By MARY ELLEN MacINTYRE Truro Bureau
Former executive runs successful river rafting, cottage business
URBANIA — Jack Robinson seems to have created his own Utopia in Urbania, Hants County.
Workers at his 73-hectare site on the Shubenacadie River are busy putting up log cabins in tree-sheltered niches along the river’s banks. The birds twitter, his dogs gambol through the
dense foliage, his 23 workers seem happy and business couldn’t be better.
“I’m a lucky man and this is a great place to be,” said Mr. Robinson, owner of Tidal Bore Rafting Park and Rafters Ridge Cottages on Highway 215.
Owners of tourism-based businesses have been decrying the low visitor numbers across the province this year, but Mr. Robinson says the operation he bought just last year has had a 33 per cent increase in business.
“Tourists are really looking for the healthy, outdoorsy kind of vacations — whale watching and hiking — those kinds of things and river rafting seems to be quite popular,” said Mr. Robinson.
“People come from all over — from the Maritimes, the United States and across Canada.”
A former executive with Coca-Cola in Russia and a former Halifax lawyer, Mr. Robinson knows his way around the business world, and he knows how to make things happen.
A case in point is the log buildings going up on his property. He already has 10 cottages and a meeting-conference lodge. Two more lodges and a spa building are under construction.
“Well, we did our marketing surveys and we checked out all the Nova Scotia builders of log buildings it they are a pricey item — there’s no doubt,” he said.
“I called some people in Russia and started to investigate what was available in Russia.”
Mr. Robinson purchased the designs and notched logs in Russia and had them shipped over to Canada and put together on site by Russian carpenters he paid to fly over — all for 40 per cent less than what he would have paid here.
What’s his secret?
No one who met the man would doubt his business acumen or his ability to put together a deal and operate a company.
But during a recent interview on a deck overlooking the Shubenacadie River, Mr. Robinson looked for all the world like a man of leisure.
“I don’t wear a shirt and tie anymore,” he laughed, taking a sip from his coffee. His eyes rested on the perfectly calm river through the trees. He seemed an enormously contented
He gestured toward the green fields. As if on cue, an eagle swooped down to eye level and gracefully soared over the white birch railings of the steps leading toward the river.
You would think I planned that,” he said with a laugh, sinking into a deck chair.
Mr. Robinson said after years in the business world, he opted to live full time in his summer home in South Maitland with his family.
“I have a small beef farm there, but when this opportunity came up I couldn’t resist,” he said, his eyes lighting up.
“There are three river-rafting businesses in this area and business is up for all of us this year— it’s become a very popular adventure vacation idea,” he said.
When the famous tidal bore pushes water up the Shubenacadie river, the fun really begins for those who love a wild ride. Rafting trips send zodiac boats coursing over rapids churned up by the tide rushing over sandbars where, moments before, the water had been calm.
“It’s invigorating — like a roller-coaster, only wetter,” he said.
After two or four hours on the river, rafters are treated to a beef barbecue.
“We’ll have about 5,500 rafters in a year and they’ll all see eagles and the wonderful tides —that’s what it’s all about,” Mr. Robinson said.
By Christopher R. Cox
When a giant wall of water turns a tranquil river into a raging monster, hold on tight for a wild ride atop a strange hydrological phenomenon known as a tidal bore.
Burton Matthews checks his watch, then scans the placid, empty bay with the dubious eye of a man who makes his living in troubled waters. All around our motorized Zodiac boat, brick-colored mudflats and sandbars glisten in the sun. It’s 2:30 on a mid-July afternoon—just about time. We swing out of the inflatable craft into the shallows of a slack, sediment-filled river now running at barely a trickle. At absolute low tide, the half-mile-wide mouth of the Shubenacadie River is almost completely drained.
