Welcome everyone to the latest instalment of the rather lengthy tale of my six week ramble through the Maritime Provinces of Canada with my dear friend Lynne in Betsy the 33-year-old campervan / RV. She was making the occasional odd noise, her lights had gone out once and it was touch and go whether she would last the course. I am referring to Betsy obviously!
If you want to read the whole tale from the beginning you can do so here.
Regular readers will know that I had left you in the previous post having had a day’s sightseeing round the town of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia and if you want to see what happens next then please read on.
15th July, 2014.
Yet again I woke up far too early this morning, it was becoming a bit of a habit and I know this as the first of my three images for the day was timed at 0827. I realise that three images for a whole day is very unusual for me as I do get a bit shutter-happy most of the time but the triptych above (get me with the fancy words again, I love language) tells the story of the day perfectly. Wait until you see the images for the next day!
One look out the window told me all I needed to know. The notorious Maritime fog had rolled in off the Grand Banks and looked like it was here to stay which a check of the forescast online confirmed. Lynne was still asleep and so I decided I might as well get some personal admin done and so I went to the rather funkily decorated laundry room to do the necessaries. Life on the road is great but the laundry still piles up!
Obviously I was going to discuss it with Lynne but I didn’t think she would fancy driving in that murk. Betsy’s lights were working after their little hiccup but they had not exactly been searchlights to begin with. Apart from the fact it would not have been much fun, it would have been downright foolhardy to drive in that if you didn’t have to and we didn’t. We could go or stay as we pleased.
When Lynne woke up we had a very brief conversation and it was as I had surmised – we were sitting tight. We had seen most of what there was to see in Louisbourg the previous day so there was no point in even going local although with two decent bars within ten minutes walk, that was always an option.
The third image was of dinner that evening which I remarkably managed to have prepared by about 2100 which is unbelievably early for me. That was Tueday so let’s move on quickly to Wednesday.
16th July, 2014.
I wrote above “wait until you see the images for today” but that was merely a bit of a bluff because there are none. Zero, zip, rien, square root of nothing. The fog was in and had decided it liked the Maritimes as much as I do so it was going to stay a while.
For the same reasons as the day before, we just sat tight for another day, to drive in that would have been madness. We were having a brilliant trip and I don’t know if we were just unlucky with the weather or if this is normal in these parts but, even apart from the unseasonally early hurricane, we really had no luck weatherwise. Quickly on then to
17th July, 2014.
You will probably be glad to know, dear reader, that we do actually manage to move on today although first impressions that morning were pretty discouraging. As the images show the fog was still down although not quite as bad as it had been and the forecast indicated it would clear later so we decided to chance the road again.
We left about midday (normal service resumed on late starts) and carried on as we had done before on the Trunk 22 but we only went as far as Albert Bridge where we turned right onto the 255 and, as seems to be obligatory in these parts, it was named. We were on the Marconi Trail now so I suppose I had better explain that.
Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi, 1st Marquis of Marconi FRSA (let’s just call him Marconi) was born into an aristocratic Italian family and, in yet another case of me learning something whilst researching this blog, I discovered that he was the great-grandson of John Jameson, founder of the famous whiskey firm.
Marconi never went to school but was home-schooled, mostly in sciences at which he excelled. Although not enrolled he was permitted to attend lectures at the University of Bologna where he developed an interest in the work of Heinrich Hertz and radio telegraphy. By 1894 he had constructed a transmitter although it only rang a bell across the width of a room but it was a start.
He continued with his work and by constantly modifying his equipment achieved ever greater ranges until, in 1902, he managed to send the first radio transmission across the Atlantic from a station in Glace Bay, where we are heading now. The remains of the station are still there but privately owned and not generally open to the public.
Whilst Marconi was undoubtedly a brilliant scientist and inventor I also discovered that he was a committed fascist and friend of Mussolini who appointed him President of the Royal Academy of Italy. During his time in the Fascist Party he founded what is now RAI, the Italian state broadcaster.
As this is the Maritimes, the Titanic would obviously have to feature in this piece somewhere and those that survived the fateful meeting with the iceberg were saved due to Marconi’s invention. They were picked up by the RMS Carpathia who had received the SOS 65 miles away from the stricken liner and went to assist. Interestingly, the radio operators on the Titanic were not employed by the shiping line but were employees of Marconi’s company.
