5 Things I've Never Seen Outside of Cape Breton

I think we can all agree that Cape Breton can get a bit weird. With ocean surrounding us on all four sides, and the 5 hour drive separating us from the rest of civilization, Cape Breton could very well be categorized as an isolated tribe.

New Waterford, circa 1998. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

Ok. You got me. That's not New Waterford. New Waterford doesn't have near as much fashion sense as those Dapper Dans up there. But really, we're 100,000 people surrounded by a sea of forest and a sea of, well, sea. Even with the internet connecting us instantly to the rest of the world, we care more about what The Lobster Pound has to say than Hillary Clinton.

And just as news and culture from outside has difficulty arriving on our shores, our own culture is self contained by our geographic limitations, and that makes us weird. It's as if the government of Canada threw 150,000 people in an underground vault, along with some fiddles and donair sauce, and locked the door for 100 years just to see what would happen. In my opinion, it's a sick experiment gone right, but there's no denying it's a recipe for weirdness.

And if you don't think social isolation makes people a tad bit cooky, visit Meat Cove and get back to me on that!

The issue with onset socially-isolated weirdness, as any home-school kid will attest, is that it's difficult to identify your own peculiarities with so little interaction with the outside world, which is desperate to point and laugh at you. Luckily, I've been away 20 years, and I'm back to let everyone know just what makes Cape Breton so bizarre. So here are

5 Things I've Never Seen outside of Cape Breton
(Disclaimer: Rory hasn't been everywhere in the world. If these things exist in other places, Rory is ignorant of it, so feel free to chastise him for being a total knob in the comment section.)

Actual geographic representation of how a lot of Cape Bretoners view Nova Scotia

1. Meat Darts

Close, but no.

Let's be honest, Cape Breton. Half the fun of Meat Darts is not telling Come-from-Aways what it is. Just let the mystery sink in and watch their cogs spin. "Do you throw meat?" "Do you throw darts at meat?" "Are the darts made of meat?" The possibilities are endless, as long as they have some combination of darts and meat in them. 

Once people know it's darts with the potential to win meat, they might ask "Why wouldn't you just play darts for money?" At which point any true Cape Bretoner retorts violently with "BECAUSE MONEY ISN'T MEAT, YOU IDIOT!"  Actually, no, don't do that. I don't advocate violence, and it takes away from our quirky attitude we have towards meat-prized dart competitions. Just take them to the legion and hope they have the dexterity to go home with a T-bone. 

2. Jumping Off of Bridges of Questionable Legality


That's more like it.

You might be thinking to yourself "People must jump off of bridges in other places?" Well, that's probably true, but most places I've been, when you see someone about to jump off a bridge, it means they're about to make a huge, irreversible decision. In Cape Breton, it means it's August. Also, I have no idea if this practice is legal, but judging from my very limited legal experience of getting arrested a few times, I can't see that being the case.

You won't find this practice in any tourism booklet or advertising campaign, but this really was one of the highlights of coming to Cape Breton every summer when I was a kid. It should be considered a right of passage for all 16 year-olds in Cape Breton to jump off the Mira Gut Bridge. And I'm not talking about the pansy road level. You climb that metal frame and jump from the top, you pansy!

Witness a Cape Breton boy become a Cape Breton Man. The girl isn't becoming a man though, because that's not how it works.

3. Huge Rum Sections

Look at all the potential for mistakes!

You might not know this, but by ratio, Cape Breton has a larger rum section to liquor store area than anywhere north of Jamaica. The real question is "Why?" Sugar doesn't grow anywhere within 1000 miles of this place. You know what does grow here? Potatoes! If we were going off of purely agricultural reasoning, we would all be drinking vodka, but since we're not track-suit sporting Russians, I'm not doing that.

The actual reason we drink rum: history! The cooler reason we drink rum: PIRATES! Ok, so pirates were just a little part of it. It turns out Cape Breton was a historical pit-stop on the tragic nautical road trip known as the trade triangle. Some pretty horrible stuff happened there that I refuse to make jokes about, but more importantly, we traded cod for rum, and I for one think it's super cool that a trade practice outdated by over 100 years still affects how I spend my Fridays, and some Tuesdays. On a completely unrelated note, never try to trade cod for rum now. Sobey's does not appreciate your historically accurate whimsy.  

