July 5, 2017-July 9, 2017
Canada’s civility and beauty hit me right at the border. A smooth, multi-lane highway stretched out, nearly empty of other travelers, and followed a gently rolling terrain past acres of evergreens under a cloud-dotted blue sky. The expanse of New Brunswick continued on, hour after hour, revealing a larger province than a map might suggest. Eventually evergreens gave way to marsh lands, but more surprisingly to me, farmland in Nova Scotia.
Before this trip, I had imagined Nova Scotia to be a rugged, rocky, and raw place, one more like the New England coast with its fishing towns and granite crags. The agricultural center of the Annapolis Valley changed my whole outlook on the province and impressed me with a combination of fields and orchards, ponds with croaking frogs, and ruddy, muddy ravines. The hay, the vineyards, and the produce near Port Williams spread out between hillsides, tidal streams, and dams built initially to hold back salty water when the moon’s pull hadn’t suck them dry.
Using Planter’s Barracks as a base was ideal. The innkeeper couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. Her breakfasts were hearty and healthy, her thoughtfulness with bug spray and blankets comforting in so many ways, and her willingness to chat and share her tips and stories made me feel at home. The building itself kept that sense of history, having been constructed as Fort Hughes in the 1700s, while having all the modern day creature comforts you want when splurging.
Another surprising find was the Ross Center for the Arts and Two Planks and a Passion. The evening ended up being drizzly, so the performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by fire ended up indoors. Because of the weather, many of the other ticket holders had decided against coming to this preview performance, leaving an audience of friends and crew, as well 4 strangers enjoying a terrific show lit by an impromptu collection of candles instead of bonfire. I’ve been involved in numerous performances, usually from behind the curtain or a control panel in a window-enclosed booth. This misty night was one of the rare times I’ve felt that same closeness with the performers. Actors held my gaze as Shakespeare rolled off their tongues, they sat beside me, imploring romantic advice or sharing fairy-plots, and we laughed together during the bumps and slight foibles preview-shows are meant to smooth.
That connection was enforced the next morning at the Wolfville Farmers Market where most of the cast was shopping along with the rest of the college town’s neighbors. Thanking them became a two way street, as I enjoyed a terrific performance and they were grateful, honestly it seemed, for the new faces in the audience.
The small town touch was made more broad by the global offerings at the market. Folks of various religions as well as of Russian, Mexican, and Indian descent, shared their delicacies side by side with local wineries and distilleries, bakeries, and of course, Canadian maple syrups.
This worldliness layered on top of a historical legacy that I had yet to thoroughly understand and still need to learn more about. Grand-Pré National Historic Site with it’s cultural center, fiddle players, and reclaimed tidal zone provided a deeper tale of European settlement, inventive agricultural labors, and colonial tragedies. Similarly, Fort Edward, one of the oldest wooden buildings in Canada with still-visible graffiti carved or drawn by soldiers, had been built on settlements of Mi’kmaq and Acadians, and provided a tangible site for the deportations of the 1750s. Descriptive plaques, which I can’t seem to resist, as well as knowledgeable docents clearly conveyed each site’s story and those of the various peoples who lived in the area, the cultural exchange that occurred when Native Peoples were faced with settlers, and then the turmoil as the British fought for control.
The use of the term New Englanders became a useful reminder to me that America wasn’t yet America during this complex historical period and yet those New Englanders weren’t quite British anymore either. Tales shared at the Prescott House Museum of pirates from Maine and Massachusetts who pillaged off the coast of Nova Scotia and led to defenses like Fort Hughes, enforced that difference between nations as clearly as the French-Canadian spoken during stops in New Brunswick’s Moncton and Saint John.
Regardless of who lived, conquered, or passed through the area, they all had to deal with Mother Nature and her massive tides. Traveling to Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy involved more tourists then the rest of the visit, but it was well worth it. The amount of water that moves in and out of the space can’t be adequately appreciated in pictures and really needs to be experienced first hand. Standing on the lookouts at high tide, and then climbing over still-wet, seaweed covered rocks and walking that same ocean floor from one once-isolated beach to another hours later, is humbling to say the least. Nature’s power and Earth’s unique geology is on display, but not just at this site. It seemed like any waterway in the region was at the mercy of this tidal flow and more parks await to provide different view.
While supremely impressive, the power of the bay helped me appreciate the ingenuity of those who have lived with the shifting landscape and its tides, surviving and thriving throughout the centuries. Like those in and out going currents, the history, the physical size, and appealing variety I experienced from this slim and too short taste of Nova Scotia, ensures I’ll be back again, ready to learn more about its past, soak in more of it’s natural wonders, and explore more of its present.