Q+A: Angelo Spinazzola


Angelo on his way way to a retreat in Spain, in a village of 66 people.


Angelo and Dave Burke at the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club… a particularly poignant shot now.

I’ve known Angelo for over ten years now, ever since I used to work for Deanie Cox when she ran her shop “Shape Shift” in North River. My best friends Will and Claire and my brother Mat worked for Angelo at his business, North River Kayak Tours. Will, Claire, Mat and I would bike around North River on its variety of dirt roads (the Oregon, the Murray and the Meadow), eat lobster and mussels, drink beer and live the good life. Those were idyllic summers, looking back!

Angelo has always struck me as being relaxed, yet an devoted entrepreneur who goes after his goals. And for as long as I’ve known him, he’s always shown his passion for the outdoors, as well as for gathering people together to sing, play instruments, and have a good time. These simple, yet truly good things are what drives him.

Angelo is not only a successful business owner, but a musician, a teacher and a traveller. I’m proud to call him my friend. Here is a little Q+A with him. He has lots more cool photos on his Facebook profile, so just hook up with him on there!

1. How old are you?

43 big ones!

2. CB born and raised? Or recent transplant? (Plus whatever biographical details you feel like giving).

Born and raised in Sydney, NS. A professional musician for 25 years, Sea Kayak tour operator/owner of North River Kayak Tours for 18 years. I travel extensively and with a backpack and guitar seeking another song and new relations with my road folk friends.

3. “What are you up to these days?” I.e. what do you do for a living, what are you working on, are you a student, in the workforce, writing songs, etc?

Still running tours. Freshly back from a month in Spain and Morocco. Recently won a NS Music Week award for Aboriginal Recording of the Year. Also won Destination Cape Breton‘s Product Development Award for 2012! I am teaching children songwriting on First Nations on Cape Breton Island. I am a board member on the St. Ann’s Bay Development Association. I am hoping to volunteer at Alderwood Rest Home to perform music for them. I am also figuring out where my next trip will be.

Aboriginal Recording of the Year goes to Angelo Spinazzola & The First Nations Songwriting Sessions.

Angelo accepting the Aboriginal Recording of the Year on behalf of himself and The First Nations Songwriting Sessions, White Point, NS.

4. Tell us about the songwriting project you did with Eskasoni students. What did you learn, about Cape Breton, from doing this project?

Well, about 4 years ago I taught kids at the Harbourview Montessori school and the tune we wrote and recorded got airplay on CBC radio. Someone heard this and approached me, asking if I can teach on the First Nations reserves. I agreed and have been doing so ever since. We were nominated for an ECMA last year with the compilation of tunes that we have recorded over the past 4 years. Imagine!

What I learned about Cape Breton doing this project was that the kids have a deep connection to the Island. You can hear it in the lyrics that they wrote with me. All the songs have a connection with Mother Earth. They know this and they feel it. That to me is encouraging and exciting.

5. What are your favourite things to do out of doors, in CB?

Ice climbing, kayaking, swimming, sleeping outdoors, living life and learning from nature.





Angelo's shop in North River.

Angelo’s shop in North River.

6. Favourite CB music venues, past and present?

Well… there are not that many but let’s just say: Bunkers, Savoy and the Red Shoe in Mabou.

7. Tell us a bit about your creative process.

1) Don’t think just let it flow when it is flowing and hope you can write as fast as it comes to you.

2) Does anyone have a pen by chance?

8. Are you planning on staying in CB? Why, or why not?

I have no idea where I will be from day to day but I really hope I can continue to etch out a happy life here in the woods on this great island.


Argentina, 2009: Session in the Natural Amphitheater.

9. “Dream big” for a minute: what are some innovations or events or just plain old “big ideas” you think Cape Breton could use?

A tapa bar
, a seafood bar with fresh seafood, 
an authentic grass-roots-y venue where artists can come and perform intimately. A small church maybe. There seems to be lots for sale right now!

