The maritime provinces of Canada are famous for great seafood, whale watching, and friendly people, but there are a few more attractions that you may not have heard of. From giant axes and squid to beautiful bottle houses and the hope of buried treasure, the Maritimes have more to offer than travelers might think. It’s been a long year trapped inside, but with COVID-19 restrictions loosening on the East Coast, this summer is an opportunity to tour some of these great places with unique stories.
McNab’s Island, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Hop on a ferry and spend the day touring this island’s beautiful forts and historical buildings. McNab’s Island is the largest island in the Halifax Harbour and it is filled with culture and legends. The island has a long history and some of its stories are easier to believe than others.
The island was used as a military fort in the 1600s because of its location in the middle of the busy harbor. After its military use, it became home to the McNabs family from the 1700s until 1934. The McNabs family has told various stories about the island, from treasure hunts to ghost killings to sea monster sightings. In 1853, Peter McNab Jr. claimed to have spotted a sea monster and passed within a hundred yards of it. Around 1960, a lighthouse keeper named Charles Macdonald claimed he saw a ghost. He said an apparition of his late grandmother pulled him out of bed.
A more believable story is about how every ship that goes through the Halifax harbor passes between Captain George’s legs. Captain George was a lighthouse keeper who unfortunately lost a leg and had it buried on McNabs Island. Captain George was buried near the harbor in Halifax when he passed away.
Myths and legends aside, McNab’s Island has preserved generations of Canadian culture and history for visitors to enjoy. If you take the ferry to see the sights on McNabs Island, remember that you pass between George’s legs on the way to this iconic, but often forgotten destination.
Dingle Tower, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Another one of Halifax’ notable landmarks is Dingle Tower. The strangely named tower is the focal point of Sir Sandford Fleming park. Fleming introduced standard time zones to North America around 1880 and had a vacation home in Halifax, where the park is today. He lovingly named his home in Nova Scotia “The Dingle” and Haligonians still call it that today. The tower was created to pay homage to British imperialism and architecture, but now it’s a landmark for locals and a destination for anyone who wants to get a great view of Halifax.
Joe’s Scarecrow Village, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
In 1980, a man from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia named Joe Delaney tried to grow a garden in his yard. Like many gardeners, birds ravaged his crops time and time again. After a few failed attempts, he decided to put his efforts into defeating his foe by making scarecrows. He started with a few, then more and more until he had a village of scarecrows in his yard.
It became an attraction, people would come from far and wide to see his creepy scarecrows inspired by the Mi-Careme festival. Mi-Careme is a carnival that takes place in the middle of Lent. Mi-Careme, which translates to mid-Lent, is a celebration of laughter where communities dress up in bizarre costumes and go to their neighbours’ houses, kind of like Halloween. It’s meant to bring joy and connectedness during Lent, which is typically a period of serious self-reflection.
For over thirty years, Joe’s Scarecrow Village was an attraction that promoted Mi-Careme as the maritime version of Mardi Gras, but sadly it was taken down in 2011. People who appreciated the village moved the remaining citizens of the Scarecrow village to the Mi-Careme Interpretive Centre in Cape Breton, which showcases the festivities of the Acadian tradition. If Joe’s Scarecrow Village and festive celebrations interest you, stop by the Mi-Careme Interpretive Centre on your way along the East Coast.
Giant Squid Statue, Glovers Harbour, Newfoundland
In 2001, Don Foulds, a Canadian mega-sculptor, created a giant squid sculpture to commemorate the largest squid in the world. In 1878, fishermen found a giant squid reportedly 16.5 meters long washed ashore near Glovers Harbour, Newfoundland. It’s known as the “Thimble Tickle Specimen” because Glovers Harbour was formerly called Thimble Tickle. The Guinness Book of World Records proclaimed it to be the largest squid ever found, and it still holds that record today, although there are some who say the description was likely exaggerated. You can see Foulds’ life-size recreation of the squid right around where the monstrous sea-beast was found all those years ago.
Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
Oak Island is a small island off the coast of Nova Scotia and is home to many mysteries and possibly buried treasure. Some think there is treasure buried in a deep pit on the island, aptly named the “Money Pit”. There are different theories about what could lie beneath the island. It could be the hiding place for Captain Kidd’s horde of gold or for the Templar Knights’ Holy Grail. Legend has it that anyone who searches for the treasure will die a tragic death, and so far six men have died looking. Since 1795, over 20 different expeditions have attempted to find this secret treasure on the island and all have come up short.
Today, two brothers, Rick and Marty Lagina, own the island. The Laginas have been searching since 2014 and have uncovered a lot about Nova Scotia’s history. The brothers documented their search in a show called “The Curse of Oak Island”. The Laginas have yet to unearth a chest of gold or The Holy Grail, but they have uncovered some seemingly inexplicable artifacts in their search. People can visit the island and go on a guided tour of most of the island with the Laginas’ Oak Island Tour company.
