July 2008 kicked off with a bang – fireworks viewed from the harbor in Halifax, Nova Scotia, celebrating Canada Day, similar to our 4th of July festivities.
Earlier that day, we visited the Swissair Memorial, in remembrance of the nearby plane crash in 1998. While still in that area, we located a few geocaches – one near the Memorial, another at a scenic rock outcropping (with a great view of the Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse), and the third one at Pioneer Cemetery just north of Glen Margaret.
Things we did and saw in the Halifax area:
Dartmouth, a short ferry ride from Halifax, where we did a self-guided walking tour.
Lunenburg. We walked down to the harbor, took an excellent one-hour harbor tour led by Brian, a former fisherman. Lunenburg used to be the site of several fish processing plants for cod and haddock. By 1992, the area was over fished, most likely due to greed. The cod still hasn’t come back but one of the processing plants is still doing other types of fish, including breading chicken nuggets. Also, with the high price of fuel, fishing boats don’t come down as far as Lunenburg to offload but go closer to where their catch is bought.
We were rewarded with seeing an eagle’s nest with two eaglets in it. As we went by, they each decided to test their wings – it was awesome to see them hovering above the nest. One of the adult eagles was chasing a seagull, and then the gull chased the eagle. Even Brian was excited about seeing the eaglets and the eagle/seagull chase.
After the tour, we walked up to St. John’s Anglican Church. The Heeresmusickkorps 10 (German Army Band 10), the German military band in Nova Scotia while they are playing at the Tattoo (more on that later), put on a concert on the church’s green – excellent musicians.
Mahone Bay. We visited Amos Pewter Company and learned how pewter products were made. It has a low boiling point so molded products use a centrifugal spinning machine to spread the melted pewter into the mold before it cools. Goblets and other large pieces are made on a lathe. They design and build molds there as well as all other processes to create pewter products.
Halifax. We stopped at Fairview Cemetery where the Titanic victims are buried. Then we went to the Halifax Citadel, another of Canada’s National Historic Sites. We took the guided ranger tour, finishing up on the parapet just as the noon gun was being made ready to fire. Ships in the harbor used to set their watches by this cannon firing.
The Citadel was once the command post and landward bastion of Halifax’s defenses. It was intended to deter an overland assault on the city and dockyard. The strength of the Citadel, combined with the harbor defenses, was so successful that no enemy ever dared attack.
A highlight of our visit to Halifax was attending a performance of the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. This annual event draws talented musicians, dancers, acrobats, marching bands, and drill teams from all over the world. Sadly, since 9/11, the U.S. has not participated. We were told that President Bush didn’t want to expose any of our military bands to more risk than necessary. We heard that the U.S. Marine Band was always the highlight of the Tattoo. Some of the countries represented: Canada, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Kenya, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Trinidad, and Tobago. The Tattoo’s performers were high energy and quite talented – three hours flew by in a blink.
Indian Harbour. We attended the Saunders Brothers Show one afternoon at the Whale Back Gift Shop. Billed as gospel music with a twist, three talented musicians (two brothers and a friend) performed some very spirited gospel music, most of which they wrote themselves. For just $5 per person, fruit punch, cake and other desserts were included – wotta deal! The concert was a fundraiser to renovate the Indian Harbour Community Church – a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Time to start heading towards North Sydney – they say it’s not always the destination, but the journey. And what a memorable journey this was to be! We overnighted on Wharf Loop in Ecum Secum (cool name!) with the ocean just fifty feet from our door – aaaahhh!
Tangier: A quick stop at J. Willy Krauch & Sons Ltd. to buy some cold smoked North Atlantic salmon. (Hot or cold smoked, plain or maple – yum!)
Sherbrooke Village. A collection of 25-plus original buildings, with docents throughout the village, help to explain life along the St. Mary’s River around the early 1900s. Sherbrooke Village is a former lumbering and shipbuilding community looking as it did 100 years ago after gold mining transformed it into a boomtown. Some of the buildings we saw: a general store, an ambrotype photography studio (photography on glass), Sherbrooke Hotel, rural doctor’s office in the original home, a working up-and-down sawmill.
