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Oct 21, 2019

7 min. read

A Prairie love letter to Nova Scotia.

During my first stay in Peggy’s Cove some 40 years ago, we scrambled down the granite below the iconic lighthouse, Prairie kids oblivious to the ocean—and the dangers of slippery black rocks and rogue Atlantic waves.

My mom brought us east to meet some of her long-lost relatives. Her people, like so many others, first set foot in Canada on Nova Scotian shores. It was my mom’s cousin who kindly coached me through my first encounter with a lobster—I had no idea where to start with the red beast on my plate. Over the years, I’ve been back to the province many times and, while I now know to stay away from ocean rocks, I still need help with the trickier bits of a lobster.

Somewhere along the way, I fell madly in love with the place. There’s the landscape—pretty coastlines, lush valleys and the vast ocean, ever changing like our endless Prairie sky. Don’t even get me started on the food—even those with shellfish allergies can feast on fresh produce from the Annapolis Valley. In the great outdoors, visitors can kayak, surf, golf and even try log rolling. But it’s really the people here who will charm you the most. On one flight out east, my seatmate offered me a ride to my Halifax hotel, insisting her sister would be delighted to drive me downtown. And she actually was!

Nova scotia is a great place to visit.

I’ve been to Peggy’s Cove several times since that first childhood trip—and in every season. In the summer, visitors flock from all over the world to wander the rocks, inadvertently and inescapably photo bombing each other. My latest trip sees me on these familiar shores on a brisk February afternoon. The scene is decidedly less crowded but still stunning, as skiffs of snow line cracks in the granite. I have the pretty little road to myself as I walk to the lighthouse, past shuttered tourist shops. At the Breakwater Inn, my host, Peter Richardson is getting ready for a lobster boil.

With a plastic bib safely secured around my neck, I dig into lobster, rolls and potato salad. Across the table, an Irish visitor picks up her fork to dip a claw in butter. Richardson quietly admonishes her: “You’re in Peggy’s Cove now, use your fingers.” The daughter of a lobster fisherman chimes in: “If you don’t have butter and sea water dripping off you, you’re not doing it right!”

After dinner, we join a few of the town’s remaining 30 residents for a drink in a fishing shed. “The men meet 365 days a year,” Richardson remarks. Once in a while, they invite visitors to join them among the nets and buoys to hear a yarn or two. One fisherman notes that he doesn’t actually eat much lobster: “Only once in the spring,” he says, as he tucks his bottle of rum on the counter and heads home for the night.

The quiet visit to Peggy’s Cove is our first stop on the annual South Shore Lobster Crawl. Every February, people up and down the south coast embrace winter with events such as a fat bike festival, art shows and the Lobster Roll Challenge at White Point Beach Resort near Liverpool. During the crawl, a dozen or so restaurants enter their finest crustacean plates—from downhome, with a side of potato chips, to upscale, accompanied by artisanal relish and microgreens. Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack of Barrington Passage won the inaugural 2018 title and bragging rights for the year.

You can’t miss the shack: Look for the giant lobster perched on its roof. Once inside, you’ll be greeted by a live 80-year-old crustacean. Lucy the Lob-star is the South Shore’s take on Groundhog Day (she didn’t see her shell shadow this year). Lucy hangs out with another local celeb: a rare blue lobster. Their greenish-brown tankmates, however, are destined for dinner plates.

“Some people think lobsters are red and the green ones must’ve gone off,” chuckles Captain Brad Crouse, as we head out on his boat from West Berlin. (Live lobsters can be green, brown, red or blue.). From March to May, he takes visitors on morning fishing sessions. I watch as he and son David haul traps—a sort of ballet in rubber boots. David hands me a tool that fastens blue bands over the crustaceans’ claws. Back on shore, we take our haul back to the White Point Beach Resort where chefs remove the bands, boil the lobsters and serve dinner overlooking the ocean.

A group of people paddling kayaks in a body of water.

A few months later, I find myself on yet another lobster boat, but this time on a sunny June afternoon. The lobster fishery on the South Shore runs November to May, but over the summer, Lyle Morash and his dad, Louie, get special permits to take visitors around the waters of Lower Prospect, near Halifax. We start the afternoon with a guided sea kayak tour, paddling past islands. After a couple of hours, we head to the harbour, and board Morash’s boat, the Who Cares. They haul in a few traps and tell more than a few fish tales.

The fishermen drop us back at East Coast Outfitters’ dock, where celebrated Halifax chef Dennis Johnston is prepping dinner. The menu: oysters, mussels, “peas picked this morning,” foraged morel mushrooms, charred carrots and lobster steeped in seawater. The Nova Scotians at the table offer us Westerners various tips to get past the shell. I still haven’t mastered the technique, so Johnston sits next to me for a hands-on tutorial. After the belt-busting meal, our hosts toss the mussel shells back into the ocean with the chant: “Back from whence they came.”

A few days later, I gleefully prep my own shellfish in a handmade yurt on a private island at Blue Rocks, near Lunenburg. It’s easy enough—pour some white wine on the mussels and cook them (on a propane stove) until they open. I devour them with bread and charcuterie, famished after an active day of kayaking. After lunch, I hop on a bike and cruise down quiet roads to tiny fishing communities, stopping every so often to skip rocks.

My summer day ends in a canoe for a quick paddle across calm waters to my yurt. I’ve paddled western lakes my whole life, but it’s a little trickier on the Atlantic. I zigzag my way to the island where I promptly submerge some beer cans in the water to chill.

In the morning, breakfast is delivered via paddleboard by Katherine Marsters, owner of Lunenburg’s The Point General. She neither zigs nor zags as she cruises from her tiny general store. The sumptuous breakfast basket includes coffee, croissants, boiled eggs with dill, a little jar of jam and a block of cheddar. Marsters actually made this yurt—complete with skylight—using birch and red maple from her parents’ land in the Annapolis Valley, making it a true family affair.

My family’s time in Nova Scotia ended generations ago, but this Prairie kid still feels at home here.

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