Today was a mostly driving day, traveling to Cape Breton. If you look at a map of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton appears to be the separate northern third and separate it was until 1955 when the Canso Causeway was opened. It took ten million pounds of rock to build it and a narrow bridge in the middle turns open when boats want to pass through. It is likely that we passed some wonderful views, but we drove through rain, fog and low hanging clouds. We could have been anywhere. Bilingual signs are common in Canada, but instead of seeing English/French, here we see English/Gaelic. Cape Breton has always felt quite separate and is proud of its identify and culture.
A nice break in the day was our stop at the Museum of Industry, conveniently located right off the highway with a huge parking lot. The museum was built quite appropriately on the site were industrialization first took place in Nova Scotia. In the 1820’s coal mining began here using modern steam engines from Britain. Much of the manufacturing that brought riches to New England was fueled here. While we didn’t actually learn much we didn’t already know in this museum, we were swept up in the enthusiasm of the museum staff. We were given an extensive explanation of the first steam engine in North America named Samson. The coal was fed into the front since the controls in the back were so ungainly. It even spent some time in Chicago at the World’s Fair, before returning to where it all began. One man told us that when his grandfather died in a coal mine, he left his wife living in a company home with eleven children to care for. Within two weeks his widow was asked to leave since the housing was reserved for miners and she had to send her fourteen year old son to work to maintain a roof over their heads. The youngest child to die in the mine here was only nine. Tough times.
We are camped on a high ledge overlooking the Bras d’Or channel and the huge bridge to Seal Island. Here’s hoping the clouds lift enough so that we can appreciate this location.