In Antigonish we attended the festivities of the 152nd annual Antigonish Highland Games. The games held in Antigonish are said to be the longest running Highland Games in North America. While the Highland Games are said to have been hosted on an informal basis in Antigonish prior to 1863, the Antigonish Highland Society first officially sponsored the Antigonish Highland Games on October 16th, 1863. In the late 1860’s the 78th Highlanders (remember them from our Halifax post) were the first Pipe Band to participate. In order to participate they traveled by train to New Glasgow and then marched the rest of the way (approximately 40 miles) to the games in Antigonish. We went and experienced the local parade and then continued on to a day of excitement at the games were we watched dancing, drum, pipe and historic athletic competitions too. As we watched the various athletic competitions we quickly became partial to Cowboy Man, a name we created, as he was the only kilt wearing man out there sporting a cowboy hat between competitions. Cowboy Man while we were there set 2 new Nova Scotia Records for both the 22 lb. Braemar Stone (pushed from the shoulder for distance) and also for the 22 lb. Scottish Hammer (round mass, attached to a handle, with no allowed foot movement during the throw. The boots of the competitors have long spikes from the toe that anchor their feet in place). Cowboy Man is from Antigonish, his name is Matt Douherty and he is 30 years old and weighs a light (for the games) 230 lbs. Our other favorite competitor at the games was Dirk Bishop. He is 51 years old, 280 lbs., from New Brunswick and he won the Caber Toss. We also watched the 56 lb. Weight For Height(56 lb. mass, attached to a handle that is heaved over a bar, raising the bar to obtain the highest height), the 56 lb. Weight for Distance (implement suspended from a chain, attached to a handle and thrown for distance) and the Tug-O-War which we discovered was no child’s play event. We enjoyed watching the really incredible athletes compete at their sports seldom seen by Americans. There were also Bag Pipe and Drum competitions, both group and individual, that we wandered around to experience, a fiddler concert and various highland dance competitions too. It was truly a very full and enjoyable day!
The First Nations are recognized as the first Indians in Nova Scotia. The Metis are mixed of First Nations and European ancestry. Inuits are the Aboriginal people of Northern Canada that reside north of the 60th Parallel. So much of their cultural has their Indian roots intertwined and each place we go we learn a bit more.
At the Antigonish Heritage Museum (located in the Old Train Station), we learned about a local Antigonish hero, Ronald Mac Donald. No, he did not make hamburgers. In 1898 he was the first Boston Marathon winner. He would continue later to be a top competitor in the Antigonish games, then attend St. Xavier University, becoming a practicing physician in Newfoundland. In the museum we also saw more local artifacts and were introduced to the Coady International program that was begun in the 1920’s. A somewhat socialist approach, their school is credited with developing co-ops and also Credit Unions in the area. The Coady program today attracts new students from many third world countries. The program is held on the St. Xavier University Campus. So much of what we have learned throughout PEI and Nova Scotia has come from chatting with the docents in these small museums. All have been friendly and very eager to share.
The campus of St. Xavier University is beautiful and it is where we got to see St. Ninian’s Cathedral. The Church was completed in 1874 and granted Cathedral status in 1886.
One of our days while in the Antigonish area, we drove up to the Celtic Interpretive Center in Judique, Nova Scotia. There we had a lovely lunch accompanied by a wonderful Celtic fiddler and keyboard player. The Celtic fiddler was very good and the center has live music every day. The food was good too, where Teri tried the Salted Cod cakes- best described as mashed potatoes mixed with salt cod and lightly fried. Highly recommended. Shortly up the road from there we drove to Inverness, Nova Scotia where we visited the Stella Maris Church, built in 1906 and also visited the Inverness Miners museum. It is at the Miner’s Museum that we cleared up the mystery of why the island had a railroad-car ferrying demand of 132,000 in 1950. It was this demand that created the need for the Canso Causeway project. When we first heard these rail car numbers, they seemed huge to us for supporting such a small island. It is at the Miner’s museum we learned about the huge amount of coal that, at one time, was leaving the Island from the Inverness Mines. All of this coal was being transported via railroad car. At the museum we saw a map of the mines and wow, while mining tunnels get supported, it still seemed surprising that the entire town of inverness has not collapsed. The tunnels are at several levels, and they are not only under the entire town but also quite extensively under the ocean floor at the 4,000 foot depth level!
The first means of transportation between the mainland and Cape Breton Island was a steam powered ferry train barge named the S.S. Mulgrave. An additional ferry, the Scotia I was purchased in 1901 and yet another added, the Scotia II in 1915. But even with three ferries running, the demand for rail car traffic was too great and the ferrying was also too dangerous with several accidents and deaths. In 1952, the first contract to construct the Canso causeway was awarded ($22,000,000). The Canso Causeway name comes from the MiKmaq word “Kamsok” which means opposite the lofty cliffs. Some 10,092,000 tons of rock were required to close the Strait of Canso. The surface width is 80 feet and the swinging bridge connecting both sides for auto and train trafic is 308 feet long. We were fortunate to catch a ship hauling power wind vanes as it was traveling through the canal. We not only got to see the locks in action, but just as interesting was watching the swinging bridge. It was an interesting solution to view this underway.
While Antigonish is not normally considered by most as a destination location, we found it to be rich in history and a fun visit.
Antogonish Heritage Museum
Antigonish, Nova, Scotia
Model off the Scotia
Rail Car Ferry
Canso Lighthouse and Canal Locks
Ship Carrying Wind Turbines Through
Ship Carrying Wind Turbine Blades
Entering the Canso Canal
Ship passing Through the Canso Canal after the Bridge has rotated
Bridge is Rotating back to the Vehicle Traffic Position
Back Home Again at our Beautiful Oceanfront Campsite