50 Years of Breton Books & Cape Breton’s Magazine

50 Years of Breton Books & Cape Breton’s Magazine

< Back to Articles | Topics: Trends | Contributors: Norma Jean MacPhee | Published: April 6, 2023

With a thirst for stories and the passion, dedication, and patience to give them a home, Ronald Caplan has been capturing and sharing stories of Cape Breton for 50 years.

Caplan was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He moved to Cape Breton’s North Shore on a whim and at the urging of a friend in 1972. “I wasn’t here very long before I knew I had really found an exceptional place,” says Caplan. “In terms of interesting people, their kindness, generosity, and interesting backgrounds.”

Caplan had read a book about the Foxfire movement out of the Appalachians and its magazine about rural life. “I thought someone should do that in Cape Breton,” says Caplan. “In one day, driving from Wreck Cove to the Englishtown Ferry, I designed the magazine in my head.”

Cape Breton’s Magazine was first published in 1972. During the next 25 years, Caplan recorded stories, took photographs, and secured ads for 74 issues.

He started meeting with people and collecting stories in his nearby neighbourhood of Wreck Cove. “How fortunate I was that I knew so little that nobody took it for granted I knew the answer to the questions I was asking,” says Caplan. “I was a genuine explorer and people were kind to share things with me in detail, getting me to see what was going on, the context for whatever the subject was.”

Caplan says he wanted the new magazine to be the largest on the newsstand — a goal he achieved. To this day, in many living rooms, rec rooms, and antique stores, you’ll find copies of the distinctive and large (10x14-inch) Cape Breton’s Magazine.

Its newsprint quality paper and black-and-white printing were the cheapest routes. Caplan invested his money in a good quality cover — a decision which boded well for its lasting quality.

“The stories I was hearing were remarkable, they were a new world for me,” says Caplan. “I guess I was also driven or determined to share them — first of all to save them and then out of respect for those people who had shared their stories with me, to share them with the wider world.”

When asked how he felt with that first issue in his hand, Caplan laughs and says, “Well, that’s a funny story.”

Excited with his very first issue ready to go, Caplan filled his van with magazines to drop off at stores. When he walked into a store in Glace Bay, “The fella took a look at it and said, ‘buddy, you’ve made a terrible mistake,’ and he did not put my magazine on his shelf,” says Caplan with a chuckle. “All I can say is 50 years later, his store is long gone.”

Ron Caplan’s resume glistens with prestigious awards, including the Order of Canada and Nova Scotia's Cultural Life Award, along with other folklore and oral history accolades. He doesn’t do it for any of that.

“I believed in the power of these stories. I believed in gathering these stories. And I believed they should be shared.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Trends

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