Quiet Cape Breton home to Bell museum

It was while in the quiet of Cape Breton that many of Bell’s inventions were created. The tiny room at Beinn Bhreagh where he did much of his work has been faithfully re-created in the museum.”

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. Ever since then, Canadians have been in love with talking on his contraption. We are, in fact, among the world’s most ardent users of Bell’s invention.

The discovery that the human voice could be transmitted over an electric wire came about partially by accident. Bell had been experimenting for several years with the idea of voice transmission, an off-shoot of his work as a teacher of the deaf. However, the successful culmination of the experiments came on March 10, 1875, in Boston. The 29-year-old Bell was sitting in front of his newest experimental instrument and his assistant, Thomas Watson, had gone into an adjoining room to help in the latest tests. Bell accidentally spilled sulfuric acid over his clothes and yelled: “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.” Watson clearly heard Bell’s message through the instrument — and the world entered the telephone age.

Fame and fortune soon followed, and Bell found himself needing break from the adoring crowds of New York and Washington. In 1885, he and his wife Mabel, visited Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, along with his father-in-law who had invested in a Cape Breton coal mine. The Bells fell in love with the serene beauty of the region around the tiny village of Baddeck and decided to purchase land there. The moors and mountains of Cape Breton were the next best thing to his native Scotland, where he was born in 1847, but which he had left in 1862 at the age of 15.

Eventually, Bell came to own 600 acres across the bay from Baddeck, where in 1893, he built a mansion which he christened “Beinn Bhreagh” — his hideaway home until his death at age 75. Bell and Mabel are buried at Beinn Bhreagh Hall, and their descendants still live there. The home is off-limits to the public but across the bay in the village of Baddeck is a splendid museum dedicated to his genius. He did more than just invent the telephone. He made giant strides in medicine, genetics, agriculture, aeronautics, marine engineering and, of course, teaching the deaf.

The museum houses the world’s largest collection of Bell’s artifacts, written materials and personal mementos, tracing his life from his birth in Edinburgh, through to his death in 1922.

It was while in the quiet of Cape Breton that many of Bell’s inventions were created. The tiny room at Beinn Bhreagh where he did much of his work has been faithfully re-created in the museum. Also on display are the first telephones, full-sized models of his experiments in high-speed boats, medicine, airplanes and kites.

He developed the “vacuum jacket,” the forerunner of the iron lung, after the death of his son from respiratory failure. He perfected a surgical probe, hoping to discover a means by which an assassin’s bullet lodged in the body of U.S. President Garfield, an instrument that was widely used before the advent of the X-ray. He even envisioned the use of radium in the treatment of cancers as early as 1903, years ahead of anyone else.

In 1906, Bell started research into boats that would travel over the surface of water using foils. This led to the development of the HD-4, the world’s fastest boat, which zipped across the waters of Baddeck Bay at the record speed of 112.6 km/h (70.86 mph) in 1919. In 1909, he saw the culmination of his experiments in aviation as he watched John McCurdy fly Bell’s Silver Dart across the frozen surface of Baddeck Bay, the first powered flight in Canada.

The range of Bell’s interests and experiments knew no bounds. For example, he was the first to discover the recording qualities of wax cylinders, which made Thomas Edison’s original phonograph a commercial success and laid the foundation of the modern recording industry.

The museum, as part of the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, stands as a fitting memorial to this unrivalled genius. Built on a hilltop in the middle of 10 hectares (25 acres) of beautifully landscaped grounds, the museum complex overlooks the scenic splendor of Cape Breton’s magnificent Bras d’Or, across the bay from Beinn Bhreagh.