With the onset of a heat wave in late June and a gradual lift in the lockdown imposed upon us by COVID, many of us were more than ready to tentatively emerge beyond the four walls of our homes. When a dear friend called me to say she had to ‘get out of town’ and was thinking it it would be fun to head to the North Shore of beautiful Nova Scotia, I didn’t hesitate to say, ‘Yes, let’s go!’
After numerous phone calls, we found what looked like a nice place to stay in the Village of Tatamagouche. Tata, as it’s fondly called, has a population of approximately 2,000 people. It’s located on the Sunrise Trail on the shores of the Northumberland Strait separating Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island.
We booked ourselves for three nights at the Balmoral Motel. After a leisurely drive up, we arrived just in time for dinner which was to be our first eating out experience in nearly four months. The Chowder Place was the only restaurant in town open to table service including an outdoor patio. To celebrate this event, I ordered their delicious fish and chips while my friend chose their lobster roll all washed down with a refreshing lager. We decided to pass on the chowder, their signature dish, as this was our first real meal of the day, and we needed more than chowder.
Comfy beds and a surprisingly cool room, despite the humidity which had enveloped our province for days, gave us both a welcomed, full night’s sleep. We couldn’t have chosen a better place to stay. A young, enthusiastic couple from Zurich, Switzerland fell in love with Tata on their visit last summer. When an opportunity presented itself from the motel’s elderly owners who desperately wanted to sell, Beatrice and Josef instantly decided this was where they wanted to make their home. Using their expertise and knowledge as innkeepers in Switzerland, they have made many renovations with more to come that will surely make it great place for all those who aren’t into camping, own an RV, and are on a budget. All the units come with fridges, microwaves, a table and chairs, a sofa, digital TV, and an A/C or fan in tastefully decorated rooms. A small communal kitchen equipped with free coffee and tea…good coffee I might add….a toaster, kettle, and other amenities are also available. They are presently finishing up the renovations for their dining room which will provide meals on site. The motel is strategically located within walking distance to the centre of the village, with a large expanse of green lawn and other shrubbery overlooking the Waugh River, as well as a well maintained trail for walking and biking … part of the Trans Canada Trail.
Like all of Nova Scotia, Tata was just beginning to wake up from their lockdown. The official widening of the “bubble” which would allow travel between all four Atlantic Provinces had not yet happened so we managed to avoid the inevitable crowds shaping up for the following weekends. We couldn’t help feeling like we had the whole town to ourselves. In fact, the residents treated us a little bit like royalty as we were one of their first visitors.
The North Shore, traversed by the Sunrise Trail, is definitely a nature lover’s paradise. Numerous beaches with glorious sunsets … some of the best in the province….rivers, falls, red soil, rolling green hills, farms, forests, serene villages, quaint towns, such as Pugwash and Pictou, and last but not least, the province’s oldest winery, have created a myriad of choices for things to do and see.
One of the highlights for us was the beaches we visited. After months of indoor living, the smell of the sea and the feel of the sand on my feet were surely a gift from heaven. A guest at the motel recommended we visit Blue Sea Beach: “Better than any of the beaches on the South Shore,” he exclaimed. “Not likely,” we thought having both lived on the South Shore. However, we took his advice anyway and weren’t disappointed. The water was surprisingly warm for bathing, and the long, sandy beach was great for walking despite the many jellyfish which were there way ahead of their time. I remember when they didn’t make an appearance until early August…. just another foretaste of what’s ahead as our climate changes.
That evening we wanted to catch our first sunset so set out for Cape John situated on a peninsula which along with another one directly opposite forms Tatamagouche Bay. To capture a decent sunset picture, lighting and timing are crucial. Unfortunately, it was difficult to find a safe place to stop and catch that perfect shot before we left it behind; nevertheless, I did succeed in landing a few shots before dusk settled in.
Another beach worth a visit is Rushton Beach at the tip of the other peninsula just mentioned, not far from the village of Malagash. Hoping to capture another sunset picture, we set out the following night to find it. Trying to figure out the road signage and our maps which refused to coincide with one another, we ended up going around in circles. By the time we reached the beach, it was too late for a good sunset picture. However, we enjoyed walking out to the sand flats on the long, wooden boardwalk.
Our second day dawned sunny and humid which could have tempted us to head for another beach, however, curious to visit the highlights of the village, we opted to visit the local market next to the Tatamagouche Creamery Museum and nearby Train Station Inn all within walking distance on the Trans Canada Trail.
The Farmer’s Market was buzzing with as much activity as COVID would allow. This was their first outdoor market where customers could choose what they wanted and actually have lunch outside at well spaced picnic tables.