4. Donair Pizza

Congratulation, Cape Breton. You've successfully made pizza worse for you.

Ok Cape Breton. Let's call a spade a spade here. Donair sauce is icing. That's what it is. You can't drop a clove of garlic in icing and pretend it's not icing. It's sugar goo. Let's all agree with that.

Point #2. Were donairs created to give you the worst breath imaginable? Garlic icing, red onions, and slow roasted lamb is a recipe for instant halitosis. I had a donair yesterday from Island Greek Donair, and I was tasting it for the rest of the day, which was awesome. Unfortunately everyone else around me was tasting it for the rest of the day too, and they didn't appreciate it nearly as much as I did.

Anyways, about the pizza. The first time I had a slice of this was at Napoli's about 2 months ago, and it made my brain explode. It was like the time I had a G.I.Joe in one hand, and a Snickers bar in the other, and I got it mixed up and my brain had to do a hard reset with a G.I.Joe in my mouth. I did not expect Donair sauce to be under that cheese. When it hit my tongue, I thought "Does this really exist?" Then I thought "Should this exist?" Then I thought "YES ON BOTH COUNTS!" and my world became a brighter, happier place.

Donair pizza is like if a gyro, Italy, and a toaster strudel had a baby. That's worth a picture!

Disclaimer: This is not a recipe, and the country of Italy is not an ingredient.

5. Washer Toss

Yup, you're doing it wrong.

Apparently I'm way off base here. They play washer toss in tons of places. Places I've never been, and this is my list, so too bad. I'm including it.

If I mentioned washer toss in Georgia, all my friends would probably think Cape Breton was entirely populated by giant viking beasts chucking 300 pound washing machines at each other. Just like meat darts, washer toss is a game where half the fun is in not explaining it, and watching the wheels of your friend's confusion spin. Sadly, the washers being thrown are far less deadly than washing machines with flight paths. 

Even so, you have to hand it to the guy who had the ingenuity and cost-consciousness to think "These horseshoes are mighty expensive. Hand me the leftovers from that IKEA shelf." 

These washers are better anyways because I can hold a beer in my other hand, which is completely integral to the game.

On a somewhat related note, in Georgia I played a game called Cornhole, which is one of the dirtiest sounding words that isn't actually dirty at all. Get your mind out of the gutter. In Cornhole, you attempt to throw bags full of corn kernels through a hole in a board. It's kind of like Washer Toss, with a funnier name. Turns out almost every culture throws things through holes.

Final Thoughts

We should really take one of those random holidays we get in the summer and create a Cape Breton Culture Day, where we all jump off bridges, then go down to the legion to play washer toss, meat darts, eat donair pizza, and drink rum responsibly, because darts are sharp. We could even play Cornhole as a cultural exchange. Actually, I could do all this myself on Saturday. Cool. I know what I'm going to be up to on Saturday.

So did I miss anything? Is there anything else to add to my To-do list on Saturday? If you can think of anything, put it in the comments section below.

