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Aspotogan, Nova Scotia wants to be famous

© By Pat Brennan
  It's called the Aspotogan Peninsula. It pokes out into the Atlantic Ocean to separate Mahone Bay from St. Margaret's Bay; two of the prettiest waterfront areas in Nova Scotia. Innkeeper, Rhys Harnish, hopes to make the name Aspotogan as well known to tourists as the Cabot Trail, the scenic road that circles Cape Breton Island. He claims the twisting, meandering road that traces the edge of the Aspotogan Peninsula offers more spectacular views, more quiet, postcard coves, more history, more ocean foods and more opportunities to meet the people who bring that food ashore, than does the famous Cabot Trail. And Harnish points out that this scenic drive is a mere 35 minutes south of Halifax
     Harnish and his wife Kim own the Dauphinee Inn in Hubbards. It is one of 11 different business operations on the peninsula that are kicking in to a promotional campaign to attract more visitors onto the peninsula. One of the problems facing the peninsula's tourism ambitions is that it has very popular neighbours. About 10 kilometres to the north, you find Peggy's Cove, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Atlantic Canada. Drive 15 kilometres south and you are in Lunenburg, one of only two UNESCO World Heritage communities in Canada (the other is Quebec City within the walls).
     Highway 3 carries thousands of cars, RVs, tour buses and motorcycles daily between these two unique and famous destinations, but it doesn't venture out onto the Aspotogan Peninsula that protrudes 10 kilometres out into the Atlantic. And that isolation is part of the charm of this peninsula. "We have smooth rocky shores just like at Peggy's Cove, but when you scamper over the rocks on Aspotogan you'll likely be alone," says Harnish. "At Peggy's Cove it's pretty hard to take a picture of the lighthouse without strangers in the shot. Yes, there are some people on Aspotogan who want us to keep quiet about the jewel we have here and we certainly don't want to see the traffic that our neighbours do," Harnish claims "but at the same time we also want to share the beauty we live with here with a few more people."

He and his co-sponsors of the tourism campaign rely on tourism to make a living. They have launched a web page called Ten Beaches because there are 10 separate sandy beaches along the rugged shore of the peninsula. There are also a handful of small fishing villages, each populated by a few dozen friendly people, happy to talk about their fishing heritage.
     The area is sometimes called Blandford Peninsula because the town of Blandford sits out near the point. It's the home of Canada's last whaling station, which closed in 1972 when Ottawa banned whale hunting. Now, the fishing village is home to numerous artists and the boutiques that display their creations.
     Hubbards Beach claims to be the finest of the 10 beaches on the peninsula, but Meisners Beach, the only one of the 10 facing onto Mahone Bay claims it has warmer water. Hubbards is groomed each day. It has a private access road, but that road is owned by Harnish and his family, and he says you are welcome anytime. The campground beside the beach is also owned by Harnish, as is the beautiful Dauphinee Inn overlooking Hubbards' Harbour. It's not just through hard work and saving that has acquired these lands for Harnish. His family sailed into the harbour in 1790 when it was pure wilderness.
     The English powers in Halifax were concerned about pesky French colonists from over on the Bay of Fundy coming to the Atlantic side and trying to introduce their version of civilization. So, the English governor in Halifax offered land grants to brave souls (read English and non-Catholic) who would venture out into the wilderness and build a log cabin. Harnish's ancestors did just that, and the family has been building things ever since. One of the structures Harnish's father built is the famous Shore Club, the last of the great dance halls of Nova Scotia.
     He built the hall in 1946 because the famous Harnish lobster suppers on the beach were often disrupted by rough weather. More than a million lobster suppers have been served in the hall and still are today from Wednesday to Sunday until Oct. 8. The prices, $25.22, $31.30 or $36.65 depend on the size of the lobster, but also includes unlimited fresh mussels, all-you-can-eat salad bar, potato salad and fresh berry shortcake.
     They still have big Saturday Night Dances at the Shore Club where little decor has changed since it was built. The club and the village stood in for three years as Black Harbour, a CBC drama series, and a variety of other movies have been filmed in the club. Rhys' son, Luke, will be happy to show you a photo with his arm around singer Mariah Carey, who filmed her movie Glitter at the Shore Club.
     The lobsters used to be boiled in a large copper pot taken from the U.S. Frigate, Chesapeake, which lost a hand-to-hand sea battle in St. Margaret's Bay with the British gunboat, Shannon, in 1813. The winning captain's description of that battle is on the Ten Beaches web page, and it could have been lifted by director and writer Peter Weir for the fight scenes in his Oscar-winning movie, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, with Russell Crow.
     That web page also contains a lot more information about Aspotogan Peninsula. Get there ahead of the crowds!

Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.

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Pat Brennan

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