Crabby Kayak Adventures at Kejimkujik Seaside

“Come on, Uli! Let’s get ’em! We’re coming for you, Mom!” Isaac warned as we played kayak tag. His voice being the only sound in this serene estuary other than our paddles gliding through the flat water and the birds wondering who we were.


Here I sit in a frigid arena at the commencement of winter sports struggling to believe that a mere 4 weeks ago we were 2000 km away, gently kayaking through a protected estuary and chowing down on decadent lobster roll and seafood caesar salad on the white sandy shore at Kejimkujik (Ke-jim-koo-jik) National Park Seaside in Port Joli, Nova Scotia. Keji Seaside for short.

We were thisclose to backing out of this trip because it would mean arriving back home to Ontario with just sixteen hours before the bell rings on the first day of school.  I’m so grateful that we followed through. 

We met Matt DeLong, owner of Candlebox Kayaking based in Shelburne, NS, along with his team, Uli and Rob in the parking lot of Keji Seaside. We were outfitted with life jackets and water shoes.  They hoisted dry bags full to the top with supplies onto their backs and we all struck out down the trail.  It’s a picturesque, 3 km hike on a well-maintained trail.  Along the way we saw lots of seals and sea birds.  We have been on several designated “seal hikes” with zero luck.  We saw more seals in 5 minutes here, than we have on any other excursion.  We crossed by wetlands and spied several species of birds.  We learned much from our guides about cormorants and other wildlife in park.

Fun Fact: Have you ever seen a cormorant standing atop a rock with his wings spread out? I’d always thought it was some intimidation tactic, to make them look bigger.  Wrong!  They don’t have enough oil in their feathers to repel water while they dive for their dinner.  They become saturated with water and could drown because they are so heavy.  So, there they stand, wings spread, just drying out.

We made it to the cabin to learn all about the invasive and wildly destructive green crabs.  Gabrielle from Parks Canada was the perfect interpreter for kids.  She let Isaac help pull up a trap, carry it to the dock and inspect the crabs.  Gabrielle patiently answered each of his questions in language he could understand.  The green crabs were first discovered in the 1950’s in the Bay of Fundy.  They, along with so many other invasive species over the years, traveled here from Europe in the ballast waters of ships. By the 90’s they’d made their way to Nova Scotia’s South Shore including here at Keji Seaside.  At first, researchers couldn’t figure out what was crushing the clams and breaking off the ecologically important eel grass at the base.  Local fisherman were the ones with the answers.  They said that those signs were the calling card of the green crabs.  Researchers started to set traps and were shocked at the numbers.  Green crabs are voracious, and not terribly discriminating eaters.  They eat anything they can get their claws on, clams being a favourite. Keji Seaside has 2 estuaries.  Both were chock full of green crabs. Their appetite left the estuaries as a “moonscape”, meaning there is essentially no life.  The researchers and Parks Canada decided to try and find a solution.  They left one estuary as a control and started trapping in the other.  They catch up to 1000 crabs per day in traps specially designed by fisherman Russell Nickerson.  Over 2.2 MILLION crabs have been trapped since 2010!  For the first time since embarking on this ambitious project, they are finding other creatures in the traps such as small lobster and fish making this the first successful ocean restoration. Isaac pointed out an odd looking crab in the trap.  Gabrielle carefully pulled the crab up to discover that it was in the middle of molting.  We were able to witness the completion of the molting process.  The crabs new shell was as soft as skin and would within 24 hours.  Restaurants are trying out different recipes with the softshell green crab which apparently are comparable to a sweet scallop.   There’s even an entire green crab cookbook.  I’ll be searching out a restaurant with that on the menu next year.

This already incredible day was about to get better.  We zipped up our life jackets, jumped in our kayaks and started paddling through the estuary.  This is a rarely before paddled spot and knowing that we are some of only a few to witness it added to the experience.  The water was clear straight to the bottom.  Timing is key because if the tide is going some of the spots will be too shallow to paddle through.  Matt has the timing worked out just right.  The scenery and tranquility were breathtaking.  We paddled to a secluded beach and Isaac and I explored while Matt and his team set up lunch. Oh, my goodness.  THE FOOD!  Savoury and chocked-full-of-meat lobster roll accompanied by seafood caesar salad complete with scallops, lobster and shrimp.  Isaac is not one for lobster so after paying him $1.00 to try a bite, I took one for the team and devoured his, too.  It’s a hard ole life. Ha! Then along came crackers with goat cheese and red pepper jelly.  I didn’t think we could eat one more bite.  I changed my tune, however, when strawberries, biscuits and whipped cream appeared.  This was 5-star food with an unmatched view.  A sailboat sailed past.  It barely felt like reality. We could’ve stayed here all day long, but we did have to work with the tides.  The guides packed up the picnic while we wandered along the shore.  On our way back we paddled through little coves and spotted lots of wildlife on the one hundred little islands along the way.  We even spotted a bald eagle!  Isaac was in a kayak with Uli.  She was just right for him.  Isaac has energy for days and she was so patient, fun and kind and again, answered all of his questions.  One of his favourite parts of our day was playing kayak tag.  We paddled quickly as we tried to tag the other boats.  It’s a blessing that Uli was such a strong paddler because I’m not entirely sure Isaac’s hypersonic, tag-playing strokes were moving them forward. He was, without a doubt having the time of his life. After landing at the cabin, we headed to the beach to jump in the waves while the guys packed up.  I’m not sure why we waited this long to explore this park but can guarantee that we’ll be back.

From the hike in and the green crab experience to the tranquil kayaking through a rarely seen estuary and a delectable seafood picnic on the beach, this was certainly a once in a lifetime experience.  Isaac wrote and illustrated his own book about the day to remember it by and for my birthday this year he drew green crabs on the front of the card.  This memory and everything he learned will stick with him forever and I adored being able to experience it with him.  The efforts and attention to detail that Matt has put into this package are evident at every turn.  CandleBox Kayaking also offers this package with meals and accommodations at the 5-star Quarterdeck Beachside Villas and Grill which would certainly make a unique and memorable “glamping” getaway with the girls.  Matt told Isaac about “kayak surfing” at the beach so Isaac already has big plans to test that out next year. 

Catch ya next summer, Nova Scotia!

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.

Continue reading “Maritime Ferry Fun!”

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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Springtime in PEI: Province of Endless Imagination

“It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it?”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

We were able to make a last minute escape to Nova Scotia this past April and since the opportunity was there I wanted to make a couple of stops on the way back home to Ontario. I was on the fence about making the detour to Prince Edward Island but I am so grateful that we did.

I took a leap and booked a room at Dalvay-by-the Sea. It’s long been a dream of mine to be a guest at the “White Sands”.

Continue reading “Springtime in PEI: Province of Endless Imagination”