Looking for Peggy in the cove
The waters of St. Margaret’s Bay are rich with lobster, mackerel and bluefin tuna, and the rugged cove provided a safe harbor where the fishermen could shelter from the waves and unload their bountiful catch.
Photos by Doreen G. Yu
Looking for Peggy in the cove
Doreen G. Yu (The Philippine Star) - September 15, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — As quaint and picturesque little towns go, Peggy’s Cove is a gem on the south shore of Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. A handful of families call this charming place home, probably descended from the pioneering  fishermen – six of them, we were told – who were allowed by the Nova Scotia government to settle here in 1811.

The waters of St. Margaret’s Bay are rich with lobster, mackerel and bluefin tuna, and the rugged cove provided a safe harbor where the fishermen could shelter from the waves and unload their bountiful catch. All around town are reminders of their trade – whimsical statues, signboards, boat relics.

A thriving community grew on this rocky coastline, although today there are fewer residents. But each year thousands from around the world are attracted to this cove where “waves roar, ocean breezes sing and rocks whisper their ancient secrets.”

William de Garthe’s monument to Nova Scotia fishermen carved in granite.

Indeed, whether you are a geologist or, like us, just curious tourists, there’s something magical about this 380-million-year-old bedrock, with giant boulders left behind by glaciers scattered around the cove, some of them perched rather precariously on other rocks, and there is a stern warning not to attempt to climb any of them. You can certainly have an extensive lesson in geology here. 

A lighthouse stands on the headland, this one built in 1914 to replace the old one built back in 1868 to help the fisherfolk navigate the rocky shoreline. It is the spot you head for as you scramble over the rocks, keeping in mind the caveat that the rocks may be wet and slippery. From the lighthouse you look out onto the crashing waves, a breathtaking picture that is worth capturing.

Peggy’s Cove provides many postcard-perfect pictures.

The afternoon we visited, a kilted man was playing the bagpipes, and if it wasn’t so hot we would’ve sat on the rocks to enjoy the performance. Instead, after sufficient photographs were taken, we headed to the gallery/home of the late artist William deGarthe.

Born in Finland, this painter and sculptor was so taken by Peggy’s Cove he made it his home. Many of his works have to do with the people, the legends and the life at Peggy’s Cove. Perhaps the most significant of these are the two murals in St. John’s Anglican Church (open for worship every second Sunday from Easter until Christmas) – one of Jesus walking on the water, calming the waves, and the other of fishermen braving a storm.

The lighthouse still guides fishermen navigating the rocky coast.

But my favorite is his “lasting monument to Nova Scotia fishermen,” a 30-meter mural carved on a granite outcropping behind his house. The sculpture shows 32 fishermen, their wives and children, St. Elmo with wings spread and the iconic Peggy of Peggy’s Cove.

So, finally, who is Peggy? One version of the story is that Peggy is the nickname of a young woman named Margaret who was rescued from a shipwreck, settled there and fell in love with one of her rescuers. People would come to visit “Peggy of the cove,” and the name stuck.

A statue and a lobster trap by the road.

Our guide told us another, even more romantic, version, of a shipwreck. As the townspeople struggled to rescue people from the raging waters, they found a lifeless baby. A family took the infant home, intending to bury her the next day. But in the warmth of the cottage the baby came to life. This “miracle baby” was named Margaret, after the bay from which she was rescued, with the nickname Peggy.

The story goes on that Peggy left the town, married and settled elsewhere (was it Toronto?), but a few years ago a woman showed up in town one fine day, claiming to be a descendant of Peggy.

True or not, whether you choose the romantic version or pooh-pooh any of the legends, Peggy’s Cove is a wonderful place to visit. Aside from the breathtaking coast, there are bogs (wetlands made up of peat and moss) and barrens (areas of exposed rocks with pockets of soil that support plant life) that one can trek and explore.

The cove is known for its giant boulders.

Peggy’s Cove is a short drive from the capital Halifax. Visit www.peggyscoveregion.com for information on where to go and what to do.

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