Heritage Weekend on the South Shore
What is Heritage Day and Why Should You Spend the Long Weekend on the South Shore?
By Darcy Rhyno
In 2015, Nova Scotians were given the gift of a much needed holiday in February. While it was the provincial government that created the statutory holiday to be observed on the third Monday of the month, it was Primary to Grade 12 students who came up with the theme and the name. The reason for the season, they submitted, should be to recognize the rich heritage of their province. Thanks to those students, the annual “Nova Scotia Heritage Day” has a purpose and even its own flag.
Every year, an honouree is celebrated for their contribution to the heritage of Nova Scotia. In 2015, the very first Heritage Day inductee was Viola Desmond, the brave African Nova Scotian woman who asserted her rights in a segregated movie theatre. In 2017, it was Mi’kmaq Heritage as a whole and in 2019 the famous folk painter Maud Lewis. For 2021, Edward Francis Arab is the inductee. He’s the grandson of early Lebanese immigrants to Halifax. Arab graduated from Dalhousie University with a law degree and later served in the armed forces. For 2022, officials selected the Grand Pré National Historic Site, marking its tenth anniversary as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Acadian heritage.
Heritage Day is often close to Valentine’s Day, making it the perfect time of year to show Nova Scotia’s heritage some love. The South Shore and the Lighthouse Route is one of the most heritage-rich regions of the province. Here’s just a sample of the dozens of possible South Shore stops on the Heritage Day long weekend.
From Lighthouse to Lighthouse
Peggy’s Cove and the Bluenose are two of Nova Scotia’s best-known heritage icons. The Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse is recognizable around the world as a symbol of Canada’s rugged coastline. It stands proud upon water-worn rock so smooth, it’s as if the lighthouse is riding a wave frozen in time.
2021 marks 100 years since the launch of the original Bluenose. An undefeated sailing champion, the Bluenose became an international legend. The replica Bluenose II is docked on the Lunenburg waterfront. She’ll be the main attraction on March 26 to kick off the centenary celebrations. From there, she’ll sail to 26 Maritime communities, mostly in Nova Scotia, and offer 100 cruises, 60 of them in Lunenburg. Each cruise is matched with a themed story about the legendary ship. Celebrations peak in a centennial festival from August 19 to 22.
Take time to explore Lunenburg. The old town rising on steep streets from the harbour is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The province’s oldest pub, The Fo’c’sle is nicknamed “Chester’s Living Room” for its central place in the town’s history and culture. Dating from 1764, you might be tucking into pub grub where a stable, inn or grocery store once operated.
Port Medway Lighthouse Park next to the wharf at the mouth of the Medway River and the Fort Point Lighthouse at the mouth of the Mersey River in Liverpool are great places to share a picnic and a thermos of hot drinks, enjoy the ocean scenery and contemplate the importance of these sentinels of marine safety down through the centuries.
One of the most pristine natural coastlines in Nova Scotia can be found at Kejimkujik National Park Seaside, an adjunct of the inland park. White sand beach, rocky coastline and quiet lagoons are the reward for the hike out to the coast. Bring the binoculars to spy on seals and spot other wildlife.
Similar to old town Lunenburg, the ten heritage waterfront blocks from Dock Street up to Water Street in Shelburne make for an enjoyable walking tour. A cluster of museums is gathered here – the Ross-Thomson House and Store, Shelburne County Museum, J.C. Williams Dory Shop and the Coyle House – as are many picturesque homes from the period of Shelburne’s founding in the late 18th century. At the time, it was one of the largest settlements on the continent, founded by those loyal to the British crown following the American Revolution.
Just outside Shelburne, stop at the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown to walk the short trail to the pit house, a replica of the rough shelter dug into the ground where the first Black Loyalist settlers lived when they arrived on these shores. Continue on to the seaside National Historic Site and burial grounds. The ultra-modern interpretive centre is closed on weekends in winter, but its tall glass windows etched with the names of hundreds of Black Loyalists make a stop worthwhile in February, which is also African Heritage Month.
Along Route 3 at Barrington, the museum complex makes for a fun, educational stop any time of the year. The wooden walking bridge over the rushing Barrington River at the Barrington Woolen Mill Museum and the regal lines of the Seal Island Light Museum is worth the stop just because they’re so photogenic and therefore great social media selfies. The Old Meeting House and the Western Counties Military Museum are on the same grounds.
Our tour of South Shore heritage gems started with Canada’s best-known lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove and ends with Nova Scotia’s tallest. On Cape Sable Island, make your way to the southern end of The Hawk beach. Look out over the narrow channel to a long, sandy barrier island. It’s dominated by the six-storey, 31 metre Cape Sable Lighthouse. This is the very southern tip of Nova Scotia and a fitting place to marvel at the wonder of this coastline, its colourful history and its contribution to the heritage of Nova Scotia.