Dateline: July 11, 2012, Halifax, the Tattoo and Cape Benton

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Cape Benton

Our drive to Halifax was short and we entered the city to find, what else, the info center! We first went to the Maritime Museum since both of us fount the Titanic interesting.

Museum model of Titanic

Halifax was where all the found bodies were taken for identification. The museum did a great job of “telling the story” through displays that included parts of the Titanic from the grave in the North Atlantic.

We drove out of the city to our campground for two nights and caught up with Ruth and Ann, who had just arrived in Nova Scotia. We have no proof that they were with us, because we didn’t get pictures. (per Ruth’s rule in Alaska-if you don’t have the picture of the bear, you didn’t see it.) We enjoyed a cocktail or two and had a good time catching up.

The scheduled get together was for the Halifax Tattoo which we all had tickets for on Saturday afternoon. A little history: The Tattoo is presented annually by the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo Society with support from the Government of Canada, the Province of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Halifax Regional Municipality and the Corporate Community.

Where does the name Tattoo come from? In 17th century Dutch villages, drummers marched through the streets summoning British soldiers to return to their quarters from the taverns and inns. A drumbeat signaling innkeepers to “doe den tap toe” or ‘turn off the taps” was shortened to “tattoo”. The phrase now heralds the amazing entertainment highlighted by marching bands, hundreds of musicians, acrobats, dancers and military competitions. The unique and varied talent of hundreds of Canadian and international military and civilian performers makes the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo the world’s largest annual indoor show.

The Nova Scotia Tattoo was first held in 1979 to mark the visit of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother to Nova Scotia for the International Gathering of the Clans. It has been held every year since and was granted Royal Status by Her Majesty The Queen in 2006 on the occasion of her 80th Birthday.

The themes of this year’s show included: the RMS Titanic sinking 100 years ago, Her Majesty’s The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the War of 1812. The playing of the 1812 Overture was stunning with all the canon fire and great military bands. One of the unplanned events was a wedding at the beginning of the show. A Canadian woman working in the Tattoo met a German member of their band two years ago during the Tattoo, so they wanted to get married at the Tattoo this year and the event occurred during our show. It is hard to describe the Tattoo and give it justice in words. It was one of the greatest shows that we have ever attended.

The Finally!!

If you ever plan a trip to Halifax, do it during the week of the Tattoo!

We said our goodbyes to Ann and Ruth and headed out first thing in the morning for Cape Brenton.  The Island has a long and storied past, even before Europeans discovered it the native Mi’kmaq were its first residents. John Cabot, who likely was the first European to come ashore, claimed the Island for England in 1497. The French, Scottish and Irish peoples settled in different areas of the Island, while the ‘ownership’ changed hands frequently between the French and British. The French constructed a Fortress at Louisbourg to help protect their interests. Even though it was twice captured by the British it remained part of the French colonies until it was ceded to the British under the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

We first drove up the Ceilidh Trail with great views of small harbors and shoreline. We stopped in Mabou and had a wonderful fish and chips lunch at the Red Shoe Pub. The Red Shoe is owned by the Rankin Family, one of Canada’s most famous country singing stars. The pub is worth a stop for lunch only to be followed a few miles up the road in Glenville at the Glenora Inn and Distillery for a shot of their single malt whiskey and a tour of the distillery. After a warm-up, the shot, we headed onto the Cabot Trail. There are wonderful vistas of the shoreline, but we think we are a bit jaded  because we have been blessed to travel and she shorelines in Alaska, Capetown in South Africa and the Ocean Drive between Melbourne and Adelaide Australia. We would have preferred just crossing over to the Sydney area rather than completing the trail but we kept looking for the one magical moment. After completing the trail. The road ends in Englishtown where a small cable ferry takes you across to the road on the next island.

The point where the cable ferry crosses

We spent the night at the Englishtown Ridge Campground and continued into North Sydney in the morning.

Many people talk about the golf on Cape Brenton Island. There are a number of excellent courses, we chose to play Seaview Golf and Country Club in North Sydney, ranked on the list of the ten best golf courses in Nova Scotia. It was a wonderful 18 holes of great views, challenging holes and small greens that rolled beautifully. We played about 12:30 and had the course to ourselves, so were around in just over 3 hours.

Our last day on Cape Brenton was spent traveling out to the Marconi National Historical Site of Canada, located on Table Head in Glace Bay.

Many people contributed to the development of wireless communications, but the best known is Guglielmo Marconi. In1895, at the age of 21, Marconi demonstrated the transmission and reception of wireless signals over a distance of about one mile on the family estate near Bologna, Italy. He moved to England in1896, and set up a company there in1897 to manufacture and lease wireless equipment. This was wireless before the age of electronics. The radio transmitter utilized the electrical impulses produced by a high voltage spark, and was called a spark transmitter. The receiver detected the radio signal with a primitive device called a coherer, but it had no means of amplifying the signal electronically. Despite its simplicity, the system worked, and was gradually developed to provide reliable wireless communications over distances of a hundred miles or more. Wireless was especially useful at sea, where distress signals from sinking ships saved thousands of lives. The next goal for Marconi was worldwide radio communications, and the first step was to bridge the Atlantic Ocean. In December, 1901 Marconi received a radio test signal at St. John’s, Newfoundland that was transmitted by his station in Cornwall, England.
The company that operated the transatlantic telegraph cable threatened Marconi with legal action if he continued his experiments because they held a monopoly on telegraph operations in Newfoundland. Rather than endure legal delays, Marconi left Newfoundland and sailed to North Sydney, Cape Breton. There alert Canadian officials persuaded him to build a permanent station in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. In 1902 he built this radio station for transatlantic communications. In December of that year he transmitted Morse code messages from this station to his station in Cornwall.

John worked for the Army Security Agency in their communications security operations and part of his job was the review of both voice and Morse code messages, so it was most interesting to visit the site. What made it even more special was the presence of James Charlong a retired gentleman and radio operator (Handle VEIAL1).


James spends 7 days a week when the museum is open communicating around the world in Morse code. He logs all radio contacts that total in to the thousands over the summer. We introduced ourselves to James and he insisted on giving us a tour of the ruins from the original transmission facility. It is mostly cement foundations but James bought it to life with his explanation on how it all worked. James made this visit one of the highlights of our trip to the Maritime’s.

Time to say goodbye to Cape Brenton and take the ferry to Newfoundland.