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Joe Ward Follow Me
On the topic of bridges, yes, that one too! https://youtu.be/SA0OCMQ5Fng
Joe Ward Follow Me
Source: http://on.fb.me/1TWs6uu
Rory Andrews My Post Follow Me
Holy Crap! I wonder how difficult it was to climb up there with those giant balls. I've jumped off a number of very high things, but nothing like that. I'm pretty sure that could have gone horribly, horribly wrong. Good thing he got a video. I would show that thing at my funeral.
Richard Lorway Follow Me
Holy Salt Water Enema, Batman!
Joe Ward Follow Me
I've jumped Mira Gut and Albert Bridge, but no way Seal Island is a good idea. I can't estimate the height in the video, but there is a certain limitation after which serious injury or death greatly increases in probability. I think he was really pushing his luck. And those giant balls probably received some brutal cosmetic reduction surgery courtesy of the water below at the time of impact. ;)
Lynn Hussey Follow Me
Wonder if he ever made it back in! The currant there is wicked!
Lynn Hussey Follow Me
OH Gross! Who'd do that on purpose?!!!
Matthew Butler Follow Me
"grading day" I've lived in numerous provinces in Canada, and only here have I seen report card day be an event as large as Christmas. Growing up from away, my only reward for "grading" (aka passing), was not going to summer school and not being grounded all summer long. And dammit that was incentive enough for me. (fact is I'd have been grounded for anything less than an 80)
David Reid Follow Me
Along the lines of the donair, is the Hero Sub. Yum! Also (and unfortunately), grass fires.
Valerie McPhee Follow Me
Tarbish!! That should be number 1!!
Steven Rolls Follow Me
Not sure about this but how about Washer Drum Fire Pits. This also leads to the way we set up a picket line. I remember the first time CBU went on strike. Those professors could have died they were so green around the gills. But the steel worker'do union moved in and saved them. Within an afternoon, they had a drum fire going, shanties built to protect then from the cool spring rains, and were dragging a rail across the university entrance to keep the scabs out. Those that did make it through witnessed a car rocking so hard it lifted two of their car tires off the ground. NOW THAT IS HARD CORE!
Joe Ward Follow Me
Drum fire cool. Hostility, no so much.
meghan usher Follow Me
Not sure if it's just a cape Breton thing but I know it's not an everywhere thing! Bag milk!! My husband was shocked to find out we had bag mild and juice I was shocked they didn't have it anywhere else! I was like well what dose your milk come in if not a bag? Lol
paula king-turner Follow Me
In Ontario we have milk in a bag, but i never saw juice in a bag till i went to Glace Bay-lots of little ones they give out at Halloween.
Richard Lorway Follow Me
Fireworks on Halloween. When I moved away for a few years in my 20s, I thought this was simply a practice that had died out or had been banned. I moved back with my family and was surprised to see fireworks on Halloween. It's not done out west and not even in mainland Nova Scotia, at least not in any place I've lived. Asking Haligonians, they'd never heard of it. Huh. So maybe we combine Halloween and Guy Fawkes traditions?
Rory Andrews My Post Follow Me
Halloween, in general, is taken much more seriously on Cape Breton than I've seen anywhere else. I was 9 when I left, and my older brother was bringing home multiple bags of candy home because he could go off on his own. People would also decorate like crazy, with black lights and fog machines. It was my favorite holiday. Then I went to Georgia, and realized that Cape Breton Halloweens are very much a regional thing. Also, our Octobers look like Halloween, with the leaves scattering the ground and the cold gusts of wind. It's the perfect atmosphere for it.
Nick Phillips Follow Me
Jumping off bridges happens everywhere. I did it regularly on the mainland growing up. Also, washer toss was far more popular in other areas before getting picked up in Cape Breton. What I would add to the list though, is fire season each spring... I'm not sure of the attraction to burning fields of grass once the snow has gone.
James MacKinnon Follow Me
4 out of 5 definitely set us apart (at least compared to most of Canada), but I think King of Donair would have a word about the pizza claims. Delicious no matter what end of the province you hail from though!
Kendra Crummey Follow Me
Pork pies. I have been in Halifax for 4 years and have yet to find a pork pie anywhere. Also ate my first non- Cape Breton date square a couple weeks back. Everyone is confused as to why we love dates so much. Tweed Squares. My nanny used to make them, and I've never seen them off island. Grading Day, my mother from Ontario hated it. Grand March. Graduation Parties. Most places off island have only small family parties, or large group ones, my experience with Cape Breton grad parties is that everyone has one and they happen all throughout the summer.
