Why in the Blazes* You Should Visit Nova Scotia!

A visit with community builders in Pictou, a Grandmother Moon Ceremony in Cape Breton National Park, a stay with transplanted friends in Mushaboom, Billstock on Sober Island, a three-hour tour of the islands surrounding Chester, exploring some Blue Rocks and a visit to Five Islands in the Bay of Fundy and that is our Nova Scotia in a nutshell.

It wasn’t our first visit to Pictou, but it was our first time there since the evil-smelling paper mill closed. And since our friends moved there full time and enticed other Toronto artist friends to move there too. We enjoyed meals, time on the beach, even an impromptu dance party with this inspiring group. We left Pictou marvelling at how easily our friends, Katherine and David, make community-building appear.

The last time we explored Cape Breton was in 2014, at the beginning of our van life adventure. Upon returning from Newfoundland, we made our way around the Cabot Trail. We decided to make a return visit and stayed this time in the Cape Breton National Park. Our stay happily coincided with the Mi’kmaq Grandmother Moon Ceremony. Former Chief of the Wagmatcook First Nation Mary Louise Bernard led a group of campers through the trees down to the Cheticamp River to celebrate the full moon. We all participated in the making of a medicine wheel and the smudge ceremony. Julie represented one of the four directions, waters (rainwater), in the ceremony. Even MacDuff got smudged. It is impossible to convey just how special it was to participate in this experience. This place, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, covers 950 square kilometres of unceded Mi’kmaq territory. We were so grateful to be there.

The second memorable Cape Breton experience happened when we stopped to hike at Macintosh Brook. The three of us followed a babbling brook through a forest that led to a waterfall. On our way back out, MacDuff made it clear he wanted to enter the water. He walked to where the water was deepest and just laid down and floated a while while we looked on in amazement. He knew just what he needed, and he led us to that place.

We first met Tanya and Bruce through Instagram because of our shared love of the Volkswagen Westfalia Campervan. We met in real life in 2018 at a campground in Florida and then a couple of times since on Pelee Island and the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia. Like many other adventurous folks, they pulled up stakes in Toronto in the middle of the pandemic and bought a home in Nova Scotia, sight unseen. They invited us to stay with them in the awesomely named community of Mushaboom. Their new home boasts an incredible bay view, complete with seal interactions and daily SUP opportunities.

Our stay in Mushaboom synced up with a local event known as Billstock. The four of us knew the following: we would be camping, on a guy named Bill’s property, on Sober Island. There would be live music and free beer. Bill has hosted a live concert for six consecutive years featuring a local band called the Regal Beagles. He and his wife invite friends of all ages to join in the fun, camp on their property, share food, dance and sing into the wee hours. The youngest person was about two years old, and the oldest, 89. That 89-year-old was still dancing at midnight! The music was phenomenal. The friends were crazy welcoming. We had more fun than we have had in a dog’s age. Thank you, Tanya and Bruce, for what was a truly memorable night! And we must not forget the aptly named Sober Island Brewing Company generously supplied the beer!

We awoke the following day to a text from our friends, Mike and Graidhne, asking if we could make it to Chester by noon. We weren’t exactly sure how long it would take us to get to Chester, and service was hit and miss, at best, so we answered the only way we could, maybe?! We ended up making it to Chester, where we were led onto a decommissioned fishing boat, turned family camper boat. Mike and Graidhne’s friends Chad, Alexa and Sylvie toured us around the islands surrounding Chester and Chester Basin for the duration of the afternoon. We enjoyed food and drinks, excellent conversation and more deep belly laughs than we could count. The topper was a feast back at Graidhne’s dad, Ray’s place prepared by our pal Mike. Mike cooked a Julia Child special, Coquille St. Jacques and steamed local mussels served with plenty of local cider, beer and wine. Another reminder that no man or woman is poor who has friends.

We spent a couple more days in the Chester area, where we caught up on cleaning, rest, and a tiny bit of exploring. We met a couple from Collingwood, Ontario, with whom we happen to share familiar friends. They pointed us in the direction of a terrific fish joint. We also explored an area known as Blue Rocks just outside of Lunenburg. We took our leave as a hurricane was approaching. We’ve never seen a campground empty so quickly.

Our last stop in Nova Scotia was the Bay of Fundy. We wanted to explore the Five Islands Provincial Park and walk on the ocean floor. The first day we were mostly confined to the van thanks to a certain hurricane that blew through the Maritimes. But on the second day we resumed our plan of hard core exploration. The three of us left Five Islands with the tell-tale signs of having walked on the ocean floor. While while in the area, we also explored nearby Parrsboro, picnicked on Partridge Island, visited a lighthouse or two, and searched the beach for treasures, known sometimes as rocks.

*Nova Scotia’s Premier famously coined the phrase, Stay the Blazes Home, at the height of the Covid pandemic. As a province they seemed to weather the virus better than most provinces in Canada.