October 2016: Thank you all for another great season!

As we come to the end of another season (and slowly recover from an amazing Celtic Colours Festival!), we’d like to send out a sincere thanks to everyone who came out and supported our events and helped make it such a great season at CMIC! It’s been a blast spending time with our regular visitors and welcoming so many new faces. A big thanks also to our dedicated board members, volunteers and cultural partners.

And last but not least, a huge thanks to our amazing staff (some missing in this pic). A truly special group of friends and the best team anyone could ask for. Thank you all so much for your hard work and dedication and the many, many laughs!!

We hope you will join us for more music and dancing as we continue our Sunday Ceilidhs from 2-5pm every week!

L-R: Ashley Dempsey, Hailee LeFort, Christie MacEachern, Katherine MacDonald (back), Jasmyn MacDonald (front), Emma Ingraham, MJ MacEachern

December 29, 2015

  View our 2015 Year In Review newsletter

October 2015 :: Thank you for a great season!

Hard to believe it's the end of another season, and what a great one it was. Thank you to all of our faithful supporters, new visitors and talented musicians for sharing in music, food, drinks and good times with us! And a special thanks to our amazing staff, board members and volunteers for all their hard work!

We hope some of you will be able to join us as we continue our Ceilidhs from 3-6pm every Sunday throughout the fall and winter. Here's to more great music to come!


June 26, 2015

Celtic Music Interpretive Centre Receives $100,000 to launch endowment fund

Judique - The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre Society (CMIC) is very pleased to announce that a generous gift of $100,000 has been received from long-time supporter, and honorary board member, Tom Rankin, to launch our new endowment fund campaign.

Fundraising efforts are ongoing to grow the endowment fund, which will provide long-term sustainability, less reliance on government grants, and allow CMIC to continue fostering the growth of Celtic music and culture on a year-round basis for all of Cape Breton. All money raised within the endowment will be invested with similar endowments at the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia to allow for maximum annual return.

We are very proud of the progress we have made, and all that we have accomplished over the last several years, and wish to thank the many supporters and visitors who have helped shape the Celtic Music Centre into what it is today. We look forward to continuing to provide authentic music experiences and learning opportunities as well as collaborating with other cultural organizations in preserving and promoting our Gaelic culture locally, nationally and internationally for many years to come.

About The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre:
The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre Society is a not-for-profit registered charity with a mandate to “Collect, Preserve, and Promote the Celtic music of Cape Breton Island through Education, Research, and Performance”. CMIC has consistently demonstrated its dedication to the traditional music of Cape Breton Island, its value to Cape Breton Island, both culturally and economically, and its value to the Nova Scotia tourism industry. In December 2013, the Nova Scotia Legislature named CMIC “The Official Celtic Music Centre of Nova Scotia”.

CMIC offers a diverse and wide array of cultural programs and services to locals and visitors of all ages such as: Music and Gaelic language classes, a yearly fiddle camp, live music performances, interpretive music demonstrations, an interactive museum, music mentorship programs for youth through the newly formed Féis Cape Breton, an archives and resource library, full service recording studio and publishing services for local musicians, a restaurant, gift shop promoting local products, a home for seniors club activities in the community, daily promotion of other local venues and events, employment for approximately 20 local people during the summer/fall season and so much more.

For more information, please contact:
Cheryl Smith, Executive Director

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Download Press Release (PDF)


March 23, 2015

Mac Morin hired as Coordinator for Féis Cheap Breatuinn (Féis Cape Breton)

Judique, Nova Scotia — We are very pleased to announce that noted pianist and stepdancer, Mac Morin, has been hired as Féis Movement Coordinator to start in mid-May 2015. Mac will be based out of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, Cape Breton, while he works on implementing two youth music mentorship programs to take place across Cape Breton Island. Mac will also be working with stakeholders over the summer to plan the next phases of programming.

As with many Cape Breton musicians, music for Mac started early and was humbly nurtured in the home. Step dancing came first, with his earliest steps and guidance provided by his mother, herself a noted dancer. By the age of 15, Mac was known as one of Cape Breton's finest dancers and began teaching traditional dance in Cape Breton and abroad. Mac became interested in piano as a teenager and now 20 years later, has been fortunate to record and tour the world with many great performers such as Natalie MacMaster, Beòlach, Yo-Yo Ma, the Rankin Family, Ashley MacIsaac, Allison Krauss, Diana Krall, the Chieftains, Dannsa, a Scottish dance/music ensemble, and many more.

