So the second and third days actually proved to be more the fascinating for both Ali and me. Before breakfast, we checked out and headed further up the Atlantic Coast towards the capital city, Halifax. Of course not before I snapped an obligatory picture of Ali with a tall, dark, and reasonably handsome, albeit rather shiny, Captain Hook. You see, my beloved is quite fond of pirates for some reason or another I have yet to quite discern; and this is something that existed long before Mr. Depp cast a long shadow for all pirates to come hereafter. But we were off without breakfast, which was a rather dangerous decision in light of the paucity of dining establishments up the rural Nova Scotia eastern seaboard. Fortunately we found a diner not too far from our departure.
On the way to Halifax, we found our way to arguably the most captivating place of the trip, Peggy’s Cove. Amidst an area where volcanic rock has pushed its way up to the surface, lies an extremely small, still functioning, fishing village that has grown into quite a tourist destination. It is a surreal mix of majestic scenery, quaint community, capitalizing commerce, and a steady stream of people that seemingly never ends. It was almost as if the world of The Truman Show was opened up for visitors. Literally busses of Canadians and foreigners alike spill into a small town, not much bigger than about six square blocks, including all the houses, to see one of the most photographed places in all of Canada. The lighthouse is world famous, gracing postcards, calendars, and book covers, for good reason as you can see below.
With all the people pouring into the area, it’s hard to imagine that it is still a working fishing village, but it is, as the harbor attests. Apart from that it looks as though it has become almost a small artist’s colony, with multiple houses turned studios and shops. The once schoolhouse has even been turned into a theatre, which tells the tale of how a young girl washed up on shore, after her ship ran aground against the treacherous volcanic rocks that didn’t quite make it to the visible surface; thus, giving the area its name. The word on this story is that it is more truth than fiction, but nobody is really certain. The place really has a kind of magical quality and Ali and I both agreed that, by itself, it was worth the trip.
After soaking in the cove for some time, we continued to Halifax, which, being more of an urbanite, I thought was a compelling city. Aside from being the provincial capital, it is also an important and historic port on the Atlantic. So important, thought the British, that they carved an enormous military installation into the top of a hillside looking down on the harbor. The Citadel, as it’s called, is a truly amazing historical landmark, Canada’s most visited. It was really like walking back in time. Since it never saw any action after being completed in 1856, the place is preserved impeccably with traditional military routines still performed. Complete with a twenty-plus feet moat, that outlines the eight pointed star shape, the only way in, originally, was across a drawbridge and through a sizable gate. The place is really stunning and a must see for anyone that is remotely close to the area. I mean just look at some of the shots below. Also noteworthy is the Old Town Clock, on the eastern hillside.
While in Halifax we also had, far and away, the best meal of the trip. If anyone is ever in the city a trip to The Henry House will not disappoint. The old manor, built in 1834 and owned by the youngest member of the provincial House of Assembly, has been converted into a pub and restaurant providing unquestionably the best food and ambiance on the trip. It is just a few blocks south of city hall, near Dalhousie University, the place is not to be missed. And their selection of local beer is outstanding.
Before we began our turnaround, we headed to Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and learned more about a host of local lore. Of course they had boats on the dock, as the pictures attest. But it was the history that was most interesting. Being one of the largest ports on the Atlantic, Halifax sent the first rescue and recovery crews east in search of Titanic survivors. While a handful of ships provided made it to the wreckage, their greatest contribution was that of body retrieval. The Mackay Bennett alone retrieved 306 bodies. It was harrowing work, but the crew’s accounts are riveting and the respect for sea incomparable. In fact, out of consideration for both the dead and the sea, the crews burned much of the property they found, with individuals keeping only a small memento for luck and remembrance. Over 150 Titanic victims were laid to rest in Halifax’s Fairview Lawn cemetery.
Also, we learned of the historic Halifax Explosion of 1917, where a collision of ships in the harbor nearly obliterated the city from existence. The now infamous French Mont Blanc munitions vessel, later to be found at fault, ran into a Belgian relief ship, narrowly avoiding complete disaster, at first; however, a small fire started on the French deck. Not good! Within around a half hour or so, the fire spread, sending the crew overboard in panic-stricken desperation, swimming for Dartmouth across the harbor. Before anyone really knew what was going on the munitions ship drifted towards shore detonating. The blast killed over two-thousand people instantly, injuring well over nine-thousand. The central part of the city was decimated and fire broke out all over the harbor. It all happened exceedingly fast. So intense was this blast that the Mont Blanc’s anchor shaft, weighing 517 kg, was thrown into the Northwest Arm, a small inlet 3.8 km away. People and money poured in from all over North America. To make matters worse, the evening of the explosion the city fell victim to a blizzard. To this day Boston receives a Christmas tree every year from Halifax, in appreciation for their assistance after the disaster. As you might imagine, it is an event I anticipate reading a great deal more about before to long.
Day three also had us angling back down the coast and hitting all the spots we missed on the way up north. The small coastal town of Lunenberg gets a lot of publicity and has received a United Nations endorsement as a World Heritage Site, but neither of us was nearly as impressed. It definitely is pretty, with vivid colored buildings, refurbished to a pristine condition along the harbor. However, it is nothing but tourist trap restaurants and artist studios, all looking to separate you from your money and in large chunks. While the Bluenose schooner, seen on the back of the Canadian dime, is worth a look, the town does not quite live up to the hype. My suspicion is that if you were to pull in during one of the many festivals that the town hosts, it would be a lot more appealing.
All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable trip, despite our logging over 500 miles on the peninsula. It was way more driving and fewer lighthouses than either of us anticipated, but we still managed a great end to our summer. If only we’d had more time was what we both kept thinking. No doubt we’ll be back with more northerly aspirations. We hope to really spend some time on Cape Breton, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas in North America and the pictures seem to support that claim. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we get to find out for ourselves.