“Today’s tide is going to be 26 and a bit,’’ says Matthews. “That means there’s going to be real fast water out there. It’s going to rise really quickly.’’ More precisely, he is talking about a rise of 26-plus feet in just two hours. Hard to believe, but the unique physical characteristics of the Bay of Fundy, of which this river—the longest in Nova Scotia—is a tributary, and the current lunar phase—it’s the fourth day after a full moon—will collaborate in a few minutes to create a rare hydrodynamic phenomenon called a tidal bore. In reality, it’s a genuine tidal wave and the leading edge of a powerful incoming tide forging its way upstream.
Matthews, a third-generation commercial fisherman, notes the ripples in the water where the Shubenacadie drops off into Cobequid Bay. Soon a thin line of foam spreads shoreward from the same spot. In a matter of moments a cresting wave advances up the estuary, moving toward us at running speed. The tide has turned. “It’s one of those things where you can’t hang around too long,’’ says Matthews. “Get back in the boat.’’
With a gathering roar, the bore scatters shorebirds as it sweeps across the sandbars. It resembles a wave crashing on a beach yet somehow surges forward without dispersing. We cinch our life jackets as the wave, about three feet on the face, tosses our Zodiac and keeps thundering upriver. Matthews revs up his 60-horsepower outboard engine and powers ahead through the now-churning river. In the space of just two hours, millions of gallons of seawater will be pushed nearly 30 miles inland, converting the calm Shubenacadie into a raging monster filled with class IV rapids. As I grab a line to keep from falling overboard, I marvel at the sudden transformation I’ve just witnessed. How on earth does such a thing happen?
Derived from the Old Norse word bara, or “wave,’’ a tidal bore is an elusive event. Hubert Chanson, an engineering professor at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia, is one of the few people to study the phenomenon. He estimates that roughly 200 rivers worldwide have bores. Chanson lists several specific conditions for a bore to occur: The tidal range must be larger than 13 to 19 feet, and the river must be shallow, with a gradually sloping bottom and a broad, funnel-shaped estuary. But bores are mysterious creatures. Depending on the lunar phase and the topography of a river’s mouth, Chanson explains, they may form a handful—or hundreds—of times annually. Bores are most powerful around a new or full moon, when tidal amplitude is greatest; every 206 days the perigee of the moon’s oval-shaped orbit coincides with these lunar phases, creating extra-large spring tides and, depending on local conditions, particularly impressive bores. Conversely, they are rarely seen at neap tides, when the moon is at its apogee. In isolated instances, storms and tsunamis can also induce bores.
With the exception of Antarctica, every continent has a smattering of such rivers, though the phenomenon goes by many names: le mascaret, on France’s Gironde River, the benak, on Sarawak’s Lupar River, and the pororoca, on numerous Amazon tributaries in Brazil. In the United States perhaps the best-known bore occurs in the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, in Alaska.
“They’re not well understood,’’ says Don Thiederman, a Hull, Massachusetts, carpenter who also runs the Tidal Bore Research Society, a clearinghouse devoted to the wave. “In my opinion it’s the most underrated of any type of event that Mother Nature has produced. You have people looking for volcanoes and geysers, climbing tall mountains. But to me, tidal bores are just plain fascinating.’’
In North America one of the best places to see bores is eastern Canada’s Bay of Fundy, between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The bay, famed for having the world’s greatest recorded tides, is fed by several ideally shaped rivers, including the Shubenacadie, the Salmon, and the Petitcodiac. Fundy’s bathymetry is crucial: At its mouth, the bay is approximately 60 miles wide and more than 400 feet deep. It then runs 180 miles eastward, gradually tapering and shallowing, before finally splaying at its head into two narrowing arms—Chignecto Bay to the north and Minas Basin to the south—that leave the incoming seawater nowhere to go but up.
Fundy’s length is key, says Richard Faulkner, a retired outdoor educator in New Brunswick. Every body of water has a natural frequency of oscillation; once set in motion, its waves move back and forth in a regular, fundamental period. In the case of the Bay of Fundy and the adjoining Gulf of Maine, the fundamental period is a little more than 13 hours, which dovetails nicely with the tidal interval of 12 hours, 25 minutes. This phenomenon is called seiche—a fancy French word for “bathtub effect.’’
