September & November 2004

Neue Scotland… Nouvelle Ecosse… Nova Scotia

You remember the nursery rhyme “In and out the window”?  

IMG 3780

Well, we’ve been “In and outta Nova Scotia” … three times this summer.  Bouncing around, so to speak.  And each time it got better and better and better.  Even with all the rain we’ve been getting, all summer long.  Got a message from a buddy in north-western Ontario province, south of Thunder Bay, who says it’s the worst summer he’s seen in 28 years.  And we’ve heard similar stories from friends all over the Northeast, and the proof is in the pudding; here in mid-October lawns are still green, areas that usually need watering haven’t and normally dry areas are boggy.  It has indeed been a damp, cool summer.  Mostly we’ve done just fine anyway; but sometimes it’s been hard to stay cheerful.  You’ll be in some of the prettiest countryside anywhere, but it’s hardly worth taking pictures, or touring around, with it so gray and gloomy.  “But we need the rain,” they say; well, phooey, not on our watch!

But Nova Scotia is as incredible as we remember it from two years ago, and now we’ve seen much more of the province.  We’ve revisited some of our favorite spots from our last trip as well as covering lots of new territory.  And we learned a lesson:  it’s probably better not to count on a place or an experience being as good as it was the last time; holding memories dear to you is often the better choice.  Some of our experiences in Nova Scotia two years ago had been truly magical, and this time were fairly ordinary, so we’ll hold fast to the memories and concentrate our thoughts on adding new ones to the old memory banks.

IMG 3769

One spot just as good as the first time, and a real treat for any traveler entering the province, is to stop at the visitor’s center just as you cross the border from New Brunswick, coming east around the Bay of Fundy.  This is the visitor’s center to end all visitor’s centers.  Flying flags; bagpipers; beautifully tended grounds with a formal garden, up on a hill with a great view of the area; pamphlets and helper people and videos and computers to look stuff up on; a place to buy local ice cream, and wine to taste; there’s a sense of excitement here not duplicated anywhere else.  And it’s over-run with happy folks heading out to see what there is to be seen.  A marvelous spot.  Nova Scotia does by far the best job of encouraging tourism of any area we’ve seen to date.

From the border, we trucked on into Truro, not the prettiest town anywhere, being a commercial, working-class small city that happens to be at the crossroads leading to either Halifax or up to Cape Breton.  We did laundry, spent the night, and then tried to pick up messages at the local visitor’s center the next morning.  Well, fine, we could read the messages.  But we wanted to print something; okay?  Well, no, the printer wasn’t working, but we could go to the library (but it was Monday and no libraries in eastern Canada are open on Mondays – or lots of other days, but that’s a different story), but they knew the Women’s Resource Center had a printer that was available.  So on we trudged, in the rain, several blocks through the narrow streets, found a parking spot (carefully) and tried to get on their computer and print our messages.  Well, of course everything should be fine, dear, but the secretary is not here today and I’m not sure where things are, so just sit there and that should do.  In the meantime, I’m talking to these lovely ladies about their inner worth, and discovering one’s self through belly dancing, and no, I don’t think that computer’s hooked up to a printer, oh, did you want to print, dear?  Oh, dear, the secretary’s not here and I’m not sure how to help you……  So Rick beat a retreat, having heard all he could take about self-discovery, Canada-style, and happy to get out without being castigated for being a man.  No printing to be had in Truro this day.  We solved the problem another time.  

We were headed for Pictou now to pick up mail (indeed this entire incursion into NS was in order to get the mail, having been delayed in NB at the OK Pneus Corral – see prior message), and then along the northern shore of the mainland, the Sunrise Coast they call it (implying they get sunshine, of course).  This northern shore is incredible; some of the prettiest lowland areas we’ve ever seen.  Lots of farming here, including a sheep place we were very interested in seeing.  But it was soooo rainy, all we could think of was us and wet, muddy wool, so we moved on, saving this spot for another visit.  Frump.

IMG 3858

Then we went to Prince Edward Island.  Such a stunning place;  it was included in the last message as well.

After our visit to PEI, we took the ferry back to Pictou and headed up into the Cape Breton area.  At last!!  We had been heading in this direction for several weeks.  Coming back into Nova Scotia we were immediately struck by how much more forested the area was than had been PEI; more rural as well.  Less of Nova Scotia is developed; almost every inch of PEI is plowed and under crop; lovely, but somewhat domesticated.

