Welcome back, dear readers, or a very warm welcome to those of you who may have just landed on this site for the first time. This particular portion of the blog is dedicated to a roadtrip I took round the Maritime Provinces of Canada in 2014 with Betsy (a very agéd campervan / RV) and Lynne (a not at all agéd and very dear friend). If you wish to read the tale of the whole expedition, you can do so here.
Regular readers will know that we were in Digby, Nova Scotia and staying in a lovely campground which was rather unimaginatevly named Digby Campground so if you wish to know what happened next then please read on.
I awoke none too early after a night of extensive hospitality from Lynne’s friend, a local restaurateur, and her husband. Those Nova Scotians, like Canadians in general, certainly do not hold back when it comes to showing the visitor a good time.
Already, and so early in the trip, things were forming a bit of a pattern. I woke first, made coffee, woke Lynne with hers and then went for a shower and a walk round wherever we were staying.
It is undoubtedly due to my insane desire to see absolutely everything along the way that we used to habitually pitch up at a campground at, or even after, dusk and so we usually never had a chance to appreciate our immediate surroundings until the next morning. That’s fine and once again we are back to my travel philosophy of planning nothing. We had nowhere to go and nothing to do which gave us the freedom to go anywhere and do anything.
I do think that, outside wild hiking (I was far too old and unfit for that) campervanning / RV’ing is the ultimate travel freedom and so it was proving. Did we stay and “risk” another night of hospitality in the Fundy Restaurant, where we had been made so welcome by Lynne’s friend the owner, or did we just ramble on, if I may borrow a term from Led Zeppelin? The freedom of living that lifestyle is quite intoxicating and I was already completely smitten by it. We decided to move.
The first order of business, when we eventually did get on the road, was to head back into Digby to bid our farewells to our wonderful hostess of the previous evening at her Fundy Restaurant and I even managed to take some images in daylight!
Digby is a lovely little place and this is what I wrote about it contemporaneously.
“Digby is a fairly small and sleepy fishing town on the Nova Scotian coast and is rightly famed for the quality of it’s scallops which are regarded as being amongst the finest in the world. The other seafood isn’t bad either!
Digby really comes alive one weekend in August when over 60,000 bikers descend on it for the legendary Wharf Rat Rally but otherwise it is a fairly quiet little spot and none the worse for that.
We visited in late June which I thought would be fairly busy in tourist season although it was anything but. We had no problem getting a pitch in the rather good campsite and when we visited a bar in the evening we had the place more or less to ourselves. It is a lovely place to visit but I would suggest that a couple of days would be long enough there.
I suppose we might have a bit of a look round Digby before we go not least to discover who the town was named for and I can answer that question now. The Honourable Robert Digby was the younger son of a noble English family in the days when the eldest son inherited the lands and titles, the second son often went into the Church and the others had to make their own way. As one of six sons, the Hon. Robert was effectively left to make his own way, which he did rather successfully.
Digby entered the Navy at about 13 (as was the practice then) and by the young age of 23 he had his first command, the frigate Solebay. An able commander, Digby was a rear admiral by 1779 was a Rear-Admiral, second in command of the Channel Fleet. He even had the future King William IV as a midshipman under his command at one point.
Digby’s association with this particular place in Nova Scotia was that, during the American War of Independence, he commanded a fleet which rescued Loyalists from the area of New York and re-located them here to escape the wrath of the vaunted George Washington who was intent on having them annihilated. So much for “land of the free”.
Digby’s fleet disgorged their cargo of humanity in a place then called Conway which was eventually renamed in his honour. Well, if we were in Digby, what better place to visit than the Admiral Digby Museum?
We did so and here, as usual, are my original notes on a fine place to visit.
Pay the Admiral a visit.
The Admiral Digby Museum is one of a type very common in Nova Scotia, namely an old period house restored and filled with artefacts either from the premises or, more commonly, typical of the time being represented. It is rather well done if not overly large with the usual friendly and knowledgeable member of staff on hand.
You are given a leaflet to self-guide but the young man asked if we would like him to show us around one or two of the rooms. I suspect the poor guy was bored stiff as there did not seem to be a lot of visitors the day we went albeit that it was in high season and he confirmed in conversation that he didn’t get too much traffic through. Don’t let that put you off, however, as it is well worth the effort.
