10 Reasons to visit Nova Scotia (The Times online)
Posted: April 27th, 2007 in Press
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.