The Highland Outdoor Village

Cape Breton Island

Iona, Nova Scotia, Canada

August 24th, 2001

Of all the Maritime Provinces, Nova Scotia is probably one of the most recognized. Of less knowledge is the fact that the Province is actually two islands separated by a series of waterways. The North end has the older European history, going back to the French arrival. This northern part is locally called Cape Breton, and seems to have its own culture and attitude. In the middle of the Island, in what is known as the Highlands, near Iona, lies the Highland Village Outdoor Museum. Here we were able to trace the heritage and culture of the Gaelic immigrants from their early migrations at the beginning of the 1800s to around the 1920s. Never having actually seen what is often called the Highlands, when we entered the village we just stopped and stood for a while. The panorama was spectacular to say the least. Rolling hills tumbled hundreds of feet down to the shores of the gigantic Lake Bras d'or, known as Nova Scotia's inland sea. The Scotch and Irish that arrived in the New World, brought with them the only knowledge they had. Farming and the potato. Feannag was the Gaelic word that explained the special way of cultivating the land of the Highlands of Scotland. Manure or seaweed was laid in a strip and allowed to decay. The ground on either side was then turned over onto the strip creating a kind of sandwich with the filler being the fertilizer. Into this was inserted the potato eyes or whatever else was to be grown. A 2 foot space on either side was provided for drainage. The area was surrounded with a substantial wall of stone or sod to retain soil and protect it from wind and wild animals. The first homes were of simple design to get them through the winter. Known as Black houses, or "Taigh Dubh" in Gaelic. The walls were approximately six feet thick and were actually two walls with pieces of stone and twigs filling the space between and acting as insulation. The roof of the Black House was either of thatch or moss and was held in place by homemade rope weighed down with large stones. The thatch or sod was applied over a framework of a few strategically placed timbers. A smoke hole (Fairleus) was positioned in the ridge of the house to vent smoke. From this meager beginning, the life of the Scottish grew and improved. The sod roofed homes quickly gave way to one room log cabins cut out with hand saws from the vast forest of cedar that surrounded them. No nails were used as metal was a precious and rare commodity in 1810. Before long the first water powered sawmill began slicing out board foot lumber and the first multi-room frame house went up. Coopers were still wrapping barrels with ash saplings rather then iron hoops, and nails still were a dream of the future. Building construction, especially the larger barns were of the mortise and tenon, a for-runner to the presently known "tongue and grove" assembly, using wooden pegs in place of nails or glue. Everywhere you turn the view was spectacular, crystal blue water framing rolling hills of amber grasses, weaving gently in the steady but not overpowering wind. The park covers the time period from the early 1800s to 1920, after which much of the farming in this area disappeared. Not to leave the foreign tourist without a taste of the really local cuisine, we were offered for a measly 6 dollars, a plate of potatoes and cod with hot bacon grease liberally poured over both. Yum-Yum, ah, -- burp. I kid you not, it's all the rage out here on the Island.

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