Friday, June 27, 2014

Migrations in Nova Scotia

We’ve been travelling in the beautiful provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and find ourselves humbled to discover how little we know about British and French colonization that shaped the United States and Canada into the remarkably different countries they are today. Crisscrossing Nova Scotia, we became fascinated with how the histories of our two countries are linked. The stories we found about immigration and emigration, both voluntary and involuntary, are interesting, sad and compelling. 

Gray day in Peggy's Cove on Southwest coast
The Immigration Museum in Halifax informed us that currently one in six Canadians is an immigrant. This museum occupies a building on Pier 21 where a million newcomers from countries all over the world were welcomed into Canada between 1928 and 1971. While it presented an inviting picture of the celebration of diversity in Canada, the museum was silent on the earlier migrations documented at a couple of other sites we visited around the province. 

One was the Black Loyalist Museum in Birchtown, near Shelburne. During the American Revolution thousands of escapees from American slavery were promised freedom, money and land in exchange for service to the British cause. When the English lost the war, these refugees were relocated in Nova Scotia along with other New England loyalists. But racism was alive and well:  the white Loyalists were given good farm land and black Loyalists were given the rocky infertile soil that no one else wanted. The combination of apartheid culture, infertile land, dearth of livable wages, and the harsh reality of northern winters doomed all but the most hardy. Some were later relocated to Sierra Leone (and that’s another story.)  A CBC television mini-series will soon air based on the historical novel, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, telling the remarkable story of one of these survivors. The controversial title comes from an historical document that listed the names of people who were eligible to participate in the relocation to Nova Scotia.

Grand Pre: Parks Canada National Historic Site
For part of our Maritime travels, we were joined by our in-laws, Ward and Ann Marie Carson from Vashon Island. They traveled with us for a week and we had a delightful time telling stories of our shared grandchildren and getting to know these very fine people.  The four of us visited Grand Pre, a commemorative site recognizing the 1755-1760 eviction of French colonists in the Annapolis Valley on the Bay of Fundy. These peaceful Acadian farming communities tried to maintain neutrality after the British arrived, unwilling to take up arms against France and refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the British crown. In retaliation the British forcibly removed men women and children from the land they had been cultivating for five generations, putting them on boats to the American colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Many were separated from family members or died of disease and starvation. Those that made it created a diaspora of Acadian culture and French language as far away as Louisiana.

Ward, unidentified "dragger", Janna, Liz and Ann Marie
Continuing to learn about provincial history, our next visit was to a coal mine. Coal mines in Nova Scotia are all closed now but the area is still dependent on coal for generating electricity, and it is currently being shipped in from South America. As a child Liz learned Peggy Seeger’s mournful ballad of the Springhill Mining Disaster of 1958, so Ward and Ann Marie and Janna graciously indulged Liz for a Springhill coal mine tour. It was spooky to go into the old underground mine near where the “bump” in the earth took so many lives in the famous Cumberland mine disaster, the third and last major mining disaster in this area. 

On a lighter note we all enjoyed touring Cavendish, on Prince Edward Island, childhood home and source of inspiration for Lucy Maud Montgomery who wrote the famous book: Anne of Green Gables. Ann Marie was the only one of us who had read the whole series, but even Ward was heard to say he would have to put one or two into his reading pile after that visit.

Seeking enlightenment at Gampo Abbey
The culmination of our travels together was a three night stay in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. From there we greatly enjoyed a day on the Cabot Trail, leaving Lilypad behind and travelling the loop in 12 hours, in a car rented by the Carsons. Janna and Ann Marie were so entranced by the beautiful hooked rugs at the Cheticamp Les Trois Pignons Museum that they both left with small rug hooking kits. This craft has been a historical economic boon to Nova Scotia, and particularly this area, and we had previously visited the Hooked Rug Museum of North America, a must-see stop near Halifax. Also near Baddeck our group of four toured the Fortress of Louisburg, rebuilt by the Canadian government in the mid twentieth century. This fortress was originally built in 1719 to protect French interests in the area but was captured by the British and burned to the ground in 1745. Now there are 50 buildings open to visitors, staffed with re-enactors to show what life there was like from 1719 to 1745. There are many additional acres of ruins to explore, but the walk was long and the time was short. We had time to hear about the halibut fishing, walk through several buildings, have a conversation with a re-enactor Mi’Kmaq scout, then a cup of tea, and it was time to move on.

