One of Canada’s three maritime provinces that form Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia has a long history of shipping. Nowhere is this more prominent than in Lunenburg and Mahone Bay, two scenic port towns close to Halifax, the provincial capital. From the much photographed lighthouse in Peggy’s Cove to Bluenose, Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador, the province has many treasures to discover
Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital, is one of the only two natural harbours in the world, the other being Sydney. No wonder then that nearly two hundred thousand cruise-ship passengers from around the world flow through the Port of Halifax each year. They are welcomed by the skirl of bagpipes as the 78th Highlanders perform the traditional dockside greeting that has won many awards. Halifax has another claim to fame – most people don’t know that one-third of James Cameron’s 1997 epic motion picture Titanic was filmed in Halifax. Also, that 200 victims of the ship tragedy remain buried in different cemeteries here. While the sinking of the great ship took place in the North Atlantic international waters, Nova Scotia’s capital was the crucial base for most of the recovery efforts.
Almost five hours away is the famous Bay of Fundy, known for the highest tides in the world and the rarest whales.
Lasting heritage of Lunenburg
Closer to Halifax, almost an hour away, is Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage port town which in the 19th century evolved as a major centre for offshore banks fishery, building and manning fishing schooners to exploit the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and the fishing banks off Nova Scotia. Old Town Lunenburg is one of only two urban communities in North America designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered to be the best surviving planned British colonial town in North America.
The famous schooner Bluenose which brought in record catches and raced undefeated in international competition for 17 years, was built here in 1921 by Smith and Rhuland. The Bluenose had become the pride of Nova Scotians and in 1937, the Canadian dime was changed to include an image of the mighty ship. In 1942, despite the efforts of Bluenose’s Captain Angus J Walters and others to keep the ship in Nova Scotia, the vessel was sold to the West Indian Trading Company. Four years later the Bluenose struck a Haitian reef and sank. In 1963, Bluenose II, was built in the same shipyard by some of the same men who had constructed her mother before her. Bluenose II was sold to the government of Nova Scotia for $1 in 1971 by the Oland family of Halifax and has served as Nova Scotia’s tall ship sailing ambassador ever since.
As you walk along the town’s picturesque waterfront, dotted with boats anchored there, you see the Fishermens’ Memorial on Bluenose Drive unveiled on August 25, 1996. The monument shaped as a compass rose, comprises eight three-sided columns at each compass point. Inscribed on these black granite columns are the names of mariners, primarily fishermen from Lunenburg County who lost their lives at sea from 1890 until the present. Interstingly, the Royal Norwegian Navy used Lunenburg as a base in World War II, building a large base next to the town known as “Camp Norway”. The town is also home to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, part of the Nova Scotia Museum.
Once the home of National Sea Products, a former fish processing plant, the bright red heritage buildings of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic have become an iconic feature of the Lunenburg waterfront. In the museum, you can explore the rich fishing heritage of Nova Scotia. Retired fishermen and experienced Heritage Interpreters accentuate the experience of visiting the museum. Entertaining activities and demonstrations take place daily throughout the full season from mid-May to mid-October.
Another National Historic Site is the St. John’s Anglican Church, the first church in Lunenburg and one of the oldest in Canada. A church bell that is displayed on the church grounds was made by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, the same company that made the Big Ben and the Liberty Bell.
The Lunenburg Academy, atop Gallows Hill, is the only intact 19th century academy building surviving in Nova Scotia. The building is entirely a wood frame structure and stands three stories high with a mansard roof. After the old Lunenburg Academy (near the Town Hall) was destroyed by a fire in 1893, a new school was built in its place.
Mahone Bay’s heritage churches
A short drive away is Mahone Bay and its 365 islands, a unique setting for sailing and boating. One of the most photographed views in Nova Scotia, is the three churches of Mahone Bay, located along the water’s edge – St James’ Anglican, St John’s Evangelical Lutheran and Trinity United. The Mahone Bay Summer Concerts are held in the three heritage churches. Until recent years the town’s shipbuilding and boatbuilding heritage was celebrated by the Mahone Bay Wooden Boat Festival.
Each October, the town celebrates the Scarecrow Festival where more than 150 handmade life-size scarecrows, created by local artists, are displayed outside houses and along the streets. The festival kicks off on a Friday morning when all of the scarecrows are officially on display. On Saturday night there is the Pumpkin Walk, where hundreds of hand-carved pumpkins adorn the path all lit up. The festival draws thousands of visitors each year. Highlights include special children’s activities and crafts, musical entertainment, historic graveyard tours, book sales, BBQ’s, yard sales, the Quilt Jamboree and of course the largest antique show in the Maritimes.