And now the memorable part of our journey! Folks we talked to back in Glen Margaret, and elsewhere, recommended against driving the Eastern Shore (Routes 7 to 211 to 316.) Roads were in poor condition, so tourism was down, so dollars weren’t there to repair the roads – a vicious circle. The Visitor Center at Sherbrooke Village called ahead to the ferry on Route 211 to check on its taking our RVs – no problem if we avoided low tide (steepness of the ramp on and off the ferry.) When we got there, the tide was starting to go out but it appeared doable – not! We went on first and heard Karen tell us on the radio that something broke on our bike rack. Compared to Karen and Galen, we were quite lucky. All we broke was a supporting strap on the bike rack – their entire bike rack broke but it wasn’t noticeable until they were off the ferry and had driven a few miles. What a shock that must have been to see their recumbent bikes bouncing along behind them. Luckily, there was no traffic on this narrow two-lane road while they stopped long enough to untangle the bikes and place them in the bed of their truck. Their bike rack – history.
By this time, we’d been bouncing along on Route 211, then onto Route 316 – the roads are in horrid condition, far worse than any we drove to and from Alaska. We were ready to find a place for the night – we’d had enough bumps and potholes for the day. Just after passing the sign for New Harbour, we saw a large parking lot with a community center under construction. Shortly after we pulled in, one of the residents came by and gave us permission to park there. We learned that this community of 300 families was building this community center, all with volunteer help.
Our plans were to leave after one night but when we got up the next morning and saw that only about six volunteers were going to work on shingling that day, we changed into work clothes and helped out. Larry was on the roof nailing the shingles (roofs seem to call him – most of his Habitat work has been on roofs); Lucille helped the ladies prepare the shingles with tar; Galen used his height to hoist the tarred shingles onto the scaffold; and Karen had the most appreciated job of all – she baked oatmeal muffins which were thoroughly enjoyed during breaks. These very friendly folks shared their lunch with us – we enjoyed getting to know them - Ross the unofficial leader (we’d met John, his son, the night before when he was delivering a fridge), Helen a 72-year-old widow who is a fascinating person; Christina, Cynthia who with her husband Kenny have a fishing business. We stayed a second night and even though we’d been invited to stay and help as long as we wanted, we hit the road – still so much to see and do in Nova Scotia. Along with our ‘kidnapping’ experience at the WalMart Yarmouth, this stop rates up there with our wonderful experiences in the province.
Our new friends recommended we take Larry’s River Road to get to PH 16 to get to Canso, thus avoiding the last stretch of Route 316 – what great advice and what a pleasant ride.
Canso (oldest seaport in mainland North America.) Our stay for the next few nights was at Seabreeze Campground, overlooking Chedabucto Bay with occasional sightings of whales far off.
Canso Island and Grassy Island Fort, another National Historic Site of Canada. This site consists of a visitor center on the Canso waterfront and an interpretive trail on Grassy Island, a 15-minute boat ride by park personnel. We passed on seeing Grassy Island but watched the video on Grassy Island, learning about the French and English settlements from the 16th to 18th centuries. The site has been abandoned for over 200 years, but in the past, the area was coveted for its abundant cod stocks. At its peak, the Canso fishery pulled in more than five million fish in a single season. The dried and salted fish were then shipped to markets in Europe, America, and the Caribbean, in exchange for a wide range of goods. The settlements were attacked by a French expedition from Louisbourg in 1744 – Grassy Island never recovered and remains a memorial to the thriving fishery that contributed to the prosperity of 18th-century Nova Scotia and New England.
Cape Breton Island is an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, but still considered part of Nova Scotia. Vehicles can easily access the island via the Canso Causeway. Our final destination on the island, and in Nova Scotia, was North Sydney, from which we’d take the ferry to Newfoundland. We opted to visit the western portion of Cape Breton first, and then work our way over to North Sydney.
First stop, Judique, home of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre (CMIC). Newly opened in 2006, CMIC is a unique establishment built to share the Cape Breton culture with its visitors. We enjoyed a live fiddle performance during our lunch there, visited the interactive exhibits and musical archives. One section is devoted to teaching you how to play the fiddle in five minutes (not well, mind you, just play it…) We each grabbed a fiddle and decided after struggling with the lesson that we’d stick to dulcimers. Next lesson was how to step dance, learning three simple traditional Cape Breton dance steps. We fared much better learning these dance steps, but we’re still going to stick to playing dulcimers. When we exited that area, we asked the woman at the front desk if they secretly watch the fiddle and dance participants to get a good laugh. She said they don’t – good thing because some of us were pathetic!
The last part of our visit there was a 45-minute presentation of all we wanted to know about fiddles and the music they play, as well as a history of the Celtic music in the area. (Violins and fiddles are the same instruments – it’s the music played that differentiates them.) She demonstrated the different types, from slow aires to jigs, reels, and strathspreys. What is interesting is that the music originally came from Scotland but Cape Breton is now sending people back to Scotland to teach the Scottish on the Celtic/Gaelic music and dance. Scotland got so diversified that they lost a lot of their traditional music and dance.
