1817; led his band of Scots to St. Ann in 1820, and remained here until 1851, when he again led his followers first to Australia and finally to New Zealand."  (Then follows the Gaelic version)

At the time of the unveiling in Assynt I was there covering it for TV news, but of course this actually followed another very significant time in Scottish history of land reform at Assynt. When the estate decided to sell the estate land it was to be in small lots, but the community had other ideas, their aim was to buy the entire estate for themselves.  

Such a buy-out had never happened before, it drew worldwide attention, and I was to & fro constantly for updates as the TV news cameraman covering the area.  They did eventually get the land, I was there that night too in the tiny schoolroom, it was a momentous event that changed land ownership forever in Scotland.  

For the first year I followed the progress of their management of the estate for a documentary, being the sole cameraman and sound recordist for the complete programme.  It was broadcast by Grampian TV as a 'North Tonight Special' on 18th November 1993 with the title 'Great Day at Split Rock'.   A reference to the huge split rock on the coastline.   Unfortunately, whilst I have a copy of the broadcast, now transferred to digital, I cannot show it here due to copyright restrictions.

Your can read here more of the Assynt Crofters' Trust and about the area generally at Discover Assynt.

So by now you will realise the interest of the people on Nova Scotia in Assynt, the site of the Gaelic College is where those settlers set up home and introduced Gaelic to the area as well as introducing the Highland culture.  Of course I was telling them about the buyout that happened so long after people left Scotland for a new life in Canada.  Consequently I felt I had a great connection with the area, but this story does not end there, an unexpected but related event changed part of my trip in the days to come.

Now for some more pictures of the college, this is MacKenzie Hall

This is the rear of the entrance block, that's nearest the road, the Rev. Norman MacLeod memorial can be seen towards the left by the door

There's a lot more to the Gaelic College and what happens there, again with some very local connections, but that's for next time...

Monday, 15 July 2013

The eagle has landed

After leaving the Highland Village Museum it had been my intention to travel the more minor road to the west side of Bras d'Or Lake, which strictly is an inland sea.  However, having spent more time there than intended I decided on the east coast route which takes in part of the Trans Canada Highway, if I was to turn left instead of right I could end up in Vancouver 4,000 miles away !  

Of course there's another hurdle to negotiate at Little Narrows cable ferry to get to the main road on this shorter route, but this is a busier one and runs 24 hours a day on demand.

If you want to see where I am on the map, it's here on Google maps, A is Iona, where I left the Highland Village Museum; B is Little Narrows Ferry; C is the St Ann's Motel, South Haven.

However, if you zoom in on the map to the ferry location, your may spot I'm in Aberdeen !
Although I'm now travelling north on the Trans Canada Highway, it's not busy, more just a normal two way road mainly with woodland to the sides and now and again  Bras d'Or Lake can be seen on my right. 

It takes me by Baddeck which is often called the centre of Cape Breton Island, with quite a tourist orientated small town.  Nearby is the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada which is for a visit in the future, but you can check it out on the link.

Another place I didn't manage to visit but went past is at Wagmatcook. With a population 700 people living in the small village of Wagmatcook First Nation, the community straddles the Bras D'or Lakes and is one of five Mi'kmaw First Nation communities of Unama'ki (Cape Breton Island)  You will find more information on the link about the original people who inhabited this part of Canada.  This is a quote I like from their website:
"Treat the earth well,
It was not given to you by your parents,
It was loaned to you by your children"

Onwards now to my stop for the night at St Ann's Motel, South Haven.  It's in a wonderful spot, but it's not the lake, but an inlet from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with views from your window out to sea. Doug & Christine run it as a family business, they are a lovely couple who are dedicated to their job.  The rooms are beautifully appointed and presented. 

You can better appreciate the location from this aerial picture from the motel website.
The only other property in sight is the Lobster Galley Restaurant next door.

The view from my window later evening

Next morning St Ann's Motel owner Doug came to me as I was packing the vehicle to tell me the eagle was about and if I got my camera and waited by the window in my room I might spot him come to the area between the motel and the sea.  I few minutes later I saw him swoop in and settle just outside my window, now that's a first for room views !!!

So 'The Eagle has Landed', next stop for me is just a short distance away, but that's for next time, more soon ....  ....

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Highland Village Museum

The Highland Village Museum at Iona, Cape Breton Island (Click on link for their website)
This is a far more extensive place than you first appreciate, the entrance is at a gift shop, and the actual tour begins with a short film.

From there on you make your way around a village on a hillside, the properties are quite scattered, it's a great location looking down and across the lake.  It's an interesting concept because it basically follows the settlers as they arrived from Scotland, the type of houses changing over time.

First stop is at a black house, the type they may have left in Scotland, the costumed folks at each location play out their role.  However, I tended to time it so I was the only one there at each place, following a couple at a discreet distance, that meant I could speak to the people 'out of character'.

Chances are that settlers may have initially used the boat they came in for shelter, whilst clearing the forest that was down to the shore.  Consequently the first type of house they built were log cabins.

Of course they not only lived in log cabins but had to make there own clothes and other materials as little was taken with them.

As time went on and they built sawmills the houses changed from log cabins to sawn timber

Then they because more sophisticated with timber framed buildings

The church was on integral part of the community, this particular one had a dwindling congregation and was eventually donated to the Highland Village. It was actually floated down the lake and carried up the hill !

By now manufacturing of things like stoves was taking place in Nova Scotia, this stove was made at Lunenburg.

The Blacksmith was one of the best paid jobs in the village, so many relied upon him to make everything from tools to spoons, as well as shoeing horses

The telephone switchboard was in use until the 1970's although I worked on something similar in the police in the 1960's 
Another room in the same house

The shop not only displays some old stock, but also sells sweets etc.

That's just a few of the buildings in the Highland Village Museum, there's also farm animals and other displays too, so you need a day not just a few hours !
I did an interview with one of the staff and the CEO which I will add later.