Nova Scotia: Land of Kindness and Humor

If you’ve ever watched the TV series Due South, you know the running joke about the uber politeness of  Benton Fraser, the Canadian Mountie assigned to work in Chicago. (If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch.) The nice Canadian is such a tired stereotype that I’m a little embarrassed to acknowledge I found it to be true, at least as far as Nova Scotia is concerned—-New Brunswick, too, which we passed through on our way to and from.

Not just polite, but downright nice. Folks struck up conversations with us from the next table in a restaurant, on hiking trails, at roadside overlooks. It was more than politeness; there was a real genuineness to their overtures. The bonhomie was contagious—everyone seemed friendlier in Nova Scotia. We had long, delightful chats with folks from the Philippines, China, New Zealand, and Scotland. It’s hard to define, but the truth of it was amplified as soon as we returned to the States. After 2 1/2 weeks in Nova Scotia, a Maine “I’m sorry” uttered after an accidental brush sounded mechanical, almost brusque, by comparison.

Sorry to my Canadian friends if you’re sick of hearing this cliché, but there are far worse character traits to be had. After all, niceness is a moral virtue. And I thank you for it. You brought out my best self.

Speaking of niceness, I found it particularly touching that from the first Canadian we met to the last, as soon as someone knew we were from North Carolina, the first words out of their mouths were about Hurricane Florence. Almost to a person. They’d been following the news, they’d mourned the losses, they commiserated with us.  Even though the Gnome and I were virtually unaffected by the hurricane’s wrath, we were comforted by this display of concern and caring.

Kindness in Nova Scotia extends to the environment. A friend of mine once noted about our outdoor clothesline that she didn’t know anyone else who had one. Well, if she lived in Nova Scotia, she would! Every dry day in every part of the province, we saw laundry drying in the breeze. And I was impressed to see that almost every public trash receptacle in Nova Scotia was accompanied by not one but two, and usually three, recycling units, including one for food waste. Note how well-maintained they are.

 

Containers for almost all ready-to-serve beverages, not just soft drinks, are recycled. Got a half-gallon orange juice carton? An individual apple juice carton? Recyclable. They’ve been doing this for more than twenty years! (We didn’t realize until too late that we’d been paying deposits on all our containers and could have gotten refunds. Guess we’ll  file that info away till our next visit.)

Nova Scotians are serious about their recycling. Every Airbnb, every restaurant, every attraction we visited featured recycling bins. Good for them.

And what could be more hospitable than to discover a set of red Adirondack chairs waiting for you at random scenic spots? The red chair program was first put into place by Canada’s national park system. Now, it seems to be a ubiquitous trend. We found them at other public venues as well as in the backyards of several of our Airbnb hosts. We relaxed in them every chance we got. Is there a better way to invite your guests to stay a while?

Even the postal boxes are festive and welcoming.

There’s another side to the people of Nova Scotia: their sense of humor. We encountered it over and over. There was the sign at the entrance to the Telegraph House in Baddeck exhorting guests to avoid trying to close the screen door, stating that “he is lazy and will close in his own time.”

There were more examples. For instance . . .

This public sculpture on the Halifax Boardwalk, titled Got Drunk, Fell Down, features not only the ‘drunk’ lamp post but its friend whose head hangs in embarrassment and (a little further away but unseen in this photo) a less engaged post who’s trying to ignore the whole thing.) Poignant, yes, but also funny.

Granted, this Disney cruise ship isn’t from Nova Scotia, but that’s where we saw it. We couldn’t help smiling at this scene.

I have no idea why we happened to pull off the road at this particular spot, but when we did, we came upon this sign. I’m glad we stopped. It gave us a chance to . . .

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do our part to keep the sea serpents at bay.

Pitch perfect sign on the bathroom door of a Yarmouth restaurant

We’d gotten used to seeing Nova Scotia houses painted in happy reds, purples, greens, and yellows. But this is the only one we saw that actually IS a painting. Gotta love the whimsy of it.

And then we saw this ‘news’ notice in the North Shore Community Museum—a new take on fascinators that highlights the amount of snow likely to be found in that part of Cape Breton.

With that chuckle, I say a nostalgic goodbye to our Nova Scotia road trip and will return to my usual fare of Living on the Diagonal miscellany.

 

Traveling with Airbnb

(Part of a series from a recent trip the Gnome and I took to Nova Scotia.  To read from the beginning, start here.)

How do two naturally reticent travelers get to know the people of their host country? It occurred to us that staying in real homes where we’d get to meet honest-to-goodness Nova Scotians on a more than fleeting basis might be a good way to do it, so we decided to take a chance on Airbnb rentals. (Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Airbnb except as a customer.)

Ultimately, we were looking for safe, clean, convenient places to lay our heads, perhaps cook a couple of meals, and occasionally run a load of laundry. And we wanted a reasonable amount of privacy. But we also wanted to get to know our hosts, where possible.

With those goals in mind, we began scouring Airbnb sites at each of the locations we anticipated spending a night. We splurged a time or two because we were so taken with a particular listing, but overall, we booked on the cheap. With service fees, taxes, and in some cases cleaning fees, our nightly rentals ranged from a mere $47 (for a whole house!) to $103 (for a bedroom and private bath, but the location—and our hosts—made it worth the price.)

We stayed in a couple of garage apartments attached to the host families’ homes but as private as we wanted. In one, our laps were kept warm by Mustache, the hosts’ loving cat.

 

 

We stayed in the upstairs loft of a former nautical museum. How’s that for quaint? And our host, Ginger, wowed us with her homemade whole wheat rolls.

 

We stayed in a former B&B honeymoon suite complete with waterfall Jacuzzi, right on the banks of the Annapolis Royal River.

 

The gracious Cheticamp hosts where we rented a bed/bath suite, are former teachers who once lived in Nunavut, Canada’s newest, largest, and most northwestern province. Their home, shared with a cat and seven former sled dogs, is filled with Inuit art. Each morning we were greeted with a full breakfast, not at all the norm with Airbnb. We hugged our goodbyes while the dogs sang for us.

 

Private home so no pics, but here are a couple of views of the river just outside and of one of our hosts’ seven dogs.

A couple of sites we picked from Airbnb listings were more traditional B&Bs, though small ones with just two or three rooms each. Both featured shared baths along the lines of boarding houses of the past. That worked out just fine; we never had to compete for bathroom time. Salty Rose’s and Periwinkle Cafe, run by a pair of sisters, was above a combo bakery and craft shop. We got a complimentary breakfast and left with a few locally made souvenirs. At the Crab Apple Inn, we were treated to a full breakfast (as well as complimentary homemade wine the night before). These places were almost as cozy and familial as single-family Airbnb spots.

 

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A couple of places we stayed were touted as 200-year-old homes. That really appealed to us. And there were two places where the host wasn’t on site and we were completely on our own. In Halifax, we stayed in a modern apartment in a residential neighborhood in easy walking distance of eateries and no more than a five-minute drive from every site on our long list of places to visit. So convenient! A colorful, fully decorated home greeted us in Cape Breton’s Sydney, where we had a good view of the Sydney River from the living room window.

 

 

Each of these places had its own charms. And with each, the Gnome and I took a little informal survey. What did we especially like or dislike? It was a way to hone our preferences for future searches. And let me tell you, sometimes we had to scratch our heads to find a ‘dislike.’ We never had trouble coming up with a wow factor, though.

Two places really stood out for us. One was billed as a ‘former prospector’s cottage.’ We had the whole rustic place to ourselves on a quiet country road in rural eastern Nova Scotia. It reminded us of our long-ago dream of finding and loving an old farmhouse in the country. We really loved this place. We fell in love with our host, Gail, too. Maybe it was because we’re the same age. Maybe it’s because we saw the ‘old hippie’ in each other.

Or maybe it was her keen insight. She sensed how much we loved this maritime province. As we were chatting, she looked deep into our eyes with her witchy ones, an enigmatic smile forming on her face, and out popped these words: “You’re going to move here!” Of course, she didn’t know how bound by love we are to our own home, but neither did she know that we once seriously considered moving to Nova Scotia nor the hold it’s had on us all these years. Gail brought us warm eggs from her henhouse for our breakfast. Yum!

 

Gail calls this a heritage home. We call it perfect.

The other stop that filled our hearts wasn’t in Canada but Vermont, in the charming village of Newbury. When we read the description of this 200-year-old home and its location in an honest-to-goodness New England village, with a village commons, town hall meetings, and all. (Newhart, anyone?), we added a day to our trip so we could make this detour. In theory, we prefer to nix places where we have only a bedroom in a private home; we can’t help feeling that we’re imposing—never mind that the hosts have chosen this path and we’re paying for the space. Irrational, I know, but we feel like we have to tiptoe and whisper.

This time it was different. In essence, we had the whole downstairs to ourselves. But it was more than that, and more than the charm of an old home in a quintessential New England village that dates to the revolutionary period. It was also our host, Linda. You can read more about her and our stay in her home here.

No pics of Linda’s private home, but I snagged this one of the village store from Creative Commons.

In a head-to-head competition between traditional lodgings and this entrepreneurial one, Airbnb wins hands down in my book, at least for this kind of trip. Our experience was so enriched by these homey, sometimes quirky, stays—and ever so much more by the hosts who extended us such hospitality and friendship. Thanks to every one of you!

Canadian Road Signs

I’m sure Nova Scotia’s pictogram road signs are universally standard, but The Gnome and I had never seen the likes of some of them before. Maybe we live sheltered lives. Or maybe we’d just been alone together too long. Whatever the reason, the road signs we saw along our Canadian travels finally started to crack us up. We did struggle with some, and then we started making up our own messages. Here are some examples.

It was the exclamation point that first got our attention. What could this say, we wondered: Hey, Mom, watch this? Don’t dive from a pyramid? “Running down a vertical slope is exclamation-point-worthy?” The chain link fence separating us from a sheer cliff-drop into the ocean might have given us a clue. Good advice in any case.

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Don’t know why, but we found this odd–a private railroad crossing.

dump truck

Doesn’t this look like a warning that a dump truck is about to crash into a wall? Look again–it actually means construction equipment may be entering the highway somewhere nearby.

Wow, those Canadians and their speed limits! Oh, wait, that’s kilometers, not miles per hour. Quick, calculate!

This one? Maybe mountains ahead? Nope. It means the road’s about to get bumpy

After trying to interpret some of the more obtuse road signs, we decided this one meant “No tossing a tin can from your car window when the lid’s still attached.”

I loved the extensiveness of informational signage and was impressed by the wifi notice, but do you know what some of the other images mean?

DSCF3914You may have seen this on a previous post, but it fits here, too. It took us a while to figure it out. It looks like cuts of meat or something on top of two capital H’s. Soon enough we learned it means the pavement is about to end in favor of gravel–or worse.

The next one’s not a road sign, but we did find it in Canada.

Okay, I know it’s done differently in different places, but I’d simply never seen anything like this sign before. Sitting in my stall, I laughed out loud–mostly because I could never manage the first position!

It’s good to laugh. We did plenty on our trip.

Joggins and Home

(This post continues a series on a recent road trip the Gnome and I took to Nova Scotia. To ‘travel’ with us from the beginning, click here.)

Bittersweet is the best that can be said for what was to be our last day in Nova Scotia. To ensure as much time as possible in Cape Breton, we had planned this to be a long travel day. It would take us practically to the border with New Brunswick, in the tiny rural community of Joggins. So tiny that AAA couldn’t find it to map out this portion of our trip. So tiny a number of Nova Scotians didn’t recognize the name. Yet, Joggins is home to yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. The Joggins Fossil Cliffs contain the most complete fossil record of life during the Coal Age, 300 million years ago. That’s a full hundred million years before the dinosaurs, so these fossils, preserved in the very place they lived, are the dinosaurs’ ancestors. Some of the fossils found here are giant insects. According to the Joggins Fossil Cliffs website, this is the only place on earth where you can view these rare plant and animal fossils in situ. Well, I was impressed! 

The tide is out at Joggins Fossil Cliffs. It will rise by an astounding 43 feet at high tide, cutting off access to the beach area.

See the tiny person in the middle foreground. You must walk down many, many steps from the top of the cliffs to reach the beach, something like 75, as I recall. That’s about six or seven stories! But we did it.

Giant insect?

We stayed the night at a true bed and breakfast inn, though we’d found it through Airbnb. We were joined by a young couple driving from Halifax to be with family for Canada’s Thanksgiving weekend. The four of us enjoyed a visit in the living room where we shared our respective’ backgrounds and learned a bit about cultural similarities and differences while enjoying some of our host’s homemade wine. Not only does Bridget own and run the B&B and make wine, but she’s also begun a business manufacturing buckwheat pillows—and she’s a former international professional singer, besides. (And her breakfast was fabulous!)

Crab Apple Inn, Joggins, Nova Scotia

The next day saw us driving across New Brunswick and into Maine. Though the leaves had only just begun changing color in Nova Scotia, they were really showing off in New Brunswick.

 

Not be the sharpest photos ever taken, but hey . . .

we were going 110! (km, of course)

Crossing the border back into the States was harrowing—at least the waiting was. We’d read that we needed to itemize all our purchases and have them and all receipts readily available for inspection, so we’d spent a long couple of evenings getting our documentation and souvenirs organized. Though we’d practically sailed into Canada (no lines and only a single benign question by the border agent), we waited here for close to forty-five minutes. Plenty of time for us to begin feeling guilty for merely imagined offenses. Cameras were watching from every angle. We tried to look innocent and nonchalant. Did that make us look like crooks instead? Our unease only increased when the border patrol unlocked and entered the RV in line in front of us.

Finally, it was our turn. We were asked the nature of our visit, if we’d enjoyed our stay, and whether we’d purchased anything other than souvenirs, personal gifts, and incidentals. That was it. A lot of worry for nothing.

In Maine, we made a little detour to stay in Seal Harbor, right at an entrance to Acadia National Park, a place I’ve always yearned to visit. Was it exhaustion as we were nearing the end of our travels? Was it being surrounded by so many leaf-peekers and their vehicles after so much Nova Scotia tranquility? Whatever the reason, we were underwhelmed. It was the only disappointment of our twenty-five-day journey, but it was about to be made up for in a big way!

We made one last detour before the big push to get home. When we’d come across an Airbnb listing in the small village of Newbury, Vermont, we added a day to our itinerary just so we could take it in. Everything about our host, her home, her village seemed so iconically New England.

And so it turned out to be. The home we stayed in is almost two hundred years old on a street of similarly aged residences, mostly modest clapboard homes with gabled fronts. Most of the village’s structures were built either between 1790 and 1860 or in the ten years following a devastating fire in 1913.

Not every residential neighborhood is on a town’s Main Street, which, in this case, is also Vermont Highway 5. Never was there a quieter thoroughfare. Between the residences is the core of the village, the Village Common, a large green space for public use. The village hall, village school, and Methodist Church sit on one edge of the Common. The entire village, flanked by the Connecticut River, is a historic district.

Simply idyllic. Just our style.

Linda, our host, is a professional photographer. She works in black and white, uses old cameras with actual film, and has her own darkroom. Like the Gnome, she collects cameras. (I told her she should count them before we left–wink, wink.)

She was kind enough to take us on a walking tour of her charming village the next morning. We passed the Village Common, the school, the church, the post office, the village hall, the public library. We stopped for chats with other morning strollers. We talked about the village’s history and Vermont’s fabled town meetings. We took in the village store (the oldest country store in Vermont) for a steaming cup of coffee and yummy homemade cinnamon rolls, then sat on the steps to chow down. We dropped in at the bank to study old black and white pictures of the fire.

The bank is closed on Saturdays, but our host has a key. (It seems that the few villagers who lock their doors share their keys with the neighbors.) Linda loves her hometown and its history, and it shows.

Unfortunately, sometime between our return home and getting to this point in my travel diary, the last two hundred or so photos mysteriously disappeared from our camera. I had to resort to Google to find a couple of photos to share. 

Newbury Village Store. Photo credit: redjar [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Tenney Public Library, Newbury Village, VT. Photo credit: Magicpiano [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Newbury Village UCC Church. Photo credit: wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/56/NewburyVT_UCCChurch.jpg

Just because our travels are over, don’t think I’m through writing about Nova Scotia, There are still a couple of reflective posts (and, of course, photos), so I hope you’ll come back to see what they are.

Cabot Trail, Part II

(The Gnome and I recently took a long (and long-awaited) road trip throughout Nova Scotia. To read about—and see—it from the beginning, click here.)

It was almost mid-afternoon on our trek around the Cabot Trail when we stepped into a small museum near Dingwall (on the northern edge of Cape Breton Highlands National Park) for a much-needed bathroom break. A couple of (very) young women from New Zealand had the same idea. (Amazing how you meet people from all over the world on the trail!) They were cycling the trail from the opposite direction. While we were going downhill, they’d been climbing all day, since dawn, in the chilly rain. How I felt for them!

I had to chuckle at the sign on the inside of the bathroom door. It said something to the effect of, “We get it. You really need to go,” and welcomed folks to use the amenities (they are few and far between on the trail), but it also asked for a donation if you planned to skip the museum itself. Fair enough! We decided to take it in, though. It was surprisingly professional and enlightening, especially for such a tiny place. There’s even an area for genealogical research.

We saw lots of informational exhibits like this one at the North Highlands Community Museum which explains why all the island’s small communities are so tightknit. Note how doctors made house calls well into the mid-20th century!

 

Oh, my! I sat at a desk like these in my rural elementary school.

The pleasant woman staffing the museum told us she thought the part of the trail still ahead of us was its prettiest section. That was hard to believe, given the vistas of our previous two days. Turned out she was right, though the day was so stormy it wasn’t such a good picture-taking day. We decided to come back for more the next day, which was less rainy, but extraordinarily windy and often almost as hazy. Still, we took lots of photos. (You knew we would!) 

 

We took a few damp hikes, including the bog walk at which, if we’d been there a few hours earlier, we’d have surely seen moose—we sure saw lots of tracks. We also hiked the short trail to this Scottish Highland shieling, a hut to shelter crofters (farmers) and their livestock from the brutal weather on the moutaintops. And we hiked enough of the Skyline Trail to see . . .

this! After 49 years’ worth of trips searching in vain, we were able to prove to ourselves once and for all that moose are not the mythical creatures we’d begun to believe them to be.

From the road far below, you can see folks that made it to the end of the Skyline Trail, at least with binoculars—or a telephoto lens.

Photos of the curvy, coast-hugging Cabot Trail, where the mountains kiss the sea.

Our destination was Chéticamp. Little did we know that on one of our look-off stops, our camera had captured an image of the home where we’d be spending the next couple of nights.DSCF5596 Our charmed, and charming, hosts had found themselves one of the most perfect places on earth to live. Not only is their home on the edge of the Chéticamp River (which they often kayak, lucky ducks!), but on the opposite side of the river is the majestic park itself. From their huge living room windows, they can also see where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Where else could you get that kind of view? It was a good way to end our trip around the park.

The view from the living room window includes this mountainous cliff, part of Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

This spit of land is all that separates the river from the ocean, also seen from our hosts’ living room window. How cool is that?!

Come back for the last days of our travel adventure and some more reflections, won’t you?

 

The Cabot Trail, Part I

(To start at the beginning of our recent trip to Nova Scotia, click here.)

When it comes to the Cabot Trail, the winding road that hugs the coastline in Cape Breton, much of it in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, words are a waste. Let’s just look at some pictures!

seal island bridge, sydney river

We crossed the Sydney River by way of the Seal Island Bridge (vantage point: atop Kelly’s Mountain) to reach the Cabot Trail.

Someday I want to go here to see if I can learn Gaelic. Really, I do.

The sky was angry and so was the sea! Can you see a bit of the white house hiding behind that huge spray of water in the lower right photo? (Click on individual photos for larger view.)

Cabot Trail: Anglican ChurchA stand of birch, an Anglican church, and a workshop adorned with moose antlers

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Scenes from Neil’s Harbour (I believe).

Meat Cove: much prettier than it sounds. You reach this beautiful spot after a very long (30 minutes or so) drive on a rutted dirt road (only to return the same way). Not much more than a campground (see the little cottages in the foreground of the bottom picture?), it’s worth the drive. They say that on a clear day you can see Newfoundland from this northernmost Nova Scotia community. We weren’t there on a clear day.

Check out all those balancing rock cairns on the rocky beach far below us at Meat Cove.

Why, yes, you can find sand on Nova Scotia’s beaches! (A wee bit, anyway.)

Freshwater Lake, Ingonish Beach

cabot trail shoreJust some pretty Cabot Trail views, even on a rainy, foggy, hazy day

Stay tuned for more on Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail.

Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore and More

I’m currently in the midst of a series of posts about our recent, long-awaited return to one of my favorite places, Nova Scotia. If you’d like to follow our adventures in words and photos from the beginning, click here.)

From Wolfville, we headed for Cape Breton Island by way of Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. The province is divided into seven geographical regions, and this one may be the least well-known. It’s surely the least visited by outsiders and maybe even other Nova Scotians. There are no towns to speak of, only communities—and small ones at that. Places with names like Ecum Secum. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the M′ikmaq (aka Mi′kmaw) language and means ‘a red house,’ which suggests to me that may be about all that was there at the time. The nearest town of any size is Antigonish on the west coast, 45 miles away, with a population of 4,200.

As usual, we drove as close to the coast as we could get, this time on Trunk 7, also known as Marine Drive. Our Airbnb stop for the night was at Moser River, in what was billed as a former prospector’s cottage. It was an instant hit, and Gail, our Airbnb host, was simply delightful. (More about her in a future post.)

Our Moser River prospector’s cottage Airbnb and area images. (Click on individual photos for larger view.)

We were advised to stop for food or gas in the community of Sheet’s Harbor, about 30 miles away—that’s how unpopulated this place is. People here are mostly connected to either the fishing or gold mining industry.

The Eastern Shore is not a place to go if you depend on theme park style extravaganzas for entertainment (though if you time it right you can join in a sand sculpture competition, a parade, a cakewalk, or a Celtic jam session). But if you want a little solitude away from everyday hassles, it’s perfect. I can imagine hanging out here for a long weekend with a hammock and a good book or hiking boots and a walking stick. It’s the perfect retreat stop—as long as you bring your own meals. Unfortunately, we had only one night at this peaceful place.

And the next day we finally made it to the place that had held onto our hearts for so many decades, Cape Breton Island. We would be here for six days instead of the one of so long ago. It would still be too little.

But first, we made a little detour to the opposite side of the province. We kept having to remind ourselves how short a drive it is from one side to the other. This side trip was to Cape George, near the town of Antigonish. It was well worth the drive.

Our first Cape Breton stop was the town of Baddeck (pronounced Buh-DECK). We stayed at the historic Victorian-style Telegraph House, built in 1861, one of the few non-Airbnb places we stayed during our travels. At one time, the Telegraph Inn contained the office of the first Trans-Oceanic Cable Company. Some of the first telegraph messages in North America emanated from here.

Baddeck is famous for two things. It’s home to the Bras d’Or Lake (arm of gold), actually an inland sea. It’s roughly sixty miles long and thirty miles wide. Pretty darned big. And beautiful, surrounded as it is by low mountains. We could never get a photo that came near to doing it justice.

Baddeck is also where Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell lived for the latter half of their lives. It was here that Bell established a research laboratory—the first Bell Labs. He used the lake to test his huge kites, hydrofoil boats, and airplanes, just a few of his varied research projects.

Of course, there’s a museum, and since the Gnome is interested in anything having to do with inventiveness, we had to go.

Married as I am to someone who observes every little thing, I was especially drawn to this quote memorialized in the museum.

I was impressed to learn that Bell was much more interested in his work teaching deaf students (Mabel was deaf), and later with aviation, than with his best-known invention, the telephone. In fact, he was rarely interested in following through with any of his inventions after the initial creation; he was ready to move on to the next thing, leaving the details to others.

The highlight of our time in Baddeck had to be finding a ceilidh (KAY-lee), or kitchen party, where we got to listen to some lively traditional Cape Breton tunes by fiddler Mike Hall. Mike didn’t just play; he talked about the history of the music and how the Scottish Highlanders who were driven from their homelands with no instruments or written music managed to keep their musical tradition alive and true to its roots. It was mesmerizing—and quite different from the bluegrass jams we attend at home.

