Stories along the Way: Nova Scotia II

Oct 10, 2018 Nova Scotia II


Nova Scotia’s Eastern shore road is a slow, winding two-lane road—our way is the slow way. We pass small fishing towns and houses, different from Gaspe Peninsula, PEI and Cape Breton architecture.  Looking through my four travel guides (different facts in each book). I notice a “GEM” reference to Sherbrooke as we approach the correct turnoff. 

We find the  mostly empty parking lot on this Thanksgiving Day and walk in to the village. When open, costumed interpreters demonstrate crafts and skills in this 1860’s renovated logging and mining town. The print shop is open and 2 costumed women are busy making a recipe book and Christmas cards. They encourage us to walk around the town though officially closed. With no other visitors , it has an eery feeling, like we just stepped out of a time machine. We wander down to the St. Mary’s River and learn that major ship building happened here, but with the changing environment, the tides weren’t reliable. We wandered and read the plaques here and there, learning about the town. The Temperance Hall is now the Canadian Legion, one of the few in Canada that doesn’t serve alcohol. A beautiful home, more majestic than other buildings with a broad front lawn and white picket fence, names the owners and states “The house was built showing their status and financial resources.” 

Peering into windows we see the original boat building equipment. An outdoor kiln from long ago lies broken. We sit on the Adirondack chairs at the edge of the river expecting a schooner to drift by. The day is cloudy and cool, but walking around Sherbrooke village  and learning about life over 100 years ago is an unexpected and delightful time. 

On the way to the provincial park for the night, we pass a boat and ship graveyard with large boats lying on their side waiting to be salvaged.

It’s dark when we reach the park, but we find a quiet site and settle in for the night. The next morning dawns bright and sunny, revealing Porter Lake beside us. Who wants to sleep when the sun coaxes eyes open? Provincial parks offer the most comforting  and quiet places to camp.

We drive to Halifax and look forward to two nights in a downtown hotel. Each day is a fun day in the Sprinter, but when we decide on a hotel, we look forward to it—a bathtub for me and a TV for Jim. Besides, the hotel is centrally located to the museums. Jim looks forward to not driving for two days.

I have a lovely soak in the deep bathtub while Jim stretches out on the bed checking out TV sports. Later, we walk down to the waterfront and look for the Maritime Museum that houses both the permanent Titanic exhibit and the special 1917 Halifax explosion exhibit. It’s a holiday and many people are on the waterfront.

I wanted to see the memorial corvette ship that supported convoys in the North Atlantic during WWII. Both my father and uncle were based here with the Canadian Navy and I hoped to see the type ship they served on, but it is in dry dock. The museum does have a display of the rum each sailor got before dinner. The practice was not discarded until the 1970’s. Funny, my father never mentioned this part of ship life.

We came around the corner to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in which I planned to spend some time while on the trip. Needing a break, Jim led me into the museum cafe to get a coffee and sit down a bit.

Jim decides to go back to the hotel room while I start touring the art gallery. It’s been awhile since I’ve had an opportunity to visit a gallery and I take an excited deep breath.

A few years ago I read a story about Maude Lewis, a folk artist who suffered from juvenile arthritis. She desperately answered an ad for a housekeeper after her parents died and her brother inherited the estate. She lived in a tiny home with the man who she eventually married. She started painting the little house inside and out. He bought her first set of real paints and brushes. A fisherman, he would take her paintings along to sell as he sold his fish. I was fascinated by her story though I never dreamed I would see her original work. But dreams do come true and here I am looking at her paintings and the tiny house she lived in for so many years. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, brought it from it’s original Digby location and installed in a gallery.   I stayed to closing time looking at her vibrant village scenes.

I walked back to the hotel room where Jim watched a hockey game. We wanted Thanksgiving dinner and walked down the street to a historic hotel, visited by a young Queen Elizabeth decades ago. The  wine menu quotes include “If food is the body of good living, wine is the soul.”Sir Winston Churchill. “Cheese, wine and a friend must be old to be good.” Cuban Proverb

On Tuesday we went down to lower Water street and the museum. But, this is cruise ship day.  The cashier cheerfully tells me they have 7,000 visitors coming in today. No matter, we start with the Titanic exhibit. Many of the dead are buried in well-maintained Halifax cemeteries. A major rescue operation was initiated in Halifax. A coroner developed an effective system to try and identify the dead. He assigned the same number to the body and personal belongings to be matched up. So simple, but effective.

