A Clamming Good Time Along Nova Scotia’s Acadian Shore

“Mom! Mom! I’ve found my own!!  I dug it all by myself!!” Madeleine yelled as she excitedly hopped over to me with a clam bigger than her hand – a quahog to be exact. 

After our last-minute escape to Baie Sainte-Marie, Nova Scotia in June I knew we were going to be back.  We’ve been on the hunt for a clam digging tour for a couple of years but were leaving a few short days before the season for clam digging was set to commence along the Acadian Shore.  Nous sommes revenus!

Last time we were in the area we stayed at the gorgeous Baie Saint-Marie Cottages. This time we were booked into the Au Havre du Capitaine in Meteghan.  Last minute reservations can lead to some errrr “interesting” accommodations.  This place was interesting in all the right ways.  The room was large and spotless.  The beds were comfortable and the breakfast certainly exceeded my expectations.  My mother came along with us, and her room even had a Murphy Bed which was like magic for the kids.

A Kite Nite event was happening at Mavillette Beach that evening.  This beach is stunning.  Picture 1.5 km of soft, white sand with warm, shallow waters.  Perfect for kids.  We lined up to borrow a kite – for FREE!  First up we had a parrot and an eagle kite.  It turns out that kite flying is a skill.  Who knew?  A specific skill that I don’t possess.  Thankfully, there were a couple of people from the rec department who knew what they were doing and were able to get the kites high in the sky.  Another one of the kites was an enormous whale.  It was the as big as a car.  The kids even got a turn to hang on to it.  It was so large that when Maddie was hanging on she nearly Mary Poppin’d herself right off of the beach.  Just when I thought this beach couldn’t get more beautiful, the sun started to set.  We couldn’t drag ourselves away until the last bit of colour had disappeared.

The next morning, we drove out to Belliveau Cove to meet our guide, the clam digging king – Jean Blinn.  The tide was low so we struck out onto the sandy flats with our tools to explore.  The tools consisted of a metal rake head, the type used for gravel, a shovel head and a sizing ring.  The soft shell clams need to be a minimum of 44 mm.  We examined the sand until we saw some holes about one half of an inch in diameter.  We pushed down on the sand beside the holes and since bubbles popped up through the hole it meant it there was a clam below and it was time to get dirty.  We pushed the rake straight down and pried up the sand.  Jackpot!  We pulled up two clams!  We meandered along the sand in search of bubbles for an hour pulling up clam after clam. Sometimes the bubbles surprised us and lead to a blood worm instead.  The boys loved the blood worms.  They also found a crab to check out and loads of scallop shells to keep, barnacles and all.  We walked out a little further to try our luck with the quahog (kō-ˌhȯg).  Quahogs are larger clams used to cook into recipes, not steamed like the soft shells.  It was a large quahog that Miss Maddie was so excited to find.  The joy from digging up that one clam all by herself lasted her all day long.  Before we knew it we had our pail full. Jean Blinn was the perfect guide.  He was a wealth of knowledge not only about clams but the area in general.  I love a good storyteller and Jean was the kind of storyteller that you can listen to all day long.  I hope someone has his stories written down somewhere.  We are certainly heading back to Belliveau Cove to try our hand at it again.  I can see how it can become addictive – and competitive.  Just one more!  It’s worth the trip for this experience alone.

We slipped into Chez Ami for supper.  We ordered the lobster roll.  Correction: Two very full lobster rolls and fries FOR $11.50!  We’d seen fried pepperoni on different menus in the area and were curious.  It’s honest-to-goodness chunks of pepperoni, deep fried with honey mustard dipping sauce.  Yum! 

It hadn’t slipped my mind that we were near the birthplace of Frenchy’s.  If you aren’t sure what Frenchy’s is, let me help you out.  Simply put, it’s a chain of thrift stores based in Nova Scotia.  That is far too simple though.  It’s an institution!  I love a good treasure hunt and Frenchy’s is my favourite “x” on the treasure map.  People take Frenchy’s road trips or the “Frenchy’s Circuit” as I call it.  This intriguing Saltscapes article details their history and some heartwarming Frenchy’s tales.  We’d heard through the grapevine that one of the local Frenchy’s had received a shipment from Wayfair.  We wasted no time getting there!  I immediately spotted a gorgeous, brand spankin’ new, white leather chair.  I was deep into a Frenchy’s trance, already picturing the chair in my living room when I remembered that I drive a Toyota Camry.  Bubble busted.  One person I’d met said they new Frenchy himself and that we could possibly go and meet him! However, I was forced to decline because you know what they say about meeting your heroes. Ha!