That, then, is why we were on the Marconi Trail which took us uneventfully into Glace Bay where we were heading for a reason so let me tell you about Glace Bay and what we went to see, it is a wonderful place.
Time seems to have left it behind a bit.
“On a recent trip round the Maritime Provinces of Canada with my dear friend Lynne in a rather aged campervan (RV) we came upon the community of Glace Bay. Actually, it was not quite as random as that sounds because we wanted to visit the Miner’s Museum there and that proved to be an absolute joy which I recommend to anyone and please read on for a much better idea of that particular delight.
Frankly, we spent little time in the town itself but it seemed to be yet another typically clean, tidy and well-ordered Nova Scotian community. We visited the museum, used the ATM, got fuel and headed on to the next campsite. I am sure there is plenty to see here but we really did not stop long enough.
Having researched the town in order to construct this page I have found out that it has been left a little behind by time which gives rise to the title of this piece. Apparently it was once the swordfish fishing capital of Canada but over-fishing and regulation have killed that off.
The coal mines hereabouts were another huge source of employment and prosperity but that has also long gone. I believe the (very seasonal) lobster industry still survives but it struck me, on brief acquaintance, as a place that was just standing still.
Having said that, it is a very pleasant town and well worth a visit if you do take my advice to visit the excellent Museum I referred to.
Miner’s Museum – real living history.
“I am not really even sure where to start writing about the Miner’s Museum near Glace Bay as it was, simply put, a most memorable and stunning example of living history and was absolutely one of the highlights of my six week trip round the Maritime Provinces of Canada in 2014.
I had a vague idea of what to expect having read about it but I genuinely was not prepared for the actuality of the museum. This is real history and not even that distant and I make no apology for the fact that I am going to use the word “real” several times in this piece as that is the only proper way to describe it. The Museum is effectively is a disused coal mine which extends out under the North Atlantic and was working well into my lifetime but is now closed has been turned into a “living museum”.
We parked in the decent sized carpark and had a look at some of the old mine trucks sitting there on rails and some other static pieces of kit before entering the main and fairly modern building which serves as the Visitor Centre.
The very pleasant lady on the desk asked a few questions about claustrophobia etc. which will become relevant later on and booked us on a tour later which gave us a chance to have a look around the place.
I mentioned that it was modern and that is because the original Museum building was lost to fire in 1980 but the local people, businesses and Government were undeterred and constructed this rather fine new Centre. It boasts a small but interesting Museum about the history of mining in the area.
At the appointed time we went to the “briefing room” where we were issued with smocks and hard hats. I vaguely thought this was a bit of health and safety regulation gone mad but I was eventually most glad of both. These people know what they are doing.
The man giving the briefing was a gentleman obviously older than me and with every line on his face telling a story of a hard, physical life. I took to the man immediately but more of him later.
We were given a safety briefing which included another warning about claustrophobia and explained that if anyone felt uncomfortable he could summon assistance from the surface and have them personally escorted back.
To my shame I cannot remember the gentleman’s name but he had been a miner in this very colliery for many years and he initially told us a couple of anecdotes before inviting us to join him in having a look at a real coalmine. I believe all the guides here are former miners.
I was lucky enough to visit some great sites in Canada where re-enactors who are obviously very well-versed in their subject talk about things that happened centuries before they were born but this guy had actually done it all his working life. It just cannot get more authentic than that and therein lies the absolute wonder here.
We took off down a fairly wide and high walkway so I was happy enough. As we proceeded though (stopping to look at a small exhibition including a rather sobering shock-absorbing stretcher carrier) we stopped off for another chat and our guide continued to regale us with stories about how hard life was working down the mine. Coming from a man with obvious personal knowledge it was a very sobering and hugely educational experience.
We continued on and things got tighter and lower. I should explain here that I stand 6’5″ (perhaps 1:93 or 1:94 in Metric) and I also have a bad back from playing rugby so things were getting a little uncomfortable for me. I appreciated the hard hat as I managed to bash my head on the roof numerous times. The smock was also useful for the occasional drips of water coming in (don’t panic, it is nothing major).
