Summer Travel ’09: Nova Scotia

Canada’s highland heritage
Brian Banks

Nova ScotiaCabot Trail/Cape Breton Island The Cabot Trail should be on every driver’s bucket list. The 300-km loop around the Cape Breton Highlands passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, down the Margaree River valley and along Bras d’Or Lake. For much of that distance, it’s nothing but a winding ribbon of asphalt with rock walls on one side and the ocean on the other. No wonder Lonely Planet rates it one of the world’s best road trips. You’ll also encounter plenty of colour and culture: Lobsterpalooza, a month-long celebration of seafood and seafaring (through June 30); Silver Dart Centennial Aviation Week, in Baddeck (June 14-20); and the Festival of Cape Breton Fiddling in St. Ann’s (Aug. 15-16).

Halifax International Busker Festival (Aug. 6-16) Professional street performers and busker circuits were more of a novelty when the Halifax International Busker Festival began in the mid-1980s, yet even today the festival still ranks among the world’s best. Credit three factors: top talent, an intense format where scores of performers blanket a half-dozen downtown stages day and night for 11 days, and Halifax’s geographically compact downtown waterfront, which fosters a really good street party. The latter attribute also makes Halifax a great location for other summer events, including: the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo (July 1-8); the Tall Ships Nova Scotia Festival (July 16-19); and the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships, the largest international sporting event ever held in Atlantic Canada, at Lake Banook, Dartmouth (Aug. 12-16).

ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA: Full coverage of Summer Travel ’09

Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival (Aug. 6-9) As the only city in North America other than old Quebec worthy of a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List, old town Lunenburg’s place among hall-of-fame Nova Scotia destinations is assured. So, too, you might say, for any festival that claims the 18th-century setting for a backdrop. The four-day, three-night Folk Harbour Festival features about 30 acts in 2009, local and nationally known performers alike. As for the town: in UNESCO’s view, it is the best-surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. On the homegrown side, the famed Bluenose schooner was built and launched in Lunenburg in 1921. The Bluenose II, built with the same plans in 1963 after the original sank in 1946, is a popular attraction.

Fundy Shore/Glooscap Trail On the northwest side of Nova Scotia is the Bay of Fundy, home of the world’s highest tides. Stoke up a visit by travelling all or part of the Glooscap Trail, a network of roads that surrounds the Minas Basin and follows the Fundy shore to the north and south. Among the highlights: the Three Sisters sea stacks and cliffs in Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, the Five Islands Park in the Minas Basin, and the tidal bore on the Shubenacadie River. There’s also the Joggins fossil cliffs, near the town of Joggins. They contain extensive in situ deposits of 300-million-year-old fossils, including, according to the official website, “dens of amphibians preserved with remnants of their last meal.”

Pictou Lobster Carnival (July 10-12) If you miss Lobsterpalooza in June in Cape Breton, there’s always this three-day carnival to mark the end of the lobster season in the Northumberland Strait. Now in its 75th year, it features lobster dinners, boat races, trap-hauling contests and the like. Pictou’s an even bigger draw in its role as the “birthplace of New Scotland.” Fans of historic recreations won’t want to miss Hector Heritage Quay, which depicts the story of the Scottish migration to the new world and features a full-scale reproduction of the ship Hector, which landed here in 1773.