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Jun 2014

KitchenFest! Q+A: Bev Brett

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Beverly Brett, the writer and director of last year’s hit play “Out of Black Cove,” and the group of players she directs, the St. Ann’s Bay Players, will be bringing three plays to KitchenFest this year at the Gaelic College! Our Marketing and Design Intern Leah Noble had a chance to chat with Bev in May about the “story theatre” format, about what the Cape Breton kitchen has meant to her, and about why live theatre is so magical.

Leah: Your plays are always well-attended and so entertaining. Tell me about the plays you’re producing at the College this year!

Bev: So “Vision” was written by Alistair MacLeod, and I first produced his story in theatrical form at the Cabot Trail Writers Festival in 2012. We only did one performance then. Then I was in Waipu, New Zealand, and I saw Alistair and his wife, and he asked me, “When are you going to do that again?” We made the decision in January to take “Vision” to the stage at the Gaelic College, and then of course he sadly passed away in April. We decided to still produce the play. We feel it will be a great tribute to him.

The other two plays are based on traditional stories told on the North Shore of Cape Breton, stories that were told by Evelyn Smith and Hector Carmichael. I created plays from them for the Gaelic College a few years ago, so that they could use them in their classes in Gaelic drama.  The Company that I’ve been directing and working with for thirty-four years, the St. Ann’s Bay Players, will be performing all three plays.

Many of the cast from last year’s production — Mary Ann Wilson, Todd Hiscock, Murdena MacDonald, Yvonne LeBlanc, Frank MacKenzie, Jitka Zgola, & George Dauphney —  are returning with the addition of the great talents of Murdock MacDonald, Gary Walsh, Joey Burroughs  and Sue Browne. And I should note that although the cast are sometimes playing cats and horses, “Vision” is material for mature audiences.

Leah: What is the “Story theatre” format?

Bev: Story theatre is more like story-telling. “Vision” will be done in a more theatrical way than the other two plays, but still in the story-theatre format. So for example, in “Vision” there are 7 actors playing multiple characters and they are onstage all the time, changing costumes, becoming animals, handling puppets, as well as acting in scenes. There will be interesting visual technical effects, projected images. Story theatre is sort of the flavour of an old-time variety concert.

Leah: Was it hard to adapt the Vision story to the stage?

Bev: I’d say of all his short stories, Vision is one of the harder ones to adapt. It’s a real toughie. It’s real life, you know, it’s gritty. But it’s still really funny. Alistair had a way of writing humour in the darkness. I think of it as a dark fairy tale, you have the innocent view of the kids, telling the story.

Leah: You’ve been involved in live theatre since 1980 in Cape Breton. Why is it so important, to stage and also to attend live theatre?

Bev: Live theatre, especially in a small community, is so interesting. Anything can happen! For a story like “Vision”, you know, you can read the story on the page, by yourself at home, but with live theatre you get to hear the language, hear it and see it coming alive. The actors interact with each other, and the audience sees that interaction, and then sees a whole different side of the story. Subtle things you may not have picked up on, in the story, through gestures and reactions on stage become obvious, and really funny.

Something else that’s almost magical about live theatre is that the audience becomes part of the play. You know, leading up to the performances, the actors rehearse and rehearse, but for actors, there is nothing like performing in front of a live audience. The audience will react to parts by laughing, which in turn gives energy to the people on stage. I find live theatre is especially neat in a small community where most of the people know each other. For me, as a director, I get to sort of watch the audience react to things. And as the audience, you see people that you know up on the stage, acting… you see a side of them you didn’t know before. And the community is so close-knit that people will tell me exactly what they think… if they thought it was too long, you know, for example.

Leah: KitchenFest is celebrating the magic and community of the Cape Breton kitchen. Can you tell me a little bit about what the Cape Breton kitchen has meant to you?

Bev: When we first moved here in the 70s, there was a couple that lived near us, Dan Hector and Jessie Smith. They took us in, really adopted us. We’d visit often, especially when we were building our log cabin. We were living in a tent and we’d go over to the Smith’s for tea. You’d come in and they’d say, “Sit!” I can still remember the kitchen, there were two stoves, a table and chairs, and a daybed. There was always a pot of tea on the stove. I would say that in their kitchen, I found home. You know, KitchenFest is really showcasing the music, that happened in the kitchen, but it’s important to remember the story-telling that happened there too. Gaelic culture is really a “visiting culture,” social interaction and being curious and caring is so important.

