Nova Scotia. New Scotland. The Maritimes. Atlantic Canada. Sea air and people who truly are the salt of the earth. Home to Alexander Keiths, donairs, deep-fried pickles and deep-fried anything for that matter. The breathtaking Cape Breton National Park. The provincial capital, Halifax, steeped in history and one of the oldest cities in North America. In years past the arrival point for hundreds of thousands of immigrants and also the birthplace of Canada’s hockey-playing, USA-beating, Tim Horton’s-advertising favorite son, Sidney Crosby. Windsor, N.S. – the birthplace of the sport itself! What more could you want from a weekend getaway? Here are 10 must-sees for any visit to the beautiful province.
1. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Halifax was vital to the British Navy during the War of 1812 with the United States. A multitude of books have been written on the subject but a good place to start for an insight into the importance of Nova Scotia’s naval history is the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, aptly situated on the waterfront of Halifax harbor. Here you will find exhibits on the devastating Halifax explosion of 1917 which decimated a significant part of the harbor and claimed an estimated 2000 lives; the CSS Acadia – the only ship to survive the explosion and both World Wars; a look into piracy, smuggling and why there are 10, 000 or more shipwrecks lying off the coast of Nova Scotia and how they are preserved today. Of particular interest to many will be the Titanic exhibition, which details the role the city played in rescuing, recovering, identifying and burying those who perished in the disaster. Also worth visiting is the Fairview Cemetery, where over 100 victims of the Titanic were laid to rest.
2. Pier 21
Halifax was where many Canadian immigrants took their first steps on what would become their new home soil. Between 1928 and 1971 Pier 21 served as an ocean liner terminal and became known as the ‘Gateway to Canada’, welcoming 1.5 million to the country during that time. On Canada Day (1st July) 1999 it opened as a museum to commemorate the history of the building and those that passed through its doors. Detailed information and personal testimonials make for an interesting, and very moving, insight into a significant piece of the history of this city.
When on a strenuous sightseeing tour of a city its important to take the weight off and refresh yourself with a beverage as frequently as possible. Across the road from the museum is the Garrison Brewery – an independent micro-brewery that makes delicious craft beer with all-natural ingredients. Beer the way it should be. Drop in for a pint or a selection of tasters. Alexander Keith’s, perhaps Nova Scotia’s most famous export, is brewed only a short walk away along the waterfront. The Propeller Brewing Company, who are proudly the best-selling microbrewery in Nova Scotia, isn’t too much further so you might as well make an afternoon of it!
4. Citadel Hill and Fort George
Occupying a large green space right in the heart of the city is Halifax’s Citadel Hill and Fort George – named after King George II of Great Britain. From the waterfront it is quite a hike up to the top of this hill, especially after a few brewery tours, but well worth the effort as the views from the top are quite something. British forces built the fortifications in 1749 to defend the city from French, Acadian and Mi’kmaq aggression and they continue to stand watch over the city and harbour today. The site is now operated by Parks Canada – guards in full uniform and bearskin hats, others in period costume, men in kilts playing bagpipes and guided tours by the knowledgeable staff make this a must for any visit.
5. Driving (and Kayaking) the South Shore
There’s a lot more to Nova Scotia than its one (relatively) big city and you’d be missing out if you didn’t get in the car and explore. Views like the one below come thick and fast. Driving the winding coastal road and admiring the beautiful scenery along the way is worth taking your time over. Another option is to take to the water for some sea kayaking. Strenuous, yes, but extremely rewarding. Either way, make sure you have plenty of room on your camera. The flora, fauna and wildlife are abundant.
6. Peggy’s Cove
Less than an hours drive from Halifax is Peggy’s Cove. Beginning life as a quiet fishing community, it now draws many tourists due to its famous lighthouse. Built in 1915, it is one of 160 historic lighthouses in the province that over hundreds of years have helped protect its rocky, treacherous coastline. Colorful houses perched over the water, fishing vessels and nets, salty sea air and the roar of Atlantic waves crashing against the rocks make this a uniquely East Coast experience.
7. Mahone Bay
Continuing south east down the shore you will come to Mahone Bay and then Lunenburg. The former was a center for wooden boat building in years past but is most well known for the three churches that sit on the waterfront, as well as boutique shops and cafés. The image below adorns postcards, paintings and has come to be one of the most iconic images of Nova Scotia.
Like so much of the province, Lunenburg was the site of tensions between the colonial British forces and the Acadian and native Mi’kmaq people. In 1753 Protestantism was forced upon the indigenous Catholic population, leading to raids and retribution against the foreign invaders which ultimately were futile. The town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 and remains the best example of a British colonial settlement in Canada.
9. Ironworks Distillery
Whilst some shipbuilding remains in the town of Lunenburg, and the Bluenose II is moored there, its economy relies primarily on tourism. Were it not for the torrential rain that was pouring down when we arrived, we would have explored the historic streets on foot as many do. Instead, we took shelter at the Ironworks Distillery for a look around, and for a taster or two of course. Vodka made with Annapolis valley apples, a raspberry liqueur and many more will put some fire in your belly if its a damp, rainy day.
10. Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail
Last but certainly not least is Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail. Separated from ‘mainland’ Nova Scotia by the narrow Canso Strait, you must drive over a causeway to gain access to the island. The picture below was taken whilst out hiking on the Cabot Trail – named after John Cabot who reportedly visited the island in 1497. Located in the beautiful Cape Breton National Park at the north of the island, stunning highland coastline, headlands that jut out into the Atlantic, wide plateaus, rich forests and incredible wildlife await you – you may even find yourself face to face with a moose, as this author did. Truly, a once in a lifetime experience. Whoever said you had to go out west to the Rockies for breathtaking scenery? Drive the coastal road, camp, hike – but whatever you do, make sure to take a good camera and your binoculars. This hidden gem at Nova Scotia’s northernmost point has all you need.
This article is a guest post by Behind The Seens