10. Finish this sentence: Being from Cape Breton, to me, means… that I can walk outside and be within a 20 minute drive to clean, clear water. I can also keep my doors unlocked and not have to carry a weapon to protect myself. There is a kindness here that people from away think at first cannot be real. “What do they want from me,” they wonder. “Why are they so nice to me?” 
In reality all people here really want is to hear your story and wish you well on your travels. We all want to feel wanted and connected with others, it is in our nature. Here it can happen unpretensiously.

Have a nice day!

More Q+As on this blog can be found on the Interviews page.

Posted in Active living, Art, Education, Mi'kmaq communities, Outdoors, Q+A | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

on the new edge of springtime


A pretty forsythia on Pleasant Street, North Sydney.


Me at the St. Ann’s Bay look off, early May.

A paragraph from one of my favourite books, a paragraph about the glory of springtime that drives me mad with outdoor-fever:

“On the new edge of springtime when I stand on the front porch shading my eyes from the weak morning light, sniffing out a tinge of green on the hill and the scent of yawning earthworms, oh, boy, then ! I roll like a bear out of hibernation. The maple buds glow pink, the forsythia breaks into its bright yellow aria. These are the days when we can’t keep ourselves indoors around here, any more than we believe what our eyes keep telling us about the surrounding land, i.e., that it is still a giant mud puddle, now lacking its protective covering of ice. So it comes to pass that one pair of boots after another run outdoors and come back mud-caked — more shoes than we even knew we had in the house, proliferating like wild portobellos in a composty heap by the front door. So what? Noah’s kids would have felt like this when the flood had almost dried up: muddy boots be hanged. Come the end of the dark days, I am more than joyful. I’m nuts.”

-Page 43, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,” by Barbara Kingsolver.

Posted in Leah's thoughts, Outdoors | 1 Comment

hit the pavement!

photo-9 It’s gonna be a good day for some of this, I think.

It feels so good to get outside for long hours again, doesn’t it?

What have you been up to out of doors?


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the sound of peepers


This is me trying to take a picture of the starry sky above my house, with my iPhone. Fail!

I ran to the grocery store tonight for a couple of items: Baileys, carrots, yogurt, lettuce.

When I walked out of the grocery store I heard peepers, quite loud. It was in contrast to the parking lot, the bright lights, the cars coming and going.

I’m so used to hearing peepers when I’m in the back part of my Mom’s rural property, sitting in the dark by the well-pond.

Nevertheless, the sound of peepers was cheerful and felt so… fresh, and wild.

It made me think that the sound of peepers in the springtime could never be properly replicated, no matter how distant we get from the natural world. A soundtrack of peepers just wouldn’t be the same, and here’s why:

Peepers’ loud, constant, background cheeping is just one part of a whole sensory experience: that of the cold spring night-time air, and of being outside looking at a starry sky, knowing the winter is behind us, and a bountiful summer is about to start.

Posted in Day to Day Life, Environment, Leah's thoughts, Outdoors | Tagged | 2 Comments

beer me!



Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout on left, and Kitchen Party Pale Ale on right.


Grrrr…. a big hefty growler!


I finally made it to Big Spruce Brewing!

The last time I was there, the brewery building was still a plan on paper. Jeremy held out his arms to show me where the walls were going to be.

Then due to cars, schedules, and other nonsense, I wasn’t able to make it “over the mountain” to see them as they built the brewery, then installed the equipment, then had a fantastic opening party.

(Oh well. A girl can’t do everything, right?)

Anyway, today I took the day off school, borrowed the truck, and went up to Baddeck. One of the things on my to-do list was to go to the Big Spruce store and pick up a growler for me and my mister.

Of course I had to taste-test to decide which one I wanted. (The last time I taste-tested Jeremy’s brew was last year!)

I settled on the Pale Ale, but I think next time we’ll try the Stout.

Big Spruce Brewing is using social media really well, so if you’re on Facebook and you want updates on the local beer scene, I suggest you “follow” them.

photo-5 On the way home, I got to thinking about the distances on this island. I hadn’t been up to Baddeck in a while, for any length of time, even though it’s only fifty kilometres away. There’s a mountain in between, and the Seal Island Bridge, and a lot of woods. I was thinking about the island, and how big it is, and how we think of it as one cohesive place when really it’s made up of a bunch of little places.