Again typical of this region the Museum is largely the result of local people getting it off the ground rather than Government and this venue is the work of the Digby Library Association which purchased the premisesnin 1968 – 1969 so well done them.
To have a relatively short non-indigenous history, Nova Scotians seem to be determined to preserve it and show it to it’s best advantage. The house was formerly known as the Woodrow / Dakin House and dates to the 1840’s being of a Loyalist / Georgian style which indicates it’s beginnings as a dwelling for Loyalists fleeing North from the USA following the American Revolution.
The town was originally named Conway but was re-named Digby in honour of Rear Admiral Robert Digby (1732 – 1815) who had brought Loyalists here aboard his ship. Not only that but, together with a chap called Sir Guy Carleton, he informed George Washington that if he did not honour his promise to allow Loyalists to move North unmolested that they would resume hostilities without even consulting London!
So much for the Admiral then but what of the Museum that bears his name? Well, it really is a bit of a treasure trove with differently themed rooms. The Museum boasts a textile room, Loyalist room, Victorian parlour, marine room, costume Room, bedroom and an exhibit concerning the Mi’qmak (the indigenous local tribe) and African Canadian matters. Do watch your head as you go upstairs as it is a pretty low beam! I am 6’5″ and learned that lesson to my cost.
Several of the star exhibits are the James Keen grandfather clock, the (still functioning) pump organ and several excellent boat models reflecting the maritime influence here. You may also be interested in the excellent loom and spinning wheel or the china cabinet with it’s fascinating collection of ceramics from various periods or even the original costumes. Whatever your interests, the chances are you’ll find something here to tickle your fancy.
Regrettably, due to the very nature of the building, it did not appear to be fully wheelchair accessible although one tourist website states that they are. I would advise checking beforehand”.
As was becoming standard on the trip, even at this early stage, we had not progressed a mile down Trunk 1, the Evangeline Trail, and it had already been a brilliant day. I really was living my dream and even now, after all these years, it is hard to describe how utterly happy I was. I don’t think that in a quite turbulent life I had ever felt so content and it was certainly years since I felt this relaxed. Nova Scotia does that to you.
Yes, I had looked at all the big, fancy, brand new rigs in the various campsites and there was I in Betsy, 23′ of ancient Glendale craftsmanship, with Lynne, and I was loving it. Something about the whole affair just seemed right somehow. I would not have swapped for all the 40′ Winnebagos in the world.
The clapped out van and the complete lack of planning which was effectively “flaneuring” (look it up) had always spoken to my soul. Go back to first principles here, complete freedom in a beautiful environment with a great friend, how bad can that be? I’ll take a guess here now that you, dear reader, would have traded places with me.
After the Museum we took a bit of a wander round the town which did not take much effort as it is not really big, perhaps that is how my navigation had missed it the day before! (see previous post for explanation). I had to stop and take the image you can see above which is of the office of the Wharf Rat Rally, a bike event which (pre – Chinese virus) attracted up to 60,000 bikers from all over Canada and beyond. As a biker myself (I have the scars to prove it!) I would love to be there for that rally.
Almost inevitably in Canada we came upon a war memorial and Lynne and I, having both served our respective countries, paused to pay our respects.
For such a sparsely populated country, Canada has given so much in terms of their sons. I remember years ago visiting a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Northern France and seeing rank upon rank of standard headstones of Canadian servicemen. Sadly, it continues to this day. My comrade in arms here stands in silent watch over his mates and I have no doubt will continue to do so long after I have gone.
The brave men commemorated here at least have the small comfort of their memorial being in a beautiful position overlooking the Bay of Fundy and that their memorial, like every other I saw in Canada on this and subsequent trips, was immaculately maintained and, as I mentioned in an earlier post the Canadians do know how to their honour their fallen.
Time to get back on the road and see how long poor old Betsy would last. I know that sounds ridiculous but we had our contingency plans, Lynne’s membership of the CAA being the primary one. If everything went belly-up we could still get towed home but that was part of the attraction. We were riding round in an ancient RV that was in imminent danger of dying and held together by the rust, gaffer tape and the power of prayer, even if Lynne and I are both atheists. It was the ultimate traveller’s dream.
I’ll let my original notes tell you what happened next.
A fine place for a picnic.
“Nova Scotia is certainly very well served for beautiful scenery and this is often best appreciated by visiting one of the many Provincial or National Parks that seem to abound here.
