Surprises on the South Shore

(To read about our Nova Scotia adventures from the beginning, click here.)

Our original travel plans included another very short trip, this one theoretically a ninety-minute drive from Lunenburg to Shelburne. We knew it would take longer since we wanted to peruse every nook and cranny—and there are a lot of them among the coves and harbors of Nova Scotia’s South Shore.

Shelburne interested me because it’s home to the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre. I learned about Black Loyalists from watching the series TURN, available on Netflix. (If you haven’t seen it, you may want to. Not only is it riveting, but educational—and surprisingly true to historian Alexander Rose’s book, Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring.)

As the British were facing the loss of the Revolutionary War, its military leaders offered freedom and land to anyone who escaped slavery and came over to the British side. It was a big risk, but some 30,000 successfully made it to the British lines. As the war ended, about 2,000 Black Loyalists were evacuated to Nova Scotia, most of them landing in Shelburne, which became the largest settlement of free blacks outside the continent of Africa. Shelburne was home to other British Loyalists, moneyed ones, and many of those homes are still intact today.

However, a few weeks before our trip began, we got a phone call from the Nova Scotia area code. Our Shelburne Airbnb host told me the well had run dry so we’d have to find another place to stay. We decided our best bet was the ‘Lobster Bay Loft’ in Lower Argyle. (Don’t you just love that name?) It was on our route and only added another half-hour to our driving day. We figured we had plenty of time to take in Shelburne and all its sights and still arrive at our final destination by 3:00 pm, the earliest time we could check in. I was thoroughly exhausted and looked forward to a few relaxing afternoon hours in our Airbnb.

But . . . within minutes of leaving Lunenburg, we came upon a sign for The Ovens Natural Park, another place on our must-see list with its cliffside walking trail and sea caves, aka ovens.

We turned off our scenic highway route toward the park. The young woman who took our admission fee explained about the sea cave trail and said most people make the round trip hike in about forty-five minutes. She must not have had many photographers pass through. It was a good two hours later when we returned to the parking lot, chilly and windblown (it was so windy)—but exhilarated.

Can you see the wooden rail way up there where there’s a gap between the trees? That’s how close we were to the rocky cliff on most of our walk through the park.

Trailside view

I got a new spiky hairstyle thanks to the wind.

So far down

Beyond the platform (in that dark hole) is yet another set of steep, narrow steps into Tucker’s Tunnel, a natural cave that was extended during the gold rush era. The Gnome went down there; I didn’t.

View  from inside Tucker’s Tunnel

Looking into an oven, or sea cave, from above

I did venture down many, many steps into Cannon Cave. When waves enter this cavern, you can both hear and feel the resounding boom. Eerie!

After we returned to the parking lot, the Gnome was intrigued by the folks on the beach below searching for remnants of gold that may have been left from the 1861 gold rush. He climbed the ladder down to the rocky shoreline. I stayed up top and had a delightful chat with a couple of Scottish fellows.

I’m so glad we put The Ovens on our itinerary. In spite of the high winds, the sometimes frighteningly-close-to-the-cliff trail, and the zillions of steps to get to and from the astounding views, our time there was worth every moment. And when we saw some of the waters-edge campsites, we immediately began planning a return here with a tent— just so we can watch the sunrise over the ocean just outside our tent flap.

Now, the only thing that lay between us and Shelburne was the Kejimkujik National Park Seaside near Port Joli.

Every community in Nova Scotia, no matter how small, seems to have a community hall. Wish we’d timed it to make one of the cakewalk or bingo or fiddle-playing events. Oh, well–something for next time.

We didn’t realize quite how far off the main road we had to travel to get to Keji, how slow the going would be, nor that we’d still have a 3.2-kilometer hike (one-way) to the coast when we reached the park’s parking area.

Sometimes it was a challenge interpreting Canada’s highway signs. We found out soon enough that this one meant we were leaving the paved road for a far bumpier and much slower gravel road.

We really wanted to make that hike—after all, we might get to see seals at the end of it. But we would barely have time for a quick drive-through at Shelburne in order to get to meet our Airbnb host at five o’clock—two hours later than we’d originally told her.  Thank goodness for cell phones.

