Ashlee Starratt goes back to her roots to explore Canada’s most storied sea-bound coast of Nova Scotia.
“Well, the year was 1778
How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!
I was told, we’d cruise the seas for American gold
We’d fire no guns, shed no tears
But I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier
The last of Barrett’s Privateers”
Well, the year isn’t 1778, and the pier has changed slightly – but the lyrics of Stan Roger’s iconic ode to Nova Scotia still ring true as I stand on the docks of downtown Halifax. Now its boardwalk is a touristic promenade, centuries away from the port city it once was – heaving with pirates, privateers and men of the Crown. But the clamorous history of its seafaring roots still lingers on the brine of its salt air.
There’s something about Canada’s east coast that speaks to the adventurer in all of us – and it must be its maritime soul. Often overlooked by tourists making a beeline for the larger metropolises of central Canada such as Toronto or Montreal, a pitstop ‘down East’ is a saltwater tonic. Fly into Halifax Stanfield International Airport and it’s a 30-minute drive to downtown Halifax – crossing its version of the ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ along the way. Summer is the best time to visit the province, and the capital in particular comes to life. Enjoy the street-life from a sunny patio of one of the many harbour-front restaurants and watering holes along Argyle and Lower Water Streets. Take in the Halifax International Jazz Festival mid-July or hit up the downtown streets of the capital in early August and take in some unforgettable outdoor performances at the Halifax Busker Festival.
Climb atop the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site and step back in time to the days when Halifax was a British stronghold and walk in the footsteps of the garrisons that protected her borders. Wander across the citadel’s grassy ramparts, explore the depths of its moat, and pore through the relics of its officers’ barracks and quarters.
Drive an hour outside the capital and along the rocky perimeter of Nova Scotia’s South Shore and you’ll reach the traditional fishing village of Peggy’s Cove. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its preserved way of life still beckons while its lighthouse standing sentinel on the rocks next to the surging sea remains one of the country’s oldest working lighthouses – and post offices.
For a change of tack, head northwest about a 45-minute drive from Halifax and you’ll find yourself in the province’s agricultural heartland – the Annapolis Valley. Visitors in spring can take in the festivities of its annual Apple Blossom Festival or explore the rolling hills and lush vineyards of the many five-star local eateries in this foodie epicentre.
No trip to Nova Scotia would be complete without a road-trip across the causeway and up to Cape Breton Island. A five-hour drive from Halifax; its Celtic splendour can’t be missed, with Cape Bretoners easily earning their reputation as some of the nicest folk in Canada. Visit Baddeck, the home of Alexander Graham Bell, or drive along the rolling cliffs of the Cape Breton Highlands along the world-famous Cabot Trail.
Nova Scotia, Gaelic for ‘New Scotland’, is a picture-postcard come to life – and we don’t blame you for wanting to linger over its Celtic colours.
My favourite place- Luckett Vineyards in the province’s Gaspereau Valley offers up some of the most breathtaking views across the Minas Basin to Cape Split while serving up some of the best locally-sourced seasonal flavours of Nova Scotia for intrepid foodies.
Highlights- Make like a pirate at the Tall Ships Regatta in July on the Halifax waterfront, explore the colonial fortress of George’s Island, whitewater-raft the highest tides in the world on the Bay of Fundy, celebrate the indigenous culture of the First Nations Mi’kmaq people at the Grand Pré Pow Wow.
Lowlights- The weather can be hit-or-miss so try to avoid the rainier months of March and April. Travelling across the province is lengthy so expect long car rides if you’re planning to rent a vehicle. Most tourist destinations are a few hours’ journey from the capital of Halifax by car, with Cape Breton and Yarmouth upwards of five hours respectively.
Souvenirs- Nova Scotia-tartan scarves or prints, lobster chips, saltwater taffy, Nova Scotia pewter ornaments, hooked rugs from Chéticamp.
Getting there- While Oman Air doesn’t currently operate services to Canada, you can get there using Emirates or Qatar Airways. Alternatively, take an Etihad flight via Toronto or Montreal, with a connecting flight via Air Canada or WestJet to Halifax.
Where to stay- The Lord Nelson or Prince George Hotels in downtown Halifax, the Old Orchard Inn resort near Wolfville in the Annapolis Valley, White Point Beach Resort at Hunt’s Point on the South Shore, and Celtic Lodge in the Cape Breton Highlands.
1. Plug your ears against the black powder blast as the noon cannon is fired across Citadel Hill.
2. Slurp up a double-scoop of the iconic Cow’s Ice Cream and chase it up with a sugary-sweet beaver-tail.
3. Make the 14.6km hike up Cape Split for some of the most breath-taking views in the province.
4. Take a selfie with Theodore Tugboat on the Halifax waterfront.
5. Hunt for dinosaur fossils along the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.