There is a running joke among Cape Bretoners that when a causeway between mainland Nova Scotia and the island was constructed and opened in August 1955, that was the month when Cape Breton Island decided to allow Canada to join it – instead of the other way around!
They are a proud people, these island folk, many of whom have roots dating back to the first Scottish settlers of the 1600s, who, upon “discovering” the island, felt they were at home in their highlands.
(The name Nova Scotia – Latin for New Scotland – was penned by the writer and colonizer Sir William Alexander in 1621.)
Sydney is the largest community on the island and has become a popular cruise ship port in recent years. You certainly can’t miss the world’s largest fiddle built and located right on the waterfront!
While the population is only about 32,000 today, this small city was once known as “Steel City” from 1900 to 1945 when it was home to one of the world’s largest steel plants, in service due to the many coal mines on the island.
Now, one can visit the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum in nearby Glace Bay (and experience a miner’s life underground) or see other places such as the charming town of Baddeck, home of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, a National Historic Site. Bell spent leisure (and inventing time) on a hillside estate near here that is still visited by his descendants.
Only about a half an hour’s drive from the Port of Sydney is the Fortress of Louisbourg, another National Historic Site. This re-created fortress is a replica of the one built by the then-ruling French in 1713. By 1740, it was the most extensive fortification built in North America.
Now, after being rebuilt in the 1960s and ‘70s, it is a true living history museum owned by Parks Canada. Costumed interpreters play the parts of local villagers – speaking in English when you speak to them! - and the restaurant on site serves menu items that would have been popular in 18th century France.
Your brief visit to Sydney will be sure to give you a taste of the strong heritage that envelops every proud Cape Bretoner today, whether he or she has Scottish, English, French or Mik’maq (native) roots!