The Roar of the Bay

The Roar of the Bay
The Roar of the Bay

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Weekend In Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (August 3rd to 5th, 2012)

Not too long ago I had made a list of fossil locations I would like to visit when I felt more knowledgeable and honed some of my field work skills. I had told my friend Matt Stimson (who works in the field of palaeontology) that I thought of heading East in Cape Breton sometime in the Summer. He wanted to tag along as he's familiar with the area and wouldn't mind revisiting some of the great locales around Sydney.

We decided that we'd spend 3 days in Nova Scotia. From Moncton (New Brunswick) to Sydney (Nova Scotia) is about a 5 hour drive one way. On our way to Cape Breton on Friday, we planned to take a little detour to Parrsboro and stop by to see Tim Feydak at Wasson Bluff.

As I've mentioned in the past, Wasson Bluff has in its cliffs some of Canada's oldest dinosaurs, prosauropods. Many important scientific contributions were made in this small corner of the world. Tim has taken up the torch and continues the tradition by laboring under the shadow of these red sandstone Triassic cliffs.

- Day 1

Matt Stimson (left) and Tim Feydak (center)

We swung by and Tim was already at the location working at it. He's been sifting through material for bone fragments from a section of the cliff that was quickly eroding. Shortly after meeting Tim, we were joined by our friend Ken Adams, curator of the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, and some of its young staff.

Some of the crew collecting material from target area

Bone in sandstone

The tide was coming in, so we decided to give Tim a hand sifting through the material that he had collected. Not only is there bone material from these primitive dinosaurs, but those of ancient reptiles such as crocodiles. Some layers of the cliffs contain bones and teeth of fish such as primitive sharks. We've made a few finds for the short time we were there. These will be brought back to the museum lab for cleaning and prep work.

**NOTE** In Nova Scotia, it is illegal to collect fossils or archaeological artifacts without a Heritage Permit or proper authorization of any kind.  The collecting laws have been modified and interpretation is lost along the lines, but consensus says that as far as fossils go, they all belong to the province and shouldn't be disturbed.  I have a beef with that, but that's for another story.

The "Two Brothers" in the background, basalt islands

One of the teeth found that day

After a few hours, we headed out for a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants before hitting the road. The plan was to at least take the 104 East towards Port Hawkesbury, and once crossing the Canso Causeway, to find a camping close to Sydney.

Sydney Coal Fields (area of interest in red)

We drove for a few hours and we came across the Ben Eoin Beach Resort and Camping Grounds, on the shores of Bras d'Or Lake. The entrance had areas where you could pitch your tent, picnic tables, and spots for starting your campfire. Closer to the lake was a long stretch of land where you could park your camper, with a cabin where you could take your shower. Price was reasonable, and the scenery was beautiful! We threw our tents out and settled for the night.

- Day 2

We woke up as the Sun came up, grabbed a bite to eat, and planned our day. There was plenty of time before the tides were low enough to hit our fossil sites in the Sydney area, so Matt suggested we check a quarry before heading to town.

Matt getting ready

This abandoned quarry bears a regional treasure: Cape Breton rubies! This granite-type hard igneous has rubies which the quality is all over the spectrum. We took our tools and proceeded up the quarry, whacking pieces of this creamy colored ruby gemstone. I've seen one cut before, but its pretty cool to actually get them from the source. Along with the rubies, I also got my hands on some nice quartz crystals from a big vein jutting out vertically from the quarry.

Some collected samples

Ruby in the rough =)

Taking a break, watching grasshoppers doing their business

Satisfied with our haul of pretty rocks, we hopped back in the car and headed towards Sydney.

Sydney region's areas of interest: 1- Cranberry Point; 
2- Point Aconi; 3- Donkin Peninsula

First order of business as soon as we rolled in to town was to grab some early dinner. There was still some time before the tides were down, so Matt suggested we go visit the Fossil Center in Sydney Mines.

Displays at the Cape Breton Fossil Center, Sydney Mines

It was nice to swing by the center to check the type of fossils first hand found in the region. Most of the fossils they have at the center are plants, but man are they nice. The specimens they have are numerous, and in well built displays. We also took a moment to head over their other museum that displayed Sydney's mining past.

Megaphyton (tree fern) showing frond scars (elongated oval features)

After our visit, we made our way towards Cranberry Point in the Sydney Mines area, stopping at a few places along the way. Many of the coast of the area is elevated, meaning that there are many cliff face to explore, exposing coal seams and various fossils.

Fossilized tree

This area that the greater Sydney area is located in is described of being part of the Sydney Coal Fields. This section of the island is dominated by Carboniferous Period topography (Nova Scotia Geological Map), contributing to Sydney's rich coal industry. The plants found in these shale are like no other. These articulated plants have been the subject of study since the mid-1860s. Even though there is a rich catalog of fossils, there are still big gaps in the record and much more studying to be done. We were hoping that our weekend would yield more secrets to us.