Mac continues to tour with Natalie MacMaster but will be focusing much of his attention working on the Féis Movement over the spring and summer. We are looking forward to working with Mac and hope you will join us in welcoming him in his new role as Féis Movement Coordinator.

About the Féis Movement:
The Féis Movement is a new initiative jointly administered by the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre and the Celtic Colours Festival Society with stakeholders across Cape Breton Island, funded in part by the County of Inverness.

It is the start of an island-wide movement to engage youth, and other interested age groups, in the traditional Celtic music scene by connecting people with opportunities to engage in music, dance and Gaelic language programs throughout the island. The Féis Movement’s focus is to reignite the passion for traditional Celtic music and culture by developing skills, fostering development in a natural way, reflecting on tradition, providing opportunity to connect with community at cultural events, providing opportunities for more self-directed learning and providing an outlet for playing and performance, ensuring it remains a vibrant and living tradition for generations to come.

For more information, please contact:
Celtic Music Interpretive Centre

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Download Press Release (PDF)


August 21, 2014
Cape Breton music has lost its master.
Remembering fiddling legend Buddy MacMaster
Stephen Cooke, Halifax Herald

Buddy MacMaster, 89, passed away Wednesday night in Judique. (STEPHEN COOKE/Halifax Herald)

Judique fiddler Hugh Allan (Buddy) MacMaster died Wednesday night at 89, leaving behind a legacy of impeccably played tunes and fond memories of dances and concerts across the island and around the world.

Recognized in February by the International Folk Alliance in Kansas City with its lifetime achievement award as one of the world’s great traditional musicians, MacMaster always remained humble about his gift and played to highlight the beauty and drive of the tunes that he loved, rather than shine a light on his own skills.

“He was not only a performer, in that he could play at a concert, he was also a dance player, and it’s rare to have somebody who’s really good at both,” recalled his niece, internationally renowned Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster. “They kind of require two different sets of muscles."

“He was an awesome dance player; if Buddy was playing a dance, there’d always be a big crowd. He’d always play with a lot of drive, really gutsy and feisty when he came on the strathspeys. But he also played a lot of slow airs and had an unbelievable sweetness in his music. I can’t quite describe it.”

From the time that Buddy MacMaster first imitated his father’s fiddle playing with a pair of sticks as a child in Timmins, Ont., to the moment he decided to hang up his instrument when his fingers weren’t as nimble as they once were, his niece estimates there was roughly eight decades of making music in between.

“He played that instrument for 80 years! That’s incredible. And holy jumpings, did he ever play it. And we were so lucky to have him.

“He just gave Cape Breton Island such a good name, and not just through his music, which was loved by people all around the globe. I’ve witnessed that personally. I don’t think there’s ever been a place I’ve performed where I’d mention that Buddy was my uncle and someone hasn’t clapped or cheered or come to tell me stories about Buddy afterwards.

“But he was also so gracious and generous with his music. We’re lucky that so many have received his gift. Because he didn’t ever want to let anybody down. Even if he didn’t feel like travelling, or was tired and his arms were sore, he’d still play for people. Some summers he’d play three times a day: in the morning at an Inverness gathering, then an afternoon pub session, and that night he’d be off to Cheticamp for a concert or a dance in Glencoe.”

For those who grew up along western Cape Breton’s Ceilidh Trail, there were few musical events that weren’t graced by the sound of Buddy MacMaster’s seasoned bow. Creignish-born fiddler Wendy MacIsaac grew up with Buddy’s music — she’s also a distant cousin — and there was no shortage of opportunities to hear him play and pick up a few pointers.

“He was at all the concerts, sitting there patiently waiting for his number, or the chance to play for some stepdancers,” MacIsaac recalled.

“He’d be observing, taking everything in, or having a little chuckle with Kinnon or Betty Lou Beaton in the corner.

“Just by his presence, he was sort of a support, even if he didn’t always realize how much of a support he was.”

MacMaster had even more time for music and his large extended family after he retired from his job as a station master for the Canadian National Railway. Eventually, he recorded his first album in the late 1980s. He would go on to earn music awards, honorary doctorates from St. Francis Xavier and Cape Breton universities, and membership in the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia.

But anyone close to him knew his favourite rewards were an audience’s smiling faces and dancing feet. He was also known for passing on his knowledge to younger players, most notably his niece, Natalie, and their cousins from Creignish, Wendy and Ashley MacIsaac, who brought Cape Breton fiddling to a whole new audience when they emerged on the scene in the late 1980s.

