THE SUNRISE TRAIL
Crossing over from New Brunswick into Nova Scotia, I turned onto the Sunrise Trail - the road along the south shore of the Northumberland Strait from Tidnish to the Canso Causeway. It derives its name because as you're driving along it in the morning, you go the whole way with the sun in your eyes. Whether or not that is the reason, I'll certainly vouch for it being a fact. I wondered that if you drove along it in the opposite direction, whether it would be called the Sunset Trail.
Along here were several wineries - presumably vinyards one would think. Imagine that, growing grapes in areas where the temperature is capable of falling well below minus 30 degrees Celsius.
As I drove along the Sunset Highway, I encountered a large ocean-going ship sailing towards me up the Northumberland Strait in the general direction of Prince Edward Island and the upstream St.Laurence area. It was too far away for me to get in a good shot, but after a few miles, fate intervened and presented me with a small road on my left that looked like it might go down to the shoreline.
It goes without saying that I went to find out and after a short distance, during which my little road had transformed itself into a typical Canadian dirt track, I fetched up on the shoreline at Heather Beach, between Tidnish and Port Howe.
One day, and pretty soon I reckon, I'm going to have to treat myself to a decent SLR digital camera with telephoto lens and the like, because then I can make the most of the distance shots that present themselves. My little Fuji is okay for many occasions, but it's just not up to photos like this, unfortunately.
(In fact I had to pass through many stages of despair and wait longer than anticipated - January 2007 - in fact, before a digital SLR" came into my hands)
At least the weather was keeping fine though, as you can tell. What you can't tell is just how freezing cold windy it was. Mind you, it was right at the end of November so I guess I was lucky that it was like this and not six feet deep in snow.
These next two photographs show the beach itself and the wooden holiday chalets that abound all around here at Heather Beach. You can see the place was totally deserted. There wasn't a soul around at all.
I imagine it would be a totally different story in the middle of summer.
Heather Beach is the kind of place that looks like it would be absolutely heaving with people. Taking one's summer holidays in November and December does have some things going for it.
While I was parked up here, I carried out a quick inventory, and came to the conclusion that supplies were getting rather low, and that ready cash was even lower. I needed to find a bank and some shops.
Although there were isolated pockets of Europeans living amongst the Mi'kmaq here, the area was settled in the mid 18th Century by colonists from New England. This trickle became a flood after the American War of Independence, and the town of Pugwash was founded here on this tidal inlet.
Its wealth was based on shipbuilding and lumber, but the shipbuilding didn't last for very long. The railway arrived here at the end of the 19th Century but the expected prosperity didn't arrive with it. Finally, a series of four major fires and a devastating flood destroyed what wealth remained.
The wealth of the town today comes mainly from lobster fishing. The inlet marks the frontier between two fishing zones whose periods of exploitation do not overlap. Hence the residents just move their boats across the inlet and apply for a licence in the second zone, and they can fish for twice as long. Licenses here that cost a couple of hundred dollars have been known to change hands for as much as 100,000 dollars
There's also an underground salt mine here. It's the only salt mine in Nova Scotia and with the demise of the coal industry, it's the only underground mine here these days. It made me feel quite at home because as you know, I used to live in Winsford, and my father worked for many years at "British Salt" in Middlewich. The mine is probably the largest employer here, and they reckon it can keep working at its current output for over 100 years.
One thing that I found quite remarkable here in Pugwash was that the street signs are all bilingual - in English and Gaelic! However no-one was speaking Gaelic in the town as far as I could hear and there were no adverts in Gaelic in any of the local shop windows.
Another thing that was remarkable was the range of shops. The good side was that I found a hardware shop that sold inter alia some screwdriver socket driver bits of quarter-inch, three-eights, and half-inch. I've been looking for these for years. Now the shop has two sets less, and Paul and I have one set each. The bad side was that there didn't seem to be a decent grocer's shop where I could buy some of my lunch food. And I had a good look around as well!
One thing though about Pugwash - I was unable to find any trace of Seaman Staines and Roger the Cabin Boy. There was no point in hanging around waiting so I set off in search of food.
I drove out of town along the river and then rejoined the main highway to follow the coast through the Gulf Shore Provincial Park out to Fox Harbour. This would bring me back to Highway 6 via the Fox Harbour Provincial Park.
