10 February 2018

Canada's most special provinces - the Maritimes

I had been to family reunions in Canada, from Toronto to Vancouver, and especially in Winnipeg. Only in 1994 did we made the first trip to the easternmost Maritimes.

Susan Skelly (The Australian, 11th Nov 2017) wrote: in the Canadian Maritimes prov­in­ces notice their scents - pine resin, wood smoke, seawater, for­est, tobacco, fish and peat. In unforgiving eastern­­ Canada, the Maritimes provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick have the Gulf of St Lawrence, Bay of Fundy and Atlantic Ocean to contend with.

This has been a strat­egic hub that has historically under­pinned wars, immigration and trade. Nova Scotia’s coast has one of the highest concent­rations of shipwrecks in North America, c25,000. But the forests­ of the Maritimes are more accommodating. They are an elegant, tight-knit community of conifers, maples and poplars, scarlet in autumn.

Nova Scotia’s geography creates many fishing villages, so the signature food in the Canadian Maritimes is seafood - crab, lobster, cod, Atlantic salmon, clams, mussels and oysters. See Peggy’s Cove, with its rounded glacial rocks and iconic lighthouse. Nova Scotia has a small popul­at­ion but a coast with cosy harbours, boats and gorgeous colours.

Admire the natural wonders. Hopewell Rocks formations sprout from the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick where the lowest high tides are 10m. Endless seawater flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy daily and the resultant fast tides transform the shorelines, rivers, tidal flats and exposed sea bottom. Visitors can even walk the very muddy ocean floor when the tide is out. The Fundy Trail is a huge parkland that was the vision of the late philanthropist Mitchell Franklin.

A very scenic drive is Cape Bret­on’s Cabot Trail, a 300 km highway that takes in beaut­iful highlands. Hike, cycle, golf or watch for whales. A man-made wonder­ is the Confed­er­ation Bridge, which links Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick – it is 13km long and sits 40m over the Northum­b­erland Strait.

Visitors can see plenty of animals (bear, deer, moose, lynx, red squirrel) and birds (rock doves, seagulls and wild geese). Key crops are the Russet Burbank potato, corn and soy beans. Blueberries are popular. Winemakers in the region have been producing a brand called Tidal Bay, where the grape varieties are 100% grown in Nova Scotia. There’s also a local whisky, homage to the region’s Scottish heritage.

Brightly painted houses,
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic 
Halifax, Nova Scotia
photo credit: NOVA SCOTIA Canada

Sussex murals, 
New Brunswick

Confed­er­ation Bridge, 
Prince Edward Island 
built 1993-97

Fundy tides out (top) and in (bottom)
New Brunswick
photo credit: Amusing Planet

Susan Skelly was interested mainly in natural history. But she did mention some fine mus­eums dotted across the Maritimes which provide rich cultural insights dedicated to the First Nation Mi’kmaq, Gaelic traditions or Anne of Green Gab­les. The village of Grand-Pre in Nova Scotia explores the history of struggling Acad­ians; the Immigrat­ion Museum where the cruise ships dock in Halifax is a reminder of the early settlers: Scottish, English, Irish, French, German and Dutch.

Visit the Maritime Museum of the At­lan­tic in Halifax. This museum has models of passenger liners, freight vessels, armed merchant raiders, petroleum carriers and a Morse code workshop. In Dec 1917, the Halifax Explosion occurred when a French munitions ship carrying­ explosives collided with a Norwegian relief ship in the harbour, burning the city, killing 1600, maiming 9000 and leaving 6000 homeless. And there is a detailed record of the Titan­­ic’s tragic voyage, in April 1912. While sur­vivors were taken to New York, hundreds of the dead were brought to Halifax where the deputy registrar of deaths logged tatt­oos, scars and dental work, bagged personal effects­, and took photos to circulate to identify whichever bodies were located.

