A Kaleidoscope of Colours: The Atlantic Balloon Fiesta

The Atlantic Balloon Fiesta takes place is Sussex, New Brunswick, every year around this time.  With dozens of colourful hot air balloons launching twice daily, it’s truly a sight to behold.  I had never been so I thought I’d get up early this morning and check it out. Early is a bit of an understatement, as the morning balloon launch begins at 6:30 am, meaning I had to get up at 5 am to make it there from Saint John on time!

It was so worth getting up early on a Saturday though, and those who gathered to watch got lucky as conditions were nearly perfect.  Often the balloons aren’t able to launch due to strong winds or cloud cover.  Calm, early mornings are often your best bet to see them in the air.

It’s impossible not to smile when you see those beautiful big balloons going up into the air. Silhouetted against the blue sky, in a multitude of patterns and colours, it’s pure magic.  I can’t even imagine how excited the children in attendance must have been.  I know I felt like a kid.

The fiesta runs through Sunday but with the rain scheduled to come in, this evening at 5:30 pm might be your last chance to see them.  Hot air balloon rides are available, at a price of $180/person but I’m guessing most of the seats have already been sold.  There’s also a craft fair, live music, a carnival and several other events happening on site.

Here are a few pics from my fantastic morning at the fiesta:

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Beautiful morning for a hot air balloon launch!
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Filling up
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Getting there…
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First launch
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Second launch
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Perspectives
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They’re coming fast and furious now!
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Look up
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So magical!
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Love the rocket
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Rocket launch successful!
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Have a great trip!
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The sky’s the limit
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Bye, Tweety Bird!
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Nothing Gold Can Stay: Exploring The Places of Our Youth

While visiting my hometown this past week to help my parents with the wild blueberry harvest, I took my camera out to explore some of the areas of my youth, mainly the fields around the old homestead that me and my friend Meranda used to frequent.

You see, we were kind of horse crazy in our early teen years, and Old Man Russell had a little farm just down the road.  He had cows and work horses and lots of cats.  He liked to sell and trade the horses often, so there was always a new resident to welcome.  We often walked down to feed the horses a carrot, clean out the barn for Russell and sometimes even go for a ride around the fields.  It was a pretty perfect setup for a couple of horse crazy young girls.

Russell died some years ago and the old homestead stands empty now, the house long ago torn down and the old barn now collapsed.  The vegetation has grown up so that it practically envelopes the abandoned buildings.  Where trails and pathways across brooks used to be, now only stands a wall of shrubs and trees.

I was struck by how different everything looked to the picture I had frozen in my memory. It’s funny how you expect things to stay exactly the way you remember them, frozen in time.  It’s just not the truth.  It reminds me of that Robert Frost poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Despite the fact that nothing gold can stay, there is still plenty of beauty here.  You just have look for it.

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Tourist At Home: Nova Scotia Road Trip ’16

The Smith’s are back from a whirlwind 6-day road trip of the western half of Nova Scotia!

What I love about vacationing at home is that it usually costs significantly less due to the decreased travel costs and you get to discover some really cool places in your own backyard that you might not have known were even there.  In my case, I wanted to hit all the spots I’ve heard about and wanted to visit for years, but had just not gotten around to.

The first leg of our journey took us across the Bay of Fundy from Saint John, NB to Digby, NS.  It was fun as neither me or my husband had ever traveled to or from Saint John by boat, and this offered a cool perspective of the city and the harbour.

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Later, Saint John!
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Views of Partridge Island on the sail out of the harbour
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Leaving New Brunswick behind

The Fundy Rose is very well appointed and fast!  We arrived in Digby is just under 2 hours.

Observation deck
Nice lounge and cafe on the Fundy Rose
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Checking out the views on the approach to Digby
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We’re in Nova Scotia!

Our first adventure in Nova Scotia was an overnight backpacking trip to Cape Split, a provincial park reserve that juts into the Bay of Fundy and features dramatic cliffs and incredible scenery.  The drive was to the park was lovely and we stopped to take some photos at a lookout along the way.

