The Complete Guide To East Coast Canada

David Orkin explores the highlights of Canada's eastern seaboard, an area dominated by the ocean


WHY AND WHERE?

WHY AND WHERE?

Why? To see colours acquire a new intensity: stripes of yellow sand squeezed between the brilliant blue of the Atlantic and the deep green that dominates this region of Canada. To witness the world's highest (and lowest) tides. And to meet a people whose roots lie on the Celtic fringe of Europe, but whose routes have taken them across the ocean. The three Maritime provinces covered here are Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (known as PEI). They are inextricably linked with the Atlantic: between them, they have more than 10,000km of coastline.

Where? these three eastern provinces are known collectively as the Maritimes. Nova Scotia is connected to the mainland (and New Brunswick) by a narrow isthmus and includes Cape Breton Island. New Brunswick borders Quebec and Maine in the US. The Bay of Fundy, which has the world's greatest tidal variations (rising and falling by up to 14m), separates the south-western part of Nova Scotia from New Brunswick; on the other side of the isthmus are PEI and the Gulf of St Lawrence.

WHY SUCH A TIDAL VARIATION?

The native Mi'kmaq Indians blame the tail of a giant whale. Scientists say that the natural rocking movement of the water in the Bay of Fundy coincides with - and is strengthened by - powerful ocean tides: when water from the Atlantic surges into the funnel-shaped bay, the waters rise.

WHEN SHOULD I GO?

The climate is moderated by the warming Gulf Stream currents. Summers are pleasant and seldom extremely hot, while autumn is a good time to see the stunning leaf colours. There are fewer tourists at this time of year, but many attractions and services close in September or October. Through the long winter much of the region is blanketed with thick snow.

HOW DO I GET THERE?

Zoom Airlines (0870 240 0055; www.flyzoom.com) flies non-stop to Halifax, Nova Scotia's capital and the largest city in the region, from Gatwick and Glasgow. Weekly flights between Gatwick and Halifax are also available on Canadian Affair (020-7616 9999; www.canadian-affair.com), which tailor-makes holidays to the region. You can fly to Halifax on Air Canada (0871 220 1111; www.aircanada.com) but the plane touches down in St John's, Newfoundland, where you clear customs.

HOW DO I GET AROUND?

Drive or sail - buses are thin on the ground. And with good quiet roads, a high number of scenic drives and countless out-of-the-way sights, you should rent a car. Through Hertz (0870 844 8844; www.hertz.co.uk), a week in August starts at around £180. If you'd rather be driven, Titan (01293 450600; www.titantravel.co.uk) offers a 12-day Maritime Canada coach tour. Alternatively, try Halifax-based Atlantic Tours Gray Line (001 902 423 6242; www.atlantictours.com).

The region's ferry connections are also good (001 902 566 3838; www.nfl-bay.com). Some of the most useful are Digby, Nova Scotia to Saint John, New Brunswick; Caribou, Nova Scotia to Wood Islands, PEI; and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to Bar Harbor, Maine. The Confederation Bridge opened in 1997, giving Prince Edward Island its only land link with New Brunswick and the rest of mainland Canada. There is a heavy toll (C$39/£16) for cars using the bridge to leave the island.

WHERE DO I START?

Nova Scotia. Halifax, its capital, is the biggest city in the Maritimes and the region's main international gateway. Because of its large ice-free harbour, Halifax is one of Canada's main ports. It is compact and characterful, and its skyscrapers blend with the city's 18th- and 19th-century architecture. Halifax is worth seeing from a distance: the simplest way is to take the ferry across to the city of Dartmouth and walk up to the Citadel, one of the best examples of a 19th-century fortification in Canada. Many of the Maritimes' attractions are water-related. In Halifax the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (001 902 424 7490; http://museum.gov.ns.ca/mma) has a special Titanic display. The city played a key role in the aftermath of the disaster and became the final resting place for many of the victims. It opens 9.30am-5pm daily (Tuesday to 8pm), admission C$8 (£3.50). More tales of the seas are revealed 50km east of Halifax at the Fisherman's Life Museum (001 902 889 4209; http://museum.gov.ns.ca/flm) in Jeddore Oyster Pond.

