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Marconi Trail, Nova Scotia


Step through a doorway in time into a magnificent French town whose streets are a bustle of 18th-century activity. This is Fortress Louisbourg, the largest historic reconstruction in North America. Inside the massive stone gates, the year is 1744. Come stroll the lively streets where costumed washerwomen, bread sellers, soldiers, noblemen and musicians are going about their daily business. Explore historic period gardens, watch musket and cannon drills, roam through the king's storehouses, and visit the homes of commoners, merchants, and wealthy residents. Meticulously rebuilt on the foundations of the original Fortress, this is the site from which the French controlled their trade with the new world in the 1700s.

Fortress Louisbourg highlights the French heritage of the Fleur-de-lis and Marconi Trail. Picturesque fishing villages with a distinctly Acadian flavour lie along the rugged sea coast. This is also Canada's richest coal country, and the history of the region's coal mining is captured at Glace Bay's Miners Museum where visitors can tour a historic miners village and enter a real coal mine, the Ocean Deeps Colliery.

The communities that owe their existence to the coal-mining industry form the foundation of the Colliery Route, which follows the coastline from Glace Bay Harbour to Sydney Harbour; brochures are available at information centres and at the various sites along the route.

The Marconi National Historic Site marks the location of the first west-to-east transatlantic radio transmission in 1902, and the Sydney and Louisburg Railway Museum pays tribute to the region's rich railway history.

Florence is a former mining community.

Route 305 ends at Little Bras d'Or at Exit 18. Highway 105 to the left leads back to North Sydney and Sydney. Right on Highway 105 leads to Baddeck and the Cabot Trail.

The Fleur-de-lis Trail continues its inland course to arrive at Gabarus Lake. A dirt road to the left goes to Victoria Bridge on the Mira River.

Near Gabarus, a small fishing village, the Fleur-de-lis Trail joins Route 327. Straight ahead is the village of Gabarus, while a left turn on the Trail leads to Marion Bridge.

At Marion Bridge, right, the Fleur-de-lis Trail follows the south side of the Mira River, one of Nova Scotia's largest rivers, through Trout Brook to Albert Bridge. Straight ahead at Marion Bridge, Route 327 leads to Sydney, 15 km away. A left turn on the north side of the Mira River towards Huntington, Salmon River Road and Victoria Bridge leads to Two Rivers Provincial Wildlife Park.

The Fleur-de-lis Trail continues at Albert Bridge, where the beautiful Mira River offers swimming, boating and canoeing. Many summer cottages are situated along this river and at Catalone. Turn right on Route 22. A left turn on Route 22 leads back to Sydney. Near Albert Bridge, off Route 22, right, is Mira River Provincial Park. Route 22, the Fleur-de-lis Trail, leads south to Louisbourg and the Marconi Trail.

The Marconi Trail and the Fleur-de-lis Trail, Route 22, join on the outskirts of Louisbourg. Both trails proceed into the town of Louisbourg.

Louisbourg, located on the shores of a naturally ice-free harbour, has welcomed travellers for some 250 years. The community is still an important port for the landing of lobster, crab, shrimp, and other species, and in August, Louisbourg Crabfest celebrates the bounty of the sea.

Visitors will enjoy strolling along the harbour front boardwalk, with its interpretive signage, and the pier. Within walking distance of the docks are Louisbourg Market Square, shops, museums, ship chandlery, accommodation, post office and other services. The Louisbourg Playhouse offers live theatre and concerts nightly during the summer and fall. At the harbour entrance, the Louisbourg Lighthouse stands adjacent to the ruins of Canada's first lighthouse, which dates back to 1734. The visitor information centre is located in the S&L Railway Museum, which recalls the importance and romance of the railway era.

Fortress of Louisbourg, covering some 6,700 ha, is the largest national historic site in Canada, and includes one of the three largest restorations in the world. Parks Canada has restored one-quarter of the 18th-century town, including many of its buildings and much of its masonry and earth-packed fortifications.

Once you leave the fortress, drive to other areas in the park that are noted for their scenic beauty and historic significance, such as Lighthouse Point, Careening Point, Royal Battery and Kennington Cove. More information on these locations can be obtained from the guides at the site's Visitor Reception Centre.

The road leading past the entrance to the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site continues to Kennington Cove, 7 km away, where there is a beach park with picnic facilities.

The Marconi Trail is named for Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who spent several years in Cape Breton establishing three transatlantic wireless stations. The first was built at Table Head, Glace Bay, where on December 15, 1902, the first transatlantic wireless message was sent to England. A second wireless station was built on Marconi Towers (on Sand Lake Road) in 1907 and became the main transmitting station. A third station built in Louisbourg in 1913 was a transatlantic receiving station. Today all that remains of the wireless stations are concrete blocks on which stood the giant wooden towers that housed the copper wire transmitters and receivers.

The Marconi Trail is a 60-km paved road from Louisbourg to Glace Bay, skirting portions of the rugged coastline and approximately linking the three historic Marconi transatlantic wireless station sites.

The Marconi Trail begins in Louisbourg. Just north of town, the Marconi Trail leaves the Fleur-de-lis Trail, veering right through forests of stunted spruce.

Little Lorraine is a small fishing port located at the end of a narrow ocean inlet. Beyond Little Lorraine, a dirt road on the left leads to Baleine. It was here that Sir James Stewart, Lord Ochiltree, attempted a settlement in July 1629. The land grants were made eight years earlier by King James I of Scotland to the Baronets of New Scotland. The Baleine encampment, known as the Barony of New Galloway, was captured and burned by Captain Charles Daniel Dieppe, who gave it the name Port aux Baleines, "Whale Harbour." In 1936, British aviatrix Beryl Markham crash-landed her plane at Baleine during her solo flight across the Atlantic. A 14-km hiking trail along the coastline starts at the beach at Baleine.

Main-a-Dieu is the largest fishing village on this coast. Main-à-Dieu has a large wharf and fishing fleet with many boats engaged in the lobster fishery in spring and summer. There is a scenic ocean side boardwalk that goes around a sandy beach and takes about 15 minutes to complete. Turn left leaving Main-à-Dieu; the Marconi Trail travels around the shores of Mira Bay.

Keep left for Catalone Gut, where a sandbar separates Mira Bay from Catalone Lake. The lake is popular with canoeists, and the ocean side of the bar offers a sand beach.

At Mira, the Mira River, one of Nova Scotia's longest, empties into Mira Bay. A campground with go-carts and a water slide is located upriver on the Hills Road, Route 255 to the left.

The Marconi Trail continues on Route 255 straight ahead, to Round Island, where there are numerous summer cottages on Mira Bay.

At Homeville, a right turn leads over the False Bay Lake bridge to South Port Morien. The shallow water near the bridge is a good place for bird watching and clam digging. The gravel road leads to Wadden's Cove, where there is a small beach. Hikers may follow portions of the coast to the tip of the Cape Morien peninsula.

Port Morien has an active fishing fleet and a breakwater. There are some stores and visitor services in the village. The first coal-mining operation in North America took place along the cliffs at Port Morien in the 1720s, when French troops from the nearby Fortress of Louisbourg dug into the exposed seams.

Straight ahead, Route 255 leads to Birch Grove and Marconi towers, then to Glace Bay.

From Port Morien, the Marconi Trail bears right to Donkin along the coast. Donkin is a former coal-mining centre and has a variety of visitor services. Some of the ocean cliffs along the Marconi Trail contain outcroppings of coal, and the dark seams can be seen easily from the highway.

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