“If you sit in a bathtub and wiggle your hips and rear end, a wall of water goes to the front of the tub,’’ says Faulkner, who operates a Fundy sea-kayak company. “If you wiggle again as the wave comes back, it’s amplified.’’
At Fundy, the seiche induces a huge tidal range and amplifies the energy to help propagate tidal bores. Roughly 15 miles west of the Shubenacadie, at the coastal farming community of Burncoat, the highest tides in the world—an astounding 53.38 feet—have been recorded.
In the outer bay, the tidal action helps to stir deep, nutrient-rich water toward the surface, attracting four species of baleen whale—including the highly endangered northern right whale—that feed on krill in summer and fall. In the upper bay, the flushing exposes 620 square miles of ocean floor at low tide. In late summer these enormous mudflats are crawling with tiny invertebrates: an irresistible takeout meal for millions of migrating shorebirds, particularly plovers and the majority of the world’s population of semipalmated sandpipers. Fundy is the lone pit stop these birds will make on a long southern migration from their Arctic breeding grounds to wintering areas in Central and South America.
The seiche helps propel deep-water swells into the shallows, where compression stacks the waves higher. When a wave’s height exceeds half the water depth, the crest overtakes the trough and breaks into a frothing wall of water, forming a bore. Under the right circumstances, these tidal waves can even become killers. In 1922 a powerful 15-foot bore on the Colorado River, known locally as the burro, capsized a passenger ship bound for Yuma, Arizona, killing 86 people. Somerset Maugham very nearly suffered the same fate on Sarawak’s Lupar River a year earlier; the terrifying incident inspired one of his finest short stories, “The Yellow Streak.” Over the centuries the so-called Silver Dragon bore on China’s Qiantang River—at 30 feet, the world’s tallest—is thought to have swept thousands of spectators and daredevil swimmers to their deaths.
If there’s a big wave, however, intrepid surfers are bound and determined to catch it. These “bore riders’’ flock annually to En-gland’s Severn and France’s Dordogne rivers. Every spring São Domingos do Capim, a small Brazilian town on a tributary of the Amazon and nearly 200 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, holds a pororoca surfing competition. Longboarders brave the wave, along with the Rio Capim’s piranha and caiman, and hang ten for miles through the jungle on rides that can exceed half an hour.
From late spring through the early fall, three outfitters offer tidal-bore whitewater rafting trips on Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie River. The thrill is like a roller-coaster as we hurtle along in the Zodiac past the bulwarks of centuries-old Acadian dykes, bluffs of sandstone, and nesting pairs of bald eagles. A bit disconcerting, too: Incredibly, we’re racing upstream at more than 15 miles per hour. Swells slap the banks and ricochet into the middle of the channel, where they collide with enormous standing waves created by the massive influx of seawater flowing over the sandbars. Matthews studies the turbulent river, then digs in the engine. “This is where it’s going to be fun,’’ he says. “Just hold on tight.’’
We move out into the channel and are instantly swept through an enormous wave train stretching more than 600 feet. Water crashes down on us from all angles of the pounding, bucking river—and then we meet a monster wave. The nose of our 16-foot craft rises scarily close to vertical, and then finally clears the crest, only to send us diving into a maw of foam that fills the Zodiac to the gunwales before finally spitting us upriver. Somehow we’re all still in the boat. “Those were big,’’ Matthews says. High praise from a waterman.
But the wild, class IV rapids quickly flatten out as the tide deepens the river by the minute, minimizing the hydraulics. So we speed to the next stretch of sandbars, where the rising tide creates another temporary set of washing machine–like waves. Just beyond a cantilevered highway bridge, where the bluffs constrict the Shubenacadie into a narrow channel, Matthews points out an ideal spot to catch a large bore. “I came through here two years ago,’’ he recalls. “The first boat that hit it surged into a 12-foot wall of water. The bore flipped the boat over backwards.’’