The plays are running July 1st, 2nd and 3rd and you can get tickets by calling the Gaelic College at (902) 295-3411.

Bev Brett grew up in Boston of Irish and Maritime Canadian descent, and has lived in Cape Breton for over forty years. She has directed over sixty plays in Atlantic Canada and New Zealand.




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Jun 2014

KitchenFest! Q+A: Eveline MacLeod

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Eveline MacLeod is well-known in the Gaelic community for her extensive work in many areas of the culture, from weaving to pipe bands, highland dancing to history. During KitchenFest, she’ll release her new book, “Celtic Threads.” (Thursday, July 3 from 2-4pm at the Gaelic College) Margie Beaton and Leah Noble visited with her in her home in South Haven to learn more about Eveline’s book, and her passion for weaving and textile arts. (Check out KitchenFest details on our website here or call us at the College, 902-295-3411.)

Leah: You were born in New Glasgow. What brought you to Cape Breton?

Eveline: I came to teach Home Economics.

Leah: How did you become interested in weaving? Was it something you’d always done?

Eveline: No, I wasn’t a weaver. I knew a bit about it, but… when my son Kevin was born, I gave up teaching, and I was looking for something to do. At that time, there wasn’t any handcraft promotion at all in Cape Breton, and I happened to notice a piece in the paper written by Father Greg MacLeod, inviting people that were interested in handcrafts to come to Sydney for a meeting. So I went there, and, gosh, it wasn’t long before I was appointed researcher in this part of Cape Breton.

Leah: Did you have your own loom here?

Eveline: Yes, well, he appointed four of us to go around Cape Breton and find out about the traditional crafts, and if anybody was spinning and weaving, and I went and I found all kinds of knitters and quilters and rug hookers. The only weaving I found was here, in St. Ann’s, and Boularderie.

Leah: Is that right? Wow. When would that have been, the 1970’s?

Eveline: Yes, the early 70’s, 1972. And so from then on, I got involved with the Cape Breton School of Crafts, in the old Lyceum, and I decided if I was going to teach weaving, I had to learn more about it. The Home Ec training I had didn’t give you much background in weaving at all, you know. So I went to the Banff School of Fine Arts, I spent a month there. My teacher was from Sweden, a marvellous teacher and a great weaver and everything, and I told her that I wanted to learn all about overshot, because that was the traditional weave in Cape Breton. And, well, she said, I’ll give you an overshot project to do. So she gave me a Swedish book, which I couldn’t read, but I could read the draft, the pattern of the weave. She said “We’re not going to do a traditional weave at all, we’re going to do a modern overshot.” I said, “Sure, fine.” She gave me something that was entirely different for me, we were threading three threads on the loom, instead of one, and that’s in the headles, the headles are the things that hold the threads, and I had wool, linen and silk. They were all hard to use because … if linen stretches, it won’t unstretch! Wool is elastic, it will go back. She was testing me, but anyway, it worked out. I have a beautiful piece that I still keep! I won’t be giving that away.

Margie: Would those materials have been used around here? Would people have been weaving with silk?

Eveline: No, that would have been extravagant. Wool, is what was used around here. And cotton, and linen. They raised linen here, in Mabou and Middle River. They processed it here, made tablecloths, I’ve seen some beautiful linen from around here. So, I did that, at the Banff, and that gave me a good start. And the next year I went out researching with Mr. Stan Solinsky. He was a great master weaver in Canada. He had escaped from Poland, as a young man. He was such a brain that he wrote his first physics book when he was 16! He was so good that he could hear us thumping away upstairs on the looms and he’d say, “You’re not doing it right!” He knew by the sound of it. I had a summer school with him for three weeks, which was fabulous. And he drew up my course of studies for the Gaelic College. He was going to come down the next year and get it started with me, but didn’t he pass away from a heart attack. But that’s the course of study I’ve been using and it’s wonderful. And it’s what the weaving instructors have been using at the College since.

And then the last Summer School I went to was in New York State, I went to the Thousand Islands School of Weaving. It was nice, I learned to do rug weaving.

Leah: So your book, then, is it focused on your story, or on the history?

Eveline: No, It’s focused on traditional weaving from Scotland, that came to Cape Breton. You see, when I was out at Banff, I decided I would go into Calgary one day, and go to the museums there. Because I knew a lot of people went West from Nova Scotia, you see, a lot of the people out there have roots in the Maritimes. And I saw some lovely coverlets there, and when I asked them where they came from, she said “Oh, the East! Nova Scotia, New Brunswick.” It was then that I realized that we had something here in Cape Breton that they don’t have anywhere else. And it was then I decided we need to do something about this, to preserve it.

