On such a winter’s day about two years ago, I was not in my home in L.A. – I was sitting on a player’s bench in a Cape Breton Island ice rink in Nova Scotia. And if I hadn’t been gasping for breath at the end of a recreation hockey championship game, I might have spared a second to wonder:
“How on earth did this happen?!”
Actually, it pretty much makes sense. I’ve explained before that my thing for hockey is really a matter of genetics (see https://tesserology.com/2013/06/25/the-biscuit-in-a-basket-bit/). Plus, I’d voyaged ’round this Canadian province before – and I’d absolutely fallen in love.
In 2008, I met up with my folks for a drive around Eastern Canada and, after a delightful time hunting Vikings in Newfoundland (see https://tesserology.com/2013/04/23/the-bit-about-viking-scoreboard/), we caught a ferry to the Cape Breton port of North Sydney. I’ve always loved the sea – and on our whole ten-day adventure, we were rarely far from it and never far, it seems, from its influence. I’d have loved to take lots of time at each place we went but, being on a tight schedule, I had to settle for carrying away brief impressions – along with the hope that I could someday chart a course for this part of the world again.
For starters, we only spent a single afternoon in the capital city of Halifax. Although the day included a delicious lunch right on the water (where Mum got to indulge her newfound passion for Digby scallops), the short stay left us otherwise starving for more of this historic place.
A wise choice given our limited time frame was to hit the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Wandering among the exhibits gave us more of a sense of the area’s history as we learned about things like Halifax’s grim duties in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster, the devastating collision of two vessels right there in the harbor, and the port’s role as a staging area from which mighty Allied ships set off to battle in World War II.
We also made a stop in the beautiful coastal town of Peggy’s Cove. Under the summer sunshine, every color just seemed so clean and vivid in this gorgeous village perched among the rocks and presided over by a sturdy white lighthouse.
Peggy’s Cove was also clearly inspiring to artist William deGarthe who carved into granite a tribute to local fishermen and their families whose livelihoods and fortunes are governed by the sea.
And I was able to get in touch with my Scottish roots in the town of Pictou where the folks and I toured a replica of the 18th century ship, The Hector. The original vessel carried emigrants from Scotland on their perilous passage to a new life – maybe my ancestors journeyed in one just like it.
Having barely scratched its surface, it was really tough to leave Nova Scotia. But I did get the chance to go back in 2012 when my women’s travel hockey team, the L.A. Chill, played in the annual Vince Ryan Memorial Scholarship Hockey Tournament on Cape Breton Island. For 25 years, the community has hosted a huge tourney with the proceeds going to scholarships for local students. Years after the first team of “Chillies” was overwhelmed by the hospitality and pure fun of this event, the club still makes it a regular destination.
Although the purpose of the trip was hockey, I couldn’t resist doing a bit more provincial exploring as long as I was there. My teammate Jen and I arrived early and took off from Halifax for the city of Lunenburg. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a charming example of the determination of colonial Brits to arrange their new towns on a perfect grid – come hill or high water.
Jen and I happened to catch some nice warm weather for the time of year – but a monument to those who’d lost their lives at sea over the decades was a solemn reminder that times could be harsh too. Hardships, gifts, ill fates and new beginnings all seem to be part of the legacy of life on the Atlantic.
After our little side trip, it was time to get down to business. Well – sort of.
The “fun” tone was set right away when Jen and I joined our teammates to share a bus ride from Halifax to Cape Breton with a men’s hockey team from Ontario. No sooner did the trip get underway than our driver was pulling off and parking in front of a grocery store. No one appreciates a pit stop more than I do – but five minutes into our journey? Yup. They had to make sure the bus was well stocked with, um – refreshments – for the road.
“Well,” I thought. “When in Rome…”
So, after a pleasant ride through the countryside, a brief ferry crossing, and yes – a beverage or two – our bus arrived in Sydney where I’d first set foot in Nova Scotia four years before. Although much of our time was spent preparing for games, playing games, and (in my case) recovering from games, we were still able to catch a few local sights, enjoy great live music, and even go to a tournament sponsored dance.
The massive volunteer effort that makes this undertaking a success year after year is just staggering – and it’s even extended to providing our out-of-town team with its own coaching staff. In 2012, it was Larry, Bill and Devin who devoted the entire weekend to us and were just amazing! Whether it was coaching advice, equipment repairs, logistics management or just being there with a word of encouragement, these gentlemen were unfailing in their giving. And it was a family affair too – Larry’s clan supported us all the way (his son provided the great music!), and Bill’s wife Deana took time out from expert kilt crafting to sew commemorative patches on all of our jerseys in just one afternoon. Talk about above and beyond!
