One of the first times I traveled to Nova Scotia, we’d driven straight through for over 12 hours, it was after 11pm and I was, to say the least, bedraggled. A man younger than I but not by much, a stranger, also getting out of his car made it a point to make eye contact, and approach me as I stood guarding the car while the others in our team were inside the hotel. He noted our US license plate and asked me where I was from and what I was doing in the Province. He offered to help me with my luggage – but he was a guest and not a hotel employee. Weird, right? Being a wary New Englander I assumed he had nefarious intentions and held my precious computer and camera ever closer, safe in the knowledge that I had no valuables in my luggage.
It turned out, he was not looking to sell drugs, or pick up a loose but ragged looking “date” for the evening. He was just kind.
“What a novel approach to living” I thought.
The next couple of years included about 10 return visits during which I learned that this is not such a novel approach to living in Nova Scotia at all.
While most of my trips have been for business ( I work with Nova Star Cruises, the new cruise/ferry hybrid that leaves daily from Portland ME to Yarmouth Nova Scotia), my last trip was for pleasure and celebration. My husband, two step daughters (one visiting from South Korea and the other from Mississippi) and my soon to be 96 year old father-in-law as a group were shown time and again a culture of kindness throughout the Province. These true stories of kind acts all occured within a 24-hour period during our Nova Scotia vacation.
We rented a cottage in Woods Harbour directly across the street from the ocean with water and sunset views stunning enough to make any picture look like it has been photoshopped.
My husband researched and chose the place (without assistance from me) to be near where some of his genealogical studies say his dad has roots. The plans to get in the house were kind of loosey goosey for me. We were to just arrive and walk into the unlocked house and make ourselves comfortable. Someone (Jon had three names, they were either caretakers, neighbors or rental agents; I never quite understood which though I know they weren’t owners) would come by at some point to take care of details like money.
Cindy eventually came by as we shared a happy hour glass of Nova Scotia wine accompanied by NS cheese and crackers we purchased along the way. Of course we asked her to join us and she collected the names and the flavors to make recommendations for future guests. She told us not to buy anything else for the house, just call her and she’d deliver, and told us not to bother taking out the trash or recycling. She also told us not to strip the beds when we left, that was her job; our job was to relax and enjoy. Cindy is super knowledgeable about the area and gave us recommendations and honest feedback and asked for ours in return. She told us about restaurants and attractions including the site of the only Canadian government recognized UFO sighting at nearby Shag Harbour.
Next night at happy hour she came back and dropped off a “little” something for us to try. From her personal bounty she brought us homemade – everything! We ravaged the homemade salsa, two types of homemade jelly, and two bottles of homemade wine; she apologized for being out of canned beets, her specialty. I could have passed off her generosity as a lone, kind, Nova Scotian, but I was beginning to see a kindness precedent in the Province.
On this day our “must see” list included Le Village Historique Acadien de la Nouvelle-Ecosse (The Historic Acadian Village of Nova Scotia) Real homes and buildings manned by costumed interpreters, most descendents of the people they were portraying; it seemed 2/3 of everyone we met on this visit were from the original d’Entrement family.
A little about the Village from its website: “Located on a beautiful 17-acre site overlooking Pubnico Harbour, Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse (Historical Acadian Village of Nova Scotia) invites you to discover a village depicting Acadian life, in the early 1900’s….
The community of Pubnico is recognized as the oldest region still Acadian. It is the only Acadian community where the residents of today are the descendants of the founders.
…(the Village teaches) “about the Acadians of Nova Scotia and how this unique and colorful culture survived the Deportation of 1755 and continues to thrive to this day.”
We arrived late but with closing time looming we were told again and again not to feel rushed, to visit the manned exhibits first and then enjoy the rest of the Village at our own pace, to explore the grounds even after the staff left and just let ourselves out. Interpreters patiently allowed us to try out our long forgotten high school French, to ask a dozen questions of the blacksmith, the boat builder, the fisherman crafting a net of 210,000 hand tied knots. My father-in-law was awarded a nail he watched being forged, and we all got a homemade molasses cookie still warm from an old fashioned oven.
We visited the onsite lighthouse, and then sought out the only individual advertised as surly that we encountered throughout our NS travels. A pig.
We headed to the gate discussing that we’d love to come back again some day when shows are taking place at the Village. Before we reached our car, some of the interpreters, their long work day finally over, caught up to us in the parking lot and offered to pose for a group photo.
And then Olen d’Entremont relative of Baron Philippe Mius d’Entremont, founder of Pubnico (est. 1653) who portrayed the fisherman asked if we’d seen the oldest house in the area or the region’s financial district, its “Wall Street” so to speak. We answered “no” to both and he offered to show us. We followed Olen’s pick up to Dennis Point Wharf. Their financial stability is based on the fishing industry, and Dennis Point Wharf is arguably the busiest fishing port in Canada.
