Trivia question: what's three hours west of Halifax, one hour from the Digby-Saint John ferry? Non-trivial answer: Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; and please note that they are celebrating their 250th birthday!
Yarmouth County is deceptive, an unassuming crop of lake-embroidered land (365 lakes and several major inland rivers) with a rocky ridge that tails into the sea; however, the plaintiff cry of gull and melodic waves will lull one like a sorceress, massaging tense muscle and attitude, such that you abandon shoes and socks and dabble in the liquid balm that gently laps enchanting shores.
Yarmouth's rich heritage involves native
Mi'kmaq dating back 10,000 years, the Viking, Leif Ericson, who "may" have stopped by in 1007 apparently to carve a message into a big stone (displayed in the local museum), the French in the early 1600s following Champlain's visit in 1604 (he named it Cape Fourchu), and finally the British via Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the late 1750s before the American Revolution. In 1761, voila - the Township of Yarmouth was born! Acadians returned from exile in 1767, and United Empire Loyalists arrived in 1785. The mix resembles a bowl of Bouillabaisse soup, and you will encounter more people here named Cook and d'Entremont (with unique Acadian accent) more than anywhere else on earth!
I stroll along
Water St. by the harbour's edge to learn how locals make a living - from fishing industries, tourism, retail and myriad commercial enterprises. In 1761, Yarmouth was established as a world-class shipbuilding port, and along Main Street, I encounter turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture and mansions once owned by captains and ship owners. There are gift shops, clothing stores, banks and restaurants. The heritage district boasts the famous "painted ladies," stately homes with unique histories, including the Lovitt House, the Charles C. Richards House, the Pelton-Fuller House, and others. On Collins Street, I learn more about the town's rich shipbuilding and sea-faring past at the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives, the largest non-institutional archives in the province.
The 23-meters tall
Cape Forchu Lighthouse is a harbour landmark, wonderful for photography and features a museum, tea room (with amazing cold lobster sandwiches), walking trails, picnic area and a shop. The two-million candlepower beam is visible over 30 nautical miles out to sea. This is the location for "dumping day" - the annual lobster boat sail before sunrise at the end of November that starts the season in the world's largest fishing grounds and Canada's largest lobster catch. The
Stanley Lobster Company, run by affable brothers Ernie and Brian Williams, is essentially a lobster storage operation or "pound," and you can see how to store and cook lobsters, and/or buy a full lobster dinner right there on the rocky beach overlooking the Bay of Fundy!
Driving south to Chebogue, I delight in purple lupine flowers erect upon green grass. The ragged edge of rocky shore transforms relentless waves into plumes of white spray as I deeply inhale the crisp, invigorating air. For a treat, I play the Serendipity Game. Take every side road and see where it takes you. I discover inviting dairy farms, wharves, historic churches and cemeteries where ancestors are buried.
Eastward, I repeat the pattern at each peninsula that I encounter - like Alice in enchanting Wonderland. Villages like Pinkney's Point and Pubnico are nestled close to rivers, piers, beaches and islands. Pinkney's Point is reached by a 2 km stretch of road winding through expansive salt water marshes. Great birding here: many migratory birds along the shore, in ponds and in the salt marshes. Pubnico was founded in 1653 by Philippe d'Entremont, the oldest maintained
Acadian community, most residents the descendants of the founder. West Pubnico is one of the top fishing ports in Nova Scotia, and it's home to 15 fish processing companies. Here, I sample tasty "rappie pie" the traditional Acadian dish made from grated potatoes or patates râpées, hence "rappie" pie.
The Acadian fishing community of Wedgeport was once known as the
Sport Tuna Fishing Capital of the World. It attracted VIP's such as Babe Ruth, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway to the
World Tuna Cup Match, and their pictures grace the walls of the Tuna Museum.
From Yarmouth, head north along the coastal roads to encounter different terrain - long ocean views mixed with rolling drumlins. A terrific beach at Port Maitland is home to Nova Scotia's Provincial Park, Port Maitland Beach, a popular spot for family BBQs, surfing, sun and sand. Stretching 1 km, it's a favourite for artists and photographers. Take your rod and reel to the wharf where locals catch flounder, mackerel and pollock.
In Yarmouth, the best moments coincide with light. From any vantage point, you encounter the most magical sunrises and sunsets in all of Canada. Come here and share 250 years of history, French flair and fabulous food - no wait, about 10,000 years of history, English pragmatism, Mi'kmaq ingenuity and French flair - all enveloped in an experience that has been shaped by the sea.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.