Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Canada Day!

July 1, 2010
This is how Canadians see their maple leaf.

This is how we see their maple leaf.

Happy Canada Day!
(Full disclosure: The illustration above is a simulation of Canada Day fireworks, made from authentic fireworks photographed elsewhere. No fireworks are planned in Sydney tonight, and it's a good thing, because they would be rained out. A fireworks display here last night was mostly obscured by fog.)

Local Flavor

June 30, 2010
We try to engage all our senses in our quest for life-long learning, and we are happy to use our tastebuds to enhance our travel adventures.

We are eating lobster almost daily, as we hoped. But, we never imagined that we would be eating lobster at McDonald’s.

Here in the Maritime Provinces, select McDonald’s have signs out front proclaiming it McLobster Season, and we were curious to discover what this meant. So Jim, Jan, Dick and I headed over to McDonald’s to sample McLobster as an appetizer before our real dinner (because, as you may recall, we have a rule against eating at chain restaurants, especially McDonald’s). We found that a McLobster is a lobster roll—cold lobster meat (and plenty of it) stuffed into a hot dog bun with some lettuce and mayo. At $6.19, it undercut the price of every lobster roll we have seen in our travels in Lobster Country (and was about half the cost of our first lobster roll of the trip consumed back in Maine while waiting for our lobster trapping voyage on the Lucky Catch). We are wondering how they can be making any profit off of it, and our numbers man Jim hypothesizes it is a loss leader.

We have tried some more unexpected regional specialties, as well. Having read a newspaper review nominating Ketchup Chips as Canada’s national food, we bought a bag and shared them four ways with our traveling companions. We all agreed that they really did taste like potato chips dipped in ketchup, and that this was an item we would not be likely to repurchase.

Speaking of ketchup, the Heinz 57 Ketchup up here is sweeter and has less vinegar bite to it than our ketchup in the states.

Yesterday we all shared a regional specialty called poutine. The recipe is simple—take a big pile of French fries, top them with cheese curds, and pour a generous ladleful of canned brown gravy over the top of the mountain of cholesterol. Appetizing as it sounds, this was another item that we agreed we would not be likely to repurchase.

We have seen cod cheeks on several coastal fishing town menus, but not screwed up the courage to actually order it yet. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Upside of Rain

June 29, 2010

We have experienced Canadian weather long enough now to understand why so many people have beautiful gardens here. Mother Nature takes care of the watering, and doesn't burn the plants up with too much sun or heat. All the gardener has to do is control the weeds. At least that's our take on it.

This stone retaining wall at a scenic view pull-out along the highway is the proof. These plants are thriving on rocks! The wall is more scenic than the view, and there's not a gardener in sight.

Alexander Graham Bell Saves the (Rainy) Day

Monday, June 28, 2010

Antigonish to Baddeck

We take to the rainy roads again today with Jan and Jim. Our original plan was to get a start on the Cabot Trail, reputed to be one of the most scenic drives in North America or the World, depending on who you ask. In light of the weather, we decide to take the long way to Baddeck, where the Cabot Trail begins, and spend some time in their excellent Alexander Graham Bell Museum.

Along the way, we stop at St. Peter's Canal, which crosses a very narrow isthmus of land separating the Atlantic Ocean from Bras d'Or Lake, which is really an inland sea. That isthmus has a long history, serving as a portage for the Mi'kmaqs, a Portuguese settlement in the 1500s, and a fortified trading post for French merchants from the 1630s until it was destroyed by a fire in 1669. British moved into the area in the mid 1700s, and in the early 19th century they laid down skids on the isthmus so they could haul ships over it. Work began on the canal in 1854, and even though it was only about half a mile long, it took fifteen years to complete it, because it had to be blasted and dug through solid granite.

We are fascinated by the canal lock, which has two doors at each end, since both sides of the lock are tidal, and the water could be higher at either side, depending on the tidal cycle at the time a boat locks through. We have been through hundreds of locks, some of them quite unusual, and the St. Peter's lock was the first one of this type we had seen.

Just up the road from the lock, we see this little Dalmatian fire hydrant in front of the volunteer fire department garage. He reminds us of the New Carlisle fire hydrants we enjoyed last week.

On a larger scale, in Wycomagh we are greeted by a lawn covered with life-size wooden cut-outs of every character that has ever appeared on the Simpsons television show. Roadside attractions really brighten up a rainy day.

All whimsy aside, the best part of the day is our visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, where we learn all sorts of very interesting things about his life. An obvious first question is why there is an Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. The answer is because he, like the Roosevelts, found the maritime provinces a pleasurable place to vacation. He built his mansion-sized "cottage" on the shore of Bras d'Or Lake in Baddeck, because the typography reminded him of Scotland, where he was born and raised, until his family moved to Canada after two of their sons died of tuberculosis. Family members still live in the house, so it is not available for tours. We can't even see it across the lake, due to fog and rain.