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The Annapolis Valley

When we arrived at the parking lot of Cape Split, our spirits fell a little to see it packed with cars – there were so many people!  Undeterred, we set off with our backpacks, sure that many hikers would not be staying overnight and that we would soon have the place to ourselves. The hike is about 6km long and is easy to moderate with gentle uphill slopes.  The trail is well marked; it would be very difficult to get lost along the way.   It was extremely windy at the cliff edge when we arrived!  I was afraid to get too close in case I lost my balance.  It’s a long way down!

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Checking out the views
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The famous Cape Split rocks
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The gulls love this place!

After setting up camp, we hiked down to a rocky beach where we sat on the rocks and took in the beauty of the Bay of Fundy.  And our camping buddies got engaged!  Congrats, Mahshid and Jason!

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The happy couple
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A rock that rivals Cape Split itself!

After spending a lovely evening on the cape, we parted ways with our friends who were heading back to Saint John and set out for Yarmouth.  We were pretty tired after the backpacking trip and it was raining (a theme we would encounter for the rest of our trip) so we didn’t make many stops along the way.  Once reaching Yarmouth, we had much-needed showers, strolled through the lovely Frost Park, had dinner and went back to the hotel to crash early.

Frost Park in downtown Yarmouth
Frost Park in downtown Yarmouth

The next morning after a quick breakfast in Yarmouth, we headed out to discover the South Shore.  It’s a long but beautiful drive along this rugged coastline.  We made a stop in Cape Sable Island to see The Hawk Beach, the most southerly point of Nova Scotia.  The beach here is a stunning grey/white sand and is home to the tallest lighthouse in Nova Scotia, at 101 feet.  The lighthouse is some distance from the beach so we couldn’t get up close but the stop was well worth it with the beautiful views it offers of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Cape Sable Island
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The tallest lighthouse in Nova Scotia in the distance

By early afternoon we arrived at our next destination, Lunenburg, a picturesque port town and home to the Bluenose II.  We quickly discovered that Lunenburg is a major tourist destination; the place was swarming with visitors, just like us, gawking at the brilliantly coloured buildings and snapping photos along the way.  We were lucky that the sun decided to make a rare appearance, just as we were exploring the downtown area.

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Colourful shops in downtown Lunenburg
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Bluenose II
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Pretty waterfront
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More colourful buildings

We quickly discovered Ironworks Distillery, a local company that makes spirits inside an former blacksmith’s shop.  We sampled many of their delicious products and learned a little about the process, leaving with several bottles to take home.  I would definitely recommend a stop here if you are in town.

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The old blacksmith’s shop, now Ironworks Distillery
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Beautiful wood fired still

We stayed the night at the Rum Runner Inn, a lovely spot right in downtown Lunenburg, which serves a gluten free fish and chips, so I was in heaven!

The next morning was gloomy and after a quick and delicious breakfast at The Savvy Sailor, we headed out for the small community of Blue Rocks, just a few moments from Lunenburg.

This might be my favourite place we saw along the way.  It had true Maritime charm, even with the light drizzle and moody skies.  This community is famous for the slate rocks that give it its ‘blue’ name.

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The gloomy morning didn’t diminish the beauty of Blue Rocks, NS
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Fishing huts at The Point
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The famous blue rocks

After Blue Rocks, we headed for Halifax, where we visited with friends and did some shopping.  We had a fantastic meal at The Bicycle Thief and did as much sight seeing on the waterfront as the rain would allow (not much, as it turned out).

Red bicycles at The Bicycle Thief
Love this art installation on the Halifax wayerfront
Georges Island views


The next morning we set out for my home county of Cumberland, stopping in Truro to check out Victoria Park.  I had wanted to visit this park for some time, after seeing photos of the waterfalls and the daunting Jacob’s Ladder and it did not disappoint.  I wish we’d had more time to explore more trails but we had to get on the road and the weather was pretty chilly (we’ll have to come back!).

