July 6, 2018
Two weeks ago my friend Karen and I began a trip to the Canadian Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island). Our flight left RDU at 6 am and we made our first stop in Toronto, ON for a connection flight to Halifax, NS. There, when we got our boarding passes at the gate, we were told that the airplane was full and they couldn’t give us a seat next to each other, even if I had booked the trip two months ago. When I complained, the “nice” employee said that I should have paid for that “privilege”, in other words, the payment of the fare wasn’t enough to insure that two people traveling together would get seats together. So here it is, another wrinkle in modern air travel: some airline companies (in this case Air Canada) not only will charge a fare, they’ll charge for the baggage, which I knew, and for the seat assignment, which I didn’t know.
Anyway, we arrived to Halifax, we were picked up at the airport and taken to a nearby hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn), were we rested and had a nice early dinner of Fish and Chips. By the way, I learned that Canadians call dinner, what we call lunch and our dinner is called supper.
The next morning, forty two fellow travelers (only two Canadians) and I, initiated our journey crossing Nova Scotia from East to West, and entered mid-morning into the province
of New Brunswick. We stopped at Hopewell Cape on the Bay of Fundy, to visit the Flowerpot Rocks and to observe the tides. It is said that the tides in the Bay of Fundy are the highest on Earth, and rise and fall an amazing 50 feet. When we got there, the tide was low and I didn’t notice any dramatic change during the half hour we stayed. But, the formations of the Flowerpot Rocks on the beach, were impressive.
Our stay on New Brunswick was short, by mid-afternoon we were crossing the 8 mile long Confederation Bridge and arrived
in Prince Edward Island, also known as PEI. Our guide told us that at our first stop there, we should try the ice cream sold in a store called Cows. According to him, it was the best ice cream in Canada. According to me it’s not better that Häagen-Dazs, which you can buy in any food store in the US.
We abutted the North coast of PEI and noticed the gently rolling farmlands, colorful lupines bordering the roads, the well-manicured green grass in front of the unassuming houses close to the highway and the reddish soil that even colored the vast beaches on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. We stopped at Cavendish Beach, in the Prince Edward Island National Seashore, to take the views and then headed to our Hotel, the North Winds, on Brackley Beach. That night we had a delicious lobster dinner at the Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant, in the nearby town of North Rustico. Here, I also tried with gusto the fresh PEI mussels, which are farmed in the area. From the highway one can see those farms, in the swallow waters of the bay, with dozen of long rope lines, to which socks (mesh sleeves) are attached and where the mussels grow. Also, oysters are farmed in similar fashion in the same area.
It rained lightly in the morning of our third day. We went to the town of Rustico, were there is small community of Acadians, descendants of the French colonist that arrived in that area before the English in the 18th century. From the bus one could see that many houses fronted the Acadian Flag, showing their proud heritage. In Rustico, the points of interest are: the small catholic church of St. Agustine, build in 1838 and still used as a
worshiping place, and the building that housed the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico, from 1864 to 1894, which it is often considered to have been the first community-based bank in Canada. Today it houses a small museum.
We continued our tour in North Rustico, with its fisherman’s harbor, where many fisherman catch lobster as well as haddock and cod. There was a store that sold lobsters caught that same morning. I was sorry I couldn’t bring one along.
Then, we headed to the House of Green Gables, site of the famous novels of Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The house, as well as the surrounding farm, was owned by cousins of Ms. Montgomery and it’s said that Ms. Montgomery spend many times there and was inspired by it to write the saga of Anne Shirley. Today, it’s designated a National Historic Site for its importance in literary history, and is one of the most-visited historic sites in the country.
In the afternoon, it cleared out and we went to Charlottetown,
capital of PEI and birthplace of the Canadian Confederation in 1865, where we enjoyed time on our own. Karen and I sat in one of the several outdoor cafes that lined the main drag and where a Diversity Festival – celebrating many foreign communities that have made PEI their home – was taken place, and then walked around for a while.
That night we had dinner at an excellent restaurant in Brackley Beach, called Dunes, that doubles as an art gallery and crafts workshop. A delightful experience.
