I have not written about a visitor and the visit before in any detail, but Rona’s visit was special.
Rona is the widow of one of my great school friends, who also was good friends with My Beloved during our teen and later years. Because My Beloved and I attended the same church with our bunch of friends in the youth club and on the tennis courts, Bill would come over from his part of town and join in with our adventures.
What made Bill a truly special friend was our affinity in rowing, music – both playing piano and singing – and just hanging out together as one would say today. Or playing pranks at school, for which we were infamous – at least, when, if, we got found out.
Unfortunately, Bill died two years ago and My Beloved and I had invited Rona here almost immediately afterwards. Rona took her time to choose when she was going to come and eventually asked if we could put up with her for three weeks toward the end of September to mid-October this year, 2018. We rejoiced that she at last was going to visit us.
Now, mind you, although Bill and Rona had been married a number of years, we had met Rona with Bill only a few times: at their home a couple of times and in Spain a couple of times, where Rona played golf with us (golf was not Bill’s game). So, to be candid, this visit could have gone sideways: instead, it was one of the most memorable visits and she one of the most easy-going and wonderful visitors I can remember we have ever had.
I do not wish to bore you with a travelogue of where we took Rona, so I will try to keep you away from the limit of boredom – I hope.
Rona landed from an Air Canada direct flight one afternoon from London, just after lunch. The next morning we had her up at the church, where she peeled four and a half big bags of potatoes in preparation for the take-out dinner the church does once a month. It is immensely popular among our church members and the local population coming home from their work and offices. What a Trojan effort she performed, still on jet lag – or is it jet progression on East to West flights? However, she thoroughly enjoyed the companionship of the fellow preppers – and they, her.
Yes, we did the Lunenburg trip to visit the Bluenose and the Fisheries Museum. And then a quick tour of the town, while, on our way home, she took photos of the three churches in Mahone Bay. If I had a dollar for every photo taken of those churches, I would not need my Government Old Age Pension. Along with photos of Peggy’s Cove, it has to be one of the most photographed scenes in Atlantic Canada.
Naturally, since Rona sings in her own church choir in England, we roped her in to our choir on Sunday, following which we went to, where else? Vernon’s Thunderbird Diner for a calorific brunch. I believe two had eggs Bennie. – or was it one had two eggs Bennie – and that would be four? No, I think my memory is again playing tricks.
The afternoon proved fine enough to go straight from brunching to touring the City, Pleasant Park and the beach we showed her where some of us with low intellect did a Polar Bear swim one New Year’s Day in -5C/23F Atlantic Ocean.
Then on to the Titanic cemetery. I quote from https://www.novascotia.ca/titanic/connection.asp
The majority of the bodies were unloaded at the Coal or Flagship Wharf on the Halifax waterfront and horse-drawn hearses brought the victims to the temporary morgue in the Mayflower Curling Rink.
Only 59 of the bodies placed in the morgue were shipped out by train to their families. The remaining victims of the Titanic were buried in three Halifax cemeteries between May 3 and June 12. Religious services were held at St. Paul’s Church and at the Synagogue on Starr Street. Burial services were held at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Brunswick Street Methodist Church, St. George’s Church and All Saint’s Cathedral.
Various individuals and businesses expressed their sympathy by donating flowers and wreaths. The coffins of the unidentified victims were adorned with bouquets of lilies.
Most of the gravestones, erected in the fall of 1912 and paid for by the White Star Line, are plain granite blocks. In some cases,
families, friends or other groups chose to commission a larger and more elaborate gravestone. [seen in background in picture on right above – Nuntius] All of these more personalized graves, including the striking Celtic cross and the beautiful monument to the “Unknown Child”, are located at Fairview Lawn Cemetery.
That was Sunday. The morrow, Monday, we were to start on a lightning tour of the very interesting Cape Breton and and our neighbouring province of Prince Edward Island.
Now this is where we must thank Rona for coming and making this a most interesting part of her visit: the last time we were there was when we took our five now 50-year old kids (pardon, one is still only 49) around Cape Breton and to the part of PEI Rona most particularly wanted to visit, as teenagers. And things have changed a lot in those intervening years.