“It’s the closing of an era, in a way, because he was such an icon to at least two or three generations of Cape Breton fiddlers,” said Celtic Colours International Festival co-founder Joella Foulds shortly after hearing the news of MacMaster’s death.

“He was considered the epitome of not just the playing but also the knowledge base of the tunes, the quality of carrying it forward, and his entire attitude about the music and the preservation of the culture was just so special.

“He really set the tone for everybody else, and it’s going to be such a hard thing for people to realize that he’s not going to be there to go to anymore.”

MacMaster would have turned 90 during this year’s Celtic Colours, held in venues across Cape Breton in October, and a birthday celebration planned for him in Judique on Oct. 13 was one of the first concerts to sell out.

“More than a birthday, it’ll become a celebration of his life,” said Foulds.

“It may be perhaps a little more difficult for the people involved because they were all connected to him, as either family or friends. A similar thing happened with Jerry Holland a few years ago, and it was a very emotional night, but they did it because musicians are like that. They want to play and pay tribute, and I’m sure they’ll play their hearts out.”

There is no doubt they will, because they learned how to from Buddy.

August 5, 2014
First look at the Right Some Good night in Judique
Right Some Good eDish Newsletter

Our second of three pop-up dinners in Cape Breton will take place on Friday, September 5 at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in the small village of Judique on Cape Breton’s West coast. For one night, Right Some Good will take over the Centre that preserves and promotes the traditional Celtic music of Cape Breton Island through education, research and performance. It’s a spot on Cape Breton Island where you can enjoy Ceilidhs all year long, find educational workshops in fiddle, piano and dance and take Gaelic language immersion classes.

American award-winning chef, Tommy Klauber, will commandeer the Centre’s kitchen to prepare four unforgettable courses. Known for his global and regional culinary expertise, Chef Tommy commits to fresh, local, sustainable and quality food. His talents have been recognized by Best Chefs America - naming him one of USA’s most outstanding chefs. Chef Tommy also received the James Beard Foundation “Rising Stars of American Cuisine” award.

To tempt your tastebuds here are highlights of what Chef Tommy is cookin' up! You can expect a four course menu of succulent Cape Breton snow crab by Louisbourg Seafood, rich goat cheese pillows, grilled Nova Scotia lamb and finally for dessert, Extra Virgin Arbequina Olive Oil cake. A full menu description is on the right.

While enjoying every course, you will be entertained by the music of The Queen Bees. The Alcorn Sisters belt out harmonies that blend like no other, they’ll get your head boppin’ and toes tappin’ while they melt your heart with their music. Their eclectic style has a rich powerful sound that is unique to their family tree. For a glimpse of the night’s music click here to check out a YouTube clip of The Queen Bees.

Stay tuned for more insider information on our pop-up dinner at Membertou Heritage Park on September 6 for the first-ever aboriginal dinner in Sydney, Cape Breton.

Chef Tommy's Menu

Louisbourg Seafood Award-winning Snow Crab
Northern Shrimp, Chanterelles, Yuzu Sabayon and Chervil Oil

Goat Cheese Pillows
Farm to Plate Salad with Pancetta and Lavender Honey

Grilled Nova Scotia Lamb Maple Carrots, Wilted Spinach, Green Lentils and Apricot Mint Chimichurri

Extra Virgina Arbequina Olive Oil Cake
Ginger and Rosemary Infused Haskap, Cape Goose Berry Compote, Quark Whipped Cream

Tickets for this event are limited due to the size of the Centre.
Buy Tickets Online  |  Right Some Good Website


June 23, 2014
Getting a taste of Celtic Colours
Erin Pottie, Halifax Herald

JUDIQUE — Toes tapped, hands clapped and the fiddle played during a Ceilidh to usher in this year’s Celtic Colours International Festival. More than half a dozen performers took the stage at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique on Monday to announce the festival lineup.

CMIC's in-house fiddler, Donna-Marie DeWolfe, from River Tillard near St. Peter’s, performs during a Ceilidh
at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique on Monday. (ERIN POTTIE / Cape Breton Bureau)

Now in its 18th season, the event brings together musicians from around the world for nine days of Celtic music against a backdrop of Cape Breton’s spectacular fall colours.

