Around the Campfire
OUR 1994 TRIP TO CANADA
Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia
This "report" was written by Fred right after our 1994 trip to Canada. I have done some minor editing but overall I think you will see Fred, our Golden Retriever, Tory, enjoyed the whole experience. It can safely be said, our ten days camping in Canada was where our current lifestyle began.
From the beginning, it was our intent to concentrate on eastern Canada's countryside and
seacoasts and avoid large cities. We camped in a large tent except for a few of nights when a
motel was more convenient. Note: This is a very long article.
We departed Burke, VA for Westborough, MA on the first leg of our trip. Here we stayed at a
Ramada Inn and visited Fred's mother for the evening. Toting along a dog when traveling
requires some preplanning for many 'innkeepers' do not allow animals.
The drive north along the New Hampshire and Maine Turnpikes (I-95) northward is pretty and
relaxing. Freeport, Maine is an important stop for those who would enjoy shopping at L.L. Bean
and the many factory outlet shops. If any time is going to be spent in Freeport, suggest getting
off the Turnpike just before there and driving north on Rt. 1. The number of outlet shops will
boggle the mind.
If hungry, look for a restaurant on the right side, sitting on a hill that is painted in blue and white.
It will appear about the time the Freeport exit signs are displayed. If you see it too late, no
problem. Get off at the next exit and go south on Rt. 1. Don't remember the restaurant's name
but it has good American food and a wonderful view from the porch.
Once in Nova Scotia, we started exchanging American for Canadian dollars. At the time we were
there, the exchange rate was 37 percent (137%) on the American dollar. Go to credit unions and
banks for the best rates. But, banks will charge a fee (about $2.00) to cash travelers checks. Be
careful in restaurants or other places as the exchange there can be as low as 20 percent. I have to
say I was not pleased with making money off the Canadians. On the other hand, taxes there on
just about everything were 17 percent. There is a national tax (GST) and a provincial tax (PST).
We understood much of the tax was to pay for their national health care system. Is this what we're
headed for in the States? Keep your receipts because some will qualify for refund check with
Canadian Custom folks.
Our goal on this day was to drive from St. John to the Prince Edward Island National Park on
PEI. Here we would stay until June 23.
The drive to the Park is a leisurely five hours. To get to PEI (across the Northumberland Strait),
we took a car ferry from Cape Tormentine, NB to Borden, PEI. The ferry ride took forty-five
minutes. It is free and runs every hour on the half hour. Although we took several ferries on the
trip, waiting time for all of them was no more then fifteen to twenty minutes. Waiting time can be
considerable during high-season. Our trip was timed to take advantage of kids still being in
school, both in the US and Nova Scotia. We also hoped to be ahead of the insects.
PEI is where we began camping out. We stayed at the Cavendish Campground in the National
Park. It was right on the ocean and simply beautiful. The facilities were great - restrooms and hot
showers were plentiful and clean. If camping is your thing, we recommend Canada's National
Parks. From our own experiences and discussions with others, the sites are consistently excellent
in PEI and NS. The downside is reservations are not taken and there can be a wait to get in.
After we got to the Park, we set up camp, picked up literature and walked the beach. Beaches
(and soil) are a reddish-brown color. The Island has no rock bed, so all the 'rock' formations are
sandstone, some are spectacular. Because of the lack of a rock bed, some roads can be rough.
We drove from Cavendish Rt. 11. This route took us along the southern coast through Bedeque
and Egmont Bay areas past many fishing villages and Lupine flowers blooming in many colors
along the roadsides.
In a tiny town called Cap-Egmont, we visited the Bottle Houses (Les Maisons de Bouteilles). In the
1970s, a retired fisherman cemented over 25,000 bottles of all shapes, sizes and colors into a
chapel with altar, a tavern and a six-gabled house. This was a sight to behold, especially from the
inside in full sunlight. From Cap-Egmont we continued on to the inland town of O'Leary.
Why O'Leary? Well, one major agricultural industry on the Island is potatoes. In O'Leary there is
a potato museum. We found the idea intriguing, so off we went. The presentation is excellent. On
the grounds are three additional buildings - an old school house, church and a community center.
Inside the community center was a collection of old farming equipment. All of this was interesting
and a nice diversion.
