Nova Scotia

In Nova Scotia, they’re celebrating the deep, blue sea

No town in the province is more than a short drive from salt water

April 27 1981
Nova Scotia

In Nova Scotia, they’re celebrating the deep, blue sea

No town in the province is more than a short drive from salt water

April 27 1981

In Nova Scotia, they’re celebrating the deep, blue sea

Nova Scotia

No town in the province is more than a short drive from salt water

In the summer of ’81, Nova Scotia’s tourism theme is “Seaside Spectacular” and, according to government publicity, it’ll be “a provincewide celebration highlighting our marine heritage and maritime way of life.” There’s certainly logic in the idea of celebrating Nova Scotia’s seagoing history. From salt water to salt water, the province is nowhere wider than 128 km and, though its total length is only 576 km, its shoreline—with great fingers of sea stabbing the land—is 7,440 km. That’s longer than the breadth of the whole continent. More than 100 lighthouses and fog alarms help vessels find their way between the sea and the ports of Nova Scotia. The sea, more than anything else, has defined the province’s character, and back in 1942 an American-born writer named Dorothy Duncan had this to say:

“Except for the convenience to transportation of a 17-mile-wide isthmus, Nova Scotia is in every other sense an island, with all the self-conscious unity and distinction that every small inhabited bit of earth entirely surrounded by water seems to possess. Its outline is one of the most distinctive in the world; for no matter what it happens to be colored on a map it reminds almost ever>one of a lobster. There its geographical simplicity ends, however; for no place is more difficult to fit into a single phrase.”

Nova Scotia’s shape may remind some of a lobster but it reminds others of a giant pier, and the pier’s strategic location in the sea is the key not only to its trading and wartime history but also perhaps to its entire economic future. That, and the oil and gas that so many believe will soon come from under the sea. But it was fish that mattered first. The first western Europeans to visit Atlantic Canada after the Vikings were probably not the famous explorers—with their proclamations and dreams of Cathay—but, rather, a few fishermen. The fish lured the men and, as the generations became centuries, the fish were the inspirationfor the building of thousands of vessels. Vessels to catch fish, carry fish, and bring home whatever the fish could buy in strange ports. Vessels that took their graceful shape at hundreds upon hundreds of beaches, coves and inlets around Nova Scotia’s massively intricate shoreline.

The fish then were a reason for the growth of trade, the maturing of master shipbuilders, the rise of the timber industry, the survival of towns, and in farmhouses up and down the shore the fact that, come winter, there’d be something salty to eat with the boiled potatoes. The fish are the backbone of Nova Scotia’s proud, seagoing tradition, and Nova Scotians know it. There are those who would never dream of risking their breakfasts aboard a Cape Islander in rough weather, but who nevertheless display in their living rooms gorgeous photographs and paintings of storm-tossed schooners. Tributes to the men who made a shared history.

Just as the fisheries remain a linchpin of the Nova Scotia economy, the sea is still strong in Nova Scotia’s traditions, folklore, festivals, sports and language.

In summer, visitors, too, may enjoy lobster boils, clam-bakes, dory races, yacht races, beachcombing, scallopshucking contests, rock-hounding, cod-jigging, and myriad other seaside pleasures. Including just sitting down to watch the waves break, the gulls wheel, and the clouds scudding along the horizon.

It’s appropriate that you can reach Nova Scotia by sea. Modern ferryboats, some as big as small ocean liners, run from Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine, across the Bay of Fundy mouth to Yarmouth, N.S.; from Wood Islands, P.E.I., across the Northumberland Strait to Caribou, N.S.; and from Saint John, N.S., across Fundy to Digby, N.S. (Speaking of pleasures from the sea, Digby is famous for its harvests of that matchless shellfish delicacy, the scallop.) For those who’d rather come by air, there are airports at Yarmouth, Sydney and Halifax (International). Once here, you can count on a network of high-speed highways and good secondary roads to help you celebrate the Seaside Spectacular.

The province has nine designated tourist travelways. Though each has its own scenery, history and culture they are alike in that they all skirt the sea. The Sunrise Trail, for instance, boasts about 40 beaches. The Glooscap Trail, leads you to the world’s highest tides. The CabotTraii encircles the Cape Breton Highlands and, soaring up to 366m above sea level, reveals sensational seascapes. It’s among the most spectacular drives on the continent. Then there are the Evangeline Trail in the Annapolis Valley, the Lighthouse Route on the South Shore, Marine Drive on the Eastern Shore, the Fleur-de-lis and Ceilidh Trails in Cape Breton, and the Halifax-Dartmouth route that enables you to explore the province’s biggest and most cosmopolitan urban area.