Fundy’s tidal turmoil has also carved New Brunswick’s fantastically shaped Hopewell Rocks and ignited the renewable-energy dreams of power companies. Opened in 1984, a tidal-generating station at Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, the only one of its kind in North America, generates 30 million kilowatt-hours per year—enough electricity to supply 4,500 homes—by channeling water through a 25-foot-diameter turbine during the ebb tide. By next summer underwater hydrokinetic tidal turbines may be tested in the narrow Minas Channel, which connects the Bay of Fundy to Minas Basin. The demonstration project could potentially generate 333 megawatts of electricity—enough to power 45,000 homes. An earlier scheme, a five-mile dam outfitted with turbines that would have completely impounded Cobequid Bay and decimated its bores, was successfully halted in the early 1980s over environmental concerns that the barrage would wipe out the Atlantic shad fishery and drastically shrink the intertidal zone—a globally important area for migrating shorebirds.
Elsewhere, however, human development has destroyed several famous bores. Repeated dredging of France’s Seine River has eliminated the hazardous le mascaret, which once approached 24 feet. Dams and irrigation projects have virtually eradicated the Colorado’s once-lethal burro. Another prominent bore casualty lies on Fundy’s north shore, where a tidal wave that could top six feet used to race 25 miles up New Brunswick’s Petitcodiac River. But in 1968 a road causeway was built just outside the city of Moncton, effectively damming the river.
The ensuing changes to the Petitcodiac were nothing short of a disaster. “When you put up a barrier it’s just about the most stupid thing you can do to a tidal river,’’ says Daniel LeBlanc, recently retired from the Moncton-based environmental group, Petitcodiac Riverkeeper. “There’s no flushing anymore. Each tide brought a gigantic load of silt, and that’s accumulated for close to 40 years. Over 90 percent of the river is filled below the causeway. The silt now extends 35 kilometers [about 22 miles] downstream and continues to be deposited with every tide. The estimate is 2.6 million cubic yards of new silt a year; it’s a phenomenal amount.’’
Since the silting, the Petitcodiac’s tidal wave, once Moncton’s top natural tourist attraction, has become a ripple that rarely rises a foot and a half. “It was an extraordinary destruction of a river system,’’ LeBlanc says. “Not just visually but in the life of the river.’’
Ten native fish species, including gaspereau (also known as alewives) and Atlantic sturgeon, were either eliminated or significantly reduced, LeBlanc says. Major shad and Atlantic salmon runs vanished within a decade, and dozens of fishermen lost their livelihoods. The silt accumulation now extends into Shepody Bay, choking the mudflats and their mud shrimp, prompting shorebirds to search elsewhere for food. Subtle changes have even come to the iconic Hopewell Rocks, where large areas of the rocky seafloor are now covered with silt at low tide.
Help could be on the horizon. In 2005 a Canadian government study concluded the structure needed to be dismantled to restore the Petitcodiac’s full tidal flow. A final decision on the rehabilitation project, which will cost an estimated $33 million to $47 million, has yet to be made, but LeBlanc is optimistic that the river—and its bore—will once again run free. “The unknown is how large the bore will be,’’ he says. “Those predictions vary from exactly the same height as before, to just little bit under or more. There’s a sense it’s going to be very good—and hopefully as good as it was before the causeway.’’
While the Petitcodiac’s advocates dream of restoring the river to its natural state—and perhaps even attracting bore-riding surfers —the Schubenacadie flows on. Matthews pilots the Zodiac to the Tidal Bore Rafting Park’s floating dock and disembarks his waterlogged passengers. The muddy river banks that sucked at our shoes when we boarded the boat four hours ago now lie beneath 26 feet of nearly calm seawater. It won’t be long before the Shubenacadie begins to ebb. Come three o’clock in the morning, beneath a moon-filled night, the sea will again rise up singing. Just like clockwork.
Travel writer Christopher R. Cox is the author of Chasing the Dragon: Into the Heart of the Golden Triangle.
