Epic Road Trip – Part Two: New Brunswick and Nova Scotia

The lighthouse at Peggy's Cove, NS

The lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, NS

So there I was, driving north through Maine and loving the sights I was seeing out the window. I didn’t see any moose or bears, but I guess I’m okay with that. (Someday!) After leaving Bangor, things grew more and more remote. I didn’t realize that that part of Maine was so hilly! By the time I made it to the border-crossing into New Brunswick I felt as though I’d reached the top of the world and left civilization behind.

Then I crossed into Canada and BAM! There was civilization again.

You’d think that a place that is so close to Maine would feel kind of like it, but as soon as I stopped to change some money right over the border in Canada I definitely felt like I was in a different place. The tough, gritty feeling that Maine gave me was replaced by a homey, I guess gentler feel than Maine.

Driving through New Brunswick

Driving through New Brunswick

New Brunswick kind of perplexed me. There really isn’t a lot there. No, I mean there REALLY isn’t a lot there. In a way it reminded me of the rolling farmland of western Pennsylvania, only starker. This is where the landscape started turning from somewhat temperate to giving me the feeling that if I kept driving north I would hit the tundra. Maybe the time of year added to that feeling, but there was a sort of bleakness to the landscape that was at once beautiful and depressing.

Now, I might just be saying that because it got dark while I was driving through the wilds of New Brunswick, but the fact that it got dark at something like 4pm may have had something to do with it. Not only that, twilight started around 1pm, then lasted a long, long time. I know it’s the time of year and the fact that it’s so far north, but it was fascinating.

I wish you could see what the light does in New Brunswick at the very end of November. Even photos wouldn’t really do it justice. Further south, twilight sort of comes and goes and gives over to night really quickly. But up that far north the light slowly and gently fades to something cold and weak. It was hazy and purplish and I couldn’t decide if it was because the sun was trying hard to stay up or because it had given up and was slipping slowly to the horizon, like it had had one too many Canadian brewskies and was slowly passing out.

Georges Island, which was once a prison and is filled with underground tunnels, apparently

Georges Island, which was once a prison and is filled with underground tunnels, apparently

This, of course, meant that I got my first taste of Nova Scotia in pitch blackness. And I mean PITCH BLACKNESS. The funny thing about living so close to a major city like Philadelphia in a part of the country that has an extensive urban sprawl is that there is a bit of light on the horizon pretty much all the time. It’s called civilization. But Nova Scotia is really sparsely populated. There was one biggish town, Truro, along the highway to Halifax, but as soon as that was behind me it was pretty much just dark as far as I could see on all sides. We’re talking pre-industrial dark!

This is why I think that anyone who wants to write about any historical era that falls before the invention of electricity should venture to some sparsely-populated part of the world to see what night used to look like. I can’t imagine the terror that someone would have felt having to wander through the woods without any source of light besides the moon and the stars above in the 18th or 19th century. I would not have wanted my car to break down by the side of the road in 2013! That’s how dark it was.

One of the walls at the Citadel.  THIS is how cold it was!  Yes, those are icicles!

One of the walls at the Citadel. THIS is how cold it was! Yes, those are icicles!

And then suddenly, Halifax! I mean, one minute there was nothing, and the next there was a big city right in front of me. Halifax is not an insignificant city. It’s the largest city in the maritime provinces. It’s a major port on the Atlantic with major historical significance. It was a haven for privateers in the late 18th century, including the ones who preyed on American ships. It was massively defensible all throughout the 19th century. I visited The Citadel, Halifax’s Victorian fort (although, sadly, the buildings and touristy things were closed for the season) and saw just how tricky it would have been to attack the city. Halifax was also the place where the few Titanic survivors were taken after that disaster. Also, half of Halifax was completely flattened once by an explosion at a munitions warehouse on the wharf. It was the largest explosion in history before the invention of the atomic bomb!

With all that, as I learned from the maintenance guy who came to clean up the shattered glass all over my hotel room (long, long story), Nova Scotia is becoming what he called a “retirement province”. I noticed it too. There are a lot of older people here, but not quite so many young people. It seems that they all leave once they graduate from one of the various colleges in town. That and they are only here seasonally. I talked to a young woman in a gift shop and she said that most people leave for warmer places come January, then come back right before the tourist season starts. Interesting.

I think I would like to come back to Nova Scotia in the summer, when everything is open and the population is twice what it was during my visit. It seems like a really nice, friendly place. I can tell it’s also dripping with history that I’d love to explore (and maybe set a book there), but there was no one around to share that history with me in the off-season. Oh well. Better luck next time!

The REAL reason I went to Canada

The REAL reason I went to Canada