CMIC shares the parking lot with the Judique Community Center. We received permission to park there overnight. The center had wifi so we caught up on our emails while staying there.
Glenville. Where the Glenora Inn and Distillery is located, North America’s only single malt whiskey (factoid: spelled whisky for Scots and Canadians, whiskey for Irish and Americans.) On the tour we learned that the barrels come from the Jack Daniels Distillery, in Lynchburg, Tennessee, who’ve used them only once. Glenora uses them only once then sells them for planters, etc. Some folks make ‘swish’ from these twice-used barrels – adding water and turning the barrels for 28 days to get a diluted whiskey-flavored liquid. (When we saw how expensive this whiskey is, we understand why the swish makers try to get every last drop out of those barrels!) The man who started the distillery in 1990 was a farmer who felt the only thing missing on Cape Breton, which is mainly Scots and Gaelic, was whisky. He learned his trade by going to different distilleries in Scotland, and then applied what he learned back in Glenville. Unfortunately, he died in 1994, never having tasted what he started – the first production was bottled after a ten-year distilling process. We got samples at the end of the tour – very smooth if you’re a Scotch (single malt) drinker, which may explain its high cost in the liquor stores.
Baddeck. By this time, the temps were starting to climb up there, our first really warm and muggy weather since beginning our Maritime travels. We opted to overnight at a campground in Baddeck and take advantage of electricity to power our a/c units.
The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck tells the story of this amazing man. Bell was a teacher, scientist and inventor, devoting his life to the benefit of humankind. Known chiefly as of the inventor of the telephone, he also produced important inventions and discoveries in medicine, aeronautics, marine engineering, genetics, electrical science, and greatly advanced the methods and practices of teaching deaf people to communicate.
North Sydney area: Our base for the next week, we stayed at the Seal Island KOA. Karen and Galen stayed there on their 2004 Maritimes trip. The same folks own the campground – very friendly and very helpful. They even provided us with dog sitting services on two particularly long sightseeing days.
The Cabot Trail. We traveled its 187-mile length clockwise for two reasons – better scenery in that direction, and we drove the inside lane - more comforting when we hit those few stretches of road close to high cliffs down to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We started our slow climb towards Cape Breton Highlands National Park, followed the sea northward, up and over the French and MacKenzie Mountains, then dropped down to Pleasant Bay (we stopped to watch several pilot whales frolicking around a Zodiac tour boat), up again over North Mountain, through Cape North with a side trip to Meat Cove (beautiful views but a narrow two-lane washboard dirt road with steep drop-offs), then southbound over Smokey Mountain to again be back down to where the sea and the road meet.
During our ride on the Cabot Trail we saw:
Cap le Moine - the Scarecrow Theatre, originally started as a few well-dressed scarecrows in a farmer’s garden to keep away critters. The farmer noticed that several tour busses and cars stopped to see his fashion-conscious scarecrows, so in 1984, he started building a display. There are now over 100, with small donations accepted to help dress them.
Cheticamp - the rug hooking capital of the world. We stopped at Flora’s to watch a rug hooking demonstration and bought a small piece to hang in our home-on-wheels.
Cape Breton National Highlands Park – we hiked the Skyline Trail, about four miles one-way, enjoying our picnic lunch overlooking a gorgeous view high up above the water. Thanks to a heads-up from another hiker, we spotted a huge bull moose lying down in the trees.
North Ingonish Beach – good fish and chips and dessert at the Seagull Restaurant.
We finished off our Cabot Trail adventures by taking a ferry across St. Ann’s Bay to cut down on some driving time. It was still a long day – we had been gone almost twelve hours.
Louisbourg – where we visited the Fortress of Louisbourg, a National Historic Site of Canada. Briefly, the Fortress is a reconstructed site of the once busy fortified seaport. Founded by the French in 1713 until its abandonment by the British in 1768, Louisbourg was significant in the Franco-British struggle for the empire. It was the administrative capital of French holdings in Atlantic Canada; a fishing base for cod; a center for trade with France, French West Indies, Quebec, Acadia and New England; a military stronghold and naval base to protect French interests in the region; an Anglo-French battleground in both 1745 and 1758.