By the way, before I forget, here are some observations to pass along about the Island and our
trip. First, PEI is like a golf course. The grass is unbelievably green and immaculately groomed,
growing right up to the pavement or dirt roadways. One criticism we heard about PEI via the
Internet was that it is over groomed. We looked upon this characteristic as one of the Island's
unique features. Another special feature of PEI was this guy on the radio who announced the
obituaries. His voice was somber and especially suited to this task. Throughout our trip, even if
there was no store, cafe, or gasoline and no matter how small the town or village was, there was a
cemetery, a church and a community center. Last, the hungry mosquitos were everywhere!
Whether camping or not, bring insect repellent (industrial strength).
From O'Leary, we drove Rt. 14, one of two coastal routes on the Island. (This section, extending
along the western coast and about fifty or so miles inland, is known as "Lady Slipper." (Look at
the map and you'll see why.) The drive was beautiful. One special sight was "Elephant Rock."
Elephant Rock is just north of Norway on Rt. 14 and is accessed by a dirt road. Take that road,
get out of the car, walk around, take pictures and enjoy. Expect wind and a bit of a chill.
At North Cape, we observed a windmill project and lots of water. Back to Cavendish. To us, one
exciting thing we did was getting off on to dirt roads that seemed to lead nowhere. Sometimes we
ended up on private property (damned tourists), but more times then not, there was a small fishing
village or some other interesting site, e.g., Elephant Rock. More about other discoveries later.
During the day, the clouds began to gather. As we got closer to our campsite, they got downright
threatening. That night it poured and the winds howled. Our tent got buffeted by the winds.
Inside, we felt as though someone was hitting it with a baseball bat. But, it held and we stayed
dry. (Our tent is one of those igloo types, six feet high and sleeps three.) Others campers though
did some bailing during the night. The next morning we were told gusts hit 60km. Do I love
camping? Yeah, sure. (Note from Suzi: this trip was my graduation gift from Fred. I love
camping; he is not that enthusiastic. What a trouper! :-)
The next day we headed for Ft. Amherst, just southeast of Charlottetown. This site marks the first
French settlement on the Island and the British fort that ousted the French. All that remains of the
200 year-old fort are earthworks. The location overlooks the Hillsborough Bay and is very scenic.
This is an ideal place to bring a picnic lunch, absorb the views and let the kids romp. Find a trail.
Fly a kite. Whatever, but don't forget the insect repellent.
Next, we headed southwest to Rice Point and then DeSable. As expected, the views along the
Northumberland Strait were terrific. No disappointments here.
We are social hikers and wanted to get in at least one hike while on PEI. We read about a circuit
hike near our campsite and decided to spend the rest of the day on that trail. Named Homestead,
it is 5.5 miles long, meanders through woods, along a bay, farmland and the Black River. It is flat
and suitable for both walking and biking. We enjoyed the hike and recommend it.
Our next stop was Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia (NS) where we'd spend four days. We
packed up the tent and drove to Wood Islands, PEI and caught the ferry to Caribou, NS. In the
morning, the ferry left at 9:15 and 10:44 and there was a fee. The ferry ride took a little more
then an hour.
We had planned to stay at a private campground in Cheticamp on Cape Breton Island. It took
four hours to reach Cheticamp after the ferry docked. At the campground, we took a drive inside and
promptly departed. It was a trailer park and did not suit our tastes. We drove into the Cape Breton
Highlands National Park and found a great campground. Again, the Canadian government outdid
itself . We found a site nestled in some trees and close to the facilities. BTW, this campground,
is not shown on the map provided by the NS tourist bureau. It is at the entrance to the Park.
The next morning, we drove part of the famous Cabot Trail. This drive took us from the
campground on Cape Breton Island to Neils Harbor on the northeast side of the Island. One way
to describe the Cabot Trail is think Big Sur, California. The west side is much like the northern
portion of the Big Sur while the east side is similar to the southern end. Whatever, it is a
continuous spectacle of natural beauty. Unlike PEI with its sandstone base, Cape Breton sits on
bedrock and the mountains, although small, are volcanic rock. The Trail winds up and down and
around the mountains in a zigzag, curvy fashion usually overlooking the ocean and tiny fishing
villages. There were many breathtaking views. It was all mesmerizing. One can easily go crazy
with the camera. Again, we wandered off the main road. I'll describe two such memorable jaunts.
