Will We Find Snow On A Nova Scotia Road Trip in May
We had spent most of our winter escaping Toronto for warmer weather – first Bahamas for February and then a 26 day Caribbean cruise. We had barely unpacked before we were off again for a Nova Scotia road trip for the university graduation of our oldest child. After the brutal, snowy winter that eastern Canada had just survived, I kept watching the Nova Scotia weather forecast. I only half jokingly declared that I was not going if there was still snow in May. Assured that the snow was gone, we headed out. I was a bit leery when several times we saw snow on the roadside, still unmelted in a few deep gullies! When we found enough snow for a snowball fight, I was sure we would not be hanging around for too long!
I had not been to eastern Canada for many decades. My father was from Nova Scotia. As a kid we did the Nova Scotia road trip almost every year to visit relatives “down home”. My dad’s view was that we were vacationing in Nova Scotia so we needed to get the drive over as quickly as possible. He drove straight through for 20+ hours. We got almost a rolling stop when he needed gas or we needed a bathroom break. That early road trip experience left me scarred for a long time. When I finally started doing long car road trips as an adult, they were planned as leisurely trips with time to enjoy the sights along the way. Last year we did a 4 week trip down the west coast for our big road trip. This year we were heading east!
Heading out of Toronto at 6:30am put us just marginally ahead of the rush hour in Toronto. With a quick stop in Ottawa to pick up another child, we headed into Quebec targeting Quebec City as our stop for the first night. We thought we would miss the traffic through Montreal but I think the only way to really do that is to pass through in the middle of the night. The GPS kept changing our path through Montreal as traffic snarls moved from place to place but with about a 30 minutes delay we were back on our way along the south shore to Quebec City.
Finding the Sights In Quebec City
David has booked us at L’Hotel de Vieux Quebec right in the heart of old town. Quickly dropping our bags we set off for a walk. I had forgotten how beautiful and European the old town was. David figured I must have been partying far too hard on my previous business visits! In typical vacation mode we walked slowly, stopping regularly for pictures. We came across a protest rallying up by the Chateaux Frontenac and steered clear of the chanting crowd. We were not getting in the middle of Quebec political issues.
It was soon apparent that we would not be taking this son with us on vacation – Kris could not believe the things we needed pictures of. When we headed back out in the morning, camera in hand, he was at least prepared. Stopping to admire the beauty of Cathedrale Notre Dame de Quebec as the sun lit it up was at least a legitimate reason to bring out the cameras! I had forgotten how beautiful Quebec City was. We would plan a return visit when we had more time.
Being in old town, the quickest and most picturesque way out of town was on the ferry across the St Lawrence to Levis. As the ferry made the quick 15 minute crossing we got a great view back at old town. With Quebec City perched high on the hill, it was easy to see why the Americans had been unsuccessful in taking the city in the War of 1812.
There were a few tankers on the river but it was still early in the season. The Great Lakes locks had only opened in March. This looked nothing like the ship traffic we had seen the previous month on our 26 day cruise lined up for the Panama Canal.
Landing on the south bank we were ready to continue our Nova Scotia road trip. Taking the south shore road we looked for a coffee stop, which we didn’t find for almost an hour. I was also optimistically scanning the river looking for breaching whales. May was the early start for the whale season but it was probably optimistic of me to think we would find them this far downriver yet. But David humoured me until I was ready to give up and head back to the highway. We got excited for one minute when we saw a massive flock of seagulls sitting in the water. But this was not a big fish ball for whale feeding. My persistence had paid off the previous year when we travelled the west coast and saw the whales around Monterey.
Our lunch stop was in Rivière-Du-Loup right down by the ferry dock. With the tide out, it was guaranteed that no big fish would be coming up to the docks. We did get surprised at this first view of how quickly the tide rose while we ate our lunch. The local fish shop had a great fish menu but our luck was not holding and we had arrived in the only 3 days when there appeared to be nothing in season for “all you can eat”. David was tempted to stop back that way on our way home when mussels would be served by the bucket full.
Crossing the Bay Of Fundy By Ferry
The targeted stop for the second night on our Nova Scotia road trip was St John, New Brunswick. We had debated several routes into Nova Scotia but settled on taking the ferry from St John to Digby, Nova Scotia across the Bay of Fundy. The advantage of travelling on a Thursday was the quiet roads as we left Quebec and drove through New Brunswick. We would go for miles sometimes before seeing another car.
With flashing warning signs at regular intervals on the road, we did watch out for moose and deer! Luckily – or not – we arrived in St John without a single sighting. Nothing like the drive from Banff to Jasper where the warning signs meant you surely would stop at least once for wild animals on the road!
Since jt was still off season, the ferry from St John left at 9am. Being the anal early birds that we are, we hustled through an amazingly good breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express and with a short drive we arrived at the ferry terminal. The large semi tractor trailers were starting to line up but we remained the only passenger car for a while. The “be there an hour before departure” warning probably was not necessary in off season although you did have to find the office to buy tickets or pick up reserved tickets before you got in the assigned lane.
They started taking the big trucks first and then we got loaded. It would be an easy drive out of the hold on the other side. Finding a workstation on the upper deck, we settled in to work on pictures and blogs on the free wifi. We regularly braved the bitter cold winds to walk out on the deck to look for picture opportunities and especially to look for whales. Nobody could say I was not an optimist! The most exciting thing we saw was gulls swooping in to get fish! Oh well – we would still have another chance on the way home along the St Lawrence.
