Spring Adventures in Canada: Part 7


The last stop on our whirlwind tour of Canada’s east was the capital of the fine state of Nova Scotia. We were lucky enough to stay in downtown Halifax for the two or so days we were there, with a lovely view of the channel.

Boats in Halifax harbour

Our first day there was a bit wet and grizzly but it suited the sombre feeling of the warship bobbing in the dock. We had to wander past it to get to the Maritime Museum. I have to confess, before we went in, I was feeling that I might be a bit over museums and that I couldn’t see that I would really enjoy it. I was really wrong.

Lighthouse lampWe started in the lighthouse section of the museum, walking past the early lighthouse globes. The one pictured is one from the early 20th Century, and each of the many facets is a piece of hand-crafted glass, designed to amplify the kerosene lantern behind. On into the wartime museum, the section that captured my interest was the story of the Canadian Wrens, or the female service officers. Their story is a testament to how far we’ve come, but also how far we have to go. Can you believe that they justified paying women a third of the wage as their male counterparts because they reasoned that they would need 3 women to replace each man? The worst part is, when the women completed the same quota, they did not receive equal pay, or even increased compensation. The Wrens fought for their country and were never recognised as equal to the men.


The museum has sloops inside it, and a hall full of hand-crafted and restored models of ocean liners, complete with histories and years of sailing. Did you know most ocean liners only sailed for about 20 years before they were scrapped, or quite often sank? So wasteful.


Nova Scotia is also famous for shipwrecks. In the museum there’s a map with a little light bulb for each known shipwreck and it is covered in them. The exhibit focuses on a few of the sad stories, including the most famous shipwreck of them all, the Titanic. The good people of Halifax were the ones to collect the bodies and survivors from the sea.

Halifax is also famous for the largest man-made explosion (prior to nuclear weapons) in 1917, where a ship loaded with explosives collided with another in a strait near the city, catching on fire only to drift into the harbour and levelled a large proportion of the city, though more human life was lost in the following fires. In the museum’s exhibit there are some moving stories, like that of the train dispatcher Vince Coleman, who sent out messages to stop any incoming trains and saved the lives of an entire passenger train while sacrificing his own.

On the wharfs outside the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, there’s lots of stores along the channel-side boardwalk. Here, we got to try Cows icecream, a product out of PEI with extreme tastiness and lots of variety. We may even have had it on our way to the museum…There was also several bars with live music in that downtown boardwalk area, so it’s good fun.

On our last day of our trip we went up into the citadel, which is quite a climb from the water! From the top you can see the whole city, including Georges Island. As it was Canada Day, some of the sections were closed, but several staff were in traditional uniforms and involved in a couple of demonstrations. The walls are crumbling and slowly being smothered by plant life.  It was a beautiful day and lovely to be on the top of the city.


It was hard to say goodbye to Duncan and Phoebe, but it had been an amazing trip and we were ready to get started in Vancouver.

If you’ve missed the rest of our trip, here’s the beginning of our amazing journey.

Spring adventures in Canada: Part 5

Cape Breton

20130620-IMG_1225-1From PEI, we went on to Cape Breton.  We stayed first with some cattle farmers in Antigonish, which is just off the island the cape is on. Antigonish is largely farming communities with thick forests.  My partner Greg and I actually had a chill out day; we were a bit worn out by all the travelling. We went to a Scotch Whiskey distillery, a rather beautiful location with manicured lawns and whitewashed walls.

Cape Breton and the areas surrounding it acknowledge their heritage. The Scots history is heavily embraced, and many houses bear the Acadian star. For those not too familiar with Canadian/North American history, the Acadians were the early white settler,s mostly from France, many of who made a life with the Metis people as well. In the colonial wars between the UK and the French in that region of the world, these people found themselves in the middle. Many were shipped out, and are linked to the Cajun history of northern America.

Cape Breton

The Cape Breton National Park covers a huge area, and incredibly varied in environments. There was red sand cliffs, savannah, forest, beaches and mountains made of shale that seemed loosely piled in a mountain shape. We saw more than a few trees that had fallen over, seeming having only wrapped their roots around one large flat rock. The Cabot Trail, the main encircling roadway, rewards travellers with many breathtaking scenes. But hold on to your hats; those steep hillsides were created by fierce winds and water.

Cape Breton 2It was on this portion of the trip that we saw our first moose, nibbling amongst the evergreens. Easily tall as horses, these extremely quiet animals were quite happy munching away as we watched them. I guess they see a lot of people in that part of the world. Everywhere we went we carried sticks; the risk of coyote attacks low, but the risk not worth taking.