Baddeck was also home to Alexander Graham Bell and we twice visited the five-star museum devoted to his life and work. We learned that he was devoted to helping others and well-loved in this community where he settled as an adult. He primarily worked with the deaf and he was devoted to his wife, the former Mabel Hubbard, who was deaf and read lips. He invented many things but intentionally obtained few patents. Because Mabel was wealthy, his marriage allowed him the freedom to experiment in aeronautics, hydrofoils, electricity, and of course, all things related to the telephone and phonograph. He invented a predecessor to the iron lung, the metal detector, a fax machine and even a telephone that needed no wires. We spent a total of five hours in this museum and probably would have appreciated a few more hours there.
We sadly said goodby to Ward and Ann Marie as they left to catch their plane out of Halifax. We are spending another week in the Maritime provinces but have gone as far north and as far east as we intend to go, which means that we are headed home.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fossils in Nova Scotia: Joggins and George

Pausing for muskrat activity on the Sackville bike trail
We woke up on our street-end boondock alongside a wildlife marsh in charming Sackville, New Brunswick on Liz’s birthday. Soras and tree swallows were mating and the muskrats were busy, as we took a lovely morning bike ride, ending up at a thrift store in town. The birthday was off to a good start as we hit the road headed toward the (dreaded) eight-mile bridge onto Prince Edward Island. 
We bought lobster at a supermarket 
But the birthday girl’s idea of a good time did not include that drive over the bridge. She wanted a lobster roll for lunch and then to go see rocks and fossils. So we found some lobster and headed instead into Nova Scotia. Lilypad turned southwest along the Glooscap Trail, a scenic byway along the Bay of Fundy which takes its name from an indigenous Mi'kmaq creator figure who was said to have created Nova Scotia and controlled the tides. These tides needed controlling: they are the highest in the world, rising to the height of a five-story building.

Fundy tides constantly erode the shore

The first stop along this route was Joggins Fossil Cliffs, a world-famous UNESCO site reflecting 315 million years of geological history. The site sports a LEED-certified building with fossil displays, café and gift shop. Enthusiastic young people lead tours down to the beach to point out the remains of the 20th-century coal-mining operation, and the fossils and geology that are continuing to be uncovered by the tidal action.
 310 million year old trees
Fossilized organic material including giant seed fern trees, primitive fish, insects and amphibians have been found along the coal seams.  Reptiles found there lived 100 million years before dinosaurs and it was their descendents that gave rise to dinosaurs and mammals. These fossils show that this area was once a warm-climate swamp, and the Joggins discoveries have greatly expanded how western science understands the earth’s history including the fact that Nova Scotia was once located near the equator. The cliffs were mentioned by Charles Darwin in Origin of the Species as part of his argument for evolution, and the visitor center displays an interpretation of this controversial intellectual history with odd echoes of our current controversy about the truth of science.
Partridge Island is famous for gemstone collecting

Our interest in all things rock being whetted (well, actually Liz’s interest, because Janna is deeply embedded in volume two of the Blanche Weisen Cook biography of Eleanor Roosevelt), we headed along the coast of Chignecto Bay and the Minas Channel where Liz filled her pockets on lovely low-tide beaches. After lunch we stopped to learn more about the tides and current attempts to harness tidal energy from Mary McPhee, the delightful and knowledgeable site director of a nonprofit organization called The Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE) a leading test center for tidal energy technology. She herself was a force, and her depth of knowledge about the research and experimentation going on, left us breathless. This work will likely evolve to extracting renewable clean energy from the vast tidal flow in the Minas Passage to power a million homes in Nova Scotia. Check out the impressive video on their webpage.
Site for newest tidal effort in the greater Bay of Fundy
Another interesting footnote: both of the young women who so impressed us with their work, Jessica at Joggins and Mary at FORCE, grew up in the area and became interested in their respective fields because of the work of their ancestors. Jessica’s father and grandfather worked at the coal mines where the fossils were discovered. Mary’s father and grandfather were fisherman and she grew up learning about the tides and deep waters of the Bay of Fundy. Her father always believed there should be an attempt to harness the tidal energy. 

Another night boondocking, this time at the Fundy GeologicalMuseum in Parrsboro.  Not having asked permission this time (it’s true: we are getting more and more brazen) we left early the next morning and waited in the parking lot for the Parrsboro Rock andMineral Shop and Museum to open. This turned out to be a move that was serendipitous and an experience we won’t forget. The owner of the shop, seeing us in the store parking lot through the window of his home next door, decided to come and open the shop himself instead of waiting for his employee. 
Liz learns from the master
We spend the next hour and a half in in the good company of 84-year-old Eldon George whose fossil discoveries made Parrsboro famous. Eldon was born in the house which is now the rock shop and was then the family homestead. He has spent his whole life finding rocks and fossils on the beaches nearby and continues to do so. 

