Orangedale Rail Road Station

(I selected Orangedale for inclusion in the Blog because as a youngster I was forever hearing about the place and its association with the Rail Road. Then years later when I was taking the train I would often step off onto the platform there just to see it and the surrounding country side. I was always impressed with place and its people. CAPER)



This profile of the Orangedale district includes a number of communities, both inland and in sheltered coves on the Bras d’Or Lakes. Orangedale East is located almost 10 km from the 105 turnoff at Iron Mines. This secondary (paved) road leads on around the peninsula (61 0 long/45.57 0 lat) to South Side Whycocomagh Bay, Whycocomagh Portage, Alba, West Alba, and Gillis Cove. The paved road ends at the tracks in Orangedale which is located in a sheltered cove at the western end of the North Basin. A dead end dirt road continues from Orangedale to Stoney Point.

The main paved road from Orangedale crosses south to Seal Cove and Eden, the

pavement ending at Crowdis’ Bridge over the River Denys. The dirt road then passes through River Denys, one branch turning east to about 3 km past Valley Mills where it becomes paved again following around the North Mountain peninsula to South Side Basin of River Denys.

Around the tip of the peninsula is the Malagawatch Reserve, 1000 acres of land held by the Mi’kmaq. There are some year round residents on this Reserve; there are also a number of summer residents who come from different Mi’kmaq Reserves. The inland areas of the district include, from north to south: Blues Mills (named for Dugald Blue), Ashfield (named for Ash trees), Big Marsh, River Denys Centre, and South Side River Denys. Upper River Denys is located on the west side of Route 105 alongside the Bornish Hills Nature Reserve.


 Orangedale on the Bras d’Or Lake

very early awareness of the areas is indicated by the place name River Denys, named for either Nicholas Denis in the French colonial period, or Mi’kmaq Chief Denny (in turn, named for Nicholas Denis). The historic Aboriginal presence was additionally marked by Whycocomagh Portage which Indians were known to use as an overland path between waterways.


The first permanent European settlement in the Orangedale district was mainly by Highland Scottish in the early 19th century, although some of the land grants were as late as the 1860s and 1870s. The expertly recorded Orangedale and Gillis Cove Cemetery, located about two km from the Orangedale Presbyterian Church, indicates the strong ethnic patterns of the earlier residents. The rare deviations from the Scottish trend include the names Surette, Veinott, Delaney, and (possibly) McIver. Outmigration

strongly affected the district as early as the late 19th century. We see a declining population in the statistics since that period, and also the loss of schools and the amalgamation of denominational parishes. The present population of the area included in this profile is about 500. Please note that exact population figures are impossible to ascertain from census data.


Part of the Orangedale Rail Road Museum

It is clear that the majority of the people in the Orangedale district have historically held with the Presbyterian religious tradition; but Gillis Cove has been historically Roman Catholic. There were a number of Presbyterian and Free (Church of Scotland) Churches in the area, the first one a Free Church Missionary built in 1828. Now adherents attend either the Presbyterian or United churches in Orangedale or Whycocomagh.


This district has traditionally relied on primary resources for its economic base. While farming was the first means of sustenance and livelihood, lumbering was known in the early period as well. In fact, C.M. Bethune in First Presbyterian Church in Cape Breton notes that River Denys is noted for the quality of pine along its courses.

The villages in the Orangedale district, such as River Denys, Valley Mills and Blues

Mills historically had churches, mills, schools, way stations, and stores with a variety of food, hardware and dry good items. The most significant village, Orangedale, had the most important railway station between Port Hawkesbury and Grand Narrows. In 1922 it had several lively stores, an important post office, good hotel, a comfortable public hall (probably the Orangemen’s

Hall for which the village is named) along with stone quarry, a brick manufacturing enterprise, all of which served the surrounding agricultural area.

Rail Road Signal Lamps used by Brakemen


Civic and Social/Cultural Amenities

The roads, indicated above, are in generally poor condition, with the unpaved roads being is better condition than the paved. The wood construction wharf which was rebuilt in the 1980s, is operated by the Orangedale Improvement Association. The wharf normally serves about 8 boats, but as many as 15 boats have been observed in the cove. There is a concrete small craft ramp into the Bras d’Or lakes from the edge of the Orangedale village.

Bus service to points west (usually Halifax) is provided by Acadian Lines or the shuttle from Sydney which can be boarded from Whycocomagh.

 The village of Orangedale has a central water supply which comes from a sink hole system is operated by the Orangedale Water Society and has 55 subscribers, both residential and commercial. The society is currently attempting to find other sources of better quality water for the community. Outside the village, the water source is private wells. Sewage treatment is by

private septics, except for the Lakeview Seniors Complex which has a larger system.

There is weekly garbage pickup for the Big Brook landfill; there is weekly blue bag recycling pickup for the depot in Port Hawkesbury. Some choose to deliver recyclables directly to the depot.

Orangedale Harbour

Fire protection for the Orangedale area is provided from the Volunteer Fire Departmentat Valley Mills. The Department has 17 volunteers, 4 active trucks (tanker, pumper, utility vehicle, first response van) and one 1941 truck for parades. The maximum distance travelled by the fire department is about 35 km.. The fire insurance rate is based on distance from the fire station: up to 8 km is rated protected.


The municipal area tax rate is 1.09/$100 for residential and resource (land not used for

commercial purposes); the commercial rate is 1.85/$100. The area rate for fire protection is 0.10/$100 (Valley Mills Fire Department).

Telephone service is provided by MTT. There is cell coverage in the area. Internet

service is dialup.

There is no CAP Site in the area. There is no cable television, but satellite

dishes are common. Electrical energy is supplied by Nova Scotia Power.