With that our clam digging, kite flying, lobster eating and Frenchy finding adventure was over.  We’re hoping to be able to sneak back up the Acadian shore for one last summer escape before heading back to Ontario and realities of sports, school and schedules. 

Accidental Adventures in Baie Sainte-Marie, Nova Scotia

No cars.  Not a one.  Despite having a copy of my reservation, there were zero cars to rent on Nova Scotia’s South Shore in June. 

Dear car rental companies,

Could you kindly fix your glitchy system that allows customers to go online and reserve vehicles, despite there not truly being any vehicles available?

Sincerely,

Stranded on the South Shore

The kiddos and I flew into Halifax in June.  My family loves to pick up/drop off at the airport, even though it’s 2.5 hours away.  We’re sappy like that.  There’s nothing like seeing your very own people coming down those stairs.  I had planned on picking up a car in Bridgewater for the week as I had a super fun event to attend aboard the ferry in Digby.  Despite the reservation, Yarmouth, it turns out didn’t actually have any. I thought that surely Bridgewater would come through.  Nope! 

My mother offered to drive us all the way to Digby, watch the kids for the day and we could plan to stay for the night somewhere along the French Shore.  These lemons were turning into lemonade right before my eyes.  She booked the Baie-Ste. Marie Cottages. They were stunning.  Cliffside and all windows with a breathtaking view to watch the Bay of Fundy tides flow in and out.  A staircase led down the cliff which allowed us to explore what the tides brought in.  We walked out a long way until – squelch – my oldest sunk into the sinking sand up to his knees.  Little sister thought it was so funny that she jumped in herself.  They were laughing so hard that they fell backwards accidentally on purpose.  After pulling them and their boots out we squelched and squrched our way back to the cottage and straight to the tub.  There were two twin beds in the downstairs bedroom and a Queen size bed in the loft.  The kids had already claimed their beds and after 73 emergency drinks of water they finally fell asleep.

The next morning, we hit up the local farmers market and picked up some hand painted decorations, a snack and walked out to a replica lighthouse on the wharf.  I had left a message that morning for Hinterland Adventures to see if we could get out kayaking.  As we were leaving the market he called back and said we could come out in a couple hours.  We quickly jumped into the car, grabbed a bite to eat and struck out along the long, windy road.  Just when we were positive that we’d taken a wrong turn we found it.  The owner, Hanford, has been a wilderness guide for 50 years and still guides 21-day kayak tours through the Tobeatic Wilderness Area.  He filled us in lots of local information and lore before we dipped our paddles into the Sissiboo River. This was my mother’s first time in a kayak and with his kind instruction she was an old pro in no time.  We weaved our way up the river.  I was in absolute awe of the peacefulness.  So was Maddie apparently, as she fell sound asleep for more than an hour.  That kind of peaceful feeling that you wish you could bottle and hang on to forever.  While paddling back we came across a nest housing a family of Bald Eagles. Mom, Dad and at least one baby.  They were keeping a close eye on us as baby’s head poked in and out before Dad spread his wings and soared away.  I stayed behind for a bit to quietly watch.  We made it back to shore and checked out the kayaks that he had for sale.  If you’re in the market for a sea kayak, he had the best price I’ve come across and with his 5 decades of experience, I’d trust his advice.

After the peace and tranquility of the afternoon we were down for some comfort food and found it at the Roadside Grill in Belliveau Cove.  The clams.  THE CLAMS!  Order the clams. They were super kid friendly with grilled cheese and chicken fingers, too. 

Back at the cabins we explored the ocean floor at low tide.  The kids found all kinds of shells and colourful stones and bet each other whether certain spots were sinking sand or not.  There was a long, loose stone breakwater that we climbed from one end to the other and back.

