2017 Travel: Cape Breton

Baddeck lighthouse on the Bras D’or lake, Cape Breton

I’ve been blogging about our big trip to British Columbia and Hawaii in November, but there’s another shorter trip that we’ve been looking forward to, as well. We have a house guest visiting form the U.K. in mid September and we’re planning another “Three Amigos” tour, this time to Cape Breton Island (The last Three Amigos tour was to Northumberland in the UK, read about that here)  Cape Breton, an island off the east end of Nova Scotia, has often been voted one of the best islands to visit, not just in Nova Scotia but in the world. The magazine Travel + Leisure had it ranked number one  and number 3 in two different years in the past few and it’s also been mentioned by other travel magazines.

It’s not your usual beach and resort type island. There are beaches, yes but the real beauty is in the scenery and the history. Hiking, fishing, golfing for those that want active things to do. The mountains of Cape Breton and the winding Cabot Trail around the tip of the island, with lots of little coastal towns and villages along the way will take you a full day of driving with stops for the local craft shops and tea rooms and cafes. Fortress Louisbourg brings you 300+ years of history. The small city of Sydney has arts and culture and a nice waterfront area. Discover Alexander Graham Bell in Baddeck where he had a summer home. You can go whale watching and spot the seals and birds and other nature from the boats. There’s even a whiskey distillery in Glenora near the Margaree Valley.

Louisbourg gates

Gates at Louisbourg

We won’t get to do all of that, but we do hope to go whale watching somewhere off the Cabot Trail and we will definitely go to Louisbourg. (My photos here) It’s an easy day trip from Sydney where we’ll land after a day or two driving around the Cabot Trail exploring. I also fancy seeing the Highland Village Museum  and we’ll likely stop in at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. It’s really very interesting. . We have a couple of motels and a hotel already booked. All we need is a picnic lunch, some flasks for coffee and tea and a full tank of gas to get us on the road! The great thing is that this year, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, all of the national parks and historic sites are free to enter!

Nova Scotia’s Bluenose II

We have a few more of those on our list besides the ones in Cape Breton. We are thinking of other day trips to go on to take our friend around more of this beautiful province. A big bonus, the schooner Bluenose II has been refurbished and will be taking public sailing out of Lunenburg, another World Heritage Site, while our friend is here so we’re going to make plans to drive down the south shore and do that. I’ve never been out on the water in the Bluenose. It just never worked out, timing wise.  Lunenburg is a beautiful town as is nearby Blue Rocks,  Mahone Bay and Chester, also very nice places to stop.

There are museums and the Citadel fortress here in Halifax that he’ll enjoy. Maybe we’ll get into the Annapolis Valley. He might like the Grand Pre National Historic Site commemorating the French Acadian settlers who were the first non-Indigenous settlers in Nova Scotia (which was called Acadie back in the 17th century, thus…Acadians).

September is usually a month of pretty good weather so we’re hoping for as much sun as we can get.

Blue Rocks, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia

Don’t Blame Canada

Halifax skyline

There was a song released some years ago based on the South Park tv show, called Blame Canada. Fun little send up of us Canadians but on the eve of the country of Canada’s 150th birthday, I’d like to state that I’m really proud of being a Canadian. I feel very lucky to live here in one of the best countries in the world. Without getting political, can I just say that my country, the second largest in the world (physically) contains extraordinary scenery and the loveliest people from the west coast to the east coast and all points from the southern borders to the chilly Arctic ocean in the north.

Blue Rocks, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia

Travel to Canada, you guys. There’s something here for everyone, no matter what your interests are. Just remember, we don’t have snow in the summer, we do say “Eh?”, Timmys (aka Tim Hortons) is a popular coffee chain where you can always get a drink, a light meal and where there’s usually always a toilet if you get caught by chance! We apologize a lot, we talk about the weather because it changes frequently. In one day. Or an hour. We don’t know your cousin who lives in Vancouver or Toronto. You can’t do a day trip from Halifax to Montreal unless you fly.(it takes you the best part of a day to drive there!) In fact, it takes 5 or 6 days to drive from one side of the country to the other. There are whales. There are icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. There is theatre. There are wineries. Golf? We have golf. Lots of it. Recreated historic fortresses and Open Air historic villages.

