Celebrating Tea and Queen Victoria

Only in Canada do we look forward to that third weekend in May when we are gifted with a long weekend. Why is that, you might wonder? Is it because after a harsh Canadian winter, we can look forward to summer which is just around the corner, knowing we can finally get outside to clean up winter’s aftermath making room for our transplants, or to open up the cottage? This might be true for most of us these days, but for some it’s an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Queen Victoria who had the distinction of being Britain’s longest reigning monarch… a title she can no longer proclaim since Elizabeth 11 took it over in 2015.

When Victoria died in 1901, our then government decided to make the third Monday in May a statutory holiday to commemorate her birth on May 24, 1819, causing many a raised eyebrow in Britain as well as our neighbour to the south that we should be setting aside this day to celebrate a Queen who was to all extent and purposes a temperamental and dour, old woman who always wore black. However, as we have found out, appearances can be deceiving.

Thanks to her talent and love for writing, we have discovered that Victoria was the exact opposite of that stern image implanted in our brains by our history books and our great grandparents. Present day historians claim that her daily dairies were enough to fill over 700 books beginning with her childhood until her death in 1901. Through them, we have learned that she was a passionate and strong woman who refused to bow to the strict social norms of her time. She not only had a firm grip on who she was as a person, but also on the country she ruled as well as the country she most loved…Germany.

After all, her beloved husband, Albert, was a German and strong personality in his own right who came into her life at the tender age of 19 when she was about to take over the daunting task of Queen. He fulfilled not only the role of her lover, but also provided a strong father figure for her. He was the pillar of strength she needed as she gave birth to their nine children while struggling to keep control of the world’s largest Empire.

Our interest in Victoria has increased over recent years as her descendants have gradually released some of what she wrote. We are learning that this woman had another side which went totally against the acceptable customs of her day especially when it came to her subsequent relationships with men after Albert’s early death. Yes, she suffered from depression which explained her long period of mourning. She never discarded the black dresses, but she refused to stop having fun and being herself when she met a man who understood her, such as her servant John Brown, a rough and ready  Scot who adored her. The same was true for Disraeli one of her Prime Ministers.

Even in her final years after receiving the title of Empress of India, she refused to travel there insisting that India come to her. As a result, a young servant with a wife and mother-in-law arrived to carry out the task of teaching Victoria every thing there was to know about his country Thus, began another close relationship for this woman with an old body at 84 who still had a young heart.

Victoria’s personal life was certainly not a boring one. However, it was a source of concern for her family and many of those who worked with and under here as she fought to lead her Empire through the vagaries of the world at that time. As a head of state and ruler of the vast British Empire, we know she survived numerous attempts to assassinate her. We also know that she really came into her own after Albert’s death becoming extremely popular with her public towards the end of her reign. During her 63 years on the throne, Britain experienced tremendous growth in technology, industry and communication. Underground rail systems, bridges, and roads were built everywhere in attempts to unite the country. Judging by the crowds who came out to see her in her later years, it appears she had indeed matured and finally won her battle to take control without Albert’s influence.

Learning about Victoria as a person has made Victoria Day for me just a little more interesting. What started as a day to have a parade and some fireworks, morphing into a time to clean up the yard and plant some flowers to welcome summer has now  brought us time to reflect on the personal journey of a woman with two very distinct sides to her personality during a time of change in matters of morality and economic growth throughout her vast Empire.

For my Victoria Day Weekend this year, I had the opportunity to do something different: I was asked to be a greeter for the guests who attended a Victorian Tea and Talk at the Lower Granville Hall. Under the capable leadership of Medea and Alan Holtz, new comers to the community of Port Royal, and some hard-working ladies with much experience in holding dinners and teas to raise funds for their hall, this successful tea did a great job of commemorating the Queen’s birthday. What better way to raise some much-needed money for our hall and the Annapolis Heritage Society who will be using our donation to help fix and paint the exteriors of two light houses: the one in Port Royal and the other in Victoria Beach.

Medea and Alan Holtz

Every effort was made to treat all those who attended this fundraiser an authentic Victorian Tea. Not only did the servers don Victorian dresses, headgear, and gloves, but had to walk carefully to avoid tripping on their long skirts. These little touches along with soft parlour music lent an atmosphere of calm and gentility much appreciated by the guests causing some to linger longer than planned.

Susan MacGregor

Me, the Greeter

The beautiful table settings, the tea served in silver pots, and the dainty sandwiches and sweets were the main attraction. However, the star of the show had to be the peaches! Why peaches? Well apparently Victoria, when introduced to them on a visit to Italy, fell madly in love with them and every year after that insisted that some be shipped to her in England. Unfortunately, peaches aren’t in season on Victoria Day in Nova Scotia. Instead of serving imports the gals made their own life-like peaches from a secret recipe using ordinary cookie dough.

To keep our guests amused a trivia quiz about Victoria’s life as well as the Royals today…especially since this was the day of Harry and Megan’s wedding…was on each table to provide fun and learning for all. What a great way to pull people together.