That’s a lot of steps!
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Joe Howe Falls
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Witches Cauldron
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Cool tree roots

The discoveries continued with my parents when we took a drive to the historic mining town of Londonderry.  Once a bustling community of almost 5000 people, it’s now a collection of just a few homes.  The town square is still well maintained though, where a few artifacts of the mine are preserved for visitors to see.  It’s a reminder of what once was, and what is not likely to be again.

Londonderry Memorial Square
Fly Wheel used from 1903-1910
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Boiler used from 1849-1908, and an abandoned bike
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Country bridge

And that pretty much wrapped up our tour of the western half of Nova Scotia.  We look forward to exploring the eastern half and Cape Breton later this year.

I would encourage everyone to be tourists at home, and to explore spaces in your own backyards.  You never know what you might find.

Share Your Maritime Love: Nicole Boutilier and Colby Veinotte

Driven by a passion for adventure, photography, food and culture, Nicole Boutilier and Colby Veinotte started Explore the East as a way to share their adventures and highlight lesser known areas of the Maritimes.  They love to collaborate with other East Coast adventurers and they seek to prove that the Maritimes has just as stunning landscapes as any other part of the country.  They were happy to participate in our Share Your Maritime Love project and I’m so happy to have them here.  Here’s what they had to say:

Do you live in the Maritimes?  Where do you call home?

NicoleI was born and raised in a small rural community in Cape Breton called Gardiner Mines. I moved to Dartmouth to study photography at the NSCC Waterfront campus for 2 years but made my way back to the Cape shortly after graduating and I’ve been here since.

ColbyMahone Bay will always be my home, though I currently live in Halifax.

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Photo courtesy of Explore the East

What do you love most about life in the Maritimes?

Nicole – I love just about every aspect of life in the Maritimes. Of course the obvious… the incredibly breathtaking landscape and unspoiled natural beauty.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the Maritimes you are only minutes away from the ocean, mountains or all the awesome things in between.  As a photographer I couldn’t possibly dream up a more beautiful place to call home.  I also love the people, I dare say you will not find kinder, caring or more generous people then Maritimers.  It’s a place where your neighbour will always let you borrow a cup of sugar or lend a helping hand. Our laid-back and relaxed atmosphere combined with our great sense of community is incomparable to any place I’ve ever been.  And lastly I love all the fascinating history that we hold in every Maritime province, I never get tired of learning about our heritage and culture.

ColbyIt’s hard to narrow it down to just one answer.  First off I’d have to say the cuisine. Growing up with farmers and fisherman in the family makes it so easy to appreciate the food that ends up on our tables.  Second, the scenery of the Maritimes.  From the highlands of Cape Breton to the world’s highest tides of Fundy.  It’s only a few hours of driving to see some of the most diverse landscapes.  Most of all I love the people and the culture.  I’ve never met anyone as friendly as someone from the Maritimes.  Every person is as friendly as the next.

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Photo courtesy of Explore the East

What do you find most challenging about living/doing business here?

NicoleBeing from Cape Breton, there are definitely some obstacles that make growing a successful business and life here more difficult.  It’s unfortunate but the population is steadily on the decline and we have the obvious economic struggles.  Last year, Cape Breton had the biggest loss in population over any other region in the country.  I’ve seen half of my family move to other parts of Canada to find employment, and it always breaks my heart to see people leave this beautiful place.
Personally I feel like many Maritimers are stuck in their ways, not too keen on taking risks or change.  I believe the open-minded creative people are what’s keeping this island and other parts of the Maritimes going strong.  We need more people who are willing to do whatever it takes to make living here long-term possible.  I love seeing people going out on a limb and starting a new business.  During a time when the economy is struggling it’s so rad to see people taking a risk and following their dreams.  It would be great to see more people supporting our local businesses.  Even if it means stopping by a little cafe for your morning coffee over Tim Hortons every now and then.
Two of my biggest passions are photography, exploring and promoting the Maritimes. That is why Colby and I started Explore the East, we want to share how incredible this place is. We want to showcase not only the cool scenic places but also the small businesses that make this part of the country so special.  If you are dedicated and willing to put in the extra work anything is possible.  As Maritimers we don’t give up easily.

