I have just been enjoying some of Nova Scotia’s top performers. Rita MacNeil, the Rankin Family, Catherine MacKinnon, Anne Murray...the list goes on and on. How does one little province foster so much talent? My bet would be the powerful heritage that has shaped Nova Scotia and the stunning landscape that embraces its people.
Nova Scotia
Almost surrounded by the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy, a narrow strip of land, joins the province to the mainland. No where in Nova Scotia are you more than 55 km (35 miles) from the sea.
Halifax - A Salute to the Capital
Halifax was founded by the British in 1749 because of its strategic importance and excellent ice-free harbour, important considerations in the struggle with the French for control in the New World.
Halifax Citadel, a massive, star-shaped fortress, (1825-1856) is the most visited Historic Site in Canada. Its hilltop setting offers a wonderful view . A guided tour includes underground tunnels, powder magazines and secret firing chambers from which defenders could pepper the moats with deadly crossfire.
During the summer months, colourful pageantry of period-costumed soldiers reenact British military life in the 1800s. Thrill to the skirl of the bagpipes and be prepared for the blast of the noon-day cannon.
The symbol of Halifax is the Town Clock which stands at the foot of Citadel Hill, given to the city in 1803 by Prince Edward ( father of Queen Victoria).
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has impressive displays and historic ships that commemorate the city’s vital link with the sea. Two permanent displays are the Titanic disaster of 1912 and the Halifax Explosion of 1917. Artifacts of the Titanic serve as touching reminders of the ship’s lost luxury and the special role Halifax played at that time.
One of the Museum’s greatest treasures is the C.S.S. Acadia, the first Hydrographic Vessel which charted the Arctic Ocean floor. The HMCS Sackville, the last of the WW II convoy escort corvettes, has been restored as a memorial to all who served in the Canadian Navy. The world-famous Bluenose II often docks at the Maritime Museum and offers sailing tours of Halifax Harbour.
Historic Properties, on the waterfront boardwalk, stretches over three square blocks, originally built in the late 1700s to store the booty of privateers. Today, it bustles with shoppers and tourists. At night it is the centre of activity for strolling, fine dining and entertainment.
The Lighthouse Route
Quiet country roads, coastal villages and over 20 lighthouses draw visitors to the South Shore, between Halifax and Yarmouth. Two of the most scenic places I have ever seen are Mahone Bay and Peggy’s Cove. The lighthouse of the latter, sits high up on wave-worn granite rocks. No longer a beacon, it serves as Canada’s only post office in a lighthouse. Folks line up to send mail because it has its own special stamp cancellation, an image of the lighthouse.
Mahone Bay is the ideal for postcard perfect settings. This charming town with its three waterfront churches is one of the most photographed places in Nova Scotia.
This thriving community is one of the most historic and colourful waterfront towns in the province. It was settled in 1753 by German, Swiss and French protestants, loyal to the Crown. A world-class fishing and ship-building industry was soon established.
Old Town Lunenburg has dozens of historic buildings and homes dating back to 1760. Some 400 major buildings in the old town from the 18th and 19th centuries, are mostly built of wood, colourfully painted. The extraordinary preservation of the town led to it being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic displays the history of commercial fishing in Atlantic Canada. Three floors of exhibits include ship-building, whaling, rum-running, boat models and old photos. Particularly touching is the Fishermen’s Memorial Room with a long list of men who have lost their lives at sea.
Lunenburg’s shipyards produced many able fishing schooners but none more famous than the Bluenose built in 1921. She was the winner of four international schooner races, giving her an immortal place on the back of the Canadian dime. Bluenose II, a replica of the original schooner was built here in 1963.
This picturesque coastal village is so rich in history and charm that it attracts the international film industry. Just recently, the filming of The Scarlet Letter converted the 1783 waterfront into Boston 1660. A huge Guild Hall, built for the set makes a nice addition for the townspeople to enjoy.
Shelburne was settled by United Empire Loyalists who built rambling warehouses and charming homes along the waterfront. Many have been carefully restored and declared heritage properties.
The Ross-Thompson House reflects two centuries of history. It is stocked with goods imported in the 1780s.The Shelburne County Museum displays artifacts relating to the past as well as its impressive shipbuilding heritage.
The Dory Shop is a fascinating museum that relives history by building dories. The mother ship could carry ten to twelve dories which fished independently, each with a trawl line baited with herring or mackerel. At the end of the day they returned to the mother ship with their catch. During its ninety-year history this shop averaged 350 dories a year until the big trawlers put them out of business.
