Another piece of the Maritimes, Canada’s got its own little Acadian Scotland. Nova Scotia is known for its seaside towns, extreme tides, and forested highlands. But does any of that make the province unique? Well, let’s find out. First, take a quick look at some geography, and we’ll get into what is so special about Nova Scotia. Come on …
NOVA SCOTIA: Quick Geography
Canada’s second-smallest province is Nova Scotia, a Latin name meaning “New Scotland,” or Nouvelle-Écosse (Nu-vell-Eh-coss) in French. True to the name, it’s also known as Alba Nuadh in Scottish Gaelic, though that’s one of the lesser spoken languages nowadays.
Nova Scotia is a part of both the Maritimes and Atlantic provinces of eastern Canada. It’s mostly located on the main peninsula, though a big chunk lies on Cape Breton Island which is home to a pretty large inland sea called Bras d’Or Lake (I know, the name is misleading). The capital and largest city of Halifax is on the main peninsula. Otherwise, there are thousands of smaller islands all around, including the famous Sable Island.
It is connected to the rest of Canada in the north and is surrounded by parts of the Atlantic Ocean in all other directions like the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of St. Lawrence. The climate in Nova Scotia is mostly continental with wet weather and uncommonly cold winters for the region. There are lots of seasonal forests and highlands that form an extension of the Northern Appalachian system, especially on Cape Breton.
So, why is Nova Scotia so unique?
1. Because of Pretty Towns like Lunenburg
One thing that Nova Scotia is probably known for above all is its pretty colonial towns and villages, with one of the most famous being Lunenburg. This town is particularly colorful with museums and historic buildings, but it’s most famous for its beautiful waterfront.
Other popular coastal towns are Peggy’s Cove and Yarmouth, known for similarly beautiful rustic buildings, their ports, lighthouses, and the works. Amherst was the first designated town in the province and Sydney used to be the capital of Cape Breton’s colony. Either way, the mix of Maritimes coast with forested hills and wooden Victorian homes make these towns all a special sight.
2. Because of Halifax
Halifax is not just Nova Scotia’s main city, but it’s the biggest city in the Maritimes region. This makes it a center for business and culture, most notably at the Harbour and Waterfront. Here there are markets, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, a newly designed Art Gallery in the works, and the famed Pier 21. This place was once Canada’s gateway for European immigrants and is now a museum where folks can check their family records for free.
Read more: New design for the Art Gallery
The Harbour is also where people can take a ferry over to Dartmouth to get a great view of Halifax or enjoy another set of waterfront attractions. Within the city are the beautiful Public Gardens and the historic Citadel Hill which houses the city’s old forts and a special panoramic view.
St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica is one of the prettier structures to be viewed in town. Also known for its green spaces, pleasant zones to get fresh air are the Halifax Common and Point Pleasant Park. Long Lake Provincial Park is good to go a bit further in the boonies.
3. Because of Historic Sites like Louisbourg
The Fortress of Louisbourg is a National Historic Site where reenactments of colonial life are carried out by professionals all over the site. Even though it’s one of the larger forts, there are quite a few places that provide insight into historic life like the Ross Farm Museum and Fort Anne.
It and Port-Royal were actually among the first French settlements in Acadia and the Americas, while Fort Anne leads to the splendorous Annapolis Royal Gardens. Another historic site is Grand-Pré, a sort of monument town dedicated to the Acadians that were expelled from there by British rule.
4. Because of the Bay of Fundy & Minas Basin
That’s right! New Brunswick isn’t the only province that can boast the Bay. Nova Scotia also has a number of scenic sites and landscapes due some praise. Around Hall’s Harbour are a famous lobster restaurant, sea caves, and the site of huge tidal changes.
The area is also notable for whale watching. Cape Split has a series of high trails and cliffs that overlook the beautiful water. Going inward to Minas is where the real tide action happens, being home to the most extreme tidal changes in the world. There’s even a place where rafters can ride backward on the tides.
Read more: whale watching tours in Nova Scotia
Blomidon Provincial Park is one of the best places to take in all the wonderful scenery with orange cliffs and long sandy passages being a feature there. Stamped between the Bay and some interior hills is Annapolis Valley, another very pretty region stocked with rolling vineyards and green knolls.
5. Because of Kejimkujik
Kejimkujik is — well, hard to pronounce, but also one of Nova Scotia’s best National Parks. It’s a gorgeous forest area with rivers and hills and even reaches down to some beaches. Besides its natural appeal, the park also has a number of cultural interactions with the native Mi’kmaq people. These can include villages, hunting and food practices, wildlife reserves, and other cultural immersion sites set to inform outside visitors about Nova Scotia’s original settlers.
6. Because of Cape Breton
Cape Breton Island has a lot of what makes Nova Scotia unique, and a lot of it has to do with the Cape Breton Highlands. The coastal highlands form another great National Park to explore, particularly around the Cabot Trail.
Among the many trails that Giovanni Caboto blazed in the New World, this area has a number of scenic overlooks and pathways to take in the pure beauty of Canada’s Atlantic coastline. I mentioned the big sea/lake of Bras d’Or which has its own share of nice water and forest settings.
Along the coast is the town of Baddeck, a calm post for tourism, boat outings, golf excursions, and a site dedicated to the maker of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, once a resident there. We already mentioned Louisbourg too, so check it as another special place on Cape Breton.
7. Because of its Random Islands
With a few thousand islands, you have to bet that some of NS’s isles had to be a little strange. Or maybe random is a better descriptor word. There are lots of islands that could potentially make the count, but one that stands out is St. Paul Island.
This place is odd because it’s pretty far offshore from Cape Breton but was seriously settled at one point. There’s a lighthouse, an abandoned radio station, and a couple of abandoned manors. If that weren’t enough, the island is often shrouded in fog to make matters creepier.
A more pleasant yet no-less random island is Sable. This island looks more like a long sandbank and it’s also a ways offshore from the mainland. That didn’t stop the island from being populated by a special breed of horses (Sable Island horses, fittingly so). It’s also apparently a popular island in literature and other media and is well-known for its grassy hills, long sandy beaches, and a history of frequent shipwrecks. I’m sure the horses contribute to the fame, though.
8. Because of the Culture
A big part of Nova Scotia’s cultural identity is spelled right there in the name. Scottish and other Gaelic-nation immigrants had a huge impact on the province’s early British settlement. Still, the earlier French and Acadians also left their mark on NS, from place names to foods and some of the traditions.
Several places look like French Catholicism and colonialism clashed with Victorian design and made some very pretty architectural collages. Plus, this is Canada, so world immigration has contributed to NS’s already diverse population. Anglo-Canadian culture and language have taken over. Still, there are areas where the native language or French are still prevalent. Scottish Gaelic is sort of on the rise in some places and apparently has one of the highest speaker communities outside of Scotland.
Even though its population density is fairly high, the people are pretty spread out and the towns are able to maintain that old North Atlantic fishing village feel. Industrialization mixes with modern tech and arts. The influence of the Mi’kmaq people is still present in heritage festivals, galleries, and some of the renewed designs.
It was also a haven for British Loyalists escaping the American Revolution, and so New England has a foot inside the province. Quiet coastal living, rural country values, and the ocean itself all put a stamp on what it means to be in Nova Scotia. Quietly continuing to surprise people with its subtle beauty, this province holds a unique place in our world.
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