Leah: In 2010 when the people at Cape Breton Heritage did the video with you, you said that exact same thing. Has there been anything in the last four years, that you’ve seen, that is working toward that goal?

Eveline: Yes, I think so, I’ve been talking to Catherine MacNutt. I’m giving all my old things to the Beaton Institute, with the stipulation that they can be used as teaching materials by the Gaelic College and by the Cape Breton School of Crafts. Cape Breton has a very unique heritage, the weaving is preserved in the old homes. Yet, what’s going to happen with all these people going to Alberta, I don’t know.

Leah: In your video with Heritage CB, you said you feel very strongly that the families should keep the weaving pieces in the families, in the homes. You didn’t want to ask to have a coverlet, for example.

Eveline: Yes, I think that the families should treasure them as long as they can. With the younger people, they don’t have the same interest in them because they don’t know, what all went into the weavings.

Leah: So you collaborated with Dr. Dan MacInnes on this book. He is a professor at St. FX, in Sociology. So why was it important to you to collaborate with him? What did he bring to the project?

Eveline: Well, one time Emily, my daughter was home, and I had this big pile of papers and photographs, and I said, “How am I ever going to turn this into a book?” “Oh,” she said, “I’ve got a friend who will help you, I know he will, he’s interested in history.” And that was Dan. He is a very good friend of Emily and Angus, and he said yes he would, and he came down and had a look at what I had and said it was worth doing. If he didn’t do it, I don’t think I would ever have a book!

Margie: So how many years has this book been in the works?

Eveline: When I came back from Banff in the 70s, that’s when I realized that something needed to be done. It was easy for me, because everywhere I went the women brought their weaving to show me, and I would take pictures. The houses were full of the weaving then! And I don’t know where it’s all gone. I remember I went in to see the weaving one time at this one home… I went in one Saturday morning, and didn’t they have three or four coverlets spread out over the couch! So you see every time we lose an old home, we lose our heritage, our woven heritage.

Leah: Hopefully things like your book, and the College, will work toward that preservation.

Eveline: I would like to see a Textile Heritage Center at the College, so that people can come and learn! I had a letter once from a woman in the Isle of Lewis, who wanted to come and learn here, because they’ve lost the pattern there, they’re gone. You see, when they started to weave Harris Tweed, it became a big industry, and they used semi-mechanized looms, you know they’re much faster. They got rid of the old wooden looms, and the women stopped weaving the coverlets. Now, over here, it survived, because we were isolated, and every community was its own little Celtic center. The people used to meet in the houses at night, and tell stories in Gaelic, and sing, and step dance. That was the Ceilidh. They might meet in the Halls, too.

Margie: That’s really interesting about Harris tweed, because it’s so popular there now. To think if they could incorporate some of the traditional ways in their modern product, would be so nice. I didn’t know that history about it, it’s really interesting.

Leah: The last question that I wanted to ask is a bit different, it’s about kitchens! The reason why is that the name of the festival is of course is Kitchen Fest. I want to ask every person I talk to about kitchens, and why they are so important in Cape Breton culture.

Eveline: Well in Cape Breton culture the kitchen was the main room in the house. Not only for cooking and eating, but that was the place they had their ceilidhs, most often! The reason is that was the only place that was warm enough. It was the gathering-place.

Leah: A lot of houses would have a sitting room, but was it used much?

Eveline: Well as my mother said, it was used when the minister came. That’s about it! Yes, most people had a parlour – that was the name of it. They would open it up when there was a special guest.

Leah: Bev Brett was saying that she had memories of a couple on the North Shore that she knew, and their kitchen had a little daybed in it. Was that pretty common?

Eveline: Yes. But they weren’t very comfortable for sleeping on! It was made of wood, and curved up at the end. I can’t imagine lying on it! They’d put a blanket on it, very often a woven coverlet. One old coverlet I have is in tatters on one side, because it was on the daybed!

At that point, Eveline took out a suitcase full of old pieces of weaving that she is bringing to the Beaton Institute to be preserved. She showed them to us and told us the history of each piece. If you’re interested in learning more about Cape Breton’s textile and craft history, be sure to come out to meet Eveline when she launches her book on July 3rd at the Gaelic College!


