Nova Scotia Road Trip

I have always wanted to explore Nova Scotia. My grandfather grew up in Cape Breton, during the Depression. He wrote a memoir for his family, and it is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. When Angela’s Ashes became a literary sensation my family and I nodded in unison. Frank McCourt’s story reminded us all of my grandfather’s, William O’Hagan. As a child, he had to help support his family. He gardened with his brother and was compensated in carrot thinnings. His mother bathed the children twice a year, and boiled their clothes. To his classmates, he was known as Stinky Billy. We grandchildren called him Buzz.

How someone could have survived what my grandfather lived through with an endless sense of humor, and whose favorite taste descriptor was “Beautiful,” is beyond me. Home-pickled herring, with a slice of onion, and a smear of mayonnaise on toast: Beautiful. My grandmother’s piroski (a recipe passed down from her mother, who was raised in Russia): Beautiful. Pan-fried cod, steamed clams, grilled salmon… we caught all of these things on the west coast, we ate them, and Buzz declared: Beautiful.

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Walking along Rissers Beach on the South Shore
Nova Scotia South Shore
Shelburne, on the South Shore, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia jennifer may food photographer
Shelburne, NS

This summer, my husband, daughter and I took an impromptu Nova Scotia road trip. Our route started in Yarmouth, after a 5-hour catamaran ferry ride from Portland, ME. We camped in as many provincial parks as we could. We swam in beautiful beaches along the South Shore. We visited Lunenberg and stocked up on reading material at Lexicon Books. On our way to somewhere else, we found a white sandy beach and swam at the side of the road. We arrived on the Northumberland Shore, walked on red sandy beaches, and swam in the famously warm ocean waters. The rest of our trip took us through Halifax and then along the Bay of Fundy where, in some places, tides rise and retreat 50′ in one cycle.

We sought out seafood. I’m sorry to say it, but we had high expectations and were often disappointed. Of course, I probably should not have ordered lobster poutine at a touristy lobster pound.

Nova Scotia fish chowder jennifer may food photographer
The best bowl of fish chowder I had, of many. The Beandock, Shelburne, NS.
Nova Scotia Road Trip Camping
Graves Island Provincial Park Campground. Not a lot of shade, but a lot of blackberries, and a swimming beach nearby.
Nova Scotia Road Trip Camping
The best food is the simplest.
Coffee when camping takes on mythic importance
Coffee when camping takes on mythic importance
Nova Scotia Sandy Beaches
We found this unmarked beach on the side of the road, and we set up for swimming alongside some locals
Rissers Beach Nova Scotia
Rissers Beach Provincial Campground, Nova Scotia
Lunenburg Nova Scotia Lexicon Books
Gathering reading material at Lexicon Books, Lunenburg
Fish and Chips Lunenberg Nova Scotia
We had great fish and chips once, in Lunenburg, at the Fish Shack
Bay of Fundy AirBnB Nova Scotia
We had pre-rented this cute little cabin on AirBnB. The porch overlooked a harbor on the Bay of Fundy. It was a great place to dry the tent in the woodshed overnight.
Nova Scotia Road Trip
Watching the famous tides from an AirBnB cabin on the Bay of Fundy.

Bay of Fundy's famous tides

seafood Nova Scotia lobster poutine
Overcooked deep fried clams, haddock, shrimp and scallops. Mac-n-cheese using cheese as a garnish on a bechamel sauce. I really should not have ordered the lobster poutine. The Lobster Pound, Halls Harbour, NS.
Nova Scotia Road Trip Northumberland Shore
The red sandy beaches and warm Atlantic Ocean waters of the Northumberland Shore
Nova Scotia Road Trip Camping
Our last night of camping in Nova Scotia, this year. Northumberland Shore.

Overall, it was an incredible trip. Different, in some ways, than what I had expected. We looked for places to buy fresh seafood near the docks, and found we were out-of-season, or the fish shacks were only open once a week and not on they day we were there. We did not make it to where my grandfather grew up. Cape Breton Island, and the Cabot Trail, await us on a follow up journey. There would be no sense driving a magnificent roadway with a carsick and road-weary child in the back, I figured. More camping awaits us, more beaches.

More than anything, as a west coaster, who only really feels home when I am in sight of an ocean, I think of Buzz. I imagine how he must have felt, when he left the east coast for the west, and made a home on the Pacific.

 

Food stories in New York's Hudson Valley and beyond from photographer Jennifer May