Creating Cape Breton


Rusty Anchor - Colleen Friesen
Rusty Anchor – Colleen Friesen

“One of the strangest things is the act of creation.

You are faced with a blank slate—a page, a canvas, a block of stone or wood, a silent musical instrument.

You then look inside yourself. You pull and tug and squeeze and fish around for slippery raw shapeless things that swim like fish made of cloud vapor and fill you with living clamor. You latch onto something. And you bring it forth out of your head like Zeus giving birth to Athena.

And as it comes out, it takes shape and tangible form.

It drips on the canvas, and slides through your pen, it springs forth and resonates into the musical strings, and slips along the edge of the sculptor’s tool onto the surface of the wood or marble.

You have given it cohesion. You have brought forth something ordered and beautiful out of nothing.

You have glimpsed the divine.”

― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration


Wooden Seas - Colleen Friesen
Wooden Seas – Colleen Friesen


Although it’s been years, I’d been to Cape Breton before.

So I knew I’d see the beauty: the navy-emerald chop of the sea, the lupin-studded meadows and the rolling blue-green mountains, the long curve of beaches framed by abrupt rocky cliffs, the shimmering leaves of the white birch chattering next to the soft sighs of the maples, the howling Atlantic wind that froths the waves, and then, just as abruptly slows to a sigh…


Tara on the Beach - Colleen Friesen
Tara on the Beach – Colleen Friesen


I remembered too, the tiny villages filled with simple homes, huddled together to face the best and the worst of the weather.


Snapping Laundry - Colleen Friesen
Snapping Laundry – Colleen Friesen


And naturally I remembered the seafood: the oysters, the lobster, the crab, the haddock, the salmon, all of it glazed with hot butter and served with love.


Lobster Love - Colleen Friesen
Lobster Love – Colleen Friesen


And everyone knows about the music; the fiddling and the foot stomping, the ballads filled with the sounds of breaking hearts, those mournful drawn-out notes broken up with the defiant jig, the kind of music that celebrates survival punched through with those high-note moments of grace and joy.

But more than anything, I was immediately reminded that it was the people that make Cape Breton special.

This part of the world is not your 9-to-5 cubicle kind of place. There is not a lot of opportunity to simply show up and be an employee.


Big Hill Pottery - Colleen Friesen
Big Hill Pottery – Colleen Friesen


Instead, people here have to create a living from scratch. And, not surprisingly, they end up creating a life that is filled with connection and meaning, a life quite literally created out of their livelihood.


Big Spruce Brewery - Colleen Friesen
Big Spruce Brewery – Colleen Friesen


People here take that ol’ Field of Dreams quote seriously. Somehow they build something where nothing previously existed, and, sure enough, the visitors (and the locals) come.


Bill Roach - Colleen Friesen
Bill Roach – Colleen Friesen


I am humbled and inspired by their focus and dedication. These are not instant-success franchises set up in a mall with guaranteed walk-by traffic.  Instead, these small artisanal businesses are sometimes found down the end of a long gravel road, beside a cemetery or between long stretches of nothing but wind and waves.

Each one is worth the effort of discovery.

So yes, you should come to Cape Breton for the piles of seafood, to celebrate the music, and for the endless visual feast of the landscape.

But more than that, travel here to meet the people who are continuing to create Cape Breton, one stitch, one stroke, one carving at a time.

I promise you’ll love it.


Proud to be Hookers - Colleen Friesen
Proud to be Hookers – Colleen Friesen


When planning your trip, be sure to check in with the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design. They can help you find the creative heart of Cape Breton. 


6 Responses

  1. Gaston Aucoin
    Gaston Aucoin at |

    Great job Colleen. I was one of the drivers for the pre and post tours. Sorry I didn’t get to meet you . I met a lot of wonderful people. It was a great experience. All the best.

  2. Allison MacDonald
    Allison MacDonald at |

    Lovely piece about our beautiful island! Colleen, I actually travelled with you to Arizona years ago for a press trip. I was living in Calgary at the time, but since then my husband and I have moved back to our hometown of Sydney in Cape Breton (now with two kids!). I’m so glad you and the rest of the TMAC folks enjoyed your stay in Cape Breton. It really is a magical place. I count myself very lucky to live here and raise my kids.


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