Arriving in Digby to finish off the last leg of our Nova Scotia road trip, we couldn’t possibly pass through without trying the world famous Digby scallops. Armed with a couple of restaurant choices provided by our B&B host and mapped on my offline maps, we found a spot close to the marina and set out to try three different scallop dishes. They did not disappoint.
Travelling Around Nova Scotia
After a straight run up Hwy #1 from Digby, we arrived at our final stop on our Nova Scotia road trip at the Harwood House B&B in downtown Wolfville, Nova Scotia directly across from Acadia University. We were quickly joined by the graduating Erika who played tour guide as she showed us the whole small town of Wolfville and the Acadia campus (which was about the same size as the town). Kris continued to roll his eyes as David snapped away. We all laughed when David insisted on touring the science classrooms, wondering if he was looking for Erika’s artwork on the walls as he had done long, long ago on kindergarten parent teacher night.
The weather for most of our visit was predicted to be cold and rainy so we headed out on the one sunny day to what the locals called “the south shore”. While the main roads in Nova Scotia run up and down close to the coast, smaller roads cross between the coasts for a much more scenic drive. When we reached Mahone Bay, we moved over to the small coastal water route to wander along the south shore. We stopped regularly to catch the very iconic images that are Eastern Canada.
Our lunch stop was in Lunenburg for lunch and we wandered around the quiet, colourful sea town. We were a bit surprised to find that Lunenburg has been named a UNESCO site. But like all other tourists we made sure to capture our pictures of Bluenose II and the Fisherman’s Memorial.
Our trip continued down the shoreline until we hit Bridgewater. It had been 40+ years since the last time I had visited. I really should not have been surprised that I recognized nothing of the small town of my childhood. I was sure there may be distant relatives in this part of Nova Scotia. But I had not come prepared to do that investigation. While I was trying to get my bearings, David and the kids scrambled out to explore the ex-HMCS CORMORANT. This ex-Navy ship got stuck in the mud and was almost on its side. A sad end for yet another part of Canada’s naval history!
The Rise And Fall Of The Bay Of Fundy Tides
Walking through the town of Wolfville, we looked out over the Dykelands. This was our first view of the tides going down. The Bay of Fundy tides can vary by up to 52 feet per day. When they are out, the red mud can go for miles. While the kids take advantage of this with sliding in the mud, that was not on my plan for this visit. Even Kris figured it might be too early in the year to amuse us as he rolled in the mud.
Every day David looked up the low and high tide times. Our first stop to document the great tide variations was to witness the low tide view at Grande Pre. The kids mugged for pictures with the vast sea of mud out behind them. We would stop back about 6 hours later and take a similar set of wacky pictures with the tide high in the background.
Not to be deterred by the weather, on another day we headed out to experience the tides yet again. I was determined to find a port on the Bay of Fundy side to see boats standing on their keels with no water around. Our GPS seemed to think that Nova Scotia was all wilderness with no roads. When I used my phone maps and offline maps I found us the little of Halls Harbour. We descended from the high hills by the shore into the fog just at low tide and I was rewarded immediately with a small harbour and a group of stranded boats.
We got all of our pictures of low tide. The tide was already starting to turn and the rise of the water was quite visible. We needed to warm up if we wanted to try to catch the higher tide view. We headed into the Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound for warm coffee and a sweet treat.
In the 90 minutes while we had coffee, we were amazed to see how quickly the water had risen. The boats were now surrounded by water and the smaller one was even floating. We didn’t need to see the water reclaim the 52 feet at full high tide to be amazed at this ebb and flow of the tides of the Bay of Fundy.
Heading back along the shore we moved in and out of the fog until we hit the fogged in Cape Split. Erika had been here often and this was the first time she had seen it fogged in. Even she was getting new views of the Nova Scotia she had lived in for 5 years! Leaving Cape Split behind we continued until we hit the lookout point. From there we had an great view back towards Wolfville. We could see the red mud of the bay and the distinctive features of Acadia University off in the distance.
Our Road Trip Home To Toronto
We lucked out on the day of Erika’s graduation with a cool but sunshiny day. David ran around to snap all the obligatory grad pictures while Erika wondered if she would ever get copies. Her own selfies would not really memorialize this great achievement.
Our original plan had been to travel around Nova Scotia and PEI before finishing our Nova Scotia road trip. I had been watching the weather forecasts and the predicted cold and rain never got better. I would have loved to see more of Atlantic Canada at this time. But I was not really enjoying this damp cold and had no interest in prolonging this visit. Erika was going on to do two more years of a Masters program. So we would have more opportunities to come back in the warmer, drier summer months. It would not be 40 more years before we came back!
It was a much quicker drive back as we tried to outrun the rain that was following us. We drove pretty much straight through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. We stopped in Riviere-du-Loup for the night at a Best Western we booked while on the road. Located high above the St Lawrence this hotel offered a great view. But when the drizzle settled in the next morning, we were not inclined to dawdle
It was a reasonable drive back to Toronto. We hit much worse traffic passing through Montreal again in the middle of the day than we did when we hit Toronto at the leading edge of rush hour. A quick text to the kids let them know we were home safe and sound. But we had failed David’s basic road trip rules. We had been in Nova Scotia for less days than we spent driving on our Nova Scotia road trip! But I argued that our stops in Quebec City, St John and Riviere-du-Loup meant that the driving time really should be discounted. Maybe next time we will consider flying!
When we go back next time, what should be on the “must do” list for Atlantic Canada? Have you seen the Bay of Fundy tide swings? Did you slide in the mud?