There are 46 concerts and over 200 community events scheduled, in addition to a nightly festival club at the Gaelic College in St. Anns.

This year, the October festival will focus on family and friends and the ties that bind them. It’s a fitting tribute, says co-founder Joella Foulds, as friendships are formed each year.

“We have a living culture here and a lot of that is passed down,” said Foulds, the MC of Monday’s ceilidh.

“Family is an important way for passing down the culture, and the other thing is people make very close friendships through music and we’ve had so many people who have made close friendships through Celtic Colours. So it sort of gives us a focus for bringing people back together again.”

And it’s not hard to see the connections formed through music.

Donna-Marie DeWolfe, 19, will be performing at her third Celtic Colours. The native of River Tillard, Richmond County, said she first picked up the bow and strings at age 10, after hearing her father play.

“There was always music going on in the house,” said DeWolfe. “It just makes you happy; have a bad day, just take out your fiddle.”

Family pairings at this year’s Celtic Colours include Creignish cousins Ashley MacIsaac and Wendy MacIsaac, Isle of Skye Gaelic singers the Campbells of Greepe, the piping MacDonalds of Glenuig, Scotland, Prince Edward Island’s Chaisson Family and the MacKenzie Brothers from Mabou.

“Our parents brought us up with Gaelic, and music was a big part of our household,” said Mabou piper Kenneth MacKenzie, after performing a few tunes on the pipes.

“With family, it’s definitely a natural thing to sit down and you automatically gel.”

This year, MacKenzie will perform with his two brothers, Calum and Angus, while his father Ronald is also expected to join.

MacKenzie said he’s been involved in the festival as long as he can remember. His mother, the late Maureen MacKenzie, had been an organizer of events in her home community of Mabou.

“It means a lot,” said MacKenzie of performing as a family.

“Celtic Colours has been really good to us and brought us together a few years ago; we did some gigs with that. It’s great to have the opportunity to do that again, especially through this festival that we’ve all grown up with.”

The festival kicks off with longtime favourites Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain at the opening gala in Port Hawkesbury on Oct. 10, while Troy’s Natalie MacMaster and Irish accordionist Sharon Shannon perform at the finale on Oct. 18.

Other returning favourites include the fiddle-cello duo of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, guitarists Tony McManus and Tim Edey, and singer-songwriters Laura Smith, Nathan Rogers, David Francey and Terry Kelly. Also, after a popular visit last year, Swedish trio Vasen is back for a return engagement.

Its international lineup includes the Louisiana group Les Amis Creole, We Banjo 3 from Ireland and Scotland’s Adam Sutherland and Hamish Napier.

Celtic Colours artists-in-residence will be dancers Nic Gareiss from Michigan and Cape Breton’s Mac Morin, who will also be playing piano with Scottish group Dannsa, Cape Breton supergroup Beolach and MacMaster.

Cape Breton bands Sprag Session and Coig will join island favourites J.P. Cormier, Howie MacDonald, Dwayne Cote, Men of the Deeps, Mary Jane Lamond, Brenda Stubbert and many more.

Celtic Colours events will be held in communities across Cape Breton from Oct. 10 to 18. Tickets for the festival, presented by The Chronicle Herald, go on sale July 7. Visit www.celtic-colours.com for more information.

June 12, 2014
Celtic Music Interpretive Centre sets stage for Summer
What's Goin' On Magazine

Paul MacNeil, Rankin MacInnis, Keith MacDonald, Kevin Dugas, and Kenneth MacKenzie of Nuallan
on stage at Celtic Colours – photo: Corey Katz

The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique is getting geared up for Cape Breton’s newest Summer festival, Kitchenfest!, with Cape Breton’s newest piping group, Nuallan from Colaisde na Gaidhlig / The Gaelic College. The five piper strong group plays in the old Gaelic style and Friday night’s Pipers’ Ceildh will offer solo, duo, and mixed sets from Nuallan’s members featuring big pipes, little pipes, medium pipes, fiddle, piano, guitar, dancing and more.

“Nuallan was formed by a group of piper friends wishing to represent a form of piping that isn’t often heard in the public sphere nowadays,” says Kenneth MacKenzie of fellow pipers and band-mates Paul MacNeil, Kevin Dugas, Keith MacDonald, and Rankin MacInnis.

