Home from Home Atlantic Canada
Nowhere in North America are the ties binding the old world with the new so strong as in Atlantic Canada, located on Canada’s spectacular east coast. Here, discover a rich heritage of British, Scottish, Irish, French Acadian and First Nations, where voices still reflect the home ports of the settlers who landed here centuries ago.
Familiar names, such as Halifax, St Andrews and Windsor dot the four most easterly provinces of Canada: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. The links to the British Isles range from history and heritage to music. You’ll find it all – along with superb dishes made from local oysters, mussels and lobster – in the towns and rustic settlements scattered throughout a landscape ranging from rugged headlands and hidden coves to lush meadows and dense forests.
When to visit?
Summers are warm in Atlantic Canada, while autumn brings spectacular colour, as the leaves on millions of trees turn to red and gold. But holidays are about meeting people; in Atlantic Canada, British visitors are greeted like long-lost relatives – and some turn out to be just that!
Just over six hours by plane from the UK, Halifax, Nova Scotia is the gateway to the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The region is small by Canadian standards, but together the provinces are as big as New England. So, pick up a car or an RV (motorhome) and spend a couple of weeks following the coast, hopping on and off ferries as you go. Explore the quiet roads, stop in picturesque villages and enjoy the great outdoors.
Nova Scotia – Canada’s New Scotland
To check out possible family connections, drop by Pier 21, the Canadian Museum of Immigration overlooking Halifax harbour. Between 1928 and 1971, a million immigrants disembarked here. You can use the Family History Centre’s database to track that long lost great-uncle or war-bride aunt.
Halifax played a major role in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster and that story is told in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. A young boy’s shoes and a pair of gentlemen’s gloves are among memorabilia that transform a famous headline into personal tragedies. But the capital of Nova Scotia has 250 years of history; you can learn more at the Citadel, the star-shaped fortress that guards the town. Cover your ears at midday for the daily firing of the Noon Gun that thunders out across the rooftops.
There is much more to this lively city: local university students ensure the cosy pubs are also great live music venues. Tuck into world-class seafood in stylish restaurants and check out the Seaport Farmers’ Market, a cornucopia of veg, cheeses and even Nova Scotia wines from the Annapolis valley.
South of Halifax, Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg are photographer’s delights, with red-painted wooden homes and lonely lighthouses. But for scenic drives, few can match the 300km-long Cabot Trail, looping around the tip of Cape Breton Island in the far north-east of the province. The name recalls the French immigrants, who arrived 300 years ago and whose legacy includes the massive Louisbourg fortress. Here the year is always 1744: women wear bonnets, soldiers fire muskets and children sing 18th-century French songs. By contrast, the heritage celebrated in the south-west corner of Cape Breton is Celtic. Drive through Dunvegan and Inverness; tour Glenora Distillery, the home of North America’s first single malt whisky; and learn all about high-speed fiddling at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique.
Take the ferry from Caribou, NS to Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island.
Prince Edward Island – Canada’s Gentle Isle
Smaller than Devon, PEI as everyone calls it, is romantic. Encircled by deep blue sea and sandy beaches, the island has red cliffs, green meadows and sleepy hamlets. Just 150 years ago, politicians from British North America met in Charlottetown, the capital, for the conference that led to the creation of Canada in 1867. That story is explained in Province House; the actual event is celebrated with a cycle path – the 300km-long Confederation Trail. Along the way are cute villages, glorious views, craft shops selling island-made souvenirs and waterside cafes serving delicious chowder.
One of the most famous ‘residents’ of PEI is the red-haired freckled heroine of Anne of Green Gables, created over a century ago. From the Green Gables Heritage Place, whose farmhouse inspired the stories, to the souvenir straw hats with ginger plaits, celebrating Anne is a lot of fun. And the musical all about the orphan and her escapades has been a mainstay of Charlottetown’s summer festival for 50 years.
To return to the mainland and the province of New Brunswick, drive over the dramatic 13km-long Confederation Bridge.
New Brunswick – Canada’s only bilingual province
It’s easy to identify 250-year-old Francophone Acadian communities; they fly the French tricolore, punctuated with a gold star. Canadians rarely boast, but they do like to point out that the Bay of Fundy has the world’s biggest tides. See for yourself at the Hopewell Rocks: at low tide, you can walk on the ocean floor at the base of sandstone columns; at high tide, you can paddle round their tops in a sea kayak. Nicknamed the Flower Pots, these pillars have been carved by tides for centuries.
Further down the shore is one of North America’s last remaining coastal wilderness areas, set along the 16km-long Fundy Trail. Whether you drive, cycle or hike, the air is pristine and the views wide-open. And many of the observation areas are wheelchair-friendly.
But, whatever you do, go out on a whale watch. Seeing one of these aquatic giants leap out of the water is a real thrill. Sailing yachts and speedy zodiacs offer regular tours from St Andrews-by-the-Sea. This charming village was settled in 1783 by British Loyalists, who fled from the newly independent United States. Stroll past the historic homes; explore Kingsbrae Garden, with its outdoor sculptures; and play the 120-year-old Algonquin golf course, where panoramas of Passamaquoddy Bay are the stuff of picture postcards.
Return to Nova Scotia via the ferry from Saint John to Digby. Drive back to Halifax through the Annapolis Valley with its orchards and vineyards.
Newfoundland & Labrador – welcoming wilderness
Newfoundland & Labrador is closer than you think. The Vikings arrived in wooden ships but today’s travellers have no excuse with daily direct flights from London in peak season in just five hours flying time, plus ferry service from North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Newfoundland alone is huge – large enough to absorb Scotland and more. In this vast wilderness moose wander across roads, perky puffins pose for pictures, and close to shore, luminous blue icebergs float majestically southwards. On the west coast, a must is the boat trip on Western Brook Pond, a 16km-long, land-locked fjord in Gros Morne National Park, where 300-metre-high waterfalls streak the towering cliffs.
Way up on its northern shore is the starkly beautiful bay of L’Anse aux Meadows. Here, grassy mounds mark the first European settlement in Canada. The story is told at Norstead, where, alongside a replica 16-metre-long ship, cheerful actors dressed as Vikings build fires, make pottery and spin wool. The small museum boasts 1,000-year-old archaeological finds, including stone oil lamps, a bronze pin for fastening cloaks, bone needles and spindles for spinning.
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