Cape Breton's Heritage Coast

Bras d'Or Lakes Scenic Drive

Once you arrive on Cape Breton, begin your journey on the Bras d’Or Lakes Scenic drive at the closest access point to the Bras d’Or Lakes, Dundee. The “south loop” of the Bras d’Or Lakes make this scenic route worth the trip. Dundee is a pristine rural community originally settled by Scots, tucked into the curve of West Bay, where spectacular views of the “Arm of Gold” are backed by hills of mixed forest.

St. George’s Channel and its community hall have become the center of activity for the communities in the area. Here you can discover the comings and goings in the area, learn about the people who live here, and attend the famous Country Breakfast held year-round on the third Sunday morning of every month. Meet and mingle with the locals at the weekly Wednesday morning Coffee Club.

The trail passes through communities of Roberta, and The Points, settled by the Scots. Many of the cleared fields along the mountain which rise up from the lakes still hold old farmhouses and barns. The road offers views of the Bras d’Or Lakes stretching east as far as the eye can see. Rounding Cape George, the road continues through French Cove, and Sampsonville, arriving in St. Peter’s, “Gateway to the Atlantic”.

St. Peter’s is one of the oldest settlements on Cape Breton Island. In 1521, Portuguese fishermen had a station on the isthmus where St. Peter’s Canal is now. They fished on a seasonal basis until the late 1520s when they abandoned the station because the winters were too cold. They referred to the area as “San Pedro”. In later years, the area was settled by the French and Irish, and was known as “St. Pierre” and finally “St. Peter’s”. It was a source of supply for Louisburg, joined to it by the “French Road”. It was also the first line of defense to the fort.

The St. Peter’s Canal is a Parks Canada National Historic Site. In 1854, construction began on the St. Peter’s Canal, which was officially opened in 1869. The canal brought prosperity to the area, and the village grew to almost its present size. A railway line from St. Peter’s to Point Tupper was built in 1903, followed by a fish plant which operated for a decade. Other industries followed. In the mid 1960s, Battery Provincial Park was constructed on the east side of the canal.

St. Peter’s today serves as a service centre for the region. The Nicolas Denys museum stands as a memorial to the village’s founder, and another honours a famous resident, photographer Wallace R. MacAskill. St. Peter’s is also home to a marina, and the canal is a popular attraction for those who like shops, The canal is the gateway to the beautiful Bras d’Or Lakes, so there is something for swimmers, sailors, photographers, or those who just prefer to picnic on the banks of the canal.

Just past St. Peter’s on Route 4, is Chapel Island First Nation, a meeting place for the Mi'kmaq of the Maritime Provinces since time immemorial. The route continues along the Bras d’Or Lake through the communities of Soldier’s Cove, Johnstown, and Red Islands. Watch for the Irish Cove Look-off signs and turn left to the parking lot for one of the best views of the Bras d’Or Lakes.

Chapel Island is a small Mi’kmaq community located six miles east of St. Peter’s. In 1738, the Abbé Antoine Maillard established Chapel Island as the central Christian mission of the Mi’kmaq Nation. In the 1750s, a chapel was built to honour St. Anne, the Patron and Grandmother of the Mi’kmaq people.

Johnstown was given its name in 1903 to honour the memory of Father John MacDougall who was the first pastor in that area.

Further along watch for the Irish Cove Look-off signs and turn left to the parking lot for one of the best views of the Bras d’Or Lakes. Not too far down the road is “Rita’s Tea Room” at Big Pond, and the summer and winter resort community of Ben Eoin which boasts a ski hill with dazzling views of the Bras d’Or Lakes.

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