Tag Archives: Nova Scotia

Goldenrod Vest

The yarn that I bought from the crowded Margaree Harbour Craft & Gift Shop on Cape Breton Island is thick and sturdy and wooly. The wool comes from Canada’s Atlantic providences and is spun by MacAuslands Woollen Mills on Prince Edward Island. We stuffed all six large hanks into our panniers and biked with them for over a week. Months later, I dyed it a pale yellow with goldenrod from my mother’s garden.

The night before this purchase, G and I stayed at the Cheticamp Motel. We arrived there late in the afternoon and found just one vacant room remaining. The elderly proprieter slowly added us to a handwritten logbook with a shaky hand. We paid in cash, and, as he counted our change, I admired his handknit vest. It was a natural-colored v-neck vest of stockinette stitch with a simple knit one-purl one rib. Comfortably fitted. “Did someone knit that for you?” I asked loudly. “Oh, probably. A long time ago. I don’t remember,” he responded.

I have been planning to knit a vest for G based on hotel proprietor’s simple well-worn garment. As a swatch, I worked up another basic baby vest for my child. Knit on size 10 needles, it still came out a bit stiff, so a swatch on 10.5’s will also be needed. I like this aran weight yarn and think the baby vest will wear nicely (better than his last of Lion’s Brand Fisherman’s wool), but a collared shirt underneath might also be required. The pattern (my own) is simple, with the stockinette body knit in the round and the garter stitch chest knit flat, allowing for straight stitch the whole way. An extra stretchy bind off at the neck makes it easy to get this on and off my squirmy little one.



Island by Alistair MacLeod is a beautiful collection of short stories by Cape Breton, Nova Scotia‘s most beloved author. The unromantic lives of Cape Breton’s people are shown with simple, lyrical language.

The stories were written between 1968 and 1999, and touch on themes including family obligations, loss, tradition, and change. The land and sea of Cape Breton are essential characters in each. With each story, I reflected on my impressions of the places we had briefly visited on our loop of the Cabot Trail.

My only criticism is that all the stories have a similar tone as though there is one speaker, although they are each written as a different person. MacLeod tries but does not convincingly write from a child’s perspective, and he does not even try to write from any woman’s viewpoint. This tome took me over three months to make my way through as I usually took a break between stories, but it was worth all the library overdue fees.

Lupines in Wool

Route 4 through Nova Scotia does not have the vistas offered by many of the other roads in the province, but it does have lupines. In June, the verges were lined for miles with tall purple, blue, and pink inflorescence. Nothing, it seems, is more purple that a purple lupine.


Upon returning home, I started knitting lupines. This is something that I have tried out with before without satisfactory results. It turned out that buying almost every purple available from Jamieson and Smith was essential, and I was able to design a motif that unmistakably represents a lupine in full bloom.

I have wanted to knit a sweater for my mother for a long time, and for a long time I have wanted it to be purple. This is because she once owned a purple Archie Brown & Son yoke knit of Shetland wool. She says that she bought it in 1983 while vacation in Bermuda. Sometime in the 80’s, the sweater was stored away in the basement and it remained there until my sister and I found it around 2000. There were dozens of moth holes, and I wore holes and all it for a decade before discovering darning. It now has mends, some more visible than others, as well as elbow patches, and I wear it regularly.

Shetland_SweaterThis photo was taken about two years ago, before the elbow patches.Shetland_Yoke

Using Kate Davies’ Foxglove pattern as a template, my sister and I decided to knit a lupine cardigan for our mother’s birthday. In July 2017, I shipped main color yarn to M, she knit the sleeves and shipped them back to me, and then I joined them with the body before knitting the yoke. When my mother’s birthday came in early August, I had just joined the body and sleeves. She was patient through the fall and early winter as I finished knitting the yoke, cutting the steek, and painstakingly sewing a ribbon over the steek’s raw edge.

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For those interested in knitting details, Kate Davies’ Foxglove pattern is available as part of her YOKES book. Kate Davies’ sweater sits nice and flat across her chest, but this is not the case for many other knitters. Based on Ravelry photos, I think that knitters have struggled with the yoke shaping and the neckline sits high and wide on many women. I modified the yoke, beginning with extra short rows in the back at the join of the arms with the body, and then more short rows at the top of the colorwork. I also decreased more within the yoke than is called for in the pattern. This allowed for a closer neckline that is wide enough not to scratch our mom’s neck. I cut the steek without reinforcement and then hand stitched it in place, rather than using a crochet reinforcement. The method that I used is described in Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting and works well with Shetland wool. My Ravelry project page is here.

We are all three – M, Mom, and me – very happy with this cardigan and hope it sees decades of wear.

Tandem Cycling the Cabot Trail – Cheticamp Rug Hooking

Tandem Cycling the Cabot Trail – Part 4

G and I left came out of the Highlands against a strong headwind, arriving in Cheticamp in the late afternoon. The last several miles were a trial, and we were exhausted. We arrived just moments too late to view the exhibits at the Les Trois Pignons, the Museum of Hooked Rug and Home Life. I had been looking forward to learning more about the craft of hooking and was disppointed. I pressed my cheek to the glass exhibit doors for an oblique peek of Elizabeth LeFort’s famous portrait work.

