Day 5: Western Nova Scotia
There's so much history to every single town. So many ghost stories, "first person to..."s , unique inventions. The problem is that in cities, there's SO much of that that it all becomes muddled down and easy to miss.
I think that's my favorite part of visiting rural villages and small towns. They have stories to tell, but it's not overwhelming and therefore more easily remembered, celebrated, honored.
A silly bonus to small towns, especially old fishing towns that are still stuck back in time (I mean that lovingly)? They are hot-spots for film studios, because of the low population and cheap leasing/land.
This town became a safe haven for the "United Empire Loyalists" (Settlers from the 13 colonies who didn't want to take part in the American Revolution, and instead wanted to remain loyal to the crown). By 1785 it had over 10,000 United Empire Loyalists, plus its already established people making it the fourth largest North American town at the time!
Movies filmed in Shelburne:
- The Scarlet Letter (1994)
- Mary Silliman's War (1992)
- Moby Dick (2005)
- Wilby Wonderful (2004)
- Virginia's Run (2002)
- The Book of Negroes (2015)
- There's Something in The Water (2019)
Fitting that The Book of Negroes was filmed in and around Shelburne, as the Black Loyalist colony of Birchtown neighbors the fishing town. Birchtown was the largest town of free ethnic Africans outside of Africa, where the Black Loyalist had escaped slavery in the 13 colonies and were welcomed with land by the British. It didn't go without discrimination, however, and many took an offer to inhabit Sierra Leon in West Africa, a newly acquired British colony at the time.
Walking the streets in 2020, there's an air of guilt. Black Lives Matter posters were everywhere, with many black fisherman artwork pieces between the towns of Birchtown and Shelburne. You can visit the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre. I am planning it as part of my next trip to the area, as I was unaware of it being open during COVID-19.
Home of the Bluenose II, this darling fishing town is hardly a hidden gem. The Atlantic province locals know it well, and even Micky Arson (owner of the Miami Heat and CEO of Carnival Cruises) has his yacht currently parked here. I’ll let you do your own historical digging on this fishing town.
The first truly bustling town I’ve come across on this trip, it’s close proximity to Halifax means it’s not getting as harsh of an economic hit during the pandemic. The colorful streets of full of cars and homes from the 1700 and 1800s, with its first Academy still standing at the top of the town’s hill, Lunenburg is a hill repeat runner’s dream. Boat tours, whale watching, bike rentals, golfing, are all available, as is copious amounts of sugar and coffee at the many cafes and confectioneries.
If you’re looking for that quaint, colorful fishing town vacation without traveling to St. John’s (Newfoundland) then this is your best bet. Everything within the town is within walking distance, including the Ironworks Distillery.
Ironworks is located in a former blacksmith’s shop from the 1800’s (hence the name), producing beautifully flavored liqueurs, gin, vodka, brandy, and, of course, rum.
Most notably, I had to pick up a bottle of their “Around the World Rum” which is created the original way, by rocking on a ship!
Salt Shaker Deli
A mountain biking friend of mine demanded I visit The Salt Shaker Deli, as a vegan/vegetarian friendly spot with a view. It did not disappoint.
Playful, seafaring drinks, flatbread pizzas, pad thai, and for those that are on the seafood hunt, multiple ways to have your mussels. This was a cozy little spot with a view of the Wharf area. They also serve brunch, which is note-worthy as not many places do (at least, this season).
Haunted Tour of Lunenburg
As previously mentioned, Lunenburg is a very walkable UNESCO world heritage site. Haunted Lunenburg tours have plenty of stops (with bench options for those that don’t want to stand too long at a time), without too much distance traveled. That being said, this may not be COMPLETELY child friendly due to some of the spooky, axe-murdery stories, but that means fairly clear.
The tour guide is amusing and chipper when she greats the group with lanterns in hand. Her family dates back 8 generations here in Lunenburg, which shows in her passion for the history and haunted dwellings we pass.
She speaks to the very strong hold that superstitions have played in the culture of the town, such as all sailors wearing white mittens, and the identical back and front doorways to homes to confuse the devil.
We end the tour at the top of the hill where the Academy sits. A home next door has accounts of the original owner playing the violin, who taught music to children since he couldn’t have his own. It’s the home that Ron Howard filmed the 1973 horror, “Run, Stranger, Run”.
Whether you’re a believer, a skeptic, or hate all things ghost, this is a great tour to add if you want to get to know the town’s culture on a deeper, darker level.