Lobsterfisherwoman: Armenia “Amy” MacInnis


Photo credit: Armenia MacInnes


Photo credit: Armenia MacInnes

Name: Armenia MacInnis
Age: 31
Hometown: Breton Cove

When did you start lobster fishing? I started lobster fishing about ten years ago when my dad needed some extra hands and I needed a job, then six years ago I bought my own license.

Why do you stay? Well the reasons for staying keep changing. 🙂 At first I liked to fish because it freed me up the rest of the year to take other work and do some travelling. I always found myself back here for the summer fishing and hitting the beach.

Then I had Aven two and a half years ago and I know that this is where I want her to grow up: close to her family and ‘in the woods’, rather than in a city.

But being outside every day and seeing the sun come up, seeing the odd whale are just some of the reasons why I’ve stayed. I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the world and work in other places, but it really drove home to me how lucky we are here, and here I am!

Posted in Q+A, Women + kids, Work | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Q+A with David Greenwell

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A family portrait of the Greenwells in front of their beloved ‘money pit’ in Hillsborough, with son, 21 yr old Mackenzie on the left and our daughter, 18 yr old Michelle on the right.

Let’s start off with your background – why did you move to Mabou? What instigated that move?

Short answer to both questions: 1) the music 2) Mary Janet MacDonald.

Long answer:

(First, some relevant background) : I was born in Baddeck, but moved west (Ontario, then Alberta) when I was very young. Been in Alberta since I was 6 yrs old. My wife, Michelle is a born and bred Calgarian. Neither of us have any family or roots in the Maritimes. Michelle owned a dance studio near Calgary for 20+ years and taught (among other things) highland dancing. That was the eventual connection to CB…

From attending highland games and dance competitions, our family were already fans of Celtic music and culture. When the ‘Celtic wave’ of the 1990’s hit its stride, we were straight on board! Saw every concert that came to town – Rankin Family, Barra MacNeils, Ashley, Natalie, etc. We couldn’t get enough of it, especially the stepdancing. In 1995, Michelle was given a stepdancing video by one of her students and was asked to learn how to teach this. She tried, but couldn’t figure out the steps. So, she looked up the lady in the video (Mary Janet MacDonald of Port Hood), and hired her to come west for a weekend and teach a Cape Breton stepdancing workshop. This was the fall of 1996.

Mary Janet is a truly beautiful person, wonderful dancer and a true Cape Breton ambassador. If you haven’t already met her, put her on your ‘to do’ list.

She taught us the steps, but also told us all about Cape Breton summers and the dances and festivals of Inverness County. We were HOOKED! The next summer (1997) about 10 families from the dance school spent three glorious weeks touring around Cape Breton taking in the sights, going to dances, festivals, highland games and meeting most of Cape Breton’s musical community. It was the first summer vacation we absolutely did NOT want to go home from. We were all literally in tears when the Calgary-bound jet took off from Halifax. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. Michelle and I knew at that point that we would someday return permanently to Cape Breton.

This is getting longer than I thought…

Anyhow, us four Greenwells (we have two kids) took all of our summer vacations from 1997 onwards on Cape Breton, usually not far from Mabou. When Celtic Colours got going, my wife and I came out for almost all of them as well. We travelled the Island extensively, but kept gravitating back to Mabou, growing many close friendships with folks in the area.

In time, we eventually bought a small summer cabin near Brook Village which served us well from 2001-2008. In 2008, an old, historic house in Hillsborough (near Mabou) fell into our laps even though we weren’t in the market for a house. We couldn’t say no to the opportunity. We planned to somehow suffer through three mortgages and restore the old house to become an eventual retirement home. But the economy had other plans…

The global recession affected both our businesses in Alberta, and with things slowing down, something had to give. Three mortgages was two to many. We sold the cabin, and since there was NO WAY we were selling the old house on Cape Breton, we took the leap and decided to pull up stakes and move east. We have been permanent residents of Mabou since June 2010.

As long-winded as that was, there’s still many details glossed over, but you get the idea!

Wow! What a story!!

So what were the businesses that you owned in Alberta? And how do you support yourselves now, that you live here?

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Michelle Greenwell.

My wife is a dance teacher and owned her own dance school near Calgary for more than 20 years. I am an architectural technologist and ran my own consulting practice from home since 2003.

