What is so special about Mavillette Beach one might wonder, especially when Nova Scotia has more than 7,500 km. of shoreline? That’s a lot of beaches! At least 40 or more are popular for their warm waters, their length, and their surf. In fact, our province is reported to have some of the warmest waters north of the Carolinas in the US.
One of my favourite beaches is Mavillette on the Acadian shore in the District of Clare. This summer, I made a promise to myself that I would pay a long overdue visit. For those readers who read my last post on Exploring Nova Scotia’s District of Clare, * you will know that I was so distracted by other Acadian sites and things to do on my way down in early July that I never got there.
Ironically I had a second opportunity to visit when a friend mentioned that she would like to go to Mavillette but at the same time stop at her favourite shoe and clothing store. She offered to drive so off we went on a Tuesday in early August despite the fog and threat of rain. This coast is famous for its fog in the early part of the morning which often burns off by midday. Unfortunately, it decided to stick around all day allowing for at least a few drops of rain to be released onto the parched lawns.
Perhaps it was the weather or maybe our shopping experience at Clarence’s Shopping Mart in Saulnierville, but we spent a good part of our day there. As you travel along the main road, you can’t miss this gem. Look for the Foodland store, the centre’s focal point which is known for its offering of local foods such as the famous rappie pie*. However, once you get there you will find it offers a whole lot more than food, such as quality shoes (Merrill’s and Clarke’s), clothing, fabrics, and souvenirs. It’s a blooming department store! Add to this a super friendly but helpful staff and you could easily end up emptying your wallet. Shopping done, our stomachs began sending out their hunger signals directing our focus to finding a place where we could sit down and relax over a late lunch. Thank goodness, the ever popular La Cuisine Robicheau was open so we were able to satisfy our appetite with a hearty bowl of fish chowder and seafood lasagna. By the time we were finished, we decided it was too late for a beach walk which would be better saved for a sunny day.
The number three happens to be one of my lucky numbers so when I set out this past Labour Day on my third attempt to make it to Mavillette, I vowed to make it happen no matter what. This time the weather co-operated, and I was blessed with a clear, sunny day.
I must confess that I didn’t drive straight down to my intended destination because I had a couple of other places in mind to visit. My first stop was to check out yet another one of the ornate churches along this Acadian shore…the Eglise de Sainte Marie in Church Point.
Over a span of two years from 1903 to 1905, a small army of 1500 volunteers captained by a Leo Melanson, an expert carpenter who couldn’t read or write, built a magnificent cathedral patterned after those in France. It is the only wooden church of its kind in North America. The stately columns inside the church, which I couldn’t see because the church was closed, were built by a Louis Hilaire who it was reported to be so afraid of heights that he was only able to complete his work with the help of red wine to calm his nerves.
Next door to the church is the noted Universite de Sainte-Anne’s the only Francophone university in Nova Scotia. Founded in 1890 by Gustave Blanche, it has become famous over the years for its French Immersion classes. Primarily an undergraduate university with approximately 500 full and part time students, its rural setting make it an ideal spot to learn French. This setting and the strict rules imposed by the university can guarantee by the time they leave every student will be speaking the language.
After a hasty jaunt around St. Anne’s peaceful campus, I continued on to make another quick stop at Comeau’s Sea Foods one of Nova Scotia’s largest fish processing plants. Serving the public for more than 70 years, they ship fresh and frozen fish of all kinds from the Atlantic Ocean throughout Canada and other parts of the world, making them the largest employer in the region.
My next stop was to check out the view of Mavillette Beach from St. Mary’s Bay Park overlooking the dramatic cliffs of the Bay of Fundy. A brand new lighthouse to replace the original one and a monument dedicated to all the fishermen of the area have been installed in the park. The original lighthouse dates back to 1868 and was serviced by a series of generations of one family until 1988 when modern day technology took over the job. No doubt this lighthouse has been a guiding light that has saved many lives over the years since this Bay is one of the foggiest places in the province. The exceptionally high tides of the Bay of Fundy have made St. Mary’s a haven for water birds of all shapes and sizes as well as a feeding ground for the many whales that inhabit the waters all around.
Today St. Mary’s provides not only a harbour for the lobster and scallop fishing boats tied up at the local wharf when not at sea, but also one of Nova Scotia’s most iconic scenes. Local fishermen and their families have been joined by ‘come from aways’ from other parts of Canada and the US who may live there year round, but most likely maintain summer homes to enjoy their time away from home. This year because of COVID many of the homes looked very forlorn and some had ‘For Sale’ signs.
