by Sheila Stewart

Celtic Colours is a Festival that lasts, by some definitions, “10 days and 9 nights without sleep”.  It takes place in October in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.  From just before our Canadian Thanksgiving and through the entire following week, there are  almost 50 concerts and more than 250 Cultural Events in communities throughout the Island – workshops and dances, suppers and hikes, and voices speaking and singing in Gaelic , French and English. Many people from far and wide come for the whole Festival; we are not that lucky – we have only 3 days but we make the most of it!

It is a glorious time of year – the Fall of the year with the maple trees turning to rich scarlet and gleaming orange, the birches and poplars to gold and bronze, and all highlighted by the olive green, blue green and forest green of the spruce, pine and fir trees.  My fingers itch to capture this magnificent 

We journey up the western side of Cape Breton Island – and -Oh! – as we turn onto the road wending its way along the coast, the smell of the salt air assaults the air passageways and makes one think of whale watching and mussel farming.  How does one capture the salty tang of the sea air?  Kreinik braid? Arctic 

Rays? Definitely something sparkly! 

We walk along the boardwalk and then the beach at Inverness and Port Hood – the wind warm on our faces and the sand soft and mushy beneath our feet.  Off to the side we see cranberry bogs and people with pails on their way to gather them.  Um-m-m! The warmth of the wind, the softness of the sand, the crispness of the cranberries – all remind me of warm gold floss and honey-coloured silk thread, and 

We travel to Scotsville to the Scottsville School of Crafts where we join a group hike along the Southwest Margaree River, led by a guide dressed in kilt and tam.  He stops every now and then to sing a song in Gaelic - the milling song makes one think of the rhythm of “place-the-needle, pull-the-needle” that we stitchers have perfected over time.  It is like a piece of bargello, the long stitches reaching high and then becoming shorter to make an intricate, unique, colourful pattern.

A trip to Cape Breton would not be complete without tea and oatcakes.  In the midst of the John Allan Cameron Song Session, the music stops and we are treated to tea and an abundance of baked treats.  The Storytelling Session at the Chestico Museum features Tasty Tales which include stories of butter and cheese making, butchering and meat preserving,  and berry picking and jams of many kinds, followed by sampling of the “real butter”, blood pudding, and biscuits and jam.  In the evening we go to the concert Close to the Floor – a feast of toe-tapping music, Gaelic singing and young and old dancing traditional reels and jigs – and, in the middle a break for – you guessed it! – tea and treats!  One will never go hungry!  The sights, tastes, smells and sounds are a constant inspiration.  The rich colours, the variety of tastes, the smell of brewing tea and fresh-baked bread, the sound of the dancers’ feet on the floor and the strange Gaelic tunes weave together into a magnificent tapestry of succulent textures and extravagant hues.

Celtic Colours is a wonderful opportunity to see where the road will lead you, what is around the next bend, and what story you will find to tell.  Perhaps you will find yourself drawn to explore this little pocket of spectacular scenery, skirl of bagpipes, mouth-watering oatcakes and biscuits, salty ocean air, and soft sand bordered by smooth boardwalks.  It is indeed a feast for the senses!

“Look at the colour of those Trees!”

“Just smell the salt air!”

“Oh, the sand on my feet feels so-o-o good!”

“Aren’t these oatcakes de-e-e-licious?!  And REAL butter too!”

“Listen to those fiddles and bagpipes!”


  1. I would love to do this. How do I get more information on it for next year?

  2. You have definitely succeeded in bringing this Festival to life and have put attending it onto my "bucket list"! Thank you for sharing your inspiring description of it all.


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The Embroiderers' Association of Canada (EAC) is a national non-profit educational organization whose purpose is to have a fellowship of persons who enjoy needlework and wish to learn and share their knowledge; and thereby to work towards maintaining higher standards of design, colour and workmanship.

Our aim is to preserve traditional techniques and promote new challenges in the Art of Embroidery through education and networking.

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