The ferry crossing from Port aux Basques, Newfoundland to North Sydney, Nova Scotia was generally uneventful. The six hours passed rather quickly and within twenty minutes of disembarking, we were back to where we left off before heading to the Rock. Jim’s cousin, Glennis, and her husband, Garth, once again opened their home to us. This time, their son, Robin, and his girlfriend, Ashley, joined the party.
After a good nights sleep and the opportunity to get some laundry done, we hit the road for some touring. First stop was Glacé Bay and a quick stop at the mining museum. This area at the south east part of Cape Breton used to thrive on the coal industry but the mines have closed now. Apparently, there is talk of opening up again at nearby Donkin, but preliminary studies have not yet determined the feasibility of it. There is less and less demand for coal and the grade of coal here is not optimum grade.
By following the coastal road we arrived at Louisbourg. It was at this location that the fortified town was occupied by the French from 1713-1768. This was a period of ongoing struggles with the English over who had control of the land. Excavations have revealed the location of many of the buildings and over 500 documents have been found that allowed complete replicas of the town to be built to exact specifications of the original buildings.
Operated by Parks Canada as a national historic site, all the staff are dressed in period costume and demonstrate daily activities in the life of a member of the fortress. We got a glimpse into the past in terms of ship building, lace making, guard duty, etc.
Following that, we met Glennis and Garth just a couple of kilometres out of the park for the Beggars Banquet. That was lots of fun. Before being seated, we were taken to a room to be dressed in period clothing ourselves and then seated in the dining hall where we were treated to a great meal and fine entertainment. Garth even got up and performed a couple of songs for us all.
We said our farewells to Glennis and Garth the next morning and headed for Baddeck for a round of golf at the Bell Bay Golf Course. I was so proud…I was ahead of Jim through the whole game and then the last hole happened! My game fell apart completely and he ended up beating me by two strokes! That will teach me for being so cocky!
Baddeck is such a pretty summer town with a lovely harbour and lots of shops and restaurants. We had originally thought we might stay there for the night but while we were enjoying a cold beer after our game, we changed our minds. We were anxious to see the Cabot Trail so around 4pm we started out, heading north, taking the trail in a counter clockwise direction so we would always be on the outside lane and therefore have an unobstructed view of the water at all times.
We got on the trail at Englishtown by taking a 5 minute ferry ride.
There was lots of construction which caused delays but we were glad the repairs were being done. In some areas, potholes were really bad but the road was in generally good condition. Passing all manner of Artisans shops…pewter, leather, glass blowing, pottery, painters, quilters, sewing, soap making…we began a slow steady climb of more than 2km up Mount Smoky. By the time we reached the top, the view of the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean was phenomenal!
From there, it was a steady drop to Ingonish at water level. It was beginning to get late. We stopped to get photos of the bay from the wharf and the beach and then decided to stay there on the beach for the night. People were coming and going all evening to watch the sun go down or stroll along the pier. The sunset was amazing over the bay. When we were the only ones left except a couple of guys fishing from the wharf, we had a late supper then settled down for the night, setting our alarm to get up early to see the sun rise as well.
Sunrise was 6:12 so we set our alarm for 6:00. I woke at 5:30, anxious to see the sun rise. I was surprised that the sky wasn’t brighter by that time. I waited and waited and still it was quite dark. Then I realized that our clock in our van was still on Newfoundland time, a half hour ahead! Oh well, by the time the sun started to rise, we were packed up and ready to move on! After getting our photos there, we were able to stop at a view point a few kilometres further north and get more.
The Cabot Trail is breathtaking. There are lookouts placed strategically along the highway as it twists and turns uphill and downhill, offering views of picturesque bays and stunning mountains. It is hard to pass without stopping, and if you’re not in a hurry, it would be foolish not to stop. In some places we were watching surf crashing in, others we were looking over vast hardwood forests full of red spruce, sugar maple, hemlock, beech, yellow birch and red oak.
The forested highlands are riddled with hiking trails of various lengths and levels of ability. On one short walk we took in the Great Anse Valley we came to a “shieling” or shepherd’s hut, built in the middle of the oldest hardwood forest in the Maritimes, to commemorate the settling of the Cape Breton highlands by the Scots in the 1700’s. They came expecting a similar landscape to home but got much more wood and much less stone. Temperatures dipped far lower than they were accustomed to and they relied on the Mi’kmaq to teach them how to survive.
The bays and coves are pristine, most of them settled with little homes and offering some sort of water adventure. Whale watching, charter fishing, and kayaking bring tourists from around the world. We were content to walk the beaches and watch the many activities in the busy little harbours. In early morning and later in the evenings, these same harbours are quiet little spots to stroll around and savour the sounds and smells of the sea.
South of Margaree Harbour, the landscape begins to change. The mountains are not so high and small farms blend with sandy beaches. This is the Evangeline Region, predominantly proud Acadians. This is home to many famous Celtic singers like the Rankin Family and Ashley MacIsaac. Many of the pubs offer Ceilids, or musical gatherings, in the evenings.