Our special guest speaker, Barry Moody, a noted local historian, gave an insightful talk on how tea became the favourite drink of the British, and the influence that had on the country’s social norms and economy. Did you know that the first tea was offered in 1658 at a London coffee-house? From there it became the beverage of choice at the Royal Court. It then quickly became an important social occasion giving birth to our famous ‘afternoon teas’. You may have heard of the term ‘high tea’ which was customarily tea served with a meal. With the advent of such social customs came opportunities for the East India Company to import more tea from China. It also provided opportunities for business minded entrepreneurs to start manufacturing such tea essentials as porcelain tea cups and saucers, teapots and even mustache mugs. Barry went on to say that artifacts related to tea drinking have shown up at Melanson’s Settlement, a Historical Site in Granville Beach. He admitted not much else is known about how the ritual of drinking tea influenced the Port Royal area, but noted that it was the French who have given us proof that it existed here in some form. I suspect it was also a popular past time with the Scottish and English Loyalists who settled here. In my own experience, my maternal grandmother was a big fan of ‘afternoon teas’. After my grandfather died, she moved from Halifax to a small farm in Seabright, where she hosted teas every Sunday afternoon for all her friends. Petit fours, shortbreads, Scottish scones made on a griddle, oatcakes with homemade jam were the lure making “Georgie’s” teas very popular.

Like most things today, our rituals and customs are being challenged by the changes occurring in our lifestyles. Tea drinking is losing some of its allure to the rise in our coffee culture. There are still those who prefer their tea because it has less caffeine or none at all if you consider sipping herbal teas possibly for medicinal purposes. Or, it might just be a matter of personal taste. Whatever the reason, our guests and those who organized this event were left with an experience that left us satisfied and wiser about the influence of tea on the British Empire and the Queen who reigned. I am happy to have been involved in this ‘tea’ event which was a hit with all those who attended. Without a doubt, this will become a yearly event on Victoria Day. The Port Royal gals are already looking ahead to next year and planning for it to be held on Monday instead of Saturday.

Kamille and Jeff Langstroff


A Memorable Day on Nova Scotia’s South Shore

A subject on the minds of many of us these days is the awareness of how everything in this world is connected…the key word being “everything”. It’s easy to grasp the premise that as human beings living on this planet we are all connected, but how about the idea we are also connected to all living things which would include our trees, plants, animals, insects and whatever else that grows? Now there is food for thought. Lately I have been hearing much about a book entitled The Hidden Life of Trees written by the German author, Peter Wohlleben. Seems this book has impacted many of my friends so I have put it on my immediate list of books to read.

The opportunity to learn more about why this book is capturing so much interest came knocking at my door while visiting a good friend on the South Shore last weekend. On the Sunday, Mother Nature blessed us with a clear day after a good rain the day before. Blue skies with fluffy white clouds and moderate temperatures made for a perfect day at the beach. We chose Hirtle’s Beach, not only because it just happens to be our favourite one, but because on that day the Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy was offering an added bonus: guided nature walks highlighting its rock formations and flora, bird watching, a talk on the history of Kingsburg, a local exhibit of art at Shobac, and boat rides to Ironbound Island where feral sheep reside. What more could we want?

Boardwalk leading to Hirtle’s Beach.

The rocky part of the beach.

I learned that this conservancy is a charitable, non-governmental land trust started in 1995 by a group of volunteers dedicated to protecting and preserving the Kingsburg Peninsula on Nova Scotia’s South Shore for all to enjoy now and into the future.

We arrived at the beach around 11 o’clock just in time for the home cooked lunch of seafood chowder and homemade pie. I have to say I had one of my best lunches ever while sitting on the rocks of the beach, and the best part was that it was all for free.

Yummy lunch on the rocks.

To walk off our lunch, we took a walk along the beach noting numerous sea birds darting here and there. We were delighted to see some plovers in the mix. Several years ago bird watchers noticed that their numbers seemed to be dwindling so a group of concerned citizens took great pains to protect their nesting sites from the beach traffic. Their efforts have paid off as more sightings of these little birds have been noted in the past few years.

Can you spot any plovers?

We noticed that most people were doing what we were doing which was just walking and paddling in the water. The wind was a little too chilly for those of us without wetsuits but not for the surfers. I settled for trying to get some action shots of them as they manoeuvred the waves.

Since Sunday was the last day of this special weekend, we had only two walks to choose from: a walk and talk about fungi or the history of Kingsburg. Without hesitation we both agreed that the fungi walk would be the most interesting. I was actually excited about learning more about how they contribute to a healthy forest. Would this be the opportunity I hoped for to learn about the hidden life of trees? In the meantime with an hour or more at our disposal before the walk got underway, we opted to take a short run over to see the local art exhibit in Shobac.

I discovered this special place several years ago when visiting my husband’s son who had rented a cottage there for his summer holiday. So, what makes it so special?

The Shobac of today is an architectural wonder. It’s located on the edge of the Gaff Point Cliffs overlooking the LeHave River estuary. First inhabited by the Mi’Kmaq as a camp ground, then sighted by Samuel de Champlain who named it Shobac, not long after established as an Acadian farming and fishing village, to be later settled by German, Swiss, and French Protestants, mostly abandoned in the mid 20th century except for a few fishing families, the land was finally bought and developed into what it is today by a Brian MacKay-Lyons, a talented Nova Scotian architect.