Fox Harbour itself is the typical collection of chalets, caravans and so on all hidden in a pine wood. It looked really nice there and would be a really great place to stay in summer I reckon. Now, it was absolutely deserted.
On the way down to here though was a forest surrounded by a thick metal fence which gave it the air of being a government establishment or similar place given the amount of money having been spent on the fence. I'd certainly give a dollar to find out what's going on behind it. If you have any ideas, then .
One thing I noticed on my travels was that there are very few active railway lines in the Maritimes. Prince Edward Island has none at all, as far as I'm aware. All the non-trunk lines seem to have been closed down, such as this abandoned railway line that I came across near Tatamagouche.
The line was known as "The Short Line" and was built in the 1880s from Oxford Junction, about 50 kilometres away between Truro and Amherst. Its purpose was to feed the industry and the lumber traffic around the Northumberland coast, as well as to connect with the Prince Edward Island ferry at Pictou. Passenger service ceased in 1960 and freight in 1972, long before the great cull of rural railway lines in Canada in the 1980s. The last train on the line actually passed by in 1986, appropriately bogging down in a snowdrift.
A little way further down the road is the town of Tatamagouche. Here, the old railway station building is still standing, together with about 200 metres of track and 7 or 8 assorted cabooses and carriages. At first glance I reckoned that it was some sort of museum or exhibition. There weren't any engines, unfortunately. In fact, I didn't see a single preserved railway locomotive during my entire journey around Canada, which contrasted rather poorly with my trip around the USA the previous summer when I couldn't move without tripping over them.
In fact, it turns out that the carriages and the station building form a hotel where travellers can stay in "deluxe accommodations reflecting the age of the railway car" according to the hotel's website. It's clearly way outside my price bracket, though, and in any case there's bags of daylight and I had a lot to do.
On the main road just up the hill from the railway station was a reasonably-large supermarket. At last I was able to buy myself a baguette and some salad. I was pretty hungry by now.
WOOD ISLANDS FERRY
Thirty miles further on from Tatamagouche is the small town of Caribou. This was where I was heading, and for an obvious reason. I said previously that there was another way than the Confederation Bridge to cross over to P.E.I., and this is by the seasonal ferry that plies its trade between Caribou and Wood Islands for the "Northumberland Lines". In November and December it's still sailing, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to make the crossing by boat.
If your thing is for Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia only, then you just read straight on. Those of you following me on the optional excursion to Prince Edward Isle need to come this way. We'll all meet up back here in a short while.
So now that we're all back at Caribou after our little trip to Prince Edward Isle, the first task was to find a motel for the night. It was quite late, and it had also begun to absolutely lash it down with this cold, icy rain. The New Glasgow - Stellarton conurbation looked like it might be the best bet, so that was the direction that I took. However on arriving at the roundabout at the top of the hill (rare things in North America, roundabouts. I've only ever encountered one other in the whole of my travels around the USA) where there is the turn-off to Pictou, I discovered a motel that had not closed for the season. No sense in driving any further. Wise decision too - the Lionstone Inn did me a good deal - 49 dollars plus tax - and was good value for money.
There was a pleasant restaurant "the name of which I've forgotten" in Pictou where I had an excellent meal. There didn't seem to be very much else going on in the town however.
One thing, though. I reckon that the Monty Python team must have visited northern Nova Scotia. Go into any restaurant around here and ask for the menu. They don't have menus in this part of the world but simply explain what's on offer. And it's easy.
Eric "Well, what've you got?"
Waitress "Well, there's egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and fish; egg bacon and fish; egg bacon sausage and fish; fish bacon sausage and fish; fish egg fish fish bacon and fish; fish sausage fish fish bacon fish tomato and fish; ...."
Vikings "fish fish fish fish..."
Waitress "...fish fish fish egg and fish; fish fish fish fish fish fish baked beans fish fish fish..."
Vikings "fish! Lovely fish! Lovely fish!"
One thing I noticed though was the awful smell. I wasn't sure what it was, but it seemed to be coming from here on the left. You'll need to ... er ... enlarge the thumbnail (click on it) to see it properly.
Yes - it was dark around here. And still raining quite heavily.
The town of Pictou played a very important role in the history of the Maritime provinces. Visited regularly by the French in the early days of their explorations, it was a settlemnt of the Mi'kmaq indians. The first European settlers were actually transplanted from New England in 1767 in much the same way as happened at Pugwash, but its fame dates from 1773 when the first Highland Scots, who gave this area much of its character, arrived on the "Hector" after their displacement from Scotland following the Jacobite revolution of 1745.