By David Arnold, Globe Correspondent / May 6, 2007
URBANIA, Nova Scotia — The Shubenacadie River ebbs and floods on the flailing tail of 40-foot tides in the Bay of Fundy, so when the husband learned that commercial rafting trips take clients down the river’s tidal rapids, he pitched the idea as an anniversary gift to his wife.
“Ride the tide?” she sniffed. “Sounds a bit slow.”
“I don’t think so,” he countered.
He persevered, and on a warm afternoon last September they found themselves with several companions aboard a Zodiac with Tidal Bore Rafting Park, waiting like a leaf on a mill pond for the tide to turn. She was in the bow, the chatty — if somewhat bored — vanguard.
And when the tide turned, it took just moments for “the Shubie” to explode like biblically parting seas. Six foot waves erupted out of nowhere. Some people screamed with laughter, others screamed as they flew overboard.
She, however, went totally quiet — mostly because she was seated on the tip of a vessel that was driving through waves like a drill taking core samples.
And he started to wonder if this was such a great anniversary present . No doubt they were both confronting a profound truth. On a full moon tide, the Shubenacadie is anything but slow.
Pronounced shoo-ben-ack-a-dee, the 32-mile river is located midway between the bay and Halifax Stanfield International Airport. On a flood tide, some 52 billion tons of water roil up the river in two hours, the currents topping 18 miles per hour as standing waves, created not by underwater obstacles but by the motion of water, reach close to 10 feet high.
Micmac legend was onto something when it suggested the Shubenacadie was a sign of just how deeply the earth inhales and exhales, twice a day.
“I had always wanted to give it a try but the rides were always booked,” said Jack Robinson, 51, a Nova Scotia native. Three years ago he quit his “real” job as a lawyer for Coca- Cola and bought Tidal Bore Rafting Park — breaking, he said, what was Lawyer Rule No. 1: Never buy what you’ve never tried.
“But I’ve never looked back,” Robinson said of a business that now jettisons 5,500 tourists through roiling water from June through October without injury, he said.
Tidal Bore Rafting, founded a quarter-century ago, is one of three outfitters that make the most out of riding the Micmacs’ breathing river.
On a finger of the Bay of Fundy where the tide can rise 56 feet, water charges up the Shubie on a bore (from the Old Norse “bara,” a wave or swell). Just the bore itself can reach 12 feet overhead. Surfers have tried to ride it. The only other part of the world where tides are so extreme is Ungava Bay in northern Quebec, according to scientists with the Canadian Hydrographic Service.
“Which place has higher tides is a matter of debate that gets down to fractions of an inch,” said David Greenberg, a Canadian tide specialist. Taking a precise measurement is nearly impossible, he added. Only once every 18.6 years, during a particular alignment of planets, moon, and sun, are the planet’s tides the highest.
“To date, we have not been able to put one scientist in both places,” Greenberg added, “and so we have to live with the ambiguity.” On one point Greenberg is clear: The Bay of Fundy’s radical tides are not caused by its funnel shape — the explanation often offered by sailors and river guides alike.
“There are plenty of funnel-shaped bays worldwide with unspectacular tides,” Greenberg said. Instead, the Fundy’s extreme tide is powered by a particularly propitious resonance, or the back-and-forth movement of water between the head of the bay and the continental shelf. The motion creates a natural optimal frequency that, like a child’s swing, can be maintained with just a push of a finger (or a nudge from the moon and sun), according to Greenberg.
The nudges were predicted to be particularly big on the day last year when a dozen Zodiacs from Tidal Bore Rafting Park started several miles downstream to meet the incoming tide.
“God do I love my job,” said Cliff Kearley, the driver at the helm of one of the boats, as he put the outboard into reverse and then headed down the lazily ebbing current. A Newfoundland native and former Navy boating safety instructor, Kearley, 35, turns into a teenager on the Shubie.