You may also choose actually to go to sea for a while. B/uenose II is the replica of the fishing-racing schooner that became so famous in the Twenties and Thirties that her image still sails, close-hauled, across the Canadian dime; and throughout the summer this second Bluenose takes visitors on sailing cruises of Halifax harbor. Moreover, charter-boat skippers on various Nova Scotia coasts take visitors out to sea to fish, feed, or enjoy the scenery. At beaches and along scenic stretches of coastline, there are both provincial and privately run campgrounds. Moreover, since no town in Nova Scotia is more than a short drive from salt water, celebrations will occur inland as well, at fairs, folk festivals, craft markets and concerts. Good places to explore Nova Scotia’s maritime heritage are the Fisheries Museum in Lunenburg (Lighthouse Route) and the Fisheries Life Museum at Jeddore (Marine Drive). But they, of course, are merely two among dozens of ways to join this summer’s province-wide Seaside Spectacular.

The Annapolis Valley: A welcome sight for city-sore eyes

For generations, visitors from the big cities of North America have been discovering and rediscovering the lush farmland of the history-drenched Annapolis Valley. First settled by the Acadian French more than 300 years ago, and later “the apple orchard of the British Empire,” the Valley is still the fruitbasket of Nova Scotia. You can buy fresh fruit and vegetables at farmers’ roadside stands, and on some farms you can even pick your own. The Evangeline Trail winds through the Valley, and on it (or near it) you’ll find picnic parks, campsites, public beaches, historic sites, monuments and museums. If you’re in the Valley in early June, you’ll enjoy the five-day Apple Blossom Festival. Bring your camera. The festival includes the choosing of a queen from among princesses representing towns up and down the length of the Valley. At blossom time, a writer decided in 1942, the pink and white foam of the orchards “is like a glorified natural bubble bath, evanescent and perfumed with a scent no manufacturer has been able to imitate with accuracy.” It’s still like that.

On the Eastern Shore, you can catch fish, eat fish, dive into history

Whether its deepsea or freshwater fishing that grabs you, you’ll find it on the Eastern Shore. Brown trout is abundant in the Guysborough River

and, in coastal waters, feisty tuna gladden the hearts of those who like to go after big fish. Not only fishermen but hunters as well come to the Eastern Shore in search of their favorite game. The area is abundant in wildlife, and also offers sailing, scuba-diving and swimming in clean water. For those who prefer the serenity of a lake, there’s excellent canoeing. Not surprisingly, the Eastern Shore boasts plenty of good seafood. If you’re lucky, you might find a church or community supper where, for a reasonable price, you can dig into down-home cooking. Moreover, at Tangier there’s a smokehouse that, among gourmets, is worldrenowned for its smoked salmon. Its eel and mackerel are worth trying, too. At Sherbrooke Village you can sample meals from ^n 1880s menu, watch villagers in period costumes spin yarn, make quilts, hook rugs, work in the blacksmith’s shop, and tour through restored pioneer houses. Like fishing, Sherbrooke Village is part of what the Eastern Shore is all about.

The spooky beauty of the Fundy Shore

When faced with braggarts about other countries, Nova Scotia’s greatest 19th-century statesman, Joseph Howe, squelched them with an unbeatable question: “How high does vour tide rise?” His tides were those of the Bay of Fundy and, of course, they’re still the highest in the world, sometimes rising more than 15m, regularly leaving ocean-going ships high and dry. Fundy fishermen string nets on poles in the sand, and after the tides recede, just walk out to harvest their catch. The Fundy Shore is rich in folklore and legend. It was from Blomidon Mountain that Glooscap, mangod of the Micmac Indians, was said to rule supreme. Then there was that famous mystery ship, the Mary Celeste. Built here at Spencers Island in 1861, she was later discovered drifting off Portugal, with her cargo intact, “with all sails set and everything in order, but not a person on board or ever found.” You can find amethysts, agates and other semi-precious stones on Fundy Shore beaches. Local craftsmen use them to make jewelry. Budding anthropologists find a wealth of fossils and other relics from prehistoric times along the beaches of Joggins. Inland a way, at Springhill, you can go down an inky shaft at the Miner's Museum, and ponder the heroic lives and tragic deaths of coal miners.

