History of the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

The history of the Cabot Trail begins with the Micmacs, who were the first inhabitants of the region

.The name Micmac means "my kin-friends", these Natives lived throughout Cape Breton Island in small groups prior to being placed on reserves. In the year 1497 the first Europeans, led by the famed explorer John Cabot arrived on Cape Breton. Cabot's discovery of the island led to it's eventual settlement by Europeans, mainly by the Scots, Irish, French and English. This mixture of cultures remains on the the island to this day. Many of these European settlers came to the region in an attempt to escape persecution in their homelands. During the Acadian Expulsion, a number of the French escaped to Prince Edward Island and the Magdalene Islands. They later crossed over and settled on what is now the Cabot Trail. Many of the English who settled around the Cabot Trail, arrived as refugees after the American Revolution, when being a loyalist meant confiscation of lands, social ostracism and possible death. Thousands fled in the years after the revolution, many of whom were given land grants from the British government as a reward for their loyalty

The mid 1700's brought major changes to the Highlands of Scotland with the end of the Highland Clan System, increased population and a dim future. Many sought a better place to live and new opportunities. For these reasons many Scot's left their homelands and made new homes in Cape Breton. Cape Breton has since become a stronghold of Gaelic culture, some say more fiercely Scottish than Scotland. In the final years of the 18th Century, early census show many Irish living in Cape Breton. In fact, in smaller numbers, they arrived before the Scot's, coming from Ireland via Newfoundland. Irish Surnames are still found in many communities around the Cabot Trail. At first the settlers who came to Cape Breton hugged the coast-line for two reasons: they were a seafaring people and the fact that Cape Breton was an "untamed, savage country" with difficult terrain. Fishing and coastal trade dominated the culture and economy of the island into the early tweentieth century. Over time as the land was cleared, Cape Breton started to develop an agricultural base, farms began to not only be able to support themselves, but to trade their products by sea. This resulted in a more stable environment and schools and churches began to be built. But because the soil was so easily depleted, a lot of the farm land was reclaimed by the forest
The population of Cape Breton has declined since the 1880's, due to the changing economic and social patterns that lure many to the United States and metropolitian Canada, in the search of employment. Ironically, others have settled in Cape Breton seeking refuge from the city life. It wasn't until the early 1930's one could travel by car over the Cape Breton Highlands. Cheticamp on the western side, while the foot of Cape Smokey on the eastern side would be the end of your travel. The sea would then become your way of travel. The communities in the highlands were extremely isolated, supplies could only be brought in by boat and the mail would be delivered by horse back or dog team in the winter. Life in these settlements was one of hardship, however the Scottish and Irish pioneers were of a strong breed, and determined to live as highlanders of Cape Breton. The beauty of this solitude was not invisible by the provincial government, as they saw potential for tourism in Cape Breton. With little need of encouragement, the road from Cape North to Cheticamp was underway in 1926. By the fall of 1927 a route from Cheticamp to Pleasant Bay was accomplished. A 24 mile section over some of the most rugged terrain in North America. Beyond Pleasant Bay to Cape North there remained only a foot path. Not until 1932 did Reverend R.L. MacDonald become the first person to drive the Cabot Trail. Over 10 hours to travel , from Cheticamp to Cape North, approximately 50 miles.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

It wasn't until 1936 that the Cape Breton Highlands National Park was created, 950 sq. km (366 sq. mi.). Conserving and protecting the majestic highlands and coastal wilderness stretching across the northern tip of Cape Breton Island between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. It was the first national park in the Atlantic Provinces. By 1940 the Cabot Trail was reconstructed along the French Mountain.1948 saw a new road between Ingonish and Neil's Harbour. In 1951/52 construction on the North Mountain to Pleasant Bay included guard rails. By 1961 the paving of the Cabot Trail was achieved. Today the Cape Breton Highlands Park has 6 campgrounds, 27 hiking trails and a number of informational look offs.

Although the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a very important part of the Cabot Trail, one must not forget the communities that are within and border the National Park, from Pleasant Bay to Neil's Harbour. Here is where you find the culture and warmth of the people in the Highlands.

There are two Information Centres, at both ends of the park, Cheticamp and Ingonish, where you buy permits for vehicle entry, camping, touring and licenses for fishing. You must pay for a permit to enjoy what the park has to offer, a small price to protect and enjoy this EDEN!