Nova Scotia / Prince Edward Island

Day 7

My legs are aching now, so it’s probably good that the end of my trip is today, and what a day it was. The sun shone throughout my drive from Pictou to Cape Breton and my driving tour of as much as I could see in the time I had. Starting in River Denys with friends I met last year we drove north and then west to Lake Ainslie, along the south shore and to Inverness. It was blustery, but there is nothing quite like breathing the fresh sea air deep into your lungs. With Calgary being so land-locked it is a real treat to be able to get back to the coast and taste salt just by licking your lips.

Turning south we stopped in at the Glenora Distillery, distillers of the only Scottish-style single malt whisky made in Canada. Further south lies the community of Mabou which we drove through with the plan of visiting on the return-leg of our journey. Our destination was Port Hood, home town of Al MacInnis – another picturesque seaside community with sandy beaches and a busy (in-season) fishing harbour. Returning to Mabou we stopped briefly to take in St. Mary’s Parish and the Red Shoe Pub. The proprietors of the Red Shoe are the Rankin sisters, and the community is the home to The Rankin Family. Apparently the Red Shoe Pub is the place to go for a good time. I didn’t probe my hosts much further as to what that meant!

On the return leg to River Denys we traveled through the Nevada Valley and after saying my goodbyes, I headed back to Pictou. The last supper was held at a sports bar in Pictou named The Pressroom. This is the only place I have ever seen that has a menu that includes a ‘fries and champagne meal’ for $299.99. I just thought that this was brilliant.

Despite the incredible views, the sites and the pure beauty of the days’ scenery, the highlight was catching up with my old Cape Breton friends who optimize everything that is good about this area of the country. Exceedingly friendly, charming, passionate and happy people, Donny and Carrie have time for anyone (even on route on our drive today) and are welcoming and sincere. This is a trait of the people in this area of the world and the memory that I will cherish the most from this journey.

So now I head back to Calgary, a 6:something a.m. flight and a long day ahead. Thank you for following this blog and, as ever, do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Day 6

Today I fulfilled a promise that as a hangover cure I would drink a caesar (a drink I generally despise) with a pickle in it. Well I did it – aided by a beautiful view of various docks in Halifax from Murphy’s Restaurant in Cable Warf (above). The truth is that I actually didn’t need the hangover cure and felt great today.

With the sun shining and the sun blazing we set out to Point Pleasant Park, an expanse of green land with sandy beaches just south of Halifax’s downtown and Pier 21. There are a number of memorials to the deceased of the Canadian Navy during both war and peacetime and at the centre of the Park is the Prince of Wales Tower, part of the British’s defence infrastructure. This is a park to run in, to exercise with your children or your dog, to walk hand-in-hand with loved ones or to get away from city life for a while. I can only imagine how beautiful it would be in summer with trees and plants in full bloom.

After some lunch (as discussed above), I completed my stay in Halifax by visiting Joseph Howe’s grave site, St. Paul’s church, the first church of British origin built in Canada and the head of the Church of England outside of England, and then St. Mary’s Basilica for some quiet time. St. Mary’s (according to Lonely Planet) has the larges free-standing spire in North America. Whether or not this is the case, it is one impressive church – although I would say somewhat less ornate than the inside of St. Dunstan’s Basilica in Charlottetown, PEI.

I understand that Joseph Howe was a writer, a journalist and politician who was loved and revered making him a Nova Scotia legend. He became Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia in 1873, but died only three weeks later. What I found impressive and alluring to this gravesite was how simple and unassuming it was. The grave stone stood barely 12 inches from the ground and read “Joseph Howe”. A larger ‘family’ monument stood close by, but the Howe family’s head stones were very plain and ordinary. That little detail made me smile as I gazed on in silence. This is the same grave yard as Alexander Keith’s memorial. I would certainly recommend it as a must-visit in Halifax, along with the Public Park (which was not open for me, unfortunately).

In the mind-afternoon I traveled back to Pictou, and made it in time for the most delicious homemade seafood chowder I have ever eaten. Courtesy of Scott and Joanne (you know who you are), Roger, Elaine, Bruce, Yvonne, Scott, Joanne and I chowed down two bowls of the chowder, proving that homemade really is best. I got lucky in knowing residents of Nova Scotia and, therefore, had an ‘in’ with the locals – but these are locals that you should get to know if you can. I’ve been faced with nothing but kindness and hospitality from the moment I arrived here – the maritimes really are a wonderful place.

Tomorrow is the last day of my trip. I am driving to River Denys in Cape Breton to see a couple more amazing people before I take off for Calgary early on Tuesday morning. In light of the driving I have to do, bed time for me now.

