Are you visiting the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton? Have a little weakness for Folk-Art? Ahaaah! you’re in for such a fabulous art-treat! In fact, with so many talented artists and artisans exhibiting astonishing craftsmanship along Cape Breton’s famous scenic route, one might well wonder if a super artsy-crafty potion fell into the waters of the Cabot Trail! Alternatively, if Folk-Art hasn’t caught your heart yet, the Cabot Trail might well change your mind.
Art gallery chasing along the Cabot Trail is a fantastic adventure to consider whether you're on a family trip, a romantic getaway, a hiker’s tour, a cyclists’ tour, whether its your first time exploring Cape Breton or your 10000th visit! There are art studios and galleries of all sorts, all with their own little treasures to discover. Excited? Ha! Rightfully so - let’s go!
As you draw nearer to the Acadian region of Inverness County (Chéticamp, Grand-Étang, Saint-Joseph-du-Moine and Margaree) artistic talent just seems to abound all the more!
Wondering where to start?
Some helpful lists of the Cabot Trail's best art stops have been compiled by:
- Tourism Nova Scotia: www.novascotia.com/trip-ideas/stories/explore-cabot-trail-artisans-loop
- Cape Breton Island Craft Capital: capebretoncraft.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Artisan-Trail-Map-2022-Web.pdf
While those listed are the main art studios and attractions, our local’s secret to you is to keep your eyes peeled: new or smaller gift shop / art studios gems can be found along the way... and you'll find some of these smaller art studios listed here!
One of Acadie’s favourite art studio gems, La Brise Stained Glass studio in Chéticamp is many a local’s “go-to” art and gift shop stop: if you are looking for a delightfully unique locally handmade gift to bring back to colourfully illuminate in your home, or for someone very special to you, this delightful little artisan gem is the place for you! www.labrisestainedglass.com/gallery/
Cheeky and giggle-kindling art sculptures by William Roach are a must-see, regardless of whether you’re a folk-art aficionado or not!
In fact, over the years, the Cabot Trail has become a regular stop for locals and visitors from afar who have been introduced to his work.
Picture credit Tourism Nova Scotia
You’ll find William Roach's amusing sculptures (along with several other artists and artisans) at Thor and Freya’s Art Gallery, in Chéticamp https://www.freyaandthor.ca
Treat yourself to a delightful cup of tea or coffee (or expresso!), homemade pastries, and feast your eyes on the amazingly beautiful crafts collection: some are from the Cabot Trail shores, some are from the Nova-Scotian province and others are from Canada at large, but always tastefully and carefully hand-picked!
Also located in Chéticamp, Flora’s Gift shop is a souvenir beacon of sorts in Cape Breton’s Acadian region! Starting with her very own hooked rugs in the 1950s, Flora Boudreau gradually extended her shop to include other arts and crafts from the Cabot Trail. With a large selection of beautiful decorations and souvenirs from Cape-Breton and from all across Canada to browse and choose from, you’re sure to find some beautiful gifts to bring home. Your little ones will be enchanted to discover that you can grab an ice-cream at the parlour immediately next to the gift shop! http://floras.com. Photo credit: Flora's Gift shop.
For those who are archaeologists at heart, the history-infused art at Saint Pierre’s Church, in Chéticamp - which features an impressively decorated chancel - will bring visitors an unexpected “WOW moment”. If you’ve had a glimpse of the church itself from the outside, you’ll already know that it is a particularly humbling edifice! Inside is just as astonishing, feel welcome to step inside if you happen to pass by and find that the door is open!
Did you know that Chéticamp is the world’s hooked rug capital? And for good reason! If you haven't yet treated your eyes to this local stunning folk-art tradition, set some time aside to do so!
By the way, we highly recommend to visit the work of Elizabeth LeFort’s talent featured at the Trois Pignons Cultural Centre in Chéticamp https://www.lestroispignons.com/museum-gallery/!
Hooked rugs are confectionned by pulling wool (or rags) through the holes of a sturdy and stretched-tight burlap with a hook. Starting back roughly in the 1800s, the rugs had a purely functional use: keeping one’s feet warm during those cold, cold Cape Breton winters! As the women in Chéticamp started copying designs on cards and even art pieces, the rugs became more complex. With increasingly intricate detail, the rugs caught the eye of merchants, who would trade them for groceries and various goods. Over time, the “niche” of rug hooking turned into the artistic tradition that we know today. With this hindsight, you’ll have a whole other appreciation of the impressively detailed work displayed at the Trois Pignons Culture Centre.
Have fun testing your knowledge during your visit: try recognising the famous portraits made by LeFort (the rugs are so well done that it’s quite easy!). You’ll enjoy that humbling feeling as you admire some of the other astonishing works by LeFort: it’s no wonder she was commissioned for work from around the world, including the Vatican! Photo Credit: Les Trois Pignons Cultural Centre.
A playfully punned “Proud to be Lola’s Hookers” is your next rug hooking stop to explore in Chéticamp, showcasing all sorts of today's local hooked-rug talent. You’ll find rugs literally of all sizes, from real sized rugs to chair rugs and delightful coaster-sized rugs.