Here are some interesting new things we learn about Bell: His grandfather and father were both speech scholars, and his father devised what he called Visible Speech—a universal phonetic alphabet. Using what he picked up from his father on how sounds were vocalized, Alec trained his dog to speak an understandable sentence in English.

While he was developing the telephone, he was a teacher for deaf people, and he eventually married one of his students, Mabel Hubbard. By then he had patented the telephone and had a major interest in the Bell Telephone Company, which he gave to Mabel as a wedding gift.

Not content to rest on his telephone laurels, he had lots of other patents, and in 1919 developed the fastest watercraft in the world, a hydrofoil. The remains of the original hydrofoil are in the museum. It is made of heavy wood, and it is hard to believe that it could have risen out of the water, given its weight. Too bad he couldn't invent fiberglass.

He also spent a lot of time developing massive kites in his pursuit of manned flights. He succeeded in flying people on his kites, and developed the first plane to fly in the United Kingdom.

I particularly like what his son-in-law said about him: "He always made you feel that there was so much of interest in the universe, so many fascinating things to observe and think about, that it was a criminal waste of time to indulge in gossip or trivial discussion."

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Tidal Bore is Aptly Named

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Halifax to Antigonish

3860 miles traveled

Two Interesting Tidbits from this Morning's Chronicle Herald:

#1: There are two photos in this morning's paper that capture our attention, because they are taken in two places we think of as home. One is a photo of people lining a beach in protest against offshore oil drilling—taken on Tybee Beach in Georgia. We are sure that some of our friends are in the picture, even though they are too small to identify. The other photo is of Dorothy Height--civil rights activist and President of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years—standing in front of an exhibit about her at Cincinnati Museum Center, where we worked together years ago. We think it quite extraordinary that this Canadian paper is hitting us so close to home. We can't imagine someone from Halifax sitting down to breakfast with the Savannah Morning News or the Cincinnati Enquirer and finding a mention of their home town. Most days, there wouldn't even be a mention of their country.

#2: Jim hands me an article from this morning's Chronicle Herald that I somehow missed. It notes that there are a number of cities and towns named Halifax the world over where the residents are content to be known as Halifaxians, but the citizens of Halifax in Canada insist that they are Haligonians. The story describes the research a member of the Canadian Society of the Study of Names conducted to determine the origin of this "distinctive denonym" and to get to the bottom of this "onomastic discrepancy." More interesting to me than his research is the use in one newspaper article of multiple words that I have never come across in my prior reading of newspapers or study of the English language.

One Interesting Tidbit from Today's Main Event:

"If one took all the rivers in the world and measured how much water they discharged into the surrounding bays and oceans, it would equal the amount of water that moves in and out of Fundy Bay twice a day."

We read this mind boggling fact at the Tidal Bore Park Information Center near Truro. A tidal bore is a rush of water brought in by the incoming tide going upriver to the Bay meeting the current of the river leaving the bay. Promotional brochures for the phenomenon would have one believe that a virtual wall of water forms where the tide and current collide, and that the drama of the event is breath-taking.

The Rest of the Story is a Bore:

Since we get to the Information Center early, Dick is able to determine that we could see the tidal bore three times today. We could go downriver, and see it pass an observation area there, then race it back to the Information Center Observation Area, and see it again, then go further upriver, and watch it once more. We drive to the first spot, where broad banks of red mud slope down to a tiny trickle of a river. We watch about a dozen people suited up in yellow foul weather gear suits walk down to motorized rafts sitting at the edge of the river. They get in their rafts and wait for the bore to arrive and provide them with a thrill ride akin to white water rafting. They have paid a lot of money for this adventure. Three bald eagles are sitting on the river bank also eagerly awaiting the arrival of fish surfing the bore. Finally, we see a wave approach. About a foot or \so high, it rapidly makes its way upriver, lapping the shore and leaving little swirls and whirls of confused currents in its wake. We are glad we didn't pay to raft those gentle "rapids"!

Figuring that this first stop is just a slow spot and maybe the bore will pick up some steam at the official Observation Area, we go back to watch the bore there. While we are standing around for a long time looking at nothing happening, Dick talks with an expert researcher with a big notebook full of data, who tells him about the opposite effects of the full moon and the moon in perigee on the strength of the tidal force and a lot of other mumbo jumbo, but, simply put, the tidal bore is, yet again, a bore. We decide to forego the third viewing opportunity.

We Save the Best for Last:

Fortunately, the morning newspaper also provided us with an idea for one more thing to do in Truro besides watch the boring bore. A story reported that vandals had beheaded a tree sculpture of a beloved church organist, and went on to explain that there are 32 sculptures in the town carved from the massive trunks of trees that were over 100 years old before they were stricken by Dutch Elm Disease.

