Nova Scotia – Canada’s Ocean Playground

We all were excited about taking the ferry from Wood Island, Prince Edward Island, to Caribou, Nova Scotia. The opportunity to save a couple hundred miles of travel while experiencing a different mode of travel all sounded great.  The only downside was Contessa & The Toad needed to go on the larger 9:30a departure, but even with many attempts, we could not get Loyal & Bonnie on that crossing, so they left Thursday afternoon in order to be “on time” for the 8:00a crossing on Friday. They would continue on to Bras d’Or Campground on Cape Breton and Contessa & Crew would catch up in the afternoon.

Knowing that the one thing you don’t want to do is miss the ferry that you’ve paid for – and another was not available for a couple of days, Contessa headed out at little before 7a on Friday morning.  With guidance from Loyal, we stayed on TransCanada Highway rather than the “shorter route” – and pulled into the Ferry Terminal right at 8:00a.  At least we’d be able to take a picture of Loyal & Bonnie’s ferry departing and be one of the first in line for our 9:30a crossing.

NS - Ferry from PEI (2)

Much to our amazement, they motioned us onto the ferry, as it had not “closed the ramp” – and we drove right on, followed by two large semi-trucks!  We sure enjoyed surprising Bonnie & Loyal, making the 75 minute crossing together and continuing our travels in tandem!


Contessa & The Toad on the Ferry!

Cape Breton is a phenomenal region of northeast Nova Scotia, with Bras d’Or Lake (French for “arm of gold” likely referring to the sun’s rays on the fingers/inlets of the lake) taking center stage.  With 424 square miles of partial salt & fresh water, maximum length of 62 miles, width of 31 miles, depth of 942 feet and 621 miles of shoreline – she is one beautiful lady!  The map below shows the sheer size of both the lake and Cape Breton (the upper right third of the province), which appears to connect to the mainland, but is really connected with a single two-lane road known as the Canso Causeway.

NS - Cape Breton Map

We were camped along the northeastern shore south of  Baddeck (baa deck’), which was centrally located for our 3 day/4 night stay in this part of Nova Scotia.  After settling in, we decided to run up to Baddeck to check out the town and ended up staying for dinner.  The “find of the day” was Big Spruce Oatmeal Stout (beer) on tap from a brewery just outside Madou, some 40 miles over on the western shore.

With Monday forecasted to be the day of sun, we elected to reserve that for the Cabot Trail and hit some other sites on Saturday & Sunday.  Saturday morning we made a bee-line for the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, as we had heard it was a “don’t miss” opportunity – and we were not disappointed.

The Museum was named a National Historic Site in 1952

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Scotland in 1847 and immigrated to Brantford Ontario Canada with his parents in 1870 at age 23, after both brothers had died of tuberculosis and the parents feared for his life, as well.  Bell’s father, grandfather and older brother had all been associated with elocution and speech to assist the deaf (his mother was deaf) and Alexander continued this pursuit.  While we knew he was the inventor of the first commercially viable telephone (patented in 1876), we were amazed at the depth and breadth of his explorations.

After getting his parents settled in Ontario, he accepted a position in Boston teaching his father’s method for Visible Speech, which substantially helped many people afflicted with hearing loss.  As well, he took on private tutoring, including Mabel Hubbard, daughter of one of Bell’s early financiers, who had been deaf since age 5 from effects of scarlet fever.  AG (as he referred to himself) and Mabel were married in 1877 when she was 19, and together they raised two daughters (as well as having lost two children in childbirth).

One summer, as they had been prone to do for several years, they were traveling to Newfoundland for a summer holiday, when weather forced their vessel into Bras d’Or Lakes and Baddeck Bay.  The topology, weather and community reminded him so much of his native Scotland, that they remained there for that summer and purchased a home before they returned to Washington DC, which had become their primary home.  Over the years, they spent more and more time in Baddeck and consequently built Beinn Bhreagh (Gaelic for “beautiful mountain”), a 36 room stone mansion on the 600 acres they purchased in the late 1880s.

Here Bell and his assistant, Thomas Watson, worked on aviation (resulting in the first powered flight in Canada in Baddeck), hydrofoils and optical telecommunications. AG followed in his father’s footsteps as the second president (though not one of the original 33 founders) of the National Geographic Society.  His son, grandson and great-grandson have also led this amazing organization.  One interesting fact – Bell considered his most famous invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study.

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Beinn Bhreagh – the Bell home that remains as a private residence within his family, therefore is not open to the public

The Oatmeal Stout and the Kitchen Party Pale Ale from Big Spruce Brewery were calling our name – so off to the brewery we went for a food wagon lunch and some local entertainment.