On and on we went, stopping every so often for another story with me usually hunkering down to save my back a bit. More anecdotes and more things to see, including an exposed coalface, until we came upon one of the most incongruous things I have ever seen. Fortunately, there were benches there so my poor old back got a rest.
In the very limited biology I had studied at school I had always been told that plants needed water and sunlight to survive. This is wrong! Some years ago a particular miner asked the owners if he could try to establish a garden down the mine.
I am sure they thought him completely mad but allowed it anyway and the result is the small “garden” you can see which is populated by plants that apparently can survive without natural light as it is deep underground. I believe I am right in saying that some local horticulturalists now tend it and research what will grow under those conditions.
It was all fascinating stuff although it regrettably signalled almost the end of our tour. We re-emerged back into the Visitor Centre, doffed hard hats and capes and went on our way, in our case to examine the partially re-created Miner’s Village adjacent.
I cannot speak highly enough of this place and I left with a slightly sore back and a huge smile on my face which I thought was a small price to pay.
Since I wrote this piece I have been sorting through the numerous bits and pieces I always accumulate on a trip and I have unearthed a business card from our excellent guide. He goes by the name of Wishie Donovan (I believe his forename is a contraction of Wishart).
I am sure all the other guides are equally interesting and professional but whilst the mine itself is inherently fascinating, for me he was what put the magic in there. I do not wish to sound over-fulsome but the man, having lived a hard life as a miner and not presumably trained in pampering tourists from all over the globe, really did make this something very special. Wishie is real living history.
Let’s go and look at the village I mentioned above, again using my original notes.
Miners above ground.
“As part of the admission price to the mine you are also allowed to visit the Miner’s Village above ground and adjacent to the Visitor Centre although we were never asked for our admission tickets.
I am not sure how much of this is original and how much re-constructed but it does give a very clear idea about how hard life was even above ground for these men and their families, never mind the privations of working in a hole in the ground deep under the North Atlantic.
As with so many places in Nova Scotia, the overground portion of the site is populated with re-enactors or interpreters or whatever they are properly called, and they all proved to be friendly and knowledgeable. Frankly, when we visited in the height of the tourist season (mid-July) I was surprised that there was not another soul about and I suspect they were glad of the company.
Life for the miners was tough with everything controlled by the mining company and designed to keep them permanently in debt so they had to keep on working. It is like the line from the old song “16 Tons”, “St. Peter don’t you call me coz I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store”. How very true as you will find out if you visit here which I strongly recommend you do.
Housed in small and very basic semi-detached homes within a few minutes walk of the mine entrance, everything was deducted from their pay before they got it, rent, whatever credit they had run up at the company store mentioned previously and various other sundries. Things came to a head in 1925 when the “pluck me” store, as it was known, refused credit to the miners and so they looted it and burned it to the ground. It never re-opened.
A wander round here, especially in the company of some of the wonderful re-enactors, really is a a bit of an eye-opener. The underground portion of the Museum is an absolute “must-see” but I would recommend that the traveller allows a little extra time to visit this portion of the site as well as it is a fascinating glimpse into a life not so long gone.”
That, then was the Miner’s Museum and it was so much fun but time to move on again.
We did stop off in town to go to the ATM and I took the opportunity to have a quick look at the Miner’s Memorial. Whilst it does not name individual miners as a war memorial might, I am sure the list would be long as it is such a dangerous occupation.
For example, in 1979, 11 miners were killed in the #26 mine disaster and that is well within my lifetime although I never heard of it at the time. All this to get the “black gold” out of the ground so we can destroy the planet with it. It makes you think.
After that we veered off our coast-hugging route as Lynne had booked us into the Arm of Gold Campground in Little Bras d’Or which was a bit of a trek. Well, it was a bit of a trek in Betsy but the old girl got us there slowly but surely and we hooked ourselves up and settled in for the evening. It must have been a pleasant evening as supper was served close to midnight once again.
I’ll tell you all about the campground when we take a look round it in the next post so if you want to see it and find out what else we get up to then stay tuned and spread the word.