Cape Breton is where you might hear not only English and French, but also Gaelic and Mi′kmaq, an Algonquin language. It was fascinating to see multi-lingual signs everywhere. Appropriately, top billing usually matched the primary culture and language of a given area, as far as I could tell. Here’s a little Gaelic for you: Fàilte gu Cridhe Gàidhealach Albainn Ùr.  (Don’t bother trying to pronounce it—it sounds nothing like you’d think if English is your primary language.) As best I can determine, it translates to “welcome to the heart of New Highland Scotland.”

We left Baddeck by way of Iona, traveling ever so briefly on a cable ferry to Grand Narrows, then on to Sydney and the Cabot Trail, the subject of my next blog post.

Here comes the ferry. Short crossing—very short.

(Check back next week for more of our Nova Scotia travels as we head to the famed Cabot Trail and Cape Breton Highlands National Park.)

A Couple of Nova Scotia’s Historical Sites

(This post is part of a series about a recent trip the Gnome and I recently made to Nova Scotia. To travel along with us from the beginning, start here.)

In previous posts about our visit to Nova Scotia, I’ve mentioned a couple of sites that deeply moved me, promising to delve into them later. Today, I’m keeping that promise with memories and photos of our visits to Grand Pre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Canadian Museum of Immigration.

A little history is called for here. The Canadian encyclopedia entry about the Acadians of Grand Pré begins this way: “Soldiers rounding up terrified civilians, expelling them from their land, burning their homes and crops ‒ it sounds like a 20th century nightmare in one of the world’s trouble spots, but it describes a scene from Canada’s early history, the Deportation of the Acadians.” The story of the expulsion of Acadians from Grand Pré is painfully evocative of our own Trail of Tears history, when the Cherokee were led on a forced march from the east to Oklahoma.

In French, the forced deportation was known as le grand dérangement. Sounds fitting. Since 1604, Acadians had created a thriving, peaceful community in the Bay of Fundy area. During their 150 years here, they developed an impressive dyke system to control the bay’s high tides, a method still in use today; they developed and maintained a rich agriculture; they created a massive and gorgeous landscape

The arduous task of building earthen dykes to hold back the Bay of Fundy’s high tides

A  typical Acadian farmstead

An image of  an Acadian day in the fields

A portion of the 3200-acre landscape of Grand Pre’

Meanwhile, the British and French were engaged in a long tug of war over Nova Scotia. The Acadians had sworn neutrality in any conflict between the two countries, but that wasn’t enough for the British governor. In 1755, he hatched a plan to surround their churches, threatening entire families with bayonets, while breaching the dykes and burning homes and crops. The first 3,000 deportees were sent to Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia while 7,000 more were shipped to other British colonies, France, and the Caribbean during the next seven years.

Try putting your family in this scene:  panicked flight, trying to stay together, leaving everything–everything–behind forever.

People found themselves left, like Longfellow’s Evangeline, to wander fruitlessly in search of the families they’d been separated from. That, too, sounds all too familiar in today’s troubled times. (Only later did Acadians find their way to Louisiana because of their familiarity with the language. Thus did the Cajun culture become established.)

 

 

Detail of the statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s heroine, Evangeline. It graces the entrance to the memorial church built in the early 20th century which serves as a museum today. It was a church at this approximate location where British soldiers set up headquarters, rounded up the village’s men and boys, and told them their land, livestock, and almost everything they owned were to be forfeited to the Crown, and that their families were to be deported.

By 1764, the British government allowed small groups of Acadians to return, but they didn’t return to their former lands—nothing was left for them there. Instead, those who returned settled on the mainland and in Cape Breton. It was, indeed, as the Acadian Shores restaurant patron we overheard had said, a shameful moment in Nova Scotia’s history.

But Nova Scotia can at least be proud of how it owns up to inglorious historical moments. I was impressed by this trait both here and at the Canadian Museum of Immigration, located in Halifax.

Even before you pay your admission fee to the immigration museum, the Wheel of Conscience almost smacks you in the face with its raw power. A circular steel structure about six feet in diameter, the wheel includes names of the approximately one thousand Jews who were aboard the MS St. Louis in May 1939, the eve of World War II. They were fleeing Nazi Germany, seeking and being refused entry into Canada and other countries, including the United States. With nowhere to go, the ship was forced to return to Germany where a quarter of its passengers ultimately died in concentration camps. 

 The kinetic sculpture also features four rotating, interlocking gears, each one larger than the one before and each emblazoned in red with a single word—from smallest to largest: hatred, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism. As visitors study the sculpture, they can’t help but see their own reflected faces looking back at them.

Inside, the exhibits are equally powerful. The museum is located in the very place, Halifax’s Pier 21, where more than a million immigrants came into Canada between 1928 and 1971. It’s logical that the museum would tell what that experience was like.