Stop No. 1, the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. Just a four-hour drive on mostly 4-lane highway. What a wonderful museum it is and how modern it has been made. A day there would not be too long. One just has either forgotten or one never knew just how many inventions Bell thought up. Oh we remembered the telephone, but what about the wheat husker he invented when he was fourteen years young; the hydrofoil boat, which got the world record speed on water; an airplane [see photo on right]; the photophone, a system of transmitting human voice wirelessly by light, 16 years before Marconi’s wireless; a metal detector he invented to try to find the bullet that assassinated President Garfield and, although he didn’t find it in time to save his life, the device was used for many years until x-rays replaced it; the replacement on Edison’s phonograph of a tinfoil cylinder by a wax-coated cardboard cylinder made such an improvement that the gramophone immediately became associated with Bell, not Edison; and, perhaps the most important of his inventions to Bell himself, as his mother and his wife were deaf, were those, from his first audiometer, allowing doctors to understand how much hearing a person has, to actual hearing devices? The word decibel was named after him by Bell Labs.
Our journey continued as far as the small town of Louisburg, where we found a bed for the night, three, actually – in two rooms: I would not be inclined to spend more than one night there, as it was a very basic motel without even one of Bell’s inventions, the telephone! However, it was extremely clean and the breakfast was good and included in the price. Which wasn’t bad, either.
It did not have a restaurant for other than breakfast, but we were directed to the Grubstake, where its menu revealed many a tasty soup, salad, sandwich, main course and dessert. We three all had excellent, but different, meals. The wine drizzled down our throats very well after this day of Alexander Graham and driving.
The following day revealed the Fortress of Louisbourg, built by the French, taken by the English, returned to the French and finally totally demolished by the English, a great deal of its stone from its walls was sent to Boston to construct Louisbourg Square and other buildings in that city.
If we were not the first to arrive at the portals of the Fortress, we were certainly three of the first to arrive Tuesday morning: the French guard, taking a good peek at these wrinklies (two, anyway) very civilly and politely asked us if we would like to park near the entrance building rather than further out in the parking lot. Well, that was a no-brainer, and we parked just a few metres from the kiosk.
A fort is a military structure, often with a moat, whereas a fortress is a fort but includes houses, even a complete town. The Fortress of Louisbourg, as with the Bell museum, is a place where one could spend days, not hours, visiting all the buildings.
In 1961 the Government of Canada began a $25 million project aimed at reconstructing approximately one-quarter of the original town and fortifications. Within this area the buildings, yards, gardens and streets are being recreated as they were during the 1740s, immediately preceding Louisbourg’s first siege.
The work at Louisbourg has required an inter-disciplinary research effort. Archaeological excavation has yielded millions of artifacts as well as the ruins of fortifications and buildings. Faced with a huge task of reconstructing the fortress, blueprints had been brilliantly saved by the founders in three different locations, one being in archives in Paris, so it has been possible to rebuild every single building exactly as the fortress had been in its hey day. Some 750,000 pages of documents and 500 maps and plans have been copied from archives in France, England, Scotland, the United States and Canada. The historical evidence reveals much about life at Louisbourg and provides an excellent base for the study of the French in North America.
As you wander into the buildings, Citizens of the mid-1700s tell you, speaking as if they were actually living then, about how they are living and what they are cooking and doing today, just as if you are back there in that time. These Citizens are in every building, while others take you on tours around the fortress.
In one building, My Beloved helped the Citizen start the fire for dinner using a pair of bellows, while being watched by said Citizen.
On our way to our next beds for the night, we stopped to view the Marconi National Historic Site, the Government web site of which described it as…
The site where Guglielmo Marconi initiated the age of global communications: in December 1902, a wire antenna suspended from four giant wooden towers beamed an official wireless message across the Atlantic.
Exhibits include a model of the original Table Head station, and remains of the tower foundation. Discover the scientists who pioneered today’s technology. Try your hand at Morse Code.
Unfortunately, the problem we experienced was that the National web site declared it to be open until later in the month: it wasn’t and we could not get in.
