Nova Scotia, Halifax to Sydney, and the Fortress of Louisbourg, July 21 to 23, 2008

6 12 2008

The Gloomy Fortress of Louisbourg

The Cabot Trail is probably the most revered area of Nova Scotia, in terms of beauty, but we saw none of it. This would have been more disappointing if we hadn’t been to the Gaspe Peninsula, which is often discussed as being comparable but less developed and in French, or if the weather had been less drizzly. The thing was we needed to be on a boat on July 23, so we just didn’t have time.

Wycocomagh Provincial Park

Wycocomagh Provincial Park

What we did have time for was the Fortress of Louisbourg. (We also did have time to spend the night in a very nice park: Wycocomagh Provincial Park, which seemed oddly empty). The next day, on our way to Louisbourg, we visited Lick-a-Chick, the roadside chicken stand famous for what should be an obvious reason. We went there not for chicken, but in the hopes that they would have merchandise, which they did. A lot of merchandise. Step bought a T-shirt AND a toque, (to, you know, support the cause and promote an activity we both like). I didn’t buy anything because I already get mistaken for a Lesbian too much of the time.

How can you not stop?

The Chicken is Really Just an Afterthought

The Fortress of Louisbourg was originally built by the French, but then the English got it, then the French got it back, then the English got it. I guess the Canadians ended up with it in the end, but by then it had been completely razed by, I think, the English so there wasn’t actually any fortress left. When the cod fishery collapsed in the ‘90’s, the Nova Scotian government decided to recreate the Fortress with the original plans which they got from France, and make a “living museum” with people there wearing period costumes and living accurately the lives of people of the past. So they retrained the out-of-employment fishery workers new skills, and now they will always be able to find work as blacksmiths and musket wielding soldier guards and never have to be out of work again. Anyway, it was a huge fortress and only parts of it have been rebuilt, but more than enough to get the idea, and actually so much that it is the largest historic reconstruction in North America, and when you visit you can wander around at will and check out different stuff.

Vocational Rehab the Nova Scotia Way

Vocational Rehab the Nova Scotian Way

A Middle Class Lunch of the 16th Century Kind

A Middle Class Lunch of the 18th Century Kind

At Louisbourg there are bakeries and 3 different restaurants you can dine at; an inn for the wealthy with cutlery and roast beef and stuff; a middle class inn with a set menu where you just get one big pewter spoon and a giant linen napkin to eat with; and a lower class eatery where you get a hunk of bread and maybe some cheese. We ate at the middle class inn, and had some pea soup, fried cod and turnips and carrots. We also got slices of the 3 different classes of bread, getting coarser as the economic condition of the class went downwards. Lunch was quite good. I was thrilled to receive carrots and turnips, as this is a combination I have only eaten at Christmas and Thanksgiving in the past. (Ha! Little did I know that carrot and turnips are standard fare of the east coast, tiresomely so, and by the time we headed west again almost all I could think about was having some fresh broccoli). Alas, while the food, décor and service were faithful to the 18th century, the prices were 2008 all the way, but still reasonable. Which was just as well, I suppose, as we had no Gold Louise or Playing Cards to pay the bill with, anyway.

View from the Battlement

View from the Battlement

The stories of Louisbourg were quite interesting. We commented on the dreary foggy and damp weather, and were informed this weather was one of the main reasons that the French had chosen the location for the fortress, since the British would have a hard time finding it in the gloom. There were a couple of reasons the French kept losing the fortress to the British. One was because they heavily armed and guarded the side facing the sea, but left the land facing side almost totally open, so of course the British attacked by land. How did the British know that land was the bigger-than-life Achilles heel of Louisbourg? Because captured British Officers were free to keep their swords and wander the fortress by day, having only to report to their cells at night, so when they were traded back to the British in exchange for French prisoners they had loads of tactical information to report to their officers. Yes, the French’s other downfall was giving their enemies with too much dignity.

The Governor's Wooden Pony

The Governor's Wooden Pony

I asked one of the soldiers why there was a pointy backed wooden horse on the yard of the Governor’s Mansion and she (she! Not exactly historically accurate, but this really is 2008) told me when soldiers went bad their hands were tied behind their backs and they were made to sit in this wooden pony for an allotted amount of punishment time. Ah, the Sado-Masochism of the frontier times.

