Cape Breton Home of our Hearts
Sometimes, what’s most noteworthy about a place is what hasn’t changed. In an age that champions what’s new, now and next, a visit to Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton is a refreshing celebration of resilience.
The 42-foot fishing boat Le Godouque bobs serenely on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off the west coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. It’s a cold day, but one the lobster fishermen here call good because there’s no wind to cause waves. A steep coastline runs along the port side; a bald eagle perches calmly on a jagged rock above the frothing surf.
Sheldon Deveau, 27, was born on this vast, remote, eastern Canadian island and already has a decade of experience as a professional fisherman under his belt. He shares the profession with his late grandfather and his father, Daniel, who sits in the captain’s seat. They port Le Godouque at a pier just south of the village of Chéticamp, the Deveaus’ hometown.“Look here,” Sheldon says, using one gloved hand to prod a lobster freshly snatched from a trap. “The water’s too cold, right? They’re barely moving. Only way to catch ’em is to drop a trap right on top.” Right now — on an unheated boat just before 6 a.m. — my empathy lies with the lobster. I, too, am cold and sluggish. Rain threatens constantly. Thick, low-hanging clouds make it easy to miss sunrise; all of a sudden you’re aware of a silvery light that makes the water look like liquid pewter. But it is not the weather that gives a place its identity. Rather, it’s the people — a commodity as special as a perfectly carved seascape or a waterfall-rich mountain valley. Only full-time residents with a rich history can deliver the authenticity that so many travelers crave: the sense of seeing something different — and being invited to experience it. Luckily for visitors of Cape Breton Island, the locals here have a deep reserve of unyielding pride that preserves the island’s uniqueness as a destination. Even better, they are willing — from the fishing boats to the dance halls — to share some of their quiet lives with total strangers. The island is sparsely populated, so communities are tightly knit. More than a dozen other lobster boats ply the waters nearby, circling or bobbing alongside their buoys, and Deveau’s crew knows them all by name. If another boat approaches alongside a broadside tack, any wise crew tenses for a friendly bait fight.
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