Traveling further down the Fundy Coast, we explored Digby, on the shore of the Annapolis River near where it meets the Bay of Fundy. It’s a considerably larger town than all others we’d visited in the area, with over 2,000 residents.
In 1783, Admiral Digby brought 1,500 United Empire Loyalists from the New England States to Digby aboard the H.M.S. Atalanta. Many of these pioneers are buried in the old Loyalist Cemetery.
Digby is also home to one of the world’s largest scallop fleets. The cold temperature of the waters here doesn’t vary more than a few degrees from summer to winter, which creates conditions most favorable for the survival of the scallops. And least favorable for my ever taking a dip here :).
It has a well-established business district, with some of the buildings actually resting on pilings over the Annapolis Basin. It’s also another good place to appreciate the tides of the Bay of Fundy.
Of course, we visited the Digby wharf, a very busy one, several times. We met a very nice gentleman here who started a conversation with us – “You’re from Colorado, eh?” He gave us a little history of the town, the types of fishing done here (mainly scallop and lobster), recommended some places to visit and also recommended a place for lunch.
Off to lunch we went. I of course, ordered scallops and Hector ordered seafood chowder (which has scallops). Delicious.
There were two other couples having lunch at a nearby table and one of them started a conversation with us. Vinal, Joanne, David and Debbie were tourists, but from an inland area of New Brunswick. The six of us chatted for a while, they were a lot of fun. Vinal invited us to visit them at their home.
When we finished our lunch, the waitress informed us that he’d picked up our tab. Boy, we are on such a roll meeting such nice people. Then another round of beers showed up. This made for a mellow afternoon.
Another day, we visited Bear River, which is part of Digby County. It’s a hamlet in a tidal river valley at the beginning of the Bear River. It also has a strong art community with art galleries including one that’s won the “best of” award for Atlantic Canada. Beautiful, beautiful pieces in there.
More importantly, the Bear River Cherry Carnival was being celebrated on this day. The Carnival was recommended at the visitor center in Annapolis Royal, and is one of Nova Scotia’s longest run summer festivals.
The Carnival is hosted by the Bear River Fire Department and begins with a firefighters’ breakfast, followed by a main street parade (break out the fire trucks!).
There are games and rides for the kids, music, annual canoe races, a greased pole competition and a fireworks show in the evening.
Then the greased pole contest began, and we were hooked. We’d wondered about the long pole sticking out from an outcropping above the riverbed. Hector asked some boys and they said it was for the contest. A couple of hours later, when the tidal Bear River reached high tide, the area underneath the pole was under water, fine for jumping into.
We watched as a couple of men placed a picnic table on two canoes, two legs on each one (someone said this was called a pontoon) and they paddled the somewhat wobbly arrangement out to the pole. One man climbed on the picnic table, and greased the pole with lard. Kind of crazy.
Then the contestants, mostly teenagers, started walking out on the pole to try to reach and pull off a Canadian flag stuck to the end. The pole of course is very slippery when the first people walk on it. And the kids seem to know that if they start to lose their balance, they need to jump away from the pole and into the river. Pretty hilarious.
So, we spent a silly afternoon watching the greased pole contest, with lots of kids falling into the water, until, finally the winner fell over onto the flag, and grabbed it just before falling into the water.
Okay, it doesn’t sound as exciting now that I write about it, but it was pretty fun to watch. But I think we got to see the most unique part of the Festival. And there were lots of people there cheering the contestants on, it was definitely a happening.
On another of our drives down the coastline we headed thirty minutes southwest of Digby to the beautiful Acadian Shore. Acadia was the name given by the French in the 1600s to territories in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and some parts of Newfoundland.
In the 1700s, when the British ruled, the expulsion of thousands of Acadians was ordered. Some settled in remote areas and others were hidden by the Mi’kmaq. Interestingly, some fled to Louisiana, and are now known as Cajuns. Many then returned with the Treaty of Paris and settled around the Acadian Shore.
All signage along the shore is bilingual with French first and the colorful Acadian flag is displayed on many homes and businesses. The French spoken here is a distinct dialect, different from the French spoken in Quebec.
The Acadian Shore is home to the largest and most diverse fishery in Atlantic Canada. The coast line is dotted with working wharves and fish processing plants, some of which have seafood markets. Some very fresh scallops made it home with us that day.
Here, as in other areas in Atlantic Canada, there is a strong arts and an even stronger traditional music community.
We did not tour the entire Acadian Shore, but mainly focused on the area between Clare and Cape St. Marys. There were a number of interesting and very large churches in the area, including an imposing stone church that looked like it came straight out of old Europe.
Also the largest wooden church in North America, Eglise Sainte-Marie, whose steeple is 180 feet tall. Even though communities were larger than they are now, and families had lots of children, Hector and I had a tough time reconciling the size of these huge churches to these tiny communities.
We were fortunate enough to make it down to one of the “hidden gems” of the Shore, the Cape St. Mary Cliffs, a beautiful spot with a lighthouse. The original Cape St. Mary Lighthouse was built in 1868. The present slightly run down lighthouse was built in 1969 and has an automated light with one white flash every five seconds.
A lady running out of the beach said to me, “you should take a swim, the water’s warm”. I asked her what she considered warm, she thought about it and said “15?”. Well, 15 degrees Centigrade is actually warmer than I expected, but still too cold for me, about 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
We also stopped at Grosse Coques beach for some more sea glass hunting, and were ably assisted by a precocious little boy Jace. We called him the Mayor of sea glass beach. Later we met his mom Theresa, turns out they live by this pretty beach.
On the way back, we noticed a sign for Gilbert’s Cove Lighthouse. We turned onto the road and found another beautiful little lighthouse at the end. The Lighthouse is one of only two remaining lighthouses in Canada that combine the keeper’s house with the lighthouse itself.
It was built in 1904 and decommissioned in 1984. It’s been renovated and now houses a museum and teahouse, but we were there in late evening so it was closed.
This area is so rich in history, culture and beauty, and we are really just skimming the surface. But the skimming has been great fun.