The Cape Breton Celtic festivals web site will depict a culture unique to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. The information will show that the Celtic music, song, and dance are steeped in a tradition which has its roots with the early Gaelic-speaking people of a remote part of the United Kingdom - the Highlands and the Islands of Scotland. Yet, this tradition is a spirited aspect of life in Cape Breton today.
Cape Breton Island Click Here to View Map
Cape Breton extends easterly into the Atlantic Ocean. It lies between the parallels of 45° 27' and 47° 3' north latitude, and between 59° 47' and 61° 32' west longitude. The island, irregular in shape, is sourrounded partly by the Atlantic Ocean, and partly by the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Strait of Canso where a causeway links the island with the rest of Canada. The island is less than 4,000 square miles, while its extreme length is slightly more than one hundred miles, and its extreme width slightly over eighty miles.
Cape Breton is divided into four municipal counties - Inverness, Richmond, Victoria, and Cape Breton. Industrial growth at the turn of the century gave rise to the city of Sydney (founded in 1785), and small towns like Glace Bay and New Waterford. The current population of Cape Breton is approximately 150,000, and its residents are under the jurisdiction of the province of Nova Scotia government, a provincial body within Canada - a federal political structure.
Cape Breton's coastline is rugged and indented. The interior is heavily saturated with species of trees which are native to the boreal regions of North America. The land is broken by many rivers, creeks, and lakes. Its natural beauty is found along breath-taking trails like the Cabot Trail and rural landscapes scattered throughout, and in the largest body of salt water lakes in the world - the Bras d'Or Lakes. This ecological beauty captivates the residents and visitors alike.
|© Cape Breton Cabot Trail Web Site|
Festival celebrations are very much entrenched throughout the community of Cape Breton. Whether the celebration is one remembering the early Loyalists, the French Acadians, the Mi'kmaqs, or the Celts, the festival represents a way of life among these diverse cultures that collectively makeup over 80% of the island's population. The music, the songs, and the dances together with indigenous foods, religious ceremonies, and sporting activities, that generally depict community lifestyle and family values, are usual festival highlights. Museum exhibits and live stage performances are integral to the island's festival celebrations, and they depict a vivid picture of the past as well as a poignant picture of the present.
|Aerial Photo Celtic Festival|
|© Aerial Overviews|
The contemporary style of festivals generally is three-fold, and the labels used to identify these programs vary. For the purpose of this presentation, the word "festival" is all-inclusive. Some of the popular festivals enjoyed today were started as early as 1957. The "Old Time Outdoor Picnics" were active in the late 1800s.
Among the more popular festivals in the 1990s are those organized to raise money for community projects, firstly, and to celebrate culture and heritage unique to specific areas, secondly. They take place in "rural" areas like Broad Cove, Big Pond, Isle Madame, Eskasoni, and in "town" areas like Whitney Pier and New Waterford, and are operated by volunteers representing grass-roots organizations.
|Celtic festival crowd shot|
|© MacInnes collection|
A second style of festival includes those that are semi-associated with government resources and departments like education and tourism. Again, the volunteer component is essential as are the public facilities used and the professional staff who organize and promote these festivals. Their aim is to attract the travelling public, especially, and to promote action to preserve the culture and the heritage. Significant festivals in this grouping are the "Annual Mod" at the Gaelic College of Arts and Crafts in St. Ann's and "Highland Village Day" at the Nova Scotia Highland Village in Iona.
Beginning in the 1990s, a third approach to festival planning and presentation is in support of the cultural industries. These programs are organized by many volunteers and are managed by a professional staff. The Celtic Colours "International Festival of Celtic Music," particularly, is advancing this effort.
In many instances, the festivals have served as a backdrop to major television, video, and film documentaries. In addition, published articles have been written concerning festivals in Cape Breton in national and international magazines highlighting the depth of the Celtic tradition in Cape Breton especially. The genesis of the Celtic music festivals, in particular, is the focus of this presentation.
|Aerial Photo Celtic Festival|
|© Aerial Overviews|
The music is the centre piece among Celtic celebrations,but the music tradition goes beyond the public performance. The music is inherent in the values adhered to by families and communities in general. To know the music tradition among the people is to know what a Celtic music festival strives to become in Cape Breton. The music has a place in the spiritual side as well as in the social and cultural side of life in rural Cape Breton.
The potential, however, for further maintenance and growth of the Celtic music culture in Cape Breton generally is being threatened despite its seemingly healthy presence. The demise of the Gaelic language and out-migration for employment opportunities are negative factors. Early census data show that the population in several rural communities of Cape Breton reached its maximum by 1881 and began to decline thereafter, and by the 1920's, it increased markedly. Cape Breton in the 1990s continues an intensified pattern of out-migration, and a depleted population is affecting school enrollment, community expansion, and business and industrial opportunity as well as cultural maintenance.
Traditional jobs in the coal mines, in the steel plant, and in the fisheries are fading. New hope, however, is available in the knowledge - based industry, in tourism, in the Arts,and in small business. The need to develop a new economy has been the subject of new public policy, research initiatives, and municipal amalgamation. (CBCEDA)
|Early Coal mining |
|© Miner's Museum|