The Maritime Provinces Atlantic Style
Sep 10, 2006
David Rich 1200 Words
$1 Canadian= US $.90
The Maritime Provinces' Atlantic Style
The French and English (liberally construed to include the Scots and Irish) have gone head to head for centuries, competing for domination of Canada's Maritime Provinces. This rich French and English heritage has evolved from wars of mass destruction into a competition to acquire the biggest and most impressive riding lawnmowers.
Maritimers need the biggest choppers made in order to clip the huge multi-acre lawns around the quaint Victorian mansions in which practically everyone lives, from St. Johns in New Brunswick and Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, to Halifax in Nova Scotia. Marvel when the gentlemen start their engines, manicuring lawns that make the average golf course look anemic.
Though maritime lawns seemingly stretch to the horizon they're dwarfed by the humongous forests that surround every cutesy clapboard house. Trees make up the bulk of the scenery in the Maritime Provinces, so avoid scenic roads like the plague. This advice applies even to those who revel in endless streams of small, medium and large trees swathed in light, dark, and medium green, with numbers so overwhelming that even tree-huggers, Sierra Club members and Joyce Kilmer romantics would be bored to desperation.
The tedium of unending forests is relieved by nightly Ceilidhs (pronounced kaleys), miniature river dances organized in every maritime region. These concerts would warm the stoniest heart, enthusiastically rendered by soloists and local bands consisting of electric fiddles, eclectic guitars and brilliant Celtic tunesmiths, resulting in great foot-stomping music. One shindig I attended featured a seventeen-year old whirling dervish of a black-haired girl who executed a step-dance that splintered the stage surface into smithereens, showering me and other front row residents with flying particles to terrify Pinocchio.
Other Maritime highlights include pointy pastel churches, far more colorful than the stodgy New England kind, painted in colors from pale yellow accented in rustic red, to lubricous lavender trimmed in purple. The Provinces also offer copious flower gardens and thousands of lakes for the churches to sit alongside. With more lakes than Minnesota and Finland the Provinces are a fisherman's paradise, the lure for most of the tourists I met. The unending lakes provide wispy foggy mornings and perfect afternoon reflections of elaborate mansions and pulchritudinous village churches plopped on humongous green lawns.
By mid-September the unending trees were busily changing into colors even more intense than October in New England. But more impressive were the Maritimers themselves, the politest drivers I've encountered in over a hundred countries. When was the last time you sat waiting at a stop sign, hoping to enter a major thoroughfare, and someone stopped to let you in? This happened to me twice in a single hour in St. John's, the capital of New Brunswick. Stupefied both times, I pulled into traffic, waved happy thanks at the yielding driver, and drove of in a marveling haze.
New Brunswick and Nova Scotia border the Bay of Fundy, home of the world's highest tides (fifty feet, or fifteen meters), vividly illustrated by the Hopewell Rocks. These hundred feet (thirty meter) high rocks completely uncover at low tide, towering like giants with unruly timbered tops. Bitsy children and unsteady adults cavort the low tide mud flats like slip-sliding goats. A few hours later only the bushy Hopewell tops remain visible, mortal shoe prints washed clean by the tides, filthy fun for all ages.
Every watery point sports a red and white lighthouse with no two alike though they're liberally sprinkled throughout the Maritimes, pleasingly placed for the photographic impulse of every tourist. On the way into New Brunswick from lower Maine, many stop by the most photographed cottage in Canada, the Pansy Patch next door to the even more photogenic and fabulous Algonquin Hotel. Both sit in super cutesy St. Anne, barely inside the Canadian border, a stone's throw from Campobello Island, a possession of New Brunswick, where Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent much of his leisure time.
On the way out of New Brunswick, don't miss quaint Shediac, which boasts the world's biggest and gaudiest lobster set to pincer an unsuspecting lobsterman. A hundred years ago lobster was considered trash, fit only for swine. Now this former pig-food is slurped up by tourists and locals in copious numbers for twenty to twenty five bucks a pop. Even in Canada this translates into more than loose pocket change.
Shediac is an ambitious stone's throw from the eight mile (thirteen kilometer) bridge connecting New Brunswick with Prince Edward Island, a formerly isolated province forced into the 21st Century by this marvelous new bridge. The bridge has created mighty mixed feeling among the Prince Edward Islanders and costs $40.50 roundtrip, payable upon exit from PEI. Before exiting don't miss the Prince Edward Island National Park dunes, lagoons, and water wonderland, offering a great stroll over a lengthy boardwalk to an isolated beach and the world's only elliptical dunes.
Japanese tourists flock to PEI, lapping up Anne of Green Gables (1908) hype. Lucy Maude Montgomery, a schoolmarm and journalist, slathered the book with PEI lore, about a feisty orphan girl growing up with an elderly couple near its north shore. Now the area is packed with hokey tourist traps attracting numerous Japanese weddings along quaint red cliffs. More interestingly, the red soil has spawned an industry of t-shirts that look like a test load for a detergent commercial.
My favorite Province is Nova Scotia, for four reasons: The first reason is Cape Breton Island, 110 miles (175 kilometers) by 75 miles (120 kilometers), separated from the mainland by a two mile wide Canso Strait. The north end of the Island is a national park with excellent hiking and views, the middle is split asunder by the salt tidewater Bras d'Or Lake, huge at forty by twenty miles, and a costumed French village, the restored fortress of Louisbourg, sits on the east shore.
Second is Digby neck on the opposite end of Nova Scotia, a forty mile (65 kilometer) long finger culminating in Brier Island, surrounded by excellent whale watching possibilities and with water so clear that one can often see an entire whale instead of just fins. The other two highlights are very different but highly quaint villages. Peggy's Cove, a few miles west of Halifax, is a weathered fishing village perched on and around bare granite, set off by Canada's only post office in a lighthouse. The best is the only World Heritage Site in the Maritimes, Lunenburg, jammed with a hundred Victorian building spiffily painted, naturally surrounded by unending green lawns tended by the largest mowing machines on earth.
When you go: Partially because the Canadian dollar has almost reached parity with the US dollar, expect high prices for food and accommodation. Budget doubles range from the cheapest we found at $55, averaging $90 but often $100 and up. The short tourist season of July and August breeds premium prices. However, most hotels offered free high speed wifi so take a laptop to stay in touch. Alternatively, use the free internet available at local libraries, usually slow dial-up. High prices and slow internet are more than compensated for by the local Ceilidhs, such as that presented by Cynthia Macleod and friends that I enjoyed at Brackley's Landing on Prince Edward Island: See www.cynthiamacleod.com