And how did we do? Well, with such incredible support, the Chill went out and won that women’s division championship game – and they’ll be back soon to try their hand again. A while ago, I decided to forgo the trip – and it seemed like a reasonable decision. But now, as the hour for this year’s Nova Scotia pilgrimage nears, I find I’m feeling this ache…
I expect there are generous spirits to be found anywhere one goes. Yet, the Chill and I have been lucky enough to come across an extraordinary concentration of them on Cape Breton Island. Is it something in the water? Maybe something about being by it? All I know for sure is it’s a lovely, lovely thing.
Something else lovely about playing travel hockey – and traveling in general – is noticing the ways we change and grow by the experience. The ways I’m different after my visits to Nova Scotia include:
I get occasional urges for Timbits. I’ve been photographed with the biggest fiddle in the world (that would be in Sydney). I’ve watched the t.v. series Pit Pony. I know the ship on the Canadian dime is The Bluenose (out of Lunenburg). I pause to follow weather reports that include the Maritimes. I like a good belt of Fireball Whisky now and then. And most important, I try to think of ways I can pay forward the many kindnesses I was shown there.
I know now too that this time every year, whether I’m currently navigating calm waters or stormy seas, my heart’s going to grab a warm coat and drift off with the tide – bound Cape Breton way.
And I’ll be Nova Scotia dreamin’…
Best of luck to everyone participating in this year’s Vince Ryan Tournament (including the Rustys)! And big hugs and best wishes to the Chillies and to the members of our Cape Breton family who time and again make this such an incredibly special adventure!
After reading your words Ruth and I feel like we just made a trip to Cape Breton.
Hope to see you one of these Sundays.
Peace love and hope,
Sent from my iPhone
Thank you for sharing your story, Amy! Less than 3 weeks till the tournament. This is my first Nova Scotia trip. I can’t wait!!!
Wishing you the best, Reiko – I’m sure you’ll have a blast!
I am so honored to be included in this post, and as a wee red-headed lass no less! That day in Lunenburg was magical in terms of the weather and the company, my friend. I will MISS you this year, travelling buddy, like I do every day.
Aw, the pleasure was mine, Ms. MD! Will sure miss you too but I know you’ll represent us well and will have a great time – and I’ll look forward to meeting up for more travels!
Wow.Amy your writing skills are truly amazing.We humbly accept your kind words and I will use this to make sure the girls have a great time once again.We are planning a lobsterfest for Mar.20/14 and it’s off to the local sportsbar for music with LJ and his former band “Tempted”.We wish you would come back again.xxxooo
My goodness, thank you so much, Larry – needless to say, I was inspired! I know you all will have a great time and I’ll sure hope to get back there again one day!
Hi Amy, just had to say thank you for your beautiful comments about our Cape Breton Island & our Vince Ryan Tournament. I have been lucky enough to be a volunteer since 2010 & am looking forward to this year with great anticipation. I am wondering if you were here in 2010,2011,2012 ? I have pictures of many of the teams, The Chills included. If you would be interested I would be happy to put them on a disc for you if there will be one of the ladies who could get it to you.So sorry to hear we will not be seeing you this year but I am sure you will be here in spirit.Take care, know you will be missed & hopeful we may enjoy your company some time in future.
Hi Camille – thank you so much for the note! As I mentioned, the volunteer effort for the tournament is really something! Thanks too for the kind offer of pictures of the team – I’ll contact you separately about it. Take care!
Thank You Amy for your kind words of Nova Scotia and especially Cape Breton Island (where I live). Come back anytime and bring your friends! Cheers!
Thank YOU, Kathleen! Hope to get back there again one of these days! (And my teammates on the L.A. Chill are on their way!)
I am dying to go to Cape Breton–you just increased my desire two-fold. How on earth did you start playing hockey–as a child? I would like to try (since I am in Canada) but have no idea how to get started.
Guess you can tell I was completely charmed by Cape Breton! And I actually didn’t give hockey a try until I was in my 30’s. Never got very good but boy was it the source for some great, great times!
[…] with the same gifts of joy and camaraderie as a member of the LA Chill women’s travel team (Click here to read about my adventures with the Chill!). Beyond the losses and even the wins, what matters most to me – and what will stay with me […]
[…] The Nova Scotia Dreamin’ Bit […]
[…] about the marvelous collection of giving souls I once met on Canada’s Cape Breton Island (The Nova Scotia Dreamin Bit ) – and Finland is that rare place (to me, anyway) where I encountered the same extraordinary […]
I am breed in NS. My family before came over on the Hector, and we are generations of proof Cape Bretoners. Hardy and strong I keep the the dream alive. I see the world write the stories but I always enjoy my east cost better than any where else. Cheers thanks for the memeories
What a wonderful legacy! I’ve been lucky to get to take several visits to your part of the world and I agree it’s very special! Thanks for reading – and thanks so much for sharing your story!
[…] out my post with the most views ever is “The Nova Scotia Dreamin’ Bit” (https://tesserology.com/2014/02/28/the-nova-scotia-dreamin-bit/) where I wander around Nova Scotia with the eventual aim of sharing the most exciting and […]