And I was thinking about how funny it is to be back in your hometown, after you’ve moved somewhere new, and see that life there is ticking along just fine without you. Not in a bad or sad way, just… that’s how it is.

I dunno. No solid conclusions. Just mullings.

More beer! 🙂

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le printemps


printemps1 printemps2

I am in need of the springtime. Of le printemps.

I am in need of dirt-time. Of spend time outdoors, hearing the birds. Of walking around the garden and seeing new things coming up. Pulling things out too… that’s necessary.

Aaahhh… a breath in, and then a breath out. Slow it all down, girl. Slow it down.

To counteract the craziness of an overly “connected” world, the garden is the place for me.



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

Riding the public transit in the CBRM

photo-2 bus4 bus3 bus2 bus

It happened again this morning – I told someone I get to school and back (North Sydney to Marconi, and back) using the bus.

His reaction: “No! You poor thing!”

“Honestly, I don’t mind. It works out for me pretty well,” I said. “I catch the bus at 7:20, at a stop that’s only a five minute walk from my house, and it gets me to Sydney at 8 am. Then there is a transfer to CBU that leaves just a few minutes after. I get out to my school (which is right next to CBU) around 8:30. My classes don’t start til 9:30, so I’m good.”

But my neighbour’s reaction got me thinking, why is it that in the CBRM the reaction to taking public transit is one of, well, horror?

I’ve taken public transit in other cities (Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and New York City) and no-one has gasped in shock to hear that I rode on the transit system there. (Except maybe people from small towns for whom the thought of the huge New York Subway system is terrifying.)

I mean, it’s true, the CBRM’s transit schedule could be better. Buses to the outlying communities stop around 5 pm, so travelling in the evening, or on Sundays, is not an option. And some runs don’t have many buses during the day, which can make for a wait of a couple of hours. There is also at least one misprint on the schedule which one day left me waiting at a stop they no longer use, only to call them and find out, “We no longer stop there.”

So I made a call to Bernie Steele, the supervisor for Transit Cape Breton. He’s a friendly man, and we had a nice chat about why exactly the transit system is the way it is, and why they can’t make changes at the moment. I got the feeling that Mr. Steele would make all kinds of changes, if only he was given the budget to do so.

He filled me in on the history of the transit system, first. I guess that back before the whole municipality amalgamated, each town had their own transit system. Glace Bay Transit, North Sydney Transit, etc.

But then the towns amalgamated and became the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, or CBRM. Certain communities didn’t want transit (or at least that’s what their councillors said – I have a hard time believing that a whole community just wouldn’t want transit, at all). And then when the steel plant shut down, that was $2 million in tax revenue that the municipality lost, that helped pay for services like transit. And then the provincial government, no doubt under pressure to cut their own budget, cut the Transit Subsidy, in the 1990s.

All of this meant much less money to the transit system. Less money means fewer drivers, less fuel money, and cuts had to be made.

Mr. Steele told me that the CBRM hired a consultant to come in a few years ago and assess the transit system, and that the consultant recommended there should be more busses and more routes. The council unfortunately then rejected the consultant’s proposals, because they didn’t have the money for them. But now, Mr. Steele feels that there could be changes coming, with the new mayor, Cecil Clarke.

If you want to express your thoughts about public transit in the CBRM, in the hopes of the municipality putting more buses on the road (and I highly recommend that you do so, since that’s really about the only way that public servants make changes, is from public pressure) here are some options:

  • You can contact mayor Cecil Clarke’s office by phoning (902) 563-5000, emailing cmmacintyre@cbrm.ns.ca or on Twitter: @MayorCBRM.
  • You can contact your local councillor. (This link helps you find out who your councillor is.)
  • You can email Bernie Steele at bmsteele@cbrm.ns.ca.
  • Leave a comment here (if there are enough I’ll send them on to the appropriate people.)
Posted in Day to Day Life, Towns + communities | Tagged , | 8 Comments