Track 2: Neil’s Harbour Side Trip

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Cape Breton lobster

Adapted and abridged from the Cabot Trail Companion.

Instead of a somewhat dull stretch of the official Cabot Trail, for the next 20-or-so kilometres take the alternative route for a fine view of Aspy Bay, grand cliffs, and turquoise seas, which on a clear summer's day make you feel like you're in the Greek Islands.

But winter time's a different kettle of fish. Keep an eye out for St Paul's Island* to the northeast: a remote and rocky outcrop of the Highlands, with many a dark tale attached.

The Cape Breton coast can be a wild and dangerous place, and stories of shipwrecks abound. A few are fondly told — like the one about the cargo of rum that washed ashore in the 1930s — but most are tales of peril and tragedy.

Satellite, radar and a lighthouse have taken away a lot of the risk, but in its time St Paul's Island, lying right amidst the busy shipping lanes between the St Lawrence and the Atlantic, was one of THE most dangerous places in the world for sailors. Its jagged rocks are often hidden by a thick fog — and to make matters worse, pack ice around Cape Breton can last well into the spring.

In fact, in April 1997, it was so thick that even the Terry Fox, the most powerful icebreaker in North America, was unable to free two ferries off Sydney Harbour. And that's not even a rarity: a similar situation arose as recently as March 2008.

To this day, St Paul's Island is known as the Graveyard of the Gulf. Thousands of lives have been lost there in shipwrecks, with victims buried on its shores in unmarked mass graves.

The closest point is named Jessies Cove, after a vessel that went down there in December 1824. Bound for England, the Jessie was sunk in a storm, and though passengers and crew escaped alive and lit distress beacons on the island, thick ice prevented their rescue ... and over the course of the next ten weeks, the stranded souls perished one by one from exposure and starvation.

More such yarns are told at White Point, a quaint fishing port at the eastern tip of Aspy Bay. If you have a couple of hours free, turn left down to its harbour. A little farther on starts an exhilarating hike to a rocky point and a windswept cemetery and the grave of the Unknown Sailor, marked by a large white cross.

*The official name is St Paul Island, but locals almost always refer to it as St Paul's Island.

Neil’s Harbour Side Trip Links

If you'd like more information on the topics covered on this track, the following websites may be of interest. Naturally, we have no control over external sites; if you find a dead link please let us know!

A History of St Paul Island

The tragic and curious tale of the Jessie

Marine Regions Off Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Accommodations & other businesses along the way

See also Meat Cove (DISC ONE, Track 9)

Back Cove Cottage Accommodation ($$)
222 New Haven Rd, Neil’s Harbour. T: (902) 336-2812;

Fisherman’s Daughters (crafts)
11 Warr Rd, Neil’s Hbr. T: (902) 336-2411;

Seymour Harbour View B&B Accommodation ($$)
31 Seymour Lane, Neil’s Harbour. T: (902) 336-2543;

Sea Spray Outdoor Adventures (guided hiking, kayaking & cycling)
1141 White Point Rd, Smelt Brook. T: (902) 383-2732;

Smelt Brook Studio
1141 White Point Rd, Smelt Brook. T: (902) 383-2732;

Two Tittle B&B Accommodation ($–$$)
2119 White Point Rd, White Point Village. TF: 1-866-231-4078;

*White Rose Country Cottage Accommodation ($$)
55 Oceanview Dr, Neil’s Harbour. T: (902) 336-2500 or 285-0129;

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