The Parrsboro Shore: A Little Cape Breton and Home of the Dinosaurs

Many years ago when I was a student at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, I spent two of my summers working at Keltic Lodge in the Cape Breton Highlands. Cape Breton is an island connected by a causeway to the province of Nova Scotia. Today it’s considered as one of the world’s ‘go to’ places to visit. I am not surprised that it has gained this honour because it definitely deserves to be on that list. However, when my university friend whose family came from the Parrsboro Shore on the mainland of Nova Scotia called it ‘a little Cape Breton’, I was doubtful. Nothing could match what I had seen and experienced for those two summers I spent in Cape Breton. So after fifty years, I decided to check out what she said for myself.

At the same time, I wanted to learn more about why this area has recently won the distinction of becoming a UNESCO site making it another of our world’s wonders needing to be protected. For starters, it can visibly trace its history back to prehistoric times and beyond. Yes, it’s where you can find dinosaur remains and other fossils in abundance. It’s not only a geologist’s delight but also one for our young dinosaur lovers.

Parrsboro Shore with NB gray area upper left.

Today this area stretching from Truro to Cape Chignecto is called the Fundy Geopark. The village of Parrsboro, the Geopark, and surrounding area form a large chunk of land close to our neighbouring province of New Brunswick separated only by the Bay of Fundy. This map of Nova Scotia shows New Brunswick, the gray bit to the north, Prince Edward Island just to the right of that, and finally Cape Breton, the green area on the right.

I am going to digress here a little bit to explain how vulnerable this area is to the effects of our changing climate. NB and NS are connected by the Isthmus of Chignecto which is a narrow strip of low lying marshland. It’s not surprising that it is being slowly eroded by our frequent wind and rain storms which get worse every year. If some kind of action isn’t taken soon, all of Nova Scotia including Cape Breton could easily become an island separating us from the rest of Canada.

For me the best way to travel around Nova Scotia is to stick to the scenic routes to really see what this province has to offer and to get a sense of its history. The day I set out from my home in the Valley, on the western side of the province facing the Bay of Fundy, it was sunny. As I went further north and had hooked on to the scenic highway 214 commonly known as the Noel Shore, the skies began to darken and within minutes I heard the unmistaken sound of hailstones hitting the roof of my car, instantly followed by a deluge of rain which brought me to a dead halt. Thank goodness, it didn’t last long and by the time I reached Noel, the sun had reappeared.

A “Flower Pot” island on the Noel Shore.

Spotting an eye-catching sign naming a place called Burntcoat Head, a place I had never heard of before, I decided to stop. Here I got my first glimpse of the unique rock formations, commonly called ‘flower pots’ which the Bay of Fundy is famous for in the southern part of New Brunswick. Unfortunately, the tide was on its way in so I couldn’t walk the ocean floor to look for fossils. Signs were posted everywhere reminding us to not go down the steep stairs since the tide comes in so quickly and can leave you stranded.

My next stop was the town of Truro where I was going to stay for a night with another Mount Allison friend. We had five years of catching up to do. The following morning, she took me on quick tour of the town which included a visit to Victoria Park, a 3,000 acre natural park in the centre of town. As we walked up the stairs to see the two waterfalls, I was reminded of the fun times I had when my father took me, my brother, and my grandmother in his old black plymouth for a Sunday picnic to this wonderful park.

Leaving Truro the next day, I had to get back on the main highway to connect to Highway 2 now known as the Glooscap Trail. This road will take you through several small villages of note with lovely views of the Minas Basin an adjunct of the Bay of Fundy. The first village, unfortunately, happens to be Portapique. For those who don’t know about Portapique, two years ago this community was literally attacked by a mad gunman, dressed up in police uniform and driving a police car who went on a rampage killing 22 people. Today, it is reported as one of the worst crimes in Canadian history.

The next village is Bass River famous for the Bass River Chair Co. which manufactured and shipped caned-back chairs worldwide until its closing in 1989 after a succession of disastrous fires. One of the original buildings is still there operating as a General Store along with a small museum where you can find many pieces of their fine furniture.

A little further on is the Dutchman’s Cheese Farm in the village of Economy where you can buy the owner’s famous ‘dragon’s breath’ cheese. As the road veered closer to the water, I spied the scenic Five Islands in the distance. Here you will find a popular and well equipped Provincial Park for RV owners and campers providing all the amenities for outdoor living, a spectacular view of the islands, and another opportunity to walk the ocean floor…if the tide is out! Yes, walking on the beaches and looking for fossils are activities around the Bay of Fundy dictated by its tides.

