Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Back to Nova Scotia

Again, another very smooth crossing and we drove off the ferry around 9.30am and whilst still in the North Sydney area, found two more cemeteries and photographed some missing war graves. Next we found our way to our B&B and enjoyed a very nice overnight stay, with the hostess, Cheryl, telling us next morning of an attempted murder which took place at her home two years prior. A newly married widow (in her 70s) chose the B&B to finish off her fourth husband – rather ineptly if you ask me as she had already served several years for ‘accidentally driving over her second husband TWICE!  If you’re a murder mystery fan, just google ‘Black Widow and Chambers B&B’ for the full story. Cheryl had us in fits of laughter though and made this stop one of our favourites.

Leaving Nova Scotia, we travelled by a coastal route along the southern coast eventually arriving at Dartmouth where we had accommodation for a few days. This is ‘just up the road’ from Halifax and so not far to go for the essential site-seeing of this part of Nova Scotia.
First day was a day of discovery in Halifax. We found our way to the Fairview Cemetery to view the graves of the Titanic victims – there is such a lot of them and they are all arranged on a gentle curved slope. Of course there are is a steady stream of coaches continually bringing sightseers so at times there are quite a lot of people moving amongst the memorial stones.
Next we found our way to the harbour right down the hillside and through the narrow one-way streets that are such an irritation when you’re not sure about finding your way in a strange city. The popular harbourside is along the boardwalk with the inevitable fast-food booths, and it is there that the excellent Maritime Museum is sited. It is well worth a visit, as much of the history of this region is sea based, and so very important to the lives of people who live here. A short feature film told the dreadful story of the Halifax disaster – when a French cargo ship fully loaded with wartime explosives, was involved in a collision with a Norwegian vessel in December 1917. The result was a cataclysmic explosion that devastated Halifax. Over 2,000 people died, 9,000 were injured and a tsunami created by the blast wiped out the physical community of Mi'kmaq First Nations people that had lived nearby. The museum has a separate exhibition on the ill-fated Titanic – as you would imagine. Halifax was the nearest port to the disaster and it is where the both the survivors and the recovered victims were brought.

At lunchtime we decided it was now or never to try the popular ‘poutine’. It consists of a dish of fries, topped off with cheese curds and then gravy over the lot. We not very bravely decided that we’d order a small dish of this delicacy (!) to share and with some iced tea, took our meal to the picnic tables by the waterside. Perhaps it was a good thing that we met a holidaying English couple to chat with while we ate.  Must say poutine is not really to our taste – but it certainly is to a vast majority of Canadians.

We took a day trip out of Halifax along the coast to Peggy’s Cove which is touted in the brochures as picture perfect with a wonderful lighthouse. Well, we've certainly seen our share of lighthouses on this trip – especially so in the Maritimes (those provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) nevertheless we found Peggy’s Cove quite picturesque despite (once again) coachloads of tourists. It has a vast rocky area right by the sea with a white lighthouse beautifully positioned to warn ships. These lighthouses nowadays are not so essential given the widespread use of the GPS, but the structures remain and are very picturesque and a reminder of the days when expert navigation was a talent at which a lot of seafarers were not very proficient.

We couldn't leave Halifax without visiting the amazing Halifax Citadel (Fort George) perched solidly high up on a hilltop in the heart of the city. We arrived on the day that 75 years ago Canada entered into the fray of WW2 and many of those ‘manning’ the citadel were dressed in period wartime uniforms instead of the usual full Scottish dress of the 78th Highlanders. Peter got talking to one ‘soldier’ and found out that he was a re-enactor – and of all things, his forte was as an Australian Light horseman! He was most interested to learn that my grandfather was in the 13th Light Horse.

We also visited the Canadian Immigration Museum sited in the very building that so many immigrants passed through on their way to a new life in this country. It is Canada's version of Ellis Island, and is well worth a visit.

Leaving Halifax we drove across Nova Scotia to the north coast and checked into a B&B in Digby for two nights. During our stay here we drove along the coast to Annapolis Royal, a pretty coastal town first settled by the French in 1605 and in nearby Port Royal there is a beautiful (1939/40) reconstruction (by retired shipbuilders) of the original French fort. 

Before leaving, we visited the Moose River Rug Hooking Centre. I have been intrigued by the popularity of this unknown craft (to me) especially in the Maritimes which had originated in pioneer days when burlap (hessian) sacks were reused as the base of floor rugs and strips of old clothing or fabrics were hooked through to easily make quite beautiful - but cheap - floor coverings. The centre we visited certainly opened my eyes to this craft and it seems to be almost as popular here as quilting.

