Falling for Atlantic Canada
By Annette Brooks
The lyrics from “You’re So Vain” kept replaying in my head as we sped northward, trying to make it to St. John, New Brunswick before the ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia departed. Listening to Carly Simon’s 1972 hit back in the day initially ignited my curiosity about Nova Scotia (Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia/To see the total eclipse of the sun), and it stayed with me over the years. Finally, while on a fall “leaf peeping” road trip with my friend, Rosemary, from California, I was going to visit the place I’d been wondering about for decades.
Having missed the ferry despite our efforts, we drove the extra 250 miles to Digby. This left us barreling across dark, desolate roads in my German sports sedan at speeds I dare not mention, only to arrive at Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa just after their acclaimed restaurant had closed. To make matters worse, it was Rosemary’s birthday and we were looking forward to a culinary celebration. Yet out of this unfortunate circumstance, we learned about gracious Canadian hospitality. Knowing our predicament, Chef Dale Nichols stayed late and prepared a homemade meal for us—roasted vegetables in a light tomato-wine broth with seared Digby scallops and a creamy risotto. So, there we sat in my room around 11 pm, toasting life with a bottle of sparkling wine, and enjoying a quiet meal made especially for us by a celebrated Canadian chef—a birthday to remember with a tale to tell.
The next morning, with cameras ready, we drove from Digby to Halifax via Annapolis Valley. We anticipated a show of autumn colors, but instead discovered the leaves were hanging on to their chlorophyll until the last hurrah. A few rebels garnered our eager comments. “Oh look, there’s some color! Over there… see that leaf?”
The staff at our downtown Halifax hotel consoled us. “With a late fall, the leaves can change almost overnight.” We took this to heart as we happily toured around the city for a few of days, waiting for the autumn change.
Downtown Halifax was a pleasant surprise. The clean, modern hub of culture, food, business, and the arts offered the perfect balance of big city flare and small town charm. The harbor area was especially lively with restaurants on the water, boutiques, jewelry shops with handmade items from local artisans, galleries, and of course, a few tourist traps. Embracing our tourist status, we took a narrated Halifax Harbor Hopper Tour on a duck boat that traveled over land and water. It was a great way to sightsee and learn about local history.
Halifax’s food scene was equally exciting, mirroring the city’s urban revitalization. From upscale seafood restaurants such as The Five Fishermen and the trendy, bistro-like Bicycle Thief to the clubby CUT Steakhouse, we wined and dined our way through Halifax. And, as bonafide foodies, we made sure to try Nova Scotia’s official dish, the donair, which is like a Greek gyro, but with a sweet and garlicky sauce.
After a few days in Halifax, we decided to take a day trip up the coast in search of colorful leaves. The hotel concierge looked at us quizzically when we inquired about things to do along the way. “There’s nothing much to see up there,” he said. “You might want to go down to Peggy’s Cove instead.”
Determined and admittedly a bit stubborn, we headed up the coast anyway, which took us past scenic coves, a smattering of quiet coastal villages, and some interesting homesteads. One photo-worthy home had whimsical artwork attached to its whitewashed wooden clapboards—a true expression of individuality. Lunch was a simple but deeply satisfying bowl of hot homemade soup at a roadside café. (Nova Scotians know how to do soup.) And the leaves? They were just beginning to change. We were encouraged.
When it was time to leave Halifax and catch the CAT ferry to Maine, we traveled down along the coast before cutting inland over Yarmouth. To our delight, and as if by magic, trees with yellow, red, and orange leaves appeared along the waterways and throughout the hills as we made our way to Peggy’s Cove.
A quaint fishing village perched on an austere, windswept, rocky shoreline, Peggy’s Cove, replete with its own lighthouse, looks like a living postcard. You’ll find brightly hued boats moored to its docks and a handful of homes, either colorfully painted or weathered grey, dotting the land. It’s a small, picturesque community—and one of Nova Scotia’s most beloved—with a couple of restaurants, a gallery or two, and a several retail shops.
Heading further down the coast, Mahone Bay was a big surprise. We discovered the entire town goes all out for Halloween. The streets come to life with over 250 hand-made, life-size, creatively dressed scarecrows. Volunteers in the town spend their summers building these scarecrows and dressing them creatively in themed groups. The display has attracted visitors to Mahone Bay for many years.
Ever since I experienced Nova Scotia, I’ve had an urge to return. Our whirlwind visit only gave me a taste of what the area has to offer. I’m ready to see and learn more about this Canadian Maritime Province—and have already talked my husband into a trip there soon, colorful leaves dancing through my memory.