Our first stop in Nova Scotia, and what had kept us moving east, was the 1st Annual Bluegrass Festival in Marion Bridge.  Bluegrass?  On Cape Breton Island, Scottish and Gaelic homeland?  Hey, why not!  And it was great fun.  It had been raining for days, and everyone was in a panic that the event would be rained out (we’ve all been there, haven’t we!) but on Friday afternoon the skies cleared and it was a beautiful weekend.  The festival was held at a former provincial park that had in recent years been turned back to the locals, who were taking very fine, loving care of it.  Green, rolling hills, an incredible moonrise (it was the night of the blue moon at the very end of July).  A small festival, peopled mostly by locals; the entertainers all had their families with them, either as members of the band or as groupies.  A swell time was had by all.  

IMG 3887

Ya know, we need to tell you about the bugs, no, not bugs, BUGS!  You’ve heard of the Minnesota mosquitoes, probably; well, they’re nothin’ when you look at the Canadian mosquitoes.  And persistent, too; you can swat and swat and swat and they just keep coming back for more, kinda like the Energizer bunny.  And it’s not just the females that get you; the boy bugs sting, too.  And do they leave welts!  One stung me on the pad of my thumb; I felt the proboscis going in even, it was so huge; and it stung immediately and my thumb was worthless for 2 days.  Damn!  AND THE ANTS ARE LIKE HOUSEFLIES.  And hard to kill.  It’s definitely survival of the fittest around these here parts.  

Bugs aside, we left Marion Bridge (home of some of the worst roads on the island – the cracks are full of weeds, they’ve been there so long…..) and headed toward the Cape Breton Highlands: land of the craggy mountains, moose, incredible vistas, curvy and treacherous roads, and some of the best fish-and-chips ever.  We camped in the national park, and were treated to several good, clear days among the rainy ones.  The views from the roads are splendid, and we traveled many of them.  And finally, we saw some real moose.  Until then, the only ones we’d seen were on yellow diamond-shaped signs.  But the moose were enjoying the weather, too, and Rick even got a couple of good pictures.  They didn’t appear skittish, but you still don’t want to get too close, something many folks didn’t seem to understand (we see this all over).  We saw a bull, mama and baby, and a couple of teenagers; totally rad.  And then one afternoon, coming back to camp, we had a mama black bear and cub in the middle of the road; we gave them the right of way.  Fauna was a-bounding.

IMG 3880

There were extra special reasons to be in the Maritime Provinces this summer, although we didn’t know it when we made our plans.  This was the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Acadian culture in Canada, and huge celebrations have been going on all summer long.  The Acadians (French) first established themselves on St. Croix Island (near where New Brunswick abuts Maine), then dispersed into much of the area.  There are large enclaves in NE New Brunswick, the northern shore of mainland Nova Scotia, the western slope of Cape Breton Island, along with many other spots.  And of course, when the Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia, many of them ended up in Louisiana (Acadian = ‘Cajun).  A world congress took place during the first half of August, and a large part of it was centered near where we were camped in the national park.  There were celebrations and music every day, educational discussions, tours of the area, you name it.  Lots of extra people on the Cape contributed to a good summer for the local economy, that’s for sure.  And you could see where towns had spruced themselves up since we’d been here two years ago, with fresh paint, new streetlights, repaved streets; they’d “tarted themselves right up,” a character in a book I’m reading would have said.  We enjoyed seeing the names of the participants at events; it seems all Acadians are descended from about 10 people (not really, but you could make a pretty good case for it).

We saturated ourselves (culturally, visually, and literally) in the Highlands, then moved down to the southwest corner of the island, staying for over a week at a provincial park in Whycocomagh (and no, I’m not going to tell you how to pronounce it).  If you ever get to Cape Breton, Whycocomagh deserves a visit.  It’s a tiny village, on a lake, with pretty boats, with a pretty church, with Alice’s Restaurant that serves a pretty nice breakfast, and with a provincial park that is one of the nicest we’ve ever seen.  It’s spacious, but with relatively few campsites; set on a hill so the higher you get the better the view of the lake below; the grass is lush and green, they recycle like crazy (extra high marks for that), AND, the word is great fun to type.  We could have stayed forever.

