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My Culture Awareness Program Experience: Coastal Nova Scotia & Halifax

By Macey Shay, 2015-2016 Killam Fellow from University of Texas-Austin to l’Université de Montreal

I had the privilege of receiving a Killam Fellowship cultural awareness program grant to travel to Nova Scotia.  It was my first time visiting the province, and I was blown away by its natural beauty and the friendliness of its people.  The history and culture of the Maritimes is very rich, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience it firsthand.

Shay_Sea B&B

During my four-night trip  I was able to experience more of Nova Scotia than I ever thought I would!  This was thanks to the very kind owners of the bed and breakfast I stayed at in Ferguson’s Cove, just twenty minutes from downtown Halifax.  Eva and Tom’s place is called Star of the Sea, and it was in fact the very first of many historical properties that I saw in Nova Scotia.  Beautifully situated next to the famous fort York Redoubt and graced with spectacular ocean views, the bed and breakfast used to be a Catholic church, built in 1846, for the Irish soldiers who were sent to protect the city and its harbor during wartime.  This registered historical property that has been masterfully conserved has a bell tower that still has its original bell that came from a ship and even World War II bunkers to explore on the property!  I loved staying with Eva and Tom because, as locals, they had a lot of knowledge about the region to pass on to me. 

Less than two minutes away were the grounds of York Redoubt, a National Historic Sight of Canada. The park is beautiful to explore, and many cannons and bunkers still stand so visitors are able to experience what it was like for the soldiers stationed at the fort throughout the ages.  

Peggy's Cove lighthouse-1My first day in Halifax, Eva drove me along to coast to various coves and villages that represent the true Nova Scotia heritage like Sambro, a small, rural fishing village that houses the oldest operational lighthouse in the Americas.  I also visited the original lens from the lighthouse at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.  Sambro actually has some interesting links with United States history, such as playing a major role in the Chesapeake Affair during the American Revolution. Peggy’s Cove, a beautiful fishing village located in St. Margaret’s Bay, is known for its iconic lighthouse and interesting boulder formations I even had the pleasure of eating local-catch fish and chips in an eatery overlooking the lighthouse and village.  

On Friday, I explored York Redoubt in the morning and took a hike to experience Nova Scotia’s beautiful nature. When I visited the city of Halifax I walked along the Waterfront Boardwalk and through the streets downtown, seeing many well-preserved historical properties, as well as some beautiful new ones such as the Central Public Library.  I went to The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, where I discovered the work of Nova Scotia’s beloved folk artist Maud Lewis.  I particularly liked seeing her brightly painted house, which is being preserved in the art museum.  I also explored the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which houses the best Titanic exhibit in the world.  It was great to learn more about Maritime history and the important role the Maritimes have played, both economically and militarily, in Canadian history. 

One of the highlights of my time in downtown Halifax was exploring the Pier 21 Museum of Canadian Immigration.  I learned so much about the social history of Canada through this museum.  I have always thought that both the US and Canada are similar in that so many diverse cultures and peoples have combined to make the countries into what they are today.  It was interesting to compare Canadian immigration history and policies with what I know about American immigration.   There was also a temporary exhibit on the tragic Empress of Ireland shipwreck, which I had known nothing about previously.  While downtown, I was also able to visit various landmarks such as St. Paul’s Church, the oldest surviving building in Halifax, and Citadel Hill, also known as Fort George, which are both National Historic Sights of Canada.  I enjoyed learning how the design of Fort George made it virtually impossible for an enemy to breech its walls.

Nova Scotia coastOn Saturday, Eva kindly drove me to visit many other parts of the Nova Scotia coast. I got to see the town of Lunenburg, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.  Besides being a historically important town for Canadian history, Lunenburg also had an impact on the American Revolution and the War of 1812.  Today it is still so well preserved that you feel like you are stepping back in history when walking through its quaint streets.  The architecture is so interesting, and I had never seen a town quite like it!  I especially liked seeing the Bluenose schooner and the Lunenburg Academy.  One neat thing I learned was that the homes in Lunenburg all have a special architectural feature called the Widow Watch. Widow Watches are small window jut-outs facing the ocean from which fishermen’s wives would await their husbands’ return.  Seeing Lunenburg was indeed a highlight of the trip!  I also enjoyed exploring the lovely town of Mahone Bay, which dates back to Father Le Loutre’s War (1749).  In addition, Eva took me to lesser-known sights along the coast like Marvin’s Island – a small, forested island that captures the stunning natural beauty of the province.  I was continually enchanted by all the sights we saw along our drive.  I had never before seen thousands of evergreens and birch trees towering above the ocean, but in Nova Scotia this is a common scene.

Shay_In Dartmouth w host EvaOn Sunday, Eva and Tom took me across the bridge into Dartmouth, known as the ‘City of Lakes.’  Dartmouth has historically been very important for the industry in the region.  It was interesting to see some of Dartmouth’s downtown, such as the Jackson Quaker House (associated with the period of the Nantucket whalers).  After, we went to Lawrencetown Beach, which is known for being a famous surfing spot in Nova Scotia.  We also saw historic Africville and visited Melville Island which has served many purposes in history. First, it was a prisoner of war camp during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.  I got to go inside the prison, which still stands. Melville Island subsequently served as a receiving depot for slaves escaping the United States (many of whom moved to Africville) and then as a quarantine center for immigrants escaping the Potato Famine in Ireland.  Today, it is a yacht club!

I fell in love with Nova Scotia during my trip and was thrilled to be able to see a unique and beautiful part of Canada.  I am incredibly grateful to Fulbright Canada for this amazing opportunity, and I am so thankful to my hosts in Nova Scotia, Eva and Tom, who made the whole experience enriching and entirely unforgettable.  This trip was indeed a meaningful and important part of my academic exchange in Canada, and I would strongly encourage all Killam Fellows to apply to the cultural awareness program. I certainly will cherish these memories all my life.  Thank you again for the wonderful opportunity.

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