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(2011 - Spring Issue)

Writer: Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb

Though the southwest accounts for only about a third of its total area, this compact corner of the Maritimes—bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Bay of Fundy—looms large in the national psyche. Hockey, for instance, originated in the area; Windsor’s Hockey Heritage Museum traces the genesis of our favourite sport. So did the Bluenose, the renowned racing schooner and long-standing source of pride pictured on the back of the Canadian dime.

As if that isn’t enough, one of the earliest settlements in Canada began here. At the Port-Royal National Historic Site, a weathered wooden fort marks the spot where traders established their landmark settlement in 1605, three years before Champlain arrived in Québec City. That makes Port-Royal the first permanent European colony north of Florida. Incidentally, it also makes it the site of the New World’s first social club, which may explain why local folks continue to be such a convivial bunch.

Blast From the Past

Though it appears oh-so tranquil today, Southwest Nova Scotia was originally seen as a strategic gateway to both New France and New England. Consequently, empire builders fought hard to control dominance. Evidence of that epic struggle remains today at Annapolis Royal, a town which alternately served as a colonial capital under French and British rule. Its vast array of heritage buildings includes not only Canada’s oldest wood house but also Fort Anne. Ringed by 300-year-old earthwork ramparts, the latter has justifiably been called “the most attacked site in Canadian history.”

Later historical chapters are revealed in communities such as Shelburne, a Loyalist enclave so well preserved it has been used as a shooting location for films such as Roland Joffé’s The Scarlet Letter and the new adaptation of Moby Dick starring Oscar-winner William Hurt. Liverpool (once a popular port for privateers) and Mahone Bay (where century homes have been transformed into boutiques crammed with traditional crafts) are other examples. The iconic Peggy’s Cove is here as well, its lighthouse dominating this vintage hamlet, which has come to symbolize Nova Scotia’s seafaring past.


Lunenburg has already won a coveted UNESCO World Heritage designation. Though it is more than 250 years old, the town wears its age well. Indeed, its heyday as a world-class fishing and shipbuilding centre can still be glimpsed in bustling wharves and brightly-painted waterfront buildings: one houses the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, a converted fish plant that boasts aquariums along with exhibits on shipbuilding, whaling and rum-running. It is also home to the Bluenose II, a replica of the legendary Lunenburg-built boat. Now in the midst of an estimated $12.5-million overhaul, she is set to relaunch in 2012.

A second spot being considered by UNESCO is Grand Pré National Historic Site. Its artifact-filled visitor centre recounts the tragic tale of thousands of politically neutral francophones who, after tilling Nova Scotia’s agricultural heartland for centuries, were deported by the British between 1755 and 1763. The Acadians were dispersed to far-off places, including Louisiana where they became known as “Cajuns.” Yet it is a testament to their tenacity that many returned. As a result, you may witness living Acadian culture at summertime events like Festival acadien de Clare or the kitchen parties organized by Musique de la Baie.

A Natural Choice

The fact that Southwest Nova Scotia’s most pristine terrain also received a UNESCO stamp of approval underscores the natural beauty of the region. A decade ago almost 142,000 hectares were earmarked as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and, in tourism terms, its focal point is Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site. Combining a vast tract of interior woodland with a scenic, sandy Atlantic coast adjunct, “Keji” is ideal for hikers and cyclists. Ditto for paddlers who have the opportunity to retrace canoe routes used by the native Mi’kmaq for thousands of years.

As Canada’s official entry into the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition, the Bay of Fundy has earned its own kind of recognition. Fundy’s main claim to fame is that it has the highest tides on the planet, but with that remarkable ebb and flow come impressive extras. Seals, porpoises and more than a dozen species of whales (among them endangered rights) populate this body of water. Moreover, succulent seafood abounds. For instance, those plump scallops that one of the world’s largest scallop fleets hauls home to Digby are considered delicacies around the globe.

A Harvest of Celebrations

Southwest Nova Scotia serves up plenty of memorable culinary experiences. Fundy Adventures provides a hands-on approach, hosting tutorials in clam digging, lobster hauling and dulse picking. Meanwhile, over in the fertile Annapolis Valley, assorted u-picks let you try your hand at harvesting fruit while wineries stage grape stomps and other events in addition to standard vineyard tours.

In 2011 the community of Yarmouth, a vibrant and historic seaport, which was once a Mi’kmaq aboriginal settlement and later home to French Acadians and a settlement to Massachusetts “Planters” in 1760, celebrates these three cultures and its 250thanniversary. Throughout the year, the city will roll out big-time enjoyment, with historic re-enactments, parades, festivals, tasty lobster and Acadian cuisine, toe-tapping live music, countywide geocaching and so much more.

So come, bring an appetite for life and be prepared to stay awhile. Despite its relatively small size, Southwest Nova Scotia promises travellers big perks and plenty to do.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Destination Southwest Nova Scotia Association: destinationsouthwestnova.com

Nova Scotia Economic and Rural Development and Tourism: gov.ns.ca

Yarmouth’s 250th Anniversary: yarmouth250.com

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