As impossible as it seemed, while haddock, scallops, mussels, lobster and cod were in great supply, our search for fresh clams came up empty-handed – but we had a lovely ride to the northeast end of the island to North Sydney in search of fish markets.  We were searching for fresh clams to augment Bonnie’s planned Pasta & White Clam Sauce for dinner  — it was fabulous without the fresh clams and we completed the evening with a laughter-filled round of Five Crowns.

Sunday dawned crisp and cloudy as we headed out for services at St. Ann’s Presbyterian Church.  We received a warm and hearty welcome from the 12 parishioners (including the minister, organist and 2 choir members) that were in attendance.  The Church was founded in 1820 by a ready-made Congregation of Scotch Presbyterians who arrived from Pictou, Nova Scotia aboard “The Ark”.  Led by Rev. Norman MacLeod, they had intended to sail to Ohio (?!??!), but after some days of sailing and the crew having a successful day of fishing in St. Ann’s Bay, they decided it must have been providential that they stopped there and determined to go no farther – they had found their Promised Land, less than 200 miles from their origin.

MacLeod was a determined and unyielding individual resulting in an ever-increasing conflict with the “established Church”.  He was described as a very complex person, going to extremes in his attitude and activities – from harshness to kindliness – there were no in-between emotions with him or concerning him.  For 32 years, he led the St. Ann’s congregation and therefore the parishioner’s lives.  The community encountered continued hardship with harshness of winters, land not being as productive as it was hoped and famine appearing inevitable.  In 1852, he and some of his flock of ~140 people set sail aboard a new vessel, first to Australia and then on to New Zealand.  They made it further on their second try!!

A lovely little countryside church on the side of the road.  Loved the Scottish plaids in the pew seat covers!

Having enjoyed the brewery on Saturday, our Sunday afternoon destination was the only single-malt whisky distillery in North America.  How could we possibly not visit it!  Opened in 1990, with a distillery, inn and restaurant, it has a distinctive Scottish flare to the buildings, the equipment and the personnel.  The inn & restaurant were intended to provide income in those first 10 early years until the single malt could be bottled and sold.  As is often the case, turning a vision into a reality is more difficult and costly than anticipated, so in 1994, it was sold to a local couple who continue to own and operate this lovely spot.

It can’t be called Scotch, because it is not made in Scotland, but it is an excellent single malt whisky!  Our lunch was delightful and the music by local young ladies (and a local gent upon occasion) was energetic, so say the least!

Monday was everything the weatherman had promised – and we set off to “do the Cabot Trail”!  The trail is 186 miles around the northeast end of Cape Breton Island, called one of the world’s must-see sites by Travel & Leisure Magazine.  The trail offers spectacular coastal views, highland scenery and warm Celtic and Acadian hospitality, along with amazing artisans in quaint shops along the way.

NS - Gaelic CollegeOur first stop was the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s, founded in 1938 as an educational non-profit institution, offering year-round programming in the culture, music, language, crafts, customs, and traditions of the immigrants from the Highlands of Scotland. Currently, students are able to choose to study from over ten traditional arts, including fiddle, piano, guitar, step-dancing, and piping, highland dancing, weaving, and of course Gaelic language.  It is one-of-a-kind in North America and people of all ages come to learn and improve their talents and skills.  We were thrilled that Bonnie was able to order fabric of her Scottish heritage, the Hanna tartan.

As we wound our way through small towns and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, each vista was more spectacular.  Walks on the beach (yes, a real beach) and a picnic lunch were delightful.  Even the myriad of road construction challenges and delays could not dampen our enthusiasm for this amazing gift of scenery and weather!

And one cannot come to Baddeck without enjoying their Lobster Supper!  Along with “all you can eat” mussels and seafood chowder, it was the perfect end to a perfect day!

Our time on Cape Breton had come to an end – and off we went for a day’s travel to Mahone Bay, in southwestern Nova Scotia.  Campgrounds that can handle Contessa are few and far between – and are often found down narrow roads littered with potholes and obstacles.  We have been concerned about the curb side drive axle tire since we first brought Contessa to North Carolina in May.  Entrance into Rayport Campground in Martin’s River did the tire in – but what a blessing that we were planning to be there four days, which gave us time to find a replacement tire and have it installed on-site without impacting our plans!

We had to make the most of our limited time in Mahone Bay, as Loyal & Bonnie were leaving after two days, so off to Halifax we went early Wednesday morning.  It was quite a shock to our system to be in a town of 400,000 people, having enjoyed the solitude of small towns and clean air for weeks.  The city was teeming with people and the Visitor’s Center one of the least helpful we have ever encountered.  Regardless, we made our way to the Maritime Museum and an amazing display on the explosion that rocked Halifax, Richmond and Dartmouth.

