Publishing Twice a Week

The Macdonald Notebook is your source for exclusive Business & Inside Politics publishing every Saturday and Sunday, as well as breaking news throughout the week.

The Latest Issue

Sunday August 9th Edition – Have A Free Read
...
Summertime & The Beaches Are Fun…But: A Chat With NS Lifeguard Service’s Paul D’Eon
...
Exclusive: Maritime Loblaw Customers Donate Circa $300,000 For IWK Via A $2 Donation At The Cash Registers In Just A Two Week Period
...
Exclusive: QE II Hospital Foundation Issues Security Breach Alert To Its 70,000 Home & Cottage Lottery Players – After Its Internatioanl Supplier Was Hacked
...
QE II Foundation’s Champion Bill Bean Retired After Logging 24-Years – He Made Mansion & Cottage Lotteries Famous In Nova Scotia
...
MacPolitics: The NDP Political Intrigue Of Chester-St. Margaret’s Denise Peterson-Rafuse – Sure Sign Her Political Life Is Being Sidelined – Takes A New Day Job
...
MacPolitics: Tim Houston’s Bold Nursing Home Policy Would Build New Nursing Homes, Create 2,500 Single Occupancy Rooms & Create 2,000 New Nursing Jobs
...
MacPolitics: Would A Government Led By Tim Houston Balance Budgets? We Asked The NS PC Leader This Question
...
MacPolitics: With Premier Stephen McNeil Bowing Out, What Is Next For The Governing Party?
...
MacPolitics: Why Sean Fraser Would Be Real Competition In Race To Replace Premier Stephen McNeil
...
MacPolitics: Scott Brison As Premier – Tiny Village Of Cheverie Would Become Power Centre – Once Again
...
Notebook Archives: David Hennigar On Clifford Brison & Whether There’s Another Political Life For Scott Brison
...
Alison Strachan: A Tale Of Two Lunenburg Brides, An Era Of Volunteerism & The Enduring Gift Of A Blueberry Buckle Recipe
...
Alison Strachan: Edith Morash’s Lunenburg’s Blueberry Buckle – Dutch Oven Cookbook
...
A Maritime Photo Moment: Jon Dimick’s Chester Artwork Includes 1902 Photograph Of The World’s First Seven-Masted Schooner
...
Part II: Boston Financier Of Seven-Masted Schooner Had A Nova Scotia Connection
...
Saturday Edition, Below: More Free Stories
...
Golfing With Tom Peters: Fox Har’br At 20 Years Old
...
This Edition Is FREE To Read: Meet Some HFX-NS Movers & Shakers Who Read Our Many Exclusive Articles – We Specialize In Old Fashioned News Scoops!
...
MacPolitics: Mark Boudreau Mulls Over Halifax Run For Tories In Next Election – Believes Peter MacKay Can Defeat Popular Liberal Andy Fillmore
...
MacPolitics: Tory Showdown In Chester-St. Margaret’s: A Real Battle Between Julie Chaisson & Danielle Barkhouse
...
MacPolitics: Truro’s Dennis James Chats On Liberal Leadership, McNeil’s Greatest Legacies, & John Savage’s Toll Highway
...
Opinion: Mary Clancy On The Greatest Legacies Of Premier Stephen McNeil
...
MacPolitics: Scott Brison As Premier Would Enjoy Support Of Regional Billionaire Set; Brison’s A Darling Of Top Business Titans
...
MacPolitics: Why Scott Brison’s Ambitions To Become Premier Would Get Support From The Region’s Top Liberal Strategist – Chris MacInnes Often Entertained In Cheverie
...
MacPolitics: When Scott Brison & Max St. Pierre Once Hosted The Season’s Must Attend BBQ It Attracted Who’s Who To Cheverie Shores
...
Notebook Archives: Revisiting A 2019 Chat With Regional Billionaire John Risley: ‘Scott Brison’s Political Career Represented By Being An Engine Of Ideas & Good Public Policy’
...
Friday Edition, Below: More Free Stories
...
Exclusive: MacPolitics: The Liberal Opponent Feared The Most by Team Tim Houston Is Ultra Popular Mike Savage
...
Exclusive: MacPolitics: Scott Brison As Premier McNeil’s Successor?
...
Exclusive: MacPolitics: Liberal Leadership Race And Dale Palmeter — Will He Encourage Scott Brison To Gun For Premier’s Job?
...
Exclusive: MacPolitics: From ‘Doc Talk’ Host To Liberal Premier? Don’t Rule Out a Leadership Run By Dr. John Gillis
...
Notebook Archives: The Time Premier McNeil Dismissed Chatter He Would Call It Quits At ‘Freedom 55’
...
Notebook Archives: Liberal Strategist Kirk Cox: ‘Expect Scott Brison To Run for NS Premier’
...
More FREE Stories, Below – Sunday Edition
...
Real Estate: Toronto’s Popular ‘Postage Stamp’ Condo Units Will Come to Halifax Market – Says Realtor Phil Slauenwhite
...
Legal Pandemic Trends: Metro Halifax Lawyer Sees Uptick In Drafting Last Will & Testaments
...
Chester Notes: Politico Danielle Barkhouse Investigates A Car Ferry To The Tancook Islands
...
Meet A Millennial Entrepreneur: Halifax’s Bobby McGuire As Men’s Fashion Style Icon
...
MacPolitics: Exclusive: Jamie Baillie Endorses Peter MacKay For National Conservative Leader – ‘With MacKay No Liberal NS Seat Safe – Even Halifax’
...
The Notebook Soundtrack: This Week Tuning Into The Talent Of The Late Glen Campbell
...
More Free Stories: Saturday Edition, Below
...
Fifty Is Nifty: Everyone’s Favourite Highway Crusader, Barney’s River Fire Chief Joe, On Turning 50 And His ‘Best Present’
...
Golfing With Tom Peters: Rating The Inverness Courses — A Visit To The Luxurious Cabot Links & Cabot Cliffs
...
Yarmouth Notes: ‘Mr. Yarmouth’ Clifford Hood Met Gina Lollobrigida In The 1970s While The Celebrated Actress Was At Irving Pink’s Law Office
...
A Maritime Photo Moment: A Five-Masted Schooner In Nova Scotia In 1927, A Rarity Even During Age Of Sail
...
The NS Tourist: Highland Village Animators Bring Scots Gaelic History To Life
...
Art: Cape Breton’s J. Franklin Wright ‘Canada’s Foremost Marine Painter’
...
Art: J. Franklin Wright Painting Of ‘Royal William’ Yours For $28,000 — Or A Print For $100
...
Pickling With Alison Strachan: Cucumbers Abound, It’s Time For A Preserves Recipe!
...