We left PEI the next day via Ferry. It was raining and cold. The bus drove into the mv Holiday Island and the passengers went up to upper deck for a relaxing 75 minutes crossing of the Northumberland Strait, from
Wood Island in PEI to Pictou, in NS. The smells of the deck café remained me of the times I would travel on the Staten Island Ferry to go to work in Wall Street and back to my home in SI, almost 40 years ago. The smell of the hot dogs being cooked was too tempting, and I had to have one, after perhaps 20 years of not having tasted one. Yummy!
The scenery in Nova Scotia was different from PEI. While forests on Prince Edward Island are made up of coniferous and many deciduous tree species, which we saw from our bus, the trees we could see bordering the roads in Nova Scotia were mostly coniferous. Also, the manicured greens at the front of the houses in PEI, the front yards of the houses, similar to the ones in PEI, seemed to be less cared for. Likewise, I didn’t spot many farms; that is until we got to the coastal highway that runs close to the Bay of St. George on our way to Cape Breton. Here again, I observed farms among the rolling hills surrounding the area, and some better cared front yards.
We stopped at Aulds Cove for lunch (dinner in Canadian), crossed the Canso Causeway and arrived in Cape Breton Island. After a while we entered the Cabot Trail, named after John Cabot (Giovanni Gaboto) who reached the shores of NS in 1497, sailing on a mission for King Henry VII of England. Considered one of the most scenic roads in North America (although I believe it less spectacular than Highway 1 in California and Oregon), it winds through splendid landscapes, through the rugged highlands of the Cape Breton Highland National Park of Canada.
On our way to our hotel in the town of Cheticamp we stopped at the Centre de la Mi-Carême, which displays stunning mask and costumes, used during the fétes of Mi-Carême, a mid-lent festivity celebrated in Acadian communities for centuries. The origin of Mi-Carême is lost in the mists of time. It has been celebrated in many European communities since the Middle Ages. The Mi-Carême tradition crossed the Atlantic Ocean with the first French-speaking settlers to the New World and it is still celebrated in some Acadian communities nowadays.
The essence of the carnival-like Mi-Carême is a spirit of joy, laughter and mockery that contrasts with the Lenten period of austerity, severity and penance leading up to Easter. It seemed like a lot of fun. The next two nights we stayed at Laurie’s Inn, in the 200 year old fishing village of Chéticamp.
The 5th day of our tour started again with a rainy morning. Our bus took us on an excursion of Chéticamp Island, across the town, from where we had a good view of the village and its environs. Returning to the mainland we stopped at Flora’s Gift Shop, a place that sold mostly artifacts created by artisans of the area, with a large selection of pieces made with a traditional wool rug hooking method. We would learn more about this craft on the afternoon.
We had lunch in a place called the Harbour Restaurant & Bar, where besides being served traditional fish and chips, we were entertained by a couple of artists playing and dancing traditional Cape Breton music.
In the afternoon, it cleared and we went up North on the Cabot Trail, entering the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We stopped at the foot of French Mountain and explored the flora of a bog.
On our way back to Chéticamp we visited Les Trois Pignons, a center dedicated to explore the culture of the Acadian community. Here we were given a demonstration on the art of wool rug hooking, and saw some stunning examples of tapestries made with this now dying skill.
We made one more stop that day at the Catholic Church of St. Peter. A large sandstone church with a central tower, open belfry and rounded apse at the rear, with a prominent structure that can be seen at some distance from the village. The church, build in 1893, is valued as one of only a few stone churches on Cape Breton Island and as one of the finest examples of a style of church architecture developed in Quebec. The building of the church was truly a community effort. Sandstone building materials were quarried at the north end of Chéticamp Island, donated by the Robin Company, and was ferried across the ice to the building site.
That night we had dinner (supper) at Le Gabriel Restaurant, where I had Coquille St Jacques, a scallop dish that I didn’t have since I visited Montreal for the first time, 40 years ago.
We started our journey next morning heading North again on the Cabot Trail. We enjoyed magnificent ocean vistas on the left side of the bus, and splendid green forests on the right side. We stopped at Pleasant Bay were we visited the Whale Interpretive Centre, a place where you can learn everything you want to know about whales.
We continued our journey through bucolic and subdued landscapes, stopping again in White Point, a small lobster fisherman’s village. One more stop before lunch at Black Rock Beach, a wide open ocean beach, with one gentle waterfall at the left end of the shoreline.