ColbyOne of the toughest things I find is the old-fashioned mind set people have.  People being set on their ways of thinking and not accepting change.
I also find that far too many people seem to give up and make the move out west for work. There is much that one can accomplish here with the will to work for it.  Especially with all the modern day resources available such as a myriad of social media platforms. Communicating and networking has never been so easy as it is today.

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Photo courtesy of Explore the East

What is your favourite places(s) in the Maritimes?  Why?

NicoleThis one is easy for me, Cape Breton.  One of my favourite places in particular is the Cheticamp area.  It’s where my grandfather is from, and where lots of great childhood memories were made.  It has always been our go-to spot for summer vacations.
I believe growing up in Cape Breton shaped me into the person I am today.  I grew up always being outdoors, and I’m sure that played a massive roll in my love and appreciation for the island.  It might sound a bit cliche but Cape Breton is in my blood and it will always hold a very special place in my heart.  We are surrounded by the ocean, mountains, and wildlife that are simply stunning.  We have endless hiking trails, beaches and little villages to explore.  We are home to some of the most artistically talented people in the world, so there is no shortage of inspiration.
The people are hard working, kind-hearted, strong and generous.  I love that when you walk down the street, everybody greets you even if you are an unfamiliar face.  I recently spent a weekend in the Highlands of Cape Breton exploring the Cabot Trail.  As I was driving through the little communities I noticed that every person walking or every vehicle I drove by, would wave and greet me.  I had dinner with some local folks and they couldn’t have been nicer.  I felt like I was eating dinner with people I had known my entire life, even though we had just met.  It’s the small gestures of kindness and big hearts that make Cape Breton, along with the rest of the Maritimes, so special.

ColbyI would have to say my hometown and surrounding area.  I’ve had so many great memories in Lunenburg and Mahone Bay and continue to make more with every visit.

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Photo courtesy of Explore the East

What do you think we can do to build a better Maritimes?

Nicole I’ll say it again the Maritimes are one of the most beautiful parts of Canada.  From the Bay of Fundy’s rising tides, to the sandy beaches of Prince Edward Island, to the mountains surrounding Margaree Valley.  While it’s scenic beauty may be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of the Maritimes (with good reason!), it’s the people who call it home that are really at the heart of it’s beauty.  Many musicians, photophraphers, writers, sculptors, painters and other artists have created works of art that mirror the beauty of the land.  It is through their creations that we are able to experience the Maritimes for what they truly are.  It is for this reason that it hurts so much to see the provincial governments cutting funding to the arts.  It is unreasonable to remove the funding for an arts program and then to expect the artists to remain in the Maritimes.  Tax credits, grants, and scholarships are relied upon by many in the arts community.  We need incentives, not only to keep our artists here, at home, but also to attract foreign artists to the Maritimes.  The Maritimes has no shortage of artists, but unless we’re able to give them a reason to stay, the art community has a serious risk of facing an upcoming departure of talent.  And I’m positive this is also relatable to many other industries and fields of work beyond just the arts.  If the government isn’t going to support us, we have to take it upon ourselves to make a change.  Support each other, and do whatever we can to keep Maritimers here.  Shop local, support our artists, small businesses and keep promoting that we are just as great as Western Canada or anywhere else in the world.

ColbyWe need to realize that the Maritimes are just as important as Canada’s other more-celebrated provinces.  We’re still growing in some areas but we are well on our way. We need to learn from our Canadian counterparts that social networking and similar platforms are just as important as other tools in the workplace.  Collaborating and working locally can only do good for the economy. We also need to remember the beauty of our own provinces.  We have few landscapes that are publicized, but Peggy’s Cove is just the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much more to discover and share.

Thanks so much for participating in our Share Your Maritime Love project, guys!