The Minas Basin with the Glooscap Trail to the north.

Furthermore, this is Mi’kmaq land as much of Nova Scotia once was. Legends galore exist with their tales of how much of what we see today was created by Glooscap, their Chief. In the distance, you can see Cape Blomidon on the other side of the Basin where he resided. Legend has it that the Five Islands grew from the sticks that he threw at a beaver damming up his medicine garden. He trapped the beaver and turned him into a lump of gold. Such legends are fun to read and can be found in bookstores and tourist sites around the province.

Entrance to the Gillespie House Inn

My final stop that day was Parrsboro where I had made reservations to stay at the stately Gillespie House Inn.There is much choice when it comes to finding a lovely B&B in this town. I was totally satisfied with my tastefully furnished room, the huge breakfasts, and the peaceful garden for relaxing after a busy day of driving and sightseeing.

Children’s art in the towns Park

After I had settled in, I decided to take a quick tour of the town before dinner. What really caught my attention was the bits of artwork scattered everywhere: in the Service Park with its gazebo and notice board for the town’s activities, on gates connecting some of the old buildings, on the telephone poles, on fences, some houses, and even their recycling bins all lending an atmosphere of quaint and thoughtful creativity.

However, one noticeable thing lacking was places to eat right in town. Two I knew of were outside the town so you would have to take a car. If you didn’t want to do that there were three places you could walk to: a brewery with an outdoor patio which had the most action, the Black Rock Bistro where I ate which was okay, and, if you wanted coffee and a donut, there was a Tim Horton’s constructed in a house making it look like all the neighboring houses.

I have been referring to Parrsboro as a town but it’s now become a village which isn’t surprising. Its heyday as a major shipping centre in this part of the province is long gone, leaving it with little industry other than tourism and a population of a little over 1,000. Nevertheless, there is still much to attract tourists despite its size and being a little off the beaten track.

The Ship’s Company Theatre

There is the Ship’s Company Theatre drawing patrons from all parts of the province with a cast of talented locals, the ever popular Fundy Geological Museum, the Ottawa House Museum, once the summer home of Sir Charles Tupper one of Canada’s prime ministers, a golf course, and Partridge Island which really isn’t an island as it’s connected by a causeway to the town/village. For outdoor enthusiasts, there are hiking trails, a beach for fossil hunting , and guided tours either by foot or by boat.

The following day which would be my last, dawned as a perfect summer day. I had so much more to see so got off to an early start beginning with the Geological Museum on the edge of town just before the causeway linking it to Partridge Island. I wanted to find out what Nova Scotia looked like millions of years ago, more about the colliding continents, and the prehistoric creatures and dinosaurs who roamed our earth.

A prehistoric dinosaur

It’s mind boggling that we can trace the beginning of life on earth to more than 45 million years ago. Scientists figure our earth has gone through five extinctions and I wasn’t surprised to find out that we are now in our sixth. A perfect museum for all ages, you can learn more by clicking on the following link http://www.novascotia.com

Which ones would you choose?

Having enough information crammed into my brain and seeing that the tide was on its way out, I decided to do a bit of beach combing. What an opportunity to look for some fossils! Minerals, stones, agates, some gems, such as agates and amethysts, or you might even be lucky enough to find a fossil hidden somewhere on this beach. I had read that we were only allowed to take a few as souvenirs. Such a difficult choice as I was tempted to take all of them.

Cape Blomidon from top of the trail

Feeling the need for some more strenuous exercise after my hearty breakfast, I took the 1.5km trail over the mountain….more like a steep hill actually but in Nova Scotia we like to call them mountains….to get a good view of Cape Blomidon…remember, Gloosecap’s birth place… which looked so close to where I was just across the Basin. Benches strategically placed to capture incredible views are available for resting, as well as a lookout tower at the top of the trail, makes this a perfect walk.

The Ottawa Museum

Time now for another change of pace so I decided to pay a quick visit to the Ottawa House one of the province’s oldest Georgian houses which for over a century served as a country inn and general store under the ownership of the Ratchford family. Sir Charles Tupper, a well known physician, Premier of Nova Scotia, a Father of Confederation, and for a short time, Prime Minister of Canada bought this house as a summer residence.Today as a museum, it gives us a peek into Tupper’s life as well as the seafaring, lumbering, and cultural history of Partridge Island and the entire Parrsboro Shore.