The exhibit is well done and there is much to see. One exhibit showed a very small pair of leather shoes from an unidentified child about two years old. For a long time, no one could identify him. But fairly recently, through the shoes, he was traced to a family of five from New York, who perished in the Titanic.

The Halifax explosion of December 6, 2017 is a special exhibit. Since Jim is reading a book about the explosion, suggested by the bookseller in Stratford, Ontario, he is eager to see it and offers many details in addition to each exhibit. A French ship loaded with explosives collided with a Norwegian boat in the “Narrows” causing devastation for miles. One exhibit included the telegraph key used to warn incoming trains of the disaster and his wallet—recovered later. “Good bye boys” was the last message he typed, knowing he couldn’t escape. Massachusetts sent a train with medical help and supplies. Every year since then, Halifax sends a Christmas tree to Boston in thanks.

There is so much to see in Halifax. Many dignified, old buildings. Beautiful gardens. Historical parks and monuments. Alas, both Jim’s and my legs and feet protest all too soon and its back to the room.  As elsewhere on our trip, people are kind and gracious. There are many restaurants to try, including a small Iranian one nearby. But not on this trip. Halifax is still a major shipbuilding centre.

“We need to leave Halifax,” declared Jim O’Neill as a semi truck stopped to let us cross the street even though not a crosswalk.”Everyone is just too polite ,” he added as a car let a big truck in, and then a big truck let a little car in. “I haven’t heard a single horn honk,” he added. “Everyone even stopped at an intersection to let a little old man decide if he wanted to turn right or left,”. “The final straw,”he said “was when all the downtown traffic stopped to make sure a squirrel crossed the road safely. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Jim O’Neill

After two days we check out of the hotel, cheered, bathed, and energetic. We stop at Peggy’s Cove, the most photographed lighthouse in North America and an idyllic village. It was named after an orphan named Margaret who was rescued from an overturned boat. Luckily we were warned “that it is a must see” but there will be hordes of visitors like the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial. Indeed, there were many tour buses and ant-like visitors. But, it is a worthwhile stop.

A short distance away, with a parking lot too small for tour buses, is the memorial for Swiss Air Flight 211. It couldn’t be more different than Peggy’s Cove. A walk along the path to it with natural vegetation and a breeze blowing on a cloudy day set the tone for this special place. A handkerchief with the Swiss flag on it was tied to a railing. The visitors came two weeks before to honor two friends that died 20 years before in the crash.


We continue on to Lunenburg, a small town initially inhabited by “Foreign Protestants”— Germans and Swiss, brought over by schooner by the British to establish an outpost—escaping religious persecution, high taxes and overcrowding. The private campground we stayed in was the site of a military outpost and it overlooks the bay that has a tiny houseboat anchored out.


Lunenburg has many beautifully painted and restored buildings from the1800’s and a very tidy community. There is an unusually large number of different denomination churches when we usually only see Catholic or Anglican (Episcopal in the US) from the mixture of immigrants.  We go to a small restaurant recommended by the campground attendant. It is delicious. Jim has baked halddock and I have scallops with perfectly cooked linguini.

The next morning, as I cook breakfast, Jim chuckles watching large RV’s go to the dumping and water station and have problems dumping sewage and grey water. The Grey Panther is set up simply to not experience these problems that Jim had with previous vehicles. He researched every possible alternative and the final decisions result in no problems. Well, he did have to fiddle with the water line under the sink once for five minutes.

We drive along the harbor to check out the Bluenose II, Canada’s ambassador schooner. It’s raining now and we drive near the golf course to get a better look at the harbor (my Edmonton cousin provided good, detailed suggestions). It’s raining hard now.

There is a farmer’s market this morning and I happily join the crowd, ogling the fresh greens and other vegetables, breads, baked goods, cider, honey, bees wax candles and many other wonderful things. At one end is prepared food and I buy Indian butter chicken and basmati rice.  I continue around. Alas, the Guinness  steak pie needs to be baked, so that’s out. I buy quiche, a schnitzel sandwich for Jim, beef vegetable soup.And of course some lovely fresh bread “my husband, the baker’s, favorite” she said. And fresh eggs, baby arugula, micro. greens, German sausage and fresh bacon.