First location on our list was Cranberry Point, North of Sydney Mines. We had some friends that were at this location recently and confirmed that there were upright trees, mostly bigger than the ones you'd usually see at Joggins, the world famous UNESCO site. Matt had been here in the past, so he knew which roads to take in this maze of houses and cottages.

We made our way down Peck Street and Matt was surprised that the road that led to the Point had a brand new house built in its way. We parked the car and walked up to where the old road was and met with the very nice lady that owns the new home. She was very interested by our work and would love for us to drop by after our trek and share what we found.

Remains of World War II's past

Where Peck Street ends, there's an old dirt road that leads to an old WWII era building, or what's left of it. It sits on a piece of the cliff that is slowly becoming an island. The trail that used to connect the mainland and this quasi-island has eroded away. The only thing that's left is a sheer fall, with a cable dangling down for beach access. That was our way down.

Rope access

After taking a moment to try to sum up some courage to go down the cable (stupid fear of heights), we made it down to the beach and proceeded to walk North and around Cranberry Point.

Cranberry Point

The strata of these cliffs, as of many of the coast in this area, have a small angle, making identification of specific layers traceable for long distances. Coal seams were numerous and shale layers very thick at some spots. Getting closer to the North-East section of the point, we could start seeing Carboniferous flora such as calamites and trees in situ, in their growth positions.

Calamites in growth position, in situ

The trees we found in situ were of different conditions, and some of them subject to a future paper. Amongst these big trees were all sorts of foliage of different state. For some reason I didn't take any photos of the ferns we found. Bleh! I'll be posting about another fossil site that has comparable articulated ferns, in Clifton, New Brunswick. What's important to notice is that some of the trees we've inspected showed traces of sooth, a sign of forest fires that would have created victims.

Matt inspecting the base of a tree (tree root left of Matt)

Impression on coal residue

Annularia and/or Asterophylites (extention segments of calamites)

Matt standing on top of a tree segment. Where did it come from?

Possibly from this one! How big and tall you think this tree is?

Tree segments on the beach, possibly from the same specimen

When we were at the Fossil Center earlier in the day, we had a conversation with the staff. One thing we noticed was the lack of vertebrate fossils, or even trackways. I've read that back in the 1950s that vertebrate fossils had be found, even in trees, and several trackways. Guess the surprise I had when I came upon these!

Tetrapod trackways!

After a couple of hours, we wrapped up and picked up our gear. Our next stop on our list is Point Aconi, located a bit North West of Sydney Mines. Some of the best plant fossils came from this area. Folks at the Fossil Center in Sydney Mines occasionally bring people to this place. The coal seams are thick, but care should be taken when approaching the cliffs as shale and mud stone weathers away and leave these big chunks of coal ready to come crashing down.

Point Aconi

We went down the beach and before turning the corner to reach the point, we came across some fossil trees, matching some of the specimens found at Cranberry Point. We took some data for future reference and carried on.

There was at one point some very nice plant fossils, but they've pretty much all been smashes to bits. We did find some nice fragments and nice articulated ferns, but not what I was expecting.  I for some reason forgot to take pics of them, which was the purpose of me bringing my damn camera!

Coal breaking away from the cliffs

Looking towards the Atlantic Ocean

After a while we decided to call it quits for the day and head back to Sydney. We met up with one of Matt's friend and had supper in town. We were invited to crash and tent at another of his friend's grandparents house in the area. We arrived at the house and set our tents and had a nice quick chat with Kendra and her folks.

- Day 3

Sunday was our last day in Cape Breton. We had decided that we'd do a little bit of free-styling around the Donkin Peninsula, and bring our friend Kendra along. Her family was heading back home, and proposed to drop her off at her parent's house on our way back.

We spent the whole late morning and early afternoon exploring Cape Breton's Eastern shore. We made our way to Glace Bay for lunch within that drive, but I have a hard time to remember if we stopped in Donkin before or after.

Heading towards the cliffs along the Donkin Peninsula

This freestylin' drive paid off as we came upon a very nice spot with beautiful plant material, still in large pieces. The loose material yielded beautiful specimens. For some reason I didn't take any photo, go figure! This stop alone made the whole weekend worthwhile. So many various ferns, plants, fronds, annularia, and other that just slips my mind.

Kendra heading to the sweet spot

We headed back towards civilization and snooped around the shorelines of various towns in the area. We made a few more stops before making the decision to call it a successful trip and head back home.

Coastal fortifications during the threat of WWII

It was still fairly early in the afternoon and we opted to take the long way home by going around Bras d'Or Lake. We drove along beautiful vistas and when we reached Iona, we took the ferry across to get to the other side. On our drive back we stopped to drop Kendra at her folks' place in the Antigonish area (can't remember precisely where she lives) and headed back home.

Cape Breton was always a place I wanted to visit and I don't know why I waited this long to do so. Maybe it just took me this long so that when I finally went, it made me appreciate the places we went, the people we met, and the gorgeous scenery this beautiful part of the province had to offer. I'm already planning another trip to this Celtic getaway for next year and I'll remind myself to take some pics of the plants next time.

Till next time, cheers!

1 comment:

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