Nova Scotia has plenty of interesting towns. Lunenburg is the main centre for the province's fishing industry and is home to the informative Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic (001 902 634 4794; museum.gov.ns.ca/fma). It opens 9.30am-5.30pm daily, admission C$9 (£4). Originally settled by German immigrants in the 1700s, the old town comprises well-preserved wooden houses. The core of the town has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Louisbourg has some fine examples of early Nova Scotian architecture and one of the oldest lighthouses on the continent. Annapolis Royal is one of Canada's oldest communities and is jam-packed with historic mansions and sites.

I NEED TO GET OUT OF TOWN

Nova Scotia's landscapes range from the wild highlands of Cape Breton to the tranquil orchards of the Annapolis Valley and the wooded trails and waterways of Kejimkujik National Park (001 902 682 2772; www.pc.gc.ca). The southern shore has fine coastal scenery and fishing communities.

WHERE NEXT?

New Brunswick, the largest of the Maritimes. It is a beautiful and largely unspoilt province with large tracts of pristine forest, warm waters and fine coastal cliff and rock formations. New Brunswick's rich cultural heritage has been heavily influenced by the original French-speaking Acadian people. In 1969 it was declared Canada's first bilingual province. So it remains, with Quebec being monolingually French.

The crescent-shaped Prince Edward Island is easily Canada's smallest province. At 224km long and between 6km and 65km wide, it is probably smaller than some arable farms out west. More than half of the island is undulating farmland blessed with rich red soil. Life has an unhurried pace. You can drive or cycle the network of pretty back roads past family farms and flower-filled fields, or relax on the miles of dune-backed beaches. PEI is also a top golf destination (Golf Prince Edward Island; 001 866 465 3734; www.golfpei.ca), with courses concentrated around the central north shore, Charlottetown and the island's east coast.

TIME FOR A QUICK HISTORY LESSON

The earliest known residents of the Maritimes were the Algonquin-speaking Mi'kmaq Indians who lived here for centuries before John Cabot reached Cape Breton Island in 1497. The first European to see what is now New Brunswick and PEI was a Frenchman, Jacques Cartier, in 1534. The region was named Acadie (Acadia) and its first European settlers were French.

In 1621, King James I issued a warrant to establish a "New Scotland" in the Maritimes. The charter was in Latin, so New Scotland became Nova Scotia. From then on the British and French struggled for control of the area. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 ceded the Maritimes to Britain (with the exception of St-Pierre et Miquelon, two islands lying north-east of Nova Scotia that remain*

French territory to this day). When full-scale war broke out in 1755, the British demanded that French Acadians commit themselves to the Crown or face deportation. Some moved to more remote Maritime areas but many ended up in Louisiana - the term "Cajun" is derived from Acadian. In the late 18th century thousands of Scottish settlers arrived, many settling on Cape Breton Island.

A large part of Nova Scotia was renamed New Brunswick. This new province grew and prospered from timber and shipbuilding. But when wooden hulls were replaced by those made from iron and steel, the industry went into decline - perhaps a blessing in disguise, as this slowed the depletion of the forests.

Prince Edward Island - known by the Mi'kmaq as "Abegweit" or "Land Cradled on the Waves" - is often referred to as the birthplace of Canada, as the first meeting to discuss the decision to forge the new nation of Canada took place in Charlottetown in 1864. Its venue, Founders' Hall (001 902 368 1864; www.foundershall.ca), is a good place to swot up on Canada's history. It opens 9am-5pm daily (Sundays to 4pm), admission C$7 (£3).

HAS ACADIAN CULTURE SURVIVED?

Yes - many of the region's inhabitants still consider themselves Acadians, and a wide range of events celebrate this enduring culture. For example, in Nova Scotia, the Congrès Mondial Acadien, a series of events meant as a "family reunion" for Acadians runs until 15 August when it concludes with a 400th anniversary concert in Halifax (001 902 451 1221; www.cma2004.com).