Of course we had arrived quite late and caught one of the last shuttles back to the interpretive centre, where we were parked. Our next task was to drive to North Sydney, where we would catch an early morning ferry to Argentia, Newfoundland. It wasn’t that far and we were in the opposite of a hurry, so we drove in a pokey manner, and on the way we went through Sydney, home of North Americas largest most toxic tar pit. I would have actually liked to see this tar pit, but we didn’t know how or where (there’s not exactly a lot of signage directing you to the toxic sludge pool) and it was darkish. We filled up on propane, (the first east coast place I heard with my own ears someone saying “Wha?”), and then spent a good hour looking for the Legion, where we imagined there might be karaoke or something else good. It started raining like crazy, and we never found the Legion. Eventually we parked in a supermarket parking lot and fried a dinner of sausage and fresh green peas bought in Wolfville. We were trying to get to the ferry terminal late enough that we could sleep in the van while we waited for the ferry. We did get there around 11ish, but there were ferries ahead of ours and the lots were full until after 1. Thankfully, a very nice employee told us about a nearby wee lot where we could “park” while we were “waiting”, and we went there and spent the night.

The ferry terminal near Sydney, I would like to say, is quite nice, with TV lounges, a bar, a cafeteria, and free showers in the washroom for the dusty traveler.

A 300 Year Old Man Hangs Out His Window

A 300 Year Old Man Hangs Out His Window

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Nova Scotia, Halifax, July 19 to 21, 2008

18 11 2008

The Historic Properties of Halifax

The Historic Properties of Halifax

Sue and John were on a fishing trip with their kids, but they had left a key for us and they had a nice flat driveway for the Boogie Bus. We changed into clothes a little nicer and went downtown to meet an old friend of Step’s, Micheal, and his fiance Kim, for Saturday night in Halifax.

The rumours are all true: Halifax sure likes to party. We met them at a kind of yuppie tapas-like bar called Mosaic which looked good and was crowded, but had terrible service. Kim kept saying the bathrooms were really nice, and when I finally used one it was nice, with little square tiles and a glass sink, but nothing to write home about. When I later saw the bathrooms at the dance club we went to, Reflections Cabaret, I thought maybe it was all relative, because in their bathroom the floor was actually muddy, there was no way you wouldn’t have to squat, and the cold water taps had been removed I guess because of so many people doing E and only drinking water so they could at least have to buy it. Step’s beer was cheap but my soda water was 4 dollars. I don’t mean to be down on Reflections Cabaret—I hardly ever go to dance clubs so as far as I know those are standard conditions. The people were nice and the music was good, and I enjoyed their dress code which was only “No Sports Jerseys”. I also enjoyed hanging out with Michael and Kim—good peops who like a good party night.

Painting on display at the Wooden Monkey

Painting on display at the Wooden Monkey

Halifax downtown was super-hopping, with tons of people on the streets. All the girls were really dressed up so I was glad I had taken off my T-Shirt and put on a dress, at least (I find it hard to drum up an interest in “girl” clothes). At around 3 in the morning we went to a “pizza” place and got some Halifax donairs, then a cab. We got a cab pretty quickly, which it turned out was beginner’s luck, because there is a big shortage of cab licenses in Halifax, just like Vancouver, and their bus system isn’t that good either, just like Vancouver. Get it together, Canadian port cities! In these days of eco-concern, why have the best option be driving your car? At least in Vancouver you can ride a bike but Halifax has extreme hills.

The Sue and John Family relax at Home

The Sue and John Family relax at Home

The next day the Sue and John family came home and we hung out a bit, then Step and I went back downtown and ate at the Wooden Monkey, which is one of those restaurants which focus on local suppliers and bio-dynamically farmed foods. It’s always the same story: doubt that such a business is viable, then having it be a huge success because, it turns out, people want to eat local and seasonal. I had a lamb burger with goat cheese with mint in it. It was really good and I will someday try minting some goat cheese at home.

Afterwards we went to Ginger’s Tavern, because every Sunday they have an improv group “Picnicface”. I have really seen an inordinate amount of improv in Vancouver, and have gotten Step interested in it, as well, and so we are always keen to see what’s going on in other towns. It happened that this night YTV had sent a scout so the usual night had been turned into a “showcase” with a few stand-ups and visiting improv troupes. It was really busy but some two guy shared their table with us so we didn’t have to stand in the aisle. Step bought them a beer and one of them was bowled over by this because the beer cost 6 dollars. Ha! He would be distraught to drink in Vancouver. Anyway, most of the entertainment was good, very good; we love Picnicface!

When we got back to Sue and John’s Sue was up and had a bunch of bottles of Russian vodka with different flavours for us to try. I could only have sips but I liked the birch one.

