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Travel and Tourism

Nova scotia: Charm of an Atlantic port

Ivan Man Dy - The Philippine Star

Lighthouses, lobsters and the romance of the Atlantic Ocean – these what usually draw tourists to Canada’s Nova Scotia province. And for good reason, I found out as I arrived one late spring day at Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport – the first thing that greeted me was a cheery stall selling the bright red crustaceans. Indeed, Nova Scotia can lay claim to being the largest lobster region in Canada but as I discovered over a weekend stay, this province offers a merry mix of maritime delights.

My introduction began in the provincial capital of Halifax, a fascinating hilly city with a harbor that carries the same name. From its foundation in 1749, Halifax’s development has always been tied to the sea. At the charming waterfront, the bustle of downtown comes alive at a three-kilometer stretch of museums, tourist shops, food stalls, restaurants, hotels and the city’s main ferry terminal. This area has been a center of trade since the 19th century and that tradition lives on at the Historic Properties, a collection of period stone and timber-frame structures originally built as warehouses but today have been repurposed as modern retail outlets. 

At the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax’s history with the sea is chronicled through a fascinating exhibit of boat crafts and models as well as a stirring exhibition of the Halifax maritime disaster of 1917, considered the largest man-made explosion prior to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a port city, Halifax was the entry point of over a million European immigrants who crossed over from the Atlantic in first half of the 20th century. Almost all were processed at the city’s Pier 21 building, which has fittingly been transformed into the splendid Canadian Museum of Immigration at the southern end of the waterfront.

To fully appreciate Halifax’s military history, we head up to the Citadel National Historic Site, the highest point of the city. Overlooking the downtown area, this imposing star-shaped fortress commanded a strategic view of what was billed as the world’s second largest natural harbor. From this vantage, colonial English settlers built this formidable defense structure in 1826 to guard British military interests during the early days of Canada’s colonial period. On the day of our visit, university students in period Scottish-inspired kilted wear representing the 78th Highlanders regiment came out in full force to greet enthusiasts who explored the maze of tunnels and powder magazines as well as demonstrate a round of ear-splitting musket drills.

Titanic tales

A dark but unusually popular part the Halifax experience is visiting the sites associated  with the 20th century’s most famous maritime tragedy, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Titanic-related sites are veritable destinations unto themselves and are unabashedly trumpeted by the city’s tourism establishments. Halifax, being the city in the Atlantic coast closest to the sinking site, was the first city to send a recovery mission to the tragedy. This role is chronicled in the poignant Titanic gallery at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic by the waterfront. There are also specialist historical tours which take visitors to Titanic-related sites, from churches to funeral parlors and even cemeteries. We visit the most famous one at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery where 121 victims were buried. At the Maritime Museum, we notice Titanic headline reproductions and even a Titanic cookbook.

South Shore surprise

At the outskirts of Halifax is a region known as the South Shore, where legalized pirates called privateers once plied the harsh waters and attacked trading vessels in the early frontier days. The pirates are long gone and the South Shore today holds some of Canada’s most iconic destinations. The irony, however, is getting to these destinations is not that easy for the independent traveler. There is no regular bus service to the major points of interests so travelers are left with two options: join a city tour or get your own transport. We opt for the latter and head straight to the old town of Lunenburg.

Established 1753, this UNESCO World Heritage listed site is considered to be the best preserved British colonial town in North America. Lunenburg’s main draw is its collection of painted historic homes that line its hilly streets. Among the town’s main highlights are the eye-catching Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic whose bright red façade dominates the waterfront and Saint John’s Anglican Cathedral with its noteworthy ‘Carpenter Gothic’ style that combines the traceries and pointed arches of Gothic architecture with boat-building techniques all interpreted in wood.

Nearby at Mahoney Bay, we get another taste of provincial maritime life where the bay-side scenery, punctuated by the towers of three Christian churches, is easily one of the most famous postcard pretty view of the region.

From Lunenburg, it’s a 45-minute drive to Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse. On the way, the magic of the Nova Scotia countryside truly reveals itself as our driver and guide skips the quicker expressway route and take us on the longer but unquestionably more scenic back roads.

Suddenly, the landscape turns into a canvass of forested lanes which open up to little beaches, shimmering lakes and secluded coves with traditional fisherfolk communities. Among these is Peggy’s Cove, a rural lobster-catching locality of 670 people that attracts more tourists than its population. Fortunately, local knowledge prevails and our guide Greg Inglis of Kiwi Kaboodle tours timed our arrival for late afternoon when the big tour buses have departed.

So there we were at sunset, standing beneath the lighthouse that’s indisputably one of Canada’s most iconic spots, the cold wind blowing and the colossal waves of the Atlantic crashing in front us. This is the Nova Scotia of my imagination. And it is so much better than I had imagined.

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