The NS Tourist: Highland Village Animators Bring Scots Gaelic History To Life

Jul 31, 2020 | Arts & Culture, Latest Issue

By Corey LeBlanc

Iona, Bras d’ Or Lake — If you have a couple of hours to spare this summer, and want to make an unforgettable journey back to the late 1700s, head to Iona in central Cape Breton.

Nestled on a gorgeous 43-acre property overlooking the world-famous Bras d’Or Lake, the Highland Village (Baile nan Gàidheal) celebrates the rich history of the Gaels in Nova Scotia.

“We are a living history site,” director Rodney Chaisson tells The MacDonald Notebook during my recent visit.

Fisherman's Market: Seafood Delivered Overnight Throughout Canada

As its website describes – highlandvillage.novascotia.ca – the outdoor museum and Gaelic folk-life centre “illustrates the story, culture and identity of Nova Scotia Gaels.”

“They saw the handwriting on the wall,” says Chaisson of the decision by many Scots in the 1700s to come here.

Animator Amber Buchanan makes her way up the hill to the village’s church.

The challenges they faced are explored at Highland Village – a taste of what life was like, one delivered by talented animators who ‘live’ on the property, which includes 11 historic buildings — everything from a general store to a one-room schoolhouse.

Chaisson marvels at the settlers’ resiliency and adaptability. They truly faced the unknown, leaving the lives they knew. Nevertheless, they didn’t just survive, they thrived.

The beginning

The seeds for what would become the Highland Village were planted in the 1930s when a Nova Scotia delegation led by Premier Angus L. Macdonald visited the United Empire Exhibition in Scotland. While there, the group was inspired by a village model that they wanted to replicate.

In the mid-1950s, the Nova Scotia Association of Scottish Societies sponsored a competition to select the home for the planned museum. On the strength of a stellar presentation delivered in Gaelic – Iona won the selection process.

Animator Amber Buchanan wears a paddle used to punish students for speaking Gaelic in school.

More than one year later – in November 1957 – the Highland Village Planning Committee met for the first time and incorporated. Over the following six years, the dedicated group raised money, while making plans for construction.

One of the milestones of that process came on Aug. 4, 1962, with the first Highland Village Day outdoor concert, an annual tradition that continues to fundraise and create awareness. Only the global coronavirus pandemic has interrupted that tradition. This year, supporters will have to settle for an online concert.

In the early 1970s, the society unveiled a master plan. Buildings were added and consistently improved in the 1980s and ’90s, along with the management of collections and their preservation. And, during that era, the ‘living history’ approach was adopted.

In 2000, the site joined the Nova Scotia Museum family, while significant investments – in both time and money – were made to upgrade the Roots Cape Breton Genealogy Centre, the Gaelic Language and Culture Programming, as well as the further development of interpretive programs.

The tour

After chatting with Chaisson, I was left in the capable hands of Amber Buchanan, who is in her seventh season as an animator.

Animator Lili Watson prepares to make oatcakes, a traditional Gaelic food.

Donning the bulky garb of the era, she didn’t seem fazed by the smothering humidity of the morning, while I huffed and puffed as we trekked through the village community, which started with a challenging – at least for me – uphill climb. Wearing jeans and a buttoned shirt – both were black – probably didn’t help when it came to the beads of sweat that quickly accumulated on my brow.

