Lobsters & Lighthouses Nova Scotia: Visitors to Canada's island province can count on gorgeous scenery, interesting museums and great seafood.

March 16, 1997|By Jay Clarke | Jay Clarke,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

I don't know who Peggy is, but they sure named a pretty spit of land after her.

Picture a lighthouse sitting atop rocks smoothed by centuries of crashing waves. Peggy's Cove raises that scene to a splendid level. Call it a 10 on a rating for picturesque postcards, maybe an 11.

That kind of beauty draws thousands of visitors to this wondrous pile of stone just 45 minutes from Halifax, making it Nova Scotia's top tourist attraction.

Somehow, though, the presence of so many people doesn't seem to detract from the superb scenic quality of the place. Perhaps it's that people add scale to the scene, or maybe it's just because they're all having fun clambering on the rocks.

In any case, it's a rare visitor who doesn't come away from Peggy's Cove with the feeling that this may be the most agreeable meeting of sea and shore on this continent.

Pretty as it is, though, Peggy's Cove is hardly the only reason visitors flock to this Canadian island province.

Nova Scotia's serrated coast makes for scrumptious scenery just about anywhere, and the ever-present sea serves up a mouth-watering bounty of lobster, mussels, salmon and other denizens of the water. A considerable historical legacy and the busy night life of Halifax add other dimensions to a visit here.

We started our exploration of the province in Yarmouth, arriving from Portland, Maine, on an overnight ferry that is more like a cruise ship than a car-carrying workboat. The ship has a casino and a lounge show with a quartet of singers who put on a terrific show. The ferry trip saves a long drive -- 858 miles, the ferry line says -- and got us into Yarmouth at 9 a.m.

You can drive the 201 miles from that city to Halifax in just four hours on the main highway (103), but it is much more rewarding to take the scenic Lighthouse Route (3) along the coast. We used both roads, slipping off 103 now and then to prowl on the twisting coastal Lighthouse Route and to enjoy its unrivaled scenery.

Fishing villages like Shag Harbour and Clark Harbour gave us memorable photographs, and at Cape Sable we stood at the most southerly point of Nova Scotia (also the second most southerly in all of Canada).

Heritage city

Closer to Halifax, we paused for a couple of hours at Lunenburg, one of only two Canadian cities to be named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. (The other is Old Quebec City.)

Of particular interest here were the old churches, all painted white with black roofs and black window trim. St. John's Anglican Church and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church both date their congregations to the early years of Lunenburg, which was founded in 1753. The massive Lunenburg Academy atop Gallows Hill is a Victorian tour de force, and lovely Victorian homes stand well preserved throughout this compact town.

Worth visiting on Lunenburg's historic waterfront is the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, which has three floors of exhibits and five visitable ships at its dock -- two deep-sea fishing vessels, a schooner, a trawler and a scalloper.

Another scenic fishing village, Blue Rocks, lies a few miles farther out the peninsula from Lunenburg. But the most scenic spot on this coast remains Peggy's Cove, about halfway between Lunenburg and Halifax.

On the approach to the cove, visitors are often startled by the rapid change in landscape as wooded hills yield to a boulder-strewn moor called the Barrens. Peggy's Cove stands at the end of this peninsula, a tiny fishing village that has changed little over the years.

Certainly the tour buses, asphalt parking lot and many thousands of visitors have put an indelible sheen of tourism on the place, but it's still unspoiled enough to inspire romantic thoughts.

Three weddings and ...

"We had three weddings here last summer," said Krista Maling, a rock patroller who roams the granite to keep visitors from going into dangerous areas. "And just last week a young man proposed on the rocks. We saw the two of them sitting off to themselves, then suddenly he went down on his hands and knees. He was crying, and so was she."

Both children and adults enjoy clambering on the huge expanse of cleft granite rocks on which the lighthouse stands, but the sea that crashes against the rocks can be treacherous. When storms pound the shore, the waves can rise to 50 feet and catch the unwary by surprise.

Peggy's Cove also shelters a tiny harbor spotted with fishing boats, colorful fish sheds and mountains of lobster traps that support a scattering of wooden homes.

The harbor and the lighthouse have long attracted artists to the cove, and the works of one of them, William de Garthe, are world famous. Many are on view in a small museum here next door to de Garthe's marine studio, which is still maintained by his widow, Agnes, who will be 90 in September.

Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, presents a modern profile to the visitor. Gleaming glass-fronted buildings rise above the trendy waterfront, where cafes, bars and other tourist-oriented businesses have moved into the old warehouses.

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