With a glorious coastline that to the east is protected by a series of barrier islands, and with the rich fruit-growing area of the Annapolis Valley well-matched by cultural and historical attractions and traditions, “New Scotland” is a must-see. Its capital, Halifax, is a welcoming city that’s increasingly renowned for its artsy scene.
Take a peek in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to see the Maud Lewis exhibition. She was an artist who painted in the naive tradition, creating colourful images of oxen and horses pulling wagons through to her famous golden-eyed black cats.
Just west of Halifax is where you’ll find astonishing Peggy’s Cove. What I thought would simply be a “tourist trap” proved to be a place of great natural beauty boasting not only perhaps the most-photographed lighthouse in Canada, but also a traditional fishing village.
Here buy yourself an example of an authentic Atlantic Canada craft, a whirlygig. These fanciful wooden carvings of creatures or of fishermen paddling boats, spin and whirl on the wind and make lovely garden ornaments.
World-class sites? Here are my three must-see places to visit in Nova Scotia.
1-Hooked Rug Museum of North America, Nova Scotia’s Southern Shore
A surprising addition to my list? Not really, if you’re a culture vulture like me. The so-called “comfortable arts” of sewing, making hooked rugs and other such traditional artisanal crafts are not as recognized as other art forms. Enter the indomitable Suzanne Conrod, a hooked rug aficionado and passionate collector who decided to start collecting these rare handmade rugs. She and her late husband worked hard to found and open this museum and in 2013 their dream came true.
Entering this space is to step inside a world of extraordinary if utilitarian beauty. Hooked rugs were indeed a much-required and often, little-admired household item. Instead of being prized, they were considered necessary items to keep settler’s earthen floors cleaner – and warmer throughout Canada’s long, harsh winter months. The reason, Conrod says, that heritage rugs are so uncommon is that they wore out. Or, she noted, “Thrown out when new-fangled linoleum arrived on the scene.”
Visit and be amazed by Conrod’s stunning collection of old and contemporary works.
2-Lunenburg, Nova Scotia’s Southern Shore
Established in 1753, Lunenburg was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is the best surviving example of a planned British colonial village in North America. Soon after its settlement, it became a shipbuilding centre for the Maritimes. Nowadays, 70 per cent of the original 17th and 18th century buildings are still extant, meaning the streets of the old village exhibit a genuine historical ambiance.
Today, old-town Lunenburg is one of the most colourful villages I’ve had the pleasure to wander. Scarlet-hued, white-trimmed wooden buildings line the harbour, making a fitting historical backdrop to tall ships such as a replica of Canada’s famed schooner, the Bluenose. Built as a fishing and racing schooner in 1921, the original ship was never beaten when it raced on the international circuit. Today Bluenose II joins other ships jostling merrily at their moorings in the harbour.
The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic furthers this heritage feeling. Here we learn about the history of fishing and seafaring on the Atlantic, particularly while touring several vessels moored on the wharf, or by watching films in the museum’s theatre.
3-Wild Barrier Islands, Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore
Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is home to a rainforest and an archipelago of 100 wild barrier islands which are now a part of a substantive, pristine Nature Trust legacy project. (Barrier islands are offshore islands which shelter a mainland’s otherwise exposed shore.)
I first heard about these islands during a trip with Coastal Adventures, while kayaking one gloriously sunny afternoon. Owner-operator Dr. Scott Cunningham led our group of 8 kayakers through this largely untouched habitat, showing us fascinating Mi’kmaq (First Nation) middens. Essentially, these are “garbage dumps” left by early peoples, which represent a fascinating treasure trove to today’s archaeologists.
As we paddled the protected inner channel we saw osprey, bald eagles, seals and other wildlife. Although I’ve not yet returned to experience any of them, Cunningham leads one-to-many-day kayak-camping expeditions. World class? Yes, because this pristine environment is a lesser-known, fascinating maritime environment that’s an exciting destination for paddling enthusiasts.
Katharine Fletcher is a book author and freelance author who lives in Quebec but has a soft spot for Atlantic Canada.
Discover Nova Scotia
Meet the people and discover the best of Atlantic culture in St John’s.