After taking a year off after our arrival here, Michelle began teaching various classes for the Inverness County recreation department. She teaches many forms of dance to all ages. She also leads tai chi classes along route 19 from Port Hawkesbury to Belle Cote. Michelle is a practitioner of a holistic healing modality called Touch For Health, and is slowly growing a clientele locally. She occasionally is hired to teach out of province as well. Here’s a link to her website: http://www.dancedebut.com

I kept my architectural practice going through the move, with most of my clients still in the west – mostly Calgary & area. I’ve landed a few small jobs in the area here, and continue to pursue work locally, but 90% of my income comes from jobs in the west. Although, my architectural consulting is starting to grow a local client base, I’m very happy to say. While it’s not especially lucrative, it is very rewarding to have a hand in the built environment around us. Interestingly, I credit the Cabot Links golf course for the influx of local projects. It’s encouraging and exciting, even though I’m not a golfer in any way, shape or form! It’s really the best of both worlds for me and I count my lucky stars every day…

Also, I’ve become more actively involved in community volunteering. I now sit on the Board of the Mabou and District Community Development Association, and I’m a member of the Route 19 Communities Economic Strategies Committee.

Although our household income has dropped compared with life in the west, we’re managing to keep the bills paid and enjoy ourselves and certainly have NO regrets about the move. Some things are more expensive here than the west, some much less so…it’s more or less is a wash in the end.

An important thing to say about both of our work experiences here is that NONE of this would be possible if we didn’t have access to high speed internet. Our area didn’t come online until 2009 – we would’ve likely moved sooner if high speed was available sooner…

If there’s a message we want to get out there is that anyone with a career or business that can be done via remote telecommuting, there’s no reason Cape Breton can’t be your home base!


Michelle stepdancing at 2012’s Chestico Days in Port Hood (Kinnon Beaton on the fiddle).

Wow, I’d imagine you’re both very motivated people. What kinds of things do you do in your “off” time? (Like, not working?)

I’d never thought of myself as especially motivated, but I guess you kind of need to be to make a living here…

Our off time is spent enjoying where we live.

Summers are spent going to the local dances, festivals and pub sessions at the Red Shoe. Getting as much time as possible on the beach is important, too. Cycling and photography are also favourite activities.

Our old home requires much TLC and that gives is plenty to do year round.

Winter sees us hosting or going to house parties in the area, trying to maintain a regular music ‘fix’. We attend as many local arts events as possible year-round, particularly at Strathspey Place and the Inverness Arts Centre.

Michelle also uses her spare time honing her tai chi skills and advancing her knowledge of healing techniques.

And, when all other options are used up, there’s TV…

Dave Greenwell Headshot

Dave Greenwell

So did you find it fairly easy to make friends? Were there any barriers? And, would you say your social circle is made up of mostly people like yourself (who moved here from away) or folks who are more “local”, or a mSdid you find it fairly easy to make friends? Were there any barriers? And, would you say your social circle is made up of mostly people like yourself (who moved here from away) or folks who are more “local”, or a mix?

Very easy to make friends for the most part. As tourists/summer residents, we were always welcomed with open arms by long-timers and other seasonals, because we were all here for the same reason, and had much in common.

Some ‘locals’ were tougher nuts to crack – we don’t attend church (which is a huge part of the Mabou fabric), so that keeps some walls up a little. But as we spent more and more time here, and eventually became permanent, familiar faces, most folks took a keen interest in our ‘story’ and expressed genuine appreciation (and some amazement) that we would choose to live here instead of rich Alberta.

Our friends represent a broad mix and continues to evolve. I would say it’s probably an even mix of “Come From Always” or “Transplants” and locals. We have a large contingent of regular seasonal friends we constantly badger to follow our lead and make the move.

A very telling observation is our neighbours – although a diverse mix of characters, we not only know all of them, we also count them as our friends. This is something we could not claim of our street in Alberta, where we lived for 20 years and hardly knew a single soul around us!

So now it’s time to “dream big” about the future of Cape Breton. What are your hopes and dreams for your new home, for yourselves and for your community? What does “abundance” mean to you? What can help keep young people here, and attract more folks to move here? (This could be businesses or industries, or it could be more subtle – attitudes, for example.) Interpret how you like.

From David’s wife Michelle: We hope that we are able to make a difference in this community by adding our spirit of adventure, some of our ideas from away, and our love for community. We enjoy being a part of people’s lives in everyday ways that mean something. We look forward to finishing the renovations on our home so that we can host gatherings of all kinds: music, dance, food, song, games, bonfires and more.