There are Acadian museums and attractions throughout the region: in Nova Scotia the Grand Pre-National Historic Site (001 902 542 3631; www.grand-pre.com) commemorates the Acadian settlers removed from their lands in the mid-1700s by the British authorities. It opens 9am-6pm daily, admission C$5.75 (£2.50). In West Pubnico, Nova Scotia, you can visit La Village Historique Acadien (001 902 762 2530; www.tusket.com), which opens 9am-5pm daily, admission C$4 (£1.60).

PEI has the Acadian Museum in Miscouche (001 902 432 2880; www.teleco.org/museeacadien). It opens 9am-5pm daily, admission C$3 (£1.30).

SHOULD I LINGER IN NEW BRUNSWICK?

A flourishing seaport, Saint John is New Brunswick's largest and Canada's oldest incorporated city. Sadly, more than 1,600 buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1877. It's home to the New Brunswick Museum (001 506 643 2300; www.gnb.ca/0130), with its spectacular whale and shipbuilding displays. It opens 9am-5pm Monday-Wednesday, 9am-9pm Thursday, 10am-5pm Saturday and noon-5pm Sunday; admission C$6 (£2.60).

Inland, New Brunswick's capital, Fredericton, straddles the St John river and is rich in architecture and culture. On the waterfront the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (001 506 458 8545; www.beaverbrookartgallery.org) has a fine collection, including British works from the Elizabethan period. It opens 9am-6pm from Monday to Friday (Thursday until 8pm), 10am-5pm at weekends, admission C$5 (£2).

In St Andrews, a seaside resort where tiny shops and boutiques line the main street, visit Kingsbrae Garden (001 506 529 3335; www.kingsbraegarden.com), a masterpiece where paths lead you through rose, perennial, and butterfly gardens as well as an old-growth maritime forest. It opens 9am-6pm daily, admission C$8.50 (£3.50).

WHERE CAN I GET CLOSE TO NATURE?

Starting in Nova Scotia, visit the natural caves and tunnels carved out by the ocean at The Ovens (001 902 766 4621; www.ovenspark.com). Chignecto Bay on Nova Scotia's east central coast has superb scenery, secluded beaches and abundant wildlife, while Taylor's Head, east of Halifax, also has lovely beaches and hiking trails. One of the Maritimes' most stunning scenic drives, the Cabot Trail takes visitors to the mountainous Cape Breton Islands National Park (001 902 224 2306; www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ns/cbreton). Though often misty and windy, the mountains are wild and bleak, the shoreline is magnificent, and the wildlife abundant. Look out for moose.

In New Brunswick the Miramichi river is wild and beautiful, and the stretch of the St John river between Fredericton and Woodstock is particularly picturesque. The Bay of Fundy coast has magnificent walks at both the Fundy trail near St Martins (001 506 833 2019; www.fundytrailparkway.com) and Fundy National Park (001 506 887 6000; www.pc.gc.ca/fundy). Further east, explore the exposed kelp forests on foot when the tide is out or, at high tide, kayak around the giant flowerpot-shaped sandstone formations at Hopewell Rocks (001 506 734 3429; www.thehopewellrocks.ca). The smallish bay is one of the best places in the world to watch whales: the main season runs from July-September, and trips depart from St Andrews on New Brunswick's south-west coast.

PEI National Park (001 902 961 2514; www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/pe/pei-ipe) includes glorious beaches (such as Cavendish) and remarkable sand dunes best seen by taking the 4.5km dunes trail in the park's Greenwich section.

WHERE SHOULD I SLEEP?

One of the many joys of a visit to the Maritimes is the opportunity to escape from motel-chain predictability and stay in excellent-value characterful inns and B&Bs.

In Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, try Kaulbach House (001 902 634 8818; www.kaulbachhouse.com), which offers superb breakfasts. At the Tatamagouche Train Station Inn (001 902 657 3222; www.trainstation.ns.ca), you can stay in the century-old station building or in converted railway carriages.

In Fredericton, New Brunswick, there's the Queen Anne-style Carriage House Inn (001 506 451 9519; www.carriagehouse-inn.net). St Martins, New Brunswick, has the comfortable Weslan Inn (001 506 833 2351; www.weslaninn.com) - its superb restaurant is open to non-residents, but book ahead.