The Nova Scotia port of Lunenburg has a new memorial that honours the 650 fish­er­­men who died in this town. See Bluenose II, a 46m replica of the schooner designed to fish for cod off Newfound­land. It was launched in 1921, and became an ambassador for the prov­ince’s seafaring history. The town has many restaurants, colourful herit­age shop­fronts, and houses with the signature Lunenburg dormer, popular in late C19th architect­ure.

Now let me add my personal favourites in the Maritimes. Visit the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Since it opened in 1908 this gallery has grown significantly, in order to preserve the growing art collection. There are three public galleries which feature work from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. A complete surprise will be a collection of works by photographer Annie Leib­ovitz.

And see Lunenburg’s Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. The newest exhibition invites exploration of the history of the Atlantic Canadian fishery, from the earliest days of the Mi’kmaq to today. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors can experience life in a fishing community and discover life at sea firsthand. Explore the living fish exhibit and wharf-side vessels. Then go into the Ice House Film Theatre.

New Brunswick entered the Canadian Confeder­at­ion along with Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario in 1867. The Inter-colonial Railway linked the Nova Scotia Railway, European & North American Railway and Grand Trunk Railway in 1872. In 1879 John Macdonald's Conservatives enacted high tariffs and opposed free trade, disrupting the trading relationship between the Maritimes and New England. The economic situation was worsened by the decline of the wooden ship-building industry. The railways and tariffs did foster the growth of new industries in the province eg iron mills, textile manufacturing and sugar refineries, but they failed eventually. The New Brunswick Railway Museum, run by the Canadian Railroad Historical Ass­ociation, is therefore well worth analysing.

In New Brunswick, see the rich local history represented in impressive murals, painted on walls throughout the beautiful town of Sussex. These world-renowned mural artists did the first 11 murals in summer 2006, with 15 more created during summer 2007.

St John’s,  New­foundland
The cathedral dominates the cityscape
Photo credit: Brit + Co

Newfoundland only joined the Confederation in 1949, when the term Maritimes had long been defined as Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Nonetheless Newfoundland is now a Maritime province. Happ­ily cheerful colours can be seen in many coastal sites in the Maritimes - think of the brightly painted rowhouses of Jelly Bean Row St John’s New­foundland. Were they painted thus to make home visible to sailors at sea during foggy conditions? Or was Maritime weather so grey that brightly coloured homes were meant to make residents feel less depressed?


Train Man said...

My wife and I were encouraged to see Grand-Pre in Nova Scotia, so we did. The history of the Arcad­ians was filled with struggle and explusion.

Happy Tourist said...

Lunenburg is a very pretty, happening town.

Andrew said...

I've not heard the area referred to as The Maritimes. I expect it is very different to the west coast to the middle of Canada, almost like being a different country.

Hels said...

Train Man

What a sad history.

I got most of my information about the Acadians from the Prince Edward Island Acadian Museum. The Acadians settled in the territory known as Acadie in Nova Scotia where they farmed the land and raised livestock. Situated between New England and New France, Acadie constituted a strategic territory for both Britain and France so the Acadians lived alternately under French and British rule.

In time France was forced to cede Acadie to Great Britain, permanently. The Acadians continued to live in there until 1755 when they were taken away in the Great Expulsion. They were deported on ships and scattered throughout the British colonies along the Atlantic seaboard in the USA.

Hels said...


agreed! It didn't take Lunenburg very long to become a major Canadian port, based on two local industries: timber mills supplying the wood needed and ship-building. This was especially true during WW1 and WW2 when the modern ships were repaired and outfitted in this harbour.

Fortunately the original buildings have been preserved; only the colourful facades were painted in a more modern era. So I think it was quite right that the entire town of Lunenburg was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site 25 years ago.

Hels said...


If you ever drove or trained from Sydney to Perth, you know how far that is: 3935 km! But Halifax to Vancouver is even longer: 4430 kilometers drive. So each province changes as you move from east to west - dependent on climate, rainfall, political history, land use, access to the water etc etc.

