Our first port of call in Nova Scotia was Halifax, the capital city. As fate would have it, it was our only port of call in Nova Scotia! High winds prevailed upon our plans for Syndey and the Cape Breton highlands the following day. I was disappointed but ever more thankful we’d had such a wonderful day in the Halifax region.
Nova Scotia was memorable from the start, as two men played cheery bagpipes on the pier well before dawn. Quite fitting for New Scotland, don’t you think? It’s always nice to be welcomed, especially when you show up with a couple thousand of your closest friends.
I’d arranged a private tour for both Nova Scotia ports of call. In Syndey, we planned to meet up with Donnie (next time!) and Donnie had led us to his son-in-law, Stewart, in Halifax. We exchanged several emails before settling on an itinerary. I was was grateful we could do our own thing on our own timeframe, away from the hordes filling the tour buses lining the pier.
Stewart spent quite a bit of time in Halifax proper. We passed on the public gardens of great renown, given the season and our agenda, proceeding around and about neighborhoods of all varieties — from upper crust to lowly — several institutions of higher learning, the Citadel and the famous clock tower (so visible there is no excuse to be late), Stewart all the while recalling Halifax history for our edification.
Halifax is first and foremost a safe harbor. A long, narrow channel leads to a protected harbor, which doesn’t freeze despite (maybe because of?) the northern Atlantic climate. Halifax has long been an important allied naval base with substantial shipping infrastructure, always at the ready. It’s a good thing, because Nova Scotia is also, according to Stewart, the world’s shipwreck graveyard. More than 600 wrecks (if memory serves me correctly) lie off her coast.
In fact, Halifax became the epicenter of the RMS Titanic recovery mission. Not because she was the closest port but because she was able. So although I was quite anxious to get out of the city and see the countryside, I was eager to stop first at Fairview Cemetery, the largest, single final resting place for Titanic victims in the world.
More than 300 bodies were recovered; some were recommitted to the sea and others claimed and shipped elsewhere. In Fairview, 121 grave markers are arranged in long sloping rows that curve to resemble the bow of the ship. On some, there are flowers or other mementos. In a few places, the grass is worn away by visitors paying their respects. Many are the modest, standard issue grave markers and the deceased remain unidentified. It struck me as odd — a sign of our times — that Jewish victims were interred in a separate location, visible but distinct. (And apparently one non-Jewish victim remains in the “wrong” cemetery.) This visit was all the more poignant because of our experience with the Titanic Story exhibit at the Johnson GEO CENTRE in Newfoundland a day or two prior.
Leaving the city behind, we drove along the South Shore to Lunenberg, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is a lovely seaside town of brightly colored homes, many of which sport a distinctive exterior window treatment. Original settlers were German Protestants, Stewart noted. Today’s Lunenberg is an artsy place with lots of shops and restaurants and scenic vistas — a photographer’s delight. It is also home of the famous sleek and fast Bluenose schooner, a replica of which still sails.
From Lunenberg we headed back east toward Halifax, following the South Shore through scenic Mahone Bay, stopping to admire the picturesque three churches. Many churches throughout the maritime provinces are a stark white clapboard dramatically trimmed with black. One of the three on the bay displays this unique style. We also stopped at the one and only Amos Pewter shop where artisans work their trade. I purchased a few gifts there before we continued on to Chester and, finally, Peggy’s Cove.
Peggy’s Cove was a delightful place to land. The fishing village unfolding on either side of the narrow road approaching the sea is so quaint and serene that the aquadrama awaiting on the coast takes you by surprise. We had heard about Peggy’s Cove (“everyone” goes there, at least once) but were completely unprepared. Violent waves crashed against acres of flat rocks stretching along the jagged shoreline. Ka-BOOM! Ker-POW! The sea was sharp, slicing across the rocks, and saucy, spraying dozens of feet in the air on that bright, sunny day. Every so often, apparently, unsuspecting ignoramus are caught flatfooted and washed out to sea, many to their deaths. The conventional wisdom, “Stay off the black (um, yes, wet) rocks,” seems all too obvious. You don’t have to tell me twice.
Stewart had given generously of his time and we were out and about a good deal longer than anticipated. It was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived back in Halifax, which is, of course, another brew town. Hmmm, is there a theme emerging? It cannot be coincidence that that there are so many brightly colored and beautifully maintained homes and great craft brews in the Atlantic provinces. This could be a very foggy-gray and damp-cold place otherwise. I was sure a craft brew or two were calling our names.
Sure enough, Garrisons Brewery near the pier all but beckoned. They didn’t serve food and we were famished, it being well past lunch. So we scooted into the fabulous farmers market just across the street, snagged some local cheese and seasoned nuts, and returned to the brewpub with our makeshift lunch. It was pleasant enough to sit outside with a flight of local flavors. The Tall Ship Amber took my vote — I think the Hubs settled on the Irish Red — for a most refreshing ending to a great day in Halifax.
~ Rene Morley