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Report 1902: A Quick Scamper Round Nova Scotia

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2010

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Page 11 of 16: Highland Village Museum, Iona

photo by Michael


The museum is on a delightful site overlooking Bras d’Or lake. We can understand why the area reminded the Scots of home.

We didn't appreciate the canned Celtic music blasting out over the car park from a loudspeaker on the Visitor Centre. Fortunately it didn't follow us round the sight.

There is a self guided tour around the site and we were given a leaflet with a map and some information about the buildings.

The area was first settled in the early 1800s by people from the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The visit starts in a reconstructed Black House, which is similar to those found in the Hebrides. The walls were made of stone and the roof would have been made of turf and heather thatch. There was a central hearth on the floor and smoke seeped out through the thatch as there was no chimney. In the Hebrides, the family lived in half of the house and animals were kept in the other half.

The black house may look primitive to our eyes but had developed over the centuries to meet the conditions experienced on the islands. There are very strong winds with little shelter so the aerodynamic shape of the building was very important in preventing wind damage.

Animals provided heat in the winter months. Ammonia given off in the urine killed the TB bacillus so there was no TB in the population. Once the animals were moved out of the house, TB became prevalent.

Peat was traditionally burned on the fire. This is slow burning and gives off a steady heat and is much better than wood. The smoke is non carcinogenic but killed off bugs in the thatch. High concentrations of carbon dioxide under the thatch stopped sparks setting the thatch alight.

The settlers did not build Black Houses in Nova Scotia. All houses were built using logs.

All the buildings on the site are houses from around the area that have been rebuilt here and represent different stages in house development from basic log cabin, to a house with a central open fire, then cast iron stove and finally a large prosperous house which contained the telephone exchange.

There were costumed interpreters in each house. One had been making cinnamon buns in a cast iron pot placed on the hot log embers with more piled on top. We were offered a hot bun to try. It was very good.

The shop keeper was great fun and explained what all the strange objects were, including a machine to mix patent medicines.

The blacksmith was busy making nails for the shop. This did a roaring trade in nails. Farmers would come into the forge and make a large number of nails which they would trade in the shop for goods.

There was a video in the carding mill explaining how it worked. There was no one in the barn area, school or church.

There were a few rather ancient labels in the barn but it would have been helpful to have had someone available to answer questions. There were two pigs, hens, sheep and a Clydesdale horse.

This was an interesting visit and we enjoyed it.

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