In Charlottetown, PEI, try The Inns on Great George (001 800 361 1118; www.innsongreatgeorge.com), which is made up of a number of historic buildings. On PEI's east coast are the highly regarded sister properties of Inn at Bay Fortune (001 902 687 3745; www.innatbayfortune.com) and Inn at Spry Point (001 902 583 2400; www.innatsprypoint.com); both have excellent restaurants.

I GUESS FISH IS ON THE MENU

Correct, but in addition to the conventional seafood, the gastronomically curious can try Nova Scotia specialities such as "Solomon Gundy" (a herring dish), "grunt" (stewed fruit and dumplings) and "bang belly" (a berry filling baked between two pastry layers). New Brunswick is noted for "fiddleheads" (young fronds of ostrich fern served with butter and seasoning), "dulse" (an edible seaweed) and in Acadian areas "ployes" (buckwheat pancakes) are popular.

Shediac, New Brunswick is one of the world's great lobster sites; you can learn more about them and then eat one on a Lobstertales boat cruise (001 506 532 2175; www.lobstertales.ca). The unfortunate crustacean is also the focus of a special PEI dining experience. With shared long tables and an occasionally boisterous atmosphere, Lobster Suppers started out as charitable events in church halls, and many have now become commercial ventures. One of the more traditional is St Ann's Lobster Supper (001 902 621 0635).

JOIN THE ANNE CLUB

Mention Prince Edward Island to people and you'll either get blank looks or they'll respond with Anne of Green Gables. Strangely, very few nations are as obsessed with Anne as the Japanese, who were introduced to her when Canadian missionaries took a copy of the 1908 novel - the most famous of a string of books by PEI resident Lucy Maud Montgomery (LMM) - to the country in the 1930s. Since then the story has been a staple in Japanese classrooms and bookshops: each summer, special charter flights from Japan bring planeloads of Anne fans to pay homage to akage no An (red-haired Anne).

Montgomery's legacy includes the incredibly popular Green Gables homestead (001 902 963 7874; www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/pe/greengables), a farmhouse (once owned by her cousins) that inspired the location in her novels and has been furnished based on descriptions in the books. Anne fans may want to check out all or some of the site of Montgomery's Cavendish Home (001 902 963 2231; www.peisland.com/lmm), the LMM Birthplace (001 902 886 2099), the Anne of Green Gables Museum (001 800 665 2663; www.annesociety.org/anne) or the LMM heritage museum (001 902 886 2807). Avonlea (001 902 963 3050) is in effect an Anne theme park, and in Charlottetown, Anne of Green Gables - The Musical has been running for more than 40 years (001 800 565 0278; www.confederationcentre.com).

If Anne is not your thing, visit the fishing village of North Rustico. To complement the marine sights, visit the Potato Museum (001 902 859 2039; www.peipotatomuseum.com), which boasts "the largest collection of potato artefacts in the world".

"Living Museums" are popular, well-done and well-represented in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The best five are:

NEW BRUNSWICK

At Kings Landing Historic Settlement (001 506 363 4999; www.kingslanding.nb.ca) costumed staff re-enact the day-to-day life of pioneers in 19th-century New Brunswick .

The Acadian Historic Village (001 877 721 2200; www.villagehistoriqueacadien.com) near Caraquet, portrays a typical day in the tough life of the Acadians, who were mostly of French origin, after the British expulsion policy. The village recreates the years 1780-1880.

NOVA SCOTIA

The Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site (001 902 733 2280; www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ns/louisbourg/) is an authentic recreation of an 18th-century town significant in the history of French settlement.

The Highland Village Museum (001 902 725 2272; museum. gov.ns.ca/hv/) in Iona celebrates Gaelic culture, and features buildings used by Scottish immigrants in the 19th century and then moved to the site.

The excellent Sherbrooke Village Museum (001 902 522 2400; museum.gov.ns.ca/sv/) depicts life during the industrial boom years of the late-1800s to early-1900s.

MORE INFORMATION?

Canadian Tourism Commission: 0906 871 5000; www.canadatourism.com. The individual provincial contacts are: Nova Scotia (001 800 565 0000; www.novascotia.com); New Brunswick (001 800 561 0123; www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca); and PEI (001 902 368 4444; www.peiplay.com).

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