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Hello From Nova Scotia - Part 18 - The Lighthouse Trail From Lunenburg To Halifax Via Mahone Bay And Peggys Cove - Travel

Hello From Nova Scotia - Part 18 - The Lighthouse Trail From Lunenburg To Halifax Via Mahone Bay And Peggy's Cove   by Susanne Pacher

in Travel    (submitted 2007-01-25)

My brief introduction to Lunenburg was just enough to whet my appetite and to give me some ideas of what to see next time I have a chance to visit this part of Nova Scotia. After saying goodbye to the innkeepers at the Lunenburg Inn I went back on the road to connect with the Lighthouse Trail. Beautiful blue skies were greeting me, and the early autumn colours were adorning the small country roads that snake in and out of the indented shoreline of Nova Scotia's South Shore.

My first stopover happened in Mahone Bay, a very picturesque village located right on the Lighthouse Route. The entire area boasts 365 islands, literally one island for every day of the year. Mahone Bay is a popular weekend getaway destination, and watersport enthusiasts love its protected bay-side location. I parked my car and took a little stroll through town which was decked out in pre-Halloween decorations. A wide variety of scare crows were adorning the village, and one house was being rescued by a team of firefighters made up entirely of stuffed straw puppets. Numerous eclectic shops, restaurants and art stores line the main street of Mahone Bay, a town dating back more than 250 years.

It all started in 1754 when the town was first settled by the "foreign protestant" pioneers, mostly German Lutheran immigrants, who had been brought over by the British Crown in the mid to late 1700s. Even the local Bayview Cemetery attests to this heritage: many of the gravestones feature German inscriptions.

The name "Mahone" itself stems from a French term for a low-lying vessel that was mainly used by pirates. These were the big days of privateering on the East coast, the days of government-authorized pirate raids. Today, a kinder, gentler life is lived in Mahone Bay, and this quaint little town attracts many artists, travelers and nature lovers. Many people even consider relocating permanently to Mahone Bay: Harrowsmith Magazine has rated Mahone Bay as one of the top ten best small towns in Canada to live in. It is certainly one of the most scenic.

The biggest landmarks in the town are found in the harbour area: three churches, located side by side, come together to create one of the most popular photo opportunities in Canada. Trinity United Church, built in 1861, St. John's Lutheran Church, in its present version dating back to 1903, and the St. James Anglican Church, constructed in 1887, form the famous trio of Canada's most photographed churches. Throughout the summer season the Three Churches are the location of a concert series, and Mahone Bay itself hosts a variety of festivals throughout the seasons.

After my quick ice-cream stop I continued my drive along the Lighthouse Trail past picturesque inlets, islands and country vistas. I was now on the homestretch of my drive to Halifax and had to watch my time in order to make it into town for my evening program in Nova Scotia's capital.

But two more stops would be mandatory: the first one just outside of famous Peggy's Cove was the memorial for Swiss Air Flight 111 which crashed into St. Margaret's Bay, about 8 km out in the ocean, on September 2, 1998. Swiss Air 111 was on its way from New York City to Geneva, Switzerland, when 229 men, women and children perished off these shores on this early September day.

A stone memorial located about 1 km away from Peggy's Cove commemorates the victims. The three notches on the monument at Whalesback represent the numerals 111. I personally still remember the news of Swissair 111 crashing into Peggy's Cove, and looking out onto this peaceful stretch of ocean made me think that sometimes life can just hang by a thread and everything can change in an instant.

From a visual point of view, the St. Margaret's Bay area is very different from Mahone Bay. In contrast to the forest and field-covered serene rounded hills of Mahone Bay, St. Margaret's Bay is much more rugged and barren. Geologically, large granite boulders were left behind after the last ice age and dominate the scenery around Peggy's Cove. I went back to the car and drove the last little bit to one of Nova Scotia's most well-known destinations.

Peggy's Cove is a tiny village: only about 120 residents call it their permanent home. The town was founded in 1811 when settlers of German descent were given land grants by the government of Nova Scotia. These settlers mostly earned their living as fishermen, but they also farmed areas that were fertile and pastured cattle. The town saw its peak population in the early 1900s when about 300 people lived there. Today, Peggy's Cove is one of Nova Scotia's favourite tourist destinations, and the main attraction, of course, is the famous lighthouse. Tourism surpassed the fishing industry as the main income source in this town after the Second World War, but lobster fishing is still practiced here.

The surrounding region is known for its hiking trails, kayaking adventures, bird-watching opportunities, and its pristine beaches. Golfing is available and whale watching is one of the major tourist offerings in this area. Restaurants, cafes, galleries and craft shops are additional highlights in the area.

The name "Peggy's Cove" is derived from a cove of the same name. "Peggy" is a nickname for "Margaret", and the name may indeed be derived from St. Margaret's Bay although other local stories talk of an early settler named Peggy while another legend refers to the only survivor of a schooner that ran aground and sank in 1800. Of course, so the saying goes, this woman's name was Margaret and her home town became known as Peggy's Cove.

The first lighthouse, a wooden structure, was built in 1868 at Peggy Cove which was followed by the current octagonal structure in 1914. During World War II, the light house was used as a radio station for the Royal Canadian Navy. The old dwellings of the lighthouse keeper were located near the current lighthouse until they were damaged by Hurricane Edna in 1954 and removed. The lighthouse was finally automated in 1958.

Today's lighthouse holds a Canada Post office on the lower level which also serves as the village's post office. Visitors climb all over the rounded granite rocks that surround the famous lighthouse. Unfortunately several visitors every year are swept into the sea by the unpredictable surf, some of them even drown. So it's important to be careful around here.

Just steps away from the lighthouse is the well-known Sou'wester Restaurant, which also features a souvenir shop and beautiful views over the coastline. I was definitely ready for a late lunch after my exciting discoveries of Lunenburg and the Lighthouse Trail, so I took a seat in the Sou'wester and enjoyed a much needed soup and salad to keep me going for another few hours of this road trip. After a brief refreshment it was time to hit the road again to make it to my final destination of my Nova Scotia trip: Halifax!

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