We had lunch at the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish at the South end of
the Cabot Trail. The afternoon activities included a sailing trip on the Bras d’Or Lake, at the town of Baddeck. The highlight of this trip, besides the wonderful scenery, where bald eagles swooping near the boat trying to
catch some fish that the skipper would throw at them.
After settling in our accommodations at Auberge Gisele’s Inn, we went for supper at the Lynwood Inn nearby. One more lobster dinner, accompanied with local cider and topped with Irish coffee, crowned a very pleasant day.
After dinner we took a walk around the town and met some very nice natives. Including, Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell, represented in a siting statue in front of the lake.
A sunny day awaited us next morning. Our bus took us to Fortress of Louisbourg, a Canadian Nation Park Service site that recreates a French fortress build in the middle of the 18th century and that stood in the same place. It did play a predominant role during the Anglo – French struggle for dominance in Canada. People, civilian and soldiers, in period customs roam the streets and buildings of the fortress, and there are there to help us, 21st century people, experience a taste of life as it was in the 18th century.
After a pretty bad lunch, we headed for a visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Bell lived in Baddeck for 36 years. In 1889 the Scottish born inventor build a house, on a promontory looking the Bras d’Or Lake, which he called Beinn Bhreagh (Gaelic for Beautiful Mountain). The house cannot be visited, but the museum gives an overview of the life of Bell, its inventions and interests in, then considered, cutting edge technology, such as airplanes and hydrofoils.
On a Friday, 8 days after we started our trip, we returned to the mainland on Nova Scotia, crossed back the Canso Causeway and took the Trans-Canadian Highway. It was pouring rain, but by the time we got to the outskirts of Trouro, it stopped. We visited the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Center, where we learned many things about the Mi’kmaq. The Mi’kmaq are a First Nation people indigenous to the Canadian Maritime Provinces and their current population is about 170,000.
Outside of the center the is a large (40 ft. height) statue of Glooscap who, according to legend was the first human, created out of a bolt of lightning in the sand and, according to the Center’s website, “remains a great figure that appears in many of the Mi’kmaq myths.”
We continued our journey and had a stopover at Peggy’s Cove, a touristy fishing village and artists’ retreat. One of the attractions is the Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, which is one of Nova Scotia’s most well-known lighthouses and may be the most photographed in Canada.
We had a scrumptious lunch (bacon wrapped scallops for me) at The Sou’Wester and then went for a stroll through the picturesque village. We left around mid-afternoon to head for our final destination: Halifax. We had a quick tour around some of the attractions, such as the Citadel and the Public Gardens, and then the group was dropped at the Marriot Harbourfront Hotel, where we said good bye to our patient and helpful bus driver: Mac.
That evening we strolled around the downtown area and had dinner at a good Italian restaurant: a Mano.
On our last day, we again strolled the historic waterfront and visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
The museum is the oldest and largest maritime museum in Canada with a collection of over 30,000 artifacts including 70 small craft and a steamship. Special exhibits include the involvement of Halifax in the rescue of the Titanic survivors and the Halifax Explosion, a maritime disaster that occurred in the strait of Halifax, on December 6, 1917, when two ships, one laden with high explosives, collided. The terrible explosion devastated the Richmond district of Halifax. Approximately 2,000 people were killed by the blast, debris, fires or collapsed buildings, and an estimated 9,000 others were injured.
After our visit to the museum, we took a ride on the Community Road Train, a three-carriage road train runs a loop along the waterfront. There we met two Nova Scotian sisters that suggested we lunch with them at the Rib Fest,
which is an annual celebration of …RIBS, held on the Halifax Waterfront. Hundreds of people were lining down at the six or eight stands to get their racks of pork ribs, or chicken, with corn bread, coleslaw, beans and lots of barbecue sauce. We joined one of the cues and had our share of the delicious finger food. Convenient hand-basins, soap and paper towels, provided by the organizers of the event, let us go back to the hotel fairly clean.
On the way to the hotel we witnessed the arrival of a caravan of vintage cars going into the hotel parking. They had participated in the Great Race, a rally that had started in Buffalo, NY eight days, crossing three US states and two Canadian provinces.
That night we had a farewell dinner at the hotel and said good bye to our guide, Greg, and our fellow travelers. The next morning a shuttle bus took us to Halifax Airport, were we boarded our plane back to the US. Thus, a pleasant visit to our neighbors north ended.