If you would like follow along with Nicole and Colby as they Explore the East, you can visit their Instagram account here.

A Winter’s Trip to Ministers Island, NB

I don’t know of many islands in the world that you get to by driving over the ocean floor at low tide, but Ministers Island is one of them.  Located in the Bay of Fundy, just off the coast of uber-charming St. Andrews by-the-Sea, a trip to Ministers Island is like stepping back in time.  The island is home to the property of Sir William Van Horne, famous for his role in building the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Van Horne bought part of the island (named Ministers Island because one of the first settlers was Reverand Samuel Andrews) in 1890.  On the property he built a magnificent 50-room summer home named Covenhoven and several other outbuildings, including a windmill, ice house and creamery and a stunning bathhouse built against the cliff-side that offers panoramic views of the Bay of Fundy.

I was really enchanted by our short visit a few weeks ago.  Even though the buildings are closed up for the winter months, you still get a real sense of history as you stroll through the grounds and their beautifully built structures.  You could spend hours here exploring the island and it’s many trails.  Just make sure you make it back over the bar before the tide comes up!

The barn recently sustained significant damage to its silos and requires extensive repairs. For information about how you can help with the restoration efforts, follow their Facebook page Ministers Island or visit their website here.

Here are some pictures I took from our trip to the island.  I would highly recommend planning a trip of your own.  It would be really lovely in the summer!

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Waiting for the tide to reveal our road to Ministers Island.  You can see the barn poking through the trees on the far right.
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Heading across the bar to the island
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The first structure you come to on the island is the house of Reverend Samuel Andrews, built in 1790 and the reason for the island’s name.
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The barn and creamery.  The damage to the silos is clearly visible.
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One of the trails on the island, that leads through a hedge of eastern white cedar and feels like walking through a Robert Frost poem.
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The windmill and back of the main house, Covenhoven.
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The pretty front door of Covenhoven.  The house was intended to serve as a summer cottage when construction began in 1891 but underwent many renovations and now stands at 50 rooms.
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Front view of Covenhoven.
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Beauty view from the front porch of the main house.
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Stunning bathhouse, completed in 1912, that inspired many of Van Horne’s paintings.
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Garage built in 1917 for Van Horne’s Model T Ford and other vehicles.  Upstairs is the chauffeur’s apartment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Good News: The Wentworth Learning Centre 

This is the start of a new series at Maritime Love, called A Little Good News.  In the series, I’ll tell stories about positive things happening around the region.  Because, frankly, we could all use a little more good news.  My first A Little Good News story is on a subject very close to my heart: rural schools.

In June of 2015, the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board voted to uphold the decision to close Wentworth Consolidated Elementary, along with Maitland District Elementary and River John Consolidated, after rejecting their hub school proposals.  The communities were obviously devastated by the closures.  They fought, and continue to fight to keep their schools a part of their communities.

I grew up in the next village over from Wentworth and while I did not attend this school, I’ve visited many times and I know the toll that a school closure has both on the students and the community.  It can be very hard on kids to adjust to a new, often much larger school many kilometers away; their grades often suffer because of it.  On the community the effect can be even more drastic.  When a school closes, a community’s centre of gravity is lost, leaving it’s members unsteady and unsure of where the next step lies. Many families will move, simply to be closer to school and after school activities.  The remaining community struggles to maintain solidarity, without the school as a rallying point.

The people of Wentworth refused to give up and because of the hard work of some very committed members of the community, they have just announced that in September of 2017, they will be reopening the school as a “P-3, independent, not-for-profit, community governed and community maintained facility“.  And starting May 1, 2016, they will also offer “commercial space available for rent to encourage small business ventures and give owners affordable space to grow“.