The first was to a place called "Meat Cove." It is at the very northern tip of Cape Breton Island.
The drive, on a dirt road, was harrowing with steep, hairpin curves, no guard rails and the drops
breathtaking. Toward the end of the road, a few homes could be seen in a valley and off to the
right was the Atlantic. We suddenly came to the end of the road and was siting on a bluff
overlooking the ocean. We parked on a grassy knoll, which we learned later was a private
campground. After a few minutes of looking in awe at the view and the shear drop to the ocean, a
man walked up and asked if he could be of assistance.
His name is Kenneth McLellan and is of Scottish-Irish descent. His family has owned Meat Cove
for seven generations and their primary occupation was fishing. Because of the recent moratorium
on Cod fishing by the Canadian government, Kenneth has had to find way to supplement his
income. Of the many acres owned by the family, Kenneth has eight of them. He is developing a
part of those acres into the campground where were were parked. Although primitive, people now go
there to camp - tenting and "'trailoring." He expects to have hot showers installed in about a year.
(Note from Suzi: I understand people using Kenneth's campground can arrange for dinner with a
family in the Cove.)
Kenneth also charters out his fishing boat for deep sea fishing and whale-watching. During
hunting season, he guides hunters into the back country. He loves the outdoors and looks the
part. One way to describe Kenneth is the Marlboro Man without the horse and cigarette. We
wish we could have spent more time with Kenneth, but we had to move on. When we go back to
Nova Scotia, it's a good bet we'll return to Meat Cove and visit with Kenneth.
Our second memorable jaunt that day was to a little fishing village called White Point. It is easily
accessed and located on the northeast corner of the Island. There is a paved side road off Cabot
Trail which dead ends in the village. As we descended a steep hill into the village, we saw the
classic view of a fishing village nestled in Aspy Bay. Great for pictures. But, once into the village,
a dirt road off to the side that disappeared over the top of a hill caught Suzi's eye.
We looked at each other and without a word, drove up this dirt road. At the top, we found the
real White Point before us. It stretched out for about three quarters of a mile to a point into Aspy
Bay. This jut of land was covered with high, fluffy like green grass with gray rocks protruding up
throughout the area. There were no buildings, trees or shrubs. We could have walked, but decided
to put our vehicle in four-wheel drive and cautiously crept around this piece of land. We stopped,
walked around for a while, let the dog run and took pictures. Way out on the point was a white
cross. In front of it were white stakes making up a rectangle about fifty feet long and thirty feet
wide. It was a monument to "'The Unknown Sailor." There was no grave site within the marked
off area - just grass and rocks.
After leaving White Point, we drove to Neil's Harbor, took in the sights and than returned to the
Cheticamp Campground. Somewhere along the way, we decided to leave Cheticamp the next day
and spend the next two days on the east side of the Island, but still in the Park.
The next morning we broke camp and retraced our route of the previous day over the Cabot
Trail, passed Neil's Harbor to Ingonish. Here there are two Park campgrounds. One is called Ingonish
and the larger campground, Broadcove. Broadcove is where we pitched camp and it is highly
recommended. We didn't do much except relax. It's good to do nothing occasionally.
The next morning we drove to Louisburg, southeast of Sydney. We visited the Louisburg
National Historic Site. Based on over 700 pages of plans and architectural drawings found in
France, the Canadian government restored (from the ground up) the 18th-century Fortress of
Louisburg. It is a replica of this colonial seaport, but only one-quarter of it has been restored. The
theme of the Fortress is to represent a day in the summer of 1744. Townspeople, soldiers and
workers (dressed in the appropriate clothes) bustle about like it really is 1744. The realism is
incredible and with little effort, easy for one to become a part of that time in history. As the tour
books recommend, plan on spending the day there or at least four hours. Don't worry about
getting hungry, because there are period Inns and taverns in which hearty meals are served. One
should not leave Nova Scotia without visiting this replica of a historic harbor town. (Note from
Suzi: Be sure to purchase a loaf of Soldiers Bread; it is delicious.)
