The Peninsula Called Nova Scotia


Published: 09/03/2009

by Bill Henry


Why, were there were so many homes painted in such bright colors? The question, which had plagued me since our first day in Nova Scotia. Among the colors there were routine whites and grays, even some pastels - but now and then a bright apple green, an electric blue, a hot red, even a vibrant orange. Was it a reaction to what we assumed was the bleak and terrible winters? Was there a fashion conscious paint salesman loose on the peninsula? Not at all, someone had informed me that in the past it was actually boat paint. A fisherman would have some left over, so he put it on his house. You will find some houses in two or three of these colors, representing several boats. Nova Scotia is as unpretentious as its fishermen's homes, with their occasional one-story-high mock lighthouses and huge butterfly replicas out front as well as the bright paint.


The peninsula is a welcome place to visit year round but especially throughout the summer, from apple blossom time in late May through a surprisingly mild September and October.


Nova Scotia was called Acadia by 17th-century French settlers, who were later expelled by the British. Americans will find much that is familiar there, though, because it became the home of thousands of loyalists from New England fleeing the Revolution.


Most of the cities and towns are along the coast and, like driving through Ireland, touring seems to be circumferential. The province's information offices provide a wealth of material, divided into seven easily absorbed segments, most of them coastal, for the visitor.


One segment, the ''Evangeline Trail,'' is named for the heroine of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, the literary memorial to the Acadians. The trail stretches 150 miles east beyond Yarmouth, where the "Cat Ferry" from Portland and Bar Harbor, Me., dock, through an area once known as the apple orchard of the British Empire. The coastal highway touches fishing villages and the highest tides in the world. To the south, the ''Lighthouse Route'' follows a jagged shoreline through coves and bays that were once havens for privateers and pirates. Travelers can walk the decks of an idled rum runner (The Bluenose II) at the Fisheries Museum at Lunenburg or try the sandy white beaches that link picturesque villages. (Another of the seven segments is Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island, which offers one of the most scenic drives in North America.)


Digby, is a setting of beauty, a small town famous for its smoked herring and representative in its own way for the links to the American Revolution that constantly loom. It was named in honor of Robert Digby, a British admiral who brought 1,500 loyalist refugees from New England in 1783. The generally un-crowded coastal route follow the Fundy shore, touching stark and rocky beaches at some points and ducking inland through a lumbering district or open fields elsewhere. A huge stone church in St. Bernard seated 1,000 persons in a district where the entire populations of nearby towns number in the hundreds; it was built over a 30-year period by local labor using local materials. The cemetery was a symphony of French names; everyone seemed related to everyone else.


In Meteghan, fishing vessels leaned against pilings and docks in one of Canada's oldest shipyards, is evidence of the dramatic tide changes. The coast is ringed by modern highways, but you can avoid them, especially in the south, to get closer to the beaches and visit the communities on the sea.


Eating is always a great experience in Nova Scotia, there is much in the way of variety when it comes to restaurants and pubs.


Parks, forts, museums and historic houses also are plentiful. The Halifax Citadel, complete with fortifications and a 19th-century detention cell, provides a splendid view of the harbor.


Inland and to the north, the Springhill Miners Museum offers an underground tour through the mines that claimed 140 lives before the pits were closed in the 1950's. The peninsula is dotted with hotels and motels as well as farmhouse accommodations and campgrounds.


Many visitors go to Truro to watch the tide come in, a phenomenon that attracts thousands of tourists each year. The town sits at the mouth of the Salmon River, where it empties into the Bay of Fundy, and twice a day the gravitational pull of the moon sends the Atlantic Ocean rushing into the bay, raising the water in some places more than 50 feet. Oceangoing vessels can be left sitting on mud and some fishermen, using nets, can harvest their catch by hand. The tidal bore, as the leading edge of the new tide is called, can be seen as it fills the river basin. It is an eerie experience, especially at night, with the first wave audible beyond the lights that illuminate the 100-yard-wide river mouth, and then seen as a foot-high white capped crest moving rapidly past.


Nova Scotia's provincial license plates read: Nova Scotia, Canada's Ocean Playground.


I couldn't agree more with that statement.