The Cape Breton Highlands


For one unforgettable day, I enjoyed the gift of quiet. In the Cape Breton Highlands.

It was a timeless day of subtle miracles. Following a narrow forest trail cut by my Acadian ancestors generations before, I was initially overwhelmed by the solitude. But my senses embraced the challenge. Slowly, a delightful change took hold. An anonymous flash of colors would melt into a Swainson’s thrush. A nearby river became as subtle and lively as a Mozart concerto. And I swear that I could feel a bald eagle soaring before my eyes looked skyward.

The Highlands are achingly beautiful. The 300 kilometer Cabot Trail is a spectacular drive. The steep, winding roads are dramatic and invigorating, and every dip and rise is breathtaking.

“I have traveled the globe,” said Alexander Graham Bell. “I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes and the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland: But for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all.”

But there is more here than simple beauty. It starts with a sense of wonderment and homecoming that I couldn’t have explained before meeting park naturalist Dave Algar.

“The Highlands are such a wonderful place because virtually all the birds and animals that are supposed to be here are still here,” Algar says. “Moose, bears, foxes, coyotes, lynx, bobcats…. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. People can feel that. People come here and immediately feel warm and comfortable, like this place is so right.”

In the Highlands , all Canada’s wilderness regions are united for easy sampling. Low elevations are comprised of magnificent hardwood stands. Higher up, boreal forests of spruce and fir reign. On the tallest mountains, a hauntingly austere taiga mimics Canada’s Far North.

A few seasonal brush strokes complete the masterpiece.

“In spring, the mountains look feminine, when the leaves and flowers come out, in pastels, in gentle colors…” Algar says. “The mountains are pink and mauve, and shades of creamy white. It’s soft and lovely. Summer is lush, so many shades of green, birds singing, people swimming and hiking. The fall is spectacular. It looks just like tartans and kilts, bright and racy. And winter is just a big, white, silent wilderness that humbles you, that really puts you in your place.”


The photo was swiped from Pedal & Sea Adventures. Which is okay because I do their web work.

Other essays from today’s My Town Monday: Travis Erwin & Texas justice • Terri Moran parks it in Queens, NY • Gabriele Goldstone enjoys the Winnipeg Folk Festival • J Winter scales castle walls in Loveland, OH • Theresa Milstein visits Northport, New York • Debra Bures celebrates Python Days in Peninsula, OH • Barbara Martin travels through Kicking Horse Pass • Barrie Summy and San Diego’s perfect weather

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4 Responses to The Cape Breton Highlands

  1. The area is gorgeous, Richard. One day I’ll get back to Nova Scotia to visit some of those sights by the sea.

  2. Barrie Summy says:

    I would so love to visit Nova Scotia. And you gotta love that quotation by Alexander Graham Bell!

  3. gabe says:

    I so want to visit Cape Breton. So why is its nature so intact?

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks Barbara!

    Gabe… Welcome!

    I think it’s because Cape Breton is such a big wilderness. Almost all the population is centered in Sydney, so throughout the rest of the island, man is the interloper. And it’s been this way since the first European settlers arrived.

    I’ve only been to Cape Breton a couple of times. I REALLY want to try to visit Fortress Louisbourg this year. I’ve only been when it was closed for the season, and they let me tour as a journalist.

    Barrie: AGB lived and worked in Cape Breton for most of his life. There is a Bell Museum in Baddeck, a lovely little resort town on a salt water lake.

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