IMG 3892

We had chosen Whycocomagh because it is in the middle of an area we hadn’t been able to explore on our earlier visit.  An area very green and beautiful, full of little towns like Mabou, Judique, Christmas Island, Grand and Little Narrows, Inverness; the center of much of the Scottish and Gaelic activities in Cape Breton.  There are lots of little lakes, and we lucked into a few days of good weather in which to see them.  The roads are awful, but on the bike it’s better, and we were always stopping to take pictures anyway.  We visited WSSW Margaree and ESSW Margaree (honest, it’s on the signs), roved the southern coastline of the island, went to the Kintyre Farm Concert outside Judique (the locals were doing it up brown in a delightfully green and lush setting), and had superb crab cakes at the Tommy Cat Bistro in Inverness.  This is some of the best of the entire Cape Breton Island; we could have gone to a concert every night, be it fiddling, piping, locals strutting their stuff, you name it; it may be our favorite part of the island now.  

A small story about Whycocomagh.  We arranged to have our mail delivered there, and I went in to pick it up while Rick stayed with the motorcycle.  I ran into a very righteous woman postal clerk, who wanted to see two (count’em two) separate pieces of identification, both with my picture, and needed a credit card ID to go along with them.  She and I busily started snapping at each other; I was outraged, she was in charge.  (This has only happened at two post offices before, both times when women were in charge…….)  When I went out to get some more ID from Rick, he was busy talking to a lovely elderly gentleman riding along on his lawnmower (did you ever see “The Straight Story” with Richard Farnsworth?).  Rick said the man had come over the hill, passed him by, went along a ways and turned around to stop and chat.  Seems his daughter had a BMW, he had just sold one, he’d rather be riding but his wife had him doin’ chores, etc.  And then he continued on down the street to mow another lawn somewhere in town.  The point is, if I only had the postal lady to remember the village by, and Rick hadn’t had his wonderful encounter, our feelings about the place would be entirely different.  But we’ve had many, many more “lawnmower” adventures than “postal” adventures, fortunately.

IMG 3956

Cape Breton is a wonderful place; we were so happy to return, and it’s a recurrent theme among the people who live there.  They went away for many years, in order to get work, and now have “come home,” hopefully to stay.  The economy here is not overly good; the mines have played out, fishing isn’t what it used to be, the forests have been depleted, and tourism is their best bet.  This year has not been good, particularly, despite the Acadian Congress.  Things started slowly, due in part to the bad weather, and now a strike against their “Ma Bell” that began in April has been joined by another that began the middle of August.  The union that represents the workers at all the eastern Canadian national parks and national historic sites has gone out.  It is having a real effect, as the strikers have been rotating among all the sites, trying to keep the tourists from entering.  We only encountered them once during the entire summer, but it cast a gloom on many of the places we visited.  Sometimes a section of the workforce was gone, sometimes administration people, but all the sites were open for us and there was always someone to be helpful.  We sympathized with the strikers, but disliked the militancy they were exhibiting.  As we left Canada, the strike was still on, and it appeared to be “the summer of strikes” in Canada, as the tax workers are out picketing now and apparently there was a threatened strike by the ferry workers that fortunately did not materialize.  Canada is a great place, but apparently not perfect.

We did experience the edge of Hurricane Charlie (but not even a taste of what happened in Florida).  As you may know, we aren’t getting much information, as newspapers are seldom seen and our satellite dish has been turned off (we fell off the edge… so to speak) so we aren’t getting the Weather Channel.  (But you realize, don’t you, that Canada has no weather ….. just look at the Weather Channel; everything stops at the border.)  We mostly felt a lot of wind and heavy surf; when it came through we were in Glace Bay, right on the water, and one boy was lost in the surf.  

A word about the roads in Canada:  well, we’ve decided the signage is better than the roads.  We guess they figure if they give you lots of warning, anything will be forgiven.  (This is the inverse of the American south, where the sign telling you to turn arrives just as the turn occurs, and that’s if there’s a sign at all!)  Here in Cape Breton we’ve discovered a new sign  Caution: Rough road Ahead Next ___ kms (fill in the blank!).  They have little pieces of wood they attach with the number of kilometers of nastiness noted for you.  Actually we can’t single out Cape Breton in this regard as the roads throughout eastern Canada are fairly poor.  The main highways are generally ok for the most part, but as most of the available roads are not of the main variety, most of our driving is relatively slow and rough.  For the most part this is ok with us, but it can be wearing and the occasional off day is called for in order to recuperate.

Then we went to Newfoundland and Labrador.  Such a wonderful time, covered in our last message.  

