My 2006 East Coast Explorations Of South Western Nova Scotia And Halifax

My 2006 East Coast Explorations Of South Western Nova Scotia And Halifax

Over the last year or so I have had a chance to explore a lot of Canada, starting with Victoria and Vancouver in the summer of 2005, continuing with a trip to the Canadian Rockies and Calgary earlier this year. I also took two trips to Ottawa: during Winterlude in February and during the world famous Tulip Festival in May of 2006. Then I continued on with a trip to Montreal where I had a chance to see the exuberant Canada Day Celebrations in a city that definitely knows how to party!

Naturally I report from Toronto on a regular basis, given the fact that I reside right here in Canada’s largest city. But I realized that one area was still missing: Canada’s East Coast! I had never been on Canada’s Atlantic Coast and it was about time to see some of the famous Maritime hospitality for myself.

So with the help of Tourism Nova Scotia I worked out a a whirlwind 5-day program that would expose me to many of the interesting spots that South-Western Nova Scotia has to offer.

I started with an introduction to the Grand Pré National Historic Site, in the heart of a former Acadian settlement area and location of the Great Expulsion. I had heard of the Acadian expulsion before, but this visit really gave me a good overview of this sad chapter in Canadian history.

I continued onwards through the lush fertile fields of the Annapolis Valley and arrived in Annapolis Royal, one of the most historic towns on North America’s East Coast. My Acadian history lesson continued with a visit to the Port-Royal National Historic Site, a reconstructed 16th century French fort on the north shore of the Annapolis River. Tenth-generation Acadian descendant Wayne Melanson gave me a great introduction to early French history, while his twin brother Alan Melanson continued with Annapolis history during the locally renowned Annapolis Royal Candlelight Graveyard Tour. An informative and entertaining introduction to Nova Scotia history…

Whenever I travel I also like to highlight and get to know local hospitality entrepreneurs, and the Garrison House Bed and Breakfast is one of the key hospitality establishments in Annapolis Royal. I interviewed owner Patrick Redgrave whose personal story illustrates how one Toronto wine merchant was drawn to Nova Scotia to start a completely new life for himself. I also had a chance to sample the cuisine of the Garrison House Restaurant, one of Annapolis Royal’s most distinguished restaurants.

On day 2 I started my trip along the Evangeline Trail, first stopping at the Annapolis Royal Tidal Generating Plant, one of only two such plants in existence in the world. From there I went on a beautiful driving tour along the Annapolis River to my next stop: the Bear River First Nation Heritage and Cultural Centre where I learned about the history and traditions of the Mi’kmaq People.

After a brief lunch in Digby I continued my southwesterly drive with several stops to see some of the beautiful churches in the St. Mary’s Bay region, which is an Acadian stronghold to this day. My arrival destination was Yarmouth, a historic shipbuilding and fishing town located on the western tip of Nova Scotia. I went on a self-guided walking tour through the downtown area which features a large number of beautifully restored Victorian heritage buildings.

Day 3 started with delicious breakfast at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn, another restored Victorian mansion. I had a chance to interview the owners Neil Hisgen and Michael Tavares, both originally from the United States, who have brought back three Yarmouth Victorian mansions to their former architectural glory and Michael is currently working hands-on on restoring a fourth property. This interview chronicles their interesting evolution as hospitality entrepreneurs and architectural restoration experts.

To learn more about the Yarmouth area I visited the Yarmouth County Museum whose exhibits highlight the area’s significance in maritime history. I then continued my drive along the Lighthouse Trail, but in an unfortunate incident my rental car landed in a ditch, following which I experienced the instant help of local residents in Chebogue River – and my first-hand experience confirms the well-known stories of Maritime hospitality and generosity.

My driving tour continued to the town of Shelburne, one of the most significant towns in North America in the 1700s. My final destination for Day 3 was Lunenburg – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I started the next morning with an interesting walking tour of Lunenburg and a brief visit to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.

I also had a chance to interview Don and Gail Wallace, owners of the Lunenburg Inn, also former Toronto-area residents, who have chosen Lunenburg as their pre-retirement residence. This couple made some strategic plans for their Golden Years and Lunenburg will continue to play a big role in their life.

Then I headed off on the Lighthouse trail, stopping off in the picturesque communities of Mahone Bay and Peggy’s Cove. On the evening of Day 4 I arrived in Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, where I was able to take a moon-lit stroll along the waterfront to my final program point for the day: the musical production DRUM! located at the Drum Theatre at Pier 20.

This exhilarating musical production featured the songs and rhythms of Nova Scotia’s four principal cultures: Black, Acadian, Aboriginal and Celtic, and two hours of heart-thumping music, dance and poetry literally gave me goose bumps. The spirit of this performance is captured perfectly by its slogan: FOUR RHYTHMS…. FOUR CULTURES…. ONE HEART.

My last full day in Nova Scotia began with a tour of Halifax, expertly narrated by a passionate guide – in a kilt. After a visit the Halifax Public Gardens, the Halifax Citadel and the Fairview Garden Cemetery, I was inspired to learn more about Halifax’ history, particularly its connection to the Titanic and the 1917 Halifax Explosion. So I headed into the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to learn more about the events that shaped this city.

One place that should not be missed on any Halifax itinerary is Pier 21, Canada’s immigration museum. More than 1 million immigrants came through Pier 21, and almost half a million Canadian soldiers were sent from here to join the war effort during the Second World War. During my visit of Pier 21 I had a chance to meet one of the museum’s volunteers: Robert Vandekieft, an 89 year old Canadian immigrant who himself came through the doors of Pier 21 in 1954. He shared his interesting life story with me, a true Canadian success story that illustrates the significance of Pier 21 as Canada’s “front door”.

My time in Nova Scotia was rapidly coming to an end, so in the late afternoon of Day 5 I took the ferry to explore Dartmouth, the “City of Lakes” on the other side of the Halifax Harbour. Today Dartmouth is part of the Halifax Regional Municipality, and an interesting destination in itself. A quiet dinner capped off five intense and action packed days in Nova Scotia.

I couldn’t help but think of how much I had seen, but I realized that there was so much more to see. I am hoping there will be an opportunity soon to explore more of beautiful Nova Scotia – Canada’s Seacoast.