Historic Coastal Nova Scotia

Coast of Nova Scotia Steeped in History
Lighthouses, islands decorate shoreline
By Rob Gorham

Home to some of the Maritime's most majestic lighthouses and the region's largest metropolitan center, a cruise along the coast of Nova Scotia is sure to be a highlight of any boater's log.

The Atlantic coast shoreline of mainland Nova Scotia runs parallel with the Scotian Shelf offshore, extending from Guysborough County in northeast to Yarmouth County in the southwest. The area from Guysborough County through to Halifax is known as the Eastern Shore. The Southwestern Shore runs from Halifax to Yarmouth.

Boaters who want to cruise the coast on a southwesterly course, first reach Guysborough County through the Strait of Canso, if coming from the Northumberland Strait. Those coming from Cape Breton cross Chedabucto Bay.  The Town of Guysborough has an attractive waterfront with a full-service marina and boardwalk. There is a community theatre, shops, restaurants and a picnic park.  The Old Court House is an historic site where visitors can explore the history of area, including its Acadian and Black settlements.

Boaters coming into Guysborough Harbour will pass under the Bolyston Bridge, so navigational charts must be consulted.  Heading west along the Eastern Shore, boaters will next encounter the historic fishing Town of Canso, home of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival. The festival is held every July in honour of the legendary folk singer, whose lyrics echoed his Maritime experience on land and sea. There is a small marina and a public wharf in Canso, along with a variety of amenities, and a regatta is held every August.

West of Canso is the St. Mary's River, the largest river in Nova Scotia, and home to Sherbrooke Village, an historical re-creation of a 19th century Nova Scotian village, which is found about 10 nautical miles upriver.  The Village takes one back in time to the bygone era when Sherbooke thrived on fishing, farming, forestry, and later gold mining. Staff are dressed in period costumes and there are many buildings depicting life in Nova Scotia during the 1800's. There is a full-service dock at Sherbrooke, as the river is used for canoeing, kayaking and sailing. Nearby Liscombe is a resort area where there is mooring available, and a shuttle service is provided to Sherbrooke Village.  The Eastern Shore has become a popular place for sea kayakers because of its natural beauty, a combination of rugged coastline, with islands, inlets, coves and saltwater marshes to explore.

Further west, the coastline turns into a series of wonderful sand beaches at Clam Harbour, Martinique, Lawrencetown and Rainbow Haven.  Martinique Beach, at the mouth of Musquodobit Harbour, is the longest sand beach in Nova Scotia. The Petpeswick Yacht Club is located on the Petpeswick Inlet, which runs adjacent to Musquodobit Harbour. The area boasts a Railway Museum and the Fishermen's Life Museum at nearby Oyster Pond on Jeddore Bay.  Completing a westerly cruise of the Eastern Shore brings boaters into Halifax Harbour, the largest port on Atlantic Canada's seaboard, and the largest Canadian city east of Quebec.

Founded in 1749, Halifax was an important base for the British during its battle for supremacy with the French in colonial North America. The massive fortress Citadel offers commanding view of the harbour and is a national historic site with a wide-range of exhibits.  Halifax Harbour is bordered by Dartmouth on the east and Halifax on the west. Notable islands in the harbour include McNab's Island, a five-kilometre long island on the eastern side of the harbour, with remnants of British forts and known for its folklore. George's Island, a tiny island found closer to the heart of the Halifax, is also steeped in folklore, having served as a military base where prisoners were held and allegedly executed.  Two large bridges span the harbour, connecting Halifax and Dartmouth. The two cities are now amalgamated, along with rest Halifax County, to form Halifax Regional Municipality.

Halifax is an important commercial shipping and naval port, and boaters are advised to watch for shipping lanes as they enter the harbour.   There are several options for docking on both sides of the harbour On the Dartmouth side, there are private marinas in Shearwater and Alderney Landing, along with the Dartmouth Yacht Club.  On the Halifax side, the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Club and the Armdale Yacht Club are located on the North West Arm. The Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Club serves as the finish line for the Marblehead Race, an ocean race which starts at Marblehead, Massachusetts every second year in July.  In downtown Halifax, there is docking for large vessels available at Queen's Wharf. At the end of Halifax Harbour is the Bedford Basin Yacht Club.

Metropolitan Halifax, with a population of about 350,000, has much to offer, from accommodations, restaurants, shopping and night-life to entertainment, recreation, culture and heritage.  Those interested in seafaring history will want to take in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, located on the Halifax waterfront. The museum includes a special Titanic exhibit on the ill-fated vessel that sunk not far off this coast. Halifax was a key port where many of the victims were brought after the 1912 disaster.    Another major waterfront attraction is Pier 21, a point from where more than one million immigrants and war-torn arrivals came to Canada between 1928 and 1971.