The water’s warm on the Northumberland Shore, and the livin’ is easy

Miles of uncrowded sand beaches rim the Northumberland Shore,

and they’re among the best on the continent. Moreover, in summer they boast the warmest ocean water north of the Carolinas. To find them, you take the Sunrise Trail, which starts at Amherst and meanders 206 km, mostly along the coast, to the Canso Causeway, gateway to Cape Breton Island. Along the way, you can explore local museums in pretty villages, breathe in the salty air and, of course, go for an ocean dip. That salty air stirs up appetites, and a good way to satisfy your hunger is to find one of the many church suppers and barbecues. Maybe you’re one of those for whom few things are more stirring than the haunting sound of Scottish bagpipes. If so, head for the Highland Games in Antigonish. They’re the oldest continuing Highland spectacle in North America. Scots began to settle this part of Nova Scotia as far back as 1773. It reminded them of home. Some eventually moved west—an old story for Nova Scotia— but now visitors from all over the continent come here not only to enjoy nature but also to re-establish roots that go back a couple of centuries. The Shore promises the skirl of bagpipes, the swirl of kilts, and a suntan to boot.

The South Shore is seagoing history

Many believe the South Shore is the quintessential Nova Scotia. It’s got rugged coastlines, pretty fishing villages, secluded sand beaches for soaking up the sun, and probably more seagoing history per square inch than any other part of the province. A drive along the Lighthouse Route brings this history alive, a history of privateers who terrorized American shippingduringthe War of 1812, great schooner fleets that once raced to the fishing grounds off Newfoundland, and rum-runners who defied weather and the law to get contraband booze to thirsty Yanks. In the villages along this intricate, indented coast, old men still remember the glory days of the schooner fleet, and the adventurous nights of the rum-running trade. In Lunenburg, once one of the world’s greatest fishing ports, there’s an excellent waterfront Fisheries Museum. It includes the last of the old saltfish schooners, and a Prohibition-era rumrunning boat. Closer to Halifax, a bold lighthouse keeps silent watch over Peggy's Cove, quite possibly the most photographed fishing village in the world. Few appreciate, however, that next to Peggy’s Cove, there’s another fishing village that’s every bit as photogenic. Indian Harbour, a clutch of weather-beaten fishing shacks perched on the rock-strewn coast, is postcard-pretty. On the South Shore, it’s a good idea to chat with local people. Someone might just spin out a sea story you’ll never find in a book. Inland, at Kejimkujik National Park, there are good campgrounds, 100 km of marked hiking trails, canoes for rent, and seven canoe routes into the depths of an enchanted forest. The park is 380 square km of lakes, heavy forests, and glacier-scraped hills. It too, is part of the quintessential Nova Scotia.

Halifax-Dartmouth hustle and history in the "twin cities”

Linked by two bridges and modern ferries, facing each other across a superb natural harbor, Nova Scotia’s “twin cities” of Halifax and Dartmouth offer the most vibrant urban experience in the province. Halifax is the capital. Rudyard Kipling called her “the Warden of the Honour of the North.” Founded in 1749 to preserve peace, she thrived on war. She was a garrison town and, to some extent, still is. She was a seagoing town, a privateering town, a trading town, a busy, politicking, intrigue-ridden, profit-conscious, class-conscious, deeply British and parochial little port. Now, she’s a year-round superport, the commercial capital of the region, a hustling, cosmopolitan city. But there are places where you can still feel her history: The fortress on Citadel Hill, with its maritime and historic museums; the lovingly manicured Public Gardens, so much like an old, formal British park; and all along the restored stretch of the waterfront. At Historic Properties, an ambitious restoration that’s one of North America’s finest harborfront areas, you’ll find elegant shops and eateries and, smack up against the wharf, the graceful black hull and looming masts of the magnificent schooner, Bluenose II. (You can go for a short sail on her, too.) Both here and elsewhere in the city, some of the best restaurants in Canada serve fine seafood, including internationally famous Nova Scotia smoked salmon, locally famous Solomon Gundy (a tangy concoction of pickled herring), and all the lobster you can eat. Across the harbor: Dartmouth, the City of Lakes. It has 22 lakes within the city limits, many of them good for canoeing, fishing, or both. Dartmouth also boasts magnificent old houses, some of them restorations of the places originally built by New England Quakers who settled here after the American War of Independence and founded a whaling company. The Dartmouth Ferry, sailing between Dartmouth and Halifax, is a terrific travel bargain. For 20 cents, you can ride across one of the world’s greatest natural harbors on the oldest salt-water ferry system in North America.