The group represents, promotes and explores the Gaelic style of piping brought to Cape Breton and northeastern Nova Scotia from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland through performance, education and collaboration. The Gaelic style of piping in Cape Breton has long been noted for its strong focus on rhythm and musicality, which has been nourished and maintained to the present day. Piano (Tracey Dares-MacNeil), guitar (Patrick Gillis) and drums (Kyle MacDonald) provide accompaniment to the five pipers in this high-energy setting.

“It’s a rich tradition that is vitally important to the musical culture of Cape Breton today,” says MacKenzie who teaches piping at Colaisde na Gaidhlig / The Gaelic College and performs locally and internationally with Dawn & Margie Beaton, and his brothers Angus and Calum as well as Nuallan. “And it gets a fantastic response from live audiences,” he adds.

MacKenzie is excited about the show Friday night and the summer ahead.

“The Pipers’ Ceilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre will be a great warm-up for KitchenFest!, just around the corner,” he says of the week-long festival coming up later this month. Nuallan will be performing at both the opening and closing shows of the festival and its members will be performing in different capacities throughout the week. “And the Centre is gearing up for another busy season. With a brand new menu developed in partnership with the Kilted Chef – Alain Bosse, a CD release for the new Cape Breton supergroup Còig on June 15, a renewed focus on Gaelic with a full-time Gaelic speaker now on staff and bus tours arriving already, the 2014 season looks to be a promising one.”

The Pipers’ Ceilidh takes place Friday, June 13 at 8pm. All ages welcome.
The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre hosts Kitchenfest! June 29 to July 4.


June 1, 2014
The Kilted Chef at CMIC!

The CMIC is thrilled to be working with renowned chef, Alain Bosse (The Kilted Chef), to create
some unique and delicious dishes for the coming season that best take advantage of what our
local area has to offer. Drop by for lunch and check out our new menu!
Visit The Kilted Chef at:
https://www.facebook.com/thekiltedchef and http://kiltedchef.ca


Our March newsletter is now online. READ HERE

Our January newsletter is now online. READ HERE

January 2014
Buddy MacMaster to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award
from Folk Alliance International

Kansas City, MO – December 30. 2013 – Considered one of the best and a huge influence on the Cape Breton fiddle scene for decades now, Buddy MacMaster will be formally recognized by Folk Alliance International with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

It is a huge recognition of his talent and recognition of the influence he has on the international stage.

The award will also be presented to Dock Boggs and the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings this year. The conference will be held in Kansas City February 19–23, 2014.

The list of previous recipients is a who’s-who of the folk music world including Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte, and Joan Baez. The first recipient in 1995 was Pete Seeger followed by Woody Guthrie’s induction in 1996.

The Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Awards are presented in three categories:

Living: Buddy MacMaster
Legacy: Dock Boggs
Business/Academic: Smithsonian-Folkways

The awards will be presented on Wednesday, February 19 at 6:30pm in the Westin, Kansas City Hotel Ballroom.

This conference has the ability to attract key note addresses from the likes of Al Gore and Graham Nash. Atlantic Canada has always had a strong representation at the each annual conference. A visit to this industry conference can open doors to venues and festivals throughout the United States and much of the world for new attendees. It can be a challenge trying to network through the thousands to reach the right contact that can make a difference.

This year’s conference has invited many more from Atlantic Canada. Artists with Nova Scotia roots that will attend include; Charlie A'Court, Coig, Dave Gunning, Troy MacGillivray, Gabrielle Papillon, and Ian Sherwood. Andy Brown and Samantha Robichaud, will attend from New Brunswick. Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys from Prince Edward Island will join everyone along with The Navigators and Duane Andrews and Craig Young from Newfoundland.

For the first time, the conference was held in Toronto last year for its twenty-fifth anniversary. It was considered by many a high point in the recognition the Canadian folk music industry has been recognized in such a way.

Folk Alliance International

December 10, 2013

Celtic Colours International Festival
2013 LIVE CD available now in our online store!

The festival production team sifted through all the fantastic music recorded at this year's festival and chose 15 tracks representing the best performances and most magical moments.
More info / Buy CD

October 21, 2013

Thank you!
A big thanks to all our customers, staff, board of directors and wonderful volunteers for a great season at CMIC! Our gift shop and interactive exhibit room will remain open Mon-Fri until October 31st and of course our Sunday Ceilidhs continue all year long.
We hope to see you soon!

