… saw my photo of Pictou last night and asked me what the place was like and how it looked in broad daylight.
And the answer to that is “no idea”.
I came here the first time in 2003 and it was absolutely p155ing down so I didn’t stay long. And today, as if in keeping with some kind of tradition, it was likewise p155ing it down. And how.
But this time I’m made of more sterner stuff and went for a nosey, getting thoroughly drenched in the process.
We’re lucky in that many of the buildings are quite substantial – made of stone, not your usual timber framed stuff. North American urban settlement is famous – or infamous – for being ravaged by fire and these stone buildings will have resisted that quite well.
However, escaping from the ravages caused by human modernism and “progress” is another thing, and Pictou has suffered some from that.
Now for those of you familiar with North American history, you will know that Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts is significant as it was there that the Pilgrim Fathers landed in late 1620 in the Mayflower.
And Pictou has a similar kind of significance for Canada as it was here in 1773 that a group of Scots landed in the Hector – a replica of which is on display here – and laid the foundations for Nova Scotia – or New Scotland.
Look at any of the graves of people who were born in this area during the following few years – there are dozens of people called Hector interred there.
And after that it was a drive to Springhill to do something else that I … errrr … overlooked when I was here before.
I didn’t visit the Anne Murray Museum this time (so I didn’t meet Anne Murray this time like I did the last time) and I didn’t have time to visit the mining museum even though it was open today.
Instead I tracked down the monument to the hundreds of miners who died in the dozens of mining explosions and collapses in the shameful situation that passed for coal-mining here from about 1820 until just a few years ago.
If you know Peggy Seeger’s song Springhill Mining Disaster – made famous by U2 – then that is about one of the explosions here.
Next stop was Amherst to look for something interesting and really I must have been asleep the two times I’ve passed through here and not noticed anything worth photographing.
Apart from the fact that it’s a beautiful sandstone-built town, there’s tons of other stuff that’s well-worth seeing.
I was having health issues both of the times I came here and that’s my excuse anyway.
When I was here in 2003 I went to visit Fort Beausejour – the second-last bastion of the French army in Canada, not the last one (despite what most history books tell you – that dubious honour belongs to Fort Gaspereaux across the isthmus).
Here they hung on grimly to a toehold at the head of the Bay of Fundy as the French possessions all around them crumbled away into nothing, and eventually they too were swept away with the tide.
The British built a fort – Fort Lawrence – about 5 miles away from Fort Beausejour in order to blockade the latter and so I went in search of that.
It appears that this is in fact the site of the Nova Scotia Tourist Board offices and once I had realised that, it wasn’t all that difficult to track down. It’s not easy to miss all of those flags fluttering away up there.
From up on the heights I noticed what looked like early Acadian dykes across the Tantramarre marshes. The Acadians had done their best to drain the marshes and ended up with, what one commentator called “the largest hayfield in the world”.
So I had a wander out across the flats and, lo and behold, indeed they were, complete with a handpainted sign, displaying the Acadian flag. That’s the “Stella Maris” there on the pale blue background.
In the 19th Century, technology began to catch up with human ambition. And one of the ambitions was to make a short-cut across the Chignecto isthmus between the Strait of Northumberland and the Bay of Fundy so that ships would save days of sailing time and all the risks of circumnavigating the Canso Strait.
Someone had the idea of building a ship railway, where ships would sail into a canal and then be loaded onto railway trucks in order to be transported to the other side of the isthmus.
But just as technology made this a feasible proposition, making larger ships became more feasible too and the ship railway was overwhelmed by events.
Work had actually begun but was soon abandoned. Nevertheless there still remains considerable evidence of the earthworks and I managed to track them down too. This would have been quite an impressive achievement had it been completed, judging by what remains.
Whenever I see this sign, I always end up laughing, even though I know that I shouldn’t. Coming from an oppressed minority myself, I can understand the feelings that minorities have about defending themselves and their cultures. But this sign is the kind of thing that brings this policy into disrepute.
I often ask about this sign – what’s the purpose of the “Nouvelle Ecosse”?. I’m always told that Canada has a policy of bilingualism (except in Quebec where their Anglophone minority is oppressed much more than the French minority ever was, but that’s another issue) and so every public sign in English has to be translated into French.
And I always wish that I had a camera handy to photograph their faces when I explain to them that “Nova Scotia” is Latin, not English, and so under the terms of the bilingual policy, there needs to be an English translation.
I’m now in Port Elgin just down the road.
Port Elgin is famous for its hand-cranked (so much for modern technology in the 1890s) pivoting railway bridge that moved so that ships could enter the harbour here.
Just on the edge of the town is not darkness but a motel, and next to the motel are the remains of Fort Gaspereaux. This is where i’ll be staying the night (the motel, not the remains of the fort).
There’s also the Confederation Bridge, the world’s longest bridge across iced-up waters. I saw that in 2003 but taking a photo of that with a compact digital was … errr … interesting so I’m going to do it again.
I hope that it’s still standing – I don’t seem to have much luck with bridges over iced-up waters – and that will be effectively my tourism over. It’s all downhill from here.