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May 2014

Colaisde na Gàidhlig / The Gaelic College Announces New Director of School Operations, Director of Gaelic

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Positive things continue to happen at Colaisde na Gàidhlig / The Gaelic College, with the hiring of two new employees. Kevin Dugas has joined the staff at the Gaelic College as the new Director of School Operations. A world-class piper and piping instructor, Mr. Dugas is a member of the Colaisde na Gàidhlig piping group, Nuallan, as well as one of Canada’s premier pipe bands, 78th Highlanders Halifax Citadel, based in Halifax, NS. Along with his experience in piping, Mr. Dugas boasts an impressive education, holding a master’s degree in Educational Psychology from McGill University, along with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from St. FX University. As the Director of School Operations, Mr. Dugas will oversee all educational programming and partnerships at Colaisde na Gàidhlig.

Fluent Gaelic-speaker, musician, and dancer Colin MacDonald has been hired as the new Director of Gaelic at the College. Mr. MacDonald continues his work at Colaisde na Gàidhlig, after serving as a Gaelic Cultural Interpreter, instructor, and education assistant throughout his time there. Coming from a family of musicians, MacDonald is a much sought-after piano and guitar accompanist, as well as an accomplished Gaelic singer, and Gaidhlig aig Baile instructor. Mr. MacDonald holds a bachelor’s degree in Community Studies from Cape Breton University, where he majored in Celtic Studies. Following graduation from CBU, MacDonald continued his studies in Gaelic at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, on the Isla of Skye, Scotland. While at the Gaelic-language college, MacDonald focused on the study of Scottish Traditional Music. In addition, Mr. MacDonald has completed the Bun is Bàrr intensive Gaelic-language mentorship program offered through Gaelic Affairs. As the Director of Gaelic, MacDonald will oversee all Gaelic educational programming, including immersion, and on-site language training at the Gaelic College.


May 2014

KitchenFest! Q+A: Andrea Beaton

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We’re getting so excited for KitchenFest!, so we thought we would catch up with some of the folks whose talents will contribute to the big island-wide kitchen ceilidh!

First up in our little Q+A series is Andrea Beaton, who is a fiddler, tune composer and recording artist originally from Mabou. We reached her in her home in Montreal via Skype last week to chat about KitchenFest, about coming home to Cape Breton to play, and about what she’s looking forward to most about the festival. Thanks Andrea, and we can’t wait to see you on the island very soon!

(Check out KitchenFest details on our website here or call us at the College, 902-295-3411.)

Us: KitchenFest! is all about the kitchen, which is important in the Gaelic culture. What are some of your memories of the kitchen? 

Andrea: I have lots of great memories of the kitchen! My grandmother, the only one living while I was a kid, had a great kitchen with a wooden floor, people would dance on that. And I remember that I would sit at the kitchen table when I was learning tunes, I don’t know why, it was just the best fit, to sit at the kitchen table! And food and drink is central to our culture and gatherings, so I guess it made the most sense to have the food and the piano in the same room!

Us: What makes playing in Cape Breton different?

Andrea: It can be scary to play at home! Because the people know, so you can’t get away with anything! But it’s also the best feeling, because the people know. They know what you’re doing, they get it, they love it. They dance the best to it! They feel what you’re feeling.

Us: What are you looking forward to the most, about coming home to play KitchenFest? 

Andrea: I get to play with a nice variety of musicians. You know, I love playing a dance with a piano and guitar, but you don’t always get to hire a piper or a singer to come up on stage with you. That’s going to be great. And I’ll get to see my family and friends, as well, and play with some of them too, with my parents Kinnon and Betty Lou.

Us: What’s your current favourite tune? 

Andrea: There are some days when every tune I hear is my favourite tune! But I really miss playing strathspeys. My favourite tune, I would say, is Christy Campbell. I don’t get much chance to play high bass tunes! Strathspeys are a kind of tune you don’t play as much when you’re playing away, you tend to play more jigs, reels, things that people connect with more, away.

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May 2014

Graphic design and Gaelic make a great combination!

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Hi everyone! I’m Leah Noble, and I’m working with the marvelous Margie Beaton, Director of Marketing and Design, here at the College, for five weeks! I’m a Graphic Design student at the Nova Scotia Community College, and part of NSCC’s two-year diploma in Design is a great five-week work term where students get to work on the job with a working designer. I absolutely love Margie’s work — you see it here on the website! and in any ads and posters, and other promotional materials the College puts out — and so I jumped at the chance to work with her. (Margie in turn is an alumni of the same program that I am taking!)

