Explore the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in beautiful Baddeck in Nova Scotia, Canada’s Ocean Playground

by | Jul 29, 2016 | Canada, Nova Scotia | 17 comments

Alexander Graham Bell fell in love with Baddeck when he first saw it.

You will too!

Baddeck is a picturesque village on the shores of the Bras d’O Lake on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. This deep inland lake is constantly refreshed by salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. It is surrounded by steep emerald hills and is the gateway to the magnificent Cabot Trail that winds along the coast of the Cape Breton Highlands.

The area was designated as the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2011.

Cape Breton tourism has surged in popularity this summer because of a website set up by a local radio host encouraging Americans to move to Cape Breton if Donald Trump wins. It cost him $28 to set up the site. It went viral. More than a million people from around the world have visited the site.

The Huffington Post says:

Cape Breton ‘Trump Bump’ Causes Overwhelming Number Of Tourism Inquiries

The “Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins” site went viral and set off an international media frenzy


President Barack Obama gave the island a shout-out during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s White House state dinner in March.

Alexander Graham Bell loved Baddeck because of its fresh air and moderate temperatures. It reminded him of his native Scotland where he grew up. His family emigrated to Canada when Bell was 23 after the tragic deaths of Bell’s two brothers from tuberculosis. Bell moved to Boston to be a professor of elocution at Boston University. He also began work as a private tutor for the deaf. Helen Keller was one of his most famous pupils. He also tutored 15-year-old Mabel Hubbard.

Bell gave up his teaching position to devote all his energies to the development of the telephone. In a race to the patent office, Bell registered a patent the very morning that Elisha Gray filed a caveat that he had invented a telephone. After protracted litigation, Bell prevailed.

The Bell Telephone Company was created and Bell became immensely wealthy. He married Mabel and gave her most of his shares in the new company. Bell always kept of photograph of Mabel on his desk. On the back, he wrote

The girl for whom the telephone was invented



The Bell family moved to Washington but Bell hated the heat and humidity. They went on a summer vacation to Cape Breton. Bell wanted to visit Baddeck because of a line in a book that said:

Bras d’Or Lake is the most beautiful saltwater lake I have ever seen. Here was an enchanting vision.

Bell and Mabel fell in love with Baddeck. Bell wrote about his discovery of Baddeck and Bras d’Or Lake:

We spent several summers seeking a place of salt water, mountains and valleys and a cool climate, where we can put our little girls in trousers and live a simple, free and unconventional life. We found it at last.

They bought land and built a large house overlooking Bras d’Or Lake. Bell christened the estate Beinn Bhreagh in honour of his ancestral Scottish highlands. Beinn Bhreagh is Gaelic for beautiful mountain. Over the next 35 years, Beinn Bhreagh became more than a summer home and the Bell family spent most of their time in Baddeck.

Bell built extensive research labs in Baddeck to continue his experiments and innovations with sound, air and water.

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

The Bell descendants wanted the world to know that Alexander Graham Bell did so much more after inventing the telephone. They donated many original artifacts for the creation of a museum in Baddeck, overlooking Bell’s beloved Bras d’Or Lake.

It is a delightful museum, operated by Parks Canada. I highly recommend that you take a guided tour when you visit the museum. It makes it so much easier to appreciate the great contributions that Bell made to science and industry. It cost an extra $3.90 to take the tour.

Do you remember this type of phone?

The main focus of the museum is Bell’s innovations and inventions, other than the telephone. There is a small area dedicated to his most famous invention.

This black telephone is the kind we had when I was a kid. However, there was no rotary dial on our phone. To make a call, we picked up the receiver and an operator would come on the line and ask what number we wanted to call. I still remember my friend’s number: 980 ring 2

Have you ever used a phone like this?

This is the kind of phone  that was in my grandparents’ house. We thought that it looked very old fashioned.

My grandparents had a party-line, where the same telephone number was shared by three or four households. We always had great fun picking up the receiver and listening in on someone else’s conversation. Our giggles always gave us away.

In 1880, Bell patented the photophone for wireless communication using light beams. He said:

I have heard a ray of sunlight laugh and cough and sing

No one could understand Bell’s fascination with sunlight for wireless communication. His contraption did not work on a cloudy day or at night. Bell knew the importance of his invention. He said:

The photophone is the greatest invention I have ever made, greater than the telephone.

A hundred years later, Bell’s invention is recognized as the precursor to fibre-optics.

Bell invented tetrahedron construction for passenger kites

Bell used Bras d’Or Lake for his experiments with flight. He built many kites, using a tetrahedron as the basic structure. He found that the tetrahedron was the best design for his kites because it was light and strong.

Bell covered his kites in red silk so that they would stand out against the blue sky and the green hills surrounding Bras d’Or Lake.

Helen Keller visited Bell in Baddeck and flew kites with him. Many of his kites are on display in the Baddeck Museum.

The architectural style of the museum is based on the tetrahedron.

Bell also used Bras d’Or Lake to experiment with speed boats. In 1919, his boat set the world’s speed record. His boat was abandoned for decades on the shores of Bras d’Or Lake. It became a hangout spot for teenagers until its value was recognized and it was moved to the Baddeck Museum.

This is an exact replica of the Silver Dart, except with brakes!

Bell expanded from building passenger kites to building airplanes. His Silver Dart flew over Bras d’Or Lake in the first powered flight in Canada and the first passenger flight in Canada.

A replica of the Silver Dart was built to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of that first flight. It was exhibited all across Canada before it flew to Baddeck to replicate the first flight over the Bras d’Or Lake. The plane is now on permanent display in the museum. A hole had to be cut in the wall of the museum to get the plane inside.


Would you fly a flying bicycle?