Jim remains in the Sprinter reading after coming in with me for five minutes. I come out twice, when I run out of money, and when I need my wicker market basket to look like a proper farmer’s market shopper.

The rain worsens from the tail end of Hurricane Michael and we stop for the night in Digby of the famous “Digby Scallops”.  It is on the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world. The Sprinter is warm and cozy and as we have both spent too many rainy nights in tents in the Alaska wilderness, we think this is luxury.  After breakfast, we go downtown. The rain slows to a fine mist. It’s warm and the water is flat with no wind. On the boardwalk we are the only ones and enjoy the quiet and the smell of the sea. Digby is a working town and the “Scallop capitol of the world”. Digby was the home of Maud Lewis.

We are on our way to Annapolis Royal but I want to stop at Sherlburne. It is a small town with a major harbor said to be the third best in the world after Sydney, Australia and Havana, Cuba. It also the town established by the Black loyalists rescued by Britain during the War of 1812. They set up a town a few miles away called Birchtown after the general that rescued them.

 The town is a major presence in Lawrence Hill’s remarkable and award winning book……. (In US “Someone Knows my Name) and the miniseries from the book as well as other movies.  Some of the town was restored for the movie and since then more 1800’s buildings are being restored.

One special place on the water in Shelburne is the dory museum and workshop. 10,000 dories have been built here. The lower floor shows the dories and some exhibits and a video of the man that worked here for 76 years—rowing a mile a day to get to work, 10 hours/6 days and row an hour home.  The tour guide explain the dory construction in details, its uses, including life boats because they stack and several of the tools in the boat including “The Priest” that gives the halibut “their last rites”—-which in Alaska we call “the banker”.  Upstairs the dory maker gave us a tour and talked to Jim about the details of the craft and materials. For the most part the wooden dories are no longer used, but special orders come in and they hold dory making workshops. 

The museum tour guide is from Colorado who went to school in Halifax for financial reasons. She met her husband there and moved to Baffin Island when he got a job. She has a Master’s degree and so did some teaching. They moved to Shelburne for his job as city manager. She never thought she would be the tour guide for the Dory Museum. She is enthusiastic about her job and they will soon move back to his hometown for a new job.  I have no doubt she will do well in what ever job she picks or picks her. She shared one tidbit “When Prince Charles and Diana came to visit, the dory maker gave Diana a tiny hand carved toy dory for William.” The tie to the British Royal family is strong in the provinces. 

I stopped at an old building nearby, a pottery store, called the Roundbird. The big  wooden door was hard to open and finally, a young woman helped from the other side. She gives people a piece of clay and asks them to fashion a bird. There were many laid out on paper with a date and name. “Everyone starts with the same blob of clay, but look how different they make their birds.”  

She is from Toronto, a video game developer who had also traveled from Barrow, Alaska to Japan and many places in between. She came to Shelburne to stay with a friend and her father, who had a pottery studio,  to recoup and find a new path.  She works in the old store as well as  displaying other artists’s work. She fell in love with the small town that struggles to survive and restore its history. “It’s a wonderful place where everyone cares for each other,” she said. Somehow we ended up talking about palliative care and she said people her age think they are immortal and death doesn’t come. But her grand dads died close together recently and she now realizes her mortality. Finally we parted with a hug and I bought a small piece of her work. Luckily Jim was still reading his book in the Sprinter.

We drive to nearby Birchtown but don’t have time to go into the museum. Even slow travel people must make choices.

Jim drives to Annapolis Royal with it’s history wrapped in its well-preserved historical buildings. Once again we walk on the wooden boardwalk at the water’s edge. The  warm rain slows allowing us to walk embraced in dew rain, warm, soft and comforting. The fog across the bay lifts showing off Fall’s best colors. Jim goes back to the Sprinter while I shop a bit more. There are many artist’s stores and not the normal touristy ones. It seems the area attracts artists of all types. Of course I have little chats with each of them. And what’s a bookstore without a cat?