When we returned...

IMG 4492

It was also fine to be back in Nova Scotia when we returned.  Nova Scotia is a bit more sophisticated (try finding ricotta cheese in Newfoundland) and gentled down, if you will.  We came back and crashed for the night in Whycocomagh (I do love spelling that word!) then moved back across the island into mainland Nova Scotia, where we spent the remaining time we had in Canada.  

Much of the mainland is agricultural, with apples being one of the major crops.  The trees are being picked now, and apple festivals are the event du jour.  The countryside is beautiful, full of dairies, fields of corn, etc.  We passed through Truro (can’t seem to get anywhere without going through Truro), doing laundry and getting haircuts, then on to Halifax, a truly lovely city, where we spent a lovely afternoon getting a “city fix.”  Halifax was expecting the Queen Mary II in the following day, so we moved on, not liking the idea of all those crowds.  We stayed on the coast at what must be the world’s loveliest campground, Graves Island Provincial Park, visiting Lunenburg, Mahone Bay (two of the loveliest sights anywhere).  Got some great pictures of both, as the sun joined us for much of the time.  The entire southern coastline of Nova Scotia is incredible. 

IMG 4516-copy

And then we went to visit the hogs!  A really cool event was happening:  all over eastern Canada on this one Sunday, zillions of farm establishments were opening their doors to the public to come see what they were doing and learn more about agriculture in their backyards.  So off we went!  We started at the hog farm, which also had the tamest cows we’d ever met.  They all came right up to you, looking for treats.  It was a gas.    

Then off to a bee place.  That was a real highlight.  It was an enterprise which had apple trees, but they were mostly to give the bees something to work on.  They had large bee colonies, splendid honey for sale, and a chance to see how the entire operation works.  I immediately asked our guide if she’d seen Ulee’s Gold (an excellent movie about a beekeeper who made honey – his “gold” – starring Peter Fonda); she said yes, of course.  I asked if everything had been done properly.  She said that the owner of the place where we were has a close friend down in Florida, and he was technical adviser on the movie!  So we know it was all kosher.

IMG 4545

But after we saw the bees (which I liked better than Rick), we went to see the angora goats, and Rick was in love…..  Ah!  What a cool experience.  This was a small holding on a lovely hillside overlooking the valley where an older couple had moved in order to begin raising angora goats for their wool.  The husband tends the flock, the wife processes the wool, spins, dyes, etc.  A true labor of love that does not yet come close to paying for itself although they continue to hope.  The goats are terrific, and were just like pets.  This was a recurring theme for us throughout the summer.  The farms we’d pass were relatively small, with small herds where the animals really do seem to be so well taken care of by their owners that they react to visitors with a friendly inquisitiveness rivaling Jeremy and Agnes.  We have fed horses, had groups of cows all turn to look at us, gotten great photos of pigs dirty snouts, seen llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep and more; small scale farming at its very best.  

IMG 4533

Anyway, together with the farmer we entered the pasture where the goats could be seen a ways off, they all turned and suddenly came running up to see what the farmer had to share.  They rubbed up against him and us and were just as friendly as you could imagine.  He told Kathy all about the goats and how they cared for them while I wandered around taking pictures of them along with their llama “guards”.  It seems the goats are so friendly and outgoing that four llamas have been added to the heard to act as lookouts, llamas being naturally shy and protective.  It was the perfect ending to a wonderful day.

All the places we had gone to visit the “farm folks” were on the north shore of Nova Scotia, across the peninsula from where we were staying, but where we were heading next.  And by now it’s the end of September, and the fall color is beginning to show.  And it’s like TOTALLY GORGEOUS.  To cross the interior of the province you climb over some fairly substantial ridges, and as we got higher up, the color was amazing.  And each day it just gets better.  

IMG 4549

As we began moving further south, we were able to make a return swing past the incredibly lovely town of Lunenberg, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  We’d visited here two years ago so this time we just took advantage of the wonderful weather to take a few pictures in passing.

In heading for the north shore we stopped for the night at Kejimkujik National Park, a mecca for hikers and canoe/kayaking people.  It was lovely, with a large lake, many streams, and tons of trails to enjoy.  We promised ourselves that on our next visit we’d take the plunge and learn how to do some boating.  (I think Rick’s afraid I’ll get all funny and tip him over if he gets into a boat with me…..).  the Mersey River runs through the park.  Seemed like a strange juxtaposition:  a river named after one in England, within a park named for the M’ikmaq Indians, who were native to the area.  But the river was stunningly gorgeous, with many trees in full fall color along its banks; we loved the site.

