Exploring Nova Scotia and hiking Cape Breton Island

On October 22, 2017, we left PEI and headed into Halifax, Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia is latin for New Scotland, and explains the many oatcakes I came across in coffee shops and bakeries around these parts. While living in Pennsylvania, I often purchased oatcakes by Effie’s Homemade which I later learned are based off a Scottish family recipe out of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Oat cookie, ginger almond paste cookie, granola cookie
It’s not just America where you find giant cookies. Here’s a Scottish style oatcake that’s bigger and thicker than my palm. The cookies from top to bottom are: Oat cookie, Ginger almond paste cookie, and Granola cookie
It was a beautiful sunny day as we walked along the Halifax Waterfront. It is home to many shops, museums, and the farmers’ market.

It’s not just America where you find giant cookies. Here’s a Scottish style oatcake that’s bigger and thicker than my palm.We visited Anchored Coffee, a local roaster with a small coffee bar inside Pro Skates shop. The barista, Braeden, had a great energy and made us a very good cortado and cup of pourover coffee. We chatted about the coffee scene in the city and hiking in Cape Breton. We took our cup of coffee to Halifax Public Gardens, and walked around taking in the warmth of the sun.
We hiked up to the Citadel and spent our afternoon inside the Army Museum learning about Canadian troops in the first and second World War. It’s a small but very informative museum packed with displays of handheld artillery, uniforms, medals, and trench art from Canadian troops. Reading the biographies and stories of soldiers awarded medals evoked a newfound admiration for our Canadian troops. This section of the Citadel was so dense we couldn’t make it past WWII before we had to take a break from learning.

We ate a lunch of cheese, bread, salami and apples before heading to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. We didn’t know what to expect but this ended up being our favourite museum over the course of our trip. We took part in a guided tour and had a great time learning about Canadian immigration from the 1600’s until the present day. One family in our tour group was able to identify the boat on which their grandparents arrived in. After the travellers land on shore, 1 in 5 immigrating Canadians would have entered Pier 21 between 1928 and 1971.

We later learned that the Dutch government put heavy restrictions on currency leaving the country, so the Canadian government removed weight restrictions on what a Dutch family could bring onto the ship. Taking advantage of this new rule, an immigrating Dutch family would appropriately fill a giant wooden crate, called a kist, with all of their belongings. It was fun to see the contents because it often contained silly things like a kitchen sink, rocks, heavy wooden dressers, and more!

Near the end of the tour, we walked into a small theatre that showed a heart warming video about Canadian immigrants of today. It featured a compilation of stories from refugees and immigrants about why they left their home country and how they built a new life in Canada. It was refreshing to see how accepting this country is to all cultures, and explained why we have such a diverse population in our cities.

We visited the popular seafood restaurant called Fredie’s Fantastic Fish. We ordered their fried haddock, seafood chowder, and a lobster roll with another fillet on the side. It was way too much food, oops. We loved their fish and chips. They got that batter recipe down, and you can even ask for it extra crispy if you wanted.
This is the freshest cooked lobster meat in a roll I’ve ever had. It is generously piled with hunks of perfectly cooked meat and lightly dressed with a bit of mayo. It gets to be a little too much lobster about a third of the way through.

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

We wanted to learn about the story behind the fishing vessel that is stamped on the Canadian dime so we headed to the Maritime Museum. There is a large display on shipwrecks, the Halifax explosion, an area dedicated to the Titanic, and a Days of Sail exhibit about Canadians who raced around the world on solo sailing trips. There is actually a lot more of this museum we didn’t explore because our brains could only take in so much. I’d certainly recommend this museum to anyone interested in ship history.

We later visited the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market to pick up some local fruit and vegetables for our stay on Cape Breton Island. The bag of pears we bought were amazing, juicy, floral, with a creamy firm texture. We also stopped by East Coast Bagels to refill our carb supplies. The bagels were still warm from the oven when I bought them and we quickly finished one while walking out the store. Yum!

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

On October 25th, we started our day early and drove to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic site in Baddeck, NS. Cape Breton was Alexander’s summer retreat because the climate and the landscape reminded him of his home in Scotland. This eventually became more of a permanent home later in his life. The museum is filled with replicas of his inventions like the space frame, tetrahedral kites, hydrofoil experiments, and of course, his work on the telephone. It also goes into his father’s work on Visible speech which Alexander also became very invested in. After a morning of learning, we began our drive towards Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

The Alexander Graham Bell National site overlooks the Bras d’Or Lakes.
The fog kept up with us along our drive towards Cape Breton National Park. There was an eerie stillness to the lake that day.
On our way to Cape Breton Island, we stopped by a small french campground called Plage Saint Pierre in the small fishing village of Cheticamp. It is very quiet at this time of the year, so we had the freedom to walk around and explore the area. It had a windy boardwalk that took you to a deserted beach.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

The drive to Cape Breton was absolutely stunning. We made it just before the leaves fell and saw endless mountains of yellow leaves. I cannot stress enough how the following images do not capture the beauty of the landscape. Visiting Cape Breton in the fall is surely something I will have to do again. We arrived around noon, and had more than enough time to secure our camp site and start on the world famous Skyline trail. The gem of the trail lies at the very end where the boardwalk starts. It’s built that way so hikers stay on track and do not harm the fragile vegetation below.

Top Left: The sun setting over continuous mountains of yellow leaves is an unforgettable sight. Top Right: Dense groves of hardwood trees populate the Acadian trail. Emily says the best tissue for wiping your nose are the slightly dried yellow birch leaves still on the branch. It has the right texture and thickness that make a good tissue. Bottom Left: Young trees are the perfect food source for moose, and the forests here have been decimated by their growing population. A small fenced enclosure was built to rehab the forest so that young trees can grow in the area. Bottom Right: The end of the Skyline Trail is a boardwalk overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Acadian Trail, Lone Shieling Trail and Black Brook Beach

The very next morning, we had a quick breakfast of yogurt, granola, and biscuits before hitting the Acadian trail. The hike was very nice with plenty of sight seeing benches along the way. The plan for the day was to make our way across to the eastern side of the Cape Breton Highlands and stay at the Ingonish Beach campground for the evening.

The trail leads you through mature Acadian forests filled with old hardwood trees and lots of young saplings. You can hear the rustle of leaves and branches as a gentle breeze blows through the area.
We were told to keep an eye out for black bears, moose, and coyotes. Although we didn’t see any of those animals, moose droppings were neatly piled in the middle of the trail.
One of the viewpoints on the Acadian trail overlooks the small fishing town of Chéticamp, NS.
A satisfying viewpoint from top of the the Acadian trail. You can see the town of Chéticamp along the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the distance. (A windy video. Please turn down your volume.)
Leaving the Chéticamp campgrounds of Cape Breton National Park.
Old sugar maple trees fill the Lone Shieling loop. This is one of those photos that do not do the area any justice. Although the hike is short, it features a replica of a crofter’s hut made by those of Scottish Highlanders on the Isle of Skye.

On our way to the next campground at Ingonish, we stopped by Black Brook beach to stretch our legs and make some hot tea. This beach has washrooms with running water, firepits and picnic tables for day use. It’s a nice quiet area but the wind was cold and the waves were strong so we didn’t stay long.

The soft sand at Black Brook Cove Beach would make for a nice place to pitch a tent in the summer.

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