Nostalgia Viarreggio by Lindsay Hicks

Nostalgia Viarreggio by Lindsay Hicks

The next day we went downtown and explored the waterfront a bit. We checked out Argyle Fine Arts who had a show of paintings on vinyl records. We’re not really souvenir buying types and hadn’t bought much across Canada so we didn’t feel guilty when we bought 2. One was a “break-out” painting by Lindsay Hicks, who apparently usually sells seascapes and the like by the boardwalk, and the other was a collaboration by Mary Kim and Yang Hong. Yang Hong is from Vancouver. Ironic!

TV and Nintendo Set by Blythe Church

TV and Nintendo Set by Blythe Church

Another thing we liked was a felt Nintendo Entertainment System with Mario and Duck Hunt by Blythe Church. I am a Nintendo enthusiast and we were recently given an NES by our friend Daniel (thanks, Daniel!). We couldn’t buy Blythe Church’s felt version because it cost too much for us, but we enjoyed seeing it. There was a bunch of other stuff by Blythe Church, like felt guitars and dolls. The lady working at the gallery told us Blythe Church was about to be featured on Martha Stewart (or was it Oprah?), so that should be a good break for them.

Painted on the HMS Sackville

Painted on the HMCS Sackville

While at the harbour we also toured the HMCS Sackville, the last remaining of a kind of ship called a Corvette that was used as a submarine bomber in the 2nd World War. Step used to be really interested in war machinery and military stuff when he was a kid, until he understood what terrible results that were got from using them, but he still has residual interest because whenever we saw anything of military historical interest he always gives it a good look.

We went by Strange Adventures, the comic book store, and they had a good selection of stuff but sadly the staff had the poor social skills often associated with comic book sellers (and they weren’t even the owner—just the apprentice). I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the inside of the store, I guess in case I was planning to replicate the store exactly at a rival comic book store across the street, but I did take a picture of the awesome mural on the outside, featuring Buddy Bradley and Mr. Natural. To be honest, I still stealthily took pictures inside, but since I wasn’t allowed to I won’t post them here. I also bought a Big Book of Scandals because it’s gossipy, and took a free comic book day Simpson’s Comic because Ian Boothby wrote it.

Continuing the Long-Standing Tradition of Combining Fine Comix with Dysfunctional Customer Relations

Strange Adventures: Continuing the Long-Standing Tradition of Combining Fine Comix with Dysfunctional Customer Relations

Then we visited the Propeller Brewery for Step’s supply of local microbrew (he can’t know his favourite until he tries every one), where Laura’s future husband works, and then it was time to roll out.

Target by Mary Kim and Yang Hong

Target by Mary Kim and Yang Hong





Nova Scotia, Lunenburg and Peggy’s Cove, July 19, 2008

29 10 2008

Twilight at Peggy’s Cove

Streets of Ludenburg

In our trajectory was Lunenburg. The British had this plan they used for towns they made, which was a grid with a few irregular features and many towns were built that way but Lunenburg is the only one still laid out that way, and most of her buildings still have their historical integrity. If you’ve ever heard of a “Lunenburg Bump”, it is a second story 5 sided bay window seen a lot in the town. Lunenburg is also home of the famous Magnolia’s Grill. We had to wait around half an hour for a table but it was well worth it. Step had an appetizer of pickled herring, sour cream and crackers (surprisingly good!) and I had spicy peanut soup. Then Step had some pasta with mussels and I ordered the pan fried scallops with rhubarb chutney. I wouldn’t consider 10 gigantic scallops a normal or reasonable portion, but they were so good I managed to eat the whole thing. Too bad, because the desserts looked great, too.

Magnolia Diner

Magnolia’s Grill

Peggy's Cove

Peggy’s Cove

The drive from Lunenburg to Halifax is super-beautiful scenic, especially on a sunny summer’s evening. You really can’t go to Nova Scotia and not go to Peggy’s Cove. Peggy’s Cove is famous for it’s small picturesque fishing village and it’s extreme rocky but smooth shore with a lighthouse on it. At first I was a little disappointed we were getting there at twilight, but it turned out to be a rather magical time to see it, and many pictures were snapped by us. When it got so dark we had to leave we drove the remaining 45 minutes to Halifax.

A Scenic Drive

A Scenic Drive





Nova Scotia, Pictou, Grand Pre, and Wolfville, July 18 and 19, 2008

23 10 2008

The Hector

The ferry from Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia is only about 75 minutes long but never-the-less action packed, with a cafeteria where snacks such as chips and gravy can be had, a Cows store (they’re everywhere in those parts!) and a lounge with a live Celtic music act (also everywhere in those parts). We enjoyed a burger, and a milkshake from Cows, and some live music.