Oh, well, I wandered over a hundred metres to the cliff and, on seeing what I did see, I hailed my two ladies to come and see, too. And what did we see? An iceberg. The first true iceberg any of us had ever seen. I would show you a photo of it, but it was too far out to take a good photo on our phone cameras. But we did see it! It really was there!
It was not a far drive from Glace Bay to Ingonish, but it was dark by the time we got there, not knowing if there were any vacancies – and if there weren’t, we would be sleeping in the car, as there were no other hotels and the odd B & B had signs No Vacancy. But the Keltic Lodge did have rooms for us. If you are ever in the north part of Cape Breton, do take the opportunity of staying at the Keltic Lodge: it is a splendid place in which to relax and ponder over what to eat at the next meal.
That evening, after a very welcome and very tasty dinner, we relaxed in the Lounge with some more wine and were entertained by one guitarist/singer Fran Doyle, a Dubliner, but spending all his time now in Nova Scotia and Florida and a few places in between. He was very good and we were soon on excellent chatting terms. There were not many people in the Lounge, but at one time, Fran did make some comment to a group near the bar that they were being very rude with their noise: they did not respond, for they were making so much noise they had not heard him. It was in interludes like this that our acquaintanceship grew. And also with the odd, or rather even numbered, drink after his routine.
Overnight, the rain came and came and came. So did the wind, or gale, rather. So we decided to stay over and just chill out on the Wednesday. As well we did that, as it poured all day and people on bus tours were returning disappointed at being unable to see the Cabot Trail over which they had travelled. And paid bus tours money to do so.
Evening came and, of course, food in the guise of a sumptuous dinner. I believe the picture alongside truly represents the gourmand part of Yours Truly, as, along with a fair portion of one of the bottles of wine, Yours Truly had not one, but two chocolate desserts. Mmmm! I still remember those! But I had to share with two others.
After dinner found the three of us back in the Lounge waiting for Fran to appear. As he walked in, he saw us, smiled, and immediately said he would come and have a drink with us. Unfortunately, he got waylaid and then started his gig. As we were leaving early next morning, we had to excuse ourselves at the end of the first set, not without him giving us hugs all around and saying we will meet again.
Neither he nor us knew how soon that would be!
Thursday proved sunny, so the drive around the Cape Breton Trail was beautiful. We made a couple of ‘view’ stops and one at a well-TV’d commercial place, Laura’s, known for its ice cream. No, not for us for, while I said it was sunny, I didn’t say how cold and windy it was. Then over the water by ferry to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI).
By the time we had checked in, it was time for dinner, so we went to the Merchantman Pub. They were packed, but by stealth, the ladies were able to obtain three bar seats, make friends with Paul, the manager of the bar, and eventually, as the hostess had obviously overlooked us on the wait-list, have Paul get us a great table overlooking the rest of the restaurant. I cannot remember what we had and I cannot check the bill, as Rona, as she did more often than she should have done, became our hostess.
Rona had a key interest in PEI: she has always been a great fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books. Indeed, she had even brought a copy with her, which she read prior to visiting the various sites on the Island. This particular copy is inscribed inside with her mother’s name and showing it was a 1927 school prize for her prowess in Latin. Interesting!
Naturally, places change, just as we – I – do, but Anne’s House is still the same. What is different is construction of a brand new Visitor Centre, which will make the visit longer, as there will be much more to view and with which to interact. As we wandered through the house, visions of going through it nigh on 40 years ago ran across my vision. Nothing different. People stop and stare and comment at the same items in the same rooms.
One place Rona and I went, while My Beloved returned to the car, as she did not wish to walk far, was the Haunted Forest. I do not remember strolling through the Haunted Forest with our kids, so, perhaps, this is relatively new. It is a beautiful walk through the woods. At one point, I took a little path off the main path, only to discover that I ended up on the 12th Tee of the Golf Course. Oh, dear, some things do change, indeed.
