Nova Scotia never stops astounding me. On a recent excursion up the province’s Eastern Shore I stopped at Halfway Cove to enjoy the view and then noticed a granite monument commemorating the 1398 visit to the area by Scottish Prince Henry Sinclair! At least American historian Frederik Pohl thinks the prince was here based on his research of a little known document by Italian geographers Antonio and Cosimo Zeno. Indeed, peering across the achingly blue waters of the Atlantic and contemplating the myriads of sailing vessels that had plied these waters over the centuries, I could easily believe a Scottish royal found his way here and perhaps even want to stay.
But this was just a stop on the way for us, a mere dalliance after passing through the meticulously reconstructed 19th century Sherbrooke Village, gazing at the Canso Islands which bustled with fisherman when Boston was untouched swamp and lunching on the freshest seafood anywhere in the world (most so-called “Maine lobster” comes from Nova Scotia).
Our destination was the town of Guysborough, first settled by Isaac de Razy in 1634. However, our intended accommodation, the DesBarres Manor Inn was much more modern, built a mere 177 years ago in 1837 by Nova Scotia Supreme Court Judges Justice W.F. DesBarres. DesBarres’ grandfather, Joseph F.W. DesBarres is a bit of a local legend. He was aide-de-camp for General Wolfe during the Seven Years War, married twice, fathered over a dozen (legitimate) children and was the creator of the Atlantic Neptune, a detailed set of atlases of the coast of North America which made him very wealthy and guided ships well into the 1800’s.
Local historian, Dr. Ross MacInnis, tells how DesBarres had mistresses up and down the coast and that they would hang red laundry if the husband was home and blue if away. Having earned huge tracts of land from the Crown in exchange for his maps, MacInnis also tells us that the last lawsuits over DesBarres’ property, launched by his numerous descendants, were only just resolved in the 1960’s!
Nowadays the DesBarres Manor Inn is a comfortable place from which to explore the area and my friend Carla and I chose to stay here for two nights as our base of operations.
The inn also operates the local Rare Bird Pub and micro-brewery of which we were given a tour by Cape Breton native, John. I highly recommend the RB Pumpkin Ale, made from local fresh pumpkins. Other offerings include the RB Pale Ale and Full Steam Stout. Unfortunately, when I wanted to try the RB Pumpkin Ale John said it was sold out, but at supper at the inn that evening our waitress told me John had scoured the brewery, managed to find a bottle for me and sent it up. Now that’s hospitality!
Both Carla and I enjoy hiking and Eastern Nova Scotia is a pedestrian’s paradise. We especially enjoyed travelling up along Cape St. George with its lighthouse, tuna fishing boats, a mysterious bubbling spring and stunning views of Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton. Signage is in Gaelic and English highlighting the highland Scottish heritage of the area. Gaelic is still spoken and a cheery Ciamar a tha sibh (“how are you”) to a local elder may earn you some lively discourse.
The nearby town of Antigonish hosts St. Francis Xavier University and the school hosts many cultural events, promotes of Celtic culture and adds a bit of the cosmopolitan to the area.
Not far away the Canso Causeway beckons to the island of Cape Breton, with the stunning views from the Cabot Trail and some of the most authentic Celtic music heard outside Scotland and Ireland. The reconstructed French fortress town of Louisbourg was once the third largest city in North America! But that’s a whole other story.
Photo of author by the monument – by Carla Digiorgio – All Rights Reserved
All other photos by George Burden – All Rights Reserved