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Cape Breton-Cabot Trail-cultural authenticity

August 2, 2013

First of all, my apologies for the grammatical errors in my last post. It was done in haste as I was listening in on the Bradley Manning case on Democracy Now, and preparing to leave the house. Anyway, sorry about that.

It’s been a hard week re-adjusting to the world, as we spend a few days in Cape Breton. It’s great that there are still truly authentic environmental and cultural spaces left in the world – even while they are increasingly under pressure from the outside world.

_DSC5312Strips of the Cape Breton Trail are exactly as they promise. Spectacular views of the ocean, forests of pine that go for miles – oh, what air it is to breathe!

We sat on the top edge of a great valley of pines and imagined a time when the great forests went uninterrupted from here to Manitoba and south to the Carolinas. Imagine what the air must have smelt like?! It is too hard to imagine…the air made my lungs sing.

_DSC5326Three days in Cape Breton and I feel ten years younger. My lungs have been washed – I can run further, easier. My legs are lighter. My head is clearer. The power of oxygen!

But it has got to be a weird place to be a local. Every summer, you watch as tourists from Canada, and the US come to see the view. At a lobster shack I saw cars and motorcycles from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Colorado, California. Bus tours of Chinese seniors, or Europeans pass through. None of whom are there to interact with the local people (except for services needed: food, gas, lodgings). The locals are all but invisible – unless when we are pointing at their poverty, the lobster traps piled in their yards, or the friendly way in which they talk funny.

We pass through tiny fishing villages on the way to higher grounds and they barely register on my brain. Sure, we note the old lobster traps for sale by the side of the road, a colourful house, or a car up on blocks (such clichés) – but anything any closer than this, and we would feel uncomfortable.

A friend notes that it is hard not to look down on these people and their “hillbilly” ways, but when I suggest that they have lots of reasons to look down their noses at us as well, she doesn’t know what I mean.

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The Keltic Lodge

We are most comfortable when we arrive at the Keltic Lodge – a 4-star early 20th century lodge overlooking a fantastic view of a bay – comfortable because we are again amongst the civilized society, amongst the people who appreciate fine dining, a folksy acoustic guitar at the bar (playing local music, of course!), and a great swimming pool with big fluffy towels.

My girlfriend loves the irony of having spent the weekend so close to all that ocean, and she ended up swimming in a swimming pool.

What I love most about places like Cape Breton (or rural Ontario, northern Saskatchewan, Newfoundland) is the authenticity these places have. Sure, there is less education, less knowledge of the ways of the world, but Halifax is, in many ways, the Land of the Fools in comparison.

These people can tell you exactly how climate change is affecting their community – because they live in it in a way city people never can. My mother, who has lived her entire life in the forests of north-eastern Ontario, who comes from generations of forest people, can take you out and show you exactly how acid rain is killing the forest. How many urbanites will survive the environmental apocalypse? How many city folk know how to really laugh, tell a great tale, fillet a salmon?

The final irony in this is that Cape Breton and the Nova Scotia government know that tourist dollars bring a great deal of relief to a poor and dying economy. Yet, more tourists mean more cars, more lodges, and the arrival of Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s, and Subway.

More tourists mean more pollution and more cultural conformity – all the while marvelling at the “flavour” of the local communities they are passing through – as if Cape Breton were a museum we looked at from behind our passing windows.

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Valley fields of wild flowers in the wind

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