Quiet charm and resplendent colors soothe the urban soul on a Maritimes motor journey
Quiet charm and resplendent colors soothe the urban soul on a Maritimes motor journey
As OUR CAR CREPT through a dense fog toward Campbellton, New Brunswick, I made a mental note not to get any more bright ideas about taking autumn holiday trips. So far, cold weather had followed us from home in Ottawa through Quebec (near Mont Joli, we had seen snow), and after following the twisting road down the Matapedia Valley, whose scenic splendors were quite diminished when seen by automobile headlight, we had crossed a bridge into New Brunswick — and fog.
Both my wife and I had wanted to take a trip to the Maritimes for some time, we both felt Nature w'as at her best in the fall, and our two children were of preschool age. so we were free to go. Maps in hand, we had left Ottawa on a Friday afternoon in October, and resolved to make Campbellton early the next night. But it was after 10 p.m. when we arrived. There were few' signs of life, so we drove on through. A mile or two down the highway was Doyle's Motel, w'herc lights burned brightly, and we quickly turned in.
"Do you want something to eat?” the lady in the motel office inquired, unexpectedly. We did, indeed, and after putting the children to bed. we returned to the dining room for roast-beef sandwiches, apple pie like grandmother used to make on her better days, and a bottle of Maritime-brew'ed beer. This latter w'as a surprise, since we had assumed the liquor laws of the Maritime provinces would be a throwback to the days of Prohibition. But that, w'e discovered, is not the case. New' Brunswick (and Nova Scotia, it turned out later) allow you to have a drink with a minimum of trouble at a greater variety of hours than most provinces.
The next morning. Sunday, we followed the highway along the Baie de Chaleur, where waves rolled and seagulls wheeled — a show' that raised our spirits to the point that we began feeling the trip was worthwhile after all. Turning inland past Bathurst, we suddenly saw what we had come for. Lining the road on either side was a fantastic. unbroken display of autumn colors;
the roadside trees stretched for ten. twenty, thirty miles in ever-changing patterns. From lemon-yellow through golds, oranges, crimsons. scarlets, purples to varying degrees of green, they made an unbelievable show. Colors couldn't be so bright, alive. Colors couldn't exist that we hadn't seen before. Yet there they were, and Ontario's Muskoka and the Quebec Laurentians will never again have the same appeal.
Southeast from Chatham, the highway passed through little Acadian villages with such names as Kouchibouguac. GrandeAldouane, Richibucto. Buctouche. Cocagne — each gathered around a towering church spire, each with its full complement of lobster traps and weathered, long - nosed, open fishing boats.
The Prince Edward Island ferry docked us at Borden, and we drove on to Charlottetown. It was the day before Thanksgiving, as w'e were soon reminded when the first mote! was full (the only time this happened on our trip). "Wait a minute,” said the clerk. "I'll phone around and find a place for you." In a matter of seconds she had us a room. She told us it was an excellent motel, and enumerated its virtues in a fashion most unlike a competitor.
Early next morning. Thanksgiving Day. we toured the town and inspected the new buildings commemorating the centennial of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference which led to Confederation. These concrete slabs offer, to say the least, a distinct contrast to the mellow, brick, nineteenth-century charm of the downtown area. Then we headed south to the Nova Scotia ferry which docks at Wood Islands.
Wood Islands is a narrow neck of land pointing out into the sea, with a lighthouse, a few other buildings and a ferry dock. But between us and the ferry were a hundred other obstacles: cars full of returning
Thanksgiving holidayers. When the ferry pulled out with a full load, there were still twenty cars ahead of us.
But our forced two-hour wait proved to be a restful blessing after days constantly on the move. The other frustrated ferry
travelers, all Maritimers. were accepting their wait with great cheerfulness. In a situation that would have most citizens of today's busy world fuming, they all. from the youngest child, through teenagers, young marrieds. sober middle-aged citizens, to the very old, settled down to food and conversation at a small lunch counter. An elderly man engaged in a hilarious face-making contest with our children: a middle-aged woman struck up a cozy conversation with my wife that was still going strong when the horn of the ferry boat had sounded. We almost felt regret.
Ashore from the ferry at Caribou. Nova Scotia, we pushed along the road that wound through spectacular hills and valleys ablaze with autumn. Truro popped out of nowhere, a substantial town surrounded by the red autumn forest, and as suddenly disappeared as we drove on. The land grew hillier and rockier, and we rolled into Halifax past the still, black waters of a chain of lakes which reflected the scarlet leaves and the blood-red of the setting sun.
We left unsampled the night life of Halifax. in favor of an early start next day. And indeed, there seemed to he quite a hit of night life — the latest movies, jazz groups, nightclubs with floor shows, folk singers, and a discotheque were some of the offerings the night we were in town. Next morning. we investigated the Public Gardens, directly across the street from the hotel. Halifax citadel looked suitably grim and grey. We climbed its ramparts, peered down the barrels of cannons, investigated its military museum, admired the view of the harbor where the long grey ships of the Royal Canadian Navy were anchored.