We walked in maple forests and amongst ruins from early Scots settlers; we climbed up on sheer and windy mountain tops and in swamps. We did not camp, but I am sure that if we had, there would have been some lovely places. Instead we stayed in a lovely homely cottage on the tip of the island at Bay St. Lawrence in a small fishing village, St Margaret Village. The lovely fresh salt air and glorious sunsets just took our breath away.  Hummingbirds flitted around a feeder and a friendly little dog came to play. We had wonderful hosts who gave us hints about what to do, where to go. We had our first fresh lobster, cooked at home. I have to admit, having done it, I wouldn’t again. I don’t know if I could deal emotionally with it again, and it was a lot of effort for a little reward.

Bay St. Lawrence

RopesAround Cape Breton, the water is deep, dark and blue. It’s dotted with the hundreds and thousands of lobster pots, pretty flotsam in the waves. Interesting discussions were had with our host about the state of lobster and crab fishing in the area, a large industry with strict regulation, yielded that the buying price of lobster was almost not worth the fishing effort because of  a glut in the industry. It was hard to listen openly to, particularly when the talk of trawling came up (very minimal in that area); I am in favour of regulation and protection of our oceans and its life. Especially when you compare the monster lobster carapaces on the wall in the cottage with the average size of catch (about a third of the size). Interesting fact: lobsters are extremely long lived and they are unsure of their exact longevity in the wild. In contrast, my aesthetic appreciation was brought out by the brightly coloured boats bobbing in the harbour and the elegantly coiled ropes and painted crab pots of a working dock.

Our hosts directed us to a céilidh in Chéticamp, an event with Gaelic folk music. Our performer was considered one of the pre-eminent people in the Gaelic music field. It was a great way to spend an afternoon.

Meat Cove

On our way out of Bay St. Lawrence, we stopped at a tiny little place called Meat Cove, where the rock looks like it is sliding into the sea and the beach is made of rock pebbles. This cove is locally famous for being a great spot to whale watch and see the pilot whales that are everywhere around the cape. We definitely saw a pod hanging out in the bay, and I have to confess, I was so excited to see their bulbous heads that I may have hogged the binoculars. In my defence, no one was as excited as me.

Pilot whale!

We left the lovely scenery of the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton and travelled northwest again, towards the Bay of Fundy.

To read about our journey, start from the beginning, or you can go on to the Bay of Fundy.

Spring adventures in Canada: Part 4

Kindred spirits


Prince Edward Island was our next destination, a place I have dreamt of visiting since I was a preteen and top of my list for my stay in Canada. I loved Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books and always wanted to find Anne Shirley on that island. We stayed in a lovely little hotel on a little inlet, but I dreamed of staying in one of the weatherboard homesteads. The soils are definitely rusty red and striking, and remind me of Phillip Island, a small island not far from Norfolk Island. There’s a lot of appropriately weathered docks with shacks, and in some places lines and lines of oyster farms. We had our first lobster of the trip here, fresh from the sea. Scallops and haddock too. The taste of such fresh seafood was incomparable to what most of us pick up from our local fishmonger.Green Gables as it is today

20130617-IMG_8018-120130617-IMG_8014-1First item on the agenda: visit Green Gables. The state made a park of the house that inspired Anne Shirley’s Green Gables. It was well preserved and I could feel the love of a thousand fans (and even perhaps the little girl that Montgomery was) around that house. She obviously drew a lot of inspiration from the people around her as the house belonged to her cousins and it is said her grandparents were a bit of a model for the Matthew and Marilla. They had preserved two of the areas around the house that Montgomery had described in the Anne of Green Gables series, but disappointingly only as much as they absolutely needed to. We could see the golf course (and hear the teeing off) from Lovers Lane and heard trucks in the Haunted Woods, which spoilt the atmosphere a little. We went to the site of her grandparents house, and it was enchanting walking up the quiet lane to the wooded house site. All that remains of the house are the foundations and a charming little well, where people throw shiny coins to wish.

   Haunted wood    Lovers lane

You might be interested to know that any business on the island is entitled to call upon the Anne of Green Gables name for free; it is only those businesses off-island that have to pay a licensing fee.

Charlottetown, the capital, was a redbrick town that has maintained its small town feel. The outskirts are filled with industrial areas and warehouse style supermarkets. We found out that one of the musicals, Anne and Gilbert, based on the Anne books, was playing on my birthday but disappointingly was sold out.

Our hosts recommended a trip to Brackley Beach, which was romantically windswept and mostly unoccupied. Definitely worth a visit if you’re wanting golden sands against dark blue oceans. It was a little cold to swim then though.