A visit to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s house proved, to me, a gyp. Rona had purchased a ‘combination’ admission ticket, which we both believed to cover not only the Anne site, but the Montgomery house, too. It did not! And, frankly, there was not much to see in the Montgomery house: it was, of course, a tourist trap with a gift shop. And an outside loo, of which I availed myself. I suppose that was authentic.
It was time for lunch and I remembered North Rustico as having a great restaurant. So, there did we drive. The village was not quite as it was in my mind, but then, as I said, things change, including my memories. Nevertheless, we found a nice little building behind the big restaurant where the tour bus was parked, called On The Dock, which it was, right on the dock. No-one else was in it, so we wondered if it was open: yes, we were warmly welcomed, but told this was their last day and they were closing for the season.
We were in luck!
Indeed we were. We shared a crab cheese dip, which was delicious. Two of us then had mussels, one in white wine and garlic and the other in beer. Both were plump mussels and very tasty, but the white wine and garlic won out.
The server was so pleasant and helpful and, by the time we left, she had her hands full, as many more people had come in to eat.
There were two lovely stained glass windows, which formed part of a small museum containing fishing gear and a boat. All interesting.
We certainly recommend this restaurant and will go back again, although, hopefully, not after another forty years!
And it is closed until next year.
Moving on, we paid a quick visit to Brackley Beach, where in years past we had camped and swum and had much fun on the beautiful sand. It has not changed, save for the fact that now you have to use a board walk and steps to access the beach, all in aid of protecting the dunes.
Seeing the long beach was very nostalgic.
Travelling back to Boutiliers Point, Rona remarked on the 13-kilometre bridge which connects PEI with New Brunswick, the mainland. It is now twenty-one years old, but it still is a fine engineering example resting on 65 piers from shore to shore with 35 metres of water at the deepest point and 60 metres above sea level at its highest point, allowing large vessels to pass underneath. So the piers, or columns, on which it rests are 95 metres (312 feet) from seabed to underside of deck. The span between the each of the main forty-four is 250 metres (820 feet) apart. That’s a large span for concrete.
Naturally, no visit to our part of the world, indeed, our part of Canada, is complete without a visit, just 40 minutes from home, to, namely, Peggy’s Cove with its famous lighthouse. So, to round up Rona’s visit, we went on a fine day, but one following some rough weather, so the breakers on the rocks were splashing well. At this time of the year, there is no piper nor ice cream store, and one has to have some extra layer of clothing, but the magnificence of the site is awe-inspiring by itself. I have been there on hot summers’ days, on cold wintry days, on gale-force windy days with rain bucketing down, and I have been there on snowy days. Never have I been anything but impressed with the force and with the beauty of nature. Peggy’s Cove is a place where one can stand and feel the wonder of Our Creator and say, thank you, Lord, for all the blessings of this world.
Rona’s last night and, as is our wont on last nights with our guests, we took her out for dinner. In this case, it was to the Trellis, a nice little restaurant twenty minutes along the Bay road. However, as was her wont, she insisted on paying, which went right against our tradition. The food and service was, as usual there, very good, but what made the evening extra special was that My Beloved had seen in the local paper that the entertainment for the evening was – you guessed it – none other than Fran Doyle, our friend from Keltic Lodge. When he entered the restaurant to set up his equipment, his first glance at Rona and then My Beloved and me, was one of simple astonishment. He couldn’t believe his eyes and, as the evening progressed, he made several references to our meeting in Cape Breton.. As he then said, we will meet again, but little did he know how soon.
My Beloved and I have found the three weeks with Rona so delightful. We cannot thank her enough for taking us back into the past and re-living it again. Not only that, but she was one palmary guest.
A final light-hearted picture: in Eastern Canada, there is a chain of large DIY stores called, what else, but
2 thoughts on “The Past Three Weeks with Rona”
Oh how I enjoyed this wonderfully eloquent read. Chockfull of interesting lore and helpful detailed accounts of places to add to my adult bucket list (as I may be one of the aforementioned 50ish kids). Definitely time for a revisit! Beautifully written as always!
Absolutely one of your best scribbling/posts ever. It brought back many wonderful memories of our family trip so many years ago. What a blessing to be able to experience it again with such a wonderful friend.
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