“My mother died last February and I came home,” said the elfin blonde waitress at Main Street Restaurant & Bakery seafood restaurant as way of introduction. “I grew up here in Ingonish Beach, but I moved away over thirty years ago. When I came back for my mother’s death the snow was so high. You know those clotheslines people hang their laundry on? I was able to step over it in snowshoes. We had to shovel a tunnel to the windows and the doors of my mother’s house,” she concluded with a shudder. “We couldn’t bury her until May!”
Looking around at the verdant green trees and freshly mowed grass, it was hard to believe Cape Breton winters could be that harsh although this island off Canada’s east coast is surrounded by cool Atlantic waters. “I could never spend the winter here again,” said the waitress, “I’m happy to be here for eight weeks in the summer but when it’s over, I’m out of here.” Sympathizing with her about the remoteness of the region and lack of facilities, she corrected me when I said there was no hospital. “Oh, there’s a hospital eighteen minutes away and a pharmacy and a senior’s center, so everything you need is here, but it’s just SO small,” she lamented, circling her fingers to depict a tiny circle.
I could picture the lack of privacy that living in such a small community would bring. Everyone would know your business but it seemed they would have your back too. As my husband and I watched the lobster fishermen roar into Ingonish harbor with the morning’s catch, we asked if a local man if he knew anyone who sold cooked lobster. “Rod sells lobster,” he muttered, scratching his head, “but he’s a fisherman too. He doesn’t start selling lobster till the season is over.”
Continuing the conversation, he asked why we didn’t cook the lobster ourselves. A lobster could be had for $8 a pound off the back of the boats. When we explained we were in a rental RV and didn’t have anything to cook lobster in, he pulled off his ball cap and scratched his head. “Well, I just live up the road. I could lend you a pot and a cooker,” he offered. We had to decline as we were headed down the road and had no way to get the pot back to him or use it before we left. But as we drove out of town, it seemed the hospitality here ran as deep as the snow drifts. It must be nice to be from Ingonish.
Getting a Sense of Place in Canada’s Cape Breton – Click to Tweet.
How Canada’s Cape Breton spends the winter months: Click to Tweet.