Friday, July 4, 2014

Music and More in the Maritimes

We enjoyed "Tea with Eleanor"
We are finally headed back to the USA after nearly seven weeks in the Maritimes. Tonight we are on Campobello Island, famous summer retreat for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, a truly lovely spot for our last night in Canada. The Maritimes were more than we ever imagined and we are sad to leave, especially, as we have discovered, now that the tourist season has just started. We now know that there are many major public events and festivals that don’t start until the official season kicks off on Canada Day, July 1st.  We were somewhat disappointed not to have found more music, but did find a few venues that gave us a taste of what the islands have to offer.

Our favorite has to be the Celtic Music Interpretation Centre in the tiny village of Judique, Cape Breton. This area is home to Natalie McMaster whom Friday Harbor music lovers will remember from her sellout concert on our island about a decade ago. We were so impressed with her ability to dance, sing and play the fiddle all at the same time. We didn’t get to see her here, as she is again touring in the US and Canada (this time with her fiddler husband and five young children!) But at the Centre we learned about her musical family, and had a great time learning to hear the differences in fiddle tunes that make up sets for dancing: reels, jigs, strathspeys and more.  We tried our hands at playing a fiddle and our feet at Scottish dancing (which resulted in a lot of laughing at ourselves.) And we enjoyed local seafood for lunch at the Centre while two musicians performed Celtic tunes. Judique is one of several coastal villages that continue a unique musical tradition that came from Scotland over 300 years ago and singing and dancing are a big part of life here on the shores of Cape Breton.

Lilypad down on the Shepherds Farm, PEI
A couple of days later we were in bustling Charlottetown, capital of the Province of Prince Edward Island. There on a warm summer’s evening we found a street band set up to entertain the customers of a half-dozen restaurants and we had a delicious meal while enjoying  young people playing jazz. Charlottetown is the home of “North America’s longest running musical”, the story of Anne of Green Gables but, as noted above, our travels were ahead of the tourist season and we were there just a few days too early to catch the opening show of the season. What we did enjoy, however, was an overnight at a Harvest Host site, The Shepherds Farm near Mt. Stewart. Our host Stephen Cousins gave us a tour of the farm and supplied us with organic new potatoes and asparagus for supper (as well as internet and a full hook-up, all at no cost.)

Summerside Baywalk has exercise stations, too!
From there we drove through spectacular agricultural lands, new green crops in iron-rich red soil complemented by roadside lupines in full glory. We accidentally stumbled onto a “Gathering of the Clans,” at the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts in the town of Summerside. In spite of the warm temperature (30 degrees Celsius) we enjoyed the bag pipe and drum marching bands from the Halifax Citadel and Moncton, NB. We left early because of the heat, figuring ourselves to be fairly wimpish given that most of the performers were playing, marching about in the full sun AND wearing wool. But we went on to discover Summerside’s “Credit Union Place” that houses an Olympic size pool, waterslides, hockey rink and harness race track. It was fun to cool off in the pool and watch the horses trot by on the adjacent track. That night we boondocked at the terminus of the Baywalk, a 7 kilometer walking and biking trail that goes along the waterfront and features sites interpreting local natural and historical features. 
Our next destination was the northwestern tip of PEI. We landed in Tignish in time for the annual Irish Moss Festival Parade, an event that lined the streets and featured most every antique tractor from all of PEI. We learned that Irish Moss, a sea vegetable containing high amounts of carrageenan, is still commercially harvested with horses here at North Cape. It’s a fishery that starts up as soon as the spring lobster season ends so folks shift gears and head back to the sea for a living once again. The North Cape of PEI also has hosted a major wind turbine research center since 1981 and sports an interesting visitor center and a four star restaurant overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence. Coming back down the island the next day (after boondocking outside of and touring the Potato Museum) we meandered over to the Acadian Cultural Center at Abram Village where we enjoyed an Acadian lunch and a great concert by six people singing, dancing and playing a total of at least 14 instruments. 

We love Canada where everyone seems less fearful and more relaxed about most everything.  But will be back in the US tomorrow. No Nancy, we aren’t becoming Canadians. Well not on this trip anyway.

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