MacKay-Lyons bought this huge tract of land in 1988 with the vision of re-creating an agricultural village for use by the community and the visitors who come to this part of the South Shore which are many due to its proximity to the three towns of Lunenburg, a Unesco Site, Mahone Bay, and Bridgewater. It is also near three of Nova Scotia’s largest and most popular beaches: Risser’s, Crescent, and Hirtle’s, not to mention numerous smaller ones all around.

Commonly called a compound, the land has a fabulous north view with Hirtle’s Beach in the distance. The land is dotted with undulating hills called drumlins which are glacial deposits left by the ice age some 15,000 years ago. Waves beating against the cliffs have created lovely sandy beaches below as a result of erosion. Sheep and horses can be found grazing on the grassy hillsides. What makes the scene even more outstanding are the box like cottages and larger buildings all available for rent on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. MacKay-Lyons’ latest acquisition is an old schoolhouse dating back to 1830 which has been restored to incorporate both the old and the new as many of his buildings do. The Troop Barn where we found the art exhibit was found and rescued by him in 2009 near Bridgetown in the Annapolis Valley  This was the last of Nova Scotia’s octagonal barns and was slated for demolition because no one had stepped forth to buy it. Thanks to this man’s money and foresight, it’s been beautifully restored and is now used extensively by the community for all kinds of exhibitions and other community gatherings. Not surprisingly MacKay-Lyons has garnered many awards and much recognition for this architectural wonder so it’s worth a visit and definitely a great place to stay for a vacation.

View of Hirtle’s Beach from Shobac.

Box like buildings blending into the seascape.

Troop Barn where the art exhibit was held.

Some drumlins and sheep in the background.

After viewing the art and voting on the one we favoured most, as well as being fortified with some fresh lemonade and homemade cookies for our efforts, we drove back to Hirtle’s Beach for the fungi trek along the Gaff Point Trail Head.

Heading out for our fungi walk.

Into the forest we go,

Our guide gave us an excellent explanation of how nature has devised such an intricate system for keeping an old growth forest healthy and vibrant. Who knew that fungi (mushrooms) played such an important role in their health? Who knew that all that green moss we see on walks in the woods where there is an old and new growth of trees harbours a whole network of fungi threads in the soil underneath? Who knew that these fungi supply essential carbon and nutrients to each and every tree? The more fungi or mushrooms the healthier the trees.

This is my simplified version of how it all works. Hopefully I can gain a more scientific and clearer explanation from Wohlleben’s book. Apparently he goes so far as to say that trees have personalities and actually talk to one another by communicating below ground via a ‘woodwide web’. Willows, he claims, are loners and have relatively short lives compared to beeches and oaks which last for thousands of years and act as a family. He adds that trees have emotions and can feel pain. Who knew? Another ‘ah ha’ moment for me was the realization that perhaps all the clear cutting of our forests here in our province could be classified as a criminal act since it kills any new growth and turns old growth forests into dead zones. I think those who work in the Department of Natural Resources should be putting this book on their reading lists.

Our guide showing us old and new tree growth.

My memorable day at Kingsburg will stay in my mind for some time. I learned so much and it inspired me to do more reading about how Mother Nature has a clear plan for how all living things can live together harmoniously if every part of her is allowed to fulfill its purpose. As intelligent human beings, we have a responsibility to not only learn how we can fit into this system but also learn how to do this in a sustainable manner. Kudo’s to the Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy for their concern for preserving our beautiful province and for spreading the word to all those who are listening.

Looking out to Ironbound Island from Gaff Point.

The cliff on Gaff Point Trail.

Raising Sheep in Port Royal, Nova Scotia

Can you imagine being suddenly thrust into the role of parenting 80 newborn babies dependent upon you for their livelihood. Could you cope?

This spring Julia Springob and Lou Barta of Port Royal were faced with this surprise when their ewes presented them with this number of very hungry baby lambs, far more than they ever anticipated. The norm for a ewe is to birth one or maybe two lambs so imagine their surprise when many of them birthed three and even four babies. Since motherhood was new to many of their mothers, they simply couldn’t cope with so many offspring at one time. This is where Julia and Lou had to step in, resulting in bottle feedings every two hours. They were literally on call both night and day for those first weeks. Thankfully they were down to three feedings a day when I visited their farm.

I must backtrack here to explain how I got the idea to do an article on the subject of sheep farming here on my “special road”. If I leave my house to go anywhere further than walking distance, I must get into my car to travel to our nearest town of Annapolis Royal or any other place in Nova Scotia. This amounts to at least several times a week. If you take a look at my post entitled My Road Well Travelled, (click here) you can find more information on what makes this road so special, not just to me, but many others who live and visit here. Each time I travel this road I pass Julia and Lou’s sheep farm, and every time I can’t resist taking a peek at those little lambs…plus several goats… to see just how quickly they are growing. It’s a heart-warming sight.

I became so intrigued with the idea of finding out more about the owners and their sheep that I made an appointment to interview them, resulting in a piece I had published in the Valley Harvester, our local community newspaper. This is what I found out about raising sheep in Nova Scotia.