20130618-IMG_1213-1On the day of my birthday, Duncan, Phoebe and I took a ride on Confederation Trail, which used to be the tracks of the island’s unnecessary steam engine. It’s a good story that steam engine: the island thought they ought to have one, as they had them on the mainland, but it bankrupted the council, so they had to join the federation of Canadian states, as opposed to what they were originally planning. It was a long time since I had been on a good ride like that, but I think I did alright. In the background of the flower photos above and below, you can see the colour of the tilled land and roads.


While on the island, don’t forget to try Cows ice-cream. You can get the ice-cream elsewhere, but it’s one of the tastiest and largest exports from Prince Edward Island. Plus, they have nerdy and funny t-shirts in the stores, so there’s entertainment too.

I have to say that Green Gables was my highlight. I’ve always felt that Lucy Maud Montgomery was a kindred spirit because I loved her books so much. I was humbled and teary at being in a place I’d dreamed of all my life. I even re-read the books, and some others, and felt that despair of being left out when I finished them. I left a little posy on her grave and thanked her for the joy she has brought me over the years.


To read about our journey, start from the beginning, or you can go on to Cape Breton.

Spring adventures in Canada: Part 3

The St. Lawrence: A river of dreams


Our drive took us further along the north bank of the St. Lawrence, up to the Sanguenay and a little town called Tadoussac. The water of the Sanguenay River is black as pitch, until the shallows where it’s the colour of a tea that puts hair on your chest. Must be all those pine needle tannins. Crossing it was fascinating to me, as the depths would be unfathomable from the surface, and I imagine, from within it also. Tadoussac is a picturesque seaside town, with white-railed boardwalks, bobbing ships in the harbour, hanging baskets and ornate lamplights. On a clear day, like the one we had, it’s all clear blue sky down to thick, pine forests and skirted by an inky blue-black sea. Tadoussac stirred the writer in me, and it sparked the biggest writing project I’ve worked on my entire life. I really fell in love with it.

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We stayed in a little hotel in a nearby township, run by a lovely man called Jacques, whose English was as poor as our French. He proved to have a delightful sense of humour when the boys put a big decorative bear in his chair; he got us back with a big bearskin (with the help of Phoebe). Let me tell you – I admit to a moment of (almost) pants-wetting terror when confronted by a bear coming through the door.


20130613-20130613-IMG_7925This region of the world is renowned for whale watching. The St. Lawrence is warmer than open ocean and is fed by freshwater streams, which creates an enviroment that’s optimum for plankton. They get so many types of whales, but beluga whales are endemic. They do get blue, fin, minke and northern right whales to name a few (and on occasion orcas too). We took a walk down the Sanguenay, where we saw chipmunks and eastern red squirrels, and a marmot who walked right by us (apparently couldn’t get up the bank next to the path?), less than a metre away. The rest of the afternoon we spent drinking cider on the sunshiny beach at Tadoussac. I took off by myself and spent the later hours watching the white backs break the waves. I wish we had gotten kayaks and taken a closer look at the whales. It’s my one regret: if I went back in the spring/summer, I would hire a kayak and spend a day out on the water. I am still kicking myself, as I did not recognise whale breath until the third one, where I saw a big dorsal fin not far off. I am still not sure what that whale was, but the tall dark fin was unlike any of the usual species, unless maybe an orca fin.

Best I could get!         Still a better photo

 Don't notice me!       Handsome marmot posing

We headed north again the next day, stopping at an observation station supposed to be good for whale spotting. I am pretty sure we saw some minkes (the other most common whale) popping up near the hovering Zodiacs. I had no luck on the ferry over the St. Lawrence; no whales showed themselves to me. A great disappointment, as seeing a blue whale would be something off my bucket list.


This is what camping enjoyment looks likeMy partner Greg had his first camping experience at Parc National du Bic on the south side of the St. Lawrence, and I am sad to say he really didn’t enjoy it. We did find the mosquitos in Eastern Canada to be an especially fearsome breed. I still have bite marks over 3 weeks later. But we did see our first deer wandering around the camp grounds! The beach we were camped near was interesting; a cross between marshland and shale beach.


We then headed south into New Brunswick and stayed in the capital Frederickton. Very much a university town. We found it a very relaxing place to stay; there was just a really chilled out vibe to the place. There was a real lack of information about interesting places to visit in New Brunswick, which was a huge shame. We practically just drove through it.

A beautiful church in Fredericton

To read about our journey, start from the beginning, or you follow us to Prince Edward Island.

Spring Adventures in Canada: Part 2

The Frenchies

Our first day in Montreal, my partner Greg and I rushed off to meet our new landlord! We ended up in Le-Plateau-Mont-Royal, wandering down the street where the stores had market stalls on the street. We could have walked for kilometres but eventually turned back.