We were driving out of Digby and looking for a place to stop to have a bite to eat in the campervan (RV) when we happened upon Savary Park Provincial Park about 12 miles South of Digby on Highway 101 a.k.a. the Evangeline Trail.
By Canadian standards it is certainly not large (just under 27 acres) but it does afford lovely views across the St. Mary’s Bay. Even in the middle of tourist season we had the place to ourselves except for the groundsman mowing the grass in order to keep the place in the wonderfully tidy condition it was in.
Should you have one of those fancy GPS gizmos, the co-ordinates are N44 30.698 W65 54.390. There is no overnight camping allowed and admission is free. There are toilets and picnic tables and it is possible to beachcomb at low tide. Well worth a visit if you are passing”.
I am certainly no Michelin-starred chef but even the most ham-fisted amateur could knock up something tasty in surroundings like this and I’ll bet the pros would have envied my kitchen for that meal. The views out the window as I prepared lunch were stunning and I suppose that if we had gone “walkabout” we could have foraged some great ingredients. I was still slightly “shell-shocked” and wondering if life could actually get any better. I was struggling to think how.
In fact, we didn’t have to drive far after our idyllic lunch until life didn’t perhaps get better but certainly added to my already well-funded stock of memories. Gilbert’s Cove names itself, as Canadian settlement seem to do, a title, in this case “The Greatest Little Lighthouse in Canada”. On a subsequent Canadian road-trip I was privileged to visit the “Home of the World’s Biggest Perogi” would you believe? Everywhere in Canada seems to have something to boast of.
Gilbert’s Cove is just a scattering of homes lying along and off Trunk 1 with the central attraction being the said lighthouse, which you can see above but is none the less attractive for that. The settlement is named for Col. Thomas Gilbert who had fought in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.
On the way we passed. or rather didn’t pass the local Visitor Information Centre. We popped in to find out what was what and it was superb. I was getting used to this by now, even after only a few days on the road. From later experience I was to discover this as a hallmark of that great country but already on that trip I had already worked out that these are great places to go. Half of them are museums in their own right. Canadians really do know how to welcome the visitor (as anyone in my “local” in Alberta will attest!)
By this time it was late afternoon but, as I have mentioned in previous posts, at this latitude in late June we still had about four hours of light left so no rush. That was probably just as well as Betsy just didn’t do rushing. Her great age led us to a very slow pace of life which suited me fine, it was that kind of trip.
On we trundled at our sedate and very comforting pace but it wasn’t long until we had to stop again for the reason you can see in the images. The reason was the Église Sainte-Marie in the appropriately named Church Point, one of the oldest and tallest wooden structures in North America.
I mentioned above that both Lynne and I are atheist but both of us were awed by the sheer scale of the construction here, it boggles the imagination how such a structure could be built out of felled trees. It is utterly magnificent with a nave of 190 feet, transepts of 154 feet and the most impressive spire of 184 feet.
The church is not actually that old, dating to 1903, when it replaced an older structure which had served the spiritual needs of returning Acadians (remember them from previous posts)? I was finding myself more and more immersed in Acadian history. It is a most fascinating story and one that I would commend my dear readers to investigate. Église Sainte-Marie was just one more piece in a puzzle that was forming in my head. This really was turning out to be a “voyage of discovery” and everything was well in Fergy’s world.
Nick was a brilliant sound engineer (he regularly worked at Glastonbury amongst many other festivals and gigs) who I had the pleasure of working with several times, a very fine singer / songwriter in his own right and one of the nicest men I ever met. Rest easy, my friend.
There we were, Lynne and I in faithful old Betsy, approaching Yarmouth Town with me humming the tune under my breath. I know I go on far too much about synchronicity and fate or whatever you choose to call it but it really smacked me in the face when I saw the sign. This was just meant to be and I was as happy as I probably had ever been in my life. Even better was that we had weeks of this left to come until I had to fly home.
We eventually arrived in Yarmouth Town, as per the song which I was still humming, and took ourselves to the Camper’s Haven campground, another beauty. We had a lovely pitch on a site that looked like it was mostly set up for longer term rent. Many of the vans were fully set up, hooked up and looking like they were going nowhere for a month or two.
Again I am drawn back to my oft-quoted mantra that there is no right way to travel (or not in this case), just do whatever suits you. It really is that simple. We were living a very simple life in the most basic of conditions and we were having a ball.
If you want to know what happens next then stay tuned and spread the word.