Leaving the park, we settled for a few days in the Annapolis Royal area.  This was where the French and English had very early strongholds.  They sure fought over everything.  And kicked out the M’ikmaqs and the Acadians as they settled in.  (Gosh, how different from we enlightened Americans…yeah, right.)  This is probably the prettiest coastline in Nova Scotia.  Mostly flat, easily farmed (after the Acadians spent several generations building dykes to reclaim the land and leaching the salt out of the soil so it was arable), full of fruit trees and lush gardens and happy cows.  And by now the forests were in a full cacophony of color.  (Hmmm, just how bad ARE the winters here???)  We could have stayed for weeks.  We camped in a provincial park with the name of Valley View Provincial Park.  Very appropriate.  We were about 500 feet above the valley, with an incredible view of the countryside and a lovely little village called Bridgetown, complete with lawn bowling club.  This was cool…

Thanksgiving was approaching; confused?  Me, too.  It seems Canadians hold thanksgiving celebrations on our Columbus Day (October 11th).  So all the decorations are out in the yards for this and Hallowe’en, just like all over the northeast and Midwest.  Pumpkins everywhere (they grow and sell them here for much of the eastern part of the country); apples and maple syrup, too, all for the asking.  Scarecrows dressed as people, a Giant Pumpkin Village, lots of corn mazes, harvest festivals around every corner, etc.  And they were beautiful in the bright sunshine we were enjoying.

IMG 4634

By now we were beginning to head for the barn, in a manner of speaking.  We passed out of Nova Scotia on a moist but still lovely day, after spending a delightful hour in a little town near the border visiting the Blueberry Centre.  I learned all I ever wanted to know about cultivating, harvesting and shipping the bright blue globes, and Rick picked up e-mail messages while he waited for me.  If you want to know more, just give a holler.

We left Nova Scotia and its endless discussion of whether or not to have the stores open on Sundays.  It was going on two years ago and will probably still be an item of contention when next we visit.  New Brunswick  has no such problem; it’s wide open:  we caught up on our shopping.  New Brunswick is also incredibly lovely.  Multi-hued trees, green pastures, you name it.  We enjoyed traveling across the province, spent a last night in Canada in the little town of Woodstock, right on the US-Canadian border, and headed across the next morning.  They relieved me of my citrus at the border (but left the potatoes this time), we hopped on the freeway, and went marching west into the great state of Maine.   I suffered for days from leaving the Canadian perspective on life, but we were happy to be able to get “stuff” again that we’d been missing for months (enchilada sauce and other needs of a civilized society), turn on our phone, pick up a newspaper (WHEN did USA Today start costing 75 cents – the nerve!).  We would have been delighted to stay in Canada longer, but had begun making commitments to be back in the States for certain things; but as the big guy with the pipe once said “We shall return.”  

IMG 4649

So we headed into Maine and Vermont/New Hampshire, with plans to stay in the northern tier for the next month or two, before heading to Texas in time for Christmas.

As you can tell, traveling in Canada is a real pleasure to us.  The slightly less frenetic pace, the smaller scale, reduced commercialism and the sense of going back in time just a bit all make for a truly delightful experience.  When we last spent any significant time in Canada two years ago, we also found it to be a bargain; not so any more.  The decline in the value of the dollar over the past two years was quite surprising, falling nearly 20% in that time; and it continued to fall noticeably during our 3 ½ months there this summer.  Also, every governmental entity supports itself in different ways, and in Canada they rely more on sales tax than we do in the States, with 15% added to most purchases.  Finally, in this year of spiraling fuel costs, our travel costs were up significantly.  While this would have been true wherever we were this summer, fuel costs in Canada are higher than in the States, and the farther out we went, the higher they were.  In Newfoundland, regular gas was going for the equivalent of about $2.85, with diesel running about ten cents less.  Ouch!  None of this will keep us from returning, but your intrepid correspondents most definitely need to be watching their pennies.

Well, bye for now.  Get out and enjoy the fall weather wherever you find yourselves and think of us once in awhile as we certainly do you.

Best wishes, Kathy, Rick, ‘Arvey, Constant Comment and Sure Sleepsalot.

See more photos from Canada in 2004

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018