Rory Andrews My Post Follow Me
Man, all the stuff you just listed are awesome too. I'm glad I moved back. Also, when I was a kid, Sydney took Halloween incredibly seriously. I'm talking full on graveyard recreations in front yards, with smoke machines. I was so disappointed when I moved away and saw how Halloween was treated elsewhere. I'm glad I moved back.
Maria Hajigeorgiou Follow Me
Aren't pork pies the same as butter tarts?
Richard Lorway Follow Me
Actually, butter tarts are different. Mostly brown sugar and butter with some raisins or nuts optionally thrown in. No icing as they are sweet enough. Pork pies are smaller, filling made with dates I think (I know it's heresy, but I"m not a fan), and with maple icing on top.
Judith Mallett Follow Me
What’s in a Cape Breton pork pie? In Ontario I make Tourtiere at Christmas ( borrowed from Quebec). It is a double crust pie filled with ground pork, potatoes and spices. Sooo good. Many serve with gravy.
paula king-turner Follow Me
I am from Ontario. While visiting my in-laws in Glace Bay, i have both jumped off a bridge and played washer toss!
Rory Andrews My Post Follow Me
Way to go Paula. Getting past the regular tourism and partaking in the lesser known culture of Cape Breton is the way to go. And both bridges are about 20 minutes away, so bridge jumping day should be a real thing.
Jen Griffin Follow Me
I'm pretty sure that people in other parts of the world don't go "down north"! That's definitely a Cape Breton thing.
Joel Young Follow Me
In the northeastern U.S., Maine is called "down north".
Maria Hajigeorgiou Follow Me
I've never met anyone outside of Cape Breton who knows what a scribbler is.
Judith Mallett Follow Me
You mean the thin lined books for taking notes in Elementary School? I haven’t heard the word scribble for a long time.
Kimberly Charron Follow Me
It's fun to talk about what is unique about Cape Breton. Grading Day and Lick a Chick are at the top of my list :) But please don't perpetuate stereotypes about homeschooled kids' "socially-isolated weirdness" and "little interaction with the outside world." I don't think you'd describe my two kids that way - I'm sure you've met them or at least seen them performing on stage - perhaps you didn't even realize that they're homeschooled :)
Christian Murphy Follow Me
I like the idea of a Cape Breton Culture Day, we can start off with a Grand Opening at the top of the Seal Island Bridge and have mayor and council conduct a ribbon cutting ceremony that ends will a gentle shove! Sarcasm of course! Pushing politicians off bridges may sound enjoyable, but the environmental impact of all that crap rising to the surface would be harmful to our fishery. Not to mention illegal.
Karen Crouse Follow Me
Big grand marches in high school with expensive dresses, tuxedos, and limos.
Christian Murphy Follow Me
The Northside has "Hiking Day" where the kids all pack lunches and go off for the day. This was very big when I was young, likely not so today as it doesn't require a game machine and sofa. The rest of Canada refer to is as Victoria Day, May two-four Weekend and May long Weekend. To me, it will always be Hiking Day and invoke memories of friends, bicycles, fishing rods and a picnic lunch.
Christian Murphy Follow Me
Oh yes, no adult supervision!
Karen Crouse Follow Me
Easter is celebrated like Christmas. Lineups at the stores. Sales are high.
Susan Spears Follow Me
Yea, you don't get out much do you.. Lol.. I'm from mainland N.S and we do all these things.... Visit more rural communities, that's the problem 😜😉
Allyson White Follow Me
Heavy Garbage not making the list is unacceptable
Joel Young Follow Me
This is done in many other places, even in the U.S.
Lynn Hussey Follow Me
LOL Great article Rory.! Only One problem, you left out Marion Bridge as one of the 'illegal' jumping off places! Always has been and still is!
Damien Dunn Follow Me
Hiking Day Sales.
Joel Young Follow Me
Just a minor correction to make you look even smarter: it's "rite" of passage, not "right". :)
john deveaux Follow Me
winning at meat darts does not always mean T-bone steak,i have won a dozen eggs,bologna,pepperoni,bacon,chicken,pork chops,and the odd time I even won a piece of steak,only in Cape Breton.
Lillian Dolomont Follow Me
Rory, you forgot Iron Brew pop. When I left home (North Sydney) for Aylmer ON., we stopped in a little store in Pictou and they had never even heard of Iron Brew. I would not have been surprised not to be able to find it outside NS. Anytime we went home, a load of iron brew was part of our luggage. I was sad when I couldn't get it anymore. McCreadys chow, Scotties chips and King Cole tea was always in the care packages from home, or was brought to us from visiting families.
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