After taking me on a tour of their farm to meet the baby lambs, witness their bottle feeding, as well as to meet the goats and the sheep dogs, I quickly realized that this idyllic farm is being built with an abundance of hard work and dedication.

Just feed me.

At last. Thanks papa Lou.

Sheep farming in Nova Scotia is a challenging business requiring lots of know-how and cash. A lover of lamb meat, I have always wondered why it isn’t so readily available in our grocery stores and is more expensive than beef or pork. Well, now I think I understand why.

Julia and Lou have been at this for a year now having moved here from British Columbia where they farmed on a part-time basis for 16 years. They decided to immigrate to Canada in 2000 from Germany. Julia’s native country is Germany and Lou hails from what was once Czechoslovakia. Their B.C. farm was located in the northern, interior part of B.C. in the Bulkley Valley halfway between Prince Rupert and Prince George. There, Lou drove a logging truck while Julia stayed home to raise chickens, turkeys, some beef cows. She also maintained a large vegetable garden providing food for themselves  and their neighbours. Lou’s yearning to be his own boss and their growing desire to go into full-time farming compelled them to take the plunge and begin their search for more land. With land prices in B.C. escalating, they turned their eyes eastward and with the help of the Internet settled on a picturesque farm in Port Royal.

In their first year, they have increased their flock of sheep from 45 to 60, not counting the newborn babies. In addition, they have seven goats, three guard dogs, and one herd dog, still just a kid being diligently trained to take on his adult duties in the near future. I think it’s a miracle they all survived their trip east and their first winter. Now in their middle years, Lou proudly announced, “We haven’t lost a single animal to any disease, climate or predators. We have an electric fence and our guard dogs to thank for this.” I would add that he needs to give credit to himself and Julia.

When asked what their greatest challenge has been so far, they both agreed it was the task of transporting the animals in two large trailers driven by Lou and a friend followed by a back trailer driven by Julia from B.C. to N.S. in just seven days

“It was the most arduous task we have ever had to take on” said Julia. “The weather was heating up in June, making it difficult to keep the animals cool. We were worried about finding places where we could stop for the night and not be an annoyance to the folks around us. Our animals would always make too much noise around feeding time.”

However it turned out that most people, when they heard what they doing, were more than happy to lend a hand in providing a place to park their vehicles with enough water for the hot, thirsty animals.

As Julia pointed out, there was one other high point during their trip which presented itself once they got here… the birth of a baby lamb in November!

As for how they feel after their first year in Nova Scotia and whether they are optimistic about their future here as sheep farmers, their reply was passionate in their quest to raise healthy and affordable food for local eating. Eventually they hope to provide their products to the community as they did in B.C. by starting small and relying on word of mouth. They see a future in this province for the small farmer who wants to join the ever-growing need to become more sustainable in food production. However, Lou did seem concerned about the government and parents not doing enough to encourage young people to climb aboard to take up small farming.

When asked what joy they get from their new venture, without hesitation they said:

  • You can be your own boss.
  • You know where your food is coming from and what’s in it. I must add that they are living proof of this as both who are in their 50’s and look the picture of health.
  • You never can be bored with your work. Every day is different.
  • The challenges you meet present new learning through personal experience.
  • You can be outside as much as you want and have access to clean water and air.

For now they want to continue expanding their flock of sheep to the point where they can support themselves as well as their community. They also want to meet the standards as set by the province for producing healthy food products, which will mean obtaining all the necessary licences. Julia loves to make goat cheese, and she’s even thinking of the possibility of lamb pies and sausages.

However, in order to accomplish that she knows she will have to upgrade her huge kitchen to meet those food production regulations. Right now they are taking it all one day at a time, concentrating on increasing their flock to a sustainable level, and ensuring their lambs and goats are kept safe and healthy.

Julia, Lou, and herd dog.

Look What’s Happening to Halifax

Look What’s Happening to Halifax

There are times I wonder if there is anything these days escaping the pursuit of constant change. Don’t get me wrong in thinking I am against change because I definitely am not. Change is good, but I do feel that we need to pursue it with some caution.

Lately there has been much talk about all the changes taking place in my birth city…Halifax… the capital of Nova Scotia. Human nature dictates that changes will result in two opposing sides: those who look to the past wanting to keep things as they are and those looking to the future willing to support any kind of change. Halifax is presently facing this problem, but from what I can tell they might be following another human reaction to change…. that of moving from one extreme to the other. “Let’s join the race to become a world-class city at all costs” seems to be the mantra. This is good, but let’s slow down a bit and try to do it with taste.

Historically, the city has shown an inclination to get stuck in the past right up until the early 1970’s when the urge to move forward began with the beautification of its waterfront. When I was growing up in Halifax, Water Street, down by the harbour, was a place to avoid. I always hated that fishy smell. The street was a series of dilapidated grey warehouses, the naval dockyard, seedy taverns, with some notorious ‘red light’ houses thrown into the mix. Then in the 70’s it all went through a huge metamorphosis resulting in the Historic Properties. Our waterfront suddenly had changed into not only a major tourist attraction, but also became accessible to all Haligonians. It had managed to preserve some of the old fish houses and wharves to produce a nice mix of the old and the new.

