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
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
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
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