Day 5

To be honest, it’s not the end of day 5, but it’s St. Patrick’s day and who knows how the night will end. One other thing about today: SUN! Finally the clouds broke in Nova Scotia and we were treated to sun – and plenty of wind – at Peggy’s Cove.

The day didn’t seem all that promising at 7:30 a.m. It had snowed over night and was still overcast and cold, even on the picturesque drive to Peggy’s Cove. Almost as we reached the lighthouse we saw the first glimpses of sun, and the weather kept improving from there. Peggy’s Cove is a great place to simply explore. Of course, getting the obligatory lighthouse shot (above) is a must, but just climbing over the glacier-shaped rocks, sitting peacefully gazing out to the ocean, and breathing in the sea breeze are some of the highlights of this place. Peggy’s Cove is a small fishing town and at this time of year tourists are few and far between. I can only imagine how hard it is to get the perfect shot with hundreds of tourists swarming around the lighthouse.

The drive to and from Peggy’s Cove is a beautiful as the area itself. Winding roads, hills and valleys, water-side driving, boats and docks, fishing shacks and holiday homes surround you as you venture to, and them from Peggy’s Cove back to Halifax. This really is a must visit for any tourist heading to the maritimes.

This evening I treated myself to an Atlantic fish supper. I was advised to try the Five Fishermen on Argyle St. in Halifax, and it didn’t disappoint. I pulled up my chair to the bar and talked almost uninterrupted for two-and-a-half hours to the staff and a fellow lonely traveler. The calamari appetizer was solid, the halibut main was the best halibut I have ever eaten and the dolce de lecce desert topped the meal off ‘almost’ perfectly. I say ‘almost’, as before I left a just couldn’t resist trying the two New Brunswick and one Nova Scotia oyster options on offer. I preferred the Nova Scotia oyster to both New Brunswick oysters: one of which near Moncton I really didn’t enjoy. However, the meal was much more than the food. Maurice (the manager I believe), Effie and Matt (the two bar staff) were all extremely pleasant and chatty. Leon, the Ukrainian fellow visitor was also a treat to chat to. Overall an exceptional experience, and a place to which I will return.

I actually have no plans for the evening – so far – but I expect that plans will develop. The parties around here started at about 12:00 p.m. and it seems that two in three people in Halifax are dressed in green. One of those three, ridiculously so! Let the festivities begin…

Day 4

Halifax! I drove to Halifax this morning and spent most of the day walking. This really is a city where all you need are your feet and a small ounce of fitness and you can thoroughly enjoy yourself. I started the day by walking straight to the Halifax Citadel (Fort George). At this time of year it is closed but for the grounds themselves. The Citadel was established in the mid-1700’s and, in fact, has never been attacked. It is a star-shaped defence wall with a long three-storey central building. Perhaps the winter season didn’t help the charm, but I couldn’t help but feel that there ought to have been a castle stood in the centre of the Citadel – something more grandiose than what actually exists. Perhaps a summer time visit would give me a different perspective.

Speaking of perspectives, however, one benefit to visit the Citadel first is to get an excellent vantage point of the city. From the Citadel I headed for water and began walking along the length of the harbour until I reached the Alexander Keith’s factory, and further still to Pier 21. I haven’t yet visited the Pier 21 museum, although I am now much more familiar with the significance of Pier 21. Pier 21 is a former ocean liner terminal that saw over 1,000,000 immigrants pass through the dock, forming what is informally known as the ‘gateway to Canada’. Canada’s National Museum of Immigration now stands where Pier 21 warehouses once were. One of may favourite views from the area is of Georges Island, and its lighthouse (above). There is also a large (and on weekends, very busy) farmer’s market where you are able to find great food, organic produce and other wares.

For lunch a friend and I met at Mary’s Place Cafe II, a great little all day breakfast / snack food / Syrian food mix that served me a full English breakfast to keep me going into the afternoon. We continued to walk after lunch, visiting a memorial to Alexander Keith and generally wandering aimlessly (something which I highly recommend) taking many photographs of this beautiful city. Tomorrow the plan includes visiting Peggy’s Cove, Point Pleasant Park and Pier 21. It is also St. Patrick’s day so I will apologize now incase the Day 5 update is brought to you one day late!

Day 3

Today the snow fell, and fell – a true winter’s day in Nova Scotia. True to word, though, I did not stop exploring today. I became very familiar with Pictou County: Trenton, New Glasgow, Westville, Pictou Landing, Stellarton and Melmerby Beach. If you are at all interested in architecture, particularly that from the late 1800’s, early 1900’s, some of the residences around this area are for you – and relatively cost-effective as well. Many residences were “closed for the winter” as their American or European owners were still away in warmer climates. March is winter here, although it is a good time to see these residences as during summer they would be well sheltered from public viewing by the leafs on the trees that often surround them.