If you visit, and I strongly urge you to, take one area, one province or one small region and explore it. There’s too much of Canada to do in one trip. Because I’m not objective, I think you should start on the east with the Atlantic provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

Happy Birthday, Canada!

Nova Scotia Tourism
New Brunswick Tourism
Prince Edward Island Tourism
Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Here is an album of a small sample of some of the photos I’ve taken in this part of the country over the years.

Dalhousie University campus, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Come for the fresh seafood chowder!

Find rustic corners to explore

Nova Scotia’s Bluenose II

Rural Prince Edward Island

Yes, it does snow in the winter sometimes!

DP Challenge – Heritage

I love history and a lot of my travel adventures and explorations will relate to some historical aspect. It might be a museum in a city or it might be an old stone circle in a field. I enjoy visiting castles and cathedrals for the architecture and historical connections.

Where I live carries on historical traditions, too. There’s the 78th Highlander regiment at the Citadel. There’s the Freedom of the City ceremony giving the freedom of said city to said regiment. Halifax also hosts the majestic Tall Ships, echoing back to the golden age of sail with an accompanying waterfront festival. One year they celebrated the Acadian (French) heritage in the province. This summer, with the return of the ships, I think the First Nations are holding Mawio’mi throughout the weekend, with sunrise ceremonies, demonstrations, storytelling and more. (below is a photo I took at a Mawio’mi on the Halifax Commons a few years ago) There will be heritage programming put on at the Citadel and a few Pirate themed things going on for kids as well. Pirates, or, rather, Privateers ;) were common in the port of Halifax!

Schedule of events for the Tall Ships, July 29 – August 1, updated with more info closer to the dates.  (They will also be in a few other ports around the Maritimes through July and into August). All of my Tall Ships photos here. (includes waterfront events, people, etc)

Young Spirit drummers

Spirit Drummers, Mawio’mi, Halifax

Untitled

Mawio’mi performance competition. Halifax

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78th Highlanders. Freedom of the City. Halifax

Pipe & Drum Drill

78th Highlander pipe and drum drill. Halifax Citadel

Sagres (Portugal) and Unicorn (Holland)

Tall Ships Sagres (Portugal) and Unicorn (Holland), Halifax harbour

Waterfront at dusk

Halifax waterfront at dusk, Tall ships docked

Masts of the Cuauhtémoc

Masts of the Cuauhtémoc

WordPress’s Daily Post challenge. 

Travel Theme: Quiet

This week’s travel theme from Where’s My Backpack is Quiet.

We set out on a road trip around the southern tip of Nova Scotia last September. Our first day was overcast and then turned quite foggy in spots. It wasn’t late in the month but it being a weekday and the weather not really being bright and inviting must have kept the tourists home. One of our stops was the town of Shelburne, an old historic town that has a waterfront area of very old buildings that were restored and used in filming several movies and series. The buildings contain museums, shops, cafes and a B&B. There is a theatre space and the old warehouses near the shipyard and marina and the side streets have some lovely old houses as well. We walked around and enjoyed the area. I think it’s quite busy there in the summer months but we had the place almost to ourselves.
Historic building in Shelburne

Cox building, Shelburne

An old warehouse, now housing an artist’s studio on the ground floor

Bottle Glass Window

Old bottle glass window detail

Houses the Dory Museum and shop

Down the road a little from Shelburne is Shag Harbour. Its claim to fame is a UFO sighting there in October 1967. They often get tourists through there, stopping at the small museum and taking photos at the park that looks over the bay, the location where the mysterious lights first appeared. They also have a festival in October and get a very good turnout. This year is the 50th anniversary and they are planning on some extra events. It won’t be quiet then but it sure was when we were there, the fog thick and eerie only adding to the mystery of the village.
Shag Harbour Shoreline

Shag Harbour Pier
Foggy Shag Harbour
Shag Harbour Museum sign
Further information about the Shag Harbour Incident:
The Shag Harbour Incident Society
UFO Casebook
Wikipedia
Books:
Impact to Contact: The Shag Harbour Incident
Shag Harbour Incident 1967

A Photo A Week Challenge: Props

Nancy Merrill Photography’s blog has a weekly challenge and this week’s theme is Props. It’s often easier to take portraits of people if they have familiar items with them, especially for children to try to keep them focused. People like to show off their things, creations, anything that gives you an idea of who they are. In my post, I’ve decided to show some photos from a historical fort, Louisbourg, in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia where the staff dress in 18th century period costume and portray what life was like in the French fortress in that era. To see more of my visit to Louisbourg, check out my Flickr album.

