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Canadian History
The Iona Peninsula


A Gaelic Welcome to the "Highland Heart of Nova Scotia" awaits you in Iona, Cape Breton Island. Experience Cape Breton Scottish culture at one of many community events or at the Highland Village outdoor pioneer museum. Or view some of the most breathtaking scenery that this Province has to offer on the shores of the mighty Bras d'Or. The Iona Peninsula is well worth the visit.

The Iona Peninsula is located in the centre of Cape Breton Island, almost completely surrounded by the magnificent Bras d'Or Lakes - Canada's Only Inland Sea. The Bras d'Or is a 1,165 km2 (450 sq. mi.) basin that is one of the finest sailing and boating venus in the world. They separate Cape Breton's Highlands and Lowlands. The Bras d'Or Coastline abounds with wildlife and is particularly noted as a breeding area of the magnificent bald eagle.

The Iona area is rich in Scottish heritage. It was first settled in the early 1800's by MacNeils from the Island of Barra in Scotland. Donald 'Og' MacNeil, spotted Iona during his service with the British Army. On a trip back to Barra, Donald 'Og' told his family and friends of the advantages of the Iona area; "Besides the fuel in the forests, water in the ground, and fish in the sea, you will find there more shelter from the North wind, better and earlier ripening harvests, and good fishing ground." Donald 'Og' came back to Canada to fight in Louisbourg in 1758 and Quebec City in 1759, where he died. His message was followed. In 1800 four MacNeils from Barra arrived at Iona. Several years later two of Donald 'Og's own sons also settled here. Today, the MacNeils and MacKenzies, the MacLeans and MacDonalds, and the Gillises and Campbells "All Call Iona Home."

The Iona Peninsula can be reached from Exit 6 where the TransCanada Highway 105 meets Route 223 and the Bras d'Or Lakes Scenic Drive (north of Whycocomagh). Or if traveling from Sydney take Exit 3 on Hwy 125 at Leitches Creek following Route 223 to the Barra Strait Bridge.

1 km from the junction of TCH 105 and Route 223 is a 24-hour ferry service across St. Patrick's Channel to the community of Little Narrows (pop. 128). The cable ferry ride (on the "Caolas S'ilis" - Gaelic for Julia's Strait) takes only a few minutes with a nominal charge. (The ferry is capable of handling buses, campers and large trucks.) Little Narrows is home to a Presbyterian Church, a gas bar/convenience store, tennis court, floating dock and community centre.

The Washabuck Scenic Diversion: On the Little Narrows side of the ferry, the roads to the left and right go around the scenic coast of the Iona Peninsula. The road to the left (a scenic diversion) goes through property owned by a gypsum mining company. The road then passes through Hazeldale and goes inland to Washabuck Bridge which crosses the Washabuck River, a popular fishing spot and from there to Washabuck Centre and Lower Washabuck to the tip of the Peninsula at MacKays Point, which offers a great lookoff to the lakes, Baddeck and Beinn Bhreagh - the home of Alexander Graham Bell. This road eventually leads to Iona on the east side through Maskell's Harbour (a great haven for sail boats), Gillis Point and Grass Cove.

From the ferry at Little Narrows the Bras d'Or Lakes Scenic Drive takes a right turn (following Route 223) through several communities before coming to Iona. About 1 km (.62 miles) from the ferry there is a small picnic area and beach. The Drive continues along through Estmere, Ottawa Brook to McKinnon's Harbour. McKinnon's Harbour which has recently been opened up to the lakes is a favorite for boaters.

Also at McKinnon's Harbour, a short detour on the Barra Glen Road leads to Highland Hill, where there are hiking and cross country ski trails with spectacular views. Route 223 continues through Jamesville to Iona.

Iona (pop. 131) is home to the Highland Village Outdoor Pioneer Museum, which recreates Nova Scotia's Scottish heritage. Through ten historic buildings with costumed staff the Village gives testimony to the energy, strength of character and love of home and family of the pioneers. From a Hebridean style Black House "Taigh Dubh" to a 1920 school, the story of the Gaels is related in their homes, artifacts, songs and music. Highland Village Day, an annual festival of Cape Breton and Scottish music and dance, is held here on the first Saturday of August. The Highland Village also features Roots Cape Breton Genealogy & Family History Centre for those in search of their Cape Breton ancestors as well as a gift shop with a full selection of Celtic music, Gaelic books, local crafts and souvenirs. The Village is set on a hillside overlooking the Bras d'Or Lakes.

Adjacent to the Highland Village is the Highland Heights Inn, the hospitality arm of the Village. The Highland Heights Inn is a charming country inn with 26 double units, all of which have a magnificent view of the Bras d'Or Lakes. The Inn also operates a dining room which features local traditional entertainment.

Iona also has a service station/convenience store, post office, Catholic Church, a provincial day use picnic park and a branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. A left turn at Iona connects to the scenic diversion through Gillis Point, Grass Cove, Maskells Harbour (great lookoff) to Washabuck. From Iona (on Route 223), a new bridge crosses the Barra Strait to Grand Narrows, which has a cafe, boat charter and Bed & Breakfast.

See www.centralcapebreton.com for further information.


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