Other changes took place at that time and well into the 80’s. Some were good others not so. Spring Garden Road became a major shopping area to the detriment of Barrington Street which always had been. The old Capitol Theatre, which my grandfather helped engineer, was demolished resulting in much hue and cry to be replaced by the Maritime Centre, a large modern complex at the bottom of Spring Garden Road. Many of us kids, and adults too, were upset at how the ‘powers that be’ could have torn down such a unique theatre as the Capitol which resembled the inside of a grand old castle.

Perhaps this flurry of changes was too much for conservative old Halifax because for the next few decades, primarily under the mayoralty of Peter Kelly, the city showed little forward movement. Under his leadership any wise planning and growth had come to a screeching halt. Barrington Street became more derelict as retailers moved out to swanky suburban malls, affordable housing became a scarcity as evidenced by the increasing numbers of homeless on the sidewalks of Spring Garden Rd., and few construction sites and cranes were to be seen anywhere.

However for the past several years, the construction tap has been turned on full blast under the leadership of Mike Savage, Halifax’s present mayor. This began with the regional council’s decision to go ahead with the construction of a new convention centre, after many years of wrangling on whether the city should or shouldn’t take the risk of pumping millions of dollars into a new one when they already had one… albeit a small one. Located in the heart of downtown, the Nova Centre has caused traffic chaos and scores of disgruntled restaurant and store owners. Whole streets have been closed for a year or more as the structure endures one delay after another. To satisfy my curiosity, I just had to go see for myself what all the fuss has been about and have to admit I was blown away by what I saw. It’s stunning and should put Halifax up there on the list of world-class cities. It’s definitely had a ripple effect as nearby buildings in the downtown core are either being spiffied up or torn down to be replaced by more modern buildings. I couldn’t help wondering if this really was the staid old city I was so eager to leave 40 years ago?

On a whim, I decided to wander further down to the south end of Barrington Street where my father lived for most of his adult life, and where I spent my first three. I wanted to see if #315, a stately old house where he had his apartment, was still standing. It was… but barely! A huge sign was posted next to the main door indicating that this house and the one next to it is slated for demolition. But hold on… this decree was issued in 2015 and the house is still there because there was another smaller sign stating that these premises have been declared ‘heritage’ houses. It’s not just for personal reasons I want to see these houses saved, but also because they represent an old style of architecture from Halifax’s past which is too rapidly disappearing. I hope the city councillors will consider this and support the Heritage Society rather than another greedy developer.

As I continued to search out other changes in the city, harkening back to my early years, I decided to pay a quick visit to where once my old high school was located. Queen Elizabeth High (QEH) was demolished ten years ago and been replaced with an unusual project called the Common Roots Urban Farm which supports community and marketing gardening for the purpose of promoting health and wellness in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). This is the acronym used for the city of Halifax and the outer regions including Dartmouth…another change which has occurred since I left. Nevertheless, here is a wonderful example of how a prime piece of land in the midst of one of the busiest parts of the city can be used to introduce some rural living into that of the urban.

In case you are wondering what happened to QEH, well the good news is that a gleaming new high school uniting protestant and catholic students under the same roof now stands nearby. When I was a high school student, St. Patrick’s and Queen Elizabeth were rivals just a few blocks away from each other. St. Pat’s has also faced the wrecking ball, leaving a piece of prime land vacant until a decision is made on what its fate will be. Let’s hope it will be a wise choice that will bring more country into the city and be of benefit to all people.

These days my visits to Halifax invariably end up in a quick stop at the new Central Library. This building has garnered accolades and awards for its architecture from all parts of the world. It’s an environmentally sustainable building which can boast of a rooftop terrace growing native plants, and toilets that are flushed with rain water.  An abundance of windows strategically placed on all levels allows the sun to pour in to control the indoor temperature and help reduce electrical costs. All the materials used in its construction are natural. You can really notice the difference when you spend time in this building. For this reason alone, I could spend days there instead of just a hasty stop for a cup of delicious coffee and a home-baked pastry at the Pavia Cafe on the roof top overlooking the harbour.  This library is truly accessible to all citizens providing cultural activities and small rooms which are rented out for other varied purposes. The acoustics are fantastic because no matter how many people pass through its doors or what is taking place inside, the place still feels and sounds like a library…quiet and peaceful. Halifax can be proud of this building.

Yes, the attitude and the look of my home city has certainly changed for the better. Where once it was conservative and rather dowdy, it’s now bright with a positive vibe prevailing. It is fast becoming a ‘world-class’ city and a more desirable one to live in as far as I can see. My one hope is that it doesn’t become too obsessed with trying to outdo other cities. Having lived in Toronto for many years, I certainly don’t want it to make the same mistake that city did by erecting tall office towers and condos, as well as a hideous express way that not only obscures the view of the lake but also cuts it off from the rest of the city. This has left the best part of the city mainly for the enjoyment of the well-heeled and the tourists when a waterfront needs to be accessible to everyone. Halifax, if you truly want to be a world-class city then learn from the mistakes of others by being a leader for what can be better.

To make a slideshow of these pictures, left click on the first one and follow the arrows.

Thanksgiving in Nova Scotia


Happy Thanksgiving!