Declaration

He’s guilty! (Sentenced to having to stand in an iron collar for two hours a day for three days in a row. All for stealing a bottle of wine.)

Costumed "inhabitants"

Passing the time of day.

Louisbourg Drummer

The Drummer Boy

Basket Weaving

Basket Weaving 101

Travel Theme: Playing

Where’s My Backpack’s weekly challenge is Playing. Here are some photos from the town of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia where they have a scarecrow festival every year in the autumn. These critters are scattered all over the town centre. Good fun walking around with hundreds of people in a good mood, cheerfully hunting down the scarecrows. These scarecrows mostly take up the theme of playing, games or music for the most part, or just because I liked them!

Welcome to our town

Welcome to Mahone Bay, home of the Scarecrow Festival

He rocks

Playing the blues?

Scored!

The home team “Bay Boys” vs the away team “Other guys”

Pig with a fiddle

Who knew one of the three little pigs could fiddle a happy tune?

Elvis, Ray Charles, Tina Turner and Diana Ross

Elvis, Ray Charles, Tina Turner and Diana Ross all making sweet music

 

DP Challenge: Home

The Daily Post Challenge this week is Home, asking people to show photos of where they live, home being where the heart is and all that. Halifax, Nova Scotia is my home, on the east coast of Canada. Halifax has one of the largest ice-free harbours in the world and is home to Canada’s East Coast Navy. There are two large container shipping ports, and oceanographic institute,  and a ship building  yard. Needless to say, a lot of Halifax’s life is structured around the sea. There are also 5 universities and colleges and it’s the seat of the provincial government. Lots of lakes and beaches, culture, shopping, food and a gorgeous waterfront where there’s always something going on.

McDonald Bridge nearly dark

One of the two harbour bridges just after sunset

Halifax Waterfront

Halifax downtown skyline and the ferry

Public Gardens gazebo

The Victorian Public Gardens

Dalhousie effects

Dalhousie University campus

Lake 022

“My” lake, Albro Lake, in my neighbourhood

Cisne Branco (Brazil) and Kruzenshtern (Russia)

Visits from the Tall Ships (another visit coming in July 2017)

Road Trip: Port Royal

Da fence for defence
On to the last day of our road trip:

We stayed at a little place called Granville Ferry which is just across the Annapolis River from Annapolis Royal, a very old town. The Bed and Breakfast, A Seafaring Maiden, was lovely, full of antiques and the owners were super. We were a bit late getting there, so I had called ahead just to make sure they knew and once checked in, we headed out for something to eat. The place that the B&B owner recommended as only having their kitchen open until 7:30 was just locking the doors at 7 when we pulled up. Damn.

Another cafe that looked as if it was open was not so we ended up going across to Annapolis Royal after all and though it took us a couple of times around a one way system to find it, we located the pub that I remembered and went there for what turned out to be a so-so meal. I’m sure I’ve had better there when I stayed in Annapolis with my mom 6 or 7 years ago but our steaks were most definitely underdone. G.’s was actually done the way I like it, he preferring almost well done and I like it medium but mine was raw in the middle. By the time I got that far into it, it seemed too late to send it back so I left it but when the waitress found out, she gave me a dessert for free!

We got held up on our return due to some work being done at a power station at the causeway between Annapolis and Granville Ferry but we weren’t held up too long. We had a comfortable night and a lovely breakfast and headed out. Our destination is Port Royal which is only a 15 minute drive from where we were.

Kitchen
A bit of history:

Port Royal is the oldest European settlement in Canada and the US, founded by the French in 1605. It was a fur trading post, not a military one. The man leading the expedition was Sieur de Mons who tried to establish a settlement in Saint Croix Island the year before which is between Maine and New Brunswick, but the winter was so severe that they lost half of their people. De Mons and Samuel de Champlain found the more sheltered area and built Port-Royal in 1605 and they managed to get the fort built before winter. Since there had already been trade with the local native Mi’kmaq, the colony was accepted and welcomed. Port-Royal did lose its colonists a couple of years later due to their monopoly being revoked but it was reestablished by 1610 and the settlers came back. However, in 1613, the fort was attacked and ransacked by the English coming up from Virginia and the colony was soon abandoned but the area across the river was later colonized by a contingent of Scots in 1629 but was conceded to the French who re-named it Port Royal after the former fort. This became the capital for the area then called Acadie, or Acadia. That’s what it was before it was Nova Scotia.

