Friday, July 3, 2015

Highland Village, a Gaelic Folklife Experience

We had to take a ferry across a narrows in Bras D'Or Lake.
To reach the Highland Village Museum where we will experience a bit of the language, culture, and history of the Nova Scotia Gaels.
Our tour features 11 period buildings and spans four eras of Gaelic life.
Outside the welcome center are 3 flags…Nova Scotia, Canada, and Gaelic. The symbol on the blue Gaelic flag has its roots in an old legend. Do you see the salmon in the shape of a G?
The legend of Finn:

We begin our trek up to the highlands.
Which overlooks Bras D'Or Lake.
A salt water inland sea.
A map of the lake.
The story begins in Gaelic Scotland (1770s-1830s). Under the Clan system, Gaels did not own their land, but paid rent to the landowners. Many were forced to relocate to islands where they built homes called "crofts" and were known as Crofters. They raised sheep and fished and worked the kelp to pay for their rents, but rents kept going up.
Many decided to leave their ancestral homes and emigrate to Nova Scotia with the promise of land grants. We visit a family preparing to emigrate.
A simple stone house with an earthen floor. She tells us about how hard life is becoming in Scotland. She talks about her family and those she will leave behind because they are in relationships and do not want to leave.
She shows us her home and explains how things are used. Note the "sleeping box" which would hold several people sleeping together for warmth. A sunbeam shines on the bedding.
The man is her nephew who has just come back from the Napoleonic Wars. He joined the military so he would have food and clothing as there was no pther work to be had.
She was explaining what this tool is used for, but I don't remember.
The sunbeam came from here…a smoke hole in the roof. But it was still very smoky in there.
The other half of the room has no furnishings. It is used for livestock which enter through the small door. Brought inside they are protected and also provide warmth in the house.
We leave and continue up the road to the forests of Nova Scotia.
This time period covers the 1770s when immigrants first arrived to the 1850s.
Having crossed the ocean they are now settled on land they can call their own in the great Acadian Forest. But before we enter this log home, let's look at what they might have lived in when they first arrived.
Before building log cabins they built a small temporary shelter, cleared the forest, and planted oats and potatoes.

We found these ladies dying wool from the sheep they raise. They told us they were lucky to be able to stay with friends who had come before while their cabin was being built.
 Simple furnishings.
 Stones for grinding grain into flour by hand.
We move on a generation to this Center Chimney House. Establishing fields and livestock will secure their land grants. 
Although living conditions have changed, their language and kinships remain the same.
After weary days clearing fields from the forest, they ceilidh (visit) by the kitchen fire to enjoy Gaelic stories, songs and music.

The pantry
Dining area
This large room is used for working with wool.
It also has a fireplace opposite the kitchen that share the same chimney. This one is only lit when they are working in here.
We were invited to look upstairs.
Since the children are grown, there are not as many beds up here as there used to be.
And half the upstairs is taken up by spinning wheels and looms.

We continue to the barn area.
We find pigs, chickens, sheep and a horse living here, as well as various farm equipment used through the generations.

The sheep have some new lambs.
Many farm tools are found inside the barn, but Nan found this happy fellow.
On to the church on the hill.
It is undergoing repairs after some winter damage, so we could not go inside.
Down there we advance to the 1850s-1880s.
They call this a center hallway house. Many of the families have been in Nova Scoria for nearly 100 years and the land holdings are becoming secure.
The Gaelic symbol over the door means "the good life" or some such...
The open hearth is slowly being replaced with cast iron stoves. This house has two.
But the kitchen remains the main place to ceilidh. This lady has just baked some beautiful baking powder biscuits and she offered us one. Oops, I think she used too much baking powder.
So out go the biscuits to the crows!
She shows us how the stove works as she prepares to bake another batch of biscuits.
Outside we discovered a little anachronism. Neither Nan nor I could make this hand pump work.
Then I discovered this door on the pump base…haha.
On to the schoolhouse. THis period represents the 1880s-1920s. Communities are growing as children and grandchildren build new homes and times are changing. 
Teachers are instructed to teach in English only. Children are punished for speaking Gaelic in school.
Nan recognized the jump rope.
But neither of us knew what the board on a rope was for.
The General Store sells staples and merchandise. Credit is often extended, or bills are settled by bartering.
The store houses the post office where news is often exchanged with neighbors. 
There is also a phone.
Almost anything you want can be ordered from the Sears and Roebuck Catalog.
The blacksmith wasn't in...
But he left a note.
Five generations on, this turn-of-the-century house has modern conveniences, but the cows still have to be milked and the hay made. 
They speak Gaelic to each other and the older generation, but not so much to the children.
Many have left for work, or adventure, and some are off to the Great War.
This young woman is the telephone operator for the community, although she admits there are only a few households with a telephone yet.
She has a modern sewing machine.
Furnishings ordered from Sears.

A modern stove and a washing machine!
She baked some ginger cookies. I got the last one, sorry.
But still most textiles are made by hand.
Upstairs bedrooms.
And this concludes our tour.
Hope you enjoyed our walk through time.
Highland Village ensures that Gaelic identity continues to be embraced, nutured, and celebrated in Nova Scotia communities.

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