Sydney, Cape Breton – 3rd October 2018

Our plans were thrown into chaos this morning thanks to the exceptionally crappy weather that we awoke to. Our original idea was to go to Louisbourg which involves a lot of outside walking so we did the big switcheroozie and drove to Sydney to the Miners Museum. We had heard that it was one of the better museums relating to the mining industry.

The trip took us well over an hour as the streets were awash with rain water. The big positive from that is the car got a good wash as we had dragged it through some dirt roads whilst in PEI and it had a distinct brown look about it.

We had a short drive around Sydney township itself which didn’t take us too long as it is very small. It is the second largest city in Nova Scotia with a population of 31,000 which really only just classifies it as a city. It was pouring with rain but Fras braved the element to take a photo of the fiddle. We will go into a little more detail about the fiddle and its significance.

So off to the museum we go which was very informative in relation to underground coal mining in general as well as to this region. The mines in this area go out under the Atlantic Ocean and extend out as far as six kilometres. They are all mining for coal and have a horrendous record for disasters and loss of a lot of lives. Mining finished up in this area in 2000 but was really unprofitable since the 1960’s. Too far away from the markets; mines too deep; too dangerous and too high in sulphur. With the coal mines closed the steel industry disappeared in Cape Breton; they had fished out all the cod and the demise of ship building all culminated around the same time. How do you come back from that!!! It is very hard and you can see the area continues to struggle. What you do have though is a very resilient character in the people from Cape Breton.

Fraser took the trip underground whilst Di stayed on the surface as she had worked for an underground coal mine in the past and is a little claustrophobic.

There wasn’t that much to take photos of but we have included what we could.

They use to have pit ponies in these mines and they were born underground and died underground without ever seeing the light of day – that would never happen nowadays, thank goodness. Once the miners won vacation time in their award, it meant that the ponies also got a holiday as a pony was allocated to each miner. They would bring them out during the night so as allow their eyes to adjust to the light, so they could spend the time their miner was on vacation in the fields and the sun. Once mechanization was introduced, the pit ponies were no longer required in the underground mines.

We then drove back to Baddeck in even more wet weather!!

After dinner we noticed that there was a sign at the local parish hall saying that there was a ceilidh (pronounced Kay-Lee) on that night. A ceilidh is a gaelic word meaning gathering or party. Generally the idea is that people gather together and play music with the fiddle being the main instrument.

Playing for us where two young men, one a very talented fiddle player and one accompanying him on the piano. They were excellent. Not only did they play but stopped and explained to the group the style of fiddle playing that Cape Breton is known for.

The style of music is a derivative of Gaelic music brought to the region by Scottish settlers 250 years ago. Through isolation and pride the music still survives along with a strong sense of regional identity the Cape Brettoner’s still have. Apparently Cape Breton has more fiddlers per capital than any where else in the world and we think that he may have been listening to one of the better ones this evening.

They managed to get four couples up to teach them one of their local dances which got us all toe tapping.

It brought back memories for Di who would attend with her sister Paula, the Caledonian dances held on a Saturday evening at the local hall I Whakatane, New Zealand. Out would come the kilts, pipes and haggis – the latter not being a crowd pleaser for the younger ones.

Another photo of what is happening back in Calgary – still trying to dig themselves out.

One thought on “Sydney, Cape Breton – 3rd October 2018

  1. I do so remember those nights Di, I loved the music and dancing and I still love it and will dance to the early hours, they always made me happy ❌


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