Ownership bounced back and forth between English and French, though mostly staying with the French for about a century but the British eventually succeeded in keeping hold and renamed it Annapolis Royal after Queen Anne. Annapolis was under seige more than once, and not just from the French but from the local Mi’kmaq as well but when Halifax was founded in 1749, the British control became a firm grip. The French settlers were expelled from the province in 1755. The current historic site of the fort at Port-Royal was rebuilt in the 20th century and it’s now a National Historic site as well it should be. There were excavations when they found the original site and apparently they found a copy of the original plans in France. They have recreated it as much as possible using the same methods. Some of the items are from the period but many are recreations but done very well. There is quite a lot to see and it does give you a good idea of what it might be like to live there when it was first built though I suppose unless you spent a very frigid winter huddling around the fire, you won’t truly get the full experience!
Forgery
The staff greets you when you buy your tickets and tells you a little of the beginnings of the fort. You can then wander around as you like. There are rooms such as a forge, a kitchen and bakery, a common room where they would have eaten and spent the evenings, the wood workshop, a chapel, and the various kinds of accommodations. The “gentlemen” had bunks though the artisans and workers slept on straw mattresses in the lofts. The fort commander had his own quarters. There is a palisade with cannon and you can see where the boards are fastened together with wooden pegs! The site has some period-dressed staff wandering around that you can talk to. I spoke with one tourist there who worked with Parks Canada and he was saying that the site did need a lot of money spent on it as it was starting to need repairs to the woodwork and structure apparently. I hope they can find the money because it would be a shame for a site that has so much historic significance to Canada to close.

We headed back towards home through the Annapolis Valley. We had intended on stopping at the air force base in Greenwood to see the Aviation museum there but it was grim and the rain was already splattering on the window so we thought we’d just drive straight through. We can always do the Aviation museum some other time on a day trip. There’s a little zoo not far from there as well at Aylesford.

Our latest road trip was a lot of fun even if the weather didn’t mostly cooperate. We were just glad we had the one sunny day on the day it mattered most, for whale watching.

Photos here from both the current visit and one in 2010.

Road Trip: Close encounters of the Whale kind

Bay of Fundy Big SkyContinuing on our recent road trip…

Since the weather was uncooperative for star gazing, we had a nice dinner out in Yarmouth and relaxed in the hotel for the night. Breakfast in the morning was kind of mediocre but it was free. You sometimes get what you didn’t pay for, right? Today’s destination is Brier Island.

The province of Nova Scotia itself is an isthmus or peninsula, nearly an island and surrounded by water aside from a little neck of land near the New Brunswick border. There’s also another bit of land that is nearly detached from the main province, along the north side along the Bay of Fundy. It’s long and skinny and is called Digby Neck, running into two small islands at the end. The first is Long Island and the last tiny one is Brier Island. The main attraction of this area is eco tourism. There are trails, birds and sea life in abundance. The Bay of Fundy is the summer home of several pods of whales, humpback, minke and “right” whales mostly with schools of dolphins and porpoises and lots and lots of seals. There are many kinds of seabirds as well including one type that lives exclusively on the water and never on land at all. There are a number of companies that will take you out on the Bay with whale watching being the main objective and it’s something we’ve both long wanted to do. The best time to go is over the summer and into September. After that, the whales leave for southern warmer waters to breed.

Historic Cape Forchu

Cape Forchu Lighthouse, Yarmouth

Right. So we’re going there today from Yarmouth which will be about 2 hours or so on the road. First a stop at Cape Forchu outside of Yarmouth to see the lighthouse. It’s a little different, this one. It’s an “applecore” style as you can see from the photo. While this particular structure dates back to the early 60s, there has been a lighthouse or station here since the early 19th century. There’s a little museum in the lighthouse now. The shore line is extremely rocky here and you really don’t want to go clambering over the boulders. It can be very dangerous even if it seems like the sea is calm. Rogue waves have been known to snatch tourists into the briny. Trust me, this happens. It was still foggy that morning so the lighthouse wasn’t at it’s best though sometimes, taking photos in the fog does give them a bit more atmosphere. We could tell the sun was trying to break through and indeed it was full out sunny by the time we were half way to our destination.

