History of Baddeck – Short Version
It is usually suggested that the name Baddeck derives from the Mi’kmaq word ‘Abadak’, meaning the place near the island, though another explanation is that it derives from ‘Ebedeck’, meaning a river running parallel to a lake. The second explanation best describes the area at the mouth of the Baddeck River, five miles from the present village, where Jonathan Jones and other Empire Loyalists began settling from about 1787.
Captain Jones’ first land grant contained over 2600 acres and he appears to have prospered. Much of his wealth passed to the love child of his eldest son and the neighbor’s daughter. They underwent a shotgun marriage as the son was trying to flee the area and the prospect of marriage, but married he was, flee he did – and never returned. Big Baddeck, as the river valley is called today, still contains active farms.
By 1819 the Empire Loyalists were well established in the area and the wave of Scottish immigration was beginning. It was at this time that James Duffus built a house and established a store on the island adjacent to where Baddeck now stands and obtained a land grant of 400 acres covering much of the present-day village.
In 1833, however, Duffus went to Halifax for medical reasons – and died there. The executors for the estate sent ” a gay young captain of militia”, William Kidston, to attend to the affairs. This he did, eventually marrying the widow, Mrs. Duffus and becoming the owner of the whole Duffus estate after the death of James Duffus, who was the only son of the former marriage.
Kidston prospered. He helped organize the separation of Victoria County from Cape Breton County and donated land for a court house and jail. He is remembered in the name of a store in the middle of Baddeck, and in the name Kidston Island, formerly known as Mutton Island, Duffus Island or Duke of Kent Island where the original store of the area had stood.
When Robert Elmsley arrived in March 1840 he called it Mutton Island and described the native Mi’kmaq people camped on the island and the adjacent shore making “mast hooks, oil tanks, baskets, ox yokes, axe handles, quill boxes, pretty mocassins, bows and arrows, kites, toy canoes, staves, fish barrels, and wash tubs.” Elmsley “was deeply impressed with the beauty of the island. There was a snug house, a lovely garden and well, and a thick forest of birch and maple … Kidston was a jolly fellow, and of whom I have much to say funny.”
Charles J. Campbell was in charge of the store at that time and later the same year started his own store on the mainland, opposite the island, on land leased from Kidston. A few years later, in 1884, Campbell launched his first schooner, “The Highlander”, “and started making money”. Much of the early prosperity of Baddeck was based on ship building. Campbell went on to be the member of parliament for the area and negotiated the building of the post office and customs office which opened in 1886 with it is said, the likeness of Campbell carved in the keystone over the main entrance. This charming stone building, now known as Grosvenor Hall, still stands in 1995, though closed to the public and in desperate need of repair.
Alexander Graham Bell, that most illustrious resident of our area, came to Baddeck at about this time, having invented the telephone a few years earlier. We can be sure he used the post office and we know that he stayed at the Telegraph House up the street before he built his home, Beinn Bhreagh, across the bay. It was over the ice of the bay that the Silver Dart recorded the first airplane flight in the British Empire in February 1909 and in 1919 the H.D.4 hydrofoil set a water speed record which would stand for ten years.
It sometimes seems that Bell’s activities swamp any other history of Baddeck but there are many poignant tales, joys, and tragedies,some we know, most we cannot know, which are vitally part of the story of this lovely place.