Bell es­tate rec­og­nized

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID JALA david. jala@ cb­post. com

Beinn Bhreagh Hall, at the heart of the Bell es­tate over­look­ing the Bras d’Or Lake, has been the sum­mer home of the fam­ily since 1892. On Wed­nes­day, de­scen­dants of Alexan­der and Ma­bel Bell gath­ered with in­vited guests for the of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion of home and grounds as a pro­vin­cial her­itage prop­erty.

Al­most 130 years af­ter Alexan­der Graham Bell first laid eyes on Beinn Bhreagh, the moun­tain­side es­tate that has been the sum­mer home to gen­er­a­tions of his de­scen­dants has of­fi­cially been de­clared a Nova Sco­tia her­itage prop­erty.

For the Bell fam­ily, the recog­ni­tion could not have come on a bet­ter day, as warm tem­per­a­tures and blue skies fit­tingly ap­peared on a day that also saw Bell’s wife Ma­bel hon­oured by Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity

In a spe­cial con­vo­ca­tion held Thurs­day af­ter­noon at the Alexan­der Graham Bell Mu­seum, CBU posthu­mously awarded an honorary doc­tor­ate of letters to Ma­bel Hub­bard Bell.

“We hope that in rec­og­niz­ing Ma­bel Bell, young in­no­va­tive minds, in par­tic­u­lar young women, will be en­cour­aged to fol­low their dreams, ap­pre­ci­ate the value of ed­u­ca­tion and know what is pos­si­ble when peo­ple per­se­vere through ad­ver­sity,” said CBU pres­i­dent Dr. David Wheeler.

“We hope that in rec­og­niz­ing Ma­bel Bell, young in­no­va­tive minds, in par­tic­u­lar young women, will be en­cour­aged to fol­low their dreams, ap­pre­ci­ate the value of ed­u­ca­tion and know what is pos­si­ble when peo­ple per­se­vere through ad­ver­sity.” Dr. David Wheeler, CBU pres­i­dent

While her hus­band may be bet­ter known be­cause of the ad­vances he made in a va­ri­ety of fields, from the tele­phone to avi­a­tion to teach­ing the deaf, Ma­bel was a re­mark­able woman in her own right. One of her strong­est mo­ti­va­tions was to en­cour­age women and chil­dren, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas, to ed­u­cate them­selves to ef­fect change in ar­eas such as health, home in­dus­tries, women’s suf­frage, child labour and chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion.

Af­ter the con­vo­ca­tion, fam­ily mem­bers, gov­ern­ment dig­ni­taries and in­vited guests trav­elled the short dis­tance to the Bells’ sum­mer home at Beinn Bhreagh (Gaelic for “beau­ti­ful moun­tain”), their moun­tain­side es­tate over­look­ing the Bras d’Or Lake.

The Bells’ youngest great­grand­daugh­ter, Sara Grosvenor, spoke for the fam­ily at the cer­e­mony that saw the es­tate de­clared a pro­vin­cial Her­itage Prop­erty.

Grosvenor, who told some fam­ily sto­ries to the as­sem­bled au­di­ence of about 200 peo­ple, said the de­scen­dants of Alexan­der and Ma­bel Bell are grate­ful the prop­erty is be­ing rec­og­nized not only for its beauty, but for its his­toric value and the in­flu­ence its past oc­cu­pants have had on the area’s her­itage.

“And to not just ap­pre­ci­ate what our an­ces­tors have done, but also to live in the present and to do the best you can — it’s not just frozen in time, it’s think­ing of the fu­ture and in­spir­ing oth­ers,” said Grosvenor, who like many of Bells’ de­scen­dants lives in the Washington, D. C., area.

She re­counted the history of Bells’ first visit to Cape Bre- ton in 1895, when the New­found­land- bound steamship he was trav­el­ling on needed re­pairs and was forced to seek refuge in Baddeck.

The Scot­tish-born sci­en­tist, in­ven­tor, engi­neer, teacher of the deaf and vi­sion­ary fell in love with the land­scape and would, in the late 1880s, pur­chase about 600 acres of land on the moun­tain­ous penin- sula that be­came known as Beinn Bhreagh.

The prop­erty, still owned by the fam­ily, is spread across the moun­tain­side and af­fords won­drous views of the lake from var­i­ous van­tage points on the sprawl­ing es­tate.

The house, built in a mod­i­fied Queen Anne style, con­tin­ues to be used by the fam­ily.

Af­ter the cer­e­mony, dur­ing which Nova Sco­tia Cul­ture and Her­itage Min­is­ter Tony Ince pre­sented the fam­ily with a pro­vin­cial her­itage prop­erty plaque, fam­ily mem­bers con­ducted tours through the 122- year- old house. Pho­tog­ra­phy, how­ever, was pro­hib­ited to pro­tect the pri­vacy of the fam­ily.

The 37- room struc­ture, built with 17 fire­places, sits ma­jes­ti­cally over­look­ing the wa­ters of the Bras d’Or, while in­side it is a throw­back to another era. Book­cases line the walls of one of the two tower rooms, while a stately din­ing ta­ble sits in another room wait­ing to be ex­panded to ac­com­mo­date dozens.

Both Alexan­der and Ma­bel died in 1922, but since then Beinn Bhreagh con­tin­ues to be the sum­mer home to many of their 112 liv­ing de­scen­dants.

How­ever, the es­tate re­mains in pri­vate hands and is not open for view­ing or tours.



Twenty-nine of the Bells’ 112 liv­ing de­scen­dants gath­ered at the Beinn Bhreagh on Thurs­day when the fam­ily’s sum­mer home was rec­og­nized as a pro­vin­cial her­itage prop­erty.


Alexan­der Graham Bell him­self would have been pleased to see his de­scen­dants en­joy­ing them­selves on the spa­cious ground of Beinn Bhreagh.


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