Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alexander Graham Bell Saves the (Rainy) Day

Monday, June 28, 2010

Antigonish to Baddeck

We take to the rainy roads again today with Jan and Jim. Our original plan was to get a start on the Cabot Trail, reputed to be one of the most scenic drives in North America or the World, depending on who you ask. In light of the weather, we decide to take the long way to Baddeck, where the Cabot Trail begins, and spend some time in their excellent Alexander Graham Bell Museum.

Along the way, we stop at St. Peter's Canal, which crosses a very narrow isthmus of land separating the Atlantic Ocean from Bras d'Or Lake, which is really an inland sea. That isthmus has a long history, serving as a portage for the Mi'kmaqs, a Portuguese settlement in the 1500s, and a fortified trading post for French merchants from the 1630s until it was destroyed by a fire in 1669. British moved into the area in the mid 1700s, and in the early 19th century they laid down skids on the isthmus so they could haul ships over it. Work began on the canal in 1854, and even though it was only about half a mile long, it took fifteen years to complete it, because it had to be blasted and dug through solid granite.

We are fascinated by the canal lock, which has two doors at each end, since both sides of the lock are tidal, and the water could be higher at either side, depending on the tidal cycle at the time a boat locks through. We have been through hundreds of locks, some of them quite unusual, and the St. Peter's lock was the first one of this type we had seen.

Just up the road from the lock, we see this little Dalmatian fire hydrant in front of the volunteer fire department garage. He reminds us of the New Carlisle fire hydrants we enjoyed last week.

On a larger scale, in Wycomagh we are greeted by a lawn covered with life-size wooden cut-outs of every character that has ever appeared on the Simpsons television show. Roadside attractions really brighten up a rainy day.

All whimsy aside, the best part of the day is our visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, where we learn all sorts of very interesting things about his life. An obvious first question is why there is an Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. The answer is because he, like the Roosevelts, found the maritime provinces a pleasurable place to vacation. He built his mansion-sized "cottage" on the shore of Bras d'Or Lake in Baddeck, because the typography reminded him of Scotland, where he was born and raised, until his family moved to Canada after two of their sons died of tuberculosis. Family members still live in the house, so it is not available for tours. We can't even see it across the lake, due to fog and rain.

Here are some interesting new things we learn about Bell: His grandfather and father were both speech scholars, and his father devised what he called Visible Speech—a universal phonetic alphabet. Using what he picked up from his father on how sounds were vocalized, Alec trained his dog to speak an understandable sentence in English.

While he was developing the telephone, he was a teacher for deaf people, and he eventually married one of his students, Mabel Hubbard. By then he had patented the telephone and had a major interest in the Bell Telephone Company, which he gave to Mabel as a wedding gift.

Not content to rest on his telephone laurels, he had lots of other patents, and in 1919 developed the fastest watercraft in the world, a hydrofoil. The remains of the original hydrofoil are in the museum. It is made of heavy wood, and it is hard to believe that it could have risen out of the water, given its weight. Too bad he couldn't invent fiberglass.

He also spent a lot of time developing massive kites in his pursuit of manned flights. He succeeded in flying people on his kites, and developed the first plane to fly in the United Kingdom.

I particularly like what his son-in-law said about him: "He always made you feel that there was so much of interest in the universe, so many fascinating things to observe and think about, that it was a criminal waste of time to indulge in gossip or trivial discussion."

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