Happy owners know that these always make wonderful art pieces and conversation-starters when you have guests (as well as perfect wedding or special life-event celebration favours), but above all they’re authentically unique Cape Breton souvenirs! The beauty of it all is that your purchase(s) here not only contribute(s) to keeping this beautiful tradition alive, it also genuinely puts food on the table for the talented artisans and their families living here! Photo Credit: Destination Cape Breton
For some authentically local Cabot Trail art and crafts, you’ll definitely want to stop at the amusingly whimsical Mi-Carême Centre, in Grand-Étang! https://www.micareme.com The Centre is both an art gallery and an Interpretive Centre dedicated to one of Acadie’s most beloved traditions: Mi-Carême (Mid-Lent). Although it has now lost its religious connotation, Mi-Carême is still celebrated every winter with tremendous excitement! Revelers carefully plan ahead several costumes and masks, all in the purpose of hiding their identity and playfully challenging others to recognise them! This incidentally explains the focus on handmade and hand painted masks at the Mi-Carême Centre!
With a dedication to Acadian tradition and heritage, everything in the Centre’s artisanal boutique gift-shop is 100% handmade locally, if not handmade in the art studio! Featured artists and artisans include Michel J.S. Soucy, Isabelle and Betty Ann Cormier, Art Marée Haute, Hollow By the Sea and more! Get an artsy “sneak-peak” of the work showcased at the Mi-Carême Centre here (https://www.micareme.com/meet-the-artists-and-artisans) and on the Centre’s online Artisanal Boutique!
Another proud feature of the Mi-Carême Centre is their artist in residence, none other than Naive-Art and Folk Artist Diane Bourgeois ! Her brightly coloured artwork has captured the hearts of the Acadian community and beyond. You could often glimpse her work at art festivals throughout Nova-Scotia. Read more about Diane Bourgeois here: https://www.micareme.com/post/celebrating-diane-bourgeois
Diane Bourgeois is involved in everything “art” at the Mi-Carême Centre. Her favourite moment is to see visitors, convinced that they have no artistic talent, discover it while she shares her secrets during the Centre’s hands-on cultural events: OceanFront Creation (https://www.micareme.com/event-details/oceanfront-creations-2022-07-06-10-00-1) and Mi-Carême Masks workshops (https://www.micareme.com/event-details/masks-workshop-2022-07-06-13-00-1)! Above all Diane just loves to share fun and creativity, no matter how artsy-inclined you are. Treat yourself to learning Acadian art heritage and bringing home THE most authentically Cape Breton souvenir ever, made by you!
With its wholehearted commitment to sharing joyful Acadian culture and traditions with as many as possible, the Centre delights its Acadian communities year-round with all sorts of events, including hosting the Mi-Carême celebrations each winter. The Centre swings into its full-on interpretive activity during the summer season, a whimsically fun-filled time spanning from Mid-June to mid-October!
Art gallery chasing gets all the more interesting when you unexpectedly discover little studios as you're exploring the Cabot Trail.
One of such art galleries is Michel-Williatte-Battet’s La Bella Mona Lisa in Saint Joseph Du Moine. As soon as you catch sight of that creative, artsy road sign, you know that you’re in for a delightfully fun treat: some of the area’s most original and amusing art is just waiting for you to lay your eyes upon, including some very funny cow clocks! Need we say more? It’s a local must-see! We recommended to call in ahead of time to check for open hours. Photo Credit: Trip Advisor.
If you love wood crafts (or know someone who does), you’ll love Larch Wood Entreprises, cutting boards https://www.larchwoodcanada.com! With locally-crafted wooden cutting boards of all sizes and all sorts of rich and intricate patterns, take your next charcuterie board or cheese treat board to an entirely other stunning level.
These cutting boards incidentally make useful and particularly durable gifts too! The conveniently located small outlet is in Margaree Harbour, close to the Margaree bridge. Photo Credit: Larch Wood Canada
“Myles from nowhere” is a wonderfully inspiring stop to explore in Margaree Forks. This artsy-antique store is packed with all sorts of heartwarming treasures from past times, inevitably inviting you for a fun travel through time!
Myles, the owner, loves meeting the people who explore his Antique store. You can always expect a warm welcome and friendly chat. Being very knowledgeable about the antiques displayed, Myles will be able to tell you the story behind every single trinket, commodity, and artifact! Photo Credit: Craig Norton Photography
Don’t miss out on a visit to Cape Breton Clay’s art studio in Margaree Valley: https://www.capebretonclay.com
The work of Bell Fraser is well worth the visit: her designs all have a wonderfully unique signature, which means they stand the test of time while the clay pieces are handmade and durable (as confirmed by one particularly clumsy, but incidentally very happy owner)!
Photo credit: Cape Breton Clay.
Since you’re in Margaree Valley, you’re already on course for a delightful stop at Two Macs Art Gallery in North East Margaree: a cute and cozy art gift shop showcasing all sorts of lovely local treasures made by artists and artisans in the area! With a wide hand-selected choice of beautiful items just waiting to capture your heart: it’s a great artsy stop for special souvenirs to bring home from a wonderful trip to Cape Breton!
Photo Credit: Two Macs Gallery.
One really delightful artsy-crafty stop with a more comfy-cozy fabric art inspiration is Margaree Harbour Craft and Gift Shop!
Finding gifts and souvenir ideas are a breeze at this lovely Margaree Harbour delight: what better souvenir to remember wonderful Cape Breton by than cozy-cute items like warm mittens, socks, hats, blankets?
Photo Credit: Margaree Harbour Craft and Gift Shop.
Last, but most definitely a local favourite, PolyCarpe Glass Studio is a well-known "go-to" art gem if you're looking for a beautiful art treat for yourself or for someone special!
This little artisan's stop in Margaree Forks features all sorts of lovingly handmade stained glass designs, which are certain to inspire and delight.
Placed in front of a window the light catches on the glass, and casts bursts of colour on your walls. A purely magical way to enjoy a souvenir from a wonderful place like Cape Breton Island!
Photo Credit: PolyCarpe Glass Studio.