In this area there is also a tidal powered generating station taking advantage of the incredibly high tides in the Bay of Fundy. In fact you can literally see the rise of the incoming tide - it is so rapid.

This small town is from where we boarded another ferry to travel in grey, rainy weather back to New Brunswick. We drove across the province finally coming back to Quebec Province – our final  stop.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


The much delayed (6 hours!) finally left port at 11.30pm by which time all passengers seemed to be settled for the night either in private cabins or (as we were) in very comfortable recliner air seats in one of several seating areas. With plenty of leg room and in a carpeted and quiet room, it was not difficult to drift off to sleep with the hum of the engines as the ship made its way out into the Atlantic Ocean. The feared rough seas due to bad weather did not eventuate and our progress all the way to Argentia, Newfoundland was one of the smoothest sea journeys we've ever taken.

We arrived, surprisingly refreshed after our shipboard sleep, and finally drove off the Atlantic Vision at about 2pm in absolutely beautiful weather.

We had booked into Armstrong’s Suites in Witless Bay which is about an hour and a half from Argentia, and renowned for its Ecological and Marine park. Our ‘room’ turned out to be two bedrooms and a large living area with quite a good kitchen area. We were able to self-cater and so enjoyed some home cooking each evening – making quite a change from the usual range of food available from cafes and restaurants.

Unlike Nova Scotia with its strong Scottish roots, Newfoundlanders have an Irish background and their speech has a very Irish lilt to their Canadian English.

Our first Newfoundland adventure was a Whale & Puffin tour on board the ‘Molly Bawn’. The weather had turned cool and windy overnight and the sea was considerably choppy, but together with another couple, the guide and captain took us out through the waves into the harbour amongst the islands. It was the last day for these types of tours, as the puffins usually head out to sea for the winter by the first of September and the whales, too, move off to more wintry quarters. Nevertheless we spotted several Minke whales, and masses of different types of seabirds including the quite cute puffins so arrived back quite satisfied.

The next day we packed a picnic lunch and drove about an hour an a half around the coast to Ferry land where the Colony of Avalon is situated. The area had been first settled by Europeans around 1621 and after centuries of settlement lay abandoned until re-discovered in the 1930s. Small scale archaeology began but it was not until 1992 that the Avalon Foundation received sufficient funding to carry out the massive work that the site warranted. 
The original cobbled roadway uncovered.
Now at Ferryland there is a fully equipped conservation laboratory, a collection storage area, an absolutely wonderful interpretation centre with guided outside tours (we had our own personal guide on the day we visited), a reproduction of a (working) seventeenth-century kitchen and three heritage gardens. Digs continue with much, much more to uncover. It is a wonderful place set in stunning scenery especially when viewed in summer but I imagine life there would have been extremely hard in the long winter months.

Day three was spent in the Capital of Newfoundland, St Johns, and it is such a small but pretty city situated on the sloping shore of an almost landlocked harbour. It would have been (and still is, I suppose) a wonderful shelter for ships braving the North Atlantic Ocean in the days of sail. 
Stunning view of St Johns from Summit Hill.
At St Johns we once again searched for, found and photographed a War grave for the Commonwealth War Graves Photographic Project. Then, after some lunch at the very impressive “The Rooms” (the archives, museum and art gallery of Newfoundland), we visited their World War 1 exhibition, also the displays featuring early fishing life together with its icy tragedies early last century. Such a hard life for the islanders during those long ago times. 

Cape Spear Lighthouse.
Before leaving this area around St Johns, we drove to Cape Spear which really is the most easterly point of land – from here there is just the vast ocean. The old lighthouse, near to which Marconi proved that his invention of wireless communication actually worked, is a favourite spot for tourists especially on such a beautiful blue sky day being high on the Cape with spectacular views back over St Johns and also out over the vast Atlantic.

Our final day was another long three hour drive north-east to Trinity another early settlement with people mainly associated with the fishing (cod) trade from Poole in Dorset, England. This lucrative trade continued for many decades before finally going into a decline. The village still retains many of its gorgeous old buildings and some have been sensitively restored. There were Mercantile Premises, a Forge, various churches, a parish hall, a mortuary chapel, a museum (where there was an interesting demonstration of rug hooking which is quite a popular craft in the Maritimes) and Hiscock House where a widow, Emma Hiscock, became quite the entrepreneur during her lifetime. Trinity is not a museum, though, as quite a number of people live there. 
The town is a stunning place and we enjoyed visiting the various buildings where guides told the story of ‘their’ particular building. We spent some time in the Cooperage talking to a craftsman who explained the making of casks and tubs for the transportation and storage of fish in the early years.  His family of English origin had lived in the area for several generations but we were still able to pick the English West Country lilt to his speech. We really enjoyed our visit to Trinity, even though we faced another three hour drive back to our ‘home away from home’.

