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In Cape Breton, Whales, Goats, Lobsters, and Plenty of Other Delights for Kids


An infantryman named St. Joseph is a character at Fortress of Louisbourg. The actor who plays him appears with the attraction’s ever-present fog in the background. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

The fog suits the Fortress of Louisbourg. As my feet crunch through the four blocks of gravel and grit, which are saturated with a dampness from the morning rain that convinces me to slow my pace to avoid a slip, the cloudy veil of water and ice crystals robes across the national historic site, adding to the effect of the time warp into which I had ventured.

A place that is dedicated to revealing what life was like three centuries ago can never seem to escape the fog. It rolls in from the Atlantic Ocean almost daily, eternally, and almost as if on cue to set the Fortress of Louisbourg in a backdrop of gray and mist that feels so fitting. A historical replica of the village as it looked in 1744, the attraction wants to both mesmerize and make you peer deeper for understanding.


The fog is part of the experience at the Fortress of Louisbourg, which depicts the French settlement as it would have appeared when it was bustling with activity in the 18th century. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

It certainly marvelled and mystified my 5-year-old son, who donned a musketeer hat soon after he entered the gates, which are guarded by actors playing infantrymen from centuries past, and took hold of a toy rifle, fashioned from wood, to participate in the Rookie Tour, a new initiative by Parks Canada to encourage Louisbourg’s youngest visitors to lean into the history of Cape Breton Island and the country.

Louisbourg, in many ways, is where the nation as we know it began. Colonized by French fishermen who took advantage of the lucrative cod fisheries on the Atlantic coast of North America, the settlement started as an outpost under the reign of King Louis XIV and, after being passed back and forth multiple times, ultimately landed in British hands in 1758. They would demolish the fortress two years later. Rebuilding it wouldn’t begin until 1961 as part of one of the most ambitious Parks Canada projects ever.


The Rookie Tour at the Fortress of Louisbourg gets kids like 5-year-old Gabriel Brijbassi into the spirit of the historical reenactments throughout the village. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Along with the reconstructed buildings, historical reenactments, and tours, it includes a restaurant, a bakery, and a tavern. From the ramparts you can — during clear hours — view the stunning scenery around Louisbourg’s namesake harbour that attracted fishermen from the British isles, France, and Iberia in droves during the 18th century. Now, children can learn what that life was like.

The Rookie Tour lasts about 30 minutes and includes infantry training with that wooden musket and period-era hat, lessons from a fishmonger, and an education in gardening, which includes a chance to greet and feed Suzie. The newest member of the Fortress of Louisbourg troupe, Suzie is a rambunctious goat who will assuredly capture the attention of any youngster, as she did with Gabriel. She and fellow doe, Angelique, make the Rookie Tour joyful while the hands-on tutorial on how to filet a fish — and why doing so was so important to those in Louisbourg — is an added educational component.


Suzie the goat is a spry and curious addition to the Parks Canada team at the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Adults will be fascinated by the history, some of which is new to the exhibit space since my previous visit. For example, Indigenous participation has become a centrepiece, with nearby Mi’kmaq community members performing songs and answering questions about their history on Cape Breton, a land they call Unama’kik, which translates to, not surprisingly, “Land of Fog”.

Among the Mi’kmaq historical figures who are now featured at Louisbourg is Jean Baptiste Laurent, who married freed African slave Marie Marguerite Rose. Together they started a tavern in Louisbourg, making Rose the first known Black female business owner in what is current day Canada.

The Science Behind the Whales of Nova Scotia


An Oshan whale-watching tour sails passed the rugged coastal scenery of Cape Breton’s northern edge. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

The inclusion of more diverse and kid-friendly programming makes the fortress all the more inviting for travellers and adds to the growing number of family activities you can enjoy on the island. We ventured from Vancouver to the Nova Scotia gem with extended family that included Gabriel’s grandparents and uncles. Along with the day in Louisbourg, we boarded a boat in Bay St. Lawrence on the northern edge of the island to participate in a whale-watching excursion with Oshan. The trip featured an unexpected guest: Elizabeth Zwamborn of Dalhousie University, who is the only person in Canada studying the behaviour of pilot whales.

Cape Breton’s waters are home to about 2,500 of the unique species and Zwamborn is leading the Dalhousie project that is investigating their behaviour. She rides out with Oshan frequently to further her research on the cetaceans she describes as “a combination of chaos and charm.”

