Hippie Jim's Castle in Capstick, Cape Breton

Hippie Jim's Castle in Capstick

This story takes place in the area of Capstick, the tiny, isolated community near Meat Cove, at the tip of northern Cape Breton. Both rustic and beautiful, it’s the kind of place that draws tourists looking to drive to the edge of the continent until they can’t drive any more. On a clear day, St. Paul’s Island, and sometimes even Newfoundland, can be seen from the top of Meat Cove Mountain in the otherwise unimpeded expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

James Bruce Kucharuk, known locally as Hippie Jim, spent most of his young life in Maine. He was a Vietnam War resister, and like many other American imports to Canada in the early 1970s, he looked to evade being drafted. Canada’s immigration policy at the time was more flexible for Americans to obtain citizenship, and tens of thousands of war resistors made their way north from 1965-75.

Both Jim and his wife D’arcy were creative free spirits in their twenties, Jim being an artist (painter / carver) and D’arcy a fledgling actor. The couple also had a daughter named Tonya. They were able to purchase a plot of land and proceed with building a home. Veronica MacInnis recounts: “Jim and D'Arcy bought the property from us to build their castle. I knew them very well and spent time with them and watched how he took the rocks up from the nearby Salmon River which was a steep climb. He borrowed a horse from a neighbour and the horse would get very stubborn and would lay down and not pull the rocks - it was kinda funny”. From what started as a small cabin quickly evolved into a dream home.

Theresa and Collete inside The Castle. Photo courtesy of Theresa Burton MacKinnon

The locals referred to it as "The Castle", a whimsical structure made of local timber and stone, stained glass windows, a prominent stone fireplace, and one of the interior walls was made up of old bottles. It was tiny by today’s standards, and passers-by often wondered how anyone could manage to live in such a small space.

The couple were likeable in the community, and had connections with several neighbours, including those living in the “hippie village”, a small community of Americans that had sprung up in nearby Meat Cove. Peter Capstick, their closest neighbour, may have had the most contact with them. One time their daughter suffered a bad cut to her leg, and Jim carried her to Peter’s for help. Peter, who was handy in many ways, treated the wound and bandaged Tonya’s leg, helping her make a full recovery. For several years there were no doctors stationed north of Smokey, so the community had to be self-sufficient, dealing with medical problems and other issues themselves.

 Living off of the land, the couple had gardens, and housed several animals, including a horse named “King”. Jim was a vegetarian, and he seemed to impose this lifestyle on his family. Veronica Chamberlain, a neighbour, mentioned that “D’arcy and their daughter would come to her place to eat meat, then pick it out of their teeth before returning home.” Some years they had a bounty of vegetables, and other years were much harsher. Winters were challenging, as the house had no insulation to provide comfort from the harsh conditions in northern Cape Breton.

"

The Castle" photo courtesy Arlene Fougere.

D'arcy would return home each winter with Tonya to be with her family in the U.S., while Jim would stay in the isolated castle. One year, while the family was away, Jim went up a nearby mountain called Little Grassie to conduct a long-term fast for a cause, taking in only water and some liquids. His fast was well known, even being talked about on a local radio station. By all accounts, it was meant to be a temporary measure, as Jim shared dreams of riding his horse King from Cape Breton to Mexico in the spring. People in the community knew he was suffering, and they made concerted efforts to encourage him to eat. They contacted the RCMP, who visited him, witnessed his deteriorating condition, and they also tried to convince him to stop the fast.

Despite all this, 58 days in, Jim died at the age of 27 in 1974. There are some accounts that state that his death was due to complications related to returning to eating too quickly, while others indicate that it was just too late, and that he may simply have starved. A funeral for Jim was held in Sydney Mines, and he is buried in a George's River cemetery. D’Arcy returned to close up the house, and it was reported that she and Tonya later moved to Florida. 

Jim’s castle remained deserted for many years, just as he left it. Its presence on the landscape captured the imagination of many visitors to the area, conjuring up their own thoughts of fantasy and romance. The site continued to be visited through the 1990s, although the structure by that point was starting to show significant signs of deterioration. Today it no longer stands, slowly being taken back by the wilderness from which it was constructed. Many of Jim’s artistic works were still in the community after his death, but later burned in a fire sometime after his passing.  