“I want to warn you : The ride I give is not for sissies. If you want something easier, find another boat,” he said. No smile. What a tease, that Kearley. It occurred to no one that “the crazy Newfy,” as other drivers called him, was telling the truth.
For the next 40 minutes the fleet of boats moseyed along under the gaze of bald eagles. The river cuts through an Alaskan-type wilderness that was not to human scale. Less than an hour’s drive from Halifax, this world belongs to others, not people.
At one mud flat in the middle of the expanse, the Zodiacs beached. Here they would await the bore. Passengers went for a dip. Others played on the slippery mud like children on greased slides. The water gurgled and whispered. It was 12:26 p.m.; the world was at peace.
At 12:27 p.m., peace was a memory.
They heard the bore before they saw it, a rumble like a very large animal with severe congestion. Then perhaps 100 yards away, a wall of white froth suddenly appeared. Boat drivers lurched for their boats, barking at people to climb aboard. Swimmers scrambled and flailed to get ashore. Mellow turned serious, engines started, chatter grew giddy.
Now well around a downstream bend, the bore advanced at a cyclist’s pace. It was all suds, growling. It was now clear why the fleet had beached here; the wide fetch of the steam bed allowed the bore to stretch out and diminish in height so that when the surge passed under the Zodiacs, they bobbed safely like corks. A moment later, the bore was gone. The water turned silky, undulating — moving, but smooth like muscle.
Then the ride began in earnest. Because you don’t come to the Shubie to ride the bore. You come to ride the waves that form about a minute after the bore passes.
Approaching the first giant wave, Kearley throttled up and lanced the muddy mountain of water. Passengers seated along the rim of the boat had clung to each other like pop beads. The water busted the human necklace. Three people went overboard.
“I have just fallen into the world’s largest washing machine,” yelled Andy Cochrane, 53, dean of continuing education at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Herein lies one of the assets of riding the wild Shubie. White water in the mountains is mined with underwater rocks; rafters wear helmets. The bottom of the Shubie is nothing but mud.
Cochrane and associates were hauled back aboard, then Kearley resumed his pursuit of whatever white whales he saw in the turmoil.
Because the river fills so quickly, sets of rapids can sometimes last only minutes before the Zodiacs need to move upstream to find more. The boat drivers dashed from one set of waves to the next like kids looking for the next ride at an amusement park.
“God I love my job,” Kearley kept shouting each time his boat submerged. An hour later, the fleet was bashing into the last waves just a stone’s throw from where the trip had begun.
Everyone, including the wife, looked waterlogged, as if they had risen from the deep to clamber ashore. She was still not chatty. He refrained from making a smart aleck comment such as, “Happy anniversary!”
Instead, he thought: Next year, flowers.
David Arnold, a freelance writer in Milton, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
April 18, 2007 By: Jini Reddy
On the way back from the airport, I told the cab driver I’d been to Nova Scotia.
His reply? “Ah, wonderful place, New England.
” Yes, I’m sure it is, I nodded, before politely pointing out that the maritime province is in Eastern Canada (it juts out into the Atlantic like a lobster claw) and not the US.
Even I, who grew up in Montreal, had set off with only the haziest idea of what the province might offer. Seafood and lighthouses, for sure – Nova Scotia has over 7000 km of coastline – but what else? From my (hated) school history lessons I knew a bit about its turbulent past: the Mi’kmaq people got there first, but in the 17th century Nova Scotia, was the site of raging battles between the British and the French. (The British won, and in the spirit of conquest and tyranny, forcibly expelled the French settlers, the Acadians.) All riveting if you’re a history buff, but maybe a little – whisper it – dull – otherwise?
As it happens, below the clean-scrubbed Canadian-ness of the place, lurks an endearing eccentricity: every town, village and cove seems to harbour a resident ghost, prone to playing peek-a-boo in the Victorian bed and breakfasts; only in Nova Scotia can you walk into a McDonalds and order a McLobster (in season, of course); the most popular of blueberry desserts is called a ‘Grunt’, and – you’ll love this if you’re a trembling pedestrian – dip a toe beyond the kerb, and no matter what the traffic light says, motorists will slow down and wait for you to cross the road. It happens every time.
