A May 2002 trip
to Nova Scotia by Re Carroll
Quote: The best way to explore Nova Scotia is by driving the scenic routes that encircle the
province. As well as the capital of Halifax, these routes take you into small fishing villages and towns packed with historical significance.
This is Maritime scenery and hospitality at its best.
On this trip, my sister and I explored Halifax, Dartmouth and the routes west - the
Lighthouse, Evangeline and Glooscap Trails. We weren’t in any hurry and stopped
constantly - to walk along the shore, visit lighthouses or to try and spot marine life.
The scenery was rugged and at times stark, along the Atlantic. The north coast, along the Bay of Fundy was dramatic too since it is home to the highest tides in the world.
We overnighted in the “large” towns, usually places with 3,000 or less people and always
managed to find B&B accommodations in restored historic homes. Dining was a real
treat with an abundance of seafood. People were exceptionally friendly and prices were
very reasonable, partly because mid May is still considered slow season.
Although most of the places we visited were quicker to get to on the main highways, we
didn’t regret for a minute the extra time spent taking the roads less traveled.
As well as Halifax which is Nova Scotia’s capital, the metro area includes the suburbs of Sackville and Bedford where I lived as a child as well as Dartmouth, a five minute ferry ride across the harbour.
Most of our relatives live in the metro area so there was lots of visiting, card games and
big family dinners although we managed to get in quite a bit of sightseeing too.
Halifax is a small city and most of the main tourist sights are within easy walking distance if you don’t mind some hills.
The Harbour is lined with restaurants and shops, especially in the Historic Properties, an area of renovated 19th century privateers’ warehouses. Pier 21 is where early settlers passed through immigration and today, modern cruise ships dock nearby.
We spent time in a number of city parks including the Public Gardens which were abloom in colourful tulips and daffodils. Sir Sandford Fleming Park overlooks the Northwest Arm which is one of the more affluent areas. A 10 story tower called "The Dingle" is a park landmark and offers great views from the top but was closed for repair so I couldn’t make the climb. Further south on Route 253, York Redoubt National Historic Site has
fortifications built in 1793 that were used to protect Halifax Harbour from enemy attack
and was in use until World War II. Now it’s a popular place for picnics and leisurely
In Bedford, we drove through the grounds of Mount St. Vincent University where my
sister went to school. We had chowder and dessert at the Esquire Restaurant which bills itself as "The World’s Best Chowder". I’m not sure about that but the food is good,
especially the corn and potato chowder.
We took the ferry from Historic Properties to Dartmouth and wandered along the
waterfront park to the Peace Pavilion where stones and bricks from countries around the
world are on display, including part of the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall.
Another day, we crossed the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge and drove through small
villages in Eastern Passage, just south of Dartmouth. Fisherman’s Cove is a 200 year old restored fishing village that is still the base for fishing and lobstering but also has a seaside boardwalk lined with gift shops, tea houses and restaurants.
We stopped for lunch in Old Town Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This
restored shipbuilding village from the 1800s is now a major tourist attraction with lots of shops, restaurants and the excellent Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. Lunenburg is where Canada’s most famous schooner, the Bluenose, was built and it is such a part of Canada’s heritage that it is engraved on our dime.
After lunch, it was back in the car to continue on to Shelburne where we spent the night.
In the late 1700s, Shelburne was the 4th largest city in North America, due to the arrival of 10,000 Loyalists from New York city. The Harbour area is now a restored historic district and was the setting for Demi Moore’s movie "The Scarlet Letter". Not far from town, Sandy Cove lighthouse sits on a sandbar and is accessible during low tide.
By lunch time the next day, we were in Yarmouth and the end of Lighthouse Route.
Yarmouth is the terminal for the Nova Scotia/Maine ferry and is the largest seaport west of Halifax. After lunch, we drove through a residential area filled with beautiful old mansions built in the 1800s when Yarmouth was a very successful commercial and fishing port.
From Yarmouth we took a short detour west to visit Cape Forchu lighthouse. Signs
along the cliff by the light proclaim "Rogue Waves" and there are memorials to two local
girls who were swept away during a heavy storm. Definitely a reminder of the power of the ocean.