East Neck ferry

East Neck ferry, en route to Brier Island

On the road, following Route 1 this time. We stayed on the older highway rather than the 101 for awhile. We stopped at had a look at another lighthouse at Cape St. Mary. By the time we got past St. Anne, though, we decided there wasn’t much interesting along that road so we took the next connector to the 101 and zipped up to Digby where we grabbed a quick lunch at an Irving Big Stop. The sun was out by then, too. We back tracked to the exit for the 417 that leads to the islands. That was a pretty drive through rural areas with glimpses of the water now and then. It’s about a 45 minute drive to the first ferry which runs hourly on the half hour and takes about 7 minutes for the crossing. It’s about 15 minutes to the final ferry to Brier and again, just 5 or 7 minutes across. The village on Brier is Westport and there isn’t a lot there. The island has few hotels or guest houses, just a couple of places to eat, a general store and a gift shop. You can hike as there are lots of trails where you can see lighthouses, bays that have seals frolicking and you might even seen some whales if they come close enough.

We stayed in Brier Island Lodge so we headed there to check in and then drove around the island’s dirt roads. Only the main road along the water is actually paved and just a bit beyond that but the roads are in pretty good condition. We found all three lighthouses, passed a couple of cemeteries outside of the village on hilltops, and went to a cove where we could see seals bobbing in and out of the water. We had dinner in the hotel that night and it was very, very nice! This will be a restaurant that serves really good, really fresh food but isn’t a budget place. Worth a splurge, just the same.

Mama and Baby whale

Mama and baby humpback

The next morning, the skies were blue and the sun was out. Hooray! After an excellent breakfast, we picked up packed lunches that were part of the hotel package and went to the dock to wait for the whale watching cruise to depart. It turned out to be everything we hoped for and more. We were on a small boat, as we weren’t comfortable taking the type of whale watching from a zodiac (similar to a lifeboat in size. Much too small and too close to the water!) They sail out into the Bay and keep watch. We did see some “blow” in the distance and one whale was a bit closer but it didn’t want to have anything to do with the boat and swam off sharpish. Soon, though, another one was spotted closer by so the captain cut the engines off. We floated there and were excited that the whale, a female humpback, swam right up to the boat. She floated there, came up and went down, under the boat from side to side as if she was making sure everyone got a good look. These animals can be well over 50 feet long and many, many tons in weight. You look down over the side of the boat at these creatures that are probably as long as or longer than the boat you’re on and you realize they could have you tipped over if they wanted to. Whales are pretty peaceful, though.


Everyone was taking photos of course and I did too though I made myself put the camera down and watch, just watch, rather than spend the whole time behind the lens. You really do find yourself awestruck at these gentle giants. We saw a couple more close up as well and then after another ride to another spot, we encountered a mother and her calf. They didn’t come close to the boat but they were still close enough that we could all see them well. The calf was showing off, and at one point was waving it’s flippers at us! We weren’t lucky to see them jump right out of the water but they did breech and a couple of times dive with the tail flipper up out of the water. We didn’t see any other types of whales besides the humpback nor did we see any dolphins but it didn’t really matter. We saw whales!

The water in the bay wasn’t too choppy though we did bob about quite a bit while stopped. Nobody seemed to mind much and the sun was very warm. There was a breeze but it wasn’t really cold. We did have warm things on but I had to take my coat off. We both got lots of pictures and some video that I put together into a clip which gives you a better idea of how close they were. A lot of these pictures aren’t zoomed in much at all, not the ones of the whales that came close to the boat. Only a little and the ones of the mother and calf are zoomed in a bit to a lot.

We were out a total of three hours and had a bit of sunburn when we finally came ashore. We’d already checked out of the hotel so we hit the road again, this time heading for Annapolis Royal where we had a Bed and Breakfast booked in nearby Granville Ferry for the night.

Photos of the whales are here.