Official Opening of the Canso Causeway

August 13, 1955

Great attention had been paid to the smallest detail associated with the opening ceremonies of the Canso Causeway from the selection of one hundred pipers to the cutting of a tartan ribbon on August 13, 1955 signifying the official opening of the Canso Causeway.

This story is about one man, red headed Roderick Cameron Colin MacPherson, better known as Big Rod the Piper. Big Rod’s favorite time of day and his biggest enjoyment came every evening after supper, weather permitting, he would stroll with strident steps back and forth in front of his small shielding filling the air as far as one could imagine with the wonderful sound of his piping.

On one such evening Dougald MacNeil along with other representatives of the Canso Crossing Committee called on Big Rod. Unfortunately, the busy men arrived while Big Rod was playing his pipes. They had to wait in the living room until he finished his piping before even a greeting was offered. They were there on official business to invited Big Rod to be one of the “One Hundred Pipers” chosen to be part of the big celebration. Flattered by the compliment, Big Rod accepted and the gentlemen left feeling lucky to have Big Rod agree to anything.

Nonetheless during the following seven months leading up to the official opening of the Causeway Big Rod asked himself; “Was this Canso Causeway really something that a true Scot should play his pipes to rejoice over?” Early on the Friday morning August 12, 1955 he drove 41 miles to the home of Dougald MacNeil and stated he would not play the “Road to the Isle” or any other music to open the great Causeway. MacNeil called an emergency meeting of the Pipers’ committee. That night speaker after speaker pleaded with the piper to reconsider but they were without success.

In desperation the committee sent for the minister and the priest of his area but not even that helped to change Big Rods mind.
An offer to have the bridge below his home replaced with a cement one and a job with good pay for his cousin was refused. Big Rod was a proud man. He wouldn’t accept anything that resembled charity. Finally someone came up with the idea that they could send crew members from the mineral survey crew to his home for room and board. His wife, Sara, could make a few extra dollars. This was a chance to make honest money for a service in return. The money would come in handy to cover the cost of repairs to the roof, paint for the barn, and the truck he had his eye on.

Big Rod was unwavering but he heard them out before he spoke his mind.

“It’s progress that you call it. Progress. To join this island which is Cape Breton to the rest of the land, to link this island and to make forever impossible again the thrill that one senses as he crosses over that water and sees in the distance the powerful hills of home. Departed for all time the sensation of touching again the earth which is Cape Breton, and to know that it is home you are. Not again to feel your pulse quicken and your nostrils quiver and your heart fairly pound as you experience the sensation that you’ve shaken from your feet an body and mind the dust and worldliness and quickened pace that is the far country. Not again to lean over the rails of that boat and see the tiny spires of the home churches among the lush green of our countryside, the cattle grazing on the hills, the soft ,murmur of the waves as they beat against the boat’s side-the message that it’s home you’re heading again. To see the outward-bound boat heading for the other shore and have denied you the compassion and the pity which you suffer for those who are leaving this land which is Cape Breton. Progress, you call it? Is that Progress? To make Cape Breton for a few feet of locks a part of the mainland? True, we can get to the other side now 20 minutes faster than before, but who wants to get away from Cape Breton any faster than he used to? Likewise too, the others can get to Cape Breton with some saving of time, but to come this way’s deserving of a languid, slow pace that makes one relish what lies ahead. Progress? They weren’t satisfied with the roads we Cape Bretoners made with our brawn and our sweat and our energy. They paved them. And what happens? Instead of enjoying the finest scenery in the world, bar none, they’re so busy trying to make a trip around the Cabot Trail that the only people prospering from the thing are the garage owners. The Causeway will bring more and more cars over to go faster and faster over more and more roads and maim more people for less and less reasons.

Progress…And the Causeway will be used to transport more Cape Bretoners more places they don’t want to go, than any other mile of road the world has ever seen since the dawn of history. Progress. They listen to the radio and the house is filled with goods no one wanted, bought for less reasons than any one ever heard of. And the cows wait in the pasture in the early evening until it’s found out what it is that says ‘Life Can Be Beautiful’ and what next will happen to ‘John’s Other Wife.” Then we got television and the pastor down the road spends so much time alone, he’s using last year’s sermons all over again. Progress? No Gentlemen. I will not pipe tomorrow.”

True to his word Big Rod did not pipe. There were 100 pipers marching but only 99 piped.

UPDATE: August 2005 is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Canso Causway. A celebration is being planned; therefore an invitation is being extended to “all pipers ” and Pipe Bands (especially the original 100) to attend and again march across the Causway.

This is just one of many events of the celebration. More information will be posted at a later date.

Information gathered from: Personal information, Archives, History of Nova Scotia, and the “Cape Breton Magazine”

Some say the above is just a story decide for yourself.


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