Cape Breton Island, with its traditional Celtic music and winding Cabot Trail, is a popular tourist destination during the summer months. But visitors flocking to this romantic island off the Nova Scotia peninula, where Gaelic is still spoken, may happen across an altogether different type of roadside attraction in the form of Joe’s Scarecrow Village.
The slightly haunting collection, accompanied by the evanescent sound of the fiddle – brought to Cape Breton Island by Scottish immigrants during the Highland Clearances – is the work of Joe Delaney. Atlas Obscura reports that Joe planted a garden back in the 1980s, but constant pillaging by the local crow population prevented his vegetables from growing. Something had to be done!
When his neighbours jokingly suggested that Joe should resort to a scarecrow, they had no idea that they’d planted the seeds of a future tourist attraction and oddity extraordinaire, that would make their small village of Cap LeMoine a regular stopping point for travellers.
Joe, determined to rid his garden of crows and inspired by an interest in Mi-Carême – the Catholic and francophone Mid-Lent festival where participants dance and dress in elaborate, sometimes grotesque, costumes – placed two gaudy scarecrows among his vegetables. When tourists stopped to admire his creations the next day, Joe knew he was on to something.
Helped by his son, Joe created around 50 scarecrows including Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and a range of colourful characters each with their own tale to tell. Joe’s Scarecrow Village – as it is known – has become a local landmark and featured prominently on comedian Billy Connolly’s TV show Journey to the Edge of the World.
Several years ago, vandals destroyed all but one scarecrow. The local newspaper printed a lament seen from the point of view of the last scarecrow, and since that time, thanks to donations both local and global, the village has been rebuilt. Visitors can now donate a few dollars to dress a scarecrow, or suggest a new character to be featured in the village, all while the melancholy sound of the fiddle echoes in the background.
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