The Orangedale School closed in the early 1990s, and now students in elementary and

middle grades travel to Whycocomagh, while high school students go to Mabou. University and vocational students travel to whatever university or community college serves their needs.

Health services are available at Baddeck, Inverness or at the Whycocomagh Clinic.

Specialists are in these places on a periodic basis. Lab services are at Baddeck or Inverness.


Good Sized Smelts


Social services such as housing, home care or welfare are based in Port Hood or Port


Orangedale has a Presbyterian Church and a United Church. Roman Catholics attend

Mass at the church on the Whycocomagh Reserve. There is a Gospel Hall at Blues Mills.

Probably the most important social/cultural landmark in Orangedale today is the

Orangedale Station Museum, organized and operated by the Orangedale Railway Museum Society. The station was part of the Inter-colonial Railway service begun in 1886. Jim St. Clair’s research shows that the station was built of stacked timbers, reminiscent of the older untrimmed log construction. The second storey was restored as the station agent’s living quarters. The building contains a waiting room, display and archival areas, and a small model railway. Outside the building are several examples of rolling stock, a diesel locomotive, a rail snow plow, and a

caboose. The museum is the result of the committed work of a community group who prevailed upon Canadian National not to destroy the historic landmark, and who then proceeded, with some expert assistance, to turn the old station into one of the best museums in Nova Scotia.

L’Arche at Point Grace, located near a lake just across from the Orangedale Railway

Museum, has a workshop and two community houses. There is a L’Arche craft and secondhand clothing outlet on the Orangedale Road to Whycocomagh.

The recreation potential for the area is strong. The Smith Community Centre was built by the Orangedale Improvement Association and can hold up to 250 people. It is the community venue for weddings, dances, concerts, suppers, etc., and voting. Other halls include the fire hall at Valley Mills, and the church basement at the Orangedale United Church. Orangedale Improvement Association is currently considering the possibilities of expanding the potential of Camp Aite Breagh which presently accommodates 80 – 100 young people per week during the

summer months. There is sailing, fishing, and swimming in the Bras d’Or Lakes. There aremany unofficial@ snowmobile and ATV or walking/cross country trails in the area.

Industries and Commercial Services

Major employers in the Orangedale area are Stora Enso Forest Industries in Port Hawkesbury and Georgia Pacific Gypsum Mining in Sugar Camp and Melford. Forestry in private wood lots is also an important source of employment. This includes pulp cutting, some logging, and silviculture. The silviculture industry goes beyond simply cutting and delivery: safety, disease control, controlled cutting, reforestation, all under environmental guidelines, are recognized as essential for an sustainable forest industry. Farm abandonment in the area since the 1940s, resulting in even old growth forest, is one of the causes of forestry destruction, such

as the spruce beetle pest.

A Peaceful Setting – Orangedale, Cape Breton

Oyster farming is also a major resource employer. The full impact of the recent discovery of disease in the stocks has yet to be realized. Orangedale was once the centre for oyster farming on the Bras d’Or Lakes, and there was a research centre located at Gillis Cove. Most of the oyster farming and research is now being carried through the Mi’kmaq communities around the Bras d’Or Lakes. Lobster is fished commercially on a limited scale. A sand pit near the Orangedale village supplies sand for the cement plant at Auld’s Cove: trucks from several companies are constantly hauling the sand.

Aite Breagh, a summer camp for disadvantaged youth is operated by the YMCA in

Co-operation with Community Services. Student employment and maintenance jobs are available seasonally. There are plans to expand the facilities and the functions of Camp Aite Breagh. Other employment is found in the service industries, and trade and professional fields: hair dressing, institutional maintenance, home care, motor vehicle repair, computer sales and repair, teaching, nursing. A significant number of people in the area are retired. There are two commercial establishments in Orangedale: the Smith General Store carries almost everything from gas to groceries to appliances to furniture; the Orangedale Building Merchants has a significant stock of lumber and building supplies. The employment is the area is probably evenly divided between seasonal/trades/professional/service and Stora/Georgia Pacific.

A nice peaceful place to live – Orangedale,  Cape Breton

A recent economic investment in the area was the initiation of a marble quarry at

Kennedy’s Big Brook near River Denys in 2001. MacLeod Resources plan on extracting

different grades of marble for various purposes in a three stage venture. They expect to export the unpolished rare red marble that is found on this site. Processing of marble is hopefully anticipated as well.

Tourism facilities, except for the wharf in Orangedale serving recreational boats, are

mainly found in Whycocomagh. Orangedale’s hotel is long closed, and the hostel at Gillis Cove is no longer operating.

The urban centres which serve the Orangedale district are Whycocomagh (10km.) and

Port Hawkesbury (40 km.). Commercial services are also obtained at North Sydney and

Sydney. Banking is done at Whycocomagh, Baddeck or Port Hawkesbury from a variety of banks and credit unions.

(Here are a number of sources who researched and put this article together. Along with sources are addresses where additional information may be obtained. My thanks to all those who contributed. CAPER)

Sources: Randy MacDonald; John Eddy King; C.D. Blue Forestry Ltd, ; Nova Scotia Atlas, 5th Edition, Province of Nova Scotia. 2001;

Soil Survey of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia (1963); Orangedale and Gillis Cove Cemetery

recorded by R Fraser (1999), ; C.B. Bethune, First

Presbyterian Church in Cape Breton from MacTalla (nd); LArche Cape Breton, ; MG 14, 46: MacAulay, AValley Mills 9189596;

MG 13, 14: MacAulay South Side River Denys, 1914; Bruce Fergusson, Placenames of Nova Scotia (1963);Orangedale Railway Museum, ; Jim St. Clair, The Orangedale Station, _Station ; Orangedale Home Page, ; ECBC, ; Natural Resources Canada ; Natural Resources Nova Scotia ; Nova Scotia

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