We took a 75-minute guided tour given by a park employee who did a fabulous job of bringing the place to life. Facts we learned: a man was judged by how well developed his calves were. Men back then would stand with one foot turned out to attract women. Some men stuffed their stockings to make it appear their calves were more developed. Interesting….
Suicide was punishable by death – sounds redundant but if someone committed suicide, their body was put on display as a warning to others.
Men’s wigs back then had lard on them to keep the curls – no hairspray then.
If you needed a limb amputated, you used the man with the most blood on his apron – that showed his experience as a surgeon.
All in all, there is a lot to see and do at the Fortress – we spent a full day there and still didn’t get a chance to see everything.
After five weeks in Nova Scotia, having driven down the west side to the south of the province, up along the eastern coast, then over to Cape Breton Island – it was time to head out to our next destination and adventure – Newfoundland. We boarded the ferry around 9:15 am one day and almost 18 hours later, arrived in Argentia, Newfoundland. The ferry crossing was uneventful, a very long ride made longer because one of the Smallwood’s engines was being worked on, thus leaving the ferry running just on three engines. Rather than take the ferry completely out of service, the crossing time increased by about three hours. We couldn’t stay in our vehicles but we found a fairly quiet lounge with comfortable seating. The cafeteria served good and reasonably priced meals. A musical trio performed sea shanties and other traditional Newfoundland tunes for several hours during the crossing. Movies were shown for those interested. Although it was a long crossing, we were free to walk around most of the ferry, slowly getting our sea legs.
Shelley, poor dog, didn’t fare as well. She is too big to fit in the kennels they provide on the ship, so our original plans were to leave her in the rig, walking her when they allowed us back down to the vehicle decks. Unfortunately, once we got parked, we were too close to the next RV and could barely get our door open, so she spent the entire ride in the truck with the windows open. About six hours into the crossing, passengers were allowed back down to the vehicle deck, which is also where you walk the dog. The first time we took her out, she was bewildered as to where she was supposed to do her business, so all she got that time was some exercise. By the time of the 2nd walking, about 14 hours from when she was last walked outside, nature took over – she lost her inhibitions and christened the deck. She really is a great traveler and never balked about being put back in the truck.
Argentia - We stayed several days at the fairly new Argentia Sunset RV Park, overlooking the water and the marine terminal. Alas, the first day was the only sunny day during our stay – we were fogged in the rest of the time.
Cape St. Mary’s - Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, where 70,000 seabirds whirl around Bird Rock and adjacent cliffs, easily seen from the cliffs of the reserve. On a clear day, several varieties of seabirds can be spotted as well as whales. The day of our visit was foggy but we still saw some of the 11,000+ nesting pairs of gannets and 10,000+ pairs of blacklegged kittiwakes (you hear and smell the birds before you see them!) It is amazing to see these birds perched precariously on the cliffs and to see a parent protecting its chick while the other one dives into the sea below for fish. Spectacular despite the foggy conditions.
St. Bride’s - We stopped at a fish plant (recommended by the Reserve’s ranger) to buy cod, freshly caught. What a bargain we got for $10 – a filleted cod large enough to feed the four of us twice.
Placentia – We visited Castle Hill, another National Historic Site of Canada. Castle Hill overlooks the original French capital of Newfoundland, now known as Placentia. The fort was at the heart of the French-English struggle for Newfoundland from 1692 to 1811. We toured the remains of the fort with the help of a self-guided audio tour.
Bauline East – We still had five days before our reservations at the St. John’s campground, so we chose Celtic Rendezvous Cottages and RV Park for our stay. As we went up and down very steep hills in search of the RV park, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves in to. It was our turn to lead that day and Karen told us that she could smell brakes burning – ours! Once we got set up (only 12 sites all situated on a cliff), the view was worth the drive – we looked out on to the Atlantic Ocean and frequently spotted minke and humpback whales and lots of seabirds.
Bay Bulls – On the only sunny day of our stay in Bauline, we booked the first tour of the day with O’Brien’s Whale & Bird Tours – it was an awesome tour, well worth the fare. We spotted lots of humpback whales, in the distance and then much closer. A mother and calf came up very close to our boat and the calf actually went underneath. They are attracted by people waving colorful items and making noises so we beat on the side of the boat. The calf was very curious and had to check out this large strange shape with waving arms. We also saw lots of puffins, common murres, and herring gulls. Our guide Justin, in a beautiful a capella voice, sang two Newfoundland/Maritime songs – one when we started, one when we returned to bay.
