Culture shock

Culture shock
Lawrencetown Beach

10 unexpected experiences in Atlantic Canada

Canada’s East Coast is famous for just that: being coastal. In fact, tourism adverts for all four Atlantic provinces epitomize (and glamourize) coastal living with saturated images of mammoth icebergs, cute puffins, jumping whales and seafood platters aplenty. Admittedly, all-you-can-eat lobster dinners and iceberg hunting are pretty cool, but like an iceberg, there’s more to this region than meets the coastal eye—and the stuff beneath the surface is 40 per cent cooler. Unexpected visitor experiences—those off-beat, happen-to-come-upon-it weird things—are what tourists remember for the rest of their lives and tell their friends about. Cheers to weird!

Hang ten with the locals
Catching a wave isn’t something commonly associated with Canada, let alone the East Coast, but Nova Scotia’s cresting waters rival those of Tofino. Along the province’s Eastern Shore there are several beaches perfect for surfing. Martinique Beach is the longest beach in the province with five kilometres of pristine white sand and surf. Lawrencetown Beach is the most popular surf spot, drawing local and international wave riders year-round. Both East Coast Surf School and Kannon Beach Surf Shop are nearby offering lessons to newbies and rentals to seasoned surfers.

Rick Stanley on the SS Lord Strathcona swimming out of the bridge area. (Photo: Jill Heinerth, Ocean Quest)

Scuba dive with WWII shipwrecks
During the second World War, Newfoundland and Labrador was one of the only places in North America to experience a direct German attack. In 1942 German U-boats sank four ships off the coast of Bell Island, in Conception Bay. Ocean Quest Adventures is based in St. John’s and offers a “wreck-reation” tour: a seven-day diving adventure tour of the four shipwreck sites. Swim amongst shipwrecks turned coral reefs like the 400ft Rose Castle, an incredibly well-preserved and eerily picturesque English-built merchant ship used to transport ore from the Bell Island iron mines.

Savour Cape Breton’s single malt
Along the Ceilidh Trail amongst the highlands of Cape Breton, you’ll find Glenora Distillery and feel like you’ve been transported to Scotland. Glenora was the first distillery in North America to produce a single malt whisky, releasing the Glen Breton Rare in 2000, and has since garnered worldwide recognition for their spirits. Take a guided tour of the distillery, offered daily, and saddle up for a whiskey tasting. If you sample too much whiskey there is an inn, cottages and also a restaurant to enjoy the secluded spot as well.

Catch a few Zs in a rotating house
Put a different spin on vacation with this North Rustico cottage on the northern shores of Prince Edward Island. Around The Sea is the world’s first rotating bed and breakfast, complete with four condo-sized suites with 50 feet of decking. The cylindrical construction of the house means there’s a different view every 45 minutes or so. Enjoy the sunset with a view of the red shores of Prince Edward Island National Park’s coastline, and wake up to views of the garden.

See the world’s oldest fossils
Newfoundland and Labrador’s Avalon Peninsula is world-famous for its Instagram-worthy jagged coastlines and crashing waves, but it’s also home to some of the world’s oldest fossils. The Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve, unassumingly situated between the town of Portugal Cove South and Cape Race, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The coastal rocks are filled to the brim with incredibly well-preserved fossils, allowing visitors to hike along 565-million-year-old sea floors frozen in time. Note: exploring the fossils is only available by booking a guided tour through the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre.

See the world’s biggest ____
Scattered throughout Atlantic Canada, myriad “world’s largest” things are just waiting to be captured on your Instagram. In Sydney, N.S., do a jig next to the world’s largest fiddle; in O’Leary, P.E.I. cuddle up to the world’s largest spud outside the Canadian Potato Museum; marvel at the life-size replica of a Giant Squid in Glovers Head, N.L. New Brunswick is not only home to the world’s largest axe, found in Nackawic, but also the world’s largest conch in Caraquet and the world’s largest fiddlehead (a whopping 24-foot tall sculpture) in Plaster Rock.

Visit FDR’s summer escape
At first glance, Campobello Island, N.B. which sits at the cusp of Passamaquoddy Bay in the Bay of Fundy, seems like a typically idyllic Bay of Fundy island. So idyllic in fact, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, spent most of his summer vacations there. Inside Roosevelt Campobello International Park, funded by both the United States and Canada, you can visit the 34-room Roosevelt Cottage which has been restored to exactly the way it would have looked in 1920 (there’s lots of birds and whale-watching on the island too).

Get crazy for cocoa
Founded by confectioner brothers James and Gilbert in 1873 in St. Stephen, N.B., and famous across the country for its confections, Ganong is Canada’s oldest chocolate and candy company. Flash forward to 1999 when the company opened The Chocolate Museum in the original brick factory building on Milltown Blvd. with a Chocolatier shop right next store. The museum not only documents the sweet story of the Ganong company, but also the fascinating history of cocoa and the town itself. The Chocolate Museum will make your mouth water with all the candy talk and the chocolate dippers who still make candy there daily. Plus, visitors can enjoy a chocolate tasting experience. Bring a pal and split a Pal-o-mine.

(Photo: Paul Gierszewski/Creative Commons)

Explore an island full of wild horses
Sable Island isn’t really an island, more like a 42-kilometre long sand bar, but it is home to more than 500 wild horses off the coast of Nova Scotia. While urban legends hold that the horses swam ashore after a shipwreck in the 18th century, these days it’s commonly accepted that the horses are descendants of Acadian horses seized by the British. Regardless of how they got there, a visit to Sable is an experience like none other. Visitors can experience that majesty by booking a charter plane with a tour, book a cruise with Adventure Canada, or rent a boat yourself (the latter isn’t recommended considering there are some 350 shipwrecks recorded off the coast of Sable Island).

(Photo: Tourism PEI/Paul Baglole)

Learn about Stompin’ Tom
If you grew up in Canada chances are you know the lyrics to “The Hockey Song” by Stompin’ Tom Connors (after all, it’s the best game you can name). While the singer/songwriter was born in New Brunswick he spent part of his childhood attending school in Skinner’s Pond, P.E.I. and always dreamed of opening a cultural centre on the Island. His legacy was fulfilled in 2017 with the opening of the Stompin’ Tom Centre Homestead and Schoolhouse, where you can learn about the music legend and hear some great live music too. The modern facility houses a museum as well as a music venue where there is daily entertainment in the summertime. •

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