I heard this greeting many times over our Thanksgiving weekend … something I had never consciously heard before. Then again, maybe some people have used this greeting in the past, much like we say Merry Christmas in December, but this year for whatever reasons I took notice, and I’m glad I did.

After a half-dozen or more “Happy Thanksgivings”, I was becoming slightly annoyed. However, upon reflection I can honestly say it began to take on more meaning for me, and I suspect many other Canadians. Why? Because as we sat down to enjoy our turkey dinners, many of us must have realised just how much we have to be thankful for.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find a silver lining in what to be thankful for in this crazy world after tuning in to our local, national, and world news. Often our media leaves us with the impression there are few places left on this planet of ours which aren’t in some state of turmoil…except for where we live, of course!

However, I must not be smug about this for ironically our beautiful Cape Breton was unexpectedly hit with the remnants of hurricane Matthew just as many CBer’s were preparing to sit down for their Thanksgiving feasts. Extensive flooding, fallen trees, and no power for two days have run up a tab of millions of dollars. However, the good rising from this devastation was that no lives were lost, thanks to the resilience of the people.

There is nothing like a disaster such as this to pull people together to help those in need. Last weekend was not just Thanksgiving in Cape Breton, but also the beginning of their International Celtic Colours Festival, an annual event drawing a huge influx of visitors from all over the western world. True to form the people in the community of Eskasoni rallied together ensuring that the concert goers in their town would not be disappointed. Not only were they well fed and feted, but somehow had the power restored so they could see the show. But the people of this enterprising community didn’t stop there: they even managed to build a detour road to get the bus loads of visitors back to their hotels so they wouldn’t  have to spend the night in the community hall. What tremendous organization and teamwork this must have taken!

Fortunately here in Victoria Beach, we were relatively unscathed by Matthew’s final hurrah save for leaves and broken branches littering our yards. We were thankful for the rain which was so desperately needed after a summer of drought reported to be the worst on record in some parts of our province.

A small waterfall created by the rain.

A small waterfall created by the rain.

Further reflection upon this past week’s events have left me feeling unusually thankful for my life right now. I am thankful that Hubby and I got to enjoy Thanksgiving with not one but two delicious turkey dinners, none of which I had to cook! Although we were unable to sit down with family members due to the choices of where we all live, we were delighted to share our dinners with friends. Furthermore, I am especially thankful for where I live which has got to be one of the most awesome places in the world. I can still say this despite all the beautiful places I have witnessed in my world travels. Not to bore you with too many more ‘thankfuls’, I will mention only one more….

Found a grand pumpkin right here on our road.

Autumn of 2016 will definitely go down as one huge surprise. Many of us wondered if we would be rewarded with any significant colour this year because of the drought. By mid September our trees were looking old and tired with many of them shedding their withered leaves far too early. But, lo and behold, about two weeks ago those that still had leaves presented us with a glorious range of reds, oranges, and yellows. This transformation seemed to happen overnight. Somehow sensing this might not last forever, I realised I needed to grab my camera to capture the panorama which would in turn spur me on to completing another post for this blog.

However, when Matthew’s unexpected winds came last weekend, I despaired there would be any autumn colours left to capture. Shortly after the storm had passed as I drove into town, I noticed there was still a decent palette of colour miraculously left behind…just enough to provide me with those much-needed pictures.

Where did all this colour come from, I wondered? There were so many leaves stripped from their branches littering our road and yards, and yet those vivid colours were still evident. As I looked more closely, I realised much of the colour was produced by the abundance of foliage that lines our road, and not from the trees. Shrubs and other plants were climbing up the trunks of the bare trees and the telephone poles. My guess is that it’s climate change at work. Mother Nature is playing havoc with our maples and birches which we have always relied on for our autumn colours, but perhaps now we must look at the smaller plants and climbing vines as our colour source.

In spite of the changes occurring in our world right now… which for some can be down right scary… there are still rays of sunshine peeking through those grey clouds. Let’s hope that as some things wither and die away there will be other things to replace them.

A good example which has nothing to do with our autumn but is appropo for how change is being handled by folks in Nova Scotia is our main provincial newspaper, The Chronicle Herald.  This paper has been in the midst of a strike between the owners and the workers for almost a year with neither side about to give in. Changes in staffing and working conditions have meant many jobs lost and hurt feelings, but the newspaper carries on despite them. To my mind, those who are left are actually improving the paper. Although much smaller, its content has improved. The viewpoint of the owners is more positive than it ever was before the strike so we are seeing more hope and less gloom and doom. Every day I can count on reading an article or two reflecting the positive changes occurring in our province. I am thrilled to see this new direction of The Herald and am truly hopeful that Nova Scotians will be able to handle any future changes which are bound to come.

Shelburne and Lockeport – Two Undiscovered Gems

Shelburne and Lockeport – Two Undiscovered Gems

In the minds of most Nova Scotians one of the worst things about summer is the end of summer. Where does the time go and why is it always the shortest season? Summer is by far the best season for us in Nova Scotia although some might disagree and say fall is better.