If I ever emigrated to Canada, I would live in Vancouver in B.C. But I have had wonderful holidays, conferences and MIRC reunions all across Southern Canada.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Don't forget that we owe a lot of Louisiana and New Orleans culture (and food!) from the Acadians who came from (what is now) Canada.

I was just given a book by a friend who went to Nova Scotia, and was kind enough to remember my interest in apples. The book by the local Beatrice Ross Buszek is about apple cookery and contains much Nova Scotia and apple lore, mixed in with the admittedly strange recipes.

bazza said...

I have only visited Toronto and Vancouver, having relatives there. They always talk about The Maritimes being a wonderful destination to visit. After I read E Annie Prouxl's The Shipping News, I wanted to see Newfoundland, just north of there and I generally enjoy small eccentric museums.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s cerulean Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

D said...

Re the post. cabot trail, car brake killer. fundy is more known for the fast tides. tide runs up rivers for miles.

nova scotia, inside halifax city limits

Hels said...


it is amazing that a small population of Acadians (c15,000) were brutally expelled, transported, found new homes and integrated, yet managed to cling to their history and traditions. According to Cajun Country, "The survival of Acadian culture was a direct result of the strength of traditional social institutions and agricultural practices that promoted economic self-sufficiency and group solidarity." Of course their French language has changed over the centuries, their music has absorbed other influences and their cuisine has modified.
But as you noted, a lot of Louisiana and New Orleans culture still survives.

Hels said...


me too. Mum's first cousins went to Winnipeg and stayed there for the rest of their lives. But their Canadian-born-and-educated children moved to Toronto and Vancouver to marry and live. So visiting places like Halifax and Saint John was unexpected and fun-filled.

I am glad you mentioned novels because that is largely how we were educated about foreign countries as children. At school we read Jack London's White Fang, a 1890s Klondike Gold Rush story set in Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories. And Lucy Maud Montgomery's novel Anne of Green Gables, set on King Edward Island in 1908.

Hels said...


thank you. I will add your information to the original post.

WoofWoof said...

One of my all time favourite TV series is the 1980s Anne of Green Gables. It really does make Prince Edward Island look like the most beautiful place in the world

Hels said...


I also loved Anne of Green Gables and thought rural Prince Edward Island must have been beautiful, at least in 1908.

Lucy Maud Montgomery was raised in New London, which is near Cavendish, then moved to her grandparents in Cavendish. It is clear that Montgomery loved her life in this magical area... as we can see from reading the book or seeing the film.

There are still hundreds of thousands of Anne of Green Gables tourists each year, and the tours always start in Cavendish.

Viola said...

I have always wanted to visit Prince Edward Island, too, because of beloved Anne! I love the books and the 1980s series. She had such a big influence on my life.
The 1980s series certainly showed what a truly beautiful place PEI is!

Hels said...


You must visit!

As you said, young impressions are often long lasting and powerful. When I read three Jane Austen novels at 14, I already knew that Steventon, Bath and Chawton were places I would want to visit as soon as I was old enough to get a passport.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - thanks for commenting on my Two films recent post ... including the Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis - the film about her "Maudie" was really interesting and eye opening. I'm now reading the Lucy Maud Montgomery's recent 'biography' by Mary Henley Rubio very interesting ... and the two together make perfect sense - for someone who has just landed in Canada ... I'm learning!

Lovely post here - opening my eyes to the area, which I hope to get to visit - and reminds me of the far west of Cornwall ... cheers Hilary

Hels said...


I am learning too :) I had never heard of Maud Lewis until we visited the The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Not only did the gallery own a lot of Lewis’ individual works but eventually her own home was moved there as well.

If Maud's house had not been moved, we have to ask if her home in Nova Scotia would have attracted the same number of eager tourists as Lucy Maud Montgomery entices to Prince Edward Island.