I learned that as much as 80% of the woodland in Nova Scotia is privately owned. There is a lot of woodland here – and generally a lot of land for sale. This area of Nova Scotia certainly isn’t an all-year destination. However, that has it’s advantages.

Case in point was the highlight of the day today. Only two tables were taken at Piper’s Landing Country Restaurant. This stunning restaurant’s website does no justice to it and, in my opinion, is a must-visit restaurant in Nova Scotia. It would rival the best restaurants and cuisine in Calgary, a bustling city of over 1,000,000 people. Located in Lyons Brook in Pictou County, and a stones throw away from the Birchwood Campground & Cabins, this restaurant served one of the finest steaks I have ever eaten as part of a surf-and-turf special with delicious Atlantic seafood. It is fine dining at its best in a location that you would certainly not expect. The owners were polite and courteous in greeting us and the waitress was very pleasant and attentive. The views are incredible. Unfortunately it was cloudy as I ate, but I was told that on a clear evening the stars and moon reflect on the ocean, the large grounds are immaculately manicured and maintained, and the dining experience is even better than I experienced tonight.

Today was probably the least adventurous day that I will have in the maritimes during this visit. Having said that, I expect that this will have been my best meal of the entire trip, and one I won’t forget. When I return to this part of the world I will return to Piper’s Landing for another feast, and friendly fine dining atmosphere.

Tomorrow morning I am driving to Halifax. Now I need to loosen my belt…

Day 2

Snow, freezing rain: no deterrent! Instead I covered three Provinces today: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It was a very cold day, very windy, but that didn’t stop my road trip today. Starting out from Pictou I headed west, first stopping at the old Tatamagouche train station before visiting the Jost Vineyards and sampling some of Nova Scotia’s finest wine. Visiting a vineyard in March in Nova Scotia does not quite bring back memories of a warm Tuscan day, but the countryside in Nova Scotia is so beautiful it’s easy to overlook the fact that I was wearing gloves and a hoody!

It wasn’t long before I was back in the warm car and heading over the 12.9km (8mi) Confederation Bridge, crossing the Northumberland Strait and linking New Brunswick with Prince Edward Island. From there we headed along the trans-Canada highway to Charlottetown, PEI’s capital city. While the approach to downtown is scattered with big box stores, it isn’t long before twenty-year-old buildings are replaced by buildings such as Province House and St. Dunstan’s Basilica, above.

Construction of the birthplace of confederation (Province House) began in 1843 and was completed in 1847. It is significant in Canadian history as it was here, in 1867, that 23 political leaders from the British colonies of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and Canada (now Quebec and Ontario) began the discussions that in 1867 led to the creation of the Dominion of Canada. The building has two significant rooms, one of which is the delegates room where the confederation discussions were held. This room is kept just as it was over a century ago. The building is, in fact, a mirror image – the left side of the building reflecting the right. It is on the left side that the Provincial Legislature meets to discuss everything PEI. The ‘marble’ used though out the building is, in fact, pine wood, painted to look like marble and is very believable – that is until you touch it. The Government of Canada tour guide was very informative and knowledgeable about the history of the building and its present use. I highly recommend having a guided tour.

With the weather getting increasingly worse we headed quickly to St. Dunstan’s Basilica which is just one block away from Province House. It is a spectacular basilica. Inside and out it is a marvel to look at and on this occasion it was silent with no other people inside but for one family who were all silent in prayer. The stained glass is vivid, Da Vinci’s “the Last Supper” is hand-carved into the wooden alter, and the basilica oozes the splendour of the large churches in Quebec City and Montreal, if not those gothic and medieval churches in Europe.

A trip to PEI with snow blowing and sub-zero temperatures is not complete unless you first visit the Merchantman Pub. It is a very traditional pub, brick building and stained glass windows included. A quick pint of Alexander Keith’s is all the courage that is needed to venture back into the cold and get ready for the drive back to Pictou. This time the Confederation Bridge provides no view of the Northumberland Strait given the snow and fog circling around us, but despite the weather we made the best use of our time and thoroughly enjoyed the day.

Given the ongoing snow there are no plans for anything too significant tomorrow, but check back to see what I got up to on day three!

Day 1

So I made it, landing in Halifax, N.S. at 6:00 a.m., eating in Truro on my way to Pictou and the Birchwood Campground and Cabins. Today was always going to be a tough day as I never sleep on planes. Essentially I had been at work on Monday March 12, stayed up all of Monday night flying, and started the day, not-so-fresh, on Tuesday.