But the museum is more than that. It also tells the story of 400 years of immigration to Canada, and it takes an even broader approach, looking at refugee life as a whole, documenting through both visual and oral exhibits the horrors that force people to leave their home countries.

What horrific conditions would cause you to make this kind of journey? For how long? To what unknown future?

 

 

Imagine living in a tent this size with your entire family and all your very limited possessions, buckets for washing yourselves, your food, your dishes, and more. Imagine living here for up to eighteen years–or more? What would have brought you here?

Some of these painful exhibits come with a warning: “Not suitable for some visitors.” I tend to shy away from such stories, but I think we should force ourselves to face them so we can remember—cannot forget—the realities that send people fleeing all they know in hopes of finding a better life, a safer place, for their families. I did not photograph them.

Among other displays we visited were life-size replicas of a ship’s cabin, a life raft meant for eight that carried as many as thirty refugees, a child’s trunk, a family’s crate carrying everything they could cram in.

You can read notes handwritten on cardboard luggage tags from previous museum visitors who had immigrated, and you can watch videos of immigrants telling their personal stories. As moving as these exhibits are, what touched me most was finding myself in the company of a number of immigration ‘veterans,’ individuals who had landed at the immigration center in Halifax—at this very site when they were mere children. Other visitors were children of immigrants who had come through the port of Halifax. It was truly humbling to hear their stories, to be in their presence.

We didn’t want our visit to Nova Scotia to be touristy; we didn’t intend to spend much time inside museums. Our trip was meant to be about getting a feel for day-to-day life in the province and getting to know real-life Bluenosers while soaking in the phenomenal natural beauty of this place. But I’m really glad we took time out to visit these two sites. They, too, tell a story about the real Nova Scotia. And the rest of the world, in the past and, unfortunately, the present. They remind us about ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ as well as hope and the possibility of redemption.

This moving piece of public art, “The Emigrant,” near the Immigration Museum, pays tribute to those who have said goodbye to their families, hopefully temporarily, in search of a better life for all of them.

(Check back next time for more of our Nova Scotia travels.)

Annapolis Valley

(I’m sharing my recent visit to Nova Scotia in pictures and words. To make the journey with me from the beginning, click here.)

We weren’t even going to go. We’d been to this region long ago, and compared to the spell Peggy’s Cove and Cape Breton had cast, it was a mere wisp of a memory. But then Haligonian gardening guru Niki Jabbour said, “You simply must see our gorgeous Annapolis Valley” (or words to that effect). She’s a convincing ambassador for her maritime corner of the world, so we spent a few hours rearranging our itinerary. Another decision I’m glad we made. Thanks, Niki.

The Gnome and I scheduled a couple of days in the Annapolis Royal/Granville Ferry area and another in Canning and Wolfville. We spent a wet but happy half-day in the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens—a little rain wasn’t going to dampen our spirits, where we enjoyed waterfalls and ponds and statuary, trees and grasses and shrubs and flowers. So many flowers!. I was amazed at how many plants were still in bloom at the tail end of September!  (Click on individual pics below for larger images and, in some cases, captions.)

 

 

We drove out to Digby Gut (yes, Gut with a G), a narrow channel that connects the Bay of Fundy (highest tides in the world, y’all) and the Annapolis Basin, where we saw this lighthouse and an enlightening marker.

 

Nova Scotia has 150 working lighthouses—one hundred and fifty! Imagine if you tried to take them all in on a lighthouse tour. At fifteen a day, which I imagine is an impossibility, it would take ten days to see them all. This one at Schafner Point near Victoria Beach is not one of them. Though no longer in use, it’s still historic and ever so picturesque.

If you think of Old West cowboys and outlaws when you hear the words Pony Express, you don’t know the whole story. We sure didn’t. Turns out that the way we folks south of the border got news from Europe was through a complex process including dispatches from European ships coming to Halifax, then via Halifax Express riders to Digby Gut (146 miles in eight hours), at which point the news was shipped to the telegraph station in Saint John, New Brunswick, and finally relayed to American seaboard cities, all funded by the Associated Press. How about that!

Wine is pretty much wasted on my unsophisticated palate, so we skipped the tours this fertile region is famed for. But we did make it to the Annapolis Cidery in Wolfville, much more our style. We left with several intriguingly named bottles to enjoy on our travels and back at home. (Factoid: Nova Scotia was one of the first areas in North America to cultivate grapes.)

Wonder how long it takes to cover all those grape vines?

From Wolfville, we took the Evangeline Trail to the Grand Pré National Historic site, another UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the province. You may remember Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline, or at least its first stanzas, from high school English class. If you can’t conjure it up right away, perhaps you recall the first words: “This is the forest primeval.”

Longfellow tells the tragic story of the Acadians via his imagined heroine. We knew a bit about the Acadians, but we learned more during our time along the Acadian Shores and Annapolis Valley, and I’ll be devoting more time to this story in a later blog post.

