Why “Your Heart Will Never Leave” Cape Breton Island

Destination Cape Breton Island CEO Terry Smith with musician Natalie MacMaster
Destination Cape Breton Island CEO Terry Smith with musician Natalie MacMaster

Nova Scotia’s scenic Cape Breton Island is known for its warm, unpretentious hospitality and vibrant music scene. No wonder the Island’s slogan is “Your heart will never leave”.

Tuesday nights in Toronto aren’t known for their vibrant live music scene – unless last Tuesday, May 31st, you happened to be at the authentically-Irish P.J. O’Brien Pub in the heart of the Big Smoke. Thanks to a delegation from Cape Breton Island, the pub was hopping with contagious Cape Breton fiddle music.

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy
Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy

Tapping their feet to the music were a host of travel media and fans of the island, who know that music is one of the island’s strongest draws, especially this year, which has been dubbed The Year of Music on the island. And of course the music on Tuesday was great since it was provided by a six piece band headed by legendary Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster and her husband Donnell Leahy.

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Actor Billy MacLellan emceed the evening and is clearly a proud islander, getting quite emotional when speaking of home. “I travel a lot for work, but when asked if I could go anywhere in the world, it’s always my ma’s kitchen table on Cape Breton Island.” He added that Natalie MacMaster “embodies the spirit of kindness of the island, she has Cape Breton comin’ out of her ears!”

Team Cape Breton Island: Corinne MacLellan and Jody MacArthur of Destination Cape Breton with actor and Cape Breton Ambassador Billy MacLellan and Rodney Chiasson, Director of the Highland Village, a living history museum
Team Cape Breton Island: Corinne MacLellan and Jody MacArthur of Destination Cape Breton with actor and Cape Breton Ambassador Billy MacLellan and Rodney Chiasson, Director of the Highland Village, a living history museum
Graham Marshall, Industry Liaison Coordinator for the Nova Scotia Indigenous Tourism Enterprise Network (NSITE’N)
Graham Marshall, Industry Liaison Coordinator for the Nova Scotia Indigenous Tourism Enterprise Network (NSITE’N)

CEO of Cape Breton Tourism Terry Smith told Open Jaw that, with a population of 135,000, Cape Breton is about a 3 hour drive from YHZ and it’ll take you 2 hours to drive from one side of the island to the other – longer if you take the jaw-dropping Cabot Trail Highway, the island’s number 1 attraction, which has been called “One of the world’s great drives” by National Geographic. Along with, of course, the music. “We punch well above our weight in musical talent,” he said, adding that singer Rita MacNeil was a proud islander.

And speaking of pride, I had to ask how islanders had reacted when Jeopardy Champion Mattea Roach said during the show that Cape Breton Island with its “beautiful, beautiful scenery” is her favourite place in Canada. “She was speaking from the heart,” said a smiling Smith. “She’s a wonderful ambassador for us.”

There’s more than music to celebrate this year in Cape Breton. A host of festivals are lined up, right through until November, including La Fête du Chocolat, St. Peter’s Pirate Days, a Food Truck Rally, and the Hike the Highlands Festival.

And don’t forget golf. For clients who love chasing the little white ball, the Island (which Forbes magazine calls “the hottest island in golf”) beckons with seven courses featuring rugged, oceanside links normally found in Scotland. You – and your clients – can find out more about those legendary courses here.

No matter why your clients travel to the island, be sure to remind them to, as MacLellan suggests, “Put down the phone and exhale.” Sounds like a recipe for a great vacation!

Martha Chapman

Columnist

An OJ columnist since 2006, Martha is responsible for the Biting Questions series as well as special seasonal series. She can often be seen On The Town covering industry events. Known to all in the biz, Martha has worked her entire career in travel, beginning as a teenaged hotel receptionist in Bermuda.

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