As Britain gets its head round Brexit and America contemplates life under Donald, the calm country that is Canada will be celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017. The Federation was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in September 1864 when 23 delegates from PEI, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – the trio of Maritime Provinces – first met with representatives from Quebec and Ontario to discuss the merits of a union.
Three years later, on 1 July 1867, the Dominion of Canada was established with the proclamation of the British North America Act. And today, the three Maritime Provinces combine with Newfoundland and Labrador to create the region known as Atlantic Canada.
You can fly to Halifax in Nova Scotia in less than six hours from the UK, so if you’ve never sampled the closest bit of Canada to Britain, there’s never been a better time to visit. French, English and Scottish settlers first landed in Nova Scotia in the early 17th century, making this a great destination for lovers of history and heritage.
Perhaps you have relatives who arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax to start a new life early in the 20th century and whose details are held in the museum archives. Or maybe you just love a tranquil landscape with spectacular coastal scenery, a wealth of outdoor activities, and some of the best lobster and seafood on the planet, not to mention some seriously good Nova Scotian wines from the Annapolis Valley. Oh and did I mention the people? Everyone here is relaxed and welcoming – a corner of the world where the locals still love their old friends across the Atlantic!
The tourist season is relatively short in Maritimes, starting in May and winding up as the autumn leaves fall in mid-October. But contrary to many people’s expectations, the Maritimes can be deliciously warm, even humid, as I found when I toured the provinces in mid-September. The driving is easy and the scenery changes round every bend, completely at variance with other parts of this vast and diverse countryside. And whilst there are still a few villages that maintain the language and traditions of the original Acadian French settlers, everyone speaks English.
Here are a few of my personal reasons for booking a tour of the Maritimes, and if they tick your boxes, Silver Travel Advisor recommended partner Frontier Canada can tailor-make your itinerary.
Spend a couple of days exploring Halifax. I’d recommend the historic waterfront and Maritime Museum which contains artefacts from the Titanic; Fairview Cemetery where most of the victims are buried; and the historic hilltop citadel with its atmospheric re-enactments.
Follow the Lighthouse Route along the South Shore to take in iconic landmarks such as Peggy’s Cove, and drop off at UNESCO-listed Lunenburg with its neat grid of streets, multi-coloured wooden buildings (including a picture-postcard church in black-and-white), and fascinating Fisheries Museum. I was moved by the modern memorial on the quayside to those lost at sea and the traditional soldier statue on the hill above, commemorating those who gave their lives at Ypres and the Somme.
Spend a day in Annapolis Royal on the north shore to visit the replica wooden habitation where French explorer Samuel de Champlain first landed in 1605. Then tour the British citadel strategically positioned across the inlet for the complete picture. Further east, the tragic story of the Acadian French settlers is remembered at the Grand Pré heritage site near Wolfville.
For more information visit www.novascotia.com
Bay of Fundy
This deep water, dead-end inlet separates Nova Scotia from New Brunswick and strongly influences life in the Maritimes. You can experience the twice-daily phenomenon of the world’s highest tides at various strategic points along the shore such as Burntcoat Head in Nova Scotia and Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick. Ask at any local tourist office for details of guided tours and an eclectic range of activities on and above the ocean floor.
Catch the ferry for the 2.5 hour journey from Digby in Nova Scotia to Saint John in New Brunswick. St John is Canada’s oldest incorporated city and the only city fronting the bay. Saint John City Market, built in 1876, is a must-see whether you want to buy a picnic; stock up on craft items; or grab a bite to eat.
West of Saint John stands the charming seaside resort of Saint Andrews, where I picked up a late afternoon whale watching cruise amongst the Fundy islands. The excursion would have been glorious without the whales, but we were treated to sightings of both Fin Whale and Minke. The sunset as we returned was free. I also loved the tranquil garden ‘rooms’ of 27-acre Kingsbrae Gardens and two fascinating heritage houses I stumbled across off the main street.
Head east from St John to follow The Fundy Trail, a vast coastal park that includes a 12-mile drive giving access to beaches, a marked walking trail and visitor centre.
For more information visit www.tourismnewbrunswick.co.uk.
Prince Edward Island
Cross to peaceful Prince Edward Island from New Brunswick over the Confederation Bridge, at 14km long, the world’s longest bridge over ice. A ferry also runs from the south east corner of the island to Pictou in Nova Scotia. But there was no ice as I drove over the Northumberland Strait to the homeland of the much-loved fictional character Anne of Green Gables. Visit the birthplace of author L M Montgomery, the family house where she got married, and the house that inspired many aspects of her stories.
PEI is known for its unspoilt sandy beaches and laidback lifestyle, its cycle trails and water sports. But there’s history here too in abundance. Take a tour of historic Charlottetown, birthplace of modern Canada and now a buzzing seaside capital city, although capital here means a population of barely 35,000.
Wander along historic Great George Street and explore historic churches and heritage properties, either by following the colour-coded trails and information panels or with a costumed guide from the Confederation Players. I also enjoyed the mix of attractions on offer at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, Canada’s only national memorial to the Fathers of Confederation. Browse the art gallery and gift shop, discover the Confederation story and enjoy a taste of the region at Mavor’s restaurant. Irresistible!
For more information visit www.tourismpei.com.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Frontier Canada