I grew up in Baddeck, just down the road from the College, and have always known about the Gaelic College’s existence and use as a venue for conferences, weddings, and Celtic Colours, but I was never a student here in any of the Gaelic Arts. Last summer when I came to the campus to take in a production of Bev Brett’s play “Out of Black Cove,” I was blown away to learn the history of how the college was founded, by AWR MacKenzie and his wife Angie, and how it has contributed to the local and global Gaelic culture for seventy-five years. That’s amazing! And the place is still going strong.

Now that I’m spending time here daily, working with Margie behind the scenes of the upcoming KitchenFest! and all the other daily workings of the College, I must say that I’m blown away again by the Gaelic College. There is so much more going on here than I had realized! The staff that I’ve met are all talented, friendly and devoted to their work, which sure makes for a fun and lively workplace. The office where I’m working with Margie is right next to the Tartan Room on the second floor of the admin building, where the kilt makers Ann Cantwell and Jenni MacLean work, and just down the hall from the offices of Rodney MacDonald, CEO, Jennifer Daisley, CFO, Gail Montgomery, the Hospitality Manager, Joyce MacDonald, Gaelic Director, and Colin MacDonald, Gaelic Culture Interpreter, and above the bustling Craft Shop (which I’ll feature that in an upcoming post). The lunch room here is a happening spot! The staff are working on so many different things, from organizing the upcoming KitchenFest!, to planning and registering students for the Summer School, to traveling around working in education and outreach in the Gaelic community, that I’m beginning to think there is no word for “bored” in the Gaelic language.

Although, if I want to know for sure, I’ll just go down the hall and ask Colin or Joyce!

Anyway, thanks for taking a read and you’ll be hearing from me again. Bruidhinnidh sinn ann a’ uine goirid! (We’ll be talking soon!)

Director of Hospitality, Gail Montgomery, busy as a bee!

Director of Hospitality, Gail Montgomery, busy as a bee!

Joyce - the Gaelic Director extraordinaire!

Joyce – the Gaelic Director extraordinaire!


Colin, up front and center

Colin, up front and center

CFO Jennifer, handling the dough!

CFO Jennifer, handling the dough!

Kiltmakers Ann and Jenni with a couple of kilts in the works

Kiltmakers Ann and Jenni with a couple of kilts in the works

The marketing department - cranking it out with Margie

The marketing department – cranking it out with Margie

If you see this guy, you have arrived! Come on in for a visit!

If you see this guy, you have arrived! Come on in for a visit!

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Mar 2014

March Break Youth Session Contest!

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by Margie Beaton, Director of Marketing

Hard to believe we’re already half way through February eh? At the Gaelic College, this time of year finds us all getting really excited for what is just around the corner — the March Break Youth Session! This year, it’s taking place March 7-10 and we’ve got tons of great stuff planned — including a brand new video contest where one chosen youth gets to attend for FREE! Don’t miss out! Contest ends February 28 at 3pm.

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Mar 2014

Note from Board of Governors of Colaisde na Gàidhlig/The Gaelic College

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Note from Board of Governors of Colaisde na Gàidhlig/The Gaelic College

Dear Foundation Members and Stakeholders:

During the past number of months, the Board of Colaisde na Gàidhlig has received considerable input from Foundation members and stakeholders regarding the granting of the prefix, ‘Royal’. The opinions shared are sincerely appreciated and show the tremendous passion Nova Scotia Gaels have for who they are, where they come from, and where they are going.

The Board of Governors is honored to have Colaisde na Gàidhlig recognized by Queen Elizabeth II. International recognition, as such, speaks to the high quality of programs at Colaisde na Gàidhlig and its new direction going forward.  In saying this, after serious consideration, the Board has decided not to proceed with using the ‘Royal’ prefix, as granted, in its day to day operations. We will, however, endeavor to properly acknowledge this honor, in a number of ways, throughout the days ahead.

The College looks forward to increased dialogue with its membership about governance and foundation issues, and with the Gaelic cultural community as Nova Scotia Gaels continue to promote, preserve, and protect their shared Gaelic history, language, and cultural identity.

Le deagh dhùrachd,

Bòrd nan Riaghladairean/Board of Governors
Colaisde na Gàidhlig/The Gaelic College

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