The second province on my tour of the Canadian Maritimes is Nova Scotia. As much as I loved Prince Edward Island, I think Nova Scotia is my new favorite. Technically a peninsula, mainland Nova Scotia is nearly surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. As such, everything seems to revolve around the sea. (Hence, all the photos of boats!)
While PEI was incredibly rural, Nova Scotia has many more urban areas, particularly Halifax. I was pleasantly surprised by this capital city. The geographical location alone makes it noteworthy. Add the historical culture, the friendly people, and the vibrant downtown; I could easily become a Haligonian. (Yes, a Haligonian. I don’t make these things up!) Halifax is in the middle of the province, along the southern shores. This was probably my favorite section of mainland Nova Scotia. The southern shore is one non-stop Rorschach inkblot test full of bays and inlets with small fishing villages around every corner. Peggys Cove, Chester, and Lunenberg are ones that caught my eye. From there, I left mainland Nova Scotia to check out Cape Breton Island.
But first, a little geography lesson. To me, Nova Scotia is the shape of a giant whale. If the mainland of the peninsula is the whale’s head and body, then the tail (or northeast section of the province) would be Cape Breton Island. It is only connected to mainland Nova Scotia by a manmade causeway, and as a result, feels somewhat isolated–in a good way!
For those wondering the meaning of Nova Scotia, it is Latin for “New Scotland”. Québec has its French influence, Prince Edward Island its English, and Nova Scotia has its Scottish. Nowhere is this seen more than on Cape Breton Island. Let me tell you, it is a special, special place. English is still the main language, but road signs are also written in Gaelic, many of the locals in the small villages have a Scottish brogue, and there is even a Gaelic College on the island. I was lucky enough to visit during the Celtic Colours International Festival, a weeklong celebration of musical events featuring fiddlers, singers, dancers, bagpipers, and everything else Celtic. These events are held all throughout the tiny villages on the island.
Of those villages, I spent most of my time in the central spot of Baddeck, a thriving community overlooking the saltwater Bras d’Or Lake. Thanks to my handy Passport America membership, I found Adventures East Campground & Cottages, a cheap campground just outside of town. I had no idea, but Baddeck is actually quite famous, as it is the birthplace of Canadian aviation. It is here that Alexander Graham Bell (yes, that Alexander Graham Bell) successfully built his Silver Dart, a powered flying machine very similar to the Flyer built by the Wright Brothers. A National Historic Site in town displays his vast collection of inventions ranging from telephones to hydrofoils. Bell and his wife lived on their Beinn Bhreagh estate in Baddeck for decades. And I know why!
It is because of a 185-mile twisty, hilly, amazingly scenic loop around the tip of the island called the Cabot Trail. It is consistently rated as one of the best drives in the world, and Baddeck is the gateway to it. With its ocean views and autumnal colors, the trail combines the Pacific Coast Highway in California and the green mountains in Vermont. It is home to moose, whales, bald eagles. It is home to the serene fishing towns of Chéticamp, Petit Étang, and Ingonish. It is home to Highlands Links, an absolute gem of a golf course in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Because of all this, the Cabot Trail is now on my Top Ten List.
There is just so much to see and do in Nova Scotia. I didn’t get a chance to go whale watching, or hike the Skyline Trail in the Highlands, or kayak in the Atlantic, or have dinner down on Argyle Street in Halifax. These are all the on the list of things to do next time. And I can’t wait!
Oh, and for those who aren’t fluent in Scottish Gaelic, I am pretty certain that “Tha gaol agam ort, Alba Nuadh!” means “I love you, Nova Scotia!” It’s either that or “Get out of my way, you stupid American!”