For ourselves, we try to embrace each day’s adventure in weather – get to the beach and enjoy the shoreline so close to us, watching the cloud formations, enjoying the humidity, cycling, walking, gardening, and the warmth! In the winter we enjoy all the aspects of a long fall season, snow and winter fun in the community (our driveway luge run), and the long spring! We enjoy more time together every day, being a part of each other’s daily activities, and being close with our daughter. We enjoy being able to drop everything at a moment’s notice to see a favorite performer at the Shoe, or to stay up late for a really great dance, or the farmers market on Sunday mornings (that is a real highlight). We enjoy the Strathspey Place theatre with all kinds of performances (and we love to volunteer), and the Inverness Arts Center Art Shows. We enjoy the group of Tai Chi’ers who are so dedicated each week, and our friends at the Glencoe Dances and West Mabou dances.

Abundance means living life with joy! We have achieved that. We continue to work at it, but joy, love, friendship and gratitude are a part of what makes us feel we have achieved abundance.

We have risen to the challenge of making a living on this island, and we are enjoying the opportunities of high speed internet, and of working with all the different communities up and down Route 19. There are a lot of opportunities for work with the internet, and skills that can be utilized through design, graphics, writing and more from a distance. Thinking outside of the box and bringing ideas into Cape Breton make it possible for more people. The Cabot Links golf course and Halifax Biomedical in Mabou are examples of taking it to the next level and building dreams. They have increased the number of jobs and technical workers required for some of the positions. They have also brought people here to share their ideas with the area and this helps to make things grow even more as well. There are more opportunities like this coming our way and we need to embrace them.

We need to let go of the idea that we are seasonal and that we need to be a part of waiting for the next season. We should be grasping opportunities for different professions for different times of the year. Small business is possible, and there are many skilled people with great passion living and succeeding in Cape Breton. We also have to think about our community. If we only choose to go away for the money, there will not be a community to come back home to. With the mass exodus of 30-40 year olds and their families, we are missing a whole generation of passionate Cape Bretoners. We do not have up-and-coming volunteers for all of the yearly and summer activities that people come home for. We do not have children growing up in Rural Cape Breton learning the ways of the generations. They are growing up in the cities and in the areas of high tech with higher monetary goals. These children will not see the benefit of returning to live or raise their own families because they will be disconnected from the experience. We need to bring these families home and help them find ways to stay, be successful, and build a community for this generation to succeed with.

Those graduates that we send off to college need to be thinking about professions that they can have on the island. We do not need more teachers – there is not enough employment for them here, and they will never be able to return. We need more people who can work with an aging population and help provide services and opportunities for our seniors. We also need to let go of models of functioning that are not working. The communities need to come together and support each other’s programs and families. When classes are being held in a nearby community, it might be imperative that you travel to support the class rather than not going because it isn’t in your community. On another occasion it might be in your own back yard. And, we need to provide more opportunities for recreation and activity. We have a good start with some programming, but we need to support wider shoulders on the roads, cycling programs that can utilize the roads, classes in dance and drama and music that supports a full band experience. We need more programming for our kids and particularly our teens. With declining numbers this becomes a real challenge as the number of students gets less and less. We need the support of families staying home so that such programming can happen.

That’s my two cents!


David and Michelle at Gaspereau Vineyards on the mainland – their favourite!

This Q+A with Dave and Michelle is part of an ongoing series of interviews with people associated with Cape Breton in some way – mostly young people, but not necessarily. The complete list of interviews is here.

Posted in Newcomers, Out West, Outdoors, Q+A | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

the “i heart Cape Breton” postcards are here!


Prototypes back in January of this year.

You guys!!

I am so proud to announce that my first design product is a reality.

Back in January I made a prototype of a postcard with “I heart Cape Breton” on it. I showed the above picture on Facebook and got a bunch of positive feedback, including from Caitlyn Purcell of the gift shop Salty Rose’s Local Art & Craft in Ingonish, who offered to sell them in her shop this summer.

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I jumped at the chance. I designed two other looks and ordered a quantity of each from Jukebox.com. When they arrived it was better than Christmas, opening up those packages, checking out the finished product. They are beautiful – thick, glossy and the colour is so bright and bold!

