Visiting my studio
I welcome visitors to my studio. In addition to fine art quilts, you'll find silk, rayon, and cotton scarves; fabric collages and cards; hand-dyed fabric for quilt makers, T-shirts, bookmarks, and postcards.
I'm usually in my studio Monday to Saturday from 10 to 5 but it's best to call first before making a special trip. Definitely call first in the off-season (mid-October through mid-June). On Sundays from 11 to 2 I have a table at the nearby Mabou Farmers Market. Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia is a wonderful place to visit. Scroll down this page for travel tips.
Visiting Cape Breton Island
Many people have succumbed to the numerous charms of Cape Breton and visit again and again. My first strong impression of Cape Breton was its friendly people, like the man in the pickup truck who stops to make sure you notice the eagle sitting in the tree, the waitress who gives you directions to her favourite beach, or the person next to you at a show who wants to know where you’re from and tells you stories about the performers.
The beauty and variety of the landscape is stunning: mountains dropping down to the ocean, rolling meadows with wild iris and orchids, salmon rivers, waterfalls, nearly empty beaches, and a big sky.
Then there’s the music, originally brought here by Scottish settlers—lively jigs, strathspeys, and reels played on fiddle and piano. And did I mention the 90-year-old woman sitting at a concert whose feet are not just tapping, they’re dancing?
Located in eastern Canada, Cape Breton Island is part of the province of Nova Scotia and is connected to the mainland by a causeway. Scottish ancestry is the most common here but there are other important groups; Gaelic, French, and Mi’kmaq are still spoken here. Outside of a few industrial areas, the main occupations are fishing, forestry, small-scale agriculture, and tourism, so as you can imagine visitors are welcome.
The small village of Mabou is on the western shores of Cape Breton, where you can watch the sun set over the water; here are a map and directions. I’ve spoken to many visitors who wish they’d allowed more time for their travel here, so I’d recommend at least a week if possible; two weeks is even better! Mabou has excellent restaurants and inns and there are other good choices around the island.
Cape Breton trails
Visitor information for Cape Breton is organized into scenic driving routes called trails. The Cabot Trail is the most famous and winds through the gorgeous Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Mabou, where I live, is on the Ceilidh Trail, so named because it is the part of the island most known for its music. In Gaelic, ‘ceilidh’ (pronounced kay - lee) means “kitchen party” or informal gathering.
Gregory Campbell plays the fiddle at the Mabou Coal Mines festival.
You can find live fiddle and piano music here all year round, along with square dances, guitar concerts, and songwriter circles, but in summer and fall the music scene just explodes. The Red Shoe Pub in Mabou has live music most afternoons and evenings. There’s a ceilidh on Tuesday nights in the Mabou Hall, performances at Strathspey Place, and festivals most weekends. Almost every night square dances with live music pulse with energy and go until 1 in the morning. To enjoy some great concerts and learn more about the local music and its history, visit the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique. The Celtic Colours International Festival is an amazing 10-day all-island music festival in October with local and international performers, plus workshops, art exhibits, community dinners, dances, and more.
A fiddler, piano player, and step dancer perform at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre.
Dozens of saltwater beaches with warm water are great for swimming, building sandcastles, or searching for beach glass. Cabot Links is a new golf course in Inverness where every hole offers an ocean view and it is already getting rave reviews. There are many options for kayaking, cycling, sailing, whale watching, fishing, or hiking. The Cape Mabou trails explore an undeveloped part of the coast and a trail map is available for sale at local businesses. West Mabou beach has a series of short hiking trails. The Celtic Shores Coastal Trail is great for hiking, bicycling, and ATVs. You’ll see eagles everywhere, and might also spot moose, deer, or black bears. You can also take whale watching trips. Fish for salmon, pick wild strawberries or blueberries, or if you know how to identify them, chanterelle mushrooms.
In Cape Breton and just over the causeway, you can find my work, and that of many wonderful local artists and artisans, at these galleries:
Inverness County Centre for the Arts (ICCA), Inverness, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, open May-October, 902-258-2533. Monthly shows from May through October and an excellent shop. See photos below of its garden and the two main galleries.
Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, open year round, 902-270-7491. This organization also published the wonderful guide Cape Breton Artisan Trail Map which lists dozens of artists who have studios open to the public.
Arts North, Cape North, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, open June-October, 902-383-2732. A must stop on the famous Cabot Trail.
Four Mermaids, Port Hood, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, open June-October, 902-787-3030. A quirky selection of gifts and crafts, many with a maritime theme.
Lyghtesome Gallery, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, open year round, 902-863-5804. This gallery, small in size but not in scope, has a stunning collection of art.
Other favourite Cape Breton attractions
Aside from the famous Cabot Trail, which is well worth several days, here are two attractions in other parts of Cape Breton that I particularly recommend:
Take an underground tour at the Cape Breton Miner’s Museum informed by the personal story of a retired miner. If possible, attend an evening concert of The Men of the Deeps, an amazing choir of working and retired coal miners.
Fortress of Louisbourg, a reconstructed 18th-century French fortified town with costumed interpreters, restaurants with authentic traditional food, and more. The story of how the reconstruction was done by laid-off coal miners is fascinating too.
Some Cape Breton specialties are oat cakes, fresh lobster or crab, fish cakes, strawberry shortcake, and a good cup of tea.
The Red Shoe Pub is famous for live music, sophisticated food, and a fun atmosphere. TripAdvisor.com rates it as the number one restaurant in Cape Breton.
The Mull Café, open all year round for lunch and dinner, is a favourite of locals and has wonderful seafood chowder.
The Glenora Distillery, North America’s only single-malt whiskey distillery, has an excellent restaurant with local produce, a pub with traditional music afternoons and evenings, and an inn.
Nighttime music at the Red Shoe Pub.
Glenora Distillery’s reflecting pool.
Mabou River Inn is a friendly place, serves an excellent breakfast to guests and pizza in the evenings, and is a short walk into the village.
The Inn at Glendyer has received top ratings from TripAdvisor.com and has a hot tub.
Laurel's Bed and Breakfast is in a beautifully renovated farmhouse with gorgeous antiques.
Duncreigan Country Inn overlooks Mabou Harbour.
Ceilidh Cottages is near West Mabou beach and has camping for RVs or tents.
Clayton Farm Bed & Breakfast is a working farm on its own peninsula in the Mabou estuary; email@example.com, 902-945-2719.
The most popular time to visit is June through mid-October. The official Nova Scotia tourism site has lots of information and they will send you a large publication called the Doers and Dreamers Guide. The Cape Breton Island travel guide is also good, especially their "Explore Like a Local", "Hidden Gems" and "Local Favourites" sections. Check out Trip Advisor’s list of things to do in Cape Breton, and also the reviews of two Mabou enterprises: the Inn at Glendyer and the Red Shoe Pub. Find out what music and other events will be happening during your visit at Music Cape Breton.
A coastline worth exploring by land or by sea.
These photos—bikers enjoying the view, the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, the beach, fishing for salmon, hiking in Cape Mabou, the ICCA, Louisbourg, the Glenora Distillery, and hikers exploring the coastline —are all courtesy of Nova Scotia Tourism, Culture and Heritage.