It is also the home of Glenora Distillery, a small operation that distils single malt Scotch Whisky that has won awards internationally. We went on a tour and were given a taste of their 10 year aged Scotch…how do people drink Scotch?
The Inverness area is known for its beautiful sandy beach which we were happy to soak up the sun on! Many of the beaches in Nova Scotia have lifeguards on them…something I don’t think I’ve seen in Alberta for many years.
This area recently opened two new World Class golf courses which have given a much needed source of employment for more than 300 people directly and many more indirectly. Apparently many big names have been flown in from all over the world to play here.
We stopped for a picnic supper in Mabou, washed it down with a drink from The Red Shoe Pub, owned by the Rankin Sisters, and then headed west over the Canso Causeway and on to Antigonish where we would spend another night with Tom and Chris…Newfoundland and Cape Breton under our belts since we left them three weeks ago.
With our tummies full, thanks to Tom, we were on the road to Pictou Harbour to see the replica of The Ship Hector. She was the ship that brought the first wave of Highland Scots to “New Scotland” in September of 1773. They set sail more than three months earlier with 189 passengers and only 90 bunks. Hurricane gales set them back two weeks as they were rounding the cape at Newfoundland. They ran out of food and water and were overcome by dysentery and other diseases. Somehow, most of them survived and persevered through that first cold winter. Much of Nova Scotia’s heritage is based on this voyage that would be the beginning of many more immigrants from Scotland, all with the dream of owning and thriving on their own piece of land. When we toured the boat, we were shocked at how small it was and could imagine the stench of the steerage area by the time they arrived.
The town itself has many features that distinguish it as having Scottish heritage. Many of the old stone buildings, for example, as well as the tartans for all the various clans hanging from the lamp posts.
While in Pictou, we also checked out the Fisheries Museum and learned more about fishing in the Northumberland Strait. There was a poster there which helped us identify the various shells we’ve scavenged from the beaches out here.
Then on to Truro. Many moons ago, my forefathers settled in this area from England to farm before eventually moving out to Saskatchewan. We checked out the graveyards to see if we could find anything. We came across a ‘Grover DeArmond’ but according to my Aunty he is no relation. It was fun searching…graveyards offer so many possible stories.
It was late afternoon when Miles pointed us towards the area of Halifax. We drove through Cole Harbour, the home of Sidney Crosby, and followed the shore east, twisting in and around all the little inlets, stopping finally at Cow Head to have our picnic supper. There is a huge marshland area there that has been donated to the province for conservation purposes. There is also a long beach that would be very busy in good weather but rain was threatening and wind was blowing. The lifeguards were having an easy day.
Heading into Halifax, we passed the industrial city of Dartmouth. Refineries, Irving Oil headquarters, Baden Powell Centre and a huge auto complex were all on our way. We were amazed at all the new cars that have arrived off the ships and are now being loaded onto trains for distribution across Canada.
After locating a Walmart in Halifax, we parked our van and hopped on a bus to take in some of the nightlife in Halifax. It turned out that Glennis and Garth were in the city for their semi-annual Costco run. They were staying in a hotel not far from the city centre so we met them at the Split Cow Pub, renowned as Halifax’s original tavern, dating back to 1749. Mr. Shippey, the original owner of the building, was allegedly granted the first license to sell beer and spirits in Halifax. Local entertainment offered a great mix of traditional Maritime songs along with good old rock and roll. We met a few other people and had a great evening supporting the local brewing companies!
In the morning, we headed into the city with the van. Parking on the street would be free since it was Saturday and plentiful since it was early. We were lucky to find a spot right near the harbour so it sat there for the day while we walked the length of the harbour Boardwalk.
Halifax has a great waterfront, filled with yachts of all sizes, motor boats, cruise ships and even Theodore the Tugboat for the little ones!
Restaurants, pubs, stores, souvenir shops, kiosks for tours of the harbour…all along the water front. Chairs, benches and even hammocks are available. The farmers market bustles with yummy food and exceptional artisans. Helicopters fly back and forth across the harbour showing it off to hundreds of tourists daily.
But truly, this harbour has been the lifeblood of Halifax and Nova Scotia as a whole for centuries. It is ice free year round and has frequently served as a naval base during times of world conflict. It is often used as the first inbound stop or last outbound stop in North America for international shipping trade. The working end of the harbour is equipped to process all kinds of commerce with cranes to lift a very diverse cargo from around the world. Work goes on in the industrial port around the clock, just as entertainment is available at the waterfront into the early morning hours. As the shipping industry modernized, the old buildings, “the Historic Properties” were no longer utilized and have since been refurbished and repurposed as shopping areas, pubs and restaurants.
Pier 21 is the terminal that the cruise ships arrive at but years ago, it served as a point of entry for many European immigrants. Following the Second World War, it either welcomed, detained, or rejected close to a million immigrants until it closed in 1971. Now, at that same spot, an amazing exhibition giving the history of immigration in Canada and the building of our country is offered for all to see and read. We spent hours there, amazed at the courage of those that fled horrible conditions at home in the hopes of a new and better life in Canada. How heart wrenching it must have been to say goodbye to family, certain that they would never see each other again but uncertain as to what the future would hold for them.
