The Roar of the Bay

The Roar of the Bay
The Roar of the Bay

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cape Breton (Sydney Mines, Donkin - July 2013)

I had planned to head back to Cape Breton in the Summer of 2013. I set aside a few days during my first week of vacation in July to head back over there. I decided to go during the week, leaving on a Tuesday to avoid the weekend touristic rush. My plans were to spend some time looking at rock, but to also do the touristy thing and visit some of the local interests, such as the French Fortress of Louisbourg.

From Moncton to Sydney is a bit over 5 hours of driving by car. After a few stops along the way, I arrived at the hotel at about mid afternoon. I booked my room that I had reserved in advance, dropped my stuff, and jetted out to the beach for a little afternoon stroll to check out some rocks before turning in for the night.

Point Aconi, Cape Breton

I headed out to a spot I had already gone last year to check for rocks. Point Aconi is well known for its Carboniferous fossils, having coal seams cross that area, leading to economy based on that product, with several mines tapping throughout an extensive period of time.

Going down the beach was tricky as you had to walk over thick layers of smelly, rotting seaweed. Once on the sand, the rest of the walk was practically easy. When I reached the point, the beach was littered with shale fragments all over the place. There weren't many fragments larger than the size of my hand.

Fossil bearing shale

The shale that comes out of these cliffs are rich in fossils. There's barely any piece of rock that you would grab that didn't have something on it. The tides surely did some good work, grinding these rocks to tiny bits. Still, there was some pretty ones, albeit not numerous.


After spending some time picking at rocks, I headed back to town for supper and to relax a bit. The city of Sydney is nice, especially with all the beaches and rocks surrounding it. I called it the day and turned in early.

The next morning I took a drive to Sydney Mines, north of Sydney, to check out the Cape Breton Fossil Museum where I met Stuart and Jim, the gentlemen responsible for this beautiful interpretation center. We had a good chat on everything related to rocks and Cape Breton, and happily went about checking their fossils on display. The quality of their collection is quite good and a must for anybody visiting Cape Breton. After my stroll in the center, I said my goodbyes and proceeded south towards Louisbourg.

Fort Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Fort Louisbourg is a reconstruction of the original French port city that stood at that exact location in the early 1700s for France to have a firm foothold on the New World. Louisbourg was destroyed by the British in the 1760s, but not ending the French presence, still spread over the new colonies of the Atlantic. The fort was rebuilt after the Second World War over a period of years, and is now one of the most important reconstructed sites in North America.



Getting to the park is easy, but to get to the actual fortified city, you have to take the transit bus set in place by the park service as its quite a long walk to get there. The drive down is pretty cool as you can see the city from above, giving you a cool view of how it was designed. Louisbourg was fortified with thick walls to repel invaders. They didn't fortify the section at the water as the city would have canons pointing in that direction to repel invaders. This port would have also have seen France's naval fleet docked in these contested waters, most of the time.

I thought at first that I would only stick for about an hour or so, but I ended spending the better part of the afternoon. This site is pretty cool. They did a wonderful job restoring and replicating buildings and structures, matching stone by stone, frame by frame, leaving me dumbfounded at some occasions.

The Dauphin Gate leading to the city

I hadn't had lunch yet so I was getting pretty hungry. There were two restaurants on site that served period correct meals, one catering to the higher living bourgeois and the other for the rest on the lower echelon such as soldiers. I went for the better experience by eating like a governor at l'Hotel de la Marine. It was a great all around meal and met some really nice people.

The Frédéric Gate

Reconstructed archaeological artifact

France's declaration of war against England

His crime? Stealing some fine wine!

When I was done with my stroll in the park, I decided to do some more rock hunting before heading back for a long drive home. From Louisbourg I drove up north towards Donkin to check out the rocks.

It was hard not to walk over rock that didn't have any fossils on it. The cliff erodes at a pretty good rate, and thick slabs of rock dropped on the beach have nice plants on it.

The fossils in this area are very nice and numerous. I ended up staying a bit later then I expected and managed to twist my ankle by stepping in a stupid gopher hole. Limping back to the car, I left a little bit after 7pm and got back home at around 1am. Quite a drive, but it is one of the things I enjoy the most when I'm out there. It was a good trip and another item to scratch off my list of the year. I'd say it ended up being a good kickstart to my Summer.


- Keenan


  1. I want to bring my son to find some fossils. Is the beach hard to find in Donkin? Do you know of anywhere else in CB that is rich in fossils? Also any tips for a beginner to identify a good place for fossils?

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  3. Good morning! Sorry for the late reply. The beach isn't too hard to find. You follow along an old road that leads to the beach. You'll see the point while you're walking.

    If you check the map from the post, it shows the areas we visited that are known for bearing fossils. Number 3 on that map is the location of Donkin. Number 1 is Cranberry Point but difficult to access. Number 2 is Point Aconi, and is easier to access. The Cape Breton Fossil Museum have their tours there once in a while during the Summer.

    So Point Aconi, Donkin, those places guaranteed. Maps, local papers, journals, scientific papers (some are free online), and befriending a geologist are good ways to get tips on finding fossils hehehe. But honestly any beach access in the Sydney area is rich in fossils, as it is known as the Carbeniforous Coal Fields.


    - Keenan