He was nine years old when his wise mother realized he was finding things of significance and notified authorities. He was fifty-two when he found the tiny dinosaur footprints that put Parrsboro on the map and brought in experts from all over the world who determined that the smallest dinosaurs known lived in this area. In 1948 he opened the Parrsboro Rock and Mineral Shop and over the years has filled it with his rocks and collections. In addition to the rocks and fossils he’s personally gathered from the area, he has gemstones and minerals from all over Canada, and shells and amethysts from around the world, and he is currently negotiating with a museum to keep the collection in Nova Scotia after he is gone.
Eldon kindly identified Liz's rocks
 We spent a delightful morning with Eldon, looking at the rocks, the fossils and the accolades that have been showered on his life work, and admiring his jewelry.   Until recently Eldon did his own cutting, polishing and mounting in silver.We bought one of his pendants made of labradorite, a stone found mainly in Newfoundland and Madagascar, another example of the evolution and movements of the surface of the earth over the last 500 million years. Then several public health nurses bundled him off to the house and his much younger assistant came to take over the shop, but not before he gave Liz a big hug. We felt fortunate to have this quality encounter with someone who really is a national treasure of Canada.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Meandering through New Brunswick

Where is Janna in downtown St. John?

After our departure from Grand Manan Island we headed straight towards the city of St John on the mainland. Still a bustling seaport and transportation hub, St John has a grand history of shipbuilding and commerce. We were welcomed to boondock at the very scenic Costco parking lot and parked free all the next day at Harbor Station. Just across the parking lot at Harbor Station was a hockey arena and entrance to the “pedway,” a fantastic indoor tunnel system linking all the major downtown buildings. Although Liz insisted on comparing it to a naked mole rat maze, we were impressed by the accessibility of the whole city and it greatly contributed to a really nice day. 

We proceeded up the pedway to the New Brunswick Museum where we enjoyed private tours from three enthusiastic young docents. We also explored the municipal library, the farmers market and enjoyed a late afternoon swim at the Canada Games Aquatic Center (FANTASTIC). Later that evening we found ourselves boondocking at the Irving Nature Park on the Bay of Fundy.

St. John River year-round cable ferry and visitor center
The next day we wandered north along the St John River on one of New Brunswick’s designated scenic drives. We were amused to find three different brochures for the same “River Valley Scenic Drive”, one for birders, one for motorcyclists, and one for people interested in arts and crafts. What wasn’t offered was a brochure for RVers, but it turns out there are good reasons for that. We traveled three of these designated scenic drives in New Brunswick and found them all challenging. Several times we had to back away from low-clearance or weight-restricted bridges, and the roadbeds were often in need of repair. We advise our RV friends to stick to the main roads and use their toads (towed vehicles) or bikes to explore these lovely byways.  

Fredericton Welcome: Pride flag and RV parking!
Our next stop was Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick.We boondocked on the outskirts (thanks, Home Depot) and took a city bus to the Saturday morning market, which was fantastic and a destination not to be missed. We were too early in the season to experience the historic barracks in the center of town, but we did enjoy a free family fun day at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and enjoyed wandering through the shops downtown.

Continuing north, we followed the famous salmon river (the Miramachi) to the Gulf of St Lawrence and the city of Miramachi. Here we found the most amazing used book store of the trip (and we have visited many). The proprietor, John Hughes, tagged us a couple of suckers, and had us rooting through stacks of books to find a few treasures. Fortunately it was raining so he wisely refused to open up any of the dozens of bins of books in the parking lot.(see below). After a refreshing swim courtesy of a friendly desk clerk at a Howard Johnson’s Hotel, we headed southeast to  Kouchibouguac National Park
Another 50-60 bins ringed the parking lot
Situated on the mouth of the river of the same name, the Park is well loved by the citizens of New Brunswick. In fact, the few vehicles camping in the park had New Brunswick license plates. We found it the perfect bike riding park with wide groomed trails radiating in every direction from the spacious campground. As always, we were ahead of the season and pretty much enjoyed solitude. On the fourth day crowds of black flies arrived, so we packed up and continued south. Our next stop was the beach at Shediac, then the city of Moncton, another university town and happening place. We enjoyed the Saturday farmers market (more food stands than farmers) and watched the “slowest bike” races  at a bicycling appreciation event.

Hopewell Rocks on the way to Fundy
Now we are back on the Bay of Fundy at the national park everyone refers to (even the roadway signs) as “Fundy”. This park is perched on the cliff up above the tidal flats and our spot looks over the tiny village of Alma, formerly a logging town and now (since 1948) the gateway to this vast and beautiful park. This morning we delighted in a sunny hike along the Trans-Canada Trail and this afternoon explored a bit of the park by bicycle.  We feel totally blessed to be enjoying this amazing landscape and are quite sold on National Parks in Canada. While Kouchibouguac was flat open spaces and sandy beaches, Fundy is mountainous with acres of beautiful forest. Both are very well maintained and provide everything we need (such as great showers, good bike paths, adequate electricity, water and sewer.) Fundy even has good internet. Tomorrow, if the wind stays calm, we'll drive the eight mile bridge to Prince Edward Island. Lilypad doesn't really like bridges, but that's another story. Suffice it to say please hold us in your thoughts.