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Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia

A story about The Gift of Quiet

Cape Breton Island

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-km (185 mile) 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.”

Cape Breton Facts:

The Cape Breton Highlands National Park was first set aside in 1936. It was the first national park in the Atlantic provinces, protecting 366 sq. mi. (950 sq. km.) of highlands and coastal wilderness.

About 230 species of birds have been recorded in or near the park. Cape Breton is also home to three-quarters of Nova Scotia’s breeding population of bald eagles.

Alexander Graham Bell was one of Cape Bretons most famous residents. The inventor and humanitarian built a summer residence (Beinn Breagh - Gaelic for beautiful mountain) that served as his Canadian home and scientific headquarters for more than 35 years. The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site is found in Baddeck, Cape Breton.

Bell and his associates made aviation history in Cape Breton. The Silver Dart made the British Empire’s first controlled power flight on February 23, 1909

Other stories about Atlantic Canada

Nova Scotia Stories: Cape Breton
Nova Scotia Stories: Cape Breton Highlands
Nova Scotia Stories: Fortress Louisbourg

Nova Scotia Stories: Halifax & the South Shore
Nova Scotia Stories: Port Royal

Prince Edwards Island Stories: Green Gables

All Atlantic Canada stories by Richard Levangie
The Best Coast Group

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