We headed south and w'est from Halifax, bound for Annapolis Royal by Highway 3. At Mill Village, a clutch of little w'hite houses half hidden by trees, we stopped for a snack. The lone store in the hamlet was a nostalgic reminder of the last century — barrels, lanterns, overalls, all the paraphernalia of rural living — piled high in every nook and corner.
"You’ve come at
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At the door, apples for the visitor
a bad time for meals,” said the motel owner when we arrived in Annapolis Royal at 10 p.m., “but I'll call downtown and see if someone will stay open.” Once again. Maritime hospitality prevailed: a restaurant about to close would wait for us. The meal — homemade soup, lobster and roastbeef — cost six dollars, including the children’s portions.
Truro w'as only one hundred and seventy miles away, so next day we looked at a hit more of the countryside than usual — an agreeable hour at old Fort Anne, an eighteenthcentury installation right on the main street of Annapolis Royal; the reconstructed version of Champlain’s Habitation at Port Royal.
The real attractions of the Annapolis Valley are its beautiful little old towns and villages — Bridgetown. Middleton, Lawrencetown, Kingston, Auburn. Reminiscent of New England. from which their original settlers came, they have a particular beauty in the fall, with their whitepainted clapboard, their old trees and wide lawns, their Colonial church spires and slow, easy pace.
In Kentville. we lunched with the local newspaper editor at the Cornwallis Inn, an establishment complete with dark-wood paneling, spotless napery, pleasant waitresses, good food and martinis that bite.
“Go to Grand Pré,” the editor suggested. “You'll have the whole place to yourself this time of year. And when you get to Windsor, go to see the Haliburton house.”
Grand Pré lies just beyond Wolfville, a charming little white-painted town and home of Acadia University. No danger here of students wasting their college years in fleshpots — the nearest den of iniquity is a good seventy-five miles away. In the fall, the town park offers a bonus to the visitor: a box of apples from the orchards in the park is by the church door, with a sign inviting visitors to help themselves.
Windsor offers one of Canada's best-preserved period homes, Clifton, a magnificent pile built in 1833 by Thomas Richard Haliburton, creator of Sam Slick, whose adventures became nineteenth-century best-sellers and the first Canadian books of international stature.
After Windsor came Stewiacke, which has created a niche for itself with a roadside sign proclaiming itself the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator.
At Truro, Alex Thompson, a regional Travel Bureau official, told us. “Highway 2 takes you along the Fundy shore. Highway 4 goes inland, is shorter, and there's some hill country there that's spectacular right now." It was. The suddenness of steep red-clad hills were like miniature Rockies. Suddenly the land flattened, marshes appeared and the New Brunswick border sped by. The Trans-Canada Highway took us swiftly around Moncton, but left us an exit to take in the famous Magnetic Hill, which worked just as well in the fall as it does for thousands in the summer.
Ships steaming slowly into the har-
bor of Saint John were visible from our room as we settled down in the Admiral Beatty Hotel.
Next morning, we prowled around the Old Burial Ground, an unwalled cemetery smack in the centre of the city, looked at the Old City Market, descended and ascended King Street. Saint John’s nearly-vertical main street.
Then wje drove north for Fredericton. by the scenic route — in this case. Highway 102, which faithfully follows every twist of the Saint John River. Not one car did we see in fifty miles as we rolled slowly through summer cottage colonies and riverside hamlets. The only living creatures w'ere long lines of ducks headed south, and cattle grazing unconcernedly on a flat treeless island in the river.
Sunday morning was the beginning of our trek home. Fredericton showed us her best face for a sendoff, the sun shining over the still city.
Notew'orthy sideshows between Fredericton and the Quebec border included Pokiok Falls, a tiny burst of water that spills over a rock ledge beside the highway; the town of Hartland and its covered bridge, longest in the world; and the little lumbering communities along the river. In Andover, we stopped for lunch at York's Restaurant. Outside, it is unprepossessing. Inside, a cheerful waitress offered us six choices: steak, lobster, fried chicken, turkey, duck and home-smoked pork chops. My wife, still game for seafood, picked lobster, I settled for steak, and the children demanded pork chops. Along with this, we received homemade soup, homemade bread, salad and homemade corn fritters and maple syrup. As soon as we had finished all this, the waitress asked if she could bring an order of any of the other main courses. I managed a pork chop, but gave up when she suggested thirds of chicken, duck or turkey. If we had had the capacity, we could have worked our way through all six entrees for a flat price of three dollars each, half-price for the children.
As I went to pay the cheque, the waitress said accusingly, “You forgot your dessert — I’ll wrap something to take with you."
We took the kindly waitress’s “something” — and somehow it epitomized all the other good things, and memories of good things, we brought back with us from the friendly Maritimes. ★
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