Cape Breton’s hidden gem
Lucky tourists sometimes discover White Point by chance
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.