By this time, I was more than ready to get to the beach. I was curious to see how it was dealing with COVID and our changing climate. Best known for its low tides, boardwalks, and five meter high sand dunes, Mavillette makes a great beach for walking. It also doesn’t get as crowded as the South Shore beaches on the Atlantic side of the province so at times you feel like you have the whole beach to yourself. The day I was there was no exception. There were some family bubbles with dogs and children having fun in the surprisingly warm water. There were even some surfers catching a few waves. It all looked fairly normal. However, the restaurant that sits on top of the hill overlooking the beach was closed with another ‘For Sale’ sign. Nevertheless, someone with an entrepreneurial spirit had taken advantage of the opportunity to open up a snack bar and ‘take out’ service for the overnight campers and cabin dwellers, as well as visitors who had not brought a picnic.
Parking my car wasn’t a problem which is another plus for Mavillette because there are several lots on the road side of the sand dunes where you can park. I took the one at the far end of the beach taking the nearest boardwalk over the dunes covered in maram grass and yarrow. After ditching my shoes and rolling up my pant legs, I began to walk the beach. I had not come to Mavillette to swim. That’s the thing about this beach. At 1.5 km in length and with its low tides, it’s one of the best walking beaches around. You must wade out quite a distance before you can get deep enough to actually swim. Yes, it was enough for me to get in my walk and afterwards find a comfortable spot to catch some sun and read my book. This would be enough to clear my head and simply relax. Spying a large piece of driftwood… a log actually… I settled down there to do both with the sound of the waves as background music. I was in heaven and actually fell asleep for awhile. Feeling refreshed and motivated to do some reading, I picked up the book I had grabbed in haste before setting off on this trip. Good thing that my mind was clear and refreshed because I had not chosen a light novel but instead Noam Chomsky’s How the World Works. An American who observes and explains the state of his country with clear and powerful arguments, I was amazed at how easily I was able to understand his point of view. It had to be the the pure air, the sound and smell of the sea, and the warm sun allowing for this. As he wrote over twenty years ago, our world works in all the wrong ways. He predicted correctly as we see what is happening these days. I realised that having the privilege to be in such a peaceful setting has given me some hope that if I can open up my mind to read him to get to the truth of things, then my time isn’t wasted. It certainly helps to understand the mistakes of our past because then we can hopefully move forward to right them.
After an hour or so, I had enough of Chomsky’s revelations so packed up and headed back towards Annapolis Royal which was a good two hours drive. Not too far along, I noticed a Provincial Park sign boldly announcing Smuggler’s Cove. How could I pass this by after seeing the pictures of this place in tourist guides. I just had to take the opportunity to finally see it for myself.
Sure enough it was worth the time to climb down the steep wooden stairs and be treated to the fantastic view which emerged before me. Despite the density of the trees and the setting sun, there was still enough light to get a good photo. Not surprisingly this cove gained its fame in the early 1900’s during the Prohibition era when rum and liquor could only be had if smuggled in from other venues. This cove was the perfect spot with a well hidden cave that was large enough at 15 feet in height and 60 feet in length with an abrupt ending of sheer rock. A lot of illegal booze could have been easily stored there. Truth be told with over 2,500 km of shoreline in Nova Scotia, there were many more hidden places for ‘rum running’ going as far back as the 1700’s. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that rum is at the top of the list as the favourite drink for Nova Scotians.
Dear Readers, I hope I have perked your interest to visit the District of Clare where you can experience our province’s Acadian culture. Acadian music, arts, and cuisine, shopping, stately churches, a university where you can learn French, beautiful beaches, rugged scenery, community spirit, and friendly people are waiting to be explored along the Evangeline Trail on the southwestern shore of Nova Scotia.
** rappie pie – is a favourite Acadian dish sometimes called “rapure pie”. It’s a casserole dish made from grated potatoes which are squeezed through cheesecloth to remove some of the water from the potatoes. This is replaced with broth from chicken, pork, or seafood depending what you use, along with the meat/seafood and onions. You can create as many layers as you wish. This dish was created by the Acadians who were expelled from the Upper Valley (Grande Pre) by the British in 1755. Those who landed in the US as far south as Louisiana have kept the tradition alive there, too.