After a quick snack on the veranda of this gracious old home with the fantastic view, I needed to get back on the Glooscap Trail or I would never have time to see all that I had planned. My next stop was Advocate Harbour where you can access the Cape Chignecto Park.

Basically a huge wilderness park, this is a hiker’s haven for those who are fit and have at least three days to complete the 53 km loop trail which from all reports may be too rigorous for some but definitely rewarding for its natural environment. Here you will encounter steep cliffs, deep valleys, sheltered coves, fossil remains, rare plants, and old growth forest. It can easily rival many of the trails in Cape Breton.

On the Fault with red rocks behind me.

I had just enough time before the tide came in to walk down to the beach for a view of the red rocks and the Cobequid Fault, a remnant of the Pangea era when our continents were colliding with one another. For some time we have known that we were once joined to North Africa. Now are emerging into the Age of Pangea Ultima where the continents will again come together to form a larger land mass. All of this is explained in the museum I had visited in the morning.

With the end of the day and closing time for some places fast approaching, I had to make another decision. Would it be to continue on to Eatonville to a lookoff point where you can witness another iconic rock formation called the Three Sisters or turn back and make a quick detour on a gravel road leading to the Cap d’Or Coastal Park?

Captivating view of Cap d’Or

After descending a steep hill, I am greeted by another of the Bay of Fundy’s fantastic views. Here your breath might be taken away by the rugged cliffs on both sides and down below a narrow spit of land projecting out into the Bay giving you an idea of the force of the high tides that the Bay is famous for.

Cap d’Or’s iconic lighthouse and restaurant.

The only sign of civilization is the lighthouse and two other buildings. I found out that one of those buildings is the original home of the lighthouse keeper now operating as a rustic restaurant with 15 windows which give diners one fantastic view. According to the few people I spoke to who had all been there before, the food is freshly made from local produce with chowder and fresh fish as their specialty. However, reservations have to be made ahead of time.

Although my visit to the Parrsboro Shore was short and at times hectic trying to see everything, I came away learning so much more about my province. Here you truly get a sense of its ancient history well before the arrival of our first inhabitants… the Mi’Kmaq. I was also impressed with how well our tourism department has promoted it. Much thanks should go to the dedicated group of people who cared enough to keep pursuing for many years their UNESCO designation. They have definitely put this part of our province on the map as one more of Nova Scotia’s prime tourist attractions. Finally, let’s extend our thoughts of gratitude to Mother Earth who has gifted this entire region with so many of her wonders. There is a definite sense of peace and serenity prevailing over this land once ruled by Glooscap, the Chief of the Mi’kmaq. To my mind, it was well worth a visit for those who care about our history and our future.

Let Nature Be Our Teacher

Do you get as tired and depressed as I can after listening to the latest news reports which seem to to be getting worse with each passing day? Having heard enough about the unthinkable catastrophe quickly unfolding in the Ukraine, I was about to turn off my radio when I heard Matt Galloway, on CBC’s The Current, suggest we stay tuned for his next interview about a rare kind of whale recently sighted in the St. Lawrence River.

Since COVID arrived with its challenges two years ago and our changing climate has so far tested us with a winter like no other that we have ever seen, I have developed the ‘not so great’ habit of listening to the morning news over a larger than usual cup of coffee. I rationalise this by telling myself it’s better to hear about the catastrophe taking place in the Ukraine in the morning rather than seeing it on the late night news before going to bed.

Returning now to the narwhal sighting, for some inexplicable reason this was a story I felt I needed to hear more about. It’s not surprising that whales, birds and other wildlife are being seen outside their natural habitats these days as our climate changes. So what is so unusual about one baby narwhal sighting so far south when normally he hangs out in the far north of the Arctic? Hoping it might possibly be a good news story which could help shake off my doldrums, I grabbed a pen to make some notes because down deep I could finally feel a topic to write about for my next blog post.

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How to Find Happiness

Finding happiness is going to be a huge challenge for me and so many others in 2022 but we can do it if we want to. After three years of a myriad of changes in my life, such as leaving a marriage of 25 years, two moves, buying a house, and learning to adapt to living on my own, I am finally in a good place where I know that I must get back to my writing. I have promised myself, let’s call it a New Year’s resolution, that there will be no more excuses for procrastinating. After considering a number of ideas for writing about my travels “within” rather than “without” since COVID isn’t allowing me to travel very far these days, I chose to tackle a topic of interest to me for a very long time…happiness! Why have we human beings been pursuing happiness, this elusive state of mind, ever since we came to this earth, and why have we failed so miserably at achieving it?

