Cape Breton Island is an island in the province of Nova Scotia that is connected to the mainland by a mile-long causeway called the Canso. The island consists of more than 10,000 square kilometers (about 4,000 square miles) of land, and is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in North America.
Once the causeway to Cape Breton Island is crossed, most travelers continue along the Trans-Canada Highway until they reach Baddeck, where the Cabot Trail begins its 184-mile (295 kilometer) loop – a loop comparable to California’s Highway 1 in spectacular scenery and views.
The Cabot Trail (Highway 19) heads in a clockwise direction from the Trans-Canada Highway along the island’s coast, passing by Hunter’s Mountain and the Middle river Valley before reaching the Margaree River valley, a lush area teeming with salmon pools. The highway then passes through a region of gentle farmland before reaching Margaree Harbour on the coast, where a bridge crosses the Margaree River estuary and continues up the coast. This region is so beautiful that you need to be careful about keeping your eyes on the wheel. The views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Northumberland Strait are excellent.
Further up the coast, about 30 minutes from Margaree Harbour along the Cabot Trail, you’ll come across the Acadian fishing village of Cheticamp where residents all speak French. Cheticamp is famous for its mats and hooked rugs, which are handmade by the locals and sold at a number of crafts shops. For a better collection of hooked rugs, you can visit the Musee Acadien, which has a fine collection of them as well as a shop that sells all kinds of locally made items.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Cape Breton Highlands Park is about 3 miles or so east of the village of Cheticamp and can be reached by taking the Cabot Trail. The park covers 370 square miles (950 square kilometers) of deep forests, green valleys, steep mountains, sandy beaches, rocky shores, and breathtaking ocean views. It is also well-facilitated with picnic sites and campgrounds and stock full of roaming wildlife of all kinds.
The Ingonish region is about 65 miles (105 kilometers) away from Cheticamp and is the most important resort area on the island. It is located along the Cabot Trail and is situated at the eastern entrance of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The park’s headquarters, in fact, is based here. All kinds of recreation facilities are found, including golf courses, swimming pools, tennis courts, picnic sites, campgrounds, hiking trails, and facilities and equipment for boating, sailing, and skiing (in the winter).
South of Ingonish is the Ingonish Beach, which is home to the Keltic Lodge whom many consider to be the finest resort hotel in eastern Canada. Climbing routes to the 1,200- foot Cape Smokey begin at this beach. The mist-capped promontory then descends back toward coast-level around the “North Shore” area – this is where the original Highland Scottish pioneers settled. Further south along the Cabot Trail past Ingonish is South Gut St. Ann’s below St. Ann’s Harbour, where the trail merges back with the Trans-Canada Highway and completes the remaining 18 kilometers of the loop back to Baddeck.
The Trans-Canada Highway (Route 105) headed east from the Cabot Trail leads to the town of North Sydney, where ferries commute to Newfoundland. Short before reaching North Sydney, the exit to Route 125 takes you across the Sydney River to Sydney, otherwise known as “Steel City”. This is the third largest metropolitan area in Nova Scotia. It is also the jump-off point via Route 22 to the National Historic Site of the Fortress of Louisbourg, which is about 23 miles (38 kilometers) away.
The Louisbourg Fortress is the largest fortress in Canada and guards the entrance to the St. Lawrence River. Because of the river’s past (and still present) importance as the transportation gateway to Quebec, Montreal, and Toronto, the French built a fortress at Louisbourg to guard the entrance to the river and thus its colony in Upper and Lower Canada. Construction started in 1719 and was not quite completely finished in 1745 when it was attacked by the British and captured after a 49-day siege. The fortress was handed back to the French in 1748 under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, but was recaptured by the British in 1758. This time around, British Prime Minister William Pitt ordered the fortress blown up.
For centuries, the fortifications were left in ruins until the government decided to reconstruct the fortress and town in 1961. More than 40 buildings were rebuilt meticulously as part of Canada’s largest ever historical reconstruction effort. Today, the historic site is lined with streets, shops, inns, and taverns that are frequented by people in period attire. The fortress town really does project the look and feel of an 18th century French colonial outpost. It is recommended that visitors bring warm clothes and even a raincoat, as Louisbourg can get quite foggy, cold, and rainy.
How to Get There
Air Canada has flights that connect Sydney with Montreal and Halifax. Visitors from the U.S. can take a ferry from Maine or Bay Harbor, Portland; they operate daily. By car, Cape Breton Island can be reached via the Trans-Canada Highway (Route 104) from the mainland of Nova Scotia, which connects with the island via the Canso Causeway.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Canada. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc, 1996. ISBN: 1556507100.
“Sydney, Nova Scotia.” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney,_Nova_Scotia>
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