Thank you to Theresa Burton MacKinnon, Kenny Mac Dougall, Veronica Chamberlain, Arlene Fougere, Fred Cook and several others for sharing accounts with me over the last few years. There have been several different versions of this story that have been presented over the course of doing research. Like many stories in Cape Breton, it can be hard to separate fact from folklore, unless you have lived it.

           Photos courtesy of Fred Cook        

Remnants of the Castle - photos courtesy Arlene Fougere

 

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https://capebreton.lokol.me/disneyland-in-meat-cove-and-my-thoughts-on-history
The story of a Cape Breton castle that once stood in Capstick.
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Joe Ward Follow Me
Wonderful post, Chris. Really enjoyed reading this. One of the most unique and enjoyable articles I've read in a long time.
Chris Bellemore My Post Follow Me
Thanks Joe. This island holds so many stories.
Christian Murphy Follow Me
I agree with Joe on that Chris. Having lived here all my life, this is the first time I heard this tale of traditional Cape Breton woe! Fascinating and tragic!
Chris Bellemore My Post Follow Me
Thanks Christian. So many ideas rattling around. This was one story I have been thinking about for a bit.
Veronica Macinnis Follow Me
Hi, I lived in Capstick and Jim and D'Arcy bough the property from us to build there castle, I knew them very well and spend time with them and watched how he took the rocks up from the river which is called salmon river and a steep climb. He borrowed a horse from a neighbour and the horse would get very stubborn and would lay down and not pull the rocks it was kinda funny. I wasn't living there when Jim went up the mountain which is called little grassie to do his fast. They had a very cute daughter.
Chris Bellemore My Post Follow Me
Thanks for sharing part of the story Veronica. I like hearing about the horse. It must have been something to see!
Chris Bellemore My Post Follow Me
The great thing about this story is that many people lived it and have contributed. I've made some changes to the article based on the comments coming in. Thanks everyone.
[comment deleted] Posted
mary mooney Follow Me
I remember this place well ... my sister, myself and my young daughter were down Ingonish way Camping the summer of 1974 ... I had been hearing the daily updates in the news on the local radio station re Jim's situation with the Fasting. while camping we went for a drive to Meat Cove and passed this very interesting structure... on our return to Ingonish we stopped and checked out the building... Jim had passed on, the building was left vacant and opened... we entered the first floor area and just looked around ... everything was just as he left it... a very sad ending. Those days of the Vietnam War were chaotic for families. I lived in the US of A during some of them and knew so many fellow workers whose boyfriends, husbands, sons were dragged off to that war.... Some never returned, some were never the same upon their return. And also worked with many whose sons or brothers slipped out of the US of A into Canada as draft dodgers... some never returned to the US of A and are now senior citizens here... Never knew Jim but he must have been an adventuresome young man.... Wonder what he would think of this world today?
Gale MacDougall Brown Follow Me
A truly touching story.
Paul Patterson Follow Me
After I had returned to Cape Breton from the U.S., in 1992, several friends and colleagues came to visit, and I took one couple up to see Meat Cove. Along the way, we noticed the deserted castle mentioned in this article, up on a hill overlooking the ocean. The photographs show the whimsical design, which reminded me of a tiny, fairy tale castle. In fact, it was so tiny that I could hardly imagine how anyone could live inside of it. As we were exploring the structure, an older woman came over from a nearby home. The story she told us about the artist, "Hippy Jim," was slightly different in some details than the one in the article. Her account was so sympathetic and sad that I have remembered it ever since. My recollection is that the young man who had built the castle had lived there with his wife and two children. Most of the other details are similar to the published account, except that the woman told me that the artist had developed cancer and was dying, and that this was the reason why his wife and children had returned to the U.S. As a draft-dodger, he could not return with them for treatment. The woman told us that she herself had been operating a small store nearby, and had brought groceries to him, once a week, which he paid for with money sent to him by his wife. There were many other details, but I don't recall them now, except that struck me that a good authour could have written a deeply moving story based upon the reality of that tragic situation.
Tyler Larade Follow Me
I only learned about Hippy Jim’s castle very recently, even though I live in Chéticamp! Very interesting story, but a sad end. I’d love to go visit the remains of the castle, does anyone know the exact whereabouts of it?
Lynn Hussey Follow Me
Touching and interesting post Chris. Thanks for this. You can feel the man's suffering, mentally and physically. RIP Jim.
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