Two employees were still standing at the front desk, waiting to lock up when the clock struck exactly 5. I asked them what breed of sheep grew the wool that was used in Nova Scotia rug hooking and they said, “Oh, it’s just wool. Good sheep wool.” They were fairly certain it came from Montreal, but had never thought about it further. I asked this question of three different rug hookers at different shops and none of them could tell me. Does anyone know?

We spent the night in a clean and simple room at the Cheticamp Motel (kind, helpful, and adorable owners dressed in handknit wool, clean room, quality laundry machines, all the motel stars). To our surprise, a bright red tandem was propped at the door to the next room down. Our neighbors were a couple from Australia who had been touring the world via tandem. They cycled from Vancouver, BC to Detroit, MI in 2016 and were now finishing up a Detroit, MI to Sydney, NS leg. Their plan was to take the ferry from Sydney, NS to St. John’s, NL and then fly to Europe. G and I loved hearing about their experiences and getting their take on different tandem set-ups and components. They were an inspiration!DSC_0442.JPG


We Bought an Island


Upon our return home from Nova Scotia, I finished The Nymph and the Lamp and began We Bought an Island (also published as We Keep a Light) by Evelyn M. Richardson. Part memoir, part almanac, this lovely read tells of the Richardson family’s life as light house keepers. In the 1920’s, Evelyn Richardson and her husband, Morrill, bought 600-acre Bon Portage Island off the southwest coast of Nova Scotia and worked as the island’s lighthouse keepers for 35 years. They lived a simple, challenging life there, homesteading as much as possible while raising three children. Evelyn tells about their life clearly and honestly through chapters arranged by topic rather than chronology. The book is a not a page turner, but I never found it boring either. One chapter per night satisfied me, and left me feeling positive. Some of Evelyn’s messages have stayed on my mind, including the fact that happiness is a often a choice. She said that she wrote the book in large part to show young couples living in isolated places how it is possible to be happy. I am grateful for her example even if I will never live in a place nearly as isolated as Bon Portage (she only left her island- population ranging between 2 and 6- a few times a year for 35 years and then only to visit family!) Evelyn did not want the same life as I, but I found it easy to relate to her. In large part, I think this was the importance of place in her life. She found her home on Bon Portage Island and never tired of it. She loved the fog and the weather, the plants and the animals. She was part of the natural community there. We are still looking for our home and hope to find it as surely as did Evelyn.

Tandem Cycling the Cabot Trail – Connections

Tandem Cycling the Cabot Trail – Part 3

The first thing that drew me to Nova Scotia as a honeymoon destination was it’s clear cultural ties to Scotland, especially cultural ties expressed in wool. M and I made a trip to Scotland in 2015, and I had since been interested in the historic and present ties to New Scotland.

In the 1800’s, the infamous Highland Clearances took place across northern Scotland. Landlords forced thousands of peasants from their homes in favor of sheep. These people were forced to settle in Scotland’s less arable lands and many risked emmigration rather than eek out meager livings on the plots allowed to them in Scotland. Scots arrived at the harbors of Cape Breton and made new lives for themselves as fisherman, subsitence farmers, and, later, coal miners. (I suspect that these people included my maternal grandmother’s Murray ancestors, though my great great grandfather ended up in Montreal rather than Cape Breton.) Commercial fishing, farming, and mining have all declined, but Nova Scotia’s Scottish heritage continues to thrive in the language, music, and dance of Scotland, which have evolved into endemic styles.

Less attention is given to the geological ties between these lands. The Aspy Fault slices through the Cape Breton Highlands just as the Great Glen Fault cleaves the Scottish Highlands. Two faults are in fact one in the same. They are both part of the 300 km fissure known as the Great Glen Fault formed millenia ago when Newfoundland, Cape Breton, and Northern Scotland were all part of the Avalonian subcontinent.

Travelling the Cabot Trail brings you to a number of Aspy Fault viewpoints. If you are moving by pedal bicycle, these points are good places to rest after climbing the steep road.DSC_0419DSC_0413DSC_0410

The vegetation makes for a different looking landscape, but standing at a Cabot Trail overlook of the Aspy Fault, I also saw the view from Conic Hill in my mind’s eye. I like to think that the ancient geological connection between Scotland and New Scotland is part of what drew thousands of Scots to settle the northwestern Atlantic Coast. True, these people were low on options, but perhaps the Canadian land felt surprisingly familiar to its new residents and allowed for the flourishing of Celtic-Canadian culture that continues to this day.




Sea Change


Sea Change by Frank Viva is a juvenile graphic novel, which I was not expecting when I went to pick it up from the library. It follows a tween who is sent to spend the summer with his great uncle in an isolated fishing village of Nova Scotia. Our protagonist is loath to go, which he makes clear with constant whiny, but of course a few days in his temporary home with his rough uncle and he starts to realize that his summer might not be so bad after all. A fun, quick visit into what it might be like to spend a summer far far from here.