Nova Scotia,Canada: It’s right some nice!

The Canadian Maritime province is the perfect place to escape the stress and intensity of life in Israel.

nova scotia 311 (photo credit: Linda Epstein)
nova scotia 311
(photo credit: Linda Epstein)
HALIFAX – If you want to escape the stress and intensity of life in Israel on your next vacation, Nova Scotia may be just what you’re seeking. The Canadian Maritime province is cool and calm, and its residents are warm and welcoming to tourists.
Plus there’s a lot to do and see, and wherever you go, there are trees, lakes, rivers and beaches galore with some spectacular scenery. As my traveling companion, Linda Epstein, who is originally from Halifax, puts it (when mimicking the local lingo), “It’s right some nice!” With such a serene setting, it is ironic that Nova Scotia has experienced at least three extremely shocking events in its history, all of which have left their emotional scars and heroic tales. But all three are well worth revisiting, even if you are on holiday.
The first was the famous Titanic disaster off the eastern coast of Canada. Three boats from Halifax took part in the rescue operation and the city became the resting place of almost a third of the steamship’s 1,517 victims. Dozens of headstones inscribed with the same date – April 15, 1912 – in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery are an eerie reminder of the terrible tragedy.
The second was the Halifax Explosion on December 6, 1917, when the SS Mont- Blanc, a French vessel loaded with wartime explosives, collided with the Norwegian ship, SS Imo, killing some 2,000 people. This was the largest manmade explosion in the world prior to the atom bomb. I visited the Maritime Museum to learn more about this chilling episode; then I chilled out by taking a stroll along the touristy but pretty boardwalk.
The third was the crash of Swissair Flight 111 on September 2, 1998 in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of the Halifax airport at the entrance to St. Margaret’s Bay. I was moved by the memorial at Peggy’s Cove for the 229 passengers who lost their lives.
While you’re there, a hike over the beautiful boulders at Peggy’s is a must, as is a meal at the superb local restaurant in what is essentially a fishermen’s village. The fresh fish is fabulous, and the warm gingerbread cake with whipped cream is dangerously delicious.
Halifax itself has a rich local culture, a cosmopolitan community with a range of ethnic festivals and restaurants, and 150- year-old Public Gardens, a perfect place to relax.
Among the interesting trivia I learned while I was in the city were the following: • The city was founded in 1749 by British Gen. Edward Cornwallis, and was named after the earl of Halifax, a statue of whom still stands in Cornwallis Park.
• Residents of Halifax, Canada’s 13th largest city, are called Haligonians and make up about 40 percent of Nova Scotia’s population of almost 1 million.
• Halifax was originally called Chebucto, which is the Indian word for big harbor, and it has the second largest natural harbor in the world, after Sydney, Australia.
• The short ferry ride from Halifax to Dartmouth is the oldest saltwater passenger service in North America.
• The city was home to the first zoo in North America. It opened in 1847 and was moved to New York’s Central Park in 1863.
A bright student at one of the local universities, Dalhousie, gave us an interesting tour of the Nova Scotia Legislature, located in an architectural masterpiece named Province House, which has convened every year since 1819. Linda’s brother, Howard Epstein, is a member of the current legislative assembly for the ruling New Democratic Party, and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in his office and being briefed on the hot local issues, which include a plan to build a highrise convention center that could be a future eyesore in an otherwise delightful downtown.
I was fascinated by the story of Joseph Howe, a legendary Nova Scotian journalist and politician who lived in the 19th century. Charged with seditious libel in 1835 when the Novascotian published a letter accusing Halifax politicians and police with pocketing public money, Howe eloquently addressed the jury for over six hours, and was acquitted in what was considered a landmark victory for freedom of the press.
During our vacation, we also saw an inspiring movie about another Canadian politician, Elijah Harper, an Aboriginal Cree who in 1981 became the first Indian to be elected as a provincial politician (in Manitoba), also for the NDP. Harper (who is not related to the current prime minister, Stephen Harper) is credited with saying “No,” thereby enabling the Manitoba legislature’s rejection in 1990 of the so-called Meech Lake Accord, a national constitutional reform proposal that had been negotiated without the participation of native Indians.
During our time in Halifax, we visited the local farmers’ market and an upscale supermarket, which inter alia, sold fresh blueberries, blackberries and sweet peas, not to mention Atlantic smoked salmon, haddock, superb sushi and excellent cheeses. I also sampled the local delights of dulse seaweed, saltwater taffy and root beer popsicles.
The city grows on you fast, and it was hard to leave it, but we took several fascinating drives further afield, including to the Bay of Fundy, which not only boasts the world’s highest tides, but also hosts the largest collection of 300-million-year old fossils at the Joggins Fossil Center.
The bay has marvelous marine life, and whale-watching tours are very popular with visitors. We spent a day in the Annapolis Valley, which boasts some 250 different types of apples, and another day driving along the south shore of Nova Scotia, with its rugged coastline of coves, bays and inlets dotted with residences ranging from simple cottages to magnificent mansions.
But the highlight of our trip was yet to come: Cape Breton! The Canso Causeway artificially connects the mainland of Nova Scotia to Cape Breton, which features fantastic coastal roads with breathtaking views of the Atlantic, one of the world’s largest saltwater lakes (Bras d’Or) and quaint villages with pleasant people and scrumptious surprises along the way. We soon discovered that it is also a very popular spot for bikers from around the world.
All the signs in Cape Breton are in English and Gaelic, and the picturesque Cabot Trail is reminiscent of the Scottish countryside, golf courses and all! One of the most stunning spots is at the resort of Baddeck, which Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), the Scottish-born inventor of the telephone, chose for his Canadian estate. We visited the impressive site of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum overlooking Baddeck Bay, and by sheer coincidence, met two of his great-granddaughters and their Jewish husbands at a dinner party hosted by Linda’s cousin, Myrna Yazer, whose husband, Harold, is originally from the nearby city of Sydney.
For Bell, Cape Breton was the most beautiful part of the world, Myrna told me while we talked outside their lovely summer home on the lake.
“I have travelled the globe,” she quoted Bell as saying. “I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes and the Alps and the highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all.”
And who can argue with that right some good observation?