September 26, 2013

Interview with Natalie MacMaster: Keeping the Culture Alive with a Fiddle
(with comments from CMIC music director, Allan Dewar)

The legacy of immigration in the 1800's from Scotland to the Canadian province of Nova Scotia is evidenced in the strength of the cultural traditions that survive and which today are experiencing a renaissance. The musical traditions that flourish in the Cape Breton region of this Maritime province of Canada are most closely associated with the Fiddle. Cape Breton Fiddling, internationally renowned as a distinctive musical genre, is enjoying immense commercial success. Known for its fiercely individualistic musical style it is a dynamic musical genre that is changing with the generations of new fiddlers as they join the ranks.... Read Article


July/August Newsletter

This edition of our newsletter covers Lewis MacKinnon's Gaelic presentation, the Daimh concert, An impromptu visit from Irish musician Nuala Kennedy, The Celtic Touch Dancers, The upcoming Masters Concert, our new staff member Rachel Davis and upcoming September events.
View Newsletter


June 2013 Newsletter

This edition covers Paul Cranford's book release and session, Scottish supergroup Dàimh coming to the CMIC, lunchtime Ceilidhs, Gaelic tunes & stories event, new member of the CMIC staff, Donna-Marie DeWolfe and our upcoming July events and workshops.
View Newsletter


June 13, 2013

Cape Breton by Ceilidh
Fiddles, singing and stamping feet preserve a rugged outpost of Gaelic culture
by Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb

Like many Nova Scotians, my roots here reach back to those intrepid Scots who arrived en masse between the late-18th and mid-19th century. My father’s family crossed the Atlantic in the 1820s and settled within miles of their landing place – Pictou, on the west coast of the province’s mainland. But tens of thousands of other Gaelic speakers felt the magnetic pull of Cape Breton Island (cbisland.com), a wee bit north, where rolling hills, highlands, and a rugged coast cut by inlets – in short, a new world that reassuringly resembled their old one – awaited. They did not come empty handed: along with determination, tartans, and a taste for oatcakes, they brought a repertoire of tunes that still ring out island-wide.


Although pianos, bagpipes and the occasionally guitar each contribute to Cape Breton’s signature sound, fiddles clearly dominate; and folks continue to play them in a way their kilted ancestors would recognize. It remains a purer form of their ancestral music than anything you might encounter in Scotland where fiddling Gaels, heavily influenced by the English, often felt compelled to reinvent themselves as classical violinists. As a result, modern-day Celtic performers and ethnomusicologists view Cape Breton as a kind of cultural urtext, and regularly flock there to recover their lost heritage.

Through long years of isolation, only partly remedied by the opening of the Canso Causeway in 1955, Cape Bretoners have maintained the integrity of their music because its rising tempo and relentless optimism is a perfect antidote for an environment that was (and still is) harsh. Today, the best place to hear it is on Route 19 – the so-called Ceilidh (pronounced cay-lee) Trail – which begins just off the causeway at Port Hastings and winds 107 kilometres up the southwest shore until it meets the more famous Cabot Trail.


Make your first stop 30 minutes north of the causeway in Judique. Since Route 19, doubling as the main street, shoots straight through, you may be tempted to keep driving. But if you don’t know a jig from a reel or a MacIsaac from a Barra MacNeil, the village’s Celtic Music Interpretive Centre (5471 Route 19; tel: 902-787-2708; celticmusiccentre.com; $6 to $12) can teach you the basics. In addition to old-school recordings, oral histories and other archival material, it has an exhibit room with artifacts, instruments, and interpretative panels. Daily show-and-tell demos cover the “how” in an entertaining fashion; while video tutorials let you try your hand – or feet, as the case may be – at fiddling and Island-style dancing.

CMIC is a fine place to experience your first ceilidh, too. Derived from a Gaelic word meaning “visit,” ceilidhs hark back to the days when an evening out in Cape Breton meant congregating in a neighbour’s kitchen for a convivial jam that melded fiddle music, dance and a tale or two. Despite being more formal, concert-like affairs, contemporary public ceilidhs still focus on these same elements. The ones in the centre’s restaurant – held at lunch, Monday through Saturday, from June 14 to October 20 (free), and Sunday afternoons year-round ($8) – not only feature top talent; in a nod to the past, regulars (including fiddler and former Nova Scotia premier Rodney MacDonald) perform on a stage that’s decorated like a vintage kitchen.