When I stop to reflect on this topic, I realise that my interest in what happiness is began more than 20 years ago. Up to that point, it really was just a word with no significant meaning attached to it. In fact, I had never even stopped to consider whether I was a happy person or not. I was too busy working and getting on with my busy life.

Then one day out of the blue, I overheard a conversation between two people where one of them remarked that in his experience, he had discovered that many people were unable to share in the happiness of another. He concluded that it was almost as if they were jealous of anyone who was always happy. On the other hand, he wondered if it was a case of that old saying “Misery loves company.” It’s true that we all want to be happy, yet we can’t seem to achieve it for some reason. Oh yes, some of us can put on a happy face when underneath we are not. It could be a mask covering up latent anger, sadness, or anxiety which we don’t want others to see. So I began to think about why we would rather talk about our misery instead of doing something about it. Are we afraid to seek our own happiness because it might seem selfish, or is it because we have the wrong idea about what could bring it to us causing us to search in all the wrong places?

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New Beginnings

After five months of living in the house I recently¬† bought in Cornwallis Park, I am gradually beginning to feel like I have come home. It’s always a challenge to put down roots in a new place for me even though I have moved more than twenty times in this lifetime. Although change doesn’t bother me as in adopting new beliefs, having to physically pull up my roots to replant them elsewhere is more of a challenge. Although I love to travel and see as much of the world as I can, it did teach me that a true nomad, I am not. Establishing a home base, a place I can always come home to, is a must.¬†

My house built in 1957 for CFB Cornwallis military families.

Like so many people these days, COVID has had a hand in forcing us to make changes we might never have dreamed of doing. Buying a house at my stage of life wasn’t exactly in my long term plans. I thought I could just keep on travelling. I am now facing a new phase of my life only to discover that my newly chosen community is as well. Unfortunately, the change here happened without any warning and is causing heartache and anger to the residents who have lived here the longest.
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Seeking the Truth of the Matter

We won’t regret what we do in life only what we did not do.

Whoever said this could not have said it better. Most of us will probably have more regret about what we never got around to doing rather than expounding on what we did do. This is a common lament say those who have worked with the dying. Let’s face it, we can get so bogged down in the business of daily living with obligations to family, friends, work peers, and basically what society expects of us that any dreams we might have had get relegated to the back seat. It’s unfortunate that it’s not until we are on our death beds that we finally realise what we could have had if only….Why do we do this? Why can’t we do what our soul wants us to do? Why do we believe that we should settle for a life that excludes true inner peace and happiness? Did we not come here to do better than settle for second best? These are weighty questions which I have been pondering for some time.

After more than a year of having to live with the ramifications of COVID, many of us older folk are discovering that it has given us more time to consider our past and what lies ahead. Please note that I am speaking for myself as one of the ‘older folk’ and most likely not for our children and grandchildren. Their time is apt to be taken up with work, school, parenting, and whatever it’s taking for them to keep their heads above water during the pandemic.

Like so many of us today, we are having to make adjustments that we had never dreamed of doing before the pandemic. Where we can go and what we can do have been severely limited and yet, I can honestly say that my days are as busy as they were before but with a difference…a huge difference! Whereas before I was spending my time going out and about to visit friends, attending meetings, shopping, visiting my family in Ottawa, and preparing for my annual winter trip over to Thailand and beyond, now I am being forced to rewrite my schedule. My travels are taking on a whole new direction. As we go into a third wave, it’s an misnomer to say that my blog which I named betstravelsabout is rather outdated. But is it?

Reversing my travel from going outward to going inward is a work in progress. So what does travelling within look like and what can I learn from it? How can it ever replace the joy and excitement of getting away from my everyday life in Nova Scotia to return to Thailand and other Asian countries where I built up a whole new gang of friends sharing the same joy in travelling as I did? Some of my closest friends still live there and may have to stay there until they can either go back home to their country or be allowed to pick up their nomadic life once again. Judging by what is happening throughout our world today, their latter choice could become just a dream. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I plan to finish off this post with what ‘travelling within’ looks like for me.

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