 

At the Blomidon Look Off, we were gawking and snapping the phenomenal views of the valley’s Minas Basin and lush farms when a New Brunswick couple also enjoying the view started up a conversation. We hit it off right away and chatted for at least a half hour, discussing everything from apples to politics. (I told you those Canadians are friendly.) They make the trek from Fredericton every fall to fill their trunk with “the world’s best apples.” And to think we wouldn’t even have known about this phenomenal viewing spot if it hadn’t been for the friendly folks we met on the beach near Mahone Bay a few days before.

What a sight!

It was another misty day, but with such gorgeous views, who cares! Besides, we could hardly begrudge the Nova Scotians a little rain. Due to an extended drought, wells have dried up all over the province. It’s been so dry that the provincial government has dispatched tanker trucks filled with bottled water to some parts. In fact, before we left home, one of our Airbnb hosts called to suggest we make other arrangements for that very reason.

By the way, every one of our eleven Airbnb experiences was delightful and unique, but our Granville Ferry spot may have been the most unusual. Billed as a former bed and breakfast honeymoon suite, it sported a Jacuzzi which filled via this waterfall feature. And in Canning, the resident cat warmed our laps and hearts.

 

Our Airbnb was right on river’s edge in Granville Ferry. This slightly foggy view is from Annapolis Royal across the Annapolis River.

Until next time, as we make our way toward the extravagantly gorgeous Cape Breton Island. You don’t want to miss it!

Yarmouth and the Acadian Shores

(I’m recapping our recent Nova Scotia trip in words and pictures—lots of pictures. If you’d like to follow along from the beginning, you may want to click here.)

We didn’t know it when we settled in at our Lower Argyle Airbnb, but we’d left Nova Scotia’s South Shore for the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores region of the province. Our first clue came at dinner that night. Another table of patrons included a local couple and their guests, possibly from someplace as far-flung as ours.

In response to a question from one of her visitors, their host said, “It was a shameful moment in our history,” and went on to discuss her admiration for Acadians, noting they are a hard-working group of people who strive to maintain their historical identity. We weren’t exactly eavesdropping, but this foursome’s reunion was ebullient; it was hard not to overhear.

The visitor’s question may have been prompted by the flags flying from so many homes in the area, the same ones that would pepper the landscape on our next day’s travels. It definitely wasn’t the Canadian maple leaf nor the Nova Scotia coat-of-arms flag. This one had vertical bars of blue, white, and red. You might think it was the French flag except for the gold star in its blue third. The Gnome knows flags, but he wasn’t familiar with this one.  

 

We came upon this interpretive sign and the picturesque Sainte Anne-du-Ruisseau Church near Rocco Point in Argyle. According to the sign, “The main feature of this church is invisible. After the exile and return of the Acadian people, the church provided hope and spiritual renewal. It became the heartbeat of the community—and remains so today.” (I’ll be writing more about the Acadians and their tragic expulsion in the mid-1700s in a later post.)

We soon found ourselves in Yarmouth, another colorful town and the port where the big CAT ferry brings people and their cars into Canada from Maine. We spent a couple of hours on a self-guided walking tour—blocks of shipowners’ and sea captains’ homes built in the second half of the eighteen-hundreds.

 

Downtown Yarmouth

 

 

It’s the detail I can’t get over.

The Yarmouth area, home of the world’s richest lobster-fishing grounds, is unsurprisingly also home to Atlantic Canada’s largest fishing fleet. It has suffered its own losses at sea.

 

The first launching in Yarmouth County took place at this site, now a memorial to the county’s seafaring folks “who  ‘going down to the sea in ships,’ by their outstanding seamanship and valour, brought undying honour to Yarmouth in every port around the world” according to the memorial’s plaque.

Staff at the Yarmouth visitor center encouraged us to drive out to Cape Forchu, west of Yarmouth. It had been on our list once, but in the interest of time, we’d crossed it off. Back on it went. Cape Forchu, home of the first ‘apple core’ style lighthouse, is surrounded by nineteen acres of beautiful walkable space and has been named one of Canada’s greatest public spaces. I can understand why.

 

At Cape Forchu, we learned about rockweed, that stringy, brownish-green stuff you see in this picture.  Each fall, fishermen fill their deep-bottomed boats with it using handheld cutter rakes. Rockweed is important to the local economy, exported worldwide where it’s used as a stabilizer and thickener in products as varied as salad dressing, lipstick, and ice cream. Think about that the next time you put a spoonful of your favorite frozen dessert in your mouth.

We also learned about dumping day—probably not what you think. Dumping day occurs at different times in different parts of the province. For southwestern Nova Scotia, it comes on the last Monday in November, the day Southwestern Shore fishermen go out in boats to ‘dump’ their lobster traps. In the wee hours, entire communities line the shore to see them off, a blessing of the fleet is recited, and the brightly lit boats head out to sea in a parade of colorful vessels. Now, that’s something I’d like to see.

 

After spending a couple of hours at Cape Forchu, we really did have to mark some things off our list to make it to the Annapolis Valley area before nightfall. More about that next time. Hope you’ll keep traveling with me.