Parks Website Design and Content © by Eric Krause, Krause House Info-Research Solutions (© 1996)
All Images © Parks Canada Unless Otherwise Designated

  Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada

Parks Canada ~ Parcs Canada
Cape Breton ~ Le Cap-Breton

© Yvon LeBlanc - Louisbourg 1744

ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE OF CANADA (N.S.)

THIS RESEARCH AND GENEALOGICAL WEBSITE WAS ARCHIVED IN 2010

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site occupies a special place in the national historic sites system. In the first half of the 20th century, fur trade posts and military forts constituted the majority of the national historic sites. More recently, events and individuals representing significant aspects of social and cultural history have been commemorated to present a broader view of Canadian historical development. Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site is one of the very few historic sites that has as its primary role the commemoration of man's inventive accomplishments. In the Atlantic Region, only Marconi National Historic Site shares this theme. The special role of Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site is confirmed in the historic sites system plan developed in 1980, which acknowledges the broad scope of the experiments conducted by Bell and his associates at Baddeck. The purpose of this site is to communicate the story of Bell's wide-ranging interests and inventive work, much of it undertaken at Baddeck.

SETTING

Located on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, the Site consists of 10 hectares of land, overlooking Baddeck Bay, part of the Bras d'Or Lakes, and Beinn Bhreagh, Bell's summer home, where much of his scientific work was pursued. The land slopes steeply from the exhibit complex to a small pond beside Highway 205. The Site is approximately two kilometers from the Trans Canada Highway 105, leading from Port Hawkesbury to North Sydney. It is located in a residential area on the edge of the village of Baddeck, a community of approximately 1000, which is the municipal and service center for Victoria County.

The Site provides a center for the commemoration and interpretation of Alexander Graham Bell and his associates. It also functions as a center for the study of Bell's scientific and humanitarian work as illustrated by the artifacts and documents preserved there. A variety of services are available to the public. Resources include the exhibit building with administration wing, maintenance compound, and parking lot with washroom facilities and picnic tables. The original part of the exhibit building (Hall A) was opened in 1956. Expansion to the building took place in the late 1970's and 1996 has brought improved accessibility, a children's area and the redesign of exhibits.

HISTORICAL RESOURCES

The major historical resources at the site are the large collection of artifacts related to Alexander Graham Bell's research, which he conducted both at Baddeck and elsewhere; books, photographs and copies of material from his personal archives; and various personal items, furniture and awards received by Bell during his lifetime. Most artifacts are original, but there are some reproductions that are also valuable, particularly ones such as the HD-4 reconstruction, which incorporates original parts. Some archival material are original, others are valuable copies of the original transcriptions located elsewhere.

BEINN BHREAGH

Still in private ownership, Bell's summer estate retains many elements, such as roads, wharfs and buildings, from Bell's time. His descendants maintain Beinn Bhreagh Hall and many of the historic outbuildings (e.g. the Kite House, the Lodge, and the Kia Ora boathouse), although some are considerably changed. The graves of Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel are located on the Beinn Bhreagh estate. There is no public access to this property. It is a significant off-site resource because, as the scene of Bell's work, it provides the context for the exhibit complex.

HISTORICAL SUMMARY

Best known as the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell was also one of the outstanding figures of his generation in the education of the deaf. Bell first came to Baddeck in 1885 and returned the next year to establish a vacation home for his family, far from the formality and summer heat of Washington. He regularly spent a substantial part of the year at Beinn Bhreagh and both he and his wife, Mabel Hubbard Bell, played an active role in the social and intellectual life of the village.

By the time of Bell's arrival in Baddeck, the success of the telephone had freed him from the need to earn a living and, at Beinn Bhreagh, Bell continued his busy routine of experimentation and analysis. His imagination and wide-ranging curiosity led him into scientific experiments in such areas as sound transmission, medicine, aeronautics, marine engineering and space-frame construction. Bell can be considered an inventor, an innovator, an inspirer of others and a humanitarian. Aeronautical work was a large part of his life at Beinn Bhreagh, from early kite-flying experiments to the success of the Silver Dart in February 1909. This achievement was a product of Bell's collaboration with four young men (Casey Baldwin, Douglas McCurdy, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge and Glenn Curtiss) in the Aerial Experiment Association, founded in 1907. In later years, Bell and Baldwin turned to experiments with hydrofoil craft that culminated in the development of the HD-4, which set a world speed record in 1919.

Bell's activities at Beinn Bhreagh had a significant impact on the economic and social life at Baddeck. The estate provided work for men and women both in traditional service occupations and in jobs connected with Bell's experiments, such as production of thousands of tetrahedral cells for his massive kites. Mabel Bell played a vital role in her husband's career, providing him with both financial and moral support to pursue his diverse interests. It was Mabel Bell who inspired, founded and funded the Aerial Experiment Association which achieved heavier- than-air flight. Mrs. Bell was primarily responsible for the management of Beinn Bhreagh and was deeply involved in village life, helping to establish the local public library and Home and School Association as well as a reading club for young women.

GENERAL OPERATIONS

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site is open daily throughout the year. A variety of personal services are available May through October. Outside that period, there are self-guiding exhibits and personal services are available only on a request and ability-to-respond basis.

INTERPRETIVE PROGRAMS

Regular programs at the site (May through October) include staff presentations. The childrenís kite-making workshop and experiment program are available on a daily basis in July and August. During the year there are special events. Special arrangements can be made for school group visits.

STORY LINE

In the reception and orientation hall, "Home" tells the story of the Bell's Baddeck home, Beinn Bhreagh. Children will enjoy the "Discover" area. This hall is also where visitors can learn more about Mabel Hubbard Bell and are introduced to the overall contents of the Site .

A gallery passageway called "Sound and Silence" tells the story of Dr. Bell's work teaching deaf people to speak. Displays take the visitor from Bell's birth in Scotland to his family's arrival in North America in 1870; the years that led him to the telephone; his marriage to Mabel Hubbard in 1877 and their arrival in Baddeck in 1885. In "Ideas" the wide range of experiments carried out by Dr. Bell and his associates are illustrated. In the theatre named "Mr. Bell", programs of many kinds are offered.

In the "Air" exhibit visitors will find artifacts related to Bell's work with gigantic man-carrying kites and airplanes including parts from his Silver Dart airplane which made the first powered flight in Canada. A small theatre shows a 13 minute film on his aviation experiments.  

The final exhibit area, "Water", presents the story of Bell's and Casey Baldwin's experiments with hydrofoil craft, culminating in the success of the HD-4, the remains of which are preserved here adjacent to the full-sized reproduction of the craft.

EXHIBIT AND AUDIO/VISUAL MEDIA

The exhibits incorporate text and graphic panels, display cases, artifacts, archival material and audio-visual elements. Monitors in the reception and orientation halls provide an overview of the exhibit contents and there are audio - visual programs in other areas of the Museum. Programs offered at the Site may include audio - visual presentations.

OTHER RESOURCES

Bell on the Internet

The Bell Institute, University College of Cape Breton, has access to a wide variety of personal notes, lab notes, and professional papers compiled over the years by Alexander Graham Bell, his family and associates. This material resides at Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site and the Bell Institute has developed a comprehensive index of these materials.

A recent project of the Bell Institute was making an electronic collection of much of this archival material. With funding from Bell Canada and co-operation from Parks Canada, the program is well established making a large portion of the wealth of material in the Bell Family Collection readily accessible to the public.

A computer kiosk containing the program has been set up at Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck and at the Bell Homestead in Brantford, Ontario. Visitors to each site can enjoy the program.

The program is available on the Internet an can be accessed as follows:

http://bell.cbu.ca

Through the support of the AT&T Foundation the second release of digital images of the Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers from the holdings of the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress is now available:

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/bellhtml/

The Bell Family Papers

Major historical resources at the Site include the large collection of artifacts related to Alexander Graham Bellís research which he conducted at Baddeck and elsewhere. There are also books, photographs, various personal items, furniture and awards he received during his lifetime.

The archival collection consists of volumes of material, some original and others are valuable copies of the original transcriptions located elsewhere.

Bell spent close to 18 years in and out of court defending his right to the telephone patent. This experience taught him it was very important to keep accurate records of all his experimental work. He also was an avid reader and was closely involved with scientific and other kinds of organizations so he wrote academic papers and kept records of his personal observations. Mabel Bell decided early on in their family life that she would keep all correspondence and the result is au invaluable record of the personal side of their lives through letters.

Major volumes of the archival collection include the Home Notes consisting of 135 volumes of handwritten material, telegrams. notes on daily events, drawings, news-clipings, calculations and experiments. The Beinn Bhreagh Recorder was developed to chronicle life at Bellís Baddeck home and consists of 25 volumes including black and white photographs. It is a record of not only laboratory work but day-to-day events and occurrences on Beinn Bhreagh. The Lab Notes consists of 7 volumes of illustrations, notes and calculations, There are 5 volumes of Dictated Notes taken mainly in Washington and at Beinn Bhreagh and dealing mostly with experiments. The A.E.A. Bulletins provide a record of the work of the Aerial Experiment Association in 7 volumes and contain articles, blueprints and photographs. Correspondence consists of 180 volumes of Letter Books which contain written accounts of Bell's 'Contributions to Knowledge', a brief scrapbook section and many letters written by family and associates.

A computer kiosk in the Ideas exhibit area of the museum provides the visitor with access to many of the above mentioned volumes.

In addition, the large archival collection is available to the public for research purposes by appointment only, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.

VISITOR SERVICES INFORMATION

There are racks containing Nova Scotia tourism information brochures just inside the entrance of the building and the village of Baddeck provides information service at the Baddeck Welcome Center on Chebucto Street.

RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

In keeping with Mabel Bell's love of gardens, the museum grounds are tastefully landscaped with flower and shrubbery beds. Baddeck enjoys a microclimate, as does Beinn Bhreagh, and this provides a degree of warmth that permits healthy growth of the site's magnolia trees.

Benches are placed throughout the grounds so visitors may sit back and enjoy the outdoors and savour the Lakes and mountains. On the grounds is a triangular wooden shelter called a tetrahedral shelter after Bell's gigantic kites. Bell had a few of these shelters in various locations at Beinn Bhreagh and used them to relax in.

To the far right of the upper parking area is a picnic area with pathways leading to the rooftop viewing deck. Two exhibit panels reflect thousands of years of use of the Bras d'Or Lakes by the Mi'kmaq people. Visitors can enjoy a spectacular view of the landscape and waters that reminded Bell so much of Scotland. Baddeck Bay served as a landing strip for the Silver Dart airplane and in the summer as a testing ground for the HD4.

SALES OUTLET

The Alexander Graham Bell Museum Association, a non-profit organization, operates a sales shop in the site. The shop sells books, print materials, souvenirs, film and other gift items that relate strongly to Bell, his works and the themes of the site. Theme-related sales items are developed cooperatively between Parks Canada and the Association.