Scoot Commute

Canada Day Twelve: Mira River, NS (59 miles)

Posted in 2010 Canada, BMW F650GS Dakar (Maxx), Suzuki DR-Z400SM (Elsa) by sbahn on 2011/02/03

Tuesday, June 29th is here, finally! The only day of our 15 day trip that actually had us needing to be in a specific place at a specific time. Tonight is the Men of the Deeps concert at the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum in Glace Bay. Now you understand why I was so happy to have a shower yesterday. I was going to be sitting in close proximity to other people and wanted to represent for Rhode Island. I even packed a skirt.

As we’re suiting up, I notice the chain on my DRZ is seriously drooping. “Um hon, this isn’t good.” We agree to stop in the ranger’s station and ask Betty if there’s a Suzuki dealer in Sydney who could do a quick fix.

It’s not Betty. It’s some guy who didn’t seem like he wanted to help us very much. But then he softened up and started thinking. He suggested we visit Gord’s. He knows they have snowmobiles so maybe they can help. The boyfriend pops the name into the GPS and we get the location.

Happy DRZ400SM owner at Gord's in Sydney, NS

Happy DRZ400SM owner at Gord's in Sydney, NS

Off to the big city, Sydney. Our first destination was Gord’s with the hope that they could help us out with pulling the wheel back on my Dizz. We find the place easily and park right in front. We walk in and I go right up to the desk. I explain what’s going on and the guy says that they’ll take the bike right back. Now how’s that for service? We wander around the shop, looking at the bikes, ATVs and snowmobiles and all the super-warm looking gear. We’re there maybe 20 minutes, if that, and one of the guys yells over that the bike is all set. Really? Man, that was fast. “So whadda it’ll be?” the boyfriend asks. “Aww, nothing.” Good, straight-shooting guys. Thank you Gord’s, for taking care of Elsa’s chain and making my bike safe for riding back the 1,200 miles to home.

Next we head to the historic district in Sydney (apparently it’s the “North End Historic District” where I just read that it has “a gritty charm”) that I saw a couple days before when I was riding around by myself. We live in an 1885 Queen Anne Victorian house (can you even say that?) and we enjoy seeing beautiful old houses and how people maintain them. It definitely seemed like Sydney had seen better days, so we were really enjoying ourselves as we live in the same kind of city and the same kind of neighborhood. I would go so far as to describe my neighborhood as having a gritty charm. We both know that a “historic district” designation means nothing but more paperwork to have to deal with when making repairs.

St. Patrick's Church, Sydney, NS

St. Patrick's Church, Sydney, NS

We walked along the water looking at the houses and came up on St. Patrick’s Church, the oldest Catholic Church on Cape Breton. We didn’t go in because nothing was going to top the Mother of Sorrows Shrine in Mabou.

We continued along, noting that the houses suffer the elements similarly to the houses where I live. Water is the enemy. We stumbled upon the Cossit House Museum and thought, why the hell not, let’s go in and have a tour.

Turns out the Cossit House is the oldest house in Sydney. A woman dressed in period costume takes us through the house, room by room, and we note the similarities in building techniques to the old houses in Providence. Man, the walls were thin in the 1780’s. I can only imagine how cold it must have gotten.

As we’re standing in the last room (which is also the first room where you check in), the daughter of another museum employee is talking to her mom. She’s a teenager and she is absolutely furious that the administrators at her school want to drop Gaelic as a language for study. She is spouting off about the fact that school is continuing to support Acadian French. We’re intently listening and the mother notices this. She gives the daughter a look to tone it down. I wanted to say, “Hey, we’re linguists; we’re not judging. We’re extremely interested in how language communities interact.” But I thought that would just be too weird. So we thanked everyone for their time and left the Cossit House. We never did get to here any “Gaelic” spoken (I put it in quotes because I’m not really sure if it’s called Canadian-Gaelic or Cape Breton Gaelic or what) and I’m curious if it’s used as a home language anywhere in Cape Breton. I have spent a lot of time in Ireland and in the Gaeltachts Irish is a home language, and it is vigorously supported in national schools (in pockets). Ok enough boring language stuff.

A wall of coal under the bay

A wall of coal under the bay

On to the Miners’ Museum. I was so nervous that the concert would sell out that I dragged the boyfriend to the museum to pick up two tickets. The friendly woman at the desk who sold us the tickets told us that we could explore the museum exhibit at our leisure before the concert as they keep it open late. She also showed us a supply closet that we could use to store our jackets and pants so we could be comfortable during the concert.

But first, the tour. The museum has a tour, the Ocean Deeps Tour, where they take you into a coal mine that extends under the bay. It’s set up like a 1930’s mine to give an idea of how miserable the work really was, even though the mine was modernised as it was a working mine up into the 1990’s.

