Inverness Miners' Museum
Inverness, Nova Scotia

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The Broken Ground: A History of a Cape Breton Coal Mining Community

 

 

Yesterday I received word that my cousin was coming to settle with his family. This would bring the total number of people in this area to just a little over two hundred. We have become a close-knit unit and our survival and prosperity depends on cooperation and a personal attachment to each other. As each family becomes established it is necessary to consolidate our resources or efforts for the purpose of becoming more proficient. For example, last month old Angus lost his barn in a fire. That was a strange affair. As the flames shot to the heavens one thought of the many months of sweat and toil that went into the structure. Not old Angus. His thought was to pull out a cigar and torch his tobacco. My first reaction was that the man was mad. However, after some thought, I somehow found myself laughing at the episode. Why weep, complain, or give up? Let's put it up, again! Within a matter of 5 days we got together and started the construction. In no time we were observing a very fine structure. Old Angus seems quite pleased. He is a man not to worry about such material setbacks.

The same can be said about other events where we need a community effort. Next week we are going to round up our sheep and make preparation for the annual Fulling Frolic. The Frolic is a combination of hard work, feasting, and social events. It is a gala time. First f should convey some images on the reality of the event. To begin, the men remove the wool from the sheep with large shears. It is then taken by the women and washed. Then it is dried and carded into rolls. These rolls will eventually be made into clothing and bedding for the family. Every home has a spinning wheel and a hand loom, since this method is our only means of providing a sufficiency of clothing. The wife prepared the cloth and after it left the loom it was then time to send out invitations to all the young folk of the settlement. Their attendance resulted in one of the most lively entertainments of the period. This was the Milling Frolic. The willingness to serve, the spirit of fraternity, die joy and satisfaction in helping others fused a love and fellowship among the neighbours.

When everybody appeared on the scene a large table was put together. The healthy and hearty girls sat on either side and made ready for some vigorous exercise. The cloth, washed and soaked, was produced dripping on the long table. The ladies then took the cloth in hand and the process was underway. The whirlwind operation that included wringing, rubbing, manipulating and pounding continued for hours to the sound of Gaelic songs. When a girl was tired, she was replaced by another who was filled with enthusiasm for the task. After this procedure the cloth was about one inch thick and was guaranteed to last indefinitely.

The background scene was filled with the aroma of fresh bread, bonnach, biscuits and meat roasting on the grill. The Fulling Supper was the grandest feast one could imagine. We all sat around the long table and. gazed at the breads, meats, vegetables and fruits in abundance. After giving thanks to the Lord we sat down to eat our fill. Once the supper was over the fiddlers, dancers, singers and storytellers sat around the warm fire and the festivities were in full swing. The fiddles went to the chins, the dancers rushed to the floor and the house trembled. We then listened to the harmony and melodies of the Gaelic songs and paid close attention to our poets and storytellers who were the most unique people in our gathering. Taking a moment to stand back and view the entire scene I was overtaken by the spirit of sharing and closeness of the group. To visualize a small cluster in the comer listening to a story, others dancing, others singing, others talking and some smiling and listening intently, makes a person the happiest on Earth. We have so much to be thankful for because we have each other.

 

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