"For simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all”

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone among other things, lived in and loved the sweet village of Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, and he once wrote, “I have travelled around the globe. I have seen the Canadian Rockies, the Andes and the Highlands of Scotland. But for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all.” There’s a memorial to Bell in Baddeck and, more interesting than that, the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Baddeck is the traditional beginning and end of The Cabot Trail—the circular highway route that skirts the coast of the Cape Breton Highlands—and anyone who has driven round the trail on a fine day might agree with Bell’s deathless opinion of Cape Breton’s beauty. The Cabot Trail, named after the explorer who sighted the island in 1497, is a breathtaking introduction to roaring seascapes, white bluffs, lush glens, and dizzying views of sky, ocean, forest and stone. Then there’s Fortress Louisbourg. Started by the French 268 years ago, this massive walled city eventually housed more than 5,000 men and was the biggest garrison in North America. The British destroyed it in 1760 but, thanks to the most ambitious historical reconstruction in Canada, it has risen from its own wreckage. Its inhabitants go about their 18th-century business in copies of 18th-century French clothing and, if you choose to plunge into the misty past with them, don’t forget your 20thcentury camera. Another way to explore Cape Breton’s French background is to go to St. Peter's, where the Bras d’Or Lakes meet the Atlantic Ocean, and follow the Fleur-de-lis Trail around the Acadian, Frenchspeaking island of Isle Madame. It has rocky coves, handsome fishing villages, and a museum with exhibits of ships’ chandlery and anchor-making that honor a heritage going back to the early 1800s. Cape Breton, however, is rich not only in its French heritage but also in the traditions, history and even the speech of the Scots who settled here in the 18th and 19th centuries. The town of St. Ann's boasts the only Gaelic College in North America. Since 1939 it’s been helping preserve Scottish culture, and in summer it offers courses in Highland dancing, arts, crafts, bagpipe-playing and the weaving of tartans. On the Northumberland Strait side of the island, the Ceilidh Trail winds through green hills that are steeped in Scottish tradition, and towns on the shores of the magnificent Bras d'Or lakes boast such Scottish names as Iona and Ben Eoin. Bras d’Or, encircled by highland scenery, resembles a Scottish loch. Cape Breton Islanders regard this 640-square-kilometre inland sea as the world’s most beautiful sheet of water, and they aren’t the only ones. Cape Breton is also proud of its mining history and the tough men who, for generations, have been going down the shafts— some of which stretched for miles under the sea—to bring up coal. You can tour old mines, such as the historic French workings at Port Morien; or modern ones, such as the Princess Colliery, Sydney Mines. The miners are as good a proof as any that Cape Breton is more than the beauty that stirred Bell. It’s also a mixture of remarkable people. They’re worth meeting.

The smart way to check into Nova Scotia

From anywhere in Canada or the continental United States, you can make reservations in Nova Scotia, and you can do it toll-free. CHECK IN, Nova Scotia’s computerized system for reservations and travel information, is linked to more than 270 hotels, motels, campgrounds, car-rental outfits, etc. CHECK IN has similar listings in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland. Once in Nova Scotia, you can make reservations in person at tourist centres in Yarmouth, Amherst, Pictou, Antigonish, Port Hastings, Halifax, Windsor and Lunenburg. Nova Scotia runs its own reservation centre at Wood Islands, P.E.I. In addition to its reservation service, CHECK IN’s computer has information on accommodations, weather, ferry schedules, car rental companies, festivals, special events, etc.

Here’s a CHECK IN directory. If you’re in Nova Scotia (outside Halifax-Dartmouth), New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, call toll-free 1800-565-7105. If you’re in the HalifaxDartmouth area, just call 423-5464. From Quebec, and from Newfoundland and Labrador, call 1 -800-5657180. From Ontario, call 1-800-5657140. From the rest of Canada (except B.C.), the number to call is 1-800-5657166, but from B.C. it’s 112-800-5657166. Finally, the CHECK IN number from anywhere in the continental U.S.A. (except Maine) is 1-800-3410286. From Maine, it’s 1-800-492-0643.