I have Hubby to thank for bringing to my attention that the end of our summer was fast approaching, and we had not gone anywhere. We needed to do something about this so came up with the idea to head out to the South Shore. We chose Shelburne which we haven’t visited for several years. Since we only had a day and a night, we had to narrow down our choices on what to see and do. I suggested that if we were going all the way over to Shelburne (about a three-hour drive from Victoria Beach) then we had to visit Lockeport, too. Upon reflection, we both agreed that our choices were good ones. Here are some reasons for saying this.

Historical Significance

An overpowering sense of history is evident in Shelburne, once a thriving shipbuilding town. Walking along its historic waterfront on Dock Street, I found myself being transported back in time to 1783 when the town was established by Loyalists who supported the British. Today it still looks very much like it probably did back then, with its natural environment composed of forest, water and old, grey- wooded blockhouses. There are no power poles and wires to mar this natural landscape. They were all removed in 1994 when the “The Scarlet Letter” was filmed there. Since then, it has been a magnet for other films, such as “Moby Dick” and the TV series adapted from the “The Book of Negros”.

Walk along Dock St.

Walk along Dock St.

Historic buildings from the mid 1700's.

Historic buildings from the mid 1700’s.

Shelburne, originally called Port Roseway, was considered to be an ideal location for the capital of Nova Scotia. In those days it had the largest population of any other Nova Scotian town because of the huge influx of White and Black Loyalists who were fleeing from the American Revolution. Its harbour is the third deepest in the world which isn’t going unnoticed by the cruise ships now docking there. Of course, this is helping the tourist business and beginning to have the residents think about making it one more designation point for the province.

Looking toward the harbour where ships dock.

Looking toward the harbour where ships dock.

Lockeport – the Beaches

Our first stop after a rather unexciting drive along Highway 8 and the 103 was Lockeport. Our stomachs reminded us it was near lunch time so we decided to give the Seagull Family Restaurant a try. We weren’t disappointed after enjoying a delicious seafood chowder and blueberry buckle. I expect the restaurant got its name from the numerous seagulls who entertained us as we ate. They could have been a nuisance but weren’t because a sign leading to the outdoor patio clearly stated not to feed them.

Lunch on the patio of the Seagull Restaurant.

Lunch on the patio of the Seagull Restaurant.

To work off our lunch, we decided to walk the 1.5 kilometre Crescent Beach which was just up the street from the restaurant. With its fine white – sand beach, and the brilliant, sunshiny day such as we had, I thought it has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Nova Scotia, if not the world. The people here like to tell you that at one time it was featured on the back of our Canadian fifty dollar bill.

Crescent Beach

Crescent Beach

Lockeport, often referred to as “An Island to the Sea”, and at one time called the Ragged Islands, was and still is primarily noted for its fishing industry. The town is actually located on one of the islands as well as the mainland and can easily be accessed by a road which follows a narrow spit of land connecting the two. Or you can take the walking bridge.  There is not only gorgeous Crescent Beach but four other beaches nearby. How fortunate for those who not only live there, but also for the visitors who take the time to go there. I have to tell you we felt like we had the whole of Crescent Beach to ourselves the day we were there. I wonder if there were people on the other beaches – something I must explore another time.

Birchtown – A Black Loyalist Centre

Unfortunately, it is Birchtown’s sad history which has made it a destination that no visitor to this area should overlook. If you have read Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes”, then you will understand why I say this. Lest we should forget this moving story, a wonderful new Heritage Centre has been built…thanks to Emira and our two levels of government…. where we can learn about the hardships and injustices of all those who managed to land there. Did you know that at the time of their arrival in Shelburne they represented the largest free Black settlement outside of Africa? It is definitely worth the visit.

The new Black Loyalist Centre.

The new Black Loyalist Centre.

The museum and gallery inside the Centre.

The museum and gallery inside the Centre.

Dining at the Charlotte Lane Cafe

I have heard many good things about this restaurant in Shelburne so have always wanted to eat there. My wish came true, thanks to Hubby, who insisted that we should try it. A winner of many awards, our eating experience did not disappoint. The setting, the expertly prepared food, and the service were superb. Kudos are deserved by not only the co-owner and chef, Roland Glauser, but also the lovely old house with an upscale gift shop. The place was packed so make a reservation. Although eating here can be quite expensive… but no more than any other restaurant of this class…the portions are substantial. I had one of their delicious pasta dishes which I could not finish. Without hesitation, our waitress packed up what was left resulting in another meal the following day which somehow tasted even better.IMG_1748


We stayed at MacKenzie’s Motel and Cabins right on the edge of town on Water St. The best thing about this choice was the breakfast which was included in the price. Although continental and serve yourself, there was plenty of delicious food with seemingly no limit to the amount we could eat. All the baked goodies were home-made… even the brown bread that accompanied the baked beans. Although a tad dated, the premises were well maintained and there was a lovely pool to cool down in after a long day of sight-seeing. This place is definitely good choice for an overnight.

A day and one night were not nearly enough time to see and do all these two towns have to offer. I wish we could have stayed longer to thoroughly experience the history, to walk some of the many trails and beaches, or to take a tour of the harbour. We must definitely keep Shelburne and Lockeport in mind for a future visit.

