Monday, July 4, 2011

The Two Sides of Cape Breton

To understand Cape Breton and the Nova Scotia mainland, one must first understand a bit of its history. Nova Scotia, or Acadie, as it was first called, was first ‘discovered’ by John Cabot, sailing for England, but, over the next several hundred years, became a common settlement for the fishing industries of both the French and the English. Due to its location, Acadie was the key to the trade route to the North Atlantic fishery as well as the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the fur trade. Thus, it became another political field for the ongoing conflict between France and England. Between 1604 and 1710, Acadie changed hands 9 times.

in 1713, the treaty of Utrecht transferred ownership of mainland Acadie, or Nova Scotia, to England. Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island remained French. The French Acadians in Nova Scotia were allowed to continue living as they had, but things began to change with the founding of Halifax in 1749, establishing a solid British presence on the Atlantic coast.

By 1750, there were at least 10,000 Acadians living in Nova Scotia. The British were uneasy, having never had a British colony populated with so many French Catholics. They questioned the allegiance of the  Acadians, and that, plus England’s desire to colonize Nova Scotia with British Protestants, led to the decision in 1755 to order the deportation of all French Acadians from Nova Scotia.

About 6,000 French Acadians were forcibly deported from Nova Scotia in the “Great Upheaval”. They were sent to British colonies along the New England coast, where they were not welcomed. Over time, many found a place of refuge in the French held Louisiana, while others either assimilated, or made their way to French Canada (Quebec) or on to France. A number of Acadians, however, found their way back to their beloved homeland, Nova addition, it is believed that a small number of Acadians had hidden out in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton during the deportation years, returning to the coast and taking up their livelihood of fishing, once it was safe. One area where the Acadians resettled was in Cheticamp, a small community on the west side of Cape Breton.

Due to the relative isolation of this region, this community continued with little outside influence. Cheticamp remains an Acadian community where French is spoken as a first language and Acadian customs and culture thrive.

We visited Cheticamp and enjoyed learning about the Acadian heritage that they share with Louisiana. The original founding families of Cheticamp can be seen in the familiar names we spotted…...Chiasson, Aucoin, LeBlanc, Gaudet, Deveau, Poirier, Hebert, Arseneaux, and Maillet. We ate lunch in an Acadian restaurant, but were a bit disappointed that they did not use the spices that we  were accustomed to. Overall, the food throughout the Northeast has been somewhat bland.

We toured the Acadian Museum, where we learned  about their  history as well as the amazing cooperative industries that the Acadians developed and the craft of rug hooking. These hand made rugs had a very tight, almost needle point look, and are known world wide.


Elizabeth LeForte was a very talented woman who designed and created works of art with her rugs.


Her hooked rugs looked like elaborate pictures. She even created portraits of some very famous people as well as religious pictures.



The French and English were not the only emigrants to come to  Nova Scotia. In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, Scottish emigrants who were being displace from their Scottish Highlands, found their way to Nova Scotia.  Cape Breton, with its green highlands surrounded by icy seas, looked remarkably like their native Scotland, and the Scotch emigrants along with the Irish found a welcoming home. By the way….’Nova Scotia’ is Latin for ‘New Scotland’, a name given the area by the Scottish nobleman, Sir William Alexander, when granted this land in 1621 by King James.

Again, the relative isolation of Cape Breton allowed the Celtic culture to flourish. While the Highlands of Scotland was being exposed to increasing influence from the rest of Europe, Cape Breton retained many of its ancient Gaelic traditions. Today, Cape Breton is the center for the new Celtic music wave and many of the upcoming Celtic performers hail from Cape Breton.

The Gaelic language is also preserved in areas of Cape Breton. On the east side of Cape Breton, the road signs are in English and Gaelic. There is even the Gaelic College, founded in 1938 at St. Ann, dedicated to the preservation of the Gaelic language and the Celtic Arts and Culture.

We visited the Keltic Lodge in Angonish for dinner one night, a grand lodge with Scottish decor and staff in kilts. We went for the music, a delightful evening of Scottish-Irish folk tunes.



While visiting the Celtic gift shops in Cape Breton, we learned a VERY interesting fact……Elliott is a Scottish name! And we even have our own family crest with a motto and a family tartan. The crest is an armor clad fist raising a short sword. The motto translates: “Boldly and Rightly”. The tartan is a beautiful blue with burgundy plaid.


Being somewhat skeptical, I looked this information up in several books and online resources. Yep, Elliott is Scottish. The Elliotts (or Eliot or Elliot) were a fairly powerful ‘Border Clan’ in Scotland – that means that they lived on the border of Scotland and England, and their job was to help protect this border area. These border groups were often not very well provisioned, so they resorted to taking what they needed (from either side), and got quite the reputation. They were referred to as ‘reivers’ or sometimes ‘riders’, with reference to the swift and surefooted horses they rode. In the writings, the ‘Border Reivers’ were said to be  “….the best light Calvary in Europe”.

You can read a bit about these Scottish ‘Elliotts’, if you are so inclined, on these sites -

Elliott Clan Info

the Elliott Clan Society

I’ll admit that all of this got us a bit intrigued………As we Googled Fred’s grandfather (Felix Bard Elliott) we found all kinds of genealogical info.  It seems that our line of Elliotts were part of the Border Clans who ran into a bit of disfavor when England and Scotland were united in mid 1600 and were forced to move to Ulster, in Northern Ireland, as Protestant settlers who were being sent to displace the Catholics there. From Ulster, they emigrated to America in the mid 1700’s, going first to Philadelphia, then Virginia, and finally to Kentucky.

There is so much more to research on this……We may have just been bitten by the genealogy bug!        : )

1 comment:

  1. Better watch out! That genealogy bug causes quite an addiction sometimes!!!