Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Along the Edge of Nova Scotia

Dateline: Halifax, Nova Scotia
What a difference a day makes. As promised, yesterday’s rain and wind were gone when I awoke this morning, replaced with overcast skies and temperatures above freezing. You can’t ask for much better than that this time of year in Nova Scotia. We were on the road by 8am, and after a quick stop at an Irving station on Quinpool Road to get a mug of coffee, we were on Highway 3 and heading southwest along the coast in the general direction of Lunenburg.

Once you reach the Head of St. Margarets Bay and the cut-off to Peggy’s Cove and the Aspotogan Peninsula, there is not much to look at but pine trees and an occasional glimpse of water. So Michael and I settled back and listened to a Radio Canada French-language broadcast of a rather eclectic collection of music and tried to visualize what the DJs must look like (“dark hair and eyes with pouty lips” . . . “long blond hair with green eyes, large round glasses and a turtle neck sweater” . . . and other descriptions I can’t remember now).

An hour or so later we arrived at Mahone Bay, a former boat-building community at the head of the Lunenburg Peninsula and now an upscale yachting and tourist center. It is probably best known for the “Three Sisters” - three prominent and picturesque churches (Anglican, Lutheran, and United) situated along the harbor’s edge. We stopped in at Eli’s Expresso, on Main Street, for breakfast and sat in a small back room where we warmed ourselves by the fire. While we ate we chatted with Eli, who is originally from Montréal, while he fed the fire. We were later joined by a rather beguiling woman in a tight, black leather dress who, interestingly enough, resembled one of the DJs we conjured on our morning drive. There is a story here; we just have not figured it out. Same goes for the big chair on the edge of town.

After breakfast we continued a few miles down the road to Lunenburg which is approximately 120 kilometers southwest of Halifax. Along with the provincial capital, Lunenburg is one of the earliest British colonial settlements in Nova Scotia, dating back to the mid-18th century. And it has a rich history connected with the consolidation of British hegemony over Atlantic Canada. Lunenburg was raided and plundered by American privateers on July 1, 1782, during the American Revolution, and turning the tables, the town was home to many privateers who attacked American shipping during the War of 1812. Throughout its history, Lunenburg has been a shipbuilding center perhaps best known for the schooner Bluenose which is depicted on the Canadian dime. Today the town is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, and small as it is (its permanent population is less than 3,000), it is very easy to walk around. Despite some unpleasantness a couple hundred years ago, the local folks now seem very friendly toward Americans.

And Norwegians. When Nazi Germany invaded Norway in 1940, Norway had over 1,000 merchantmen at sea which were ordered to go to Allied ports for safety. Several of these ended up in Canadian ports, including Halifax, where they were converted for military use. Later that autumn all Norwegian merchant sailors in Nova Scotia not needed for wartime duties were transferred to a curling rink in Lunenburg where they were housed until “Camp Norway” was opened in November 1940. The camp eventually served as a Royal Norwegian Navy training depot until August 1944. There are monuments in the town park and at the site of the camp to the brave Norwegian sailors who lived and trained in exile hoping to one day liberate their homeland.

Before driving back to Halifax we stopped on the edge of town for a nice lunch at the Knot Pub. Bratwurst washed down with a couple tankards of ale. We were back in the city just as the city’s lights began to blink on.

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