Port Hood and the Chestico Museum

By yogie, on Mon, 4 Oct 2010 | 0 Comments

It's been a great summer in that I've been able to visit Cape Breton several times.  This time I was pretty excited to visit the southeastern part of the island, specifically Port Hood, Judique and Mabou.  Susan and I were booked at the Tulloch Inn on the Western edge of Lake Ainslie and would be spending two full days at the Chestico Museum in Harbourview and the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique.  I was also hoping to see the Fall colours that Cape Breton is known for as well as the wildlife, starry skies and friendly people.

Chestico Museum


We had a pretty good drive.  We held off grabbing coffees until Truro, stocked up on food at the Superstore in Antigonish and ate lunch at Auld's Cove before crossing the Causeway.  Just before Port Hood we stopped at the Chestico Museum and met Joanne Watts who suggested that we keep driving into Port Hood to the wharf at Murphys Pond.

Bluefin tuna in Port Hood


It was perfect timing.  The bluefin tuna season is only a couple of days in and on the second day, there were several fishing boats coming in with their expensive catch.  I was amazed at how friendly everyone was at the docks.  The fishermen at the processing plant invited me to set up my camera and watch as they raised an 800 lb tuna from the boat to a forklift.  Inside the processing plant, the fish was measured, weighed and cleaned.  Within minutes it was submerged into a tub of ice.  Within 18-24 hours, after a quality test and a long plane ride, it would be receiving bids on the floor of some Japanese fish market.

It seemed almost like a festival.  As the boat glided in people started appearing.  There were adults and children everywhere, family and relatives of the fishermen and onlookers eager to ooh and agh at the tuna's impressive size.

Port Hood from the wharf at Murphys Pond


We stayed at the wharf until the sun began to set, our rumbling stomachs eventually setting us into motion.  Almost an hour later we arrived at the Tulloch Inn in West Lake Ainslie.  The inn was remote and surrounded by picturesque landscapes.  We met the friendly owners Elizabeth and Keith MacPhee before settling into our excellent rooms.

Lake Ainslie and Breakfast at the Tulloch Inn


I woke early to see the sun rising above Lake Ainslie, the largest freshwater lake in Nova Scotia.  Susan met me in the dining room for our complimentary breakfast before heading out for the day.  It was a simple breakfast: eggs, bacon and toast.  A little tomato to garnish.  Lots of juice and coffee helped.

Chestico Museum on the outskirts of Port Hood


Susan drove to the Chestico Museum.  Fall had certainly begun, trees were beginning to change colour and few were bursting with stark contrast almost neon and unnaturally possible.  

Chestico Museum on the outskirts of Port Hood


Cathy Gillis and Joanne Watts were waiting for us when we arrived at the Chestico Museum.  Originally the Harbourview school house, this building housed items and records dealing with the history and culture of the Port Hood area.  The museum itself was not large but dense with exhibits and displays.   There was a display on the British Home Child, an enormous collection of religious items including an entire wall of Nun photographs and mannequins dressed as clergy.  There were old tools, household items, dishware and furnishings.  The most massive collection of clothing irons I've ever seen dated back 200 years.  As someone who loves typography, I was especially drawn to the old printing press that belonged to a "Port Hood Greetings" printer D. W. Jones.

Chestico Museum on the outskirts of Port Hood


Both Cathy and Joanne made great models for our videos.  They showed us around the building and then through a few interesting items in their archives.  Cathy told us about the Rev. Donald MacPherson, the first Catholic chaplain from the Diocese of Antigonish who went overseas after enlisting in 1915.  We saw photos of Angus L. MacDonald's house and the oldest surviving diploma from St. Francis Xavier University dated 1874. There were personal and business records, photos, genealogies, newspapers, school registers and too many more to mention.

Sandeannie's Bakery and Tea Room, Harbourview, Port Hood


For lunch, Susan and I drove only a few minutes down the road to Sandeannie's Bakery and Tea Room.  I had a fantastic chicken sandwich on fresh, whole wheat bread and possibly the best cinnamon bun I've ever had.  The owners, Bernadine and Sandy Rankin, are friendly and funny and gave us ideas of scenic spots in the area where we could film.  I was extremely impressed with this place.  I vowed to recommend it and return some day.

Father MacPherson at St. Peter's Cemetery and an old house in Port Hood


Joanne suggested that we find Father Donald MacPerson's tombstone at the St. Peter's Parish Cemetery.  The cemetery was located above a number of sandy beaches facing Port Hood Island.   There is nothing quite so affecting as a windswept graveyard, tucked in a corner of the coastline, with patches of tall bending grass on the steep slope to the shore.  It was breathtaking.  I found Father MacPherson's grave and took a couple of photos.  Then, we continued further along Main Street until it turned to Marble Hill Rd.  From the highest point of the hill we could see all of the town and adjacent island.  I spent several minutes scanning the area with my video camera.  Also before leaving I quickly snapped a photograph of the Peter Smyth House, one of Port Hood's oldest and most impressive homes dating back to the 1850s.  It was a small, stone building along Main Street.

Foxes near Lake Ainslie, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia


Having finished our day of filming, Susan and I drove to Whycocomagh to the Farmer's Daughter Country Market and picked up some bread, cheese and other fixings for dinner.  On the winding road to Lake Ainslie we were stopped by a couple of bold foxes on the road apparently looking for food.  They approached the car gingerly and weren't intimidated by my camera.  

It was just after dawn when we returned to the Tulloch.  I was happy to have my spacious room and gigantic bed waiting for me.  Tomorrow, I'm off to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique.