"an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Maritime pleasures

It's taken a while to get back to the blog, and we've arrived in the big apple now. Still, I'd like to devote one blog to our time in the Maritimes, partly because this beautiful corner of Canada deserves time spent there, and also because part of the Maritimes, Prince Edward Island, is tied up with my personal family history. We arrived on the 'Maasdam' on 11th June, another beautiful, sunny, warm day. Rather than booking a shore excursion, we thought we'd get a rental car and explore the island by ourselves. As if it had been planned, a chap with an Avis board just arrived at the dock when we disembarked, and soon we were travelling eastwards, on Highway 1towards Wood Islands and Little Sands, in  a black Jeep Cherokee. It was nice getting out of cities, interesting though they were, and into farming country. PEI has rich, volcanic soil, making it perfect for the potatoes they grow there. It's a neat, hilly countryside with lots of farms, and little inlets cutting into the shore line. A short while later, we arrived at the Wood Islands light house, a pretty red and white structure on elevated ground, overlooking the sea. I found a book there about the early days of Wood Island, written by a lady who is probably related to me way back. My ancestors from Colonsay landed at Wood Islands on the "Spencer" in 1806, and eventually moved to a farm in Little Sands, a short drive away. Now, there are only a few farms - and a winery - left in Little Sands, but it felt as if a circle had been completed, with me standing where my great-grandfather probably farmed in the late 19th century. There is still some evidence of the strip-farms that were granted to the farmers in those day, long narrow strips of land, supposedly because the bullock teams tilling the fields were difficult to turn around. We stopped briefly at the Little Sands cemetery, and found lots of relatives there, MacNeills, McMillans,and Munns galore. The McMillan descendents from the immigrants on the 'Spencer' had also erected a memorial at the Wood Islands Pioneer Cemetery, which we also visited, before being driven away by mosquitos. This was all very satisfactory, and we returned to Charlottetown, for a lobster roll lunch, and visits to the Anne of Green Gables shop AND a quilt shop!
The next day we awoke in Sydney, Nova Scotia. We were whisked off by bus to see some of the Cabot Trail, a stunning area of coastline on the eastern side of NS. The scenery is truly magnificent, dramatic beaches, cliffs, and pounding seas, with wooded hillsides along the drive. I looked and looked for moose, but no luck! We stopped at a lovely old resort overlooking an ocean inlet, and saw eagles circling. Would have loved to drive the whole trail, but alas, no time. This is definitely a place I'd like to explore further.
Didn't get much time to explore Sydney, as we had to be back on board early.
Our last stop in the Maritimes was Halifax. We had booked a tour to Lunenburg, the 'prettiest town in Canada', founded by German settlers introduced by the British around 1753. First we stopped in Mahone Bay, a quaint little town with the typical colourful houses of the area, and some interesting churches. I just love the architecture of these places! The we got to Lunenburg, where our guide, a kilted gentleman called John, explained some of the history of the place. Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the town is completely made of wood! We had time to explore on our own, and we admired the gorgeous old places and the harbour with its lobster and crab boats. We had a great lunch at the 'Grand Banker', which was delicious! What a life, when your main decision of the day is whether to have clam chowder or lobster!
I went for both! We then took a horse carriage through Lunenburg, and our guide explained lots about the old houses, showing us beautiful leaded windows, widows-walks, and the oldest house, predating the German settlers' homes. This is definitely a must-see destination when visiting this corner of the world!

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