Shunpiking Nova Scotia's Travelways

Shunpiking Magazine, December, 1995, Volume One, Number One

Ottowa winterTOUR THE CABOT TRAIL in Winter? It's more spectacular than in the summer, much less travelled and the view is simply humungous. I know. I speak from experience. Nor am I an avid downhill skier. One year, several friends visiting from abroad wanted to see the Cape Breton Highlands. "It's winter," I protested. "Yes, but this is a once in a lifetime visit; we won't be here in your summer," my friend from Trinidad replied. "And then I want to see your coal mine that goes under the sea, and learn about the history of the workers there."

Enough said. We rented a van and set off -- discovering one of Nova Scotia's best kept secrets in a memorable excursion. There's one stretch of the Cabot Trail that climbs 900 feet in long switch backs which go around the sides of Smokey Mountain. Our driver was so awestruck that we had to move him to a back street since flying wasn't an option. All we could see was a vast stretch of ocean beneath us, seemingly bluer when the coast is white. It is the kind of place, my friend said, that multi-national resort operators dream of.

But not Nova Scotia tourism. There's an attitude, a psychology about the perceived difficulty of getting away ... and getting there. Nova Scotia's masterpiece seems to be a summer and fall print. Better to just shelve it during the winter.

Yet Nova Scotia is blessed with some of the most scenic drives in the world ... summer and winter, Stunning ice formations and jagged seashores, sparkling blue ocean and shimmering rivers, ice sculpted water falls ... Here are some of our favourites.

Take a journey at your own pace

Start mid-morning in Bridgewater, take Exit 12 and follow the winding route of Hwy. 332 along the LaHave River which, when frozen over, shimmers majestically in the sun. Stop in East La Have and have a good look at the community of Riverport. Or, take Hwy. 331 out of Bridgewater, drive past West LaHave and Dublin Shore to Crescent Beach; you can turn left and drive right onto the 1.5-mile-long Beach. At the end of the Beach is a stunning view of the LaHave Islands. If snow's covering the beach, take the alternate route of driving (behind the dunes) on the paved road, which brings you to a quaint little bridge taking you to Bush and Belle Islands. The more adventurous may be able to hire a local fisherman and explore more remote reaches of the islands, such as Cape LaHave -- a birder's paradise.

Take Hwy. 7 along the eastern Shore as far as Sheet Harbour, then head inland via Hwy. 224, and return through the Musquodoboit Valley to Metro.

Stromy coastA similar route goes from Antigonish east to Canso, taking the 104 to Hwy. 16, which passes through Guysborough. On the way to Canso, at Hazel Hill, you can branch off to the village of Little Dover. At the very end is the newly-developed Black Duck Trail, a well-built, compacted, 3.5 km wooded trail and boardwalk that's easily accessible by seniors and disabled. A scenic vista unfolds, overlooking rocks, sandy beaches, and Dover Harbour, Chedabucto Bay and islands: all in all, a beautiful walk to relax, unwind in nature and fresh, ocean air. You can then return to Antigonish along the 316 through Isaac's Harbour and Sherbrooke. What's memorable is the trilling contrast of jagged seashore, particularly the magnificent cliffs along Hwy. 16.

Or spend a day overlooking the Bras d'Or Lakes. Take a trip along Hwy. 4, which stretches from Port Hawkesbury to Glace Bay (where those mines go under the sea), and plan a stopover in St. Peters for a bite to eat and a stretch.

And there's Yarmouth, where you can spend a day at Cape Fourchu, as it was named by Samuel de Champlain. Make sure you bring your camera as you will want pictures of the spectacular ice formations created by the sea-spray. The light station itself, the exposed headland, the view of Yarmouth's working harbour and the drive to the Cape through the heart of an active Acadian fishing community are all emblematic of Nova Scotia's coastal heritage. The nine-acre site around the lighthouse was named the Leif Ericson Park to honour the famous Viking explorer.

(To be continued. And do send us your favourite shunpike.)

Winter Carnivals, Games and Festive Feasts

Of lobster suppers and pancake breakfasts, winter games and Polar Bear Dips, mushers and milling frolics, snow golf and snowshoe volleyball, ceilidhs and winter wonderland dances ... and whatever you can create at your own homestead ... around the province we go.

The New Year kicks off with the most bizarre spectacle of 1996: the Polar Bear Dip. The most-publicized occurs at Halifax's Point Pleasant Park, but the place to go, if you're really in the know -- is Canso, where the waters are cleaner. Hundreds of cars line up at the Cape Canso Marina on New Year's Day around noon to watch about 15 regulars dressed in funny attire from hats to suspenders bring in the New Years with a splash.

Angela Boudreau used to work for the Town of Canso and is returning from Halifax to Dip. She jumped the first time because of a dare. "I was called a wimp, which is why I did it. I've gone ever since because of the pure enjoyment."

And, if you don't have one, start the Dip in your community.

"If you've ever thought of trying it, do it, because you'd probably continue and look forward to it. It's like getting baptised every year. You're in and out so fast. And the water's not that much colder," she says.

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