We stop at the Annapolis Historic Gardens, one of the top gardens in Canada. I know that most  of the flowers finished a few weeks ago, but I must see it. Jim stays in the Sprinter as I go into the office to get a ticket. There are big umbrellas to borrow as it is still rainy. I start out, filled with delight.  I pass several gardens, including the rose garden with a few rose petals still clinging to the stems. I continue around the garden in the rain, well protected by the umbrella. I go through the gate to the dikes built by the Acadians 400 years ago, carefully closing the gate as I was instructed,to keep the deer out. A sudden downpour of rain falls around me but the umbrella keeps me dry. The last garden I look at is a Victorian garden with its uniform plants and tidy garden beds.  I love it all. 

Wolfville is our next stop but we stop along the way to make lunch. Jim is getting a cold and wants some of the vegetable beef soup I got at thel Lunenburg farmer’s market. We continue on but it’s getting late, campgrounds don’t seem to be available. I discover it’s homecoming week at the local college and most places are booked.

Sometimes a wrong turn brings a right night. The country B&B in Gastreau is delightful. We slept well. This morning there was a breakfast of blueberry packed muffins, eggs, yogurt, cereal, fresh cider and the best part of all, strong hot tea in a china cup. While Jim joined the kitchen talk of hockey and teaching (the Montreal Canadiens alumni are playing the Acadia college alumni tonight) I sat in the living room looking out and enjoying my tea…..and going back for thirds. The tea was kept hot in a metal teapot on the stove. After a stop at the sheep fiber store and flock down the road, it’s off to the museums.

I find a B&B in nearby Gastineau and get the last room. We drive through apple country and vineyards, past trees bursting in colour and green fields on rolling hills. The B&B is at a family farm site since the 1700’s and the hostess grew up in the farm house that is now the B&B. The wood floors are solid, the bedrooms upstairs inviting—as well as the claw foot bathtub. Just down the road is a fibre store and farm with Cotswold sheep in the pasture. I saw it while I looked through booklets and happy to see it a …..and going back for thirds. The tea was kept hot in a metal teapot on the stove.

We stop at the fibre store down the road. The working farm with heritage sheep, in this case Cotswald sheep, has a shop in an old building on the farm that offers knitting and weaving supplies. It is a popular place with people coming in and out as well as 10 or so people at the work table. I bought a skein of their yarn, it is all hand dyed in beautiful colours. They carry other wool as well and beautiful woven and knit pieces by local artisans. Because the Cotswald sheep hair is long, there is only one family in North America that can spin it. The wool goes to a family in New Mexico who minimally treat it and return it to Gastreau. Pride in the product comes through easily.

One of the knitting workshop attendees saw me talking nonsense to a sheep and a llama and wanted to take a picture of me. Gee, I said sheepishly.

We drive into Wolfville  happy with our foray into the countryside. It is home to Acadia University. We went to the museum to see more of Maud Howe’s work but, alas, the exhibit ended September 30, One of her paintings is for sale in an art gallery—$27,500. We stop at La Torta for Neapolitan pizza. There was one other table filled. By the time we ordered and finished our caprese salad, the restaurant was full. Then the pizza came—so simple, but delicious!! Italian tomato sauce, fresh mushrooms, mozzarella and prosciutto. 

The Grand Pre historical site is a short distance away. Unfortunately, we found it closed for the season. We looked forward to the film about the Acadia people originally from France. They were excellent farmers and built dikes over 300 acres resulting in fertile land and high production. In the 1700’s The British were not happy with their unwillingness to sign an oath to Britain and deported hundreds of them, burning their houses or giving them to other immigrants. Another historical event of wrongful treatment of people! Some came back and they are found in this area as well as Cape Breton and Louisiana, U.S.  Archeological digs around the area reveal some of their successes. In 1922 a church was built with donations from Acadians everywhere and the site is beautiful. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a long and epic poem, Evangilene, that tells the story of the deportation. A statue of “Evangilene” is on the path to the church.

The trees are at the highest colour, making the cloudy day bright. We head north to cross into New Brunswick tomorrow.

Our Canadian trip is ending, but I’m pushing for a stop in St. Johns NB. There is always more to see and learn, sometimes from unplanned wanderings. We love Nova Scotia—just like we did Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island. Realistically, this will be our only trip. No longer can we say, “Oh we can come back in a few years.” So we soak in every bit of the trip relishing it, recording it in our memory as a special time.

Stories along the Way: Nova Scotia II

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