Looking Eating #CapeBreton Part 1

Travel often means eating in diners, cafes, restaurants & airports. Even staying, as I did, with my sister here in Sydney, I dined out more than usual. Usually for lunch.  With more Tim Ho’s per capita than doctors, Cape Breton is right on the money for coffee and donuts. What I like about the Tim’s here is that the coffee is stronger than in Toronto and they offer a regional snack – oak cakes – that I love.

My airport dining experience was in Toronto – things done to chicken at a Swiss Chalet – their summer special Greek meal – the tzatziki make a good replacement for the sauce plus the veggies were not over cooked but a bit of feta would have completed the meal.

the lunch room
the lunch room

When we went to the Miners’ Museum we ate at the Miners’ Village Restaurant after we went through the exhibits. The menu was limited but hearty. I would have like to see a few more nods of what the miners would have eaten – I’m sure they didn’t have California veggie wraps. I went for the hot hamburger with gravy sandwich. the burger was excellent – the fries okay. The Museum itself is excellent for an introduction into the mines but merely hints at the daily life of the miners. A trip into the mine is the best way to get a feel for the conditions the miners worked in.

After the Miners’ I hit the Whitney Pier Museum – which I love – not much new has been donated since I was last there 5 years ago but I enjoyed going through the old high school year books and seeing the exhibits on the extensive and various ethnic communities that were isolated in the Pier. Many groups sought to stick together and never strayed far from their ‘stomping grounds.’ Even in Toronto is Little Italy, Little India etc. But there is an awareness of each other – when I grew up in Sydney, I didn’t know there was black community till I was in my late teens.east

On Monday I had lunch with an old friend at Centre 200 where I had forgettable bacon & eggs to the sound of clicking slot machines. An ideal place to get caught up with each other without the distraction of tasty food.

Tuesday was another lunch with another old friend – this time at an old haunt – The New Moon was the first Chinese restaurant to open in Sydney. I can sort of remember my first jumbo shrimp, definitely remember my first Singapore Sling. The menu remains pretty much unchanged, prices haven’t gone up that much either and the food was good.

It was a short walk from the New Moon to hit Wentworth Perk again, had time to sit on the patio and enjoy the rather steady stream patrons. More attractive men who needed a shave than I would have expected. Coffee as good as on my first visit, great date square & my old friend gave me a section of her Turtles cheese cake which was perfect. I did hear from one of the owners after my pervious post and they hoping to start a spoken-word night in the fall.

Perk view of Park

Travel also mean a change in routine for me. Not big changes but enough to make me appreciate getting back to those routines. Less reading, less writing too – this time – but I have been making notes & picking up books to fill in the context for my next novel (Coal Dusters). I’ve had a few chats about it with people I’ve met on my search for info & the reaction is positive. The time era – mid 1920’s – is one that hasn’t been look at too closely and certainly not in fiction.


here’s an old piece about growing up in Cape Breton –


it’s hard to tell

when he became the son

his dad didn’t expect


was it when he hit

that dangerous hormone rush

and couldn’t concentrate in school

didn’t know where to look

where his eyes were supposed to focus


what was the target –

long division or

longing to doodle scribbles

that might form words

but even spelling

was beyond his grasp


couldn’t slip into some easy identity

all he wanted was to be left alone

why bother asking him questions

he wasn’t one of those bright kids

who could memorize the times tables


a boy adrift in the hazy life

where roles were cut out for you

from the start he felt himself drift

through those holes

it didn’t feel so easy at the time

the puzzlement

he knew those tight formations

weren’t for him

not that he was mr rebellious

merely mr a little off centre

moving in his own way


caught up in a culture that said

you can be what you want

as long as you keep it to yourself

the secret secret

that made it all right

and above all

don’t fail to appear apologetic

shame makes all the difference

to the different


it’s hard to tell

when I became the son

my dad didn’t expect

probably before I was born


Wentworth Perk Perks Up Sydney

shelf life
shelf life

Sydney has lived up to my damp, cold memories with rain & clouds the past few days. But I have gotten out and about – took walks down the streets I used to walk to school – past houses that friends I remember lived in at that time. Changes have been minimal on those streets. The downtown main street – Charlotte Street – has suffered from various attempts to revive it – one plan resulted in, what I call, cartoon quaint – in which stores fronts were given this ‘down east’ treatment that reflects nothing of the city’s heritage – fake St. John’s.