Our tour guide, Sheldon Gouthro, was a former miner. He was also quite the comedian. The mine was really cool. The walls were made of coal and as we were walking, you realized you were under water. Parts of the mine are so low that I was practically stooped over halfway. I cannot imagine doing that kind of work. Sheldon had very strong opinions about the various mine owners and was very critical of the fact that the owners provided housing to their workers and maintained the company store. Living in Rhode Island, we’re both more than aware of how this system maintained a hungry working class.

Note the canary in the coalmine

Note the canary in the coalmine

Sheldon Gouthro, our mine guide, and yours truly

Sheldon Gouthro, our mine guide, and yours truly

After the tour we rode back into town to grab supper, one of the few times we ate out as I was cooking most of our meals. Getting around the center of Glace Bay is as confusing as getting around Pawtucket, Rhode Island. It’s all one-ways and we were getting all twisted around and confused. Plus, it was raining and getting dark.

Canadian flag hanging off a fire truck ladder

Canadian flag hanging off a fire truck ladder

We’re riding down a main street and I see a giant Canadian flag hanging from the top of a fully extended ladder on a fire truck. As it’s very close to Canada Day, we figured it was a display of Maple Leaf patriotism. But then we saw all the people, slowly walking down the middle of the street and on the sidewalks, dressed in red. We saw firemen in their dress kilts. “Hmmm, this is odd,” I thought to myself. “It’s Tuesday. We still have two days to the holiday.” I didn’t think Canadians were all gung-ho with the flag-waving.

Then it hits me. I saw the sign two days ago, celebrating a fallen hero. We were riding smack dab in the middle of a memorial service for a young man and solider killed in Afghanistan, Jimmy MacNeil. I’m absolutely horrified. My dad is retired US Navy. Respect for the military is part of my family. And here I am, riding a motorcycle in a hi-viz jacket, through a memorial service. I hope none of the family saw us. Thank you, Sgt. MacNeil.

The crowd was great, parting and letting us ride through. We finally pull over and park, and enter a place called Jiggers Dining Room and Lounge. We both had burgers and some kind of Molson that we don’t get in the US. The place was fairly empty (everyone was outside at the memorial service) and the television was on. We got caught up some more on the World Cup (oh yeah, the Netherlands are steamrolling!) and learned that the Queen was visiting Canada, including Halifax. Oooo, the Queen. In Nova Scotia. There was a lot of coverage. What can I say? We shuffled off those shackles in 1776, baby!

Back to the museum for the concert…Men of the Deeps! So I’m a bit obsessed with miners’ choirs. Odd, yes. But at least I know why as opposed to the Marconi obsession. There is a band called Test Dept. who were one of the first post-punk industrial outfits using whatever bits of scrap metal they could find to create music. When I lived in New York there was an overpass all the way downtown, near the Staten Island Ferry terminal, under which I would stand in the middle of night making yelping noises, all inspired by Test Dept.

In 1984 at the height of Maggie Thatcher’s destruction of the unions (wonder where I stand?), Test Dept. released an LP (yes, an actual 33 1/3 vinyl record) of music recorded with the South Wales Striking Miners’ Choir called Shoulder to Shoulder. If you’re interested, try to find a copy of “Comrades in Arms” as it demonstrates the blend of the pounding industrial beat with the resplendent voices of the miners.

Men of the Deeps concert, Glace Bay, NS

Men of the Deeps concert, Glace Bay, NS

I was seated next to an older woman who leaned over to me and asked, “Is this your first time?” “Oh yes, and I’m very excited.” I did realize I wasn’t going to get raw brutality from the Men of the Deeps, but I sure was hoping for some sweet voices. And they didn’t disappoint. At one song my neighbor leaned over and asked why I wasn’t singing. I said I didn’t know the words. That’s when she realized we were not from nearby. They sang one strong union song, so I was happy. I let my inner Billy Bragg out.

All in all, I had a great time. It was fun to watch the younger couples who brought their young children, dancing out in front. Some of the songs were obviously ones that everyone knew so there was quite a sing-along. At the end of the night, I thanked my friendly neighbor and the woman who sold us the tickets (I think her name was Kathy), who checked in with us as we exited the concert hall. She let us back into the supply closet where we suited up for the dark, rainy ride back to slugville.

The ride back was scary. Pitch black. In the rain. On unknown roads. With a guy with a fractured scapula. The boyfriend insisted on riding his own bike, even though I had offered that we ride 2-up on the BMW with me as the pilot. We kept it slow and arrived back at Mira River the backway as I had mapped it all out in my head two days before. It was probably about 11:00 pm, too late for a campfire, when we got back to our site. Full of burger and Molson and miner songs, I crawled into the tent and didn’t even flinch when I saw the gazillion slugs slithering their way across the tent.

Tomorrow, we start the ride back to little Rhody. Slow pokes that we are, where will we stop?

Oh and some more on the Shoulder to Shoulder album.


One Response

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  1. Keith said, on 2011/02/03 at 9:28 pm

    Nice write up. You had quite the adventure.

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