Stories of Cape Breton: The magic and mystery of a people’s lives
Tales of ghosts and great happenings, of courage, adventure and everyday deeds. Each has itsorigin in a place which can still be visited; each involves people whose descendants walk the hills of Cape Breton to this day.
All his life, Jim St. Clair has listened to the stories of the island that is his home: stories told by relatives and friends at ceilihds and across kitchen tables. He has dedicated much time and energy to ensuring that the tales he has heard are passed on. Storytelling is a vital part of Cape Breton’s cultural heritage—a very particular means of keeping the history of those who came to this part of Canada from Scotland, and who for so long kept the Gaelic language alive. Sometimes the stories are about personalities, sometimes about life-shaping events; some deal in the inexplicable. Together, they reveal patterns of belief and living, of social ties and decision-making that secure a special place for Cape Breton Island in its people’s hearts.
A resident of Mull River, Inverness County, Cape Breton, Jim St.Clair lives surrounded by history on the 600 acre farm in Mull River, Cape Breton, established by his great-great grandparents in 1820 when they arrived from the Island of Mull and in the house built by his great-grandparents in 1871. Part of that family land is now a “Special Place”, a protected area of old-growth forest known as the MacFarlane Woods, which is available for walking tours. Jim takes people on the tour giving his own unique insights about the land and how people worked with it to build a life.
His introduction to history and the preservation of memories began as a small child with trips in the Cape Breton countryside. His aunts would tell him about the places they passed on the journey and about the people who lived there. On the way home, he was expected to repeat back to them the stories told on the journey. This way he learned the appreciation for genealogy and family history which is his trademark today.
Some of the recording was done at the McQuarrie-Fox House at the Nova Scotia Museum historic site, Highland Village, in Iona. Jim was instrumental in the creation of this historic village, which displays the type of homes a Scottish immigrant family built, from the first rough “black house” to the log cabin and increasingly comfortable and well-appointed houses of later generations. The village also shows the school, general store, church and other buildings which were typical of settlements in Cape Breton.