Let’s start in Lunenburg, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage for being the best surviving example of a British colonial settlement in North America. Church steeples pierce the skyline above bright-painted old houses that face the sea so that wives and children could see clippers returning with husbands and fathers from the stormy Atlantic. To get an idea just how challenging cod fishing in the 19th and early 20th century was, head to the excellent Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. Open year-round, the museum features artefacts and exhibitions about Nova Scotia’s maritime legacy, including the Rum Running days of Prohibition, ships and techniques of cod fishing, and the hundreds of men who sank with their clippers in the rough Atlantic. Canada’s oldest saltbank schooner sits on the wharf, while across the bay you can see the modern factory of Highliner Foods, one of the largest fish-processing plants in North America.
Walk around Lunenburg, discover its seafood restaurants and coffee shops, or historical sites like the Lunenburg Academy, the St John’s Anglican Church, the boatyards and harbour. Here you’ll find a replica of the Bluenose, a racing schooner that won the prestigious International Fisherman’s Trophy in the 1930’s – sailing its way into Canadian legend and the back of every 10c coin. Nobody gave the schooner much of a chance, which is why this Seabiscuit of Schooners became so iconic. After two years of restoration, the replica Blue Nose II is almost ready to take visitors on scenic and adventurous sails off the coast.
Of course, not every vessel is as successful as the Blue Nose. The sea claimed the lives of the many a poor soul, including those lost in perhaps the most famous ship tied to Nova Scotian maritime history. When the Titanic sunk on her maiden voyage in 1912, the nearest mainland port of Halifax was instrumental in rescuing survivors, reclaiming the dead, and sharing information with the outside world. Many Titanic victims were buried in Halifax cemeteries, where black granite headstones recall the disaster. Most Halifax tour operators offer a Titanic-themed tour. Even restaurants, like the excellent Five Fisherman on Argyle Street, played a part. The restaurant was once a mortuary for Titanic victims, and long-time staff will tell you about apparitions and strange occurrences (fortunately it doesn’t stop the food and extensive buffet from tasting great).
Any visit to Halifax must include the National Historic Site of the Halifax Citadel. Located on Citadel Hill on the site of forts dating back to the mid-1700’s, the current star-shaped fortress was built by the British in 1856 and was so successful that no foreign force even attempted to attack the important port of Halifax. Offering fantastic views over the habour, re-enactors portray soldiers from the 78th Highland Regiment, giving visitors a glimpse into life in the Victorian British army. You can tour the barracks, watch firing practice, help arm a cannon, or sign up to be a Soldier for a Day. For those who’d rather leave the soldiering to the soldiers (or the actors anyway), Halifax offers plenty of outdoor activities. Go deep sea fishing or whale watching from the harbour, explore one of many regional beaches, take a bike or kayak ride. Halifax hosts its annual Atlantic Film Festival, Fringe Festival and Word on the Street literary festival. Halifax’s Public Gardens are wonderful, and if you missed the museum in Lunenburg, the Maritime Museum of the Maritimes is well worth a visit.
Travelling is not always smooth sailing, but at least we’re not cod fisherman, paid in dried fish, fearing the next storm on the horizon. No matter how rocky the waves, keeping a good sense of humour, an open mind, and a sense of adventure might make the difference between your next holiday being a Blue Nose, or a Titanic.