Cape Bre­ton’s hid­den gem

Lucky tourists some­times dis­cover White Point by chance

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRE­TON - Ran­nie Gil­lis Celtic Ex­pe­ri­ence Ran­nie Gil­lis is a re­tired teacher and guid­ance coun­sel­lor who lives in North Sydney. An avid writer, pho­tog­ra­pher and moto-jour­nal­ist, he is the au­thor of sev­eral books and has writ­ten travel sto­ries for var­i­ous Cana­dian

For gen­er­a­tions, na­tive Cape Bre­ton­ers have re­ferred to the north­ern part of our is­land as “Down North,” al­though it ac­tu­ally lies “Up North” in ref­er­ence to a map. Why? Well, ac­cord­ing to some sources it dates back to the age of sail, when most di­rec­tions re­ferred to the direc­tion of the wind, or the direc­tion in which a river flows.

The Aspy River in north­ern Cape Bre­ton, which is about 25 miles long, flows down from the up­land plateau of the Cape Bre­ton High­lands, and flows in a northerly direc­tion to empty into the broad ex­panse of Aspy Bay. There­fore, those lit­tle com­mu­ni­ties that lie around the bay, places like White Point, Ding­wall, South Har­bour and Smelt Brook, were al­ways said to be “Down North.”

Lately some in­di­vid­u­als, and some tourist web­sites, refer to the north­ern tip of Cape Bre­ton as “The Top of the Is­land.” But I pre­fer the orig­i­nal term and, if you ask some­one who lives there, they will usu­ally proudly say that they are from “Down North.”

How­ever, no mat­ter which term we use, that part of our lovely is­land con­tains some of the most spec­tac­u­lar and awe in­spir­ing scenery to be found in the prov­ince of Nova Sco­tia.

It also is home to sev­eral beau­ti­ful vil­lages, each of which is sur­rounded by out­stand­ing panoramic vis­tas of moun­tains and ocean, which are unique in the Mar­itime provinces.

One of these is White Point, which also hap­pens to be one of my favourite places in north­ern Cape Bre­ton. It also seems to be one of the bestkept se­crets in Nova Sco­tia, prob­a­bly be­cause of its re­mote lo­ca­tion, which is at least a half-hour drive from the Cabot Trail.

Lo­cated on the north­east­ern shore of Aspy Bay, it fre­quently sur­prises those in­trepid tourists who dis­cover it by chance, with its un­sur­passed beauty, and stun­ning views of the moun­tains of the Cape Bre­ton High­lands. How­ever, for those few who take this de­tour off the Cabot Trail it­self, they are re­warded with the spe­cial charm and awe-in­spir­ing beauty of a rather unique place.

The north­ern tip of Cape Bre­ton Is­land has a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory, which dates back more than 1,000 years. The first in­hab­i­tants were the Mi’kmaq, a First Na­tions peo­ple who were su­perb hunters and fish­er­men. Five hun­dred years later, by the early 1500s, sea­sonal fish­er­men from sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries, in­clud­ing France, Spain and Por­tu­gal, ar­rived in this re­gion.

They would re­turn each sum­mer to fish the wa­ters of the Aspy Bay and the nearby Cabot Strait. While here, they soon set up a sea­sonal fish­ing sta­tion at White Point, where their catch could be dried, salted and then sent back to their mother coun­tries.

By the early 1700s a good por­tion of this trade was be­ing off-loaded at the har­bour in Louis­bourg, where a mas­sive con­struc­tion project was un­der­way that would re­sult in a brand new for­ti­fi­ca­tion, the Fortress of Louis­bourg.

Two hun­dred years later, by the early 1900s, a small com­mu­nity now ex­isted out at the very end of White Point. How­ever, be­cause of its ex­posed lo­ca­tion, with no pro­tec­tion from north­east gales or se­vere win­ter storms, the tiny vil­lage was soon moved in­land to its present lo­ca­tion, which is much more shel­tered.

To­day White Point, with a pop­u­la­tion of less than 100, re­mains a scenic gem, nes­tled be­tween the moun­tains and the sea. It re­mains one of my favourite places to visit, in all four sea­sons of the year.

Next week: A cen­ten­nial light­house in Ding­wall.


The snug lit­tle har­bour at White Point, on the north­east­ern shore of Aspy Bay. In the left back­ground is Cape North, with Money Point at its tip. It is es­ti­mated that at least 200 ship­wrecks have oc­curred at Money Point over the years.

The fish­ing vil­lage of White Point, with a pop­u­la­tion of less than 100.

Tourists stand on the break­wa­ter at White Point, with Cape North and Money Point in the back­ground.

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