Time Out for Mavillette Beach

One of the joys of retirement from full-time work is to have the freedom of simply taking off for the day to go wherever my heart tells me. I say ‘heart’ because it’s so easy to keep listening to what the ‘head’ has to say which might be something like this: ” You need to clean the house, do the wash, and weed the garden.” Fortunately, my heart took over and  spoke out one beautiful, sunny day last week. It simply said, “You need to get away from the house and Victoria Beach and do something different. You need to go to Mavillette Beach!” Hubby had also been working very hard at his part-time job in Annapolis and needed a break, too, so I tentatively broached my idea to him sensing that he already had lined up a myriad of things to do on his day off. At first he was reticent to deviate from his pre-planned day; however, he quite quickly began to see the benefits of taking some time out of his schedule to accompany me. We quickly accomplished some of our ‘must dos’ and were ready to start out on our journey by noon.

To give you some idea of just where we were headed, I’ll attempt to draw you a verbal map. Mavillette Beach is in the Municipality of Clare on the southwestern coast of Nova Scotia along the Bay of Fundy between Digby and Yarmouth. It is approximately a two hour drive from Victoria Beach where we live. To get there we took Rte. 1 which follows the Fundy coast passing through the typically Acadian villages of St.Bernard, Belleveau Cove, Grosses Coques, Church Point, Comeauville, Saulnierville, Meteghan River, Meteghan, St. Alphonse, and finally, Mavillette.

When driving through this area so rich in the Acadian culture (which is really not so different from the French culture in Quebec) you might be tempted to stop at some of the villages to not only admire the beautiful Catholic churches, but to also absorb its vibrant culture. Here you can hear a mix of English, French, and Acadian being spoken with perhaps the opportunity to hear some rousing Acadian music. I had heard about a little chapel commemorating the arrival of the first Acadians at Grosses Coques in the mid 1700’s so wanted to make a stop along the way since we weren’t in any great hurry.

The site of this tiny chapel has a long history going back to the Mi’kmaqs who buried their dead here. At that time it was an island. In the fall of 1755, an Acadian by the name of Pierre Belleveau and about one hundred others were the first to arrive here by boat after escaping Port Royal and the British. Most of them never survived what was noted as one of the worst winters ever. Today the modest graveyard is marked with simple white crosses and the tiny chapel which is a memorial to these hardy souls who are presumed to be buried here. Belleveau and his group were the forerunners of many more expelled Acadians to settle there. They helped establish what has today become a thriving shipbuilding and fishing area.

Whenever we find ourselves down in Clare, we always stop at the Comeau Farm Market in Meteghan for some fresh produce, their baked goodies, and homemade jams. It’s also a great place to grab a quick lunch in case you haven’t had time to bring a picnic. Here you can treat yourself to that famous rappie pie which is the king of Acadian cuisine.

We arrived at Mavillette about 3 o’clock to find the beach almost deserted. I counted about a dozen people there on this 1.5 km. of hard-packed sand. However, we weren’t too surprised as it’s always this way – at least whenever we have been there. It’s one of the reasons we go because where else in this crowded world can you find an almost deserted beach with flat sand, dunes, and a boardwalk! We parked our beach chairs right at the steps leading down to the beach with our nearest neighbours at least 100 feet away.

The attraction of this beach for me is not to swim because the water is never warm. This is the Bay of Fundy and it’s cold! For me Mavillette is simply the perfect beach for walking, so with my camera at the ready, I started out. I walked the entire beach snapping pictures of everything in sight since I knew this would be the beginnings of my next post. I could feel the stresses of life melting away as I became totally immersed in what I was seeing and doing. The healing quality of the sea, the wind, and the sun (in other words Nature) was beginning to take its effect. How could I have spent the whole summer neglecting her, I wondered?

After walking the entire beach, I headed for the road leading into this Provincial Park drinking in the rich, fall- like colours of the wild rose bushes with their rose hips the size of crab apples, and the dunes covered in marram grass which holds the sand in place. Once more, except for the odd car, I had the whole road to myself. Far off in the distance, I could hear and see a large machine busily placing rocks at the end of a spit. Before leaving, we drove out to Cape St. Mary’s to see find out what was happening. It looked as though another wharf was being built. I hoped this was another sign of the prosperity of the fishing industry in this area. At the present wharf, the many fishing vessels tied up there created a charming picture in the twilight of the setting sun.

Before our journey back to Victoria Beach, we decided we would have dinner somewhere along the way. Our first choice was to check out La Cuisine Robichaud in Saulnierville on the off-chance that we might get a table without having a reservation. This is probably the most popular restaurant in all of Clare so we knew our chances were slim. The minute we walked in the door we came face to face with a  group of musicians offering up what is commonly called an Acadian Kitchen Party. Unfortunately, we were stopping by on a Thursday evening when a musical gathering like this draws people from all over, so it was packed! The friendly waitress suggested we wait for a table, but an hour or more was just too much for our empty stomachs so we continued on eventually stopping at a small grill near St. Bernard for a fish  chowder and  fillets. The meal was good but not nearly so good as what we might have had at Robichaud’s.

As we drove home, we both agreed that taking time out to visit Mavillette Beach was a wise decision. In fact, every time I visit this part of our province, I always vow to come back more often. Not only is there this wonderful beach, but also a culture which is over 300 years old and still thriving. Yes, I will have to try harder to keep my promise.