It was at one time quite an important seaport, but in modern times the increasing size of shipping as well as the general decline in coastal trade means that those golden days are over.
Apart from the "Hector" Pictou has another claim and not surprisingly it involves fish - well, seafood at any rate. In 1924 an American team of flyers led by Lieutenant Lowell Smith set out from Seattle to be the first to circumnavigate the globe by air. They flew westwards via Asia and Europe, and Pictou was their first landfall back on the mainland of North America. They celebrated by buying two dozen lobsters - at a cost of one dollar.
Next morning I went back into town to get a better view of whatever it was I saw, or rather, smelt the previous evening, and take a photograph if it was anything interesting, which it was and so I did, as you can see.
I bet you are still none the wiser? It is in fact a pulp and paper mill, owned by Kimberley Clark, across on the other side of the inlet from Pictou harbour. It's probably where the paper in your toilet and the rolls in your kitchen come from.
I'm still not sure why I didn't take any photos of the town or of the motel where I stayed. It was still raining quite heavily, but that can't have been the reason. After all, it's never stopped me before. But thinking about it again, I'm not sure what there was to photograph. Probably I should have photographed my restaurant, which I seem to recall was a nice, heavy granite type of Scots Victorian construction of the type you'd see in Inverness or Aberdeen.
Leaving Pictou, I drove over the causeway in the direction of Trenton, Port Glasgow and Stellarton. These towns were formerly big mining communities with some of the thickest seams in the world, and renowned for steel making, but the heavy industries have long since gone leaving the towns dependent on small manufacturing and service industries.
My interest however was in the "Albion" - a steam locomotive of 1854, "Samson" - a steam locomotive of 1839 and the oldest in Canada, and the three old locomotives from the heyday of steam power in the Maritimes, all of which are on display somewhere around here. However, after two hours of searching and not seeing a single signpost or other clue, I lost patience and headed back eastwards and up the coast in the driving rain.
I must have been in a bad mood that morning.
But be that was it may, seven years later I was back in New Glasgow. In much better weather and in much better health, I made much more of a determined effort to find these steam locomotives. And do you know what? I actually found them as well . and wasn't it worth the wait?
Meanwhile, back in 2003 again I drove up along the coast heading eastwards in the vague direction of Antigonish, through the townships of Lismore, Knoydart and Arisaig, the latter township and harbour which you can see in the photograph on the left. This was taken from the road at the top of the hill overlooking the bay.
The names of the townships around here bear witness to the Scottish Highland origins of the settlers who came here after the clearances subsequent to the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745.
But in much of this area of Canada, it has to be said, the Scots participated in their own version of the clearances, taking over the land and the farms of the French Acadian settlers who were expelled from the area following the fall of Canada to the British. All of this is reminiscent of more modern events where European Jews, fed up of being kicked about all over Europe, avenge themselves by invading another country and start to kick the innocent and defenceless inhabitants about all over Palestine. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
On the left is a photograph of harbour at Arisaig, looking back up the hill to where I'd taken the previous photograph. It's yet another harbour totally empty of boats.
The township of Arisaig was first settled by a party of Scottish immigrants from the Morar region of Scotland who came here towards the end of the eighteenth century. The town is named after the Arisaig that is a small township on the west coast of Scotland at the southern edge of the White Sands of Morar, near the seaport of Mallaig.
Here at Arisaig in 1792 was founded the first Scottish Catholic church in Nova Scotia, and its site in the harbour area is today marked by a cairn. The large modern-day church is situated a couple of hundred metres inland by the side of the main road in what constitutes the modern township.
The area is today renowned for its mineral rocks and fossils, which have fascinated collectors over the centuries.
Just a couple of miles further down the road is Malignant Cove. This was named after a British warship, the "Malignant", that ran aground here during the American War of Independence. Although most of the crew survived the wreck, many died of exposure before they reached safety up the coast at Pictou. Its name was officially changed to Milburn in 1915, but it never caught on.