Finally, it was time to pack up and slowly make our way to Argentia to catch the ferry back to Nova Scotia. Along the way we stopped off at Placentia (from the French ‘Plaisance’ meaning ‘pleasant place’) to see the old Castle Hill National Historic site of the fort built by the French in the early 16th century. Next stop was the ferry for another long but smooth crossing back to Nova Scotia.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Prince Edward Island - and a little of Nova Scotia

The amazing Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick to PEI is the longest in the world (being 12.9 kilometres in length) and was opened in 1997.  Driving across it seems to take forever but eventually, of course, it ends and leads us onto the most delightful island imaginable. Prince Edward Island at various times was under the French, the Scottish and the English (the American colonial English), but the Island seems to us to have a very Scottish flavour about it although the earlier Acadian settlers (of French and native Mi'kmaq origin) also gives it a most appealing feeling.

The landscape is just so pretty – quite hilly and in between farmlands there are many forests. The nearby sea and the coastal roads nearby are just breathtaking. I can imagine it picture perfect in the snow with scenes that would go well on Christmas cards.

On our first afternoon there, our B&B hostess at New Glasgow suggested a local ceilidh was to be held that night just 10 minutes up the road in Stanley Bridge, but said that although it would start at 7.30, we should be there by 7 o’clock as it was very popular. She was right but we got good seats and then enjoyed several hours of wonderful Scottish/Irish/Acadian fiddle, guitar and keyboard  music by two sisters and their brother (the Ross family). As usual, the audience were asked where they had come from. I think we two Aussies just won the longest distance travellers award beating a couple from Finland. Half way through was an interval and we were invited down into the basement of the hall where the local Women’s Institute offered bowls of strawberries and icecream for $3. How could we refuse?

The concert was a wonderful start to our time on Prince Edward Island – and next day we decided to drive along the northern coast to the far eastern tip where there is a lighthouse and the obligatory gift shop and cafĂ© where we had lunch. On the way back we stopped at a railway museum but Peter’s verdict – disappointing. We also had a day visiting the capital – pretty Charlottetown with a small but interesting city centre right by the harbour.

Of course we had to visit Green Gables. The series of books about Anne of Green Gables are loved worldwide, and the island attracts many tourists with ‘Anne’ themed attractions including TWO musicals in Charlottestown continually playing to devotees of the books AND a recreated version of the village of Avonlea. We just visited the house on which the books were based and it was actually the farmhouse of relatives of the author, LM Montgomery when she was growing up. 
Anne's Room
Her precise descriptions of the house, the immediate surroundings (the Haunted Wood and Lovers' Lane) fit perfectly, although the wider agricultural district has largely disappeared due to development. However a golf course now surrounds the few acres around the house so all seems still quite rural and exactly as the author described it in 1908 when the first book was published.

Prince Edward Island really is picture perfect and the descriptions of the countryside in the LM Montgomery books of early last century still ring true today. Just a very, very beautiful island – and we are not surprised it is much loved by its people.

We had absolutely gorgeous weather for our stay and it was only when we were leaving that the weather turned to rain and fogginess. We left via a ferry at the other end of the island and arrived an hour or so after sailing, in Nova Scotia.

This really did seem a little part of Scotland with buildings and landscape very similar to what we have seen in the lowlands of Scotland. We had several WW1 graves to photograph here (in Pictou) and although we found one reasonably easy, the other was not in St. James’ churchyard where it was listed to be. We eventually found the Pictou County Genealogy & Heritage Society in the town and had a lovely time there chatting with the volunteers who investigated and found out that there was another newer St. James’ cemetery just outside of town. Following their directions we easily found the right cemetery and soon photographed the sad but interesting headstone of AB Colin W Forward.

After an overnight stop we travelled to North Sydney to board a very large ferry for the 15 hour trip to Newfoundland. We embarked at 4.30pm for a scheduled 5.30pm departure, but due to hurricane winds in the Atlantic Ocean near Newfoundland, we didn’t leave port until 11.30pm. We had a lovely (but comfortable enough) six hour wait. 

As a result Peter has decided 'The Atlantic Vision' must be operated by ViaRail trains!