Welcome to Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
THE HISTORY OF BADDECK
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The picturesque little village of Baddeck, situated on the shores of the beautiful Bras d’Or Lake in the heart of Cape Breton lsland, is one of the world’s scenic gems.
The name Baddeck, according to some historians, is derived from the Mi’kmaq ‘Abadak’ meaning place with an island near. Before 1800, this mountain-guarded mecca of the modern tourist, knew only the splash of the Indian’s paddle on the shining waters on the tideless lake and the rustle of his moccasined feet trailing the forest.
The earliest visitation of the white man recorded is that of the French Catholic missionaries who came as early as 1629. Of these, the only one of whom we have any knowledge is the famed Abbe Maillard, who came from France to Louisbourg. He was a man of great culture and learning and devoted all of his time to his Indian flock, exerting a very great influence on them. He lived among them accompanying them on their migrations from place to place, and always their first duty was to put up a chapel and a wigwam for their beloved priest. Here he preached to them the gospel of Christ and also gave them a written language. He converted practically the whole Mi’kmaq nation, his secret being in labouring with them, sharing their joys, and enduring their hardships. After the fall of Louisbourg (1758) the Abbe retired to St. Jean Island (P.E.I.). Later he became Vicar General of Quebec. His last days were spent at Halifax where he became a great personal friend of the Rev. Thomas Wood, then rector of St. Paul’s. It is related that in 1762, when on his deathbed, he requested Mr. Wood to read ‘the office of the Visitation of the Sick’ in the presence of a number of French residents. He was buried by order of the Lieutenant Governor in St. Paul’s Churchyard, the office of burial being performed in the French language by Mr. Wood in the presence of all the gentlemen of Halifax and a large assembly of French and Indians. Among his pall bearers were the Speaker of the House and the President of the Council. Several books bearing his signature both in French and Mi’kmaq are now in the library of King’s College, Windsor and his memory is still revered by the Mi’kmaq.
About 1790, the first English settlers, Captain Jonathan Jones and his family arrived, having been given grants of crown land in the Baddeck River area. They were closely followed by other Loyalists and many immigrants from Scotland. Most of these settled in the Big Baddeck and Middle River areas and many of their descendants still reside in those locations.
In 1813, Lieutenant James Duffus, whose wife was a sister-in-law of Sir Samual Cunard founder of the Cunard Line of steamships, was given a grant of land which proved to be the island referred to in the naming of Baddeck. Here he carried on a mercantile business until his death more than twenty years later, during which time the place was known as Duffus Island. In 1833 a Mr. William Kidston, returning to Scotland from Halifax was shipwrecked off Cape North and found his way to Baddeck and the lsland. Here he met and married the widow of James Duffus, and the Island’s name was later changed to Kidston’s Island. The community owes much to Mr. Kidston. It was he who advised the separation of Cape Breton and Victoria Counties and gave the site of the present Court House to the village.
The Kidston business was moved to the mainland in 1840. It was later taken over by a gentleman from Colchester County named Angus Tupper. His wife was the daughter of the Hon. David McCurdy, and when her husband died, her brother Edward McCurdy arrived to help her with the business. The McCurdy family was later induced to settle in Baddeck and with their coming came further progress for the growing community. The Hon. Mr. McCurdy, head of the family set up a business and brought a young man named Thompson from Pictou County to start a Tin-smithing shop. A shoe making business was next started by a Mr. Procter which led to the establishing of two tanneries on the shore road. The McCurdy family contributed much to the growth and development of Baddeck. One of their direct descendants, the late Hon* J.A.D. McCurdy, former Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, made history on a cold day in February, 1909 when he made the first airplane flight in the British Empire at the wheel of his famed Silver Dart on the frozen Baddeck Bay.
The real history of the village proper began in 1839 with the settlement of two families on the mainland. One was that of Joseph Campbell, a native of Newry Ireland who built an Inn on a property near Indian Cove. The Inn also contained a tavern and a Post Office, and Mr. Campbell became Baddeck’s first Post Master. Mail was brought from Sydney by carriers an foot with the mail bags on their backs. Mr. Campbell later moved to the United States. The second family was that of Hector MacLean of Scotland who built his home on the property adjoining the old Knox Cemetery on the Bay Road. Between these two homesteads there were no other residences but the wigwams of the Indians along the shore of the Lake.
In 1841, Mr. Charles J. Campbell who in later years was known far and wide as the Hon. C. J. Campbell opened a store on the waterfront. He catered to the large Scottish trade in the area and across the lake in Boisdale, lona, Grand Narrows, and Washabuct. He swept all opposition before him for was he not a Highlander, speaking the Gaelic as his mother tongue. It must be admitted that it was the Hon. Mr. Campbell who was largely responsible for the growth of the village. In addition to his mercantile business he undertook shipbuilding and turned out many large ships between 1844 and 1881. He also developed the Kelly’s Cove coal deposits and built his home which later became the Hotel Baddeck which eventually burned down. He named it ‘Duntulum House’, a name now given to one of our streets and where now stands the Alderwood Rest Home. He also donated the land for the new cemetery and was one of the first to be interred there. The settlement of New Campbellton was named in his honor and for many years his face looked out from a plaque above the door of ‘Gertrude Hall’ which was destroyed by fire in 1939.