We really were in French territory here; everyone addresses you in French. It’s handy to have two little phrases, “I don’t understand” or “I speak English” in your French vocabulary, but almost everyone is bilingual. I am glad that some of the primary school French came back – I can identify some words and very few select phrases.


We went back to Mont-Royal with Duncan and Phoebe and spent some time wandering the streets all the way to the downtown/old town area, which had the well-known screech of the Formula One cars. It was the Grand Prix then, which meant the city was teeming in some areas but quiet and deserted in others. We got to see some old buildings, but unfortunately the oldest building from the 1600s, a seminary in old town, was being reconstructed and cared for so we couldn’t see it. Disappointed. We wandered into Marché Bonseccours, which we thought would be a bustling market but it was a series of high end stores.

Yesterday, we did find a  food market at Jean-Talon, where we are staying. It is a true farmers market, overflowing with pristine and delicious looking produce. We bought some strawberries and fresh food, and there were no regrets. We ended up back in the city, looking at Rue de Sainte Catherine, which is supposed to be a lovely place for shopping, but we didn’t find much to interest us.


We continued on to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, or the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts. I can recommend this place as a whole day activity. It is huge, free (unless you want to go to the special exhibits) and has such a dynamic range. There’s work by masters like Rembrandt, Monet and several others in their collections. We only had a few hours and I was so absorbed in the paintings, I failed to hear the security guards telling me it was time to go. Oops!

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Outside, they had these really interesting sculptures. One was a ball of twisted glass; a sculpture for their upcoming exhibit of American artist Chihuly. The best one was the one the kids were mad about; a whole street covered in those rubber tags we use on roads, in 3 different colours. Kids and adults alike were running up and down laughing and interacting. Good work Montréal! Ending of the day, we took the Metro (which is comparatively similar to the London and French tubes Greg tells me; regardless, really easy to navigate and decorated beautifully!) to the Latin Quarter. We were all a bit underwhelmed but had a lovely time and nice sangria at a little Mexican place called Mananas.


The next day, we climbed the mountain. The city wraps around Mont-Royal, so it was time to pay tribute. I don’t know how long it took us, only that we were walking for hours. The walking tracks we used were reasonably steep, but there were some much gentler and longer ones. Of course, Duncan and Phoebe are in good shape so looked relaxed and elegant, while I huffed up the hill and Greg took a bit longer as his feet were giving him trouble. Luckily I don’t take long to recover, but I have been a lovely shade of pink all day. We got up to the summit, and just before I saw my first chipmunk! I was excited, but I didn’t manage to get a good shot. They are extremely agile. We had trouble figuring out where the observatory might be, the summit was not well sign-posted at all despite being riddled with paths, but we did make it to the Croix du Mont-Royal. It’s a huge cross made of metal struts that you can see from the city below. We went back to the Museum of Fine Arts after a well-deserved and hearty lunch, to get in as much as we could. Greg and I did not finish looking through and returned when we transited through Montreal when heading back west.

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Montréal is truly Canada’s city of churches. They are everywhere, and are generally beautiful Gothic style ones. Several have features of Notre Dame in Paris. I spent much time photographing this portion of the trip, much to the exasperation of the other travellers, I’m sure! One I found had cheeky gargoyles. Otherwise, Montréal a bit dirty and I feel like there might be quite an underbelly we haven’t seen. I can’t explain it more than as a feeling.


From Montréal we journeyed to Québec City. We stayed in a very inviting and homely place in Lévis, on the east bank of the St. Lawrence River and a quick ferry ride from the old town. We passed some of the huge icebreakers belonging to the Canadian government, obviously in dock for a few days during the warm springtime.The cobbled streets and lovely old buildings of the Lower Town charmed us, all lovely river views and European-style charm. In the sunshine, it was wonderful. The rain that drizzled on us all of the next day took the edge off our enthusiasm for the town.

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Greg and I wandered the old fortifications or ramparts around the Upper Town. There was a lovely walk up a boardwalk to the top, the Governor’s Walk, with expansive river views and flowers hanging between the railings. Otherwise, the dug-in fortifications of the Upper Town were mildly interesting to walk atop of; a unique barracks set-up punctuated with watch towers. We could have missed the barrack areas, as they were dull, but I found some really innovative graffiti. The Esplanade Gardens had some lovely flowering plants and the Fontaine de Tourny was a lovely diversion from the urban portion of the city.

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We left Quebec City and made a brief stop off at the Ile d’Orleon, where we picked up some tasty cider on the recommendation of a Québécois local. The morning sunshine and fresh ciders and jams on the rustic beauty of the island were a balm after the rainy days in Québec City.


This is part of a series, talking about our travels in the beautiful country of Canada. You can find the first instalment here or follow us along the St. Lawrence.