These Sherburne buildings date from 1785 or so. I love the doorways.

Sherburne, as well as virtually every other fishing village, has a monument to its fishermen and other seafarers who have been lost at sea, sometimes in only the last couple of years. It gives one pause.

Not only did we have to nix the Black Loyalist Centre, we regretfully left the scenic route in favor of the faster highway for the remainder of the day’s trip.

We had the whole place to ourselves in the loft of this former museum dedicated to all things nautical. Oh, how I looked forward to falling into this inviting bed after our busy day . . .

    but not before sitting on the deck with a glass of ginger wine and wrapped in quilts (there was a real brr factor that evening) to watch the sun set across the bay.

Next up: Yarmouth, the Annapolis Valley, and more. Come back next week, won’t you?

Along Nova Scotia’s South Shore

(For the next few weeks I’ll be recording our recent long-awaited return to Nova Scotia. To start at the beginning of this story, click here.)

It’s not every day the Gnome and I plan an overnight stop just an hour from the previous night’s lodging, but that’s just what we did on much of our Nova Scotia journey. It’s a good thing we did, because a one-hour drive anywhere else easily turns into an eight-hour adventure of the senses in this maritime province, especially when you decide to take the slowest, most scenic route, traveling out to this cove and that one, and stopping at every photographic opportunity you see. That’s approximately one per minute along the South Shore of Nova Scotia!

We had already made a sunrise visit to tiny, picturesque Peggy’s Cove on one of our Halifax days. Peggy’s Cove was one of our most delicious memories from our first visit forty-nine years ago, even though we were shrouded in fog. We could barely wait to see it again. It did not disappoint.

Our destination today was Lunenburg, stopping at the villages of Chester and Mahone Bay along the way. Chester’s waterfront is nothing less than stunning.  (Click on images for a larger view.)

The village sports a small park with a couple of stirring war memorials. One features a Nova Scotia Highlander atop a monument honoring the 54 area soldiers killed during World War I. The other is a thank you from Norway. During World War II, more than 1,000 Norwegian merchant ships were at sea when Nazi Germany invaded the country. The ships sailed to the nearest allied ports. Thus, Chester’s Hackmatrack Inn became a convalescent center for the sick and injured Norwegian seamen who headed for safe harbor in Nova Scotia.

We wanted to stop in Mahone Bay to see its photogenic ‘Three Churches.’ Though we never found the best spot to photograph them, we still enjoyed their beauty—along with three or four tour busloads of other folks. DSCF3596

Quite by accident, we happened upon other visual entertainment, as well. The village was preparing for its annual Scarecrow Festival, which was set to begin in five days. Everybody gets in on the act from families to churches to dentists. (Look closely—can you see the braces on the dentist’s patient, bottom right. These characters were, of course, in front of a dentist’s office.)

We discovered a small nearby beach for a picnic lunch where a couple of folks from the area recreation department had set up shop encouraging residents to visit this little-known treasure. (Nova Scotia has few sand beaches, but this is one of them—sort of.) 

They invited us to fill a jar with sand and shells as a memento of our trip. And here is where we found, as we did over and over, the very best thing about the province—its people. They asked where we were from, commiserated over Hurricane Florence (which was on every Nova Scotian’s mind), found out where we were headed, and filled our heads full of not-to-be-missed places to visit on our journey. It was great fun meeting them.

Next on our agenda was Blue Rocks, Lunenburg’s ‘answer to Peggy’s Cove,’ even tinier and just as much off the beaten path. 

Downtown Blue Rocks

And, finally, just around suppertime, we made it to Lunenburg, whose Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. In spite of its tourist appeal, this fishing village has managed to retain its authenticity since its founding more than 250 years ago. Quite a feat.

Lunenburg streetscape

Old Town Lunenburg’s buildings are not reproductions. These are the real deal.

Detail, detail, detail!

A 1870s shipbuilder’s home

Nova Scotians sometimes refer to themselves as Bluenosers and here’s their proud reason why, I’m told: the Bluenose schooner, launched in 1921, raced undefeated in international competitions for 17 years. The Bluenose II, a faithful replica, was born and lives in Lunenburg just like her predecessor.