While Judique offers a fitting introduction to the Ceilidh Trail, Mabou, lying about 30 kilometres further up near the route’s halfway point, is its literal and figurative epicentre. There is no mistaking the Scottish pedigree of Mabou, which comes complete with Gaelic road signs. However, the welcome sign proudly identifying Mabou as the “Home of the Rankins” is equally significant. Residents’ respect for the renowned singing siblings is readily apparent at the local performing arts centre, Strathspey Place (11156 Route 19; tel: 902-945-5300; strathspeyplace.com). The fact that a village of 1,200 has a theatre that can seat nearly 500 underlines the importance of music here. That the stage is named after John Morris Rankin reveals whose music matters most.

The Rankins return the love by operating Mabou’s cherished landmark, the Red Shoe Pub (11573 Route 19; tel: 902-945-2996; redshoepub.com). Housed in a former general store, the Lilliputian pub both acknowledges Cape Breton’s musical heritage (it’s named for a 1936 reel about homemade footwear brightened with Sherwin-Williams paint) and helps sustain it by serving up traditional tunes daily, from June to mid-October. In July and August, tourists cram in for shows on Friday night and Sunday afternoon ($8). Locals tend to come Tuesday for the free supper session, ideally dancing a few steps, showing their appreciation with enthusiastic yelps rather than applause, and then cross the road to catch the weekly ceilidh at the Community Hall (11538 Route 19; $7).


Continue north and you’ll be rewarded with more solid venues for music, and the sleep you’ll presumably need at this point. The Glenora Inn (13727 Route 19; tel: 902-258-2662; glenoradistillery.com; doubles from $140) in Glenville, just north of Mabou, is the prime pick on Route 19. The whitewashed main building has nine rooms overlooking a courtyard and six handsome log chalets sitting on the hillside behind. The pretty brook-side property also happens to be home to North America’s original single-malt whisky distillery. You can see how award-winning Glen Breton Rare is produced and sample the result on a 25-minute tour ($7). If you want to taste more, you can try the restaurant, where it features heavily in dishes such as chicken in whisky-maple reduction or Scottish bread pudding with whisky-caramel sauce. An adjacent pub counters with ribs slathered in whisky-barbeque sauce, rounding out the menu with rousing live music twice daily, and of course plenty of varieties of whisky.

If you’re willing to go further afield, an hour north of Mabou is The Normaway Inn, (691 Egypt Road, Margaree Valley; tel: 800-565-9463; thenormawayinn.com; doubles from $159), which has quaint rooms, cabins and chalets on offer. The Margaree River’s trophy-size salmon lure fly fishers, while foodies come for a seasonal menu that highlights local ingredients (think island-raised lamb, seafood, or blueberries from the inn’s fields). For music lovers the biggest draw is the Barn, where rafter-rattlin’ Three Fiddler evenings ($10-$20) go Wednesday in July and August, Friday in June, September and October. On off-nights, musicians unplug in the inn’s living room.


By this point you’ll have noticed that fiddle music is invariably accompanied by the percussive tap of dancing feet. Indeed, determining which takes precedence is impossible. One authority will say musicians rely on dancers, who act as human metronomes keeping them on beat; a second will argue that dancers, lacking dosey-doe-allemande-left-style callers, need musicians to dictate their movements. In either case, the combination hits its apex at square dances held almost nightly in summer along the Ceilidh Trail (for schedule see inverness-ns.ca). Like the hamlets that host them on a rotating basis, each is a bit different. Some are family-oriented, others for drinking-age guests only; yet all typically run from 10PM to 1AM and cost $7-8.

The actual dancing at these high-energy events takes two forms as partnered square sets are often punctuated by impromptu displays of solo step dancing. If you’re eager to join in (frankly, it’s hard not to), bear in mind that latter is improvised, the key being to keep your arms down and your fast-moving feet “close to the floor” with no Highland fling hijinks. As for the former, following each set’s established patterns is easier than it appears since the locals, who are friendly by nature and flattered you’ve come, will get you reeling in the right direction. It’s said that Gaelic culture here is bred in the bone, but as fingers fiddle and feet fly – making little rec centres and parish halls shake in the process – you’ll soon feel like an honourary clan member.

May 2013 Newsletter

This edition covers Gaelic events during the month of May, CD release events at the CMIC by Rachel Davis and Chrissy Crowley, an interview with A.J MacDougall, upcoming events and more!
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April 2013 Newsletter

This edition covers the passing of Rita MacNeil, new staff at CMIC, Gaelic awareness month, the Karen lynn MacDonald Allergy Awareness Society, Upcoming events at CMIC and more..
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