Pier 21 also had a temporary display about the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1914. The cruise ship left Quebec Port bound for Liverpool on May 28 in the late afternoon. In the middle of the first night, while still in the Gulf, it was struck by a freighter in the fog and it sunk in 15 minutes. Very few survived. We were surprised we had never heard of this disaster…it was two years after the sinking of the Titanic…but it has piqued Jim’s interest and he’ll be looking for the book when we get home!
By evening, the parking lots were clearing and we noticed that you could park for $6/night. That seemed like a pretty reasonable camping fee so we moved our van off the street and backed it into a parking spot on the harbour! Too bad we hadn’t known about this last night. It would have saved us a bus ride to the pub and a late night cab fare back.
After supper on the roof top of Nova Scotia’s famous Alexander Keith’s Brewery and Pub, we walked along the boardwalk, lights from the boats, pubs and restaurants giving the harbour a whole new look. On one section we could hear music playing. As we neared, we noticed that a whole group of couples meet there for ballroom dancing on the boardwalk! In another area, a group of girls, out for a bridal shower, were laughing and having fun. One of the restaurants along the pier offered red shawls to all their guests to allow them to linger over their drinks in the cool of the evening. Being from the prairies, the life on the water was intriguing to us.
The next morning we were on the road early following the south shore past small bays and lakes, so quiet and serene in the early morning. This seems to be a wealthy area of Nova Scotia…pleasure crafts, as opposed to fishing boats, were moored at private wharfs beside big homes and summer cottages.
We arrived at Peggy’s Cove before 9 am. There were only a few people there. We’ve all seen pictures of this iconic spot…it looks just like the pictures…just beautiful. We climbed on the rocks for over an hour, watching more and more cars and tour buses arrive. When it got too crowded for our liking, we moved on.
Not far from the cove, at Indian Harbour, is a memorial for all the passengers and crew who were lost in the crash of the Swiss Air flight 111 on September 2, 1998. The flight was bound for Switzerland from New York when it experienced engine failure and crashed into this harbour after getting clearance to land in Halifax. Nobody survived and many local people were involved in the recovery of the plane and the bodies.
As we continued west along the shore, beauty surrounded us. The little towns of Chester and Mahone Bay…so pretty with their coloured houses and beautiful gardens. The hydrangeas grow as big as trees here…making me wonder how mine are doing back home!
Lunenburg was our next stop. Wow! So many well restored heritage homes in lovely bright colours…purple, blue, green. The streets are lined with gift shops and restaurants. In the harbour, we had expected to see the Bluenose 11 but it was out sailing. The Bluenose 11 is a replica of the famous Bluenose, “queen of the North Atlantic fishing fleet”. She was a schooner built at Lunenburg in 1921 and winner of The Herald Trophy, an international sailing championship. She was never defeated in her home waters and held the trophy for 4 years. She was wrecked and lost off Haiti in 1946. The Bluenose 11 represents the pride of Nova Scotians and offers tours of the bay aboard her deck.
Our next stop was The Ovens to see the sea caves along the rocks of the cape. A short half hour hike took us up and down steps and into caves caused by years of crashing waves. The views were spectacular and we even saw the Bluenose 11 after all…there it was out on the water, sailing back to Lunenburg on the far shore!
Another interesting thing about this area is the fact that gold was discovered here in 1841. The rush lasted only three years and the town that sprang up because of it was deserted six years later. You can still pan for gold along the coastline but you won’t get rich!
From there we headed back to the main highway at Bridgewater and followed it to Liverpool and then on to Hunts Point where we stayed the night in a campground that we would not recommend to anyone although the owners were friendly.
It was our last day in Nova Scotia. Our plans were to drive across the south section of the province from Liverpool, through Kejimkujik National Park…the locals call it Keji…to Digby on the Bay of Fundy where we would take the ferry to Saint John, NB. Our plans changed, however, en route to Kejimkujik. The weather had turned cool and rainy and we started to compare the costs of taking the ferry…$184 for a three hour passage, or $80 in gas for a four to five hour drive. The drive won, and we turned east to get around Mina’s Basin at Truro and then west into New Brunswick. This took us through the heart of the forest, past Christmas tree farms, orchards of apples and pears as well as hay fields, corn fields and dairy farms. Lovely old homes with gabled roofs dotted the countryside.
The Trans Canada highway from Truro to Amherst is a toll highway. We weren’t aware of that since we entered the province a few weeks ago via PEI on the north coast road. The highway was great and we cruised through the rest of the province quickly, blasted with heavy rain, interrupted with teases of blue sky ahead.
This had been a very long day of driving…because of the route we took it was 500 km by the time we pulled into Moncton…and we vowed not to do that again. Our nerves were shot, our butts were sore, tempers were short. We were thankful to get out of the van and take a nice long walk in the fresh air. By bedtime, all was once again right with the world!