Complete with passengers

Just as we expected, our ‘one-hour’ trip turned into a long and busy day, and we were definitely ready for an early bedtime before the next day’s activities. Stop by next week to see what we discovered next.

Touring Halifax

(To read about our Nova Scotia travels from the beginning, start here.)

Nova Scotia redux began for us in Halifax, a fitting first stop. The province’s capital and by far its largest city, Halifax is vibrant and cosmopolitan, but with a cozy feel. It never felt overcrowded—at least as the first stop on our provincial travels. After a couple of weeks touring the coastline and running into people in only twos and threes, even a city as welcoming as Halifax might have seemed jarring.

We were surprised at how easy it is to navigate Halifax. Though we were staying in an Airbnb condo in a residential area, a short one-block walk took us to a large grocery store (liquor store, too); we found numerous local restaurants in easy walking distance; and we were never more than a five-minute drive from anywhere we wanted to visit.

Our days in Halifax were by far the most ‘touristy’ part of our Nova Scotia visit. Our first stop was the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, a star-shaped fortress first constructed in 1749 to protect the harbor. The Citadel was never engaged in battle. It didn’t need to be; its mere presence was deterrent enough to would-be invaders. We watched the hourly sentry change, as well as cannon and rifle-firing demonstrations, all performed in full military regalia of the era. With the national parks passes we purchased prior to our travels, this was a freebie.

As avid gardeners, we could hardly pass up the sixteen-acre, Victorian-era Public Gardens, occupying a large city block in the heart of downtown. We took our time exploring its fountains, bridges, statues, pond, and its massive floral displays including exhibits like these

and carpet beds like these.

They even have tropical plants on display. How do they do that?

Not every public library is a tourist destination, but Halifax’s new Central Library certainly is, with its five-story, 112,000 square foot award-winning architecture. It even boasts a green roof, a cafe where patrons can buy coffee or a meal, and a rooftop garden for enjoying their purchases. The library is even LEED-certified, a high-performance green building designation.

Among its many sustainable features are a green roof sustained by rainwater, electric vehicle charging stations, rainwater harvesting for flush features, solar heating, and use of recycled, local, and low-emission building materials. All that and stunning, too. So stunning that in 2014, CNN named it one of ten ‘eye-popping’ new buildings of the year. I wonder why.

Photo attribution: Citobun [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

While we knew we didn’t want to spend our precious time in Nova Scotia inside museum walls, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Canada’s last ocean immigration shed, was a notable exception. I was humbled to find myself in the presence of other visitors who were ‘veterans’ of Pier 21, people who themselves had come to Canada by boat via Pier 21. (I’ll be writing more about this phenomenal experience in a future blog post, so stay tuned.)

(Speaks for itself)

She doesn’t know it, but a primary reason Halifax was one of our destination points was folk artist Shelagh Duffett, whose brightly colored, playful prints (mostly of cats) adorn our walls. The weekend we were there, she was selling at the Maritime Makers’ Market. We were excited to meet her in person and to purchase even more of her smile-producing fanciful artwork.

Typical of Nova Scotians, Shelagh was genial and generous, giving us tips on vegetarian restaurants and an important site to visit, one we weren’t familiar with. We went straightaway to the historic Hydrostone District, a lovely neighborhood with a tragic history. (I’ll be writing more about that in a later blog, too.)

The tree-lined boulevards in Halifax’s historic Hydrostone District feature wide, grassy strips for community use.

But the best part of our stay in Halifax was strolling, whether through parks, neighborhoods filled with lovely Victorian homes, shopping districts, or the boardwalk at the harbor, a place we found ourselves every day of our visit, sometimes more than once. Day or night, it was safe, relaxing, and yet spirited, filled with people, public art, and a few surprises—like the hammocks just waiting to be used by anyone. What a delightful way to pass the time: swinging in a hammock while reading, watching seagulls, or gazing at sailboats on sparkling water.

Yes, Halifax was a good place to start our journey. Stay tuned for more about our Nova Scotia travels.