Thursday Tidbits

Posted on July 18, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

Mary Ann Falls


In recent years, I have taken an annual pilgrimage around the Cabot Trail, one of my favourite places on the planet. Occasionally, I’ll do a solo trip but the last few years, I have had company. Three summers ago, I took two friends from India who were attending a summer program at the Coady. Last year, I took my granddaughter and this year my traveling companions were my granddaughter and a friend of hers from Montreal. Seeing the Cabot Trail through the eyes of 11 year olds in an education.

We got an early start. You can’t do justice to the Cabot Trail in one day but if that’s all the time at your disposal, you can do a lot. Neither the girls nor I were much interested in visiting local artisans or going whale watching, not on a day when the temperature was supposed to be in the high 20s. Our quest was simple: find water and go swimming.

The drive from Antigonish to Auld’s Cove is quite scenic as St. George’s Bay funnels into the Canso Causeway. The Causeway is purportedly the deepest causeway in the world. The drive from Port Hastings to Iron Mines is non-descript. Passing by the small airport outside of Port Hastings, I wondered if governments would pony up $18 million dollars to build another small airport near the world renowned golf courses in Inverness.

The Bras D’or Lakes seldom disappoint but because of our early morning getaway, I couldn’t get a coffee and treats at the Herring Choker deli and bakery in Nyanza. The Englishtown ferry wasn’t in operation so we had to skirt St.Ann’s Bay via the Gaelic College. This is not the route I normally take but it has several beautiful vistas.

We were getting quite peckish after nearly two hours in the car. No trip around the trail would be complete without a stop at the Clucking Hen in North Shore. While we waited for our breakfast, I chatted with Diana. She’s been there for years and she always has a smile on her face. The ethos of this wonderful establishment can be seen on staff T-shirts: “No Fowl Moods”. I also had a chance to speak briefly with the owner, Melody. I told her that I was “hatching” a plan to walk around the Cabot Trail later this summer.

Swim #1 took place at Ingonish Beach. I couldn’t get over how the beach had changed in one year. It looked like the Parks people had brought in heavy equipment and covered the entire sandbar with tons of mid -sized, round rocks. Not so according to the lifeguard on duty who said that this was the work of none other than Mother Nature earlier in the spring.

Swim #2 was at Mary Ann Falls, a short jaunt from Ingonish. You have to be paying attention to the signage. For some unknown reason, there is a huge sign for Warren Lake as you’re heading north from Ingonish but Mary Ann Falls, which is the same exit, is nowhere to be seen on this sign. If you’re traveling from Neil’s Harbour in a southerly direction, Mary Ann Falls is on the sign. Go figure. Maybe someone from up that way can explain this discrepancy. The girls agreed that this was the highpoint of their day as they jumped off the rocks into the deep, chilly pool below the falls.

Their bathing suits didn’t have time to dry before we stopped at Black Brook for swim #3 .After a picnic lunch, they spent a short time playing in the waves. The promised hot day never quite materialized and they once again found the water quite chilly.

Just a footnote for anyone heading around the Trail. There is still a lot of road construction.

With time on our side, we took a short detour off the trail and went through the village of Neil’s Harbour. This is a beautiful drive and takes you through Smelt Brook, White Point, rejoining the highway near South Harbour. The scenery is spectacular and a hidden gem that most people miss and probably don’t know about.

With thoughts of walking the Cabot Trail, I paid particular attention to the stretch of road from Cape North to Cheticamp. There are some serious climbs and equally challenging descents. If you’re a walker or hiker, you know that walking down a mountain is much harder on your legs than the ascent. We stopped at the ice cream place just south of Pleasant Bay. I learned from the staff that there’s actually a hostel in Pleasant Bay which I’ll check out as part of my planning for my walk.

My granddaughter has a great memory and insisted that we stop for supper at Le Gabriel in Cheticamp. I always have a chat with Brenda Lee who runs the floor operations at this busy restaurant from her wheelchair. I told her about my plans to walk the Trail. She gave me a look that suggested that I was bonkers. She said she didn’t want to hear a report about an old guy getting eaten by a bear. I took exception to her calling me old! The meal was excellent. The girls were too full for dessert but with a cooler in the car, were able to get take out desserts.

Swim #4 was in the rapidly growing town of Inverness. Two world class golf courses have transformed this once sleepy and dying town into an economic juggernaut as evidenced by the helicopter pad near Cabot Links and many new eating establishments and lodging options. Inverness Beach in the evening is sublime. The (slightly) warmer waters of the Northumberland Strait were welcomed by the girls as they frolicked in the waves for the better part of an hour. The father of a young family was sitting in his wheelchair with warm sun bathing his face while his wife and children walked the beach.

A magnificent sunset greeted me as I crested the Havre Boucher hill. My two charges were fast asleep in the back seat. All felt well with the world.

Have a great weekend.


Keltic Lodge


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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on June 27, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

Mother Nature- Let it Bee


“To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.”

 Pearl S. Buck

I am increasingly fascinated with the concept of the arts as a tool for healing. I attended an interesting presentation a few nights ago sponsored by Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!). AHA! is a collaboration between artists, educators and health care workers.

