This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks. From Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The beauty of Nova Scotia isn’t tied to towering mountains or vast open spaces. It makes a quieter statement— a combination of water and coves and forests and highlands and valleys and villages that grows on you until you realize that you have arrived somewhere that is very special. Long after I had completed my 10,000-mile journey around North America, Nova Scotia continued to exist in my mind as one of the highlights. Our recent drive around the province as Peggy and I retraced my bike trek route reinforced this original impression.
Nova Scotia is Latin for New Scotland, which seems appropriate to me in that I find the beauty of the two areas similar in nature. Before it became Nova Scotia, however, it was known first as Mi’kma’ki reflecting the First Nation people who lived there, the Mi’kmaq. Afterwards the French settled the area and called it Acadia. In 1755, the British expelled most of the French as a consequence of their ongoing wars with France. Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, is based on that expulsion. Many of the people who were deported eventually ended up in Louisiana where they became known as Cajuns (Cajun derives from Cadia).
After the Acadians were expelled, numerous Scots arrived from New England to help repopulate the area. They also came from Scotland where British policies were driving them out of the Highlands. Gaelic became a common language. Following the Revolutionary War, a number of people who had remained loyal to England during the conflict resettled in Nova Scotia. Included among them was a small population of blacks who had joined Britain’s cause as a way out of slavery. What all of this means is that Nova Scotia has several distinct cultures, which, it seems to me, coexist side by side in relative harmony.
Other than a day of bicycling in Death Valley, Nova Scotia was the only place on my bike trip where I had travelling companions. Jean Snuggs and Lindell Wilken had both gone to college together in Illinois before moving out to California. I met Jean on one of the 100-mile backpack trips I led in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. We had become good friends and eventually lived together. That arrangement had ended but we remained good friends. Both Jean and Lyndell were college track coaches and in excellent shape. If I recall correctly, they had also just finished bicycling the Oregon Coast. I was extremely glad I had a few thousand miles of bicycling behind me! Otherwise, it could have been a long and humbling seven days.
We didn’t linger in Halifax, which was too bad since it is a lovely city. But the open road called. We crossed over the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge, picked up Highway 7 and followed it up the East Coast to Liscomb, a distance of 100 plus miles. Highway 7 is known as the Marine Highway in tourist promotions for good reasons. It closely follows the Atlantic Ocean. Inlets, coves, small rivers and towns provide an endless kaleidoscope of scenery.
At Liscomb, Highway 7 took us inland across the peninsula to Antigonish. I have only a vague memory of Antigonish on my bike trip, which may mean that the lure of the renowned Cape Breton pulled us on past it. Peggy and I stopped, however, and the town with its St. Francis Xavier University was definitely worth the visit, as university towns often are. From Antigonish we picked up Highway 4 to Auld and the Canso Causeway. The Causeway, a 4500 foot engineering achievement that took some 10 million tons of rock to build, connects mainland Nova Scotia with the island of Cape Breton. It is where I will end today’s post. Next up: the fabulous Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail into Cape Breton Highlands’ National Park.