On our way out the next morning we stopped at Meteghan Family Park.  This is an ideal stop for young families.  I can’t list everything they’ve managed to include but our favourites were the small climbing wall, the climbers, a long slide, a fishing net to climb across and the perennial favourite, a zip line made from a fishing boat bladder.  Such a great idea!!  A skate park was found at the back of the park as well, but we aren’t at that stage just yet.

Next stop along the journey back was the Église Catholique Sainte-Marie in the aptly named, Church Point.  It’s the tallest wooden church in North America!  This was a surprise favourite.  Our guide knew just the things to point out to keep the kids interested. All of the intricately created stained glass windows were shipped from France. In Molasses! I swear, there’s nothing molasses can’t do. It’s the real super food.  The pillars are in fact tree trunks.  The most fascinating story involves the altar.  It came from Saint Pierre and Miquelon during Canada’s prohibition. The island is off the coast of Newfoundland but is actually part of France so wasn’t subject to prohibition. They brought the altar over with a bevy of bottles stashed away which weren’t even detected.  This is worth a stop if you are traveling in the area.

Our final stop was Mavillette Beach.  What a gem!  1.5 km of sandy beach.  The water was even warm (for June, anyway).  The kids ran, explored and jumped the waves until it was time to begin the drive back to Lockeport. 

Our car rental debacle had turned into one of the best getaways in a long time, made even better by getting in some real quality time with my mom because as Donovan Woods wrote “You can’t beg, steal, borrow or make time”. Living 2000 km apart makes these visits that much sweeter.  We can’t wait to explore more of the Acadian Shore this summer!

Living History on Nova Scotia’s Acadian Shore

While driving in Nova Scotia last summer we heard about an Acadian Festival happening in Pubnico.  It was a CBC radio show and the minute they mentioned it I saw a road sign for Pubnico.  “Clearly a sign” I say to myself.  We hadn’t learned about the Acadians in our high school history classes so this could be an education for all of us.

Quick History:  French colonists settled in the area, then known as Acadia, in the 1600’s.  They created a thriving community that worked closely the Mi’kmaq population.  The Acadians had modern irrigation systems for farming and were very conscientious of the land they were inhabiting.  The British eventually landed as well and unfortunately, in keeping with the spirit of the 1700’s, war broke out.  Beginning in 1755, the Acadians were forced out.  This event is known as the Acadian Expulsion. 

Come the day of the festival, we piled in the car and headed to Pubnico.  Don’t be fooled by the Manhattan Suburb-sounding West Pubnico, East Pubnico, Middle West Pubnico and Lower East Pubnico.  They are all teeny communities close to one another.  If you accidentally find yourself in the wrong Pubnico it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to the next.

The Acadian Museum played host to a BBQ, local vendors, great music and exhibits.  Unfortunately, the south shore had been on the receiving end of another rainless summer.  Great for beach days and exploring, but not if your thirsty or are partial to indoor plumbing.  The well had apparently gone dry that day, leaving the washroom out of order.  Best laid plans and all that.

When a 3 year old has to go, time is of the essence.  After looking around I decided to jump in the car and search one out.  This is where the Universe came into play.  We pulled into a large parking lot at the Historic Acadian Village in West Pubnico.  We ran in and begged for the bathroom.  Success! 

The woman at the counter asked if we were coming to explore the Village.  We were already there so why not?  Plus, it seemed like a way to learn about the Acadians that I knew embarrassingly little about.  Then she said that the admission was free today.  Free, you say?  That’s my very favourite price! SOLD! 

We found a little café in the welcome building which was great because we were all getting a wee bit hangry.  Best.  Grilled Cheese. Ever.  According to the kids anyway.  You can even get them to pack up a picnic basket and take it with you to the village for an al fresco lunch.

The Village was a similar to the pioneer villages we’ve been to but with a French twist.  Everyone we came across was bilingual and French swirled around us like a melody. 

The blacksmith was hard at work forging nails.  The amount of work that went into creating a single nail would have people nowadays running for the hills.  He made a nail for each person there with their first initial and age imprinted on the nail head.  Such a great keepsake!  He taught us quite a bit about Acadian history and culture.  I’d wondered in the past why there were so many Oxen, as opposed to work horses in Nova Scotian history.  He taught us that the poor quality of the grasses available were suitable for the strong and hardy Oxen because of their 4 stomachs. The saying does go “strong as an ox”, after all.

While on the subject of sayings, we learned the origin of “goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” and “pull out all the stops”. 

Before the advent of box springs, a bed’s foundation was made of rope.  The rope would stretch and the knots loosen.  “Sleep tight” was a reference to tightening up the knots.  The mattresses were filled with hay – complete with tiny critters, which leads to the “bed bugs” portion of the phrase.  We were all immediately grateful for the critter-free beds waiting for us that night.

To “pull out all the stops” on an organ would make the sound loud, free and unencumbered, just like the saying means today.

One house had freshly made Rappie Pie.  Rappie Pie is an Acadian dish created by shredding potatoes, squeezing all of the liquid out of it and replacing that liquid with double the amount of broth.  Whatever meat the Acadians would have had on hand was then layered with the potato mixture and baked in the wood stove.  Luckily, it was made with chicken that day and it was delicious!

After having a Dory Day on the South Shore a couple of years prior, we’d been very interested in the history of the humble dory.  The Dory shop at the village did not disappoint.  The person on-site builds them bottom to top with hand tools.  It takes two summers to complete one dory.  He patiently answered all of our questions.  Sadly, this is a trade that is going to fade away if some younger people don’t take it up.  The dory builder that day said that they are continually looking for someone to take on the trade and learn, but so far, have come up short.

The fish shed was home to salt fish.  Isaac had agreed to try new foods everywhere we explored this past summer.  He tried dulse in Grand Manan, NB and Oysters in PEI.  Now, salt fish was on the menu.  He gathered his nerve and with some encouragement from the fella working there, went in for a big bite.  I don’t think he’ll be requesting salt cod anytime soon, but I was pretty impressed that my picky eater tried it.

There is a little lighthouse to explore and a trail to take around the village which would be a great spot for that grilled cheese picnic.

We were grateful to have stumbled across this little, very interactive and hands on museum.  We’ve been inspired to check out more of the Acadian Shore next summer and will be sure to head back during the next Acadian Festival.

Maritime Ferry Fun!

This past summer we took a loop vacation from Southern Nova Scotia to Grand Manan, NB with our last stop in Cavendish, PEI before heading back.  Part of the excitement of planning this trip was knowing how excited my kids were going to be to sail on all of the different ferries.  They’ve not yet been on a real cruise ship but some of these ships felt like a Carnival Cruise for them. Here’s a rundown of the ships we traveled aboard.

 “MV Fundy Rose”
Bay Ferries
Digby, NS – St. John, NB

Upon arrival in Digby for our first ferry ride of the day we checked in, explored the terminal and then headed back to the car to wait.   Thankfully, it was a sunny day so we could walk around outside to burn off some energy.  Our time had arrived to board and now that they’d seen the ferry, the kids were about to pop up out of their seats from the excitement.

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Island Hopping: P.E.I.

This past summer we took an Island adventure.  After kayaking and whale watching in Grand Manan, New Brunswick we crossed the nearly 13 kilometre (!!) Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island. 

The middle of the Island’s busy summer can be a tricky time to find nightly cottage accommodations as opposed to weekly.  After perusing the old Google box, I came across Green Gables Cottages

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A Grand Ole Time in Grand Manan, NB

I’ve been curious about the Island of Grand Manan since a Mars bar commercial years ago about renovating their local arena. Seriously. So, I guess advertising works, even if it takes 10 years.

The chance finally arrived and we jumped! There are two different ships ferrying people to and from the Island. We were aboard the ‘Grand Manan V’ traveling to Grand Manan. There was plenty of seating with a lunch counter with real, home cooked meals. While exploring the outside decks a crew member noticed the kiddos and asked

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Great Wolf Lodge: Splashing Through the Winter

This past Christmas we gave our kids a trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls instead of a gaggle of gifts. Christmas morning arrived and they were delighted with their small gifts and started planning what they were going to do first when we got to the water park. Every morning Isaac would come roaring into our room, screaming the number of days left on the countdown.

The day finally arrived and we struck out bright and early so we could cram in as much time in the water park as possible. We checked in and strapped on our fancy dancy bracelets.

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