From there, we proceeded to the museum where we were greeted with a warm welcome and told we were the first visitors for the year to cross their threshold. I had been there many years ago and vividly remembered the story about a famous local lady who was very tall by the name of Anna Swan. At 7 feet 11 inches, she was the only giantess born in Nova Scotia and became a world celebrity while working for the P.T Barnum Circus. There she met her future husband, another giant by the name of Martin Bates, an American from Kentucky. They soon became a celebrated couple travelling the world with the circus to make a lucrative living. Bates was also a keen business man and wrangled a deal yielding them a large acreage of land in Selena, Ohio where they farmed their land and erected an oversized house to accommodate their size. Anna lived there happily bearing two children of abnormal size: a girl weighing 18 pounds who died at birth and a 25 pound baby boy who lived but died 11 days after. Anna died at the age of 42 in 1888 due to thyroid problems. An intelligent woman born into a family who were all normal in height, she maintained and interest in literature and music taking delight in organizing church activities and theatrical productions in Selena.
There is much more to see at the Tatamagouche Heritage Museum besides the Anna Swan room. A large area to the right of the entrance portrays the story of the Tatamagouche Creamery, featuring the original machinery used for each phase in the production of their dairy products. Butter was their best seller. Memories of Tatamagouche butter, which tasted almost as good as my grandmother’s, came flooding back to me as I wandered around the artifacts. Under the ownership of Alexander Ross who was the founder, the creamery flourished until it was sold in 1968 to Scotsburn, a Quebec company, where it had to compete with butter made by other large companies. In 1999, a Quebec farmer bought the rights from Scotsburn to make the butter like the original. According to some sources it’s still available for sale but only in Quebec.
Another fascinating feature of this popular museum is the Brule Fossil Collection*. It always amazes me on how far back the history of our province goes. Here in this museum are pictures and information on fossil tracks that go as far back as 290 million years!
After a quick lunch at the Farmer’s Market, we continued our walk along the Trail to find the Train Station Inn. We didn’t have to walk far when there it was: the original station built in 1887, now a gift shop, with nine refurbished boxcars and cabooses on the inside still sporting their original exteriors. Offering those who hanker for the experience of sleeping and dining on an actual train, it is reported to be the only place in North America where such an authentic experience exists. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the suites or the dining car because they weren’t open to visitors. Apparently a few suites were ready but already occupied. We could have had one at around $125 per night.
This popular tourist attraction almost met its demise until it was rescued in 1974 by Jimmy LeFresne who was born and brought up in Tata. Living next to the rail line that carried grains, sandstone, timber, fish and anything that needed to be moved to other parts of Canada, he was fascinated with trains…so fascinated that it was no surprise to the community when he stepped forth and bought the train station with his own savings. With the support of his community, his dream has provided a flourishing business for the town and much joy for many train afficianos.
One more place worth a visit should you find yourself travelling along the Sunrise Trail is Jost Vineyards. Established near the community of Malagash, the Jost family from Germany saw the potential for growing grapes for wine back in the ’70’s. With a 400 year old family tradition for making wine, it’s no surprise that this winery has grown to what it is today. Now owned by Carl and Donna Spares, award winning vintners of the Gaspereau Winery, Jost has become, not only Nova Scotia’s largest winery, but one of the most respected. With over 100 acres and enough awards under its belt, it has become a destination point for fine wines and dining. Deciding to give it a try, we had a late lunch at their Seagrape Cafe. I had a decent seafood chowder, and my lobster- loving friend ordered their famous sliders. We skipped the wine because of the heat opting to take some small cans of bubbly back for a pre-dinner drink in our room that night.
On Sunday, our last day, we awoke to cloudy weather and the threat of some much needed rain. On our way home, we stopped at the Balmoral Grist Mill in the village of Denmark just south of Tatamagouche. Closed because of COVID, we couldn’t observe how the farmers back in the day had their grains made into flour. In normal times before COVID, visitors could take in demonstrations carried out by an experienced miller. Nevertheless, we enjoyed walking around taking in as much of nature as we could revelling in the fact that we had the whole place to ourselves…except for the birds treating us to their songs.
This four day travelling hiatus away turned out to be the boost we both needed. I think I can safely say for both of us that we were not only smitten by the natural beauty of this part of our province, but also the sense of community and good will that we witnessed from the friendly people we met while staying in Tatamagouche.
* “The Week the Women Went” was a very successful reality TV series made in 2007 and 2008. The second episode of the second series in September 2008 was filmed in Tatamagouche. The men were so relieved to have their women return that they decided to dedicate the Patterson Wharf Park to them. You can watch this hilarious episode on Vimeo on U tube.
* The Brule Fossil Collection of tracks and trees at the museum was discovered on Brule Beach in 1994. The Walchia tree is known to only have existed here in Nova Scotia.