We stopped at Pointe de l’Eglise (Church Point) to see Universite Sainte-Anne, Nova
Scotia’s only French language university. It also houses St. Mary’s Church , the largestwooden church in North America. Nearby, granite St. Bernard’s church seats 1,000people.
At times, the Evangeline trail took us inland through green fertile valleys. At other times,we followed the coastline along St. Mary’s Bay. It feeds into the Bay of Fundy which is famous the world over because of the massive variation in the tides. In a short time frame, the Bay will change from mud flats at low tide to a high tide of 50 feet or more. There are signs all over the beaches warning of the swiftness of these tides because this is definitely not a place to be caught unaware.
Restaurants along the Evangeline Trail reflect the French heritage through dishes like poutine (sort of a cheese gravy) and Rappie Pie, a mixture of grated potatoes and chicken baked together.
We spent a day in Digby which is famous for its scallop fleet, one of the largest in North America. The scallops were delicious but we couldn’t get up the courage to try some of the other seafood delicacies like dulse, dried purple seaweed that is supposedly very healthy or Solomon Gundy which is sweet pickled herring.
A side trip along route 217 took us to Digby Neck, a small arm of land with tiny little
villages, some of which are accessible only by ferry. This area is home to a multitude of marine life and there are lots of boat trips for whale watching, fishing, etc.
Less than 1 hour away from Digby is historic Annapolis Royal where the French settled in
1605 and the British followed. This is a popular spot with visitors who come to tour a reconstructed settlement, complete with costumed interpreters. It’s a very pretty town with many beautifully restored Victorian era homes and it was easy to spend a day exploring the area. From Annapolis, the trail continues inland through the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia’s premier apple growing area. Although we were too early for the Apple Blossom Festival, the apple blossoms were just starting and it was a pretty drive through green fields to towns like Bridgetown, Berwick, Kentville and Wolfville.
Just past Wolfville, we came to The National Historic Site in Grand Pre which has a
memorial to Evangeline and the Acadian people.
We followed the Trail to Windsor and across the Avon River where we joined the Glooscap Trail.
The route follows highway #2 and is marked by signs showing the head of an Indian
brave. He represents Glooscap who was a great spirit of the Mi’kmaq tribe and the legend is that he could control the Fundy tides.
One of the best places to walk along the shore and check out the rock formations is at
Burntcoat Head on Highway 215 near the small town of Noel. Burntcoat has a
reconstructed lighthouse that acts as an Interpretative Centre for the area. The guide here was very helpful and explained that Burntcoat Head is the official site of the World’s Highest Tides. The lighthouse is not active but I climbed to the top for a view of the beach below. The grounds also contain picnic tables and trails that lead down to the beach. There is lots of free parking and no charge to visit the Centre although donations are definitely welcome.
We stopped for lunch in Truro which is home to the tidal bore. West of Truro, the route
follows the Bay of Fundy but is often inland. A short detour took us to the small village of Londonderry, once a wealthy mining town and also the place where our father was born.
Back on the Glooscap, we stopped for the night in Parrsboro. Parrsboro is popular with people who come to explore the nearby beaches looking for semi precious stones and to visit The Fundy Geological Museum which was, unfortunately, closed during our visit.
Along the Glooscap, we visited a number of lighthouses including Spencer’s Island which
is home to the famous ghost ship, the "Mary Celeste" which was found floating in the
ocean, totally intact but with absolutely no sign of a single crew member. We also visited Cape d’Or lighthouse which was set on the rocky cliffs near Advocate Harbour. The drive up to the lighthouse was pretty harrowing since it’s 3 miles up the side of a mountain on a loose gravel road.
North of Advocate, we came to the small town of Joggins which is where fossils were
discovered in the 1800s and the Nova Scotia government has declared the area a
preservation site. There is a small museum dedicated to fossils from around the world.
We also stopped in River Hebert where my sister enjoyed the heritage collection of over 30 scale models including a working sawmill and Ferris wheel.
The Glooscap Trail ended in Amherst where we spent the night before continuing on to
New Brunswick. Amherst was one of the largest towns that we visited and had many
picturesque old buildings that were constructed with red rock and clay from the Bay of Fundy.
Abbotsford, British Columbia