“Among the patterns we’re looking at is their decision-making. Why do they congregate in the groups the way they do and why do they decide to dive when they do,” says Zwamborn, who is working on her Ph.D.

Cape Breton is an ideal location to study pilot whales because of the abundance of them around Nova Scotia. Gray and minke whales are other species in the area, and there are also colonies of seals and numerous birds that can be seen from the Oshan boat — including an eagle that our tour spotted on Cape North, the northernmost point on the island.

About two hours by car south, the learning continues at Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck, a village of about 800 residents where the inventor of the telephone called home and often introduced his notable creations. Two of the more fascinating characters in Canadian history, Bell and his wife, Mabel, would drive his hydrofoil across the waters of Baddeck, fly his smartly designed kite from the shore, and unveil the Silver Dart, a pioneering airplane that rivalled the better-known work of the Wright Brothers, in a nearby field.


At the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, kids learn how to make and then decorate a simple kite that resembles the famous inventor’s creation. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

A true partnership of invention and achievement, the Bells brought a good amount of ingenuity, heart, and charm to Baddeck. A devoted advocate for women’s and children’s rights, Mabel Hubbard Bell founded the first Montessori school in Canada and the nation’s first women’s club. The Bells’ legacy continues at the Parks Canada historic site with tours where you can learn about each of them. For kids, a kite-building exercise brings them closer to Alexander Graham Bell’s brilliance.

The attraction is a short walk from the town of Baddeck, which is a cute place with shops and eateries, including the very good Bean There Cafe. From Baddeck, the Atlantic Gondola — which promises panoramic views of the ocean from 320 metres (1,050 feet) up atop Cape Smokey — is a 40-minute drive north while Inverness, known for its nation-leading golf courses, is about 45 minutes southeast.

Where to Dine with Kids in Cape Breton


At the Sea Shack in Bay St. Lawrence, you can snag yourself one of these — a lobster roll with plump claw meat. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Our final night on Cape Breton included Celtic sounds and dancing at the Red Shoe Pub, where the excellent food is a match for the fantastic music. Located in Mabou, south of Inverness, the landmark is owned by the Rankin family, and the musical legends have made sure to bring the spirit of the island’s famous kitchen parties to patrons through the songs and flavours of Cape Breton. The Spanish-style mussels, with chorizo and a white-wine broth, were so good I was tempted to order a second serving.

There is no shortage of incredible seafood feasts on the island. In Bay St. Lawrence, the Sea Shack serves up lobster rolls right outside of the Oshan office; you’ll be deeply satisfied with the product and the view. The Glenora Distillery in Inverness delivers fine cuisine and a chance to sample the first single-malt whiskies made in Canada. Cheticamp, an Acadian village at the western terminus of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, is home to a number of quality restaurants. We chose Le Gabriel, to my son’s delight. A lighthouse rises outside of its front door, beckoning patrons into a large space decorated with hockey jerseys and featuring a stage for performers, and a dance floor for those who get into the lively tunes. The food includes fresh lobster and we feasted on a 6.5-pound giant that was succulent and incredibly tasty.


A 6.5-pound lobster was the star of a seafood feast at Le Gabriel in Cheticamp. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Though Gabriel didn’t try any, sticking to his usual chicken fingers and fries, he was giddy at the sight and the experience, which added more knowledge to the Maritime getaway that broadened his understanding and deepened his fondness for the ocean. The journey underscored how travel can lift the fog that, to a child, can surround so much of life. The moments when opaqueness turns to clarity can spark desire for more learning and connection. And, perhaps most importantly, create memories that are indelible, even if they’re about a history far, far in the past.



The King’s Bastion is the largest building at the Fortress of Louisbourg and represents where the military offices would have been housed in 1744. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Getting There: Air Canada and Westjet have flights to the island’s airport in Sydney from cities such as Toronto and Montreal. Driving from Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport takes 3-4 hours, depending on the final destination.

Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site: Admission for adults is $18.75 during peak season; the Rookie Tour is $12.21 per child; there is no admission fee for kids or youths to enter the gates. View full fees and tour experiences on the attraction’s website.

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site: Admission for adults is $8; the Come Fly a Kite experience for kids costs $4.24; there is no admission fee for kids or youths to enter the museum. View full fees and tour experiences on the venue’s website.

Tourism Information: Visit the Destination Cape Breton Island website to help plan your trip.

More Coverage:

Cape Breton Tees Off on Your Heart

More Marvels for You to Savour on Cape Breton

Life Is Sweet Off the Cabot Trail, Too

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.