Some factoids about the seabirds we saw at the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve: Puffins are like potatoes with wings. Flying isn’t their strong suit – diving and swimming are. They nest on cliffs so they can get a head start flying by leaping off. When they’re in the water and want to take off, they point their heads up and start flapping across the water until they get some elevation and get going – too funny to watch. Puffins make two-room burrows on rocky hillsides to protect chicks. Nesting pairs have one chick per year, which gulls like to eat – either egg or chick. The living room is where they stay most of the time with the 2nd room a bathroom so they don’t have to go outside the burrow to go to the potty, keeping them safe from those puffin-eating gulls.
Common murres are related to puffins - they look like penguins. They also nest at the reserve, as do the razorbills that look very much like a common murre at first glance.
We saw lots of herring gulls, some of them with chicks that they were protecting from predators, such as the great black-back gull.
LaManche Provincial Park – We searched for a geocache where we left our travel bug – The Moose is Loose. (A travel bug is numbered and registered by its owner and its travels can be followed online when a geocacher finds it, then drops it off at another location.)
LaManche is the site of a former town that never really took hold and finally was abandoned after severe storms knocked out the remaining buildings and the wharf. Children used to walk five miles one way to go to school in Tors Cove. An amazing feat when you consider all the steep hills.
Brigus – We visited the Hawthorne Cottage, home of Captain Bob Bartlett, famous as the skipper who prepared the way for Commander Peary’s trip to the North Pole in 1909. Captain Bartlett is considered one of the great figures in Arctic exploration. A short walk through town brought us to the tunnel made by his father to more easily access the wharf.
Lunch was thoroughly enjoyed at the Country Corner, known for its cod chowder and blueberry crisp with ice cream. Both were wonderful.
Cupids – This is the first English settlement in Canada. When John Guy’s party arrived at Cupids in August 1610, they built a dwelling house and storehouse. We stopped at the Cupids Museum to learn about an active archaeological dig nearby, which we visited on the way out. We met Bill Gilbert, the archaeologist who studied John Guy’s papers to locate the first settlement. Since 1995, the archaeological crew discovered not only the original house but also the remains of four 17th-century buildings and over 120,000 artifacts. Just last November, they were getting ready to call it a day and in the location where they’d been dumping all the dirt and rocks from the excavations, they found part of a headstone. They now think it may be the oldest cemetery in Canada, dating back to 1610. Several other headstones have been uncovered, including one that dates back to 1790, based on its design and engravings. Pretty cool stuff.
The museum houses the archaeological lab, where we learned how artifacts are numbered and stored; displays items from life in a fishing and farming community; a postal history of Newfoundland; and an exhibit of school-days in Cupids and Newfoundland called ‘Present, Miss’.
The museum is located in the old United Church School, an apt location for the ‘Present, Miss’ display – a walk down Memory Lane. As the brochure states – it is a ‘lighthearted exhibit, for the enjoyment of the young, the young at heart and everyone who ever went to school.’
Memorable churches in Nova Scotia:
St. Peter’s Church in Cheticamp – the tallest stone church in Nova Scotia. Built in 1893, the stone was hauled across the ice by horse and carts from Cheticamp Island. Folks thought the ice was going to crack towards the end but the priest said not to worry. They got the last load safely across when the ice cracked. The church was repainted in 1999 at four times the cost of the building itself.
William Black Memorial United Church in Glen Margaret. This simple little church was built in 1821 with volunteer labor on donated land. What is memorable about this church is not the building so much as its members – they are among the friendliest folks we’ve ever met at a Sunday church service.
St. John’s Anglican Church in Lunenburg. Founded in 1753, St. John’s is Canada’s second oldest Anglican church. Now a National Historic Site, but still an active church, this beautiful church is perched on one of Lunenburg’s hills and visible from almost anywhere in the city. What is remarkable is that the church was almost entirely destroyed by fire in 2001. Its members decided to restore it completely to its original design rather than renovate or rebuild to a new design.
Foods we tried: Thumbs up on fresh cod fillets, prepared fried or grilled; oatcakes – similar to shortbread cookies but with finely ground oats. Thumbs down on cod tongues – they are just like they sound, breaded and fried. They were okay but we won’t order them again. They looked like breaded tongues staring up at us. Considered a specialty, we’ll leave them for others to enjoy.
Coming up in August – we continue our travels through Newfoundland, crossing back to Nova Scotia at the end of the month. We’ll start heading west, stopping for a few days in Burlington, Vermont; Montreal, Quebec; Ottawa and Pembroke, Ontario before dropping back into the U.S. in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan.