Alexander Graham Bell inventor of the telephone

For whom Bell toiled | phone a friend | Best Canadian Maritimes museums

Charisma and character - and just a little bit game-changing. Action!

There was more to Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell than the telephone, as one Canadian museum reveals

If you wanted a speed date with Canadian history, the museums of the Maritimes provinces on the east coast of Canada would probably have you swiping right. Dedicated to everything from buried treasure, fishing and explosions, to Anne of Green Gables, folk artist Maud Lewis and the sinking of the Titanic, Canadian Maritimes pit-stops are absorbing cultural cameos.

Hard to beat is the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Nova Scotia (which, with Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, comprise the Maritimes), where you discover there was way more to the Scottish inventor than the telephone.

Bell, an Edinburgh-born scientist, engineer and humanitarian, might be best known for forever changing the way we communicate, but he quickly moved on. With contemporaries such as Edison, Marx, Einstein, Marconi, Pasteur and the Wright brothers, he lived and worked during a golden age of intellectual curiosity and rigour.

Beinn-Bhreagh-bras-dor-lake cape breton nova scotia bell summer home

The Bell summer home on Bras d’Or Lake, Beinn Bhreagh

The Bell museum is located by Bras d’Or Lake near Baddeck on Cape Breton, across the lake from Beinn Bhreagh (“beautiful mountain” in Scottish Gaelic), the summer home of the Bell family and its descendants since 1892. It’s where the Bells escaped the pressures, litigations and social whirl of Washington DC. The collection is an archive of sketches, engineering, machinery, photos, journals and insights into the extraordinary partnership he had with his wife, Mabel Hubbard, who became deaf after contracting scarlet fever at the age of five, and came to Bell as a teenage pupil.

Bell was never happier than when experimenting, and his areas of interest encompassed sound transmission, photography, medicine, aeronautics and marine engineering. Between 1875 and 1922, Bell and associates were issued with a total of 31 patents.

AGB museum aviaton sketch cape breton nova scotia skelly

An idea takes flight. One of Bell’s aviation sketches

During his years at Cape Breton, from 1892 until he died in 1922, aged 75, Bell was also developing steering-wheel prototypes, instruments to measure wind velocity, air-conditioning blowers, devices for providing drinking water from human breath and ways of transmitting sound under water.

While Mabel provided the administrative safety net and moral support (she must have been like a giant anti-anxiety tablet), her husband experimented with steam-powered helicopters, drinking soup through glass straws, a vacuum jacket that was a precursor to the iron lung, and selenium photocells.  He never gave up trying to perfect transmitters and receivers.


Mabel Alec Bell Bras d'Or Lake Cape Breton Nova Scotia

Sharing and caring: Mabel and Alexander Bell

Fascinated with genetics, Bell was also a successful sheep breeder, developing a super-flock with ewes that produced twins and had multiple nipples. In 1909, the Silver Dart, built by the Aerial Experiment Association which Mabel founded, was the first powered controlled aeroplane to fly in Canada.

Version four (HD-4) of Bell’s hydrofoil (or “hydrodromes” as he called them) had its maiden voyage in 1918 and, achieving a test run of 70.86 miles per hour (114km/h), was declared the fastest boat in the world.

Charlotte Gray, author of Reluctant Genius: The Passionate and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell, describes her subject as “a loner, driven by curiosity and philanthropic motives — the same urge to advance science and improve the world that has motivated him from the earliest days of helping deaf children enter a speaking world.”

Tour operator Collette has an 11-day Maritimes Coastal Wonders itinerary featuring the Cabot Trail and including the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. From $3779 a person twin-share round trip from Halifax; add airfares. ■ ■

alexander graham bell national historic site cape breton nova scotia canadian maritmes

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site


This story first appeared in The Australian, July 2018. 


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

'For whom Bell toiled | phone a friend | Best Canadian Maritimes museums' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.