4 Qualities That Make Cape Breton Island So Special and Unique
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia is a well-kept secret for an island rated the most beautiful off Continental North America by Travel and Leisure Magazine. But that’s not all: besides the scenery, there is a unique form of Celtic music; people who are consistently hospitable; 3 distinct cultures and a timeless quality about Cape Breton itself.
What makes Cape Breton so special?
1. The Scenery (rated the most beautiful Island off Continental North America)
The scenery is so beautiful that Cape Breton is usually rated among the top ten Islands in the world. Last rating, Travel and Leisure rated it #4 in the world and #1 in beauty off continental North America.
The Cabot Trail itself is rated the #1 drive by Reader’s Digest and thousands of people from all over the world arrive each season to drive the trail. Every turn you have an amazing view. And inland, there is the Cape Breton Highland, the trip across to Highland Village, the drive from Sydney to PortHawskbury. But nothing compares, almost anywhere in the world, to the Cabot Trail
2. The Home of Great Celtic Musicians (talent from generation to generation)
Cape Breton has always been the home of great musicians-including families such as the Rankins, the Barra Macneils and of course the MacMasters. The most famous Cape Breton musician today is the fiddle playing, step-dancing and beautiful Natalie MacMaster.
Some say there’s something in the Cape Breton water that nourishes fiddlers who preserve a unique tradition of music, in some ways like the old Scottish and Irish Celtic music it was derived from. Natalie is part of the famous MacMaster family; Buddy, her uncle, being a well-known fiddle playing predecessor.
Natalie herself tours the world and is a great ambassador for both music and the family/community spirit that nurtures great musicians on Cape Breton. In fact, during the off season, it can be argued that music keeps everyone going. There are kitchen parties and celebrations that go on and on, with more and more food and music in the mix.
3. The People (hospitality is the middle name)
An old Cape Bretoner named Johnny Ianetti, now 87, talks about the hospitality on the Island. He mentions that he knows every house real well on one part of the Island, near Jersey Cove, just over the car ferry from Englishtown on the eastern side of the Island. “How do you know them so well, I asked? Are they family?”
“No family at all!” said Johnny. “I was a hunter and I could stop at any house and be taken in. Over the years, I stopped at just about every house. You do not have to be a hunter. That is just the way it is here. You are just welcome.”
4. The 3 Main Cultures
Italian Johnny Ianetti and his Irish wife were immigrant families to Cape Breton, but the three main cultures on the Island are:
the Mi’kmaq, the native culture, who live mostly in the western and central parts of Cape Breton.
the French Acadian culture, who livemostly around the western area near and including the village of Cheticamp, where French is spoken.
the the Celtic or Scottish who live mostly on the eastern side of the Island, on the Atlantic coast
The timelessness of the place
Each aspect that makes Cape Breton special has a quality of timelessness to it. The countryside for the most part remain pristines. Except for Sydney, it is very much a beautiful and rural series of landscapes. The Music has a purity over time that even Scottish musicians return to, just to see how their own music has changed . d The cultures maintain their own identity, especially since each language is continued (French, Gaelic more than anywhere outside Ireland and Scotland) and Mi’kmaq.
It is not to say that traditions are not challenged over time. Fewer native children speak English and for each culture, English and a kind of world culture and media is strong, but you still visit Cape Breton after a ten, twenty or thirty year lapse and recognize each of the five elements that keeps Cape Breton so special and unique as a travel destination.