To get the full scoop on the project I called on an old friend, Nathan Patriquin, who is the Vice President of the Wentworth Learning Centre Cooperative Ltd, the group that is overseeing the project and will be responsible for the Centre’s operation.  The Centre will not be affiliated with any local school board, instead relying on an ongoing fundraising campaign to raise the funds necessary for it’s operation.  He tells me that they are also accepting proposals from certified daycare providers and are marketing the almost 1500 sq ft of remaining available space as a “business incubator to encourage new entrepreneurs to pursue their ideas“.  When asked how the community has received the project, he tells me that while cautiously optimistic at first, the community is encouraged by the progress that has been made as the project gains momentum.

I congratulate the people of Wentworth on their commitment to providing local education for their children and for fighting so hard for their community.  It is exactly this kind of innovative thinking that will keep our rural Maritime communities alive and help them prosper into the future.

If you would like to learn more about the learning centre or are interested in renting space, please visit their Facebook page Wentworth Learning Centre.

Wentworth School

 

 

Maritime Growing Season: The Wild Blueberry Harvest

My family owns a few wild blueberry fields in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia.  Every year around this time, the blueberry harvest begins and it’s like a siren call luring me home.  I take a week off work each year to make the trip from Saint John to help my parents out with the harvest.

Most blueberries are harvested now using large tractors with special attachments but some fields aren’t conducive to this method or have sections that the tractors can’t get to. So me, my parents, my siblings, the older grand-kids and anyone else who wants to earn a few extra bucks and give themselves a backache, head to the fields to handpick a path for the tractors and anywhere else that my father, aka the Blueberry Warden, deems fit.

At one time, blueberry fields would be completely handpicked.  Bus loads of workers would wearily make their way to the fields each morning, straining away all day in the hot sun, doing this incredibly physical work everyday for 3 or 4 weeks.  You got paid by the bucket; depending on how good the berries were you would probably get $1.25 or $1.50 a bucket in my childhood.  Not many people want to work so hard for so little reward these days and the harvesters do the work much faster so the days of handpicking are pretty much over, at least in Cumberland County.

And it is backbreaking work, let me assure you.  For those of you that have never had the distinct “pleasure” of handpicking wild blueberries, let me paint you a picture: you spend your entire day bent over in the late August heat, with blueberry vines scratching at your legs while you heave away at those loathsome blue bastards using your metal-teethed torture device (that you are likely to stab yourself with at least once by the end of the week).  You will come to hate those devil-spawn berries, probably by the end of the first day.  It will hurt to bend over; it will hurt to stand up.  You will see blueberries when you close your eyes at night.  They will stain all your clothes and your hands.  And don’t even get me started on blueberry spiders – I live in fear of those monsters.

But the thing is, despite all the hard work, I have a lot of fond memories of picking blueberries. Memories of childhood summers spent running around Papa’s blueberry fields and well deserved afternoon treats of ice-cold Popsicles.  Stuffing your face with blueberries, straight off the vine and warmed by the sun, until Papa yells at you to “stop eating all my profits!”.

These days, the harvest is one of the few times a year my whole family gets together.  It’s a reunion and it’s a time to catch up.  My maternal grandmother picked blueberries well into her 60’s and when she finally had to stop, she found she really missed the social aspect of it.  You’ve got lots of time to chat in the blueberry field.  It’s also a time to celebrate the end of summer and reset ourselves for the start of a new season.  To this day, every blueberry harvest season makes me feel like I’m going back to school.  And there are benefits to your family owning blueberry fields: all the blueberries you can eat.  I love a bowl of them with milk and a little bit of sugar.

There will come a time, perhaps soon, when we will no longer get together for the blueberry harvest.  We’re all getting older, it’s harder on our bodies.  We won’t converge on this lonely hilltop for a week in late August to share in the experience of hard work and a job well done.  We won’t tease my father for being a slave driver and each other about who picked more.  And as strange as it might be to some, I will probably miss it. Because nothing bonds a family quite like a common goal.  And this year was particularly sweet, as we had another reason to celebrate – my father’s 60th birthday. The celebration brought family and friends together for an incredible feast and was a wonderful way to end our visit and another successful blueberry harvest season.

Here are a few photos from blueberry harvest 2015:

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