Marcel and Angela were Step’s ex-next-door neighbours who had moved from Vancouver to Grand Pre (extreme moving action!) and Marcel had said we should stop by Pictou on our way over because that was where the first Scottish settlers had landed, so we did. Pictou is a charming seaside village with tartan banners everywhere. The big historical project of Pictou is recreating the good ship Hector, the boat which carried said immigrants over, with as much accuracy of detail as possible. We paid a nominal fee to go into the interpretation centre where we learned of the terrible conditions these people suffered, as well as the oppressive circumstances (caused by the British, mainly) which prompted them to emigrate.

The Disturbing Passenger Quarters of the Hector

The Disturbing Passenger Quarters of the Hector

So anyway, these people were promised a lot and paid what was actually quite a low price to go across the Atlantic in this little wooden ship with incredibly cramped quarters that had buckets for #1 and #2, and vomit and whatever else vile body fluids come out of man, being fed mouldy oatcakes and salt meat all the way. At first the people threw the mouldy oatcakes at the crew, but one foresightful emigrant gathered them up and saved them, which the rest were grateful for later in the trip when they were otherwise starving. One guy, John MacKay, had a bagpipe. He had been jailed in Scotland for rescuing some barrels of whiskey which the British police had confiscated, a mission which to his mind was quite noble, and later in jail had befriended the guard. One day when the guard had returned with beer and whiskey he had bought for them, the Scotsman slipped past him at the door of the cell, and locked the guard in. (The key, or what is believed to be the key, of the cell is kept as a precious historical artifact and is depicted on many of the displays in the interpretive centre). The Scotsman then showed up at the Hector, and though he had no passage the other passengers all chipped in to pay for him because they thought the bagpipe playing might cheer them up on the sea.

Many of the emigrants got sick at sea and died. The Hector ran into rough waters near Newfoundland, and landed in Nova Scotia weeks later than scheduled, all out of provisions, even water! All there was to eat was salt meat, which is not at all nice to eat when you have no water. Furthermore, when they landed they saw that while there were a lot of fish in the sea, they would have no access to them, as their allotted land was inland from the coast and this land was not farmland, as they had been promised, but covered in bushes and trees. And so they had not enough resources and time to prepare for winter in Nova Scotia and a lot of them died. It seemed a bit of a rip-off. Some of them did survive though, so they are the founding Scottish of Nova Scotia.

At the interpretive centre the terrible stench of the ship was mentioned many times, and when we boarded the reproduction of the Hector it had a bad smell and no one even lived on it, so it must have been really horrid for those people. Also, the hold they lived in looked just like a Nazi concentration camp and was just as crowded as one and I found the whole experience rather nauseating, and felt sick for some time after. I’m still glad I went, though, and would go again even knowing how it would be.

One cool thing was that the interpretive centre had a resident artist! David MacIntosh works full time during the summer painting scenes of life on the Hector and early Nova Scotia. Another cool thing I learned there is that the official animal of Scotland is the Unicorn!

Jeremiah Calkin House

Jeremiah Calkin House

Artist Rendering by George Walford

Then we drove to Grand Pre to visit the Marcel and Angela family. As I mentioned, Marcel and Angela had been Step’s next door neighbour when he lived in Koos Corner, but after the arrival of their second daughter they needed a bigger place. Marcel had grown up in Nova Scotia, and had often admired the refurbished 1768 Jeremiah Calkin House in Grand Pre, and when it came up for sale they bought it. The house is kind of cool. They have been restoring it further and discovered a large walk in fire place in the family room which had been plastered over at some point. It even has a big iron bar on hinges you can hang cooking cauldrons and the like from to cook foods, which they never do. Angela is a landscape architect and even though they’ve only been living there for a year there are nice gardens all around it.

Lining up for Uberfresh Produce

Lining up for Uberfresh Produce at Wolfville Farmers' Market

Marcel and Angela barbecued some steaks and we made them Prince Edward vodka martinis and after dinner had a large campfire in the back. The next morning we all went into Wolfville because there is a popular farmers’ market there. In Grand Pre is Just Us Coffee, the very first Canadian company to roast fair trade organic coffee. They were not represented at the farmer’s market, but we got some other fair trade organic coffee, and some vegetables and stuff. I was surprised to see a couple of vineyards represented, not only because I’ve never seen alcoholic products for sale at a farmers’ market before, but because I had no idea Nova Scotia grew grapes. I enjoyed Domaine Grand Pre vineyard’s flyer, which showed a field of grapevines and said “See All This Beauty Crushed”. The farmers market also had live entertainment. Instead of celtic music, the band was doing covers of the Kinks and the Jam and stuff, which I liked.

After that we worked on our awning project some more, and headed out in the early afternoon. We drove straight across the province, towards Halifax.

Working on the Awning Project

Working on the Awning Project