Cruising in Atlantic Canada
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island
Canada’s Atlantic provinces offer some of the most scenic and varied cruising in the Americas. Jutting into the Atlantic Ocean just north of Maine, the seabound coasts of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are home to many species of seabirds and whales, quaint fishing villages, vibrant cities, and some of the friendliest people in the world. Recreational cruisers will find all the amenities they need: protected anchorages in secluded harbors, full-service marinas, easily accessible provisions, and a host of onshore activities and attractions.
These three provinces, collectively known as ‘the Maritimes,’ share a rich seafaring tradition and a fascinating history of settlement and war, as the great powers of Europe battled through the 17th and 18th centuries for supremacy of this strategic foothold in The New World. They are also the ancestral home of the Mi’kmaq, a peaceful First Nations people with an exceptional artistic and storytelling tradition that lives on today. Early settlements and fortifications have been well-preserved in the Maritimes. These, along with numerous outstanding historical reconstructions, museums and interpretive centers, give visitors a glimpse of this region’s colorful past.
The region’s multi-cultural tradition also shines through in its increasingly popular music. From Irish fiddles and Scottish bagpipes to Acadian wooden spoons and Mi’kmaq drums, Maritimers revel in their musical heritage and delight in sharing it with others. Summers are filled with concerts, festivals, ceilidhs and dances.
Cruisers wishing to sample the bounty beneath their hulls can sate their appetite for seafood at many establishments in the Maritimes. From casual community suppers serving ‘planked’ salmon to elegant restaurants serving ‘Coquille St. Jacques,’ the Maritimes offer the freshest and finest seafood available. The region is particularly noted for its shellfish: lobster, snow crab, scallops, oysters, clams, and mussels are abundant, and so are skilled chefs.
If you’re aching to get off the boat and stretch your legs, there are countless championship golf courses and miles of sandy beaches, boardwalks and nature trails throughout the region. There are also many outfits offering cycling tours, kayaking adventures, sportfishing expeditions and water sports rentals. And, of course, there are dozens of picturesque towns and villages where you can stroll, shop and dine to your heart’s content. If a night or two in a comfortable bed on dry land is what you’re after, you can book a room in any one of the region’s many heritage inns, charming bed & breakfasts, or luxury resorts.
Consider aligning your cruising vacation to the Maritimes with one or more of the region’s renowned festivals. There are food festivals celebrating everything from strawberries and blueberries to chocolate and shellfish; music festivals celebrating Acadian, Celtic, folk, Baroque and jazz; street performers’ festivals, wooden boat festivals, folk art festivals… and the list goes on. Contact the tourism departments in each province for complete event listings, visitors’ guides and travel maps.
If you are cruising to the Maritimes from the eastern seaboard of the United States, hug the coast of Maine all the way to Grand Manan Island and the fabled waters of the Bay of Fundy. Further along New Brunswick’s coast, you can enter the St. John River system for miles of pleasant inland cruising. Or, head east across the Gulf of Maine to Nova Scotia, where you can explore the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy, or head south to the South Shore, Halifax-Dartmouth, the Eastern Shore and Cape Breton Island. When you reach Cape Breton, you can explore the island’s ocean coast, or enter the magnificent Bras d’Or Lake. You can also cross the Strait of Canso where mainland Nova Scotia meets Cape Breton, to access the Northumberland Strait, Nova Scotia’s north shore, Prince Edward Island and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Whichever route you choose, you are sure to encounter breathtaking scenery and hospitable people. Before coming ashore in Canada, however, you must notify Canada Customs by telephone at least four hours prior to your expected landfall. The number to call is 1-888-226-7277. For more information about Canadian customs regulations call 1-800-461-9999.
New Brunswick is well-known for its vibrant Acadian heritage, great salmon-fishing rivers and awe-inspiring natural wonders – from the sea-carved Hopewell Rocks in the Bay of Fundy to the expansive white sand dunes on the province’s east coast.
The Bay of Fundy offers exceptional cruising and sightseeing – though attention and careful timing are required to navigate the world’s highest tides. The Bay is famous not only for its 50-foot tides, but also for its summertime whale- and bird-watching. The waters around Grand Manan Island and Passamaquoddy Bay, just past the Canada-U.S. border, are the best for viewing whales. As many as 15 species frequent the area, including finbacks, humpbacks, minkes, pilot whales, belugas, porpoises and the endangered right whale. Machias Seal Island, southwest of Grand Manan, is a nesting ground for such migratory birds as puffins, razorbills, petrels and arctic terns. The Bay of Fundy is also home to the great blue heron, osprey, eagles, loons and many other species of birds.
There are numerous islands, small craft harbours and fishing villages to explore in the Bay of Fundy. Campobello Island in Passamaquoddy Bay is of particular interest, since this is where former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to vacation with his family. Roosevelt Campobello International Park was established in 1964 as a memorial to President Roosevelt. His beautifully restored 34-room ‘cottage’ now houses a museum, which is surrounded by 2,800 scenic acres of coastal trails. Visitors from the United States will also find a Canada Customs office on Campobello Island, to which they can report for clearance to enter the country. Customs offices can also be found on Grand Manan Island, in the resort town of St. Andrews, the port city of Saint John and several other ports.
The City of Saint John, perched on a rocky promontory, marks the entrance to the St. John River. Saint John was founded by French settlers in the 17th century, and later flourished as a seaport and shipbuilding center in a great timber-producing area. You can tie up at the old Market Slip for short stays to shop and see the sights in this attractive city, but you may prefer to pass through the gorge at the Reversing Falls to moor or berth your boat at one of the yacht clubs or marinas near the mouth of the nearly tideless St. John River. The Reversing Falls, where the outflow from the St. John River meets the Bay of Fundy, are dramatic and turbulent at high and low tide, but easy to negotiate in slack water at half tide. You will be rewarded for your wait for safe passage with miles of serene cruising, warm air and water temperatures, and pastoral scenery on the St. John River. You can follow the river system inland all the way to the provincial capitol of Fredericton, a gracious city offering fine dining and accommodations and numerous historic and cultural attractions.
If you wish to visit New Brunswick by sea, A Cruising Guide to The Bay of Fundy and The St. John River by Nicholas Tracy provides a wealth of detailed information and advice to help you safely enjoy the charms of this world-class cruising area. The guide is published by Goose Lane Editions in Fredericton.
For more information about festivals, events, attractions and accommodations in New Brunswick, call 1-800-561-0123 or visit www.TourismNewBrunswick.ca
Proclaimed ‘Canada’s Ocean Playground’ on the province’s license plates, Nova Scotia is truly a boaters’ and beachcombers’ paradise. The pristine waters off the province’s renowned ‘South Shore’ lead to countless picturesque harbors, historic towns, quaint villages and sandy beaches as you head west from Cape Sable Island toward Halifax Harbour and the provincial capitol. These are the waters once plied by rumrunners and privateers, as well as such famous fishing and racing schooners as The Bluenose. They are also known for the ghost vessels reputed to haunt their shores.
Coastal viewplanes vary from grassy headlands to low-lying beaches, with many islands and inlets to explore. The landscape changes as you enter the protected waters of Mahone Bay, where verdant fields, lush orchards, immaculate properties and colorful towns line the shores. The towns of Mahone Bay, Chester and Lunenburg are all geared to the needs of visitors, offering excellent dining, accommodations, sightseeing and shopping. Many of the most talented artists and craftspeople in the province exhibit and sell their wares in these towns – from folk art and pewter to pottery, paintings and quilts.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lunenburg is the birthplace of The Bluenose. Her successor, Bluenose II, still frequently docks in Lunenburg Harbour, and offers tours and sightseeing cruises. The town’s sailing tradition will come to life in an unprecedented way this summer, when the 2002 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championships hit the starting line in late July. Summers in Mahone Bay are highlighted by several other boating events, including the Mahone Bay Wooden Boat Festival, which takes place early every August in the Town of Mahone Bay. Chester is known for Chester Race Week – seven mid-August days of class racing and a hopping social scene.
There are a number of yacht clubs and marinas around Mahone Bay, including Scotia Trawler’s marina in Lunenburg, where visitors can dock or moor and access fuel, supplies, repairs, equipment, groceries and showers.
The other renowned cruising area in Nova Scotia is the Bras D’Or Lake, a 450-square-mile inland sea in the heart of Cape Breton that features balmy summer temperatures and 600 miles of scenic coastline.To reach this spectacular lake, you must cruise past Halifax and along the province’s Eastern Shore to Canso, home of the annual Stan Rogers Festival. There are beautiful beaches, inlets and fishing harbours along this rugged shore, which is famous for its clams and smoked salmon. Cruisers can take advantage of the marina facilities and excellent dining room at Liscomb
From Canso, head across Chedabucto Bay past Isle Madame to St. Peter’s Bay. There is a full-service marina in St. Peter’s, and a canal that allows you to enter the Bras D’Or without ‘taking the long way around’ to the two narrow channels – St. Andrew’s Channel or The Great Channel – at the western end of the island. If you do opt for the longer route and head for the channels, you can stop into the Fortress of Louisbourg (one of the most impressive historical reconstructions in North America), tuck into Mira Bay at the mouth of the oft-sung Mira River, and visit the Marconi National Historic Site, the Glace Bay Miners Museum and other points of interest along the way. Once inside the Bras D’Or, you can enjoy days or weeks of pleasant cruising, with ready access to the services and amenities of several fine marinas and lovely towns, such as Baddeck, home of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.
On the northern side of the Strait of Canso, between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, lies the Northumberland Strait. This beautiful passage between red clay cliffs and sandy beaches features the warmest waters north of the Carolinas, making it a swimmer’s haven. There are several interesting towns along Nova Scotia’s north shore, including Pictou, which was settled first by Loyalists, then by Scots, the latter arriving on the ship Hector in 1773. Pictou’s annual ‘Hector Festival’ and ‘New Scotland Days’ feature historical re-enactments, Highland music and dancing, and demonstrations of traditional skills such as blacksmithing and weaving at Hector Heritage Quay, where a full-scale replica of the Hector resides. Not far from here you will find Pictou Marina, which offers almost every amenity imaginable to the intrepid cruiser.
Cruising Nova Scotia, published by Diversity Publishing in Halifax, provides boaters with detailed information about the province’s entire coastline. Call (902) 453-6683 to order a copy. For more information about festivals, events, attractions and accommodations in Nova Scotia, call 1-800-565-0000 or visit www.NovaScotia.com.
Prince Edward Island
Of all the Maritime provinces, Prince Edward Island is most geared to families. So, if you are traveling with your children, you will all relish the family entertainment to be found on ‘The Island.’
The Cavendish area, just 25 miles ‘up’ the Island from the capitol city of Charlottetown, is a kid’s dream come true. Theme and adventure parks offer thrilling rides, waterslides, and fun and games of every description. And, of course, this is ‘Anne’s Land,’ where you can visit the Green Gables-Prince Edward Island National Park, and ‘Avonlea: Village of Anne of Green Gables,’ to learn more about author Lucy Maud Montgomery and her beloved heroine, Anne Shirley. There are also numerous festivals, concerts, plays and events specifically designed to delight the youngsters, that take place throughout the summer at locations all across the Island.
If you’re looking for quieter times, you’re never far from a beach when you’re on Prince Edward Island. Most of the Island is fringed with beaches, which range from white powdery sand backed by dunes, to brilliant red sand bordered by clay cliffs and headlands. Isolated sandbars stretch for miles along the province’s north shore, inviting romantic walkers and birdwatchers, while families flock to the warm tidal pools of the Northumberland shore for sandcastle building and beach volleyball.
If golf is your game, Prince Edward Island is the place for you. This tiny island boasts 26 18- and 9-hole layouts, designed by highly respected golf course architects. Set amidst rolling hills and lush farmland against backdrops of forest, ocean and sky, the Island’s uncrowded golf courses provide beauty and challenge – for green fees ranging from $20 to $80 Canadian for the 18-hole courses – a bargain for visiting Americans.
While there are a number of lovely small marinas around the Island, in such locations as Montague, Brudenell and Cardigan, the largest and most well-equipped marinas can be found in Charlottetown Harbour. Quartermaster Marine, located on the historic Charlottetown waterfront at Peake’s Wharf, is a 160-slip marina with 25 visiting berths, showers, laundry facilities, a dockside marine supply store and haul-out services.
Peake’s Wharf offers fine dining and casual pubbing, numerous craft shops, gift shops and boutiques, and a seafood market. The marina is within easy walking distance of ‘everything’ downtown, including the Confederation Centre for the Arts, where the Charlottetown Festival plays all summer long. Best-known for its musical production of Anne of Green Gables, the Festival also features other musical theatre and comedy productions, daily outdoor performances and gallery exhibitions.
Apart from being a beautiful and charming city, Charlottetown is historically significant as the birthplace of Canada. It was here, in 1864, that the ‘Fathers of Confederation’ met at Province House to craft the notion of a country called Canada. ‘Founders’ Hall’ was opened on Canada Day (July 1st) 2001, as a tribute to these visionary men. This multi-million dollar attraction uses state-of-the-art multi-media displays to walk visitors through Canada’s history from 1864 to today. Annual events related to Charlottetown’s special place in Canada’s history include the Festival of Lights, a four-day celebration marking Canada’s birthday, and the Festival of the Fathers, a four-day celebration of Confederation and the Victorian era in Canada.
Prince Edward Island is noted for its many food festivals, including the 50-year-old Summerside Lobster Carnival, the Tyne Valley Oyster Festival, the P.E.I. International Shellfish Festival, the Cornwall Cornfest, and numerous blueberry and strawberry socials and festivals. So feast your way around the Island… be sure to enjoy at least one ‘all inclusive’ lobster supper, available all summer long at numerous highly recommended establishments.
If you’re looking for a stay of more than a few days, there are hundreds of cottages available for long or short-term rental on Prince Edward Island – from rustic beachside ‘cottage colonies’ to secluded luxury chalets. There are also many elegant, historic inns and genteel bed & breakfasts to choose from, as well as full-service luxury resorts with pools, tennis courts, golf courses and other amenities.
From the water, Prince Edward Island is like a jewel – brilliant green fields edged by red cliffs and shining sand beaches, dotted with gleaming white lighthouses and tiny churches. Most of the lighthouses are open to tourists, and the locals at the many fishing harbors are hospitable to visiting cruisers. Protected anchorages and marina facilities are plentiful around the Island’s perimeter. The Island is also the perfect departure point for cruising into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to the nearby Magdalen Islands, or the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Whether Prince Edward Island is your destination, or merely part of the journey, you are sure to enjoy your visit.
For more information about festivals, events, attractions and accommodations on Prince Edward Island, call 1-888-PEI-PLAY or visit www.peiplay.com.