About this time a far-seeing resident named Hezekiah Ingraham took steps to educate his family. He hired a teacher and set aside a room in his home where the children of the neighbourhood were introduced to the three ‘R’s’. Though himself a Protestant, he made no religious distinction. This is surprising because at that time religious intolerance and bigotry was the rule, but more than a few Catholic children were among those receiving instruction. Soon the small room could no longer contain the numbers and so the first school in Victoria County was built. Later it was enlarged and from Baddeck Academy have gone forth men and women who were to distinguish themselves and bring honor to their homeland at the Bar, in the pulpit, in the medical profession, on the political platform and in business throughout Canada and the United States. Among the pioneer families who lived in the area at this time we find such names as Sparling, Leaver, Taylor, Robertson, and others many of which still remain throughout the area.
The first church built in Baddeck was erected on the Bay Road in 1841. It was removed in 1865 and a larger edifice took its place. In 1890 this was abandoned and Greenwood Church was built on its present site. In 1925 when Greenwood joined the union, a new Knox Church, the present structure, was built on Grant Street. A Methodist Church was built but was later domolished because of diminishing membership though the Rectory still stands and is used as a dwelling. In 1880 St. Peter’s Church of England and a Congregational Church were built. The latter was later purchased by Mrs. Dr. Bell and renamed ‘Gertrude Hall’. For a time it housed the Baddeck Public Library but was destroyed by fire in 1939 when only 1,800 of its 8,000 books were saved. The property was later occupied by Bethune’s Garage and now the ‘Needs’ convenience store.
The first Catholic Church was built on the present site in 1858 and was named St. Michael’s. It was lost in the big fire of 1926, but a new St. Michael’s soon rose from the ashes of the old one.
The first freight and passenger ship to come up the Bras d’Or Lake was called ‘Banshee’, which arrived in 1855. As the years went by, and more and more business opened up, more and larger ships arrived and an extensive export business was carried on with Newfoundland and the French Island of St. Pierre. Chief exports were cattle, sheep, and farm produce. New buildings went up, among them the Telegraph House (still operated by descendants of the first owners, Mr. and Mrs. David Dunlop) in 1860. Prominent among business names of that time were Joseph Hart and Son, MacKay and MacAskill, J.P. MacLeod, D.F. MacRae (White Store), John E. Campbell and others.
In 1885, Alexander Graham Bell, his wife Mabel, and their two young daughters, arrived by boat from the Strait of Canso. They fell in love with Baddeck and returned to build their beautiful home on Beinn Bhreagh. Thus began a new era for the people of the village. The Bells took them all to their hearts and their home and Doctor and Mrs. Bell did a great deal to promote culture, sociability, and industry among the villagers. In his lab on the mountain top, Doctor Bell conducted many experiments, built boats, and gave employment to many of the people; while Mrs. Bell did much to foster home industries, among them the hooking of rugs for which the village of Cheticamp is today so famous. Doctor Bell died at Baddeck in 1922. His life companion followed him in a few months and together they sleep at the top of their beautiful mountain under a simple boulder of granite.
In these early days Baddeck was an up and coming community. It boasted a newspaper, in fact three of them, viz.: ‘The Telephone’ edited by Mr. Charles Pippy; ‘The lsland Reporter’, Mr. W.F. McCurdy; and later the ‘Victoria News’ by Mr. Charles Gilman. It had five doctors, three lawyers, a drug store, two hotels, six stores, a chinese laundry, two merchant tailors, marble and granite works, a Brass Band and Band stand, a photographic store, plank sidewalks, and telephone facilities. The Court House was built in 1890 and the Yacht Club in 1902. The Home and School Association had it’s birth at Baddeck in l895 and the Public Library of 8,000 books was housed in Gertrude Hall.
The outlying sections at this time were all prosperous farms until the markets for their produce were lost. One can see today the ghost farms where once flourished stables full of beautiful horses and cattle. The homes were furnished with hand woven carpets, drapes, linen and bedding, and much of their furniture was made by hand, many of them being skilled craftsmen.
An agricultural exhibition was held at Baddeck on October 11, 12, 13, and 14 in the year 1880. Mr. W.F. McCurdy presided and prizes amounting to $2,575 were offered in competitions. Interesting exhibits included:
Cattle 69 classes Horses 72 classes
Sheep 24 classes Swine 17 classes
Poultry 18 classes Dairy Products 4 classes
Grains 24 classes Vegetables 4 classes
Fruit 30 classes Leather 17 classes
Implements 12 classes Woven Articles 29 classes
Indian Crafts 9 classes
The Village was not without traffic regulations in 1886. By-laws of the municipal council provided that “Any Person who shall ride or drive a horse at full speed or in a disorderly manner in the public street shall forfeit a sum not exceeding $5.00 or not less than $1.00 for each offence.”
In the 1900’s tragedy struck twice in Baddeck. In 1908 a terrible epidemic of cholera broke out, taking the lives of thirty-one persons in a short time. On the eve of Labour Day on a Sunday in 1926, a disastrous fire broke out in the general store of MacKay and MacAskill on Main Street. The fire fighters were hampered by lack of equipment and before dawn more than twenty buildings were destroyed in the holocast.
Today in 1997, Baddeck boasts a well-equipped Volunteer Fire Department, a large, consolidated school, a colonial styled Provincial building, a new hospital, a home for the aged, a beautifully constructed Museum built by the Federal Government to house the works of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell , a well-stocked Public Library and BookMobile, a world-class golf course, yacht club, excellent hotel and motel facilities, and a fine selection of eating and shopping establishments.
Each year thousands of tourists visit Baddeck and the vicinity.
But as we, its citizens, look with pride upon all these things which modern day living offers us, let our thoughts and our hearts go back through the years in humble gratitude to those early exiles who in their loneliness and hardship, but with faith and courage, carved from a wintry wilderness, this loveliest of all lovely spots, nestled between the mountains, on the shores of the shimmering ‘Arm of Gold’.
Revised – April 1997