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Buildings and Legacies


Emilio Alonso-Mendoza summerDear Alexander Graham Bell Community,

Sitting on the plane on the return trip from Nova Scotia, I remember Baddeck. Funny that a year into my tenure as CEO of this association, I was invited by the Bell family to a most historic occasion in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. It was a celebration of Mabel Hubbard Bell, a woman ahead of her time, a special influence in Cape Breton in general and more specifically a woman dedicated to empowering women when this was not common practice. Cape Breton University honored Mrs. Bell with an honorary degree in a momentous ceremony filled with recognition of her historic efforts toward social reform.

Over the course of 15 years, Dr. Bell travelled between Boston and Brantford before settling in Georgetown with his wife, Mabel Hubbard Bell, and their two daughters. To get away from the city in the summer, he also decided to build a new home for his family in Canada. Funny that it was a shipwreck that caused them to dock in Baddeck when they were headed for Newfoundland.

Baddeck is on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and the home Dr. Bell built is revered for its breathtaking views and is called Beinn Bhreagh, Gaelic for "beautiful mountain." The landscape is close to paradise. The juxtaposition of the green mountains between the sparkling cobalt blue waters and azure sky, made it obvious why "Mabel and Aleck" fell so in love with the place.

Beinn BhreaghThe beauty of the site inspired Dr. Bell in his many experiments and inventions, which continued throughout his life and included explorations into global warming, energy conservation, solar heating, saltwater distillation and flight. The family divided their time between Washington and Beinn Bhreagh where Dr. Bell died on August 2, 1922. Mabel died six months later, and they are both buried atop Beinn Bhreagh mountain on the estate, overlooking Bras d'Or Lake. The property is still a refuge for their descendants. I had the privilege of sitting on the bench where the couple would sit for hours gazing on the beauty of their home, and I could see behind me the simple stone marking their graves.

Emilio Alonso-Mendoza with Wiley Grosvenor on the back paths of Beinn Bhreagh
 With Wiley Grosvenor on the
back paths of Beinn Bhreagh.

On July 31, 2015, Beinn Bhreagh was declared a Canadian heritage property, and I had the great honor of being invited to be part of the celebration. Sara Grosvenor, the youngest great-granddaughter of Dr. and Mrs. Bell, is a member of the AG Bell Board of Directors, and spoke on behalf of the family at this celebratory event.

Sara is dedicated to preserving her great-grandparents' contributions and achievements and celebrating their lives. By acknowledging the importance of Beinn Bhreagh to global and local history, and by recognizing the beauty of this site, this building helps to preserve Dr. Bell's and Mabel Hubbard Bell's legacy. Sara encouraged participants in the celebration to "not only appreciate what our ancestors have done, but also to live in the present and to do the best you can - it's not just frozen in time, it's thinking of the future and inspiring others."

As part of the weekend-long celebration, I spent many an afternoon and dinner hour with Dr. Bell's great-grandson, Gil Grosvenor, and his wife, Wiley, both of whom have been stalwart supporters of AG Bell for many years, and learning from Dr. Bell's great-great-grandchildren, James Grosvenor Watson, LSLS Cert. AVT, and his wife, Lea Donovan Watson, CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT, who continue to promote listening and spoken language. They travel the world to educate professionals in our field, and I can attest to their success since they seamlessly mix knowledge with good humor and camaraderie. 

With Lea and James Watson at Beinn Bhreagh.
With Lea and James Watson at Beinn Bhreagh.

I would be remiss if I did not thank Jan and Reid Blynn for their hospitality; their charming guest cottage was a welcome respite. I also had the privilege of meeting with Madeline Harvey, the director of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia where a white-glove tour gave me a glimpse of some of Dr. Bell's treasures. We spoke of a joint collaboration between our two institutions - more about that later.

Someone once told me that I should work to be remembered for the good I did in my lifetime, for the love I shared with family, friends and mankind. Legacies are remarkable things, and the more remarkable we are in how we serve others, the greater legacy we leave behind. Dr. Bell's legacy lives on in many ways, through his home, through his descendants who are committed to keeping his vision alive, and through the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. I invite you to think about your own legacy and how you can help us continue to bring Dr. Bell's vision to children who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Until next week,

Emilio Alonso-Mendoza


It is up to us to live up to the legacy that was left for us, and to leave a legacy that is worthy of our children and of future generations.
- Christine Gregoire