Olen pointed out his lobster boat, Total Chaos, that is scheduled for remodeling during the lobster hiatus (in the US lobstering is a spring and summer job, in Canada it’s a winter catch), when Olen works at the Village. We wanted to treat our new friend a beer but he had to be off, he’d postponed visiting a friend in the hospital because he thought it was important to show us a little more of his world. It was time to join his wife and get to the hospital. As he left he said; “If you’ve got any questions, just talk to anybody you see, they’ll all be happy to talk or to show you around.”
I’d met Darren Hudson, 6x World Champion Lumberjack, twice at successive Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS) annual events. When we were planning our last full vacation day in Nova Scotia, I remembered he was opening a “Lumberjack Axeperience” interactive park. We googled his name and were disappointed to learned that the park wasn’t scheduled to open until July 1. We were a week too early. As a last ditch effort, I called the telephone number and Darren himself picked up the phone. He remembered who I was and when I asked if we could just come by and see the place, though we knew he wasn’t operational yet, he said he happened to be training a log roller that day and that we should come on by and at least we could watch that. That was good enough for me and we rushed over promising not to impose too greatly on his day but anxious to witness this rustic, historic and yet contemporary experience in person.
Darren had something else in mind. We arrived and he started right off encouraging us to try axe throwing. I thought this would be my lumberjack forte but in my mind I was thinking of a little hatchet. These were very long, double edged things that you throw over your head, with the nerve wrecking possibility of creating a new part in your scalp. But true to his promise that he could teach anyone lumberjack skills, everyone in our group from Jon’s 20 year old daughter to my 96 year old father-in-law got several patient tries and instruction to hold the axe like a golf club. We all hit the target. Darren then showed us some trick throws – under handed and double axe that he performed with apparently no more thought than tossing a ball against a wall. Except these were sharp and always seemed to hit the bulls eye.
Next he and his trainee, Paul, headed to the falls in half barrels paddling in circles. Darren headed toward the falls and at the last second abandoned ship leaping onto a rock only to hop back into the bobbing tub from his perch. Very Dudley Do-Right! Balance appears to be a pretty big deal for a lumberjack. He made it back to shore safely.
Then came the part of the show that fascinated us all – log rolling. This is a fabulous ballet on a 16″ diameter log with the inevitable end of an insulting splash in a chilling river (or pool if a newbie is trying it out). Darren bounced a log single-footed over rocks and competed with his trainee who though talented was no match especially because he was in sneakers and not spiked shoes. Finally as I’d watched him for a long time demonstrating different combinations of quick steps and stops, I said “Well, you know why everyone comes to see this, they want to see you fall in.” It wasn’t long after that statement that Darren started to stumble, he called out his shock and “almost” as if perfectly choreographed and facing straight into the camera, he experienced a most dramatic fall into the cold river. One of us had camera trouble and so it wasn’t long after that dramatic fall, that wipe-out number two occured, (weird since he’d stayed on top the log for about a half hour without incident previously). He wobbled and again after much discussion about possibly losing his grip, and stating loudly “oh no I might fall”, “I hope no one has their camera working this time” he fell again, even more dramatically, even straighter gaze into the camera.
It was exciting, funny and fun. At this point, I felt we’d taken too much of his time when he needed to finish up his park, and tried to leave. His partner Suzy Atwood advised in hushed tones, “Oh no, not yet, he has another surprise for you.”
And then” varoom” – a chain saw and a good-sized stump appeared on the stage platform…and in a matter of minutes of flying saw dust and noise at first we saw a folk art bunny rabbit in a naive style and then a little Adirondack style chair carved from a single stump. A lovely take home gift and a reminder of the amazing hospitality and entertainment that awaits in Nova Scotia.
Darren is the ultimate, high energy showman (he’s appeared on Letterman, too), but he is also the real deal, he makes a living doing tree work, (I’d love to see Darren hand-fell the next Nova Scotia Christmas tree to be brought to Boston.) And he has the pedigree – his uncle, Phil Scott, is 9X log rolling champ featured in the Sports Hall of Fame in Halifax, NS.
Our Axeperience with the ultimate showman was the ultimate in entertainment; kind of like “City Slickers” but in the woods; we laughed so hard, we learned so much and were engaged beyond expectation at the “not yet open” park.
My family had a fabulous time in Nova Scotia, thanks in no small part to the thoughfulness of our kind hosts, who regularly went out of their way to make our stay exceptional. Before boarding Nova Star to return to Portland, Maine, we learned Darren, Suzy and kids, Ocean and Sailor, coincidentally were checking out “Nova Star” and riding with us to Portland. We had a celebrity on board, and though planned as a little family escape, he graciously chatted with all the interested passengers, with patience, a smile and a laugh.
My hope for New England is that we all catch the Nova Scotia Kindness Bug and bring it back to spread throughout our region, and then you can start calling us Nova England.
Our rental: http://www.cottagesincanada.com/cockawit
The Historic Acadian Village of Nova Scotia https://levillage.novascotia.ca/what-see-do
Darren Hudson Lumberjack Axeperience http://wildaxe.com/wordpress1/
Nova Star Cruises http://novastarcruises.com/
(c)2014 Images and text by Alison Colby-Campbell