The Shelburne County Genealogical Society specializes in Loyalist and Mayflower descendants. Eleanor Smith, a volunteer certified genealogist, showed me maps and records that have been meticulously kept over the years. It was surprising to see the many requests she handles for people wanting to know their roots or where an ancestor is buried.
The Lighthouse Trail offers unforgettable coastal beauty along peaceful country roads. It is a land of fishing villages and wharves piled high with lobster traps and of quiet inlets where herons stand motionless waiting for their prey.
The Evangeline Trail and the Annapolis Valley
The Evangeline Trail follows the shore of the Bay of Fundy from the seaport of Yarmouth to Halifax. It includes some of Nova Scotia’s most important sites as well as the rich soil of the Annapolis Valley, the bread-basket of the province. Digby is the scallop capital of the world and the scallops served along this coast are incredible.
I loved Grand Pre. Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, the fictional heroine for whom this trail is named, is immortalized at Grand Pre National Historic Site. A charming stone church has been built on the site of one of the original Acadian villages. History is relived in paintings and exhibits and the pain of the Expulsion in 1755 is told by interpreters dressed in Acadian costume. Maintained by Parks Canada, the story of the Acadian people is preserved for posterity.
Near the train gate is a unique statue of Evangeline. From the front, it shows her beautiful face but from the side, the face looks aged and wrinkled from her long and arduous journey in search of her lover.
While I was there, a lady had come from Louisiana to trace her Acadian roots. I was surprised to learn that from the original 500 French settlers who arrived in the mid-17th century, several million descendants can trace their heritage.
One of the greatest accomplishments of the Acadians was the dykes they built along the shores of the tidal rivers to reclaim flooded lands. This created rich pastures for their animals and fertile fields for crops.
A most famous site along the north shore is the Port Royal Habitation, a replica of that used from 1605 to 1613 for one of the earliest European settlements in North America. Samuel Champlain and Francois Grave Du Pont selected this site and named it Port Royal.
This National Historic Site is open daily from May 15 to October 15. Costumed interpreters reenact life as it was in a 1605 trading post. It was here that the first cereal crops were grown, the first drama was written and The Order of Good Cheer was inaugurated to help pass the long winter nights.
Later in the century French settlers returned to the area (1636) to establish farms in Port Royal and along the shores of the Annapolis River.
Port Royal was captured by the British in 1710 and renamed Annapolis Royal. In December 1755, more than 1600 Acadians were forced onto ships and taken to other British colonies further south. After the war they returned but their lands had been given to the New England Planters. They were soon followed by Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution.
Annapolis Royal
The town contains over 150 heritage buildings including the oldest wooden house in Canada built in 1708. In the summer costumed performers in 1750-fashions perform vignettes of historic Annapolis Royal. At noon, the Town Crier, announces current events in front of the Town Hall.
Fort Anne is Canada’s oldest National Historic Site. Well preserved earthwork fortifications, a museum and a gunpowder magazine (1708) overlook the mouths of the Annapolis and Allain rivers. Its park-like atmosphere and well-kept lawns make a wonderful place to stroll.
Spooky candlelight tours of the Garrison Graveyard provides a colorful history of the town’s earliest citizens. This graveyard has the oldest English epitaph in Canada dated 1720.
Travel in Nova Scotia provides a fascinating window into the past as well as unforgettable beauty. Yet the greatest treasure of all is that warm and friendly Maritime hospitality extended so willingly as they proudly share their lives and province with visitors.

When You Go
How to Get There:
Canada 3000 - direct from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto to Halifax
Air Canada and Canadian - direct from all major cities
Via Rail - from Vancouver to Halifax
Places to Stay:
Annapolis Royal: An excellent choice is The Hillsdale House at 519 St. George St. An elegant mid-Victorian inn with luxurious rooms with private bath en suite. Built in 1849, the inn has been host to two Kings of England, many of Canada’s Governors General and leading politicians.
Room rates: $65-$95 with full breakfast.
Ph: (902) 532-2345
In Halifax:
Radisson Suite Hotel @ 1649 Hollis Street
Overlooking Halifax Harbour and close to the Nova Scotia Art Gallery, Neptune Theatre and Province House.
Indoor pool, sauna, fitness centre, restaurant and lounge.
Room rates: Suite for two: $129-$215
For fine dining:
The Garrison House Inn at 350 St. George St. Annapolis Royal.
Offers delectable meals.
Cooper’s Inn & Restaurant at 36 Dock Street, Shelburne.
Superb international cuisine. Reservations preferred.