Antigonish’s very own Dr.John Graham-Pole pioneered this concept at the University of Florida. Two local health care administrators went to Gainesville, Florida recently to spend a few intense weeks hearing about the work at the renowned Shands Hospital. More and more health care practitioners are discovering the healing power of art, music and poetry among many other art forms.

The local AHA! Group has been working very hard in recent years to foster the arts in healing. Our community is blessed with an abundance of very talented artistic people who can provide these services. Antigonish was one of the first small communities in the province to hire a music therapist in our Regional Hospital and the results of this initiative are impressive. Many studies have shown that music not only distracts people from their pain and discomfort but can actually be a pain reduction tool. When you think of the cost of medicine, surely music, art and poetry are amongst the cheapest and most effective drugs.

I have some firsthand experience. I spend five afternoons a week at one of our local nursing homes providing music. Yes, I sing lots of songs ranging from old war tunes, to gospel and country and western. Even a bit of Pearl Jam! But the arts provide much more than just a performance. It’s about connection, storytelling and just being present. Many of the residents have suffered memory loss. I am thrilled when I see the faces of a room full of elderly people light up when they recognize the music of their youth.

I am luckier than most. My work career was diverse and satisfying. It would be a stretch to say that I absolutely loved my jobs. But at the age of 67, I have found true joy doing something I absolutely love.

Pearl S. Buck has it mostly right. It’s just that I’m not sure if I’ve discovered the fountain of youth!

I was wandering around the Farmer’s Market last weekend and bumped into a friend, a vendor at the market. She asked me a surprising question: “What do you think about on your long walks?” I was tempted to say that the air passes effortlessly through my head which is partially true!

Here’s what I told her. I pay close attention to nature… sights, sounds and smells. I sing a lot. I think about everyday stuff. I am consciously grateful. I get a lot of my story ideas when I walk. It’s a great time for reflection too when you’re my age. When you’re in the trenches like you are with a family and work, you have plenty to think about without having the luxury of goofing off and daydreaming.

I absolutely loved her response. “I am constantly thinking ahead and where I want my life to go. I need to learn to be still sometimes, that too is where walking helps me. Nature just makes you feel more centred and connected to Mother Earth and if you listen she will let you in on some great words of wisdom.”

Wouldn’t you agree that my friend’s answer was much more insightful than mine?

Focusing strictly on your surroundings on a walk is, I believe, a form of meditation. It calms the mind and is very soothing.

Have a great Canada Day weekend.


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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on June 20, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

Hats off to Canada


Why Canada matters.

I’m always suspicious of ratings because many times, the people doing the survey have a vested interest. A recent study out of the U.S. had over 20,000 responses from 36 countries who were asked to score 80 countries on a number of attributes. Canada ranked third overall as one of the best countries in the world in which to live and was also ranked #1 for overall quality of life.

Justifiably, we might want to puff up our chests a little bit and take a bow. But we know, our country is far from perfect.

I did my own small unscientific study on my recent walk across Spain. The Camino gave me an opportunity to meet people from all over the world and to fly our flag. I had a bag of Canadian pins and passed them out with pride. Probably the most excited people to receive this small trinket were a group of high school students who interviewed me in the great plaza at Santiago de Compostela. They were anxious to hear about my Camino experience and asked me several insightful and thoughtful questions.

Before leaving for Spain, my good friend Eva affixed a Canadian flag patch to the back of my Tilley hat. I realize that this might be passé in 2019 but I’m kind of passé so I didn’t think that anyone would be terribly offended.

I walk quickly and more often than not, I was passing people on the trail. I would be courteous while in the passing lane, wishing one and all the standard Camino greeting: “Hola. Buen Camino”. Very often when I would be ten feet past, I would hear “Oh, you’re from Canada.”

This would invariably spark a discussion as we quizzed each other about our citizenship and shared stories of common interest. One thing I did discover is that most of the folks I met on the road were very much like me… except with more hair! They seemed to share the same wants and needs, goals and aspirations. Most people spoke highly of our home and native land. A long history of being peace keepers has kept us as a good global citizen.

But we shouldn’t be too smug and start celebrating our international reputation too quickly. We have a couple of nagging problems. Actually, they are very serious and disturbing issues. For a country built by immigrants, there are parts of our country, even in our own back yard, that continue to exhibit racist tendencies. Our great national disgrace is our repeated failure to properly address the myriad problems with our First Nations people.

Part two of this problem is xenophobia which is the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.

Unlike many parts of the world, immigrants and refugees are not streaming across our borders. Our governments have programs in place to welcome newcomers. Make no mistake about it. We need more immigrants as birth rates plummet and with an aging population.

So, why is it that many Canadians are happy to take a swipe at people who don’t look like us or share many of our cultural practices?

This is a head scratcher. Anytime someone takes a broadside at an immigrant, my standard response is quite simple. “Where did your people come from originally?” Yes, you might be a fourth or fifth generation Canadian but somewhere along the line, your ancestors traveled from some other part of the world to start a new life.

Diversity makes us rich.

If we are going to continue our lofty position as one of the great countries in which to live, we need to be more tolerant and understanding.

Make no mistake. This is a great country with natural beauty, vast resources and solid values.

But we still have work to do.

Have a great weekend.


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