THEY say you know you are in Nova Scotia when you see cars stop on the street to let pedestrians cross – they also say, you will be more certain as soon as you come to realise that three of nature’s four seasons are “Almost Winter”, “Winter” and “Still Winter”.
'Many of those who perished with the Titanic are buried in Halifax, including more than a hundred in Fairview Cemetery and there are many more links'
Well, yes, drivers do stop if they see you waiting to cross the road – even on busy high streets – and no doubt Nova Scotia does have its share of chill Atlantic weather, but there is far more to Canada’s second smallest province than civic politeness and a nice line in self-deprecating humour.
This is an area steeped in history, interest and with some fine food and drink to enjoy along every step of your journey. Being on the bounteous Bay of Fundy, it has two strong claims to fame – excellent sea food and the world’s highest tides. Nova Scotia has now become a foodie haven.
In the capital, Halifax, you can sample some of this excellent food while getting your first taste of the city’s indisputable claim to its place in maritime history. The Five Fishermen restaurant on Argyle Street not only serves up some superb seafood dishes, it also has a strong link with the Titanic disaster.
Being the closest port to Titanic’s sinking and the loss of more than 1,500 souls, some of Halifax’s finest and oldest buildings have their own chapter in the harrowing tale. The Five Fishermen restaurant was once Snow’s Funeral Parlour. Here, some of the most celebrated and richest victims were brought after their bodies were recovered from the icy Atlantic, including the heir to the Astor fortune, John Jacob Astor IV.
Before that it was the home of Anna Leonowens, former governess to the King of Siam, whose story, Anna and the King of Siam was to gain universal fame as the musical The King and I. It was also an Art School in previous years and, so folk say, it is haunted – which is altogether too much history for one building. So I settled back to enjoy its present claim to fame – one of the finest fish and seafood restaurants in Halifax. You must sample its Mussel & Salad Bar and take your choice from its own chowder, Nova Scotia Lobster and blackened Arctic char. Simply Superb.
Many of those who perished with the Titanic are buried in Halifax, including more than a hundred in Fairview Cemetery and there are many more links around this fascinating city, including the home of Hilda Mary Slayter a Titanic survivor who was only on board because she had been to England to buy her wedding trousseau. She then went to Ireland to board the RMS Tunisian but was among those who – because of the coal strike – had her £12/7/0 ticket transferred to the RMS Titanic. She survived, but her sumptuous, expensive wedding dress didn’t. She died on the Isle of Wight but was returned to be buried in Camp Hill cemetery, Halifax.
Another horrific maritime disaster helped shaped the history of Halifax – this time a collision in the bay in December 1917 when a munitions ship the Mont-Blanc exploded, immediately killing more than 1600 with a further 9,000 wounded and 12,000 buildings were damaged – flattened or rendered inhabitable with barely a pane of glass to keep out the weather. The devastation covered 325 acres of Halifax and Dartmouth across the harbour. The loss of life was so great it brought offers of help from around the world and created international links that are still visible today.
Away from tales of disaster, Halifax waterfront has two places well worth a visit which, in their own way, celebrate two of the city’s other traditions – brewing and offering visitors a warm welcome.
At Waterfront Warehouse Restaurant & Oyster Bar – you can enjoy excellent clams, a wide choice of as many as nine varieties of mussels, a selection of Nova Scotia oysters and superb lobster – while experiencing a warm Nova Scotia welcome from its manager Brodie, a Kiwi who moved to Canada some years ago and is now happy to call Halifax home but enjoys talking food and swapping tales of cricket and football with visiting Brits.
Across the way is the original Alexander Keith’s brew house – Keith’s IPA is one of the province’s favourite brews. A tour around Keith’s museum is not so much a step into history as a full-on time warp. You are greeted by actors in costume who may ask if you travelled to Nova Scotia: “in one of those new-fangled steam boats” and soon you are immersed into another world which includes a knees-up in the cellar with a beer or two, songs, dance and a bit of gaming – well, only for rows of beans. Great fun.
Of course Nova Scotia is not just Halifax, fascinating though it undeniably is. Just a few miles along the coast is the small town of Lunenburg with its painted Art Deco frontages (main picture). which have been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is often said to be Canada’s prettiest small town.
The house and shop fronts are a delight with a mix of pastel and bold shades highlighting the historic architecture of this once bustling fishing village. This is also the home port of Canada’s most famous racing sail ship, Bluenose.
Travelling toward the northern side of the province do take time off to visit Petite Riviere Vineyard – one of a number in the area – a winery small on small scale but big on its taste and ambitions.
Heading further north to Annapolis Bay – just a few miles from Digby and the ferry across the Bay of Fundy to St John’s, New Brunswick – is the historic town of Annapolis Royal, with its central role in Canada’s history and the battle for British and French supremacy. It is a pretty and historic town and Fort Ann, now designated a National Heritage site, is central to the fascinating history of modern Canada.
It is a great place to spend a day whether you intend to tour more of welcoming Nova Scotia or set sail across the Bay of Fundy to New Brunswick for another taste of Maritime Canada. Whatever you decide – you will go back to Nova Scotia.
Atlantic Canada Holiday - www.atlanticcanadaholiday.co.uk
A Halifax city break with an additional night in Lunenburg starts from £999 per person based on two sharing including Air Canada scheduled flights from London Heathrow, intermediate car hire for 2 days and four nights’ accommodation with Frontier Canada. www.frontier-canada.co.uk; 0208 7768709
Information on Halifax – www.destinationhalifax.com
Additional information: Lonely Planet: Canada www.lonelyplanet.com
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