Here I turned off the main road to follow the coast road to Antigonish. It had been raining throughout the morning, but you can see on the photograph that a famous storm was brewing up and it was very shortly to get even wetter. This last day or so I'd been really unlucky with the weather when you consider how nice it had been just two days earlier
Standing in the middle of the road and acting as if he owned the place was a rather large deer. I didn't know who was more surprised, the deer or myself, but he had the wits about him to amble off fairly sharpish before I could get the camera ready. And I was to have an even closer encounter than this with members of the Canadian wildlife later on on my journey, but more of this anon.
Next stop was along the coast at Cape George Point. This is at the mouth of St.George's Bay which lies between North-East "mainland" Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island and provides a sheltered anchorage for Antigonish and the Strait of Canso (in the days when you used to be able to sail through the Strait).
Looking down the coast from here you can see out and across St.George's Bay to Cape Breton Island and some of the many coves on the north-west coast of the island around Judique, Port Hood and Mabou. Mind you, the rainfall, mist and low cloud make visibility really poor, and you need to click on the thumbnail to see the enlarged version of the photograph to get a better appreciation of the view. They reckon that on a really good day you can see over to Prince Edward Isle. Not much chance of that today, unfortunately.
CAPE GEORGE POINT LIGHTHOUSE
At Cape George Point there's also a lighthouse. In fact there's been a lighthouse on this site since 1861, when the first one was built as a sort-of appendage to a wooden house. It burnt down in 1907 and the second was built in 1908 at a cost of $3098, and included a separate keeper's house. It was completely reconstructed in 1968 to form the one in the photograph.
The lighthouse was automated in 1968 and the keeper's house was demolished. Interestingly, throughout its period of operation of 107 years as a manned station, it only ever had four lighthouse keepers.
I have to say that it's an excellent spot to build a lighthouse - we're 360 feet above sea level here. The lighthouse itself is 54 feet 6 inches high.
The road from Cape George Point down to Antigonish was really nice and curvy, going up and down round bends through trees. It was really picturesque and would have been quite impressive in decent summer weather. But, of course, not much chance of that today either.
Here's a photograph of Ballantyne's Cove in St.George's Bay, just a short distance down the road. It's named for a Scottish immigrant, David Ballantyne, who settled in the area in the early years of the nineteenth century. Situated on the quayside here is the Bluefin Tuna Interpretive Centre which, needless to say, was closed for the season.
This reminded me of the eternal dispute I'd been hearing on the radio during my voyage concerning tuna fishing rights - how the Nova Scotia fishermen had been allocated more tons of tuna per licence than the Prince Edward Islanders, a fact which had caused a great deal of upset for the latter. There are supposed to be 24 boats which work full-time out of here but I haven't a clue where they all were when I called here
Maybe they're all out full-time working.
Ballantyne's Cove is also well-known for its contribution to the pioneer days of the local Co-operative movement, there being even today the "North Bay Fishermen's Co-op" here.
By now the storm that had been threatening for the last hour had broken with a vengeance and the rain was coming down in sheets. There was no way I was getting out of the car for a wander around Antigonish - that would have to wait for the way back. I was certain that I'd be coming back this way.
Nevertheless, I drove into the town from around the back and across the railway line, and made a brief stop at a "Subway" for a sandwich and a coffee. Then I set off out of the town to pick up the road back around the other side of St.George's Bay. A temporary upset as I had to wait in an enormous traffic queue on Highway 104 waiting for a major road accident to be cleared. The rain was so fierce it gave the car a really good wash.
The road around the bay brought me to Bayfield Beach.
This area was formerly settled by the Acadians in the early days of the 18th Century. It's claimed to be a very popular, well sheltered beach, but it wasn't today, as you can see from the photograph. Nothing but storm, and rain and spray, and grey clouds. If you're concerned about the lack of photographs of the journey, ask yourself the following question - "would you get out of your car to take photographs on a day like this?".
It goes without saying that there's a Provincial Park here, with all the usual camping facilities for RVs and campers that that entails.
It was only mid-afternoon but in the storm the light was going fast, as you can tell. So I left Bayfield Beach and drove along the old highway, passing through Tracadie, which was settled by Acadians in the latter half of the 18th century, and Monastery, which is famous for its monastery of the Augustinian order founded in 1825. From here, I had to follow the old road around a series of diversions before eventually arriving back at the Trans Canada Highway, Highway 104. This was the road that was going to take me over the Canso Causeway and onto Cape Breton Island.
Right turn at the end of the road, driver!