This is the fifth and final episode in a series of posts by Blue Ocean co-founder Bob Frerck, telling of the experiences of his family’s vacation combined with Blue Ocean research traveling through Canada’s Atlantic Maritime Provinces –
After leaving Halifax, we turned northeast, our next destination, Louisbourg, the historic French fortress and reconstructed seaport on the Atlantic coast. To visit Louisbourg is to take a step back into the eighteenth century and it opens a window on the lives of the earliest European settlers.
Louisbourg is the largest historical reconstruction in North America and is to French colonial history what Williamsburg in Virginia is to English colonial history. (photo – lapresse.ca)
A Strategic Fortress and Target of Super Powers
However, the two settlements were very dissimilar. Louisbourg was a strategic fortress and ice free seaport on the shipping lanes from Europe. It also protected the approaches into the Straits of St Lawrence and the French settlements of Quebec and Montreal. Hence the fortress was a target in the rivalry between the English and French for control of what is today’s Canada.
Twice the British laid siege to the fortress and twice they captured it, the final time in 1758 during the Seven Years War. The British held the city for ten years until 1768 when, unwilling to continue to maintain a garrison they evacuated the city and burned it to the ground. Reconstruction started in the 1960’s and represents less than half of the original town.
A Living Museum
Louisbourg was the most important seaport north of Boston, protecting France’s lucrative North American cod fishing trade and consequently as a living museum it offers a wealth of information on the industries and cultures that evolved from living on the North Atlantic.
After a day being entertained by costumed actors interpreting the displays, munching on hot, freshly baked bread from the town’s bakery and hearing the firing of the canon from the city walls, we felt we knew a bit more about what life was like in an 18thc fishing community.
A Visit with Alexander Graham Bell
Next stop was the town of Baddeck made famous as the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell and now site of the museum dedicated to the compassion and genius of the renowned inventor. Exhibits describe Bell’s early work with the deaf which led to his inventing the telephone. “Mr. Watson, come here I want you!” spoken on March 10, 1876 in Boston.
Bell conducted many of his later experiments at his home and laboratory in Baddeck a perfect site on Bras d’Or Lake for development of the HD-4 a hydrofoil boat, that set the world speed record here in Baddeck of over 70 MPH in 1919. A virtual reality display allowed our girls to experience racing across the ice of Bras d’Or Lake in Bell’s very speedy hydrofoil.
In testimony to Bell’s interest in flight a replica of the AEA Silver Dart hangs from the museum’s ceiling. In 1909 the Silver Dart was piloted by J.A.D. MacCurdy into the air over Baddeck Bay becoming the first heavier than air craft to be flown in Canada and possibly the British Empire —
The Spectacular Cabot Trail
Leaving the museum we drove north to connect with the Cabot Trail that winds around the northern coastline of the Cape Breton Highlands. A stop in the fishing port of French River allowed time for a chat with a retired lobsterman “lots of lobsters” and to buy a miniature, but fully functioning lobster trap. I have no idea what the girls are going to do with that.
We rounded the cape and then drove south along the spectacular western slopes of Cape Breton (The Cabot Trail is often considered the world’s second most scenic drive after California’s Big Sur). We passed through Cheticamp to reach the town of Grand Etang and the Gulf Aquarium and Marine Station Cooperative (GAMS).
Understanding the Marine Ecosystem of the Gulf of St. Lawrence
GAMS is the passionate brainchild of Gretchen Noyes-Hull, a marine biologist who teaches oceanography at the University of Maine and spends her summers on Cape Breton. Gretchen understands that the Gulf of St. Lawrence offers a unique marine ecosystem that needs to be researched to determine the changes taking place off northern Cape Breton.
She is now seventy and has devoted many years to establishing GAMS. She’s done it all on a shoe string, each year cobbling together summer research grants for students and volunteering her own time and expertise. Although the little station is in temporary quarters it offers a lot to the public. There is an ocean discovery center for children with a touch tank containing eels, crabs and the kinds of things that go bump in the water. I liked the walrus skull. Upstairs there’s an office, research and meeting area.
Several years ago Gretchen won an Atlantic Canada Co-op Award for her proposal to build a permanent research and teaching aquarium in Grand Etang’s harbour. The design is now complete and if she can raise the money (help Gretchen by making a donation here) she will have accomplished something deeply astonishing. “In the little village of Grand Etang in the remote vastness of Northern Inverness, there will be a small but important research aquarium fed naturally by the sea it sits beside.” Oceanographers from around the world will come here to live and do the research that will inform us as to what climate change is doing to our oceans and how the marine environment and fishermen can adapt.
“Climate change and ocean warming means that some of the old species won’t return. It’s not clear if the cod will, but the warming seas will bring new species from the south. They are starting to arrive already. An aquarium and research station in the harbour will help us adapt to this new ocean life. GAMS will make a difference for the better… For a harbour to be safe, it needs to do more than shelter a boat from a storm. It must be the centre of a harmonious relationship with the ocean which connects us all and GAMS is helping us do that” – Gretchen Noyes-Hull.
Gretchen’s Efforts Are Inspiring
Gretchen’s story is exactly what inspires us at Blue Ocean, a modest story of great personal effort done with passion and commitment that can produce major change. Congratulations to Gretchen for a lifetime of work well done.
Thanks for tagging along!
After leaving GAMS it was time to head south and west toward home. What a great trip, what great people we have met and what important information we have gathered. I hope that you have enjoyed coming along for the ride. Our girls certainly did, they are still talking to us and seem to love each other more than ever. Can’t get any better than that.
By Bob Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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