After a visit to Halifax, boaters cruising down the Southwestern Shore of Nova Scotia will find another famous landmark within the coastal confines of Halifax County.  Picturesque Peggy's Cove has drawn artists and photographers from all over the world, who are captivated by the amazing lighthouse on the rocks and the cove's quaint fishing village.  Rounding the point at Peggy's Cove takes boaters into of St. Margaret's Bay. The Bay is a popular boating area, with a full-service marina near French Village and a sailing club that offers moorings to visitors.

The section of coastline from St. Margaret's Bay southwest to Lunenburg is a hotbed for recreational boating.  Communities such as Hubbards, Chester, Chester Basin, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg are well-know for sailing. A number of marinas and yacht clubs can be found in this stretch of coastline, which has become a popular area for new waterfront home construction as well. One popular boating event in the area is Chester Race Week, which is held every August, and draws competitors from around the Maritimes and beyond. 

Just west of Chester is Mahone Bay, known for its 365 islands—one for every day of the year. Designated by conservationists as one of Atlantic Canada's "masterpiece" areas, Mahone Bay is fascinating to explore, but boaters must consult their nautical charts as there are reefs in the area. Included among the islands here is legendary Oak Island, the site of numerous hunts for buried treasure believed to be hidden under the island's soil, possibly by Captain Kidd.  The Town of Mahone Bay, meanwhile, is home to the Classic Boat Festival, a popular annual South Shore event, which runs in early August.   Southwest of Mahone Bay lies the historic Town of Lunenburg, home to Nova Scotia icon and legendary racing schooner, the Bluenose.  The Bluenose, built in 1921, was an unbeatable ocean racing vessel during her 18-year-career, which lasted until 1938. Much of her history is captured at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg, where the seaworthy Bluenose II replica often docks.

Lunenburg boasts colourful and historic waterfront buildings, and has a long tradition of high seas fishing and boatbuilding. It has a waterfront marina and a yacht club on nearby Herman's Island.  Other places of interest for boaters along the coast of Lunenburg County include the picturesque Lahave River, which has a small marina and a yacht club. The county's largest town, Bridgewater, has two bridges that span the Lahave River.  Southwest of Lunenburg County lies the shoreline of Queens County. The major port of call here is Liverpool, known as the land of the privateers.  During the American Revolution of 1776-1783, American privateers attacked Nova Scotia's coastal communities. Forced to mobilize a defense, Liverpool formed its own band of privateers to block or intercept enemy ships, often resulting in a King's Bounty reward.  Each year, the town hosts Privateer Days during the early part of the summer, and 2009 will mark its 250th anniversary. The town has a dock for incoming vessels.

Another South Shore town, known for its ties to the American Revolution is the Loyalist community of Shelburne.  In 1784, British Loyalists fleeing the United States increased the small population of Shelburne to more than 10,000, and included the area's first black settlement in nearby Birchtown, where an interpretive centre is now located.  Shelburne has a full-service marina and a number of points of interest along its waterfront, including a dory shop, a wooden boatbuilding shipyard and remnants of the 1995 set of The Scarlet Letter movie, which starring Demi Moore.  The southern part of the Shelburne County is home to Cape Sable Island. The island is famous for its highline fishing and boatbuilding, including the development of the Cape Island boat, a very seaworthy inshore fishing boat.

The final leg of a cruise along Southwestern Shore takes boaters along the coast of Yarmouth County. At the mostly easterly portion of Yarmouth County coastline, boaters will find the Pubnicos. This marks the start of southwestern Nova Scotia's Acadian communities along this shore.  West Pubnico is home to an Acadian Museum and the Historical Acadian Village of Nova Scotia. These attractions offer insight on early Acadian life in Nova Scotia, both prior to and after the deportation of these French-speaking people from Nova Scotia in 1755. Displays show how these early settlers cleverly built dykes along the saltwater marsh coastlines to create productive farm land.  West of the Pubnicos, boaters can explore the picturesque Tusket Islands, where local lobster fishermen have built colourful shanties to live in during the winter lobster fishing season. Small, gray, weather-beaten wharves, loaded with lobster traps, line some of these small shanty-filled islands, and create a captivating sight.

At the tip of southwestern Nova Scotia, is the Town of Yarmouth, an historic fishing and seafaring port. When entering Yarmouth harbour, boaters will be greeted by the lighthouse perched high atop a craggy cliff at Cape Forchu.   Yarmouth has a full-service marina and many points of interest within walking distance of the waterfront. The Laurence Sweeney Fisheries Museum illustrates the important role fishing played in the town's growth, and features many old photographs of fishermen who plied Georges Bank over the past century.   The Yarmouth County Museum & Archives presents much of this history, and has one of the finest collections of tall ships paintings anywhere in Canada. The museum also has an extensive library on Yarmouth's involvement in rum running during the Prohibition years.  Each July, Yarmouth celebrates its seafaring history with Seafest, a four-day waterfront festival.  Yarmouth is the final stop for boaters before heading north towards the Bay of Fundy.