Salty Rose’s opens tomorrow. My cards are in her shop. $2.50 apiece or three for $6. I am so excited about this!!

I don’t have anywhere else right now that I’m selling them, and I’m still crunching the numbers on selling them mail-order. If there is enough interest then I will, so get in touch with me if you’d like to order some. And if you have a store and are interested in carrying the cards, just get in touch with me, too! (Email: leahcnoble@gmail.com)

Posted in Art, Design | Tagged , | 7 Comments

still here, just quiet

photo What is this tire all about, you ask?

Well, not that much. I had to take some pictures of it the other day for work. Often times the best way to transmit information is by picture, and we needed a replacement for this puppy, so the guys had me come out and snap a photo with my iPhone and email it to the people who were sourcing a new one for us.

The reason I’m using it as a photo for this post is that I don’t have many other pictures at the moment, and it seemed as good as any to illustrate a post about needing a rest.

I don’t feel like writing about what’s going on in my life right now – even writing that sentence feels weird and naked – so instead I’ll let Tiffany Han do the talking. (Although, don’t worry, nothing super crazy is happening, it’s more just, that I don’t feel like talking about it.)

Tiffany Han is a sassy Life Coach who writes great blog posts, including this one:

I realized recently that I have a choice in this life I’ve created for myself. I can just get off the unicycle and stand on my own two feet. I can choose (gasp!) to put some of my balls down. I can even choose (double gasp!) to put all the balls down for a bit and spend the evening watching hours and hours of Gossip Girl. Hypothetically, of course.

And I can choose to say, “I’m so sorry, but I’m not going to be able to do that right now” or “I would love to see you too, but I’ve got too much on my plate” or “It does suck, and I do miss you too, but I’m currently jumping head first into starting a business and selling my art, and that’s my priority right now.”

And if that makes me a flake, then I’m going to own that. Because by not saying it and owning it, I do things like stretch myself thin which results in my missing appointments and calls and things that I really want to do. Because there’s not enough room in my brain for all of it.

Because I have a choice. I always have a choice.

And because I can just be.


In other news, one of my favourite bloggers, Elise Blaha Cripe, just had her first baby! That’s pretty special. Even though I’ve never met Elise, I love reading her blog and following along with her trials, tribulations and joys. She’s real, down-to-earth but also joyful and inspiring. That’s a tough balance to strike.

Posted in Day to Day Life, Leah's thoughts | Tagged | Leave a comment

lilac and rhododendron

photo-5 photo-6 Pretty, pretty flowers.

Lilacs – that scent! It takes me back in time to past summers, and also grounds me in the present, in this lush and rainy June.

If the Internet could transmit smell, you could smell lilacs right now. But thank goodness the Internet doesn’t transmit smell, really. Because that’s more than I can handle, I think.

After working this week in Baddeck, I’m off today and tomorrow, and am back home in North Sydney. (Because the marina is open seven days a week now, I work one weekend day. So Friday’s my Saturday, and Saturday is my Sunday.) The first thing I did after getting home was go around the gardens and check out what had grown in the last four days.

As I drove along this evening homeward, I thought about all the things I wanted to write about on the blog. And the interviews waiting patiently in my inbox for me to do final edits on, and publish. But, there are only so many hours in the day. The spicy noodles from Wong’s aren’t going to eat themselves! “Game of Thrones” isn’t going to watch itself!

By the way, thank you for reading. Sometimes I disappear and other times I’m dreary. A lot of the time, I wonder to myself, “Why the heck do I write this, and share this? Is a blog gonna change the world? Can it change even an island? Is changing the point?” (I wonder lots of stuff to myself, I’ll be honest.)

One random note to end on today: a childhood friend of mine told me once that for the longest time she had never heard “rhododendron” pronounced aloud, only read it in books, so she pronounced it “rho-dodden-dronn”. So that’s how I think of it in my head.

That’s all for the moment. Flowers, wet grass, cold June, warm heart.


Posted in Day to Day Life, Leah's thoughts | 1 Comment

why I disappear sometimes


There are busy times and there are not-so-busy times, for all of us. This past month, for me, has been a busy time. I started back at my summer job, which is full time. I was still in school for a bit. Voluntarily, I am the Secretary of one society and one of five busy directors of another. I have part-time design clients. I write this blog. I have a partner and a relationship. There is an hour’s drive between my home in North Sydney and my job in Baddeck. My mother’s house in Baddeck is welcoming and nice to stay in, but it is not Home anymore. Sometimes I stay there, and sometimes I simply must return to my own space.