Halifax is the largest deep water port in Atlantic Canada and is the home to the Canadian Navy.  As World War I raged in Europe, the port city of Halifax bustled with ships carrying troops, relief supplies, and munitions across the Atlantic Ocean to support the Allied troops. On the morning of December 6, 1917, the Norwegian vessel “Imo” left its mooring in Halifax harbor for New York City.  At the same time, the French freighter “Mont Blanc,” its cargo hold packed with highly explosive munitions–2,300 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 35 tons of high-octane gasoline, and 10 tons of gun cotton–was forging through the harbor to join a military convoy that would escort it across the Atlantic.

At approximately 8:45a, the two ships collided in what is known as The Narrows – a less than 1 kilometer wide passageway between the inner and outer harbor, setting the picric acid ablaze. The Mont Blanc was propelled toward the shore by its collision with the Imo, and the crew rapidly abandoned the ship, attempting without success to alert the harbor of the peril of the burning ship. Spectators gathered along the waterfront to witness the spectacle of the blazing ship, and minutes later it brushed by a harbor pier, setting it ablaze. The Halifax Fire Department responded quickly and was positioning its engine next to the nearest hydrant when the Mont Blanc exploded at 9:05a in a blinding white flash.

The massive explosion killed more than 1,800 people, injured another 9,000–including blinding 200–and destroyed almost the entire north end of the city of Halifax, including more than 1,600 homes. The resulting shock wave shattered windows 50 miles away, and the sound of the explosion could be heard hundreds of miles away.

Several times in history, Halifax and its residents have “stood the test when tested” – not only with this horrific explosion, but also in the rescue and recovery efforts of the Titantic and of SwissAir 111, which crashed into the Atlantic just 5 miles off shore in 1998, killing all 229 passengers and crew aboard.

No trip to Nova Scotia is complete without a visit to Peggy’s Cove – and especially so for Bonnie with having a sister, Peggy!  While the sun had shown strong and warm all day, the fog and wind had overcome the lighthouse and surrounding village.

Our trip to Lunenberg on Thursday was just enough for all of us to be saying – we needed more time and must return “someday.”  St. John’s Anglican Church, built in 1754 and extensively restored following a fire in 2001, took our breath away.  It is the second oldest Protestant Church in Canada and is magnificent in its Carpenter’s Gothic architectural style.

The restoration cost $6.2M – only about $2M was covered by insurance.  The remainder was funded by grants and over half by the residents of Lunenberg!  The blue ceiling & stars above the chancel is how the sky would have looked over Lunenberg on the First Christmas Night and the birth of Christ.

Unfortunately, Blue Nose II was out cruising with the Tall Ships – so we could only see museum material regarding this replica of the famous fishing  and racing schooner Bluenose, built in 1921 in Lunenburg.

NS - Lunenburg - Blue Nose Museum (3)Under the command of Angus Walters, she came a provincial icon for Nova Scotia and an important Canadian symbol in the 1930s, and was nicknamed the “Queen of the North Atlantic”. The name “Bluenose” originated with a strain of local potatoes which are blue through and through and became a nickname for Nova Scotians from as early as the late 18th century.  We toured the Maritime Museum, had a delightful lunch at the Rumrunner and then it was time to return to the campground for Loyal & Bonnie’s departure.  The car was quieter during that ride than at any time during our two weeks together.


By 2:30p, they were on their way to Yarmouth to catch the ferry on Friday morning to Portland, Maine for a visit with friends on their way back to Michigan.  We all had a fabulous time together and look forward to more time together in Marathon right after the first of the new year, if not before!

Contessa and The Toad both got a good washing on Friday – which they both sorely needed.  A day around the camp was relaxing and yet a bit tense, as the tire company did not arrive until almost 5:00p to install the new tire.  As we were planning to head out on Saturday morning to begin our journey back to the States – and the campground didn’t have room for us to stay – we were thrilled when Morgan arrived!

So, we were ready for an early morning departure – off to the next adventure through New England.

Author: Contessa & The Toad Get Hitched

After years traveling this beautiful country by boat, the Captain and the Admiral are bound for land adventures. Whenever Contessa (the motorcoach) and the Toad (Jeep Grand Cherokee) get hitched (towing the car) - we’ll post our adventures!

3 thoughts on “Nova Scotia – Canada’s Ocean Playground”

  1. Reliving so much of what we did last year. Thanks!

    What is Five Crowns?

    I missed the tire issue, but glad all is well.


  2. Enjoying your blog! Small aside note……on our second visit to Halifax we were on a ship bound for Ft Lauderdale in mid- October. At the Yacht club Halloween party we sat next to a couple who had watched our ship come into that harbor from their home! Small world.


  3. Thanks, Jann, wonderful travel commentary on being in Nova Scotia. your writing is so clear that one can just feel the excitement of being there building So glad you had such a great time there with Bonnie and Loyal Janieb


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