Our first stop is a black house – taigh dubh in Gaelic – a replica of a typical home found in the Scottish Highlands during the late 1700s.

Before exchanging greetings with Catherine Gillis – the lady of the house – Buchanan explains that we are about to be part of a ceilidh, the Gaelic word for ‘visit,’ which doesn’t require music and dancing.

In her crisply white bonnet and apron, Gillis laments the challenges families are facing, conceding the move to a new land is inevitable.

“It provides a little bit of context,” says Buchanan of the approach taken by animators.

It is a masterful approach; rather than explaining it was like during those times, visitors are dropped into their lives. The animators engage people as if they are with them; just another neighbour who has joined the ceilidh.

After a quick stop at what looks like a glorified woodshed, which Buchanan explains served as nothing more than shelter for settlers braving their first winter here, we ‘ceilidh’ with Marie Chehy and Colleen Beaton in one of the more permanent homes. They chat about the heat of the day while offering thanks for the abundant growing season, with crops such as flax thriving.

Austin ‘Alistair’ MacKenzie is the blacksmith at Highland Village.

Between visits, Buchanan deftly talks about points of interest, such as the sizeable gardens dotting the property, and the barns and corrals. She notes changes that have taken place because of the measures required in dealing with the global pandemic; the fenced-in areas that usually house the village pig and sheep are empty. Only the Clydesdale horse that spends each season there – Chaisson calls her the ‘Queen’ – has returned.

At the top of the hill stands the Malagawatch Church, circa 1874, which moved to its picturesque location in 2003. Its arrival was newsworthy – a barge carried the building of worship across the Bras d’Or Lake.

As we make our way to the next stop, Buchanan notes it is approaching the 1890s, which she described as the “peak of Gaeldom.”

Emily MacDonald makes adjustments to a malfunctioning spinning wheel, while Lili Watson prepares to make oatcakes in the kitchen of their home. While catching up, she and Buchanan agree getting the cooking completed as early in the day as possible – when the fire is its hottest – is the ultimate goal.

Animator Amber Buchanan greets the ‘queen” of the Highland Village, a Clydesdale named Mira Jean. Dell Corbett from Grand Mira loans her to the museum each year.

While in the entrance of the one-room schoolhouse, Buchanan removes a wooden paddle from a coat hook. She asks if I knew what it might have been used for, as she hung it around her neck.

Seeing my blank face, she quickly explains if a student was caught speaking Gaelic, they had to place the paddle around their neck. The only way to shake off the shame was to tattle on someone else for doing the same. The student wearing it at the end of the school day was strapped.

When we arrive at the general store, Jessica MacLean knits while waiting for customers to arrive. In one corner, there is a post office, while another offers the chance to purchase a tailored suit. Everything from flour and molasses to sugar and tobacco fill the shelves. It is prohibition time, so cough medicines are locked up in order to discourage thievery.

Orders made to the Eaton’s catalogue will arrive two weeks later on the train.

Blacksmith Austin ‘Alastair’ MacKenzie asks if “the train has broken down,” when he eyes me.

He calls me a city slicker when I couldn’t recognize the difference between two horseshoes – one is for the winter, one is for the summer.

Animator Marie Chehuy with some of the flax grown at Highland Village.

Aileen MacLean greets us on our last stop. While crocheting without pause as we talk, she gestures toward the switchboard she operates, calling it her “ball and chain.”

“It doesn’t ring often,” she says.

Like many of her neighbours, MacLean is worried about the growing economic hardships. Her daughter is one of many who have headed to Boston. She praises her for sending money home to help the family.

“You have to watch your pennies,” she adds.

The future

Speaking of dollars and cents, the museum board has launched a $3.6 million site development strategy. The construction of a new welcome and cultural resource centre will include interactive exhibits, as well as visitor service and interpretive enhancements.

All three levels of government have chipped in: $1.2 million from the province, $1.47 million from the feds and $100,000 from the Municipality of Victoria County, while the Nova Scotia Highland Village Society has amassed more than $350,000 of the $830,000 it has to pitch in.

The carriage that carried the body of the late Alexander Graham Bell.

Chaisson says the goal is to enhance the visitor experience while increasing the capacity for programming and operations.

‘Doing our best’

This pandemic truncated season has brought five consecutive years of growth to a screeching halt after last year’s more than 26,000 visits.

Cruise ship traffic from Sydney had become a boon. What had become the traditional season – June 1 until the weekend after Thanksgiving and the end of the world-famous Celtic Colours festival, and even into November to accommodate cruise ship visitors – had to be reshaped for 2020.

The museum, which only started welcoming visitors on July 8, is open Wednesday to Sunday (and holiday Mondays), from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., until Sept. 12.

One of the breathtaking views of Bras d’Or Lake from the Highland Village.

Admission is $11 for adults (18-64), $9 for seniors (65+), $5 for students (6-17), free for children (5 and under) and $25 for families (two adults and their school-aged children).

“We are doing our best to continue to tell their story,” says Chaisson.

Return Home

Contact The Editor

error: Alert: All content is protected. Copying or Printing this material is not allowed at this time.