Some have had a sad modernity forced on them – that looks clean but has even less character than the ‘cartoon quaint.’ Banalization.

a shred of dignity

A few buildings have managed to maintain their historic dignity.

another shred of dignity

The one shopping centre I enjoyed as been transformed into a strip mall. For years one could enter one end, walk the inside promenade and go into the shops, or sit in a food court or the Tim’s – these community spaces were always active with locals. Now the promenade is gone, you have to enter each store from the parking lot – no shared indoor space & frankly very uninviting. Not even worth taking a picture of. Clearly no market research went in to this pointless renovation.

One good addition, at least one that I like, is Wentworth Perk. The cafe has been renovated a great old house, added a large patio and serves great coffee. I see it has a line up of local musicians – no spoken word night though – if I was here long enough there would be one – maybe I’ll line one up for my next visit though – I’m sure Sydney is ready for a splash of my mildly erotic queerness. (2019 note: Wentworth Perk no longer in business).

drop in for a great coffee




I bought loads of books already: all for research – some from Reynolds Books

(n) = Nimbus Publishing Ltd.

Archie Neil Chisholm: As True As I’m Sittin’ Here

Clary Croft: A Maritimer’s Miscellany (n)

Brian C. Cuthbertson: The Loyalist Governor – Sir John Wentworth

David Doucette: North of Smokey

Dawn Fraser: Echoes From Labor’s War

Rannie Gillis: Historic Sydney (n)

Historic North Sydney (n)

Monica Graham: Historic New Glasgow + (n)

Laurie Lacy: Mi’Kmaq Medicines (n)

Carole MacDonald: Historic Glace Bay (n)

Garfield MacDonald: A Morien Memoir

Alistair Macleod: Island – his short stories are stunning

Richard P. McBrien: Catholicism (one of characters is the parish priest’s niece so I need to know a bit about the religion)

Joe MacPherson: In The Shadow of the Shafts (not a porn novel)

David Newton: Where Coal Is King



here’s a very rough draft from my miner novel – which I’m thinking of calling The Priest’s Niece (2-19 note: it is called Coal Dusters)

Birk could hear singing. It wasn’t far from him on the coal face. He hesitated a moment before pushing the loose rock, duff, behind him, for Swede, his duff-raker, to shift away. It was Swede singing.

“This is the dark. This is the work”

There wasn’t room for Birk to turn around. He wanted to ask Swede how he could keep singing when breathing was difficult enough. Birk snorted some of the coal dust out his nose as he took a shallow breath though the rag over his mouth and shoved more of the debris back towards Swede.

“This is the dark. This is the work. The dark we live in. The work we do.”

As he chipped into the coal face Birk drifted in and out of listening. All there was to think about was his arms  flex  strike  flex  chip  slag crumble  push behind. Flex  strike  flex  chip  slag crumble  push behind. He no longer felt his sweat, felt his hands as rock broke, fell to his feet. His back and calves numbed from the constant crouch.

Flex  strike  flex  chip  slag crumble  push behind.

When he stopped he could hear. “This is the dark. This is the work”

Swede tugged at Birk’s elbow. “C’mon lad. Time for a slurp a’tea.”

Birk listened for Swede to scuttle away so there room for him to inch out.

He barely backed out when he heard a dry crack over the sound of the other picks, over the sound of coal falling, over his own breathing. He heard it because it wasn’t a sound that fit into the sounds he usually heard.

Instinctively he nudged Swede. He nodded that he had heard it too. After working together in the mine for several months as a team they didn’t need words. Miners’ eyes talk when words couldn’t be heard anyway.

They crawled backwards on their stomach out of the edge in the coal face they had been working. They were at the point where they could half stand under the ceiling when there was louder crack. Then silence.

All the other miners had stopped.

“Struts,” Birk muttered.

“Yeap.” Swede replied.

They scuttled up the low, narrow passage. Other miners shimmying out from the ledges they had been working. All shuffled hunched and silent to hear.

A brief thump was followed by a low shudder under foot.

“Ceiling in level five.”

They were three level below that on level eight.

“Keep your arses movin’!” A harsh shout from behind and the line of miners moved slowly forward. hunching up and down to avoid the ceiling supports. The tunnel going from five foot to four foot high every six feet.

Birk felt a drip on his face.

“Leak.” he shouted. “Fookin’ leak.”

Another shudder and dust flakes began to fall on them. He grabbed Swede by the arm to pull him along as fast as he was moving.

The air already thick with coal dust became thicker with their fear. They almost fell out of the vein into the shaft where the carts were. They kept moving so the other miners could get out too.

There was already water in the shaft. How long would the stavings hold?