Today was a relatively low-key day. I toured Pictou County by car, taking my first crisp breaths of the Atlantic Ocean driving along the coast before turning back and heading into the town of Pictou. There I discovered Hector (above). I learned that on September 15, 1773, approximately two hundred Highland Scots arrived aboard Hector. This began a wave of Scottish immigration to Nova Scotia that would last for decades. The settlers’ perseverance as they sought the freedom of possessing and thriving on their own piece of land made them a fundamental part of Canada’s history. Against great odds they built communities and raised families. Thousands of Scottish immigrants soon followed to “New Scotland”.

Hector, of course, is an exact replica of the original Hector and during tourist season (which is not March) you can go aboard explore the ship to see the conditions the 200 immigrants would have endured during their trans-Atlantic trip. Pictou is the birthplace of New Scotland (read: Nova Scotia) and an so a great place for Hector to be docked.

I learned that the Provincial government no longer funds the maintenance and operation of this great ship and that private investors are now responsible for its upkeep and raising the necessary funds to keep it sailing. An overwhelming feeling I get here is a sense of community and neighbourly love and even out of season, it will be hard not to fall in love with this part of the world.

For lunch I visited Andre’s Pizza (http://www.andrespizza.ca/) New Glasgow – and highly recommend this place. The food was well priced and tasty, but even better, the decor was a combination of rustic and rock n’ roll. Clearly Andre’s is located in an old building, but you’ll be impressed with the signed album covers (Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, etc.) and the concert ticket stubs under glass-covered tables (The Beatles, Frank Zappa, etc.) I have to say, I didn’t get the pizza – and now wish that I had – but the pizza had previously come highly recommended to me.

Unfortunately the next two days promise rain and ice storms. Not to be deterred, however, the plan for tomorrow is to drive the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island and visit Charlottetown. As ever, if you have any suggestions on where I might go in my few days here, please let me know.

Check back tomorrow for more.


The Plan

This is still a work in progress but a provisional plan is now in place for my Nova Scotia tour. Please let me know if I’m on the right track or if you have any suggestions for me to add into this trip.

March 13, 2012: Arrive in Halifax and travel to Pictou, NS.
March 14 and 15: Day trips to Cape Breton, Cabot Trail, the Bay of Fundy.
March 15: Travel to Halifax.
March 15, 16, 17, 18: Halifax, Peggy’s Cove, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
March 18: Travel to Pictou.
March 18 and 19: Use Pictou as a base for continued day trips, as above.
March 20: Return to Halifax for flight to Calgary.

First Words

OK, so the trip hasn’t even started yet, and neither has much of the planning, but the excitement is building. This will be my first time heading east of Quebec City in Canada and it will be just me, my laptop, my camera and my limited budget. My hope is to update this blog each evening with a re-cap of my travels and some pictures from the day. However, if I happen to make it into a bar – particularly if I rub shoulders with the locals, updating this might be a better hangover cure. I hope that if you do follow me on my travels you enjoy the read. As always, contact me if you have any questions.

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6 thoughts on “Nova Scotia / Prince Edward Island

  1. Great to see that your first trip east of Quebec City is Nova Scotia, James. If we can be of any assistance with your trip planning, please do not hesitate to give us a shout. Here is the Authentic Seacoast 101, our guide to 101 things to do on Chedabucto Bay, the largest bay on the Nova Scotia Atlantic coast. You’ll also find our seasonal top lists: http://www.authenticseacoast.com/play

    All the best with your trip planning!
    Doug at the Authentic Seacoast

  2. I second Doug. I think you’ll have a great time and it’s very easy to find a pub in which to brush shoulders with and meet a few locals!

    Let us know if you have any questions and have a lovely trip. You can find us on http://www.facebook.com/novascotia and twitter @visitnovascotia. Love to see some of your pics and hear about your adventures.

    All the best,

    Cynthia from novascotia.com

  3. You miss the best part of NS:

    The beautiful South Shore from Halifax to Yarmouth and back through the Annapolis Valley or Bay of Fundy to Wolfville with it’s great wineries and back to Halifax. Just stay a week longer….

    Happy Travels,

    • Thanks for your message Doris. I can say with certainty that I will be back to this part of the world, so I will be doing the Annapolis Valley and more of the Bay of Fundy at some point. I went to Jost Vineyards today, but I do love visiting wineries so when I’m back I’ll visit more of them. Thanks for your tips – unfortunately one extra week won’t be possible on this trip.

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