And then I said yes to another part-time job. What was I thinking?

I think I was thinking, “I can do that, sure!! I would love to impress these people, too!”

I wasn’t thinking, “The empty space on my calendar isn’t there to fill, necessarily, but to leave empty and have as quiet space.”

When my Major Depression happened, six years ago, I had to learn in a big way how to say no to things that drained me. I did, and I recovered, eventually.

Each time the cycle (of panic, of exhaustion) comes around again, now, at least it is a little less urgent, and I cotton on to the need for down-time a bit quicker.

I feel like an asshole quitting things. It doesn’t feel good, that’s for sure. I feel like I’m letting someone down, making them think less of me, tarnishing my reputation. I don’t want people to say behind my back, “Oh, that Leah, she’s ok, but she’s blah blah blah.” Whatever it is people say behind other people’s backs.

But, having “been to the bottom of fear and self-loathing” (as Old Man Luedecke puts it in his song “Just Like A River”), I at least know that that feeling, of letting people down, is infinitely preferable to the feeling of wearing myself out completely.

And if I need more convincing, I turn to my ‘bible’ and read:

“Lay a blanket over the banging gong that cries for you to infinitely help this, help that, help this other thing. It will be there to uncover again, if you wish it so, when you come back. If we do not go home when it is time, we lose our focus… There is a saying, “You can’t go home again.” It is not true. While you cannot crawl back into the uterus again, you can return to the soul-home. It is not only possible, it is requisite.”

“For how long does one go home? As long as one can or until you have yourself back again. How often is it needed? Far more often if you are a “sensitive” and are very active in the outer world. Less so if you have thick skin and are not so “out there.” Each woman [person] knows in her heart how often and how long is needed. It is a matter of assessing the condition of the shine in one’s eyes, the vibrancy of one’s mood, the vitality of one’s senses.”

— Clarissa Pinkola Estés, “Women Who Run With The Wolves.”

Posted in Health, Leah's thoughts | 2 Comments

god only knows what i’d be without you

photo photo(1) photo(2) photo(3) photo(4) photo(5) photo(6) photo(7) photo(8) photo(9) This morning I woke up in North Sydney, at home. I drank coffee and ate toast and yogurt, and left at 7 am. I drove over Boularderie and Kelly’s Mountain and along the Highway to Baddeck.

I arrived at work at 8 am. I said “good morning” to some customers who were already here. No matter how busy things get at the marina (not this morning, just, in general) it always feels somewhat relaxed there because of our customers, who generally are there to relax themselves. It’s nice that way.

I signed in to the computer system. I read over some notes that my co-worker and friend Flossie had left for me from yesterday. (I was off yesterday because it was the last day of school, a wrap-up of our third semester.)

I put on CBC’s music website (http://music.cbc.ca/) and clicked as usual on the Singer-Songwriter category, and then on the Singer-Songwriter channel. I like this channel because it plays mainly Canadian songs, from the past forty years or so. A real overview, almost a history lesson of Canadian song. Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, but also more recent artists like Blue Rodeo and Jann Arden, Lynn Miles.

There are non-Canadian artists too, like the Beach Boys. Their song “God Only Knows” plays often and I love it. “God only knows what I’d be without you, God only knows…” It reminds me of the credits on the movie “Love, Actually.” All the people meeting each other in the airport and hugging.

Flossie plays that station on her computer upstairs too and sometimes if it’s quiet we’ll message each other about what’s playing.

“Here comes Leonard, touching my perfect body with his mind.”


Yesterday was so warm, and when I got home from the school wrap-up thing I had to take a nap. I felt so tired. I worried about things on my agenda, about whether or not I could do them all. When I would start talking about them, thinking that if I talked them out I could get control of them all, my boyfriend said, “Just close your eyes.”

I thought, “What does he know?!”

Turns out he was right. (He usually is. Shhh, don’t tell him I said that.)

After some pizza and salad, and some wine, and some shows (“Master Chef”), and some sleep, today the world looks less overwhelming.

Funny how that works.

I think no matter where you work, no matter where you live or study, it’s the people you do those things with that matter. Without people to “LOL” with, life is pretty dull. With them, it’s magic.

Posted in Day to Day Life, Leah's thoughts | Tagged , , | 4 Comments