Cruise to Nova Scotia, Part 3

Bicycling and Lobsters in Yarmouth

June 11-15, 2004  (Updated July 29, 2004)

 

 

1. Boston to Portland, Maine and Scotia Prince

4. A Whale of a Time in the Bay of Fundy

2. Aboard the Scotia Prince to Yarmouth

5. Aboard the Scotia Prince to Portland, Maine

3. Bicycling and Lobsters in Yarmouth

6. Maine to Memphis

 

Index to 22 Photos

 

 

By Lewis Nolan

Return to Nolan Travels Home Page

 

June 12, 2004 – Saturday

 

A beautiful, crisp morning at sea greeted us when we arose at 5 a.m. in our tiny cabin aboard the Scotia Prince. No land or
Betty cycles on Yarmouth dock
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other ships were in sight. The swells of the Northern Atlantic were gentle this day. The ocean was deep blue in color. The wide, white wake created by the ship muscling its way through the waves was the color of the finest linen paper.

 

Compared to the cramped, uncomfortable, economy-class seats on the overnight flights to Europe we’ve suffered, our cabin seemed wonderfully spacious. We felt rested after sleeping in comfortable, bunk beds. We had two more hours at sea before arriving at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Betty wanted to snooze, so I climbed up one flight of wide, carpeted stairs to the deck housing the ship’s coffee shop. I broke my overnight fast with a turkey sandwich ($4.95) and a Diet Coke ($1.50). Then I climbed topside to explore the ship and enjoy the bracing breeze and salt-laden air of the Atlantic.

 

During the winter months, the Scotia Prince sails between Tampa, Florida and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the Caribbean. The outdoor decks at the top of the ship are outfitted with lots of deck chairs spread out over blue-colored, indoor-outdoor carpeting. The ship is freshly painted in white and trimmed in blue. Its teak railings are varnished to a high gloss. The top deck has a hot tub, bar and dance floor. It and other open decks offer attractive places to watch the sea and approaching landfall. But even though it was sunny on this mid-June morning, neither my wool sweater nor the plexi-glass windscreens offered sufficient protection from the chilly wind coming off the cold ocean.

 

Betty and I managed to be among the first passengers to disembark into the modern cruise ship terminal in Yarmouth’s harbor. Unlike the rollaway, metal steps to the ship at the Portland terminal, Yarmouth welcomes its cruise visitors with a gradually sloped walkway that extends from the ship’s exit door to ground level. We breezed through Canadian Customs, which politely inquired if we were carrying alcohol or recreational drugs. We boarded a waiting shuttle bus for the quick trip to the Grand Rodd Hotel about a mile away.

 

The Grand Rodd is a 3-star, 138-room hotel. It is part of the Rodd Hotels & Resorts chain of 13 properties, www.rodd-hotels.ca. A sister property, the motel-like Rodd Colony Harbour Inn, is a few steps from the terminal.

 

The Grand Rodd is across the street from a small park that overlooks the Yarmouth Harbor from the edge of downtown. Its amenities include a fitness center, indoor pool, restaurant, bar, gift shop and bike rentals. Our room was large, clean, well equipped and nicely appointed. We had a good view of the park, harbor and part of the historic section of downtown Yarmouth.

 

We learned that Canada – like the American Southland - has its own set of quirky laws governing the sale and consumption
Lewis wears mandatory helmet in Yarmouth
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of alcohol. Betty and I stopped by the hotel bar one afternoon for a beer and a pina colada. When we moved to take our half-consumed beverages to our room, the hotel staff politely interceded and advised that we would be breaking the law if we even carried them out of the bar and into the adjacent lobby area of the hotel. But it was OK for the staff to put our half-empty drinks on a tray and carry them 20-to-30 feet to the lobby elevator for us. The reason: the Grand Rodd does not have a liquor license that covers the lobby.

 

We also learned that Canada taxes everything – even postage stamps. It costs 80 cents plus tax to mail a postcard to the U.S., the same price charged for the equivalent of a first-class letter. Diet Cokes in 16-ounce, plastic containers cost nearly $2 (Canadian) because of sales tax and recycling deposit. The exchange rate made one Canadian dollar equal to about 80 U.S. cents, one of the few favorable rates against the American dollar in the Western World.

 

We learned that the Grand Rodd’s young staff salvages virtually all the left-behind containers for soft drinks and alcohol consumed by hotel guests. The containers are donated to an area children’s hospital and add up to about $9,000 a year.

   

Our package includes two nights at the hotel, with full breakfast for two mornings plus one dinner credit of $30 each. This morning, we enjoyed the generous portions of ham, cottage fries and toast served fresh and hot before venturing out on rented mountain bikes. The hotel
Betty pauses while biking on Yarmouth dock
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offers a two-hour, motor coach tour of Yarmouth and vicinity that makes a stop at a historic lighthouse a few miles up the coast. Per our custom, we declined the group activity in favor of going out on our own.

 

It’s the law here that cyclists must wear protective helmets when on public property, including streets and sidewalks. An exceptionally helpful hotel employee matched us to the proper sized helmets and bikes and pumped up the tires.

 

I had been in touch with a Canadian cycling organization on the Internet (www.atlanticcanadacycling.com) and was advised about the rental bikes in Yarmouth and the possibility of a nice ride along the coast to the Cape Forchu Light Station. But with only one full day in town, we were reluctant to take the time to ride about 11 kilometers (7 miles) miles each way – especially with the likelihood of a stiff and cold wind in our face at least half way.

 

We had picked up a map, local guidebook information and some friendly advice from hotel staff on places within an easy pedal. We learned that Yarmouth was founded in 1761 and was once one of the < most important shipbuilding centers in the world. It was a rum-running center during America’s Prohibition years in the 1920s-30s and remains one of the most productive fisheries in North America. There are dozens of lobster, seine and net fishing boats of all sizes and conditions in the harbor.

 

It being Saturday and still off-season, there was hardly any traffic in the downtown area. We didn’t see any other cyclists. We pedaled along the waterfront, frequently stopping to photograph scenic views of the wooden and steel fishing boats. Yarmouth has a first-class, walking and cycling trail that is several miles long. Here and there are attractive signs about the size of a dining room table that contain historic photos and information about the exact location. Also along the trail are areas of brickwork, plantings and benches. A similar trail is being developed and extended along the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis; the project should have been completed decades ago given the rich history of our River City.

 

Across the harbor from one of the Yarmouth cycling trail stops is the hulk of an old, wooden sailing vessel once used for net fishing. We were told that a terrible storm blew it and many other boats
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Betty by former captain's Victorian home
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from their harbor moorings and a wind-broken dock in 1986. This boat, perhaps 100 feet long, was grounded so high that it could not be pulled free. Some years ago, several people attempted to build living quarters inside the hull but never finished the project. So there it sits, a curiosity and something of an eyesore on the otherwise pristine, harbor shoreline opposite the town.

 

Low tide this day exposed the upper reaches of the harbor to expansive mud flats. Prowling shorebirds pecked and dug for morsels of food. The harbor is several miles long and maybe a mile across at its widest point. 

 

Up on the hillside overlooking the harbor are several, less odd and in fact quite pretty homes that once belonged to prosperous ship captains. The distinctive, wooden houses have Victorian style architecture and are painted in bright colors. Each has a “widow’s walk” on the topmost floor, a small observatory with a view of the mouth of the harbor. Wives would spend hours looking for the distant sails of their husbands’ returning ships. One particularly beautiful home now serves as a decorator shop; another is a B&B.  

 

We stopped to tour the W. Laurence Sweeney Museum, a gem of a place the recaptures the glory days of Yarmouth’s marine heritage. A museum employee assured us that our unlocked bikes parked by the entrance were in no danger of being stolen in crime-free Yarmouth. The museum is housed in a portion of a herring-scallop processing plant owned by Mr. Sweeney’s family. His heirs built the hip-pocket museum in his honor to preserve the contributions made by the man and his employees to Nova Scotia’s fishing industry.

 

On display are carefully preserved artifacts, equipment and memorabilia that recalls the history of the company and its industry that extended into every aspect of commercial fishing from 1923 until Mr. Sweeney’s death in 1994. During those years, we learned, Sweeney Fisheries was one of the most significant fishing and shipping enterprises in Southwest Nova Scotia. It produced a wide variety of fresh, frozen, dried, salted and smoked fish for international markets. Its cargo freighters navigated the eastern seaboard from Hudson’s Bay to the coast of Venezuela.

 

The day was beautiful, with bright sunshine dancing off the whitecaps tossed up by a freshening breeze in the harbor. The gathering wind off the cold Atlantic penetrated our wool sweaters and made head-on pedaling a strain. Locals told us the season is running about three weeks late because of the wind-driven, lingering cold. Tulips, cherry blossoms and other spring flowers are still blooming here, more than a month after they peaked in our home of Memphis.

 

We pushed our bikes up a steep hill behind the cruise ship terminal to the Nova Scotia Visitor Center. The new building is large and includes a gift shop that sells local crafts. A half-dozen friendly and knowledgeable adults staff the center. We got maps, brochures and other information about the whale watch boats on the Bay of Fundy; we quickly learned that most of the boats won’t start running for another week or two when the summer tourism season hits full stride. We also found out there is no shuttle service to the boat departure points. It was easy to rent a car from the Avis office (about $55 per day including insurance) at the cruise ship terminal. The local manager promised to deliver the car – a Pontiac Grand Prix  – to the hotel the next morning.

 

We decided to dine on fresh-caught lobster that evening. Acting on a couple of recommendations, we ate early at Rudder’s Seafood Restaurant and Brew Pub, a family-owned place on the waterfront that does a whale of a business even off-season. It is about a half-mile from the hotel.  We each had a one-pound lobster that was served with salad, steamed vegetables, potatoes and delicious,
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Betty by captain's home transformed into B&B
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sourdough bread. By eating at 4:45 p.m., we got in ahead of a roomful of gaily dressed, promettes from a local high school. About 60 teens were celebrating their graduation from “French School,” a peculiar educational institution that serves the politicized duality of today’s Canada.

 

Betty had spotted the jeune filles in their multi-colored, chiffon finery (tuxedos and bow ties for their beaus) from our hotel window earlier in the afternoon. We learned that they had gathered in the park across the street for an annual picture-taking session with their families. The photography was to be followed by dinner at Rudder’s then a dance at the French School.

 

All classes are taught solely in French. The language immersion and curriculum ensures that the speech and traditions of the “mother country” are preserved. The French separatist movement has caused some tumultuous politics in French-speaking Canada, which was a colony of France until vanquished by the English army more than 200 years ago. Rather than be split asunder, the government of Canada agreed a more than decade ago that all official signage and product labeling be in both English and French.

 

Parents have the option of sending their children to regular public schools, where the lingua franca is English and French is taught as a second language, or to “French School,” where every spoken and written word is in French. Tax money supports both systems and there is no charge for tuition.

 

Our charming and expert table waitress at Rudder’s, a single mom named Deanna, told us she was sending her two children to French school “to broaden their opportunities.” She also mentioned that her boyfriend - an official at the nearby Roman Catholic St. Anne College – spends much time in Louisiana recruiting students. She said perhaps half of the non-resident students come from American Cajun country to get in touch with their Acadian roots. Indeed, Evangeline and hundreds of other Roman Catholics were forced to leave their homes in this part of Canada in the mid-1700s by the Protestant English, who questioned their loyalty to Britain. Many settled in Louisiana, where they were later saddled with still more religious discrimination that until recent years discouraged French speaking in the classroom.

 

But today, the repatriation/roots movement is generating tourist dollars in Canada and in Louisiana. Cajun cooking and music are now popular around the world and several Louisiana radio stations broadcast in French. Hotels in New Orleans cater to French travelers who want to connect with their long-lost cousins in the Acadiana section of Louisiana to the southwest.

 

A panoply of French-related activities surrounding the World Acadian Congress 2004 is scheduled for Yarmouth, Wedgeport and other Acadian-heritage towns in Nova Scotia for the entire month of July and half of August. One of the centers for French-speaking Canadians is nearby West Pubnico, site of museums and genealogy centers focused on Acadian history and culture. One of the popular driving routes through western Nova Scotia is called the Evangeline Trail.  Yarmouth’s Evangeline Wharf is a landmark that once served ferryboats serving Boston.

 

Some years back, we visited the Evangeline State Park near Lafayette, La., which lovingly remembers the band of French-speaking emigrants who came to southwestern Louisiana from Nova Scotia more than two centuries ago. We spent several days in the area enjoying excellent food and visiting such delightful places as Breaux Bridge (a crawfish capital), New Iberia and Avery Island (home of Tabasco Sauce) and Mamette’s (a restaurant-bar where locals dance the fais de deaux to authentic Cajun music. 

 

Had we another day in Nova Scotia, I would have liked to visit the Acadian Village and Musee Acadian at West Pubnico, which was founded in 1653 by Baron Philippe Mius d’Entremont. The seaport’s Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Ecosse (Historical Acadian Village of Nova Scotia) has been restored and constructed to depict Acadian life from the mid-1600s to the late 1800s and to show how the unique culture survived the Deportation of 1755.

 

With only one more full day in Nova Scotia and good weather expected, we opted to spend the next day in a whale watch boat to answer “the call of the running tide.”

 

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