Visitors to Canada are lured in some part by the great outdoors: predictably, Nova Scotia’s not short of cliffs, forests, wilderness parks and beaches to fling yourself at or off. The province is reputed to be a birdwatching haven, bears, moose, deer, whales, raccoons co-exist in mammalian bliss.
What I wasn’t expecting was the undiluted kindliness of the locals – it’s something the Tourist Board really ought to make more of. As one burly fellow remarked: ‘We have a saying: if they’re not friendly, they’re not from here.’ Even the fashion rebels in the hip clothes boutiques on Halifax’s Barrington Road seemed wholesome and unguarded.
As for the food, it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten such consistently lip-smacking, reasonably priced grub: fish chowders, Digby scallops the size of fists, ocean fresh lobster, sweet succulent calamari, the cheesiest of grilled cheese sandwiches, the crispiest bacon, piles of waffles and pancakes to grow fat and happy on, blueberry in all its homely permutations: pie, crisp, crème brulee and the grunt (a steamed pudding). Not just in Halifax, but in ‘Ma and Pa’ cafes miles from civilisation too.
I didn’t cover the length and breadth of the province. That would take longer than a week, and I missed Cape Breton Island, filled with the descendents of Scottish settlers, including one Alexander Graham Bell (Nova Scotia is Latin for ‘New Scotland’). But in a week’s road trip to points north, west, and south of Halifax, my notebook filled up with highlights. I’ve whittled them down to ten, not so much ‘must sees’, as ‘why nots, if they take your fancy?’ After all, a visit to Canada’s Seacoast is all about going with the flow:
1. Halifax waterfront
As soon as you arrive in this vibrant, relaxed city, head to the harbour to get your bearings. The waterfront is urban heaven: imbibe the crisp, ocean air as you stroll along the boardwalk. Delve into the harbourfront market for souvenirs or food treats, pause for a lazy lunch at Saltys or admire the ships in the harbour. If you’re a history buff, visit the Maritime Museum, and if not, skip it and head to the Rum Runners Cake Factory – information at www.halifax.ca. I stayed at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront (rooms from £113), and Delta Barrington (rooms from £125). Both are centrally located, and the service at the former was outstanding.
2. Tidal bore rafting
‘Is this it?’ I said to the boatman, as we set off on an inflatable boat down the sluggish Shubenacadie River, north of Halifax. I spoke too soon. Thirty minutes later, the tides from the Bay of Fundy (the worlds highest) were upon us, churning up ten foot waves that turned the boat into a roller coaster-cum-washing machine.
Cue a solid hour of screams and spluttering. Let’s just say if you like white water rafting, you’ll love this – never mind soggy gear, you’ll be a prune by the time you reach the shore. Hot chocolate and a BBQ are your reward, as is a night in front of the fireplace, at the cosy cottages on site – www.tidalboreraftingpark.com, cottage rates from £60 a night. A two-hour rafting tour costs £26.)
3. Spend a night in a caboose at Train Station Inn, Tatamagouche
Initially I was a bit sceptical. A night in a converted railway carriage. Strictly for train anoraks right? Wrong. ‘It’s all about the romance of the rail,’ says twinkly-eyed stationmaster Jimmy Lefresne, who is the campest straight man I’ve ever met. He bought the station, on the north shore, when he was just 18, to save it from demolition. Over the years, he has converted old CN railway cars into deluxe suites.‘Here’s a ticket for your train journey,’ he says winking, when I arrive.
‘Enjoy the ride! ’ And I do.
My bright orange private railway car features a king-sized bed, kitchenette, shower and living room. Before bedding down for the night, I eat in the Dining Car, and feel like a character in a smoky Fifties film. ‘Oh, I see your train came in on time,’ quips Jimmy, when I appear for breakfast, in the memorabilia-stuffed Waiting Room the next morning.