About a decade ago I hiked into MacKinnon’s Brook for the first time with a small group of family and friends. I had my pipes with me and in honor of the occasion I stood on the high bluff overlooking the small cove where the brook flows into ocean and played a lament in memory of our ancestors. When I finished, there was a nearly disturbing silence. In the wake of that silence my father told us the story of Mary (MacNeil) MacKinnon, my great, great, great, great grandmother whose husband died tragically, leaving her to raise a young family in the wilderness of early nineteenth century Cape Breton. Family oral tradition has it that Mary was a formidable woman; that she carried her responsibilities with strength and grace. It has been decades since the last of my family left MacKinnon’s Brook. The idyllic place has essentially reverted back to its natural wilderness state. Yet walking amid the remaining stone foundations and rambling down the steep path to the beach, one can image what life must have been like.
The notion of this project was seeded on that day a decade ago. During my 12 year career with the Celtic/Rock group Rawlins Cross I had the wonderful opportunity to experiment in combining my traditional instruments with several fine symphony orchestras across Canada, including Symphony Nova Scotia. Over the past couple of years as the band’s activities began to wind down I found myself drawn toward a further exploration of the blending of Celtic and classical traditions. The music and the story subsequently found each other quite quickly. The list of potential collaborators began and ended with one name: Scott Macmillan. Over the past decade Scott has built an international reputation for himself as composer and arranger of works combining Celtic and classical elements including the landmark “Celtic Mass for the Sea” (with librettist, Jennyfer Brickenden). I am honoured to have him working with me on this project.
To conclude, I feel compelled to explain the difference in the spelling of my name. At some point along the way our branch of the clan (or at least most of us) chose the spelling of “Mc” over the now standard “Mac.” I cannot easily count the occasions over the years when I had to explain that the spelling of my surname did not make me of Irish descent. Having said that, I do, admittedly, have some Irish in me from my mother, a Nellis from the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec whose bloodline is a mix of Irish and Acadian. But that’s another story...
Notes from the Composer, Scott Macmillan
I was commissioned by Ian McKinnon through the support of the Nova Scotia Arts Council to create a new composition depicting the immigration of his ancestors from the Isle of Barra, Scotland, to what would become the community of MacKinnon's Brook in Inverness County, Cape Breton. I was delighted by the prospect of composing a work based on a part of Cape Breton Island that I have come to love.
My wife and family first introduced me to MacKinnon’s Brook in 1989 while working with the Rankin Family in Mabou. Jennyfer had made a hiking trip to the Brook in the mid-70's and was excited about showing it to me during that time. My Macmillan ancestors also came from the Isle of Barra, so for me writing this music has somewhat of a personal history, although my clan settled at Indian River on the North Shore of Prince Edward Island.
While at MacKinnon's Brook I saw the rock piles that once formed their community and these fragments of history propelled my imagination into the past when these people broke the land and made this place their home. The area struck me as wind swept and rather unforgiving, making for a harsh and rough life. Much of the historic background was given to me by retired Mabou school teacher and historian, Jim St. Clair, and by spending time hiking there I've come to hold MacKinnon's Brook as a very special place in my life.
The Nova Scotia Nature Trust
A portion from the sale of this CD will be contributed to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust for its ongoing efforts in the land preservation of MacKinnon’s Brook and other areas of natural significance in the province of Nova Scotia.
The Nova Scotia Nature Trust is a non-government charitable organization that works with private landowners to protect lands of special ecological significance. While the Nature Trust is not an advocacy group, it is in our mandate to promote, protect and celebrate unique aspects of Nova Scotia’s natural heritage.
This year the Nature Trust will conclude a series of agreements to create the largest privately-held conservation area in Nova Scotia’s history. Almost 2,000 acres of undeveloped waterfront along the shores of the Mabou Highlands will be preserved in perpetuity.
The area is renowned for its scenic beauty. An extensive system of trails winds through stands of ancient Yellow Birch and Sugar Maple: the remnants of an old growth Acadian forest. The forest is home to variety of native flora and fauna including bald eagles and osprey [the official bird of Nova Scotia] and large mammals like deer and black bear. A number of brooks cascade from the highlands to the seashore, exposing a fascinating variety of geological formations.
released January 1, 2001
Soloist - Highland Bagpipe/Tin Whistle
Soloist - Cape Breton Fiddle
Symphony Nova Scotia
Anne Rapson (Concertmaster)
Aiyanna Anderson Howatt
Anita Gao Lee
*David Greenberg appears courtesy of Marquis Records
Ian McKinnon is a well-known performer and music business professional on the East Coast Canadian music scene. Through his
work with Rawlins Cross, Ian has become known around the world as an innovator on the Highland bagpipe and tin-whistle. Ian also runs GroundSwell Music, a Halifax-based artist management company, record label and event/festival producer....more