Categorized | Features, Take a Trip

Nova Scotia, where the handiworks of Mother Nature are found

Visitors at First Nation event

Photo: Visitors at First Nation event



By Victor Block

At a wilderness area of rolling hills and waterways in Nova Scotia, Canada, the story of the people who lived there 4,000 years ago is told in periodic drumming demonstrations, birch bark canoe building and other activities.

The scene is very different in a nearby village, where a number of its French-speaking residents are descendants of the man who founded the community in 1653, and restaurants serve food that would be at home in Paris.

Shelburne County Museum

Shelburne County Museum

Many visitors are drawn to Nova Scotia by the magnificent handiworks of Mother Nature, which are everywhere. The famous Cabot Trail highway winds along the rugged Atlantic coastline, which is pocked by inlets and bays that are overlooked by tiny fishing villages. The interior changes from forests to low hills to lake settings.

And that’s just for starters. Visitors also are immersed in a tableau of fascinating history and an intriguing mix of cultures.

The story begins with the 4,000-year history of the Mi’kmaq people. Some of their ancestors still live around the village of Bear River. At the Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site, petroglyph rock carvings serve as reminders of their presence and visitors hike ancient paths past former encampment areas and paddle along Mi’kmaq canoe routes.

Battle for Control

The first recorded exploration in 1497 by a European, John Cabot of England, was followed by the efforts of French explorers to establish colonies and later by settlers from Scotland. The 17th and early 18th centuries were marked by armed conflict between England and France over control of the territory, which finally reverted to Great Britain.

Other influences were added to the mix, each bringing new traditions and cultural touches. Some people who lived in the American colonies and remained loyal to the British Crown were forced to leave during the Revolution and fled to the area, where they were greeted as United Empire Loyalists. Among them were Black Loyalists whose descendants still reside in several communities in Nova Scotia.

Acadian house, Historic Gardens

Acadian house, Historic Gardens

Opportunities abound to experience each culture. A center of Acadian life is found in villages overlooking St. Mary’s Bay. French is the predominant language and the Acadian flag adorns many houses. At the Historic Village in West Pubnico, costumed interpreters provide an in-depth introduction to the area and its many stories.

The most famous driving route, among a number of choices, is the Evangeline Trail. It snakes along the western coast of Nova Scotia, passing through varied landscapes and some of North America’s earliest European history. It leads past forts and fishing villages, through the scenic farmlands of the Annapolis Valley and by the Bay of Fundy, which is famous for having the highest tides in the world, recorded to rise as much as 54 feet.

Boats at low tide

Boats at low tide

Adventurous souls may opt for a unique tidal bore rafting experience, riding a crest of water created when the incoming tide meets the river outflow to generate 13-foot high waves. During low tide, locals venture out on the exposed mud flats to gather clams for that evening’s dinner.

Clams, along with a variety of other seafood, make Nova Scotia the leading fishing province in Canada, but it’s another mollusk for which it’s best known. The town of Digby lays claim to the title “Scallop capital of the world” because it is home to a large scallop fishing fleet — and for the outstanding flavor of their haul.

Scallops Every Which Way

Not surprisingly, many restaurant menus include Digby scallops in some form. Among ways I saw them prepared were pan seared, fried, grilled, encased in prosciutto, wrapped in bacon, on pizza, in salad and swimming in chowder.

Road sign near Digby

Road sign near Digby

Other towns in southern Nova Scotia have their own claims to fame. Yarmouth long has been associated with fishing and that tradition continues. A walking tour leads past elaborate homes that were built by ship owners and captains during the late 19th century, when the town’s prosperity reached its peak.

If you can find time to spend a day to stroll through the centuries in Annapolis Royal, do it. The French established the first permanent European settlement in 1604, then the colony changed hands a number of times as the French and English battled for control of the area. After the final victory by England in 1710, it was named Annapolis Royal in honor of Queen Anne.

St. George Street in the middle of town is lined by buildings that represent three centuries. Among the oldest are a wooden house constructed in 1708 by a French officer and the 1710 home of a silversmith which later served as an inn and today houses a small museum.

Fort Anne officers quarters

Fort Anne officers quarters

Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal occupies one of the most hotly contested pieces of land in North America. Several forts were erected on the site beginning in 1629 and the fortress that stands today was built by the British. Visitors may walk the earthen walls that date back to 1702, explore a gunpowder magazine and check out the British field officers quarters, which houses an interesting museum.

Gothic Revival home Yarmouth (2)

Gothic Revival home Yarmouth

A very different setting is encountered nearby at the impressive Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens. It encompasses over four centuries of horticultural history, including areas devoted to Mi’kmaq, early Acadian and 17th century English gardening practices and designs. A replica of a 17th-century Acadian home overlooks salt marshes and the dykes that were constructed by farmers to transform them into arable land.

A peek back at the lives of French-speaking settlers is one among many stories that bring the history of Nova Scotia to life. They combine with the area’s colorful cultures and magnificent scenery to offer something-for-everyone variety.

For information about visiting Nova Scotia, call (800) 565-0000 or log onto

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