Thursday, August 21, 2008

30. The Maritime Provinces - Part II

Part I covered our visits to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. This Part II is about about Nova Scotia and we have to mention the Acadians once again. We learned about the Acadians in Louisiana back in April. The story needs one more paragraph to complete the link between Nova Scotia and Louisiana.

By the early 1700s, thousands of Acadians were living in their established settlements in “Acadie”. In 1713 the area was transferred from France to Great Britain and Acadie became Nova Scotia. The French and British tended to fight and feud a lot and the independent Acadians insisted on remaining neutral. Since they were friendly to both sides, they couldn’t be trusted. So, in 1755, the British ordered that they be deported by boat to colonies along the east coast. Thousands were victims of this tragedy that is now referred to as the “Grand Derangement.” Many ended up in Louisiana where Cajun communities were developed. Not all were sent away in boats. Many of the original Acadians fled inland and their descendants have since returned to Nova Scotia to rebuild their families and communities. Their heritage is alive and well today.

Following the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia and the burning of their towns, a new Town of Amherst was established on one of the former sites. New England settlers were encouraged to settle in the area and Amherst became a busy business and manufacturing center. Over the years, the city has lost much of its strength and vitality and is now just a nice quiet town. Many old 19th century brick and sandstone buildings are still in use today and beautiful Victorian homes are scattered throughout the community. It’s sad that we can’t seem to build a school that will last 50 years any more, but all through New England and the Maritime provinces we see 200+ year old buildings standing strong and still in use.
We parked the rig in a campground just outside Amherst, which was a convenient location for side trips in all directions. The campground was large and grassy and rather pretty, as the photos show. But the facilities (rest rooms, showers, roads, recreation hall, etc.) were marginal and maintenance was nonexistent. Bonnie (and most other campers) wouldn’t go near the rest rooms so it was a good thing the motor home is self-contained.
The RV park didn’t have internet access, but the park’s owner lived in a large house down the road. He invited the guests to park in his driveway (which also served as a used car lot) and connect to his home WiFi. So, Ron drove over in the evening and did his internet stuff in the pouring rain while parked among the used cars. Not a pretty sight, but it worked.

Springhill, a few miles down the road from Amherst, happened to be the home town of popular Canadian vocalist Anne Murray. We stopped at the Anne Murray Center, looked at the displays and chatted with the lady in the gift shop while an Anne Murray CD played softly in the background. She informed us that Anne now lives near Toronto but returns to Springhill now and then to visit. Springhill is also famous for coal mining and several major mining disasters, one of which killed 125 miners in 1891. There’s lots more coal in Nova Scotia but no underground coal mines are operating today and open pit mining has failed. There are many old mine shafts under Springhill, some more than 6,000 feet deep. Most are now full of water but a small portion of one of the shafts is open to visitors, along with the small but very informative Springhill Miners Museum.
Bonnie gets a little claustrophobic underground, but Ron put on the rubber jacket and hard hat and ventured into the cool, dark, wet, drippy mine. The shaft wasn’t real deep but it provided a close-up look at the coal mining operation and what veins of coal look like underground. A real coal miner’s daughter led us through the museum and mine. She showed us how it feels to be in total darkness and gave us a pretty good idea of what it was like to go to work in a mine every day. Mining was the only game in town for the young guys and the jobs were easy to get. The interview consisted of two questions: Can you pick? Can you shovel? If the answers were “Yes”, they were hired and began a life of hard work, low pay and often culminating in an early death.
A 100 mile loop drive took us to Cape d’Or on a peninsula in the middle of the Bay of Fundy. It was another rainy day but it was still very nice. The views reminded us of some places along the Oregon coast. Near Cape d’Or is the small town of Advocate Harbour. When the tide goes out, it goes far far out and boats sit on the sea bottom until the water returns. While we were there, a lost beluga whale was in the harbor area. He was making the local news but the tide was out so we didn’t see him.
Also along the Bay of Fundy coast is a place called Joggins Cliffs. It’s a fossil hunter’s paradise and has been called the “Coal Age Galapagos”. Some of the world’s oldest reptiles and other 300 million year old fossils have been found here. The rocky cliffs erode very easily so each tide of the Bay of Fundy brings new discoveries. We got there an hour before closing time and did a quick look but didn't find any dinosaurs or rodent parts. However, an expert broke a rock with his hammer and showed us a bird beak. You have to know what you're looking for and be able to recognize it. On a drizzly overcast Saturday, we took a 90 mile drive along the scenic Northumberland Shore of Nova Scotia. We stopped at a very busy farmers’ market in Tatamagouche that offered everything from arts and crafts to home-grown produce and homemade foods. We bought a bag of baby corn cobs, a bunch of fresh beets and some fudge. Very good stuff.
Fascinated by its name, Ron insisted on stopping at the small town of Pugwash at the mouth of the Pugwash River. It’s a fishing and mining village but, more importantly, it’s famous for “peace”. It was the birthplace of the first “Thinkers Conference” in 1957, hosted by philanthropist Cyrus Eaton, who was born in Pugwash. Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and others initiated the program, which is now known as the “Pugwash Conferences.” The purpose was to bring top scientists and other thinkers together to discuss the threat to civilization by thermonuclear weapons. Since the first conference, there have been nearly 300 conferences, symposia and workshops around the world with over 10,000 in attendance. The basic Pugwash Conference is held annually. A basic rule is that those participating must represent only themselves and not a government or organization. You never know what you’ll find along the road. We found that Pugwash is much more than just a funny name.

Our destination was the small town of Pictou (Pick-toe), known as the “birthplace of New Scotland.” Yes, there’s a story behind it. In the summer of 1773, about 200 Highland Scots boarded the ship Hector at Loch Broom in Scotland in search of better lives in America. The voyage was long and hard, food was scarce, a gale blew the ship off course by two weeks and 18 children died enroute. The Hector finally arrived in Pictou on September 15, 1773 and the pioneers established the first permanent Scottish settlement in the region. Tens of thousands of Scots later arrived at the port of Pictou. Most settled in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Pictou celebrates its heritage with several festivals, including the August Hector Festival. A replica of the original ship Hector, along with a related museum is the centerpiece of the waterfront. Songs have been written about the voyage of the Hector and reenactments of the landing are held during the festival. It’s a very big deal in Pictou. Our primary purpose for being in Pictou was to attend some Hector Festival events. The day we were there, they were having a highland dance competition and an encampment was set up and occupied by the 84th Regiment. Pipe and drum bands were marching, muskets were being fired and there was lots of talk about the voyage of the Hector. We stayed late to attend a ceilidh in the evening. “Ceilidh” (pronounced kay-lee) is Gaelic for a kind of party get-together. It’s something like a hoe-down and primarily for the purpose of music, dance and a good time. A ceilidh can occur just about anywhere from a front porch to a public hall. In this case, it was a professional event held in Pictou’s deCoste Centre theater. It included songs, dancing, humor, Acadian fiddling and a pipe and drum corp consisting of nine bagpipers and five drummers. They filled the hall with the beautiful honking, screeching, droning sounds that only bagpipes can make. It was an excellent program and a perfect way to finish off our brief visit to beautiful Nova Scotia.

The weather was miserable much of the time, so we didn't see as much as we wanted to. Then again, there's always too much everywhere we go. So, we have to make the choices that are most interesting to us and let the rest go.
Nova Scotia’s primary crop is blueberries and August is harvest time. So, before leaving the Maritimes, Bonnie picked up a bunch of berries and served them up in pancakes and over ice cream.
Does life get any better than that?