Is fheàrr na `n t-òr sgeul innis air chòir. | Better than gold is a tale well told


Stòiridhean (the stories), they are the heart of Gaelic culture. For Gaels the well-known art of storytelling is used as the means of passing down the traditions from one generation to the next.

In the past it was a common occurrence for families, friends and neighbours to be gathered in the kitchen for a cèilidh (visit). During these visits tales were told and songs were sung. These stories offered tales of travel and triumph, heroes, fools, and sometimes loss or tragedy. They were often composed, rarely written down, and retold endlessly by their descendants from memory.


Sgeulaiche (the storyteller), was often renowned for vast number of stories they were able to tell. You could tell a great story by the number of times it was requested and the large crowds who gathered to here it.

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Many of these stories have stood test of time, having been brought with them from their homes in Gaelic Scotland and continue to be told here in Nova Scotia today.

This form of oral transmission of the culture has seen a decline with influence of the modern world. However today there is some resurgence of the storytelling tradition as young learners try to preserve and promote Gaelic culture.

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These year Baile nan Gàidheal | Highland Village presents the Annual Joe Neil MacNeil Lecture on Wednesday, July 29th from 7-8pm. The presentation this year is titled “Restoring Nova Scotia’s Gaelic Identity: Planning a Cultural Nation”, given by Seumas Watson, Highland Village Manager of Interpretation and Marlene Ivey, Associate Professor of Design, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

Joe Neil MacNeil of Middle Cape, was well-known as a Gaelic tradition bearer and for contributing the stories to the book Sguel gu Latha | Tales Until Dawn, with over 50 stories recorded just from him.

Joe Neil MacNeil (2)

`S Bòidheach a Chìthear Lake Bhra d’Or | Lovely to be Seen, the Lake Bras d’Or

Am fear a gléidheas long gheibh e là `ga seòladh. |

He who will keep a boat will get a day for sailing it.  

SCAN286-20150717145514                                     Map of Cape Breton Island, drawn by Hugh MacDonald in 1845.

Baile nan Gàidheal | Highland Village over looks the beautiful Bras d’Or Lake. This large inlet sea in the heart of Cape Breton connects the communities surrounding the Lake. 

For many of our Gaelic ancestors who arrived here from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, settled the Bras d’Or Lake because of it’s familiarity to home. The Lake also provided the Gaels as they settled with a valuable source of food and a means of transportation from one community to another.


Boat built in Alba by Willie and Duncan Kennedy circa 1975

During the time of peak immigration from the late 1700’s to the mid 1850’s, the most common method of travel was by boat. The roads and railways throughout Cape Breton were not developed like they are today. Travel was long, difficult, and time consuming for the people who needed to travel great distances to the next town.

Later, from the 1800’s to the mid 1920’s, shipbuilding and shipping coal and steel were industries of the time that boomed during the later years of settlement in Cape Breton. After communities were built up, goods were shipped to the community from the boats travelling along the shores of the Bras d’Or. Many small villages like our own Iona, became thriving towns with wharfs, general stores, and post offices to supply the people.

Train crossing the train bridge and the ferry docks at Iona. 8 x 10 black & white.

For many years, even into recent memory, a ferryboat transported the people of Iona across the Barra Strait. Today when you arrive you’ll see it has been replaced by bridge.


The last car ferry ran between Iona and Grand Narrows on October 23rd,1993. 

While today the Bras d’Or Lake is not bustling with commercial vessels transporting people and goods around, it is more common to see recreational boating and sailing.


Boats rounding Derby Point as they enter the Barra Strait.

In 2011 The Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve received the designation of being one of 16 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Canada. Visit the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve Association website for information, news, and upcoming events.


Na Lochan Bhrad d’Or | The Bras d’Or Lakes