We broke camp and drove six hours south to Digby, NS. We had reservations at a private
campground, Fundy Spray Trailer Park. Although private with lots of "permanent" trailers, it
was clean and friendly. Our objectives for the Digby area were fourfold - drive down Digby Neck;
view the Tidal Bore; visit Kejimkujik National Park; and, drive to the east coast, down to the
southern tip of NS and north up the west coast back to Digby. We planned on doing this in four
days and start the return home on July 1.
Driving from Digby Neck to Brier Island requires two car ferries. The ferries are small and
although we experienced no appreciable waiting periods, high-season may require some waiting.
Similar to Meat Cove, Brier Island is a good place to view the whales from land. Unfortunately,
we saw no whales at either location. The drive down Digby Neck was fun and picturesque. (Note
from Suzi: The locals throughout our trip were friendly and more then happy to share their time,
knowledge and experience. Before leaving Brier Island, visit Mrs. Garrow's home. She had the
best quilting we had seen on the entire trip for reasonable prices. She is 91 - an amazing woman.)
Today, visited Kejimkujik National Park and drove the circuit mentioned above. It is a beautiful
wilderness area in which one can participate in interpretive programs, canoe, hike and camp in
remote sections. Unfortunately, weather was turning bad on us - rain, fog, drizzle - the works.
We hoped the inclement weather was locally limited. Wrong!
Although we hoped with every mile that the skies would clear, the Gods were not smiling on us.
For a good deal of the drive, we were shrouded in light to heavy fog. While on the drive, the
weather forecast on the radio was calling for rain, showers, and fog for the next two days. We
decided to pack it in and head home a day early. True, with some research we probably could
have done some inside stuff but burn out was setting in.
To return to the U.S., we had to start out by taking a car ferry from Digby to St. John, NB. We
had made reservations (highly recommended) for July 1 and successfully changed them to June
30. The ferry cost for us was $86.00. The trip takes two and a half to three hours; the ship was
If there was a downside to this trip, it was having to take the ferry at 5:00 A.M. There were other
times, but not until much later in the day. Since we wanted to make Portsmouth, NH on our first
leg home, leaving any later was not practical. We had to be at the ferry by 4:00 A.M. That meant
getting up at 2:30 A.M. to break camp. (The drive from the campsite to the ferry took about
twenty minutes.) The weatherman was right. It was pouring out, really pouring. Taking a
campsite down in a down pour is one event everyone should experience but only once. Sitting in
our vehicle for an hour waiting for the ferry in thoroughly soaked blue jeans was not exhilarating.
Otherwise, except for the 4th of July holiday traffic, our trip home was uneventful.
IF WE HAD IT TO DO OVER AGAIN . . .
Notwithstanding the inclement weather in Digby, it was anticlimactic. To us, Cape Breton was the
highlight of the trip. We would do Digby first, PEI and then Cape Breton. On the way back, we'd
consider camping at the Fundy National Park, NB. Did we take on too much? Yeah, probably.
We missed out on a lot and didn't get to do as much hiking as planned. To do this trip, three
weeks is better.
With only two weeks, take the ferry from Portland or Bar Harbor, Maine to Yarmouth, NS. But,
leave the dog at home. This is too long a ferry ride for an animal. Take three or four days driving
north up the east coast of NS to Cape Breton. Camp in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park
on the east side and stay there. Drive the Cabot Trail and tour down to Sydney and Louisburg
from there. If touring is not in the cards, but just relaxing and hiking are preferences, then stay on
the west side at Cheticamp. Return to the U.S. via New Brunswick.
A WORD ABOUT RESTAURANTS
Breakfasts and lunches were fine, but based on our route and when we were ready to eat, dinners
were average or below. Actually, there just weren't that many restaurants. Don't expect much.
But, I have to be honest. I do not like seafood. So, perhaps the problem was me and my 'meat and
potato' expectations. One restaurant was the exception. It is called Coastal Waters Restaurant and
is located just south of Ingonish on the Cabot Trail.
One last thing about restaurants. Two expressions used by the waiters and waitresses in Nova
Scotia were really neat - 'Is your tea good yet?' and 'More hot?' The latter, of course, meant
freshening our tea or coffee. One name of a restaurant got my attention - "Lick-A-Chick."