Africville, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Some tell the story of Africville as a story of freedom and optimism, but the true story is much more complex. Africville was officially established in the 1800s by former slaves, marooned Jamaicans and Black refugees from the War of 1812, but unofficially the community was as old as Halifax.
Africville was a community of people escaping racism in Halifax by purchasing land and constructing their own community north of the city. Over the years, Africville experienced systemic racism in countless forms. The City of Halifax built a dump and a prison next to Africville in an attempt to drive people from the land. Africville paid taxes but lacked paved roads, clean water and other basic necessities. Despite injustice, people who lived there were happy in their own community. Africville built the Seaview African United Baptist Church, which was famous for its music. The town endured until the 1960s when the city of Halifax decided to bulldoze the community and change it to industrial land. The people of Africville fought against the demolition of their homes but the city voted and demolished the community.
Former citizens and their descendents still gather there annually to remember Africville for what it was, a place of freedom and love that was destroyed by racism. In 1996, Canada made it a National Historic Site. The government of Canada said it was “a site of pilgrimage for people honouring the struggle against racism.” Yet the City of Halifax did not officially apologize for the destruction of the community until 2010. Today, travelers can visit a replica of the Seaview African United Baptist Church that serves as a museum for this historic community. To find out more, check out this link:https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/africville
The S.S Kyle, Harbour Grace, Newfoundland
The S.S Kyle, or just Kyle to its friends, is a 67m long World War I-era ship that ran aground in 1967. The ship ran countless successful rescue missions for decades, as well as serving as a ferryboat. During the war, it carried Canadian troops to the front lines in Europe. After its wartime contributions, Kyle was used for a huge variety of purposes until it reached its height of fame in 1927 when the ship recovered the Old Glory, a mono-plane that failed to make a historic flight across the Atlantic. Kyle was all over the front pages of newspapers around North America.
After critical acclaim and a long career, in 1967, it was swept away from its dock in a violent storm and pushed onto a beach near Harbour Grace. No one could move it since pushing a ship of Kyle’s size back out to sea is incredibly expensive and breaking it down is just as difficult. To this day, the ship is just sitting there for visitors to climb aboard and enjoy themselves. You can read more stories of Kyle’s triumphs on its website. If you decide to visit this famous ship, you will stand where countless soldiers stood over a hundred years ago.
Arsenault’s Bottle Houses, Cap-Egmont, Prince Edward Island
Wellington County, PEI, is home to a village made nearly entirely out of bottles. In 1980, Edouard Arsenault was inspired to build three buildings out of bottles; a house, a tavern, and a church. He was 66 when he built the house and he dedicated the last four years of his life to making buildings out of bottles. The structures are stunning, the sun refracting through the colored glass walls makes travelers feel like they’re in a fairy tale. Arsenault’s bottle houses have been a major tourist attraction in PEI for decades. Visitors can walk through the buildings, the gardens, and around the fish pond. The bottle houses are a testament to one man’s hard work and creativity that everyone is meant to experience.
Canada’s Smallest Library, Cardigan, Prince Edward Island
It’s only natural that Canada’s smallest province would have what The World Record Academy calls the smallest library in the world. In a small fishing village called Cardigan, John Macdonald started a library in a 12ft square hut. It has 1,800 books, including non-fiction and a children’s section. Most of the collection are novels Macdonald considers to be thought-provoking reads. It’s a staple of the community and the books are free to check out. There are not a lot of seating options, but since the library is right by the water, it’s a great place to relax in nature with a good book. Watch this CBC story from a few years ago to find out more: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2398183733
World’s Largest Axe! Nackawic, New Brunswick, Canada
It seems like Paul Bunyan forgot something in New Brunswick. In 1991, Nackawic was named Forestry Capital of Canada and the town decided to celebrate the logging industry by constructing this 55-tonne Axe. This humongous monument to the natural resources of Canada stands 15 meters high stuck in a 10-meter wide concrete stump. Within the monstrous head of the Axe, the people of Nackawic stashed a time capsule to be opened in 2041. Sadly, there is no gift shop for this impressive landmark but it certainly creates some great photo opportunities.
Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
A must-see for anyone visiting Nova Scotia, Peggy’s Cove has one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. Its picturesque landscape makes this place seem straight out of a children’s book. Peggy’s Cove is the highlight of the ‘lighthouse trail’, which features over twenty lighthouses between Halifax and Yarmouth. The lighthouse was constructed in 1915 and is still actively used to guide ships along the rocky coast. If you decide to visit, be careful and avoid standing on the wet rocks by the shore because the tide is powerful and dangerous as it can sweep you away. Peggy’s Cove is one of Atlantic Canada’s most famous tourist destinations as travelers from around the world visit to get a gorgeous glimpse of this active lighthouse.
Every place on this list has a story to tell about the history of Canada and the deeply rooted culture of its maritime. There are so many reasons to visit the East Coast, from fresh lobster to the Busker Festival, but if those aren’t enough, you can stop by the giant sculptures, romantic landmarks, and legends of the supernatural.
Featured Image Credit: TOURISM NOVA SCOTIA