Nat Geo

Baddeck is the centre of the universe in National Geographic magazine

Bell was fascinated with geography. Bell co-founded the National Geographic Society. His father-in-law was the first president of the National Geographic magazine. The magazine was struggling with dwindling membership when Bell took over as the second president. He rebranded the magazine with a new slogan:

The World And All That Is In It

He understood the power of photographs to tell a story. Exceptional photographs have become the magazine’s trademark. Bell’s legacy with National Geographic continued when his son-in-law became the third president.

Baddeck is prominently pinpointed in all world maps in National Geographic

In 2003, National Geographic Traveler ranked Cape Breton Island its second worldwide destination for sustainable tourism, just behind the Norwegian fjords. The magazine cited Bras d’Or Lake as a major influence on this designation.

The Bras d’Or Lakes are my favorite landscape on planet Earth. Nestled into the rolling hills of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, their pristine tidal waters reflect centuries of Scottish culture, music, and friendly people.
Gilbert M. Grosvenor, Chairman of the Board, National Geographic Society

Every telephone in North America went silent when Bell was buried

Bell died at Beinn Bhreagh at the age of 75. His coffin was built from Beinn Bhreagh pine. It was lined with the same red silk used in his tetrahedral kites.

At the end of his funeral, every telephone in North America went silent for one minute.

Bell was buried on the top of Beinn Bhreagh mountain, under a tetrahedral tower, overlooking his beloved Bras d’Or Lake. Mabel died six months later and is buried by his side.

The Beinn Bhreagh estate is still owned and used by the Bell descendants and is not open to the public. Sadly I was not invited to spend a wonderful summer afternoon at their cottage, so this photo is from wikipedia.


One of the great benefits of having a blog is connecting with new people. Don Parrish read my blog. He is one of the world’s top travellers. His visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum held special meaning because his 30-year career was with Bell Laboratories.

Don received permission from Bell’s great-grandson to visit the Beinn Bhreagh estate. His blog about his visit has wonderful photos: http://www.donparrish.com/BellEstate.html

Don also wrote a tribute to Bell: http://www.donparrish.com/EssayBell.html

Don’s website is packed with information on any place in the world that you would like to visit. In particular, he has lots of information on World Heritage Sites:

I also share your enthusiasm for the Unesco World Heritage Sites. I created a planning page which I’m sure you will enjoy.

I update it every year when Unesco adds another 20 to 25 sites.

Here is the page:


Another Addendum: Here is Your Chance to Get Involved in World Heritage Sites in Canada!!!

See this announcement by the Canadian Government:

Ottawa asks Canadians to nominate heritage sites for UNESCO status

The list of special places in the running to be official World Heritage Sites is being updated ahead of the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.


GRAND PRE, N.S.—For the first time in more than a decade, Ottawa is asking Canadians to nominate national gems as candidates for UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


Environment Minister Catherine McKenna made the announcement Monday in Grand Pre, N.S., home to one of Canada’s 18 UNESCO sites out of more than 1,000 worldwide.


McKenna invited Canadians to suggest places of cultural, historic and natural significance for Canada’s list of nominees to be considered for world heritage status by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture.


She said the additions to the nomination list, last updated in 2004, will be revealed in 2017 in honour of the 150th anniversary of Confederation.


The minister is putting together a committee of heritage experts, including indigenous representatives, to review submissions for Canada’s next world heritage bid.


Five of the 11 sites on Canada’s current nomination list have been inscribed as world heritage sites —most recently Mistaken Point, N.L., which was recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Turkey last month.


UNESCO World Heritage Sites are places of cultural or natural significance that members of the global community have committed to preserve for future generations, sometimes through financial assistance or expert advice.


The Canadian Press: Monday, August 8, 2016

I enjoyed a lovely day exploring Baddeck and the Bell museum.

I drove from Antigonish, my hometown about an hour and a half from Baddeck.


When I filled up just outside Baddeck, I couldn’t believe that there is still a full-service gas station in Canada

Yellow Forest in Arisaig Provincial Park

I was inspired by my trip to Baddeck to explore areas around Antigonish.

On a beautiful hot afternoon, we hiked through all the wooded trails in Arisaig Provincial Park.

We followed the boardwalk to a waterfall that spills into a pool at the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.

This is the view from Steinhart Distillery

We stopped for a tour of the new Steinhart distillery with a fabulous ocean view.

We enjoyed samples of their flavoured gins and vodkas.

We paid an impromptu visit to a well-known Nova Scotia artist, Anna Syperek. She showed us the piece she is working on now in her studio that overlooks the ocean.

I wish this photo could transmit scent. Then you would know that when I took this photo, the air hummed with the scent of warm grass, salty ocean breezes, sweet clover and wild roses.

This is where I learned how to swim

We stopped for a swim at the natural swimming hole at Malignant Cove. The shallow river flows over a small waterfall into a deep pool before continuing its gentle flow into the ocean. There are rocks just under the falls where you can sit and let the water flow over you.

I must have jumped off those rocks a thousand times when I was a kid but I never did a flip like this guy. I was happy to see that the swimming hole is as much fun today as when I was a kid.

Frenchman’s Barn is a landmark in Arisaig

Of course, a trip to Antigonish would not be complete without a hike up to the top of Frenchman’s Barn, a well-known local landmark with sweeping vistas of the shoreline.

Geologists love exploring the rocks around Frenchman’s Barn because it is one of the few places in the world where the rocks on the top are older than the rocks below.

There is also a geocache hidden in the dense trees somewhere near the top of the rock.


I love exploring Frenchman’s Barn because I own it.

This is my rock.



As the sun was setting, it was time to say farewell to Nova Scotia.

I am writing these last few words on the plane back to Toronto.

Please return next week as we return to Europe and start our tour of Venice, Florence and Rome


Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at BoomerVoice.ca
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray

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