Bell legacy thrives in Cape Breton
Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
BADDECK, NOVA SCOTIA — Alexander Graham Bell died on this day in 1922, his legacy though is very much alive here, in the community where many of his inventions were developed into groundbreaking achievements.
Bell lived on Beinn Bhreagh, a 400-acre private estate that looks onto Baddeck from the other side of the Bras d’Or Lake. He toiled in a second-storey bedroom of the Point House, the largest of the 14 homes on the property, and in other areas of the resplendent site that features rolling hills and a stunning view of the surrounding waters. The Kite House was where he worked on aviation models and schematics that led to the Silver Dart, Canada’s first airplane.
While visitors to this community on Cape Breton won’t be able to venture onto the Bell estate, which is owned by his descendants, or see his resting place at the highest point of Beinn Bhreagh, they will be able to absorb much about the man and his influential wife, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard.
Bell’s great-grandson, Hugh Muller, has taken up full-time residence in the Kite House and is rekindling the connection his ancestors had with Baddeck. Although born in Scotland and raised in Brantford, Ontario, Bell chose to settle in Cape Breton in 1889, a few years after his invention of the telephone made him a fortune. The scenery of Beinn Bhreagh, whose name means “beautiful mountain,” and the charming Scottish heritage of Cape Breton appealed to him. While they lived in Baddeck, Bell and Hubbard would often stroll about town, dropping in on shops, patroning artisans, talking with residents, some of whom were employed to help build the Silver Dart, HD-4 hydrofoil, and other creations.
Alexander Graham Bell History Alive in Cape Breton
Today, Muller — who bears a strong resemblance to his great-grandfather — and his wife, Jeanne, are likewise integrated into the community. The Mullers have played Santa and Mrs. Claus in Baddeck’s annual Santa Claus Parade and have also provided knowledge and advice to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, a Parks Canada museum that honours the great inventor.
“Bell loved it here,” Muller told me when I visited with him in May. “He had the space and the time to do his work in Baddeck.”
Engineered by Bell and his business partner Casey Baldwin, the Silver Dart’s first flight was on the frozen Bras d’Or Lake on February 23, 1909. The noisy HD-4 would sometimes be driven on the water by Hubbard, who was deaf and not affected by the commotion of its engine. The kites that Bell used for his aviation studies would fill the sky like exotic birds over Beinn Bhreagh.
Bell’s work in Baddeck is one of the great and mostly untold stories in Canadian history. The tale of an eccentric genius with free reign for his imagination living in a far-off town of a few hundred people and producing world-changing machines is rich with human interest and humour.
“It really is incredible to think what he accomplished here, right on this lake,” Jeanne Muller says.
More About Baddeck and Alexander Graham Bell
Resting Place: Bell died on August 2, 1922 from complications with diabetes. A gravestone at the top of Beinn Bhreagh marks the resting place of the inventor and his wife.
Bell National Historic Site: The museum is a treat and also offers a White Gloves tour where visitors can handle some of the delicate pieces not on display, including some of the graphphile cylinders that are similar to the one that recently produced a recording of Bell’s voice in the Smithsonian.
The Silver Dart: A replica of the Silver Dart was put into place this spring in the Graham Bell museum. Made of spruce, bamboo, canvass and wire, the Silver Dart took off and landed more than 200 times in 1909. It was lost after it flipped over in Petawawa, Ontario when its front wheel sank on the runway’s soft sand.
Museum Admission: $7.80 per adult; $19.60 for families of four.
More About the Mullers and Baddeck
Click here to read Adrian Brijbassi’s story in the National Post on Hugh Muller and Bell’s ties to Cape Breton.