Track 5: St Ann’s Bay Artisans

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 Sarah Beck at her studio, Wildfire Pottery, on the North Shore of St Ann's Bay, Cape Breton Island

Adapted and abridged from the Cabot Trail Companion.

After the Cape Smokey lookoff, there's a superb hairpin descent to return to sea level and Wreck Cove. You won't realise it, but around 11 kilometres from Cape Smokey, when you reach Mike Crimp's Wilderness Cabins, in the mountains to your right is a vast hydroelectric system connecting several large lakes. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, there's a road that will take you up there, but don't go too far, as it eventually becomes a bewildering maze of forest tracks that will take you all the way back to the Margarees or Chéticamp!

If you like to browse in craft shops and boutiques, you're in for a real treat along this section of the Cabot Trail: from Wreck Cove all the way down St Ann's Bay, we've an amazing artistic community to check out, including a hat-maker, a weaver, a glassworker, and a pewter-smith.

Sadly, the run time of the CD doesn't allow us to feature every artisan along the way, but we do pay a visit to three of them as a representative sample, starting with Sarah Beck, who owns Wildfire Pottery in North Shore.

There's a fond local expression for people who fall in love with Cape Breton and move here to live: we say they've "come from away". And Sarah really did "come from away" — all the way from British Columbia! Her pottery works are full of charm and character; her trademark being chubby clay animals made using a Japanese technique called Raku, which gives them a beautiful metallic glaze.

She might have crossed an entire continent to get here, but with her fiery red hair and a serious passion for Celtic fiddle music, Sarah fits right into the Cape Breton scene. On the Cabot Trail Companion, Sarah describes life as an artist, and the unusual day job of her husband and fellow musician, Paul Cranford: Paul is one of Canada's last lighthousekeepers!

* * * * * * *

John C. Roberts and his wife Marion have run the sublimely fragrant Leatherworks boutique since 1988.

Whilst lines such as beautiful leather belts are popular with the passing trade, John has a rather less obvious specialty that has gained him international recognition — faithful handmade replicas of historical objects, including seven different kinds of leather bucket.

You may already have seen some of John's buckets without realizing it, as his leather goods have featured in several period films, most notably Russell Crowe's nautical epic Master and Commander. But even John's more modern-looking gift items are made using age-old techniques. In today's era of mass-produced metal and plastic, it's easy to forget how important leather goods once were in so many aspects of everyday life. John and his wife take us on a trip into the past, and reveal how certain commonplace words have their origins in the leather industry...

* * * * * * *

 Iron artist Gordon Kennedy at the forge, Tarbot, Cape Breton Island One thing you can't guess from our recordings is that John sports a most impressive beard, as does the third and final artisan in our line up, metal sculptor Gordon Kennedy of Iron Art and Photographs, a few kilometres down the Cabot Trail in Tarbot.

As you've probably gathered by now, the Cabot Trail is a real magnet for artists from across Canada and beyond, and Gordon and his wife Carol are perfect examples of that. He is an alumnus of Vancouver Art School; she made her name as a Toronto fashion photographer. But when the time came to start a family in the early 80s, the couple started dreaming of an alternative to big city life, so they packed up their worldly belongings into a little truck and sought their heart's content amidst the Cape Breton countryside.

NOTE: Before you pay a visit to Gordon and Carol's studio, you need to be aware that after the next track (Track 7: Englishtown), you'll need to make a choice about your itinerary. South of Indian Brook and immediately after the Barachois River bridge, there's a T-junction where the official Cabot Trail takes a sharp right inland, towards Tarbot and the Kennedys' shop.

The other road continues on to the Englishtown car ferry, which was in fact the original route of the Cabot Trail, until the former horse-drawn ferry got to be a bottleneck for the growing tourist traffic. Locals joke about it being the shortest ferry ride in the world, as it's only about 90 seconds from shore to shore, but for a few dollars each way it's a fun experience and a cute photo opportunity.

Weigh up whether you'd like to hop over on the ferry — then hop back up to Tarbot once you're done — or stick to the Cabot Trail for the time being, and then make the short detour northeast to Englishtown once you rejoin the Trans-Canada Highway.


If you'd like more information on this section of the tour, the following links may be of interest. Because we have no control over external sites, if you find a dead link please let us know!

Wreck Cove hydroelectric facility

Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design

Mixed Media Artisans — Sydney retail craft gallery offering the work of Cape Breton artisans including the Kennedys

Arts North — Highlands gallery of high-quality crafts produced exclusively in Cape Breton by resident artisans

Accommodations & other businesses along the way

* = Featured on the Cabot Trail Companion

Cabot Shores Accommodation ($–$$$; adventure resort)
30 Buchanan Dr, Indian Brook & 43539 Cabot Trail,
Skir Dhu. TF: 1-866-929-2585;

Christine’s Housekeeping Cottage Accommodation ($$)
47519 Cabot Trail, Tarbot. T: (902) 929-2379;

Clucking Hen Café
45073 Cabot Trail, North Shore. T: (902) 929-2501

English Country Garden B&B & Cottages Accommodation ($$–$$$)
45478 Cabot Trail, Indian Brook. TF: 1-866-929-2721;

Glass Artisans (studio & gallery)
45054 Cabot Trail, North Shore. TF: 1-888-262-6435;

Goodwill House B&B Accommodation ($–$$)
41682 Cabot Trail, Wreck Cove. TF: 1-866-270-0781;

Indian Brook C@P Site
46177 Cabot Trail Road, Indian Brk. T: (902) 929-2822;

*Iron Art & Photographs
48084 Cabot Trail, Tarbot. T: (902) 929-2318;

J Kerr’s B&B Accommodation (unusual in that it has no rates; pay what you feel is apt)
43627 Cabot Trail, Breton Cove (south of Cape Smokey). T: (902) 929-2114

*Leather Works
45808 Cabot Trail, Indian Brook. T: (902) 929-2414;

North Shore C@P Site
North Shore School, 44643 Cabot Trail. T: (902) 929-2241

Piper Pewter
46112 Cabot Trail, Indian Brook, St Ann’s Bay. T: (902) 929-2227;

Piper’s Trailer Court Accommodation ($)
45929 Cabot Trail, Indian Brk. T: (902) 929-2233;

Sea Parrot Oceanview Manor Accommodation ($$–$$$)

45227 Cabot Trail, North Shore. T: (902) 929-2530;

Sew Inclined (millinery)
41819 Cabot Trail, Wreck Cove. T: (902) 929-2259 or 929-2050;

Singing Pebbles Accommodation ($$$)
42164 Cabot Trail,
Wreck Cove. T: (902) 929-2399;

*Wildfire Pottery
44556 Cabot Trail, North Shore. T: (902) 929-2315;

Woodsmiths Studio
45070 Cabot Trail, North Shore. T: (902) 929-2111;

Wreck Cove General Store (& lobster sandwiches!)
42470 Cabot Trail, Wreck Cove. T: (902) 929-2900

*Wreck Cove Wilderness Cabins Accommodation ($$)
Wreck Cove Point. TF: 1-877-929-2800;

If you would like your business to be added to this list, please contact us...