Introduction to Nova Scotia
Welcome to my home province of Nova Scotia (which is Latin for New Scotland)! And in French, Nouvelle-Écosse. Beautiful Nova Scotia is the second smallest province in Canada, with a population nearing one million.
Located on Canada’s east coast, it’s one of the three Maritime Provinces (the other two being New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island). There are four Atlantic provinces with the addition of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Although not an island, Nova Scotia is surrounded by water and often mistaken for one. It consists of the mainland, Cape Breton Island, and Sable Island, off-shore. There are more than 3800 islands along the coast and more than 5400 lakes.
Our licence plates read “Canada’s Ocean Playground” for a good reason!
You are never more than 67km (42Miles) away from the ocean in Nova Scotia.
A Brief History
A very brief history! I could write pages of detailed history, but I won’t bore you all. You can find lots of details online or in books. The story goes back to 1605 when French colonists arrived and established a settlement at Port Royal, now a tourist attraction. The only people here when the French arrived were the Mi’kmaq. The French founded what is known as Acadia.
In the 1700s the British came, captured Port Royal, and renamed it Annapolis Royal. The capital of Port Royal moved to the newly established Halifax.
The British expelled the Acadians in 1755, and the famous fictional poem Evangeline by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, tells a tragic tale of two lovers separated during the expulsion. Many were sent or found their way to Louisiana, and the ‘Acadians’ became ‘Cajuns’…
The next 75 years, the British fought the French and the Mi’kmaq in various wars, eventually gaining control of the Fortress of Louisbourg. Once the British had Louisbourg, it ended French control in the region. New England Planters settled here replacing the expelled Acadians. At the end of the American Revolution, approximately 33,000 Loyalists relocated to Nova Scotia, and about 3000 Black Loyalists relocated to the province.
Next up, the war of 1812. Nova Scotia’s contribution to the effort being privateer ships to attack American vessels. Moving along, Confederation took place on July 1st, 1867. And the rest is history, wink wink.
Doing that Tourist Thing
Planning a trip to Nova Scotia? (If not, you should!) The best time to visit is, of course, in the warmer months. Spring through fall (or April through October) are the best months for weather, though the spring can be rainy and cool. Once summer hits, it gets hot and is t-shirt and shorts weather. Fair warning, when you hit the beach, the ocean temperature will not have caught up with the air temperature. You will survive, and even get used to it… maybe.
Flights arrive at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, located 35km from the city. There are four airport hotels in the area, including the attached Alt Hotel Halifax Airport (read my review). The other three: Quality Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Hilton Garden Inn.
Another option if coming from the USA is the Maine-Yarmouth ferry.
Halifax is the capital, and I recommend at least a night or two here. There are MANY hotels downtown, and for the best experience, you’ll want to stay in this area. It puts you in walking distance of boutique shopping, and a plethora of bars, pubs, and restaurants. A number of museums and attractions are downtown, such as the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Pier 21, and Neptune Theatre. You’ll want to walk Spring Garden Road for shopping and visit the Halifax Public Gardens.
Other points of interest include Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, Scotiabank Centre (home of the Halifax Mooseheads), Museum of Natural History, Discovery Centre, Halifax Waterfront, and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
Let’s talk about the rest of Nova Scotia
Halifax sits midway between one end of the province and the other. It’s about a five-hour drive to Cape Breton and about 3 hours to Yarmouth. If you have lots of time (several days), you can get around the entire province. If time is short, you’ll be too rushed to see it all and will be better off to pick what you want to do the most. Here I’ll briefly highlight the most popular things to see and do in this beautiful province. Many are great day trips from Halifax, while others are a trip in themselves.
South Shore, Annapolis Valley, and Beyond
- Peggys Cove makes a great day trip, and Peggy’s Point Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the
country. Please read the warning signs! Stay off the black rocks close to the water as they’re wet and slippery. The ocean is unpredictable, and you don’t want to be the next tragic news story we read about in the local news. Waves can be far-reaching and fierce on these rocks. There are a restaurant and art gallery on-site.
- Annapolis Valley makes another great day trip. You can choose your adventure as there are many. Wolfville and Grand-Pre are wine country, so the Magic Winery Bus Tour may be your thing. If you’re looking to see the effects of the highest tides in the world, visit Halls Harbour (Bay of Fundy) and the restaurant for lobster! Hiking? Cape Split, it’ll take the day, but the views are fabulous… Visit Grand-Pre Historic Site or the Look-Off in Blomidon, or spend a night at the Valley Drive-In Theatre.
- Oaklawn Zoo in Aylesford.
- Ross Farm Museum
- Port Royal Habitation
- Fort Anne National Historic Site
- Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site (Keji for short). Enjoy camping, hiking, canoeing, and other outdoor activities.
- Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A port town famous for shipbuilding, and home of the Bluenose II. Check your Canadian change, the Bluenose is found on the dime! A colourful town on the sea, go whale watching or visit the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.
- Beaches. Yes, the south shore of Nova Scotia is home to several popular and beautiful white-sand beaches. There is Queensland Beach, Crystal Crescent Beach, Bayswater Beach, Hirtle Beach, Risser’s Beach, Summerville Beach, and so many more!
Heading to the Highlands
Heading toward the province of New Brunswick or Cape Breton Island takes you on all new adventures and even more beaches.
- Tidal Bore Rafting near Truro.
- Anne Murray Centre in Springhill. Country music fans, this one is for you.
- Cape Breton Highlands National Park (open mid-may to October) and the Cabot trail (open year-round). The Cabot Trail is especially popular in October when fall colours light up the highlands. You can camp, hike (26 trails), geocache, cycle and more. I recommend two or three days to drive around the Cabot Trail.
- Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site.
- Fortress of Louisburg National Historic Site.
- Sherbrooke Village.
- Cape Breton Miner’s Museum.
- Beaches along the eastern shore and the Northumberland Strait.
And So Much More
In no way is this a complete list of everything Nova Scotia has to offer, but rather a sampling. Just remember, you’re visiting ‘Canada’s Ocean Playground’ so it stands to reason you will find activities associated with the water. Things like whale watching, fishing, rafting, kayaking, and harbour cruises. You’ll eat at local restaurants and pubs with the best local seafood, like scallops and lobster. Visit a vineyard or five! You’ll enjoy breathtaking scenic drives along the coast or in the highlands, and go hiking or cycling on country roads. You can discover festivals, attend the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, or one of many music festivals.
Let me know if you’ve ever been to Nova Scotia or are planning a visit. I’d be happy to answer any questions if I can!