Intrigued, we stop in the Truro Visitor Center, and get a booklet with a driving tour map of all the sculptures, and a page with information about each one. Each sculpture is sponsored by a local business or organization to honor a person or cause. A Mountie stands in front of the R.C.M.P. station honoring a fallen comrade; a beloved contralto who once sang for the Queen stands in front the church where she sang in the choir. There's a lumberjack, a gifted local athlete who went on to play professional hockey, and a bearcat—the mascot of the local hockey team.

We especially like the story behind this sculpture of John Glassey. Our booklet tells us he was Mayor of Truro for 24 years; served for more than 42 years on the Fire Brigade (including six years as Chief); was active in, and served as president of, the Rotary Club and United Way; and won tons of awards and honors. His car dealership was a longtime Truro landmark, and his statue, sponsored by the Rotary Club, stands in front of a car dealership that now bears someone else's name.

In driving around looking for the sculptures we get a great little tour of the town and a unique insight into its values.

Once again, the highlight of our day is not as we planned it. But, somehow, every day turns out to have at least one highlight.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Rainy Day in Peggy's Cove

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Halifax to Peggy's Cove Loop

Jan and Jim and Dick and I all pile into our car (after Dick does some complex luggage and accessory compression to make it possible to get the back seats up and make room for passengers) for a trip to Peggy's Cove, a tiny fishing community clinging to a rocky granite shore not far from Halifax. Dick sets the rule—anyone who wants to stop for any reason, say so. Since the coastal ride to Peggy's Cove takes us by many picturesque dock houses, lobster traps, bays and wildflowers, and there are now four of us rather than two, we find frequent reasons to stop and all get out of the car to snap photos, even though it starts raining within five minutes of our departure from the hotel parking garage.

When we finally emerge from the car at the Peggy's Cove Visitor Center, the wind carries the sound of bagpipes across the rocky hills to us. We get a map and meander around the rocks and meadows, down to a tiny cove lined with fishing sheds and lobster traps, with room for less than half a dozen working boats. We wonder if the fifty or so people who live here hire a stylist to suggest the artful arrangements of boats and fishing paraphernalia we see everywhere we turn, or if it just comes naturally to them.

This is the famous Peggy's Point Lighthouse, the most well-known and most photographed lighthouse in Canada, even though structurally it looks like about a hundred other Canadian lighthouses. We love lighthouses and seek them out wherever we go, but we are getting downright bored with all the white octagonal pyramids with red lantern housings on top in this country. What makes the Peggy's Point Light unique is its setting—it stands atop a massive outcropping of bare granite rock which has been worn smooth by eons of pounding sea waves. A granite plaque on the lighthouse warns "Injury and death have rewarded careless sightseers here. The ocean and rocks are treacherous. Savour the sea from a distance." The ocean seems calm today, but it still breaks and sends white foam flying on Peggy's Point.

After wandering every street of the island and finding the bagpiper, who turns out to be a woman with extraordinary lung power, since she plays with hardly a break for at least two hours straight while we are there, we are ready to continue on our seaside adventure.

We dine at a waterfront restaurant down the road a piece, and then drive to Lower Prospect to find our roadside attraction of the day—an enchanting detailed reproduction of a fishing wharf and town in miniature on the front lawn of the now deceased folk artist Joe Norris. Tiny islands in the bay have live miniature evergreens with wooden ravens roosting atop their branches. The lobster boats have tiny traps with floats. Laundry is drying on the clotheslines of the little houses that dot the hillside above the wharf. We can even see a school of dolphins and the tail of a whale out in the bay.

With all our photo stops, side trips and detours, it takes us almost a full day and 50 miles of driving to do the 30 mile Peggy's Cove Loop. Maybe you can understand why it took us so long if we show you a few of our favorite shots. Know that there are plenty more wonderful views where these came from:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hurray for Halifax

Friday, June 25, 2010
3,350 miles
Halifax is in full festival mode this weekend. In celebration of the Canadian Naval Centennial, an international fleet of ships is assembling in the harbor. In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the baptism of Chief Membertou of the Mi’kmaqs, a huge powwow is taking place on The Common. We are in the center of the action at the Delta, a modern seven story hotel in the center of downtown Halifax—our finest accommodations of the trip (and a far cry from our dumpiest accommodations of the trip last night—in a room with no air conditioning; pearlized plastic tiles on the bathroom wall, some of them missing; a bathroom door that would not close and was rotting at the bottom due to water damage; and mismatched furniture that was probably all picked up at the curb by someone prowling on the evening before trash collection day; but, in its defense the wifi internet signal was quite strong).

Editorial Note: Dick does not want me to talk about “staying in that dump.” I override his veto, but you will note that a photographic illustration is not included.

Back to Halifax: We arrive midday, and head down to the harbor boardwalk area for lunch on a patio overlooking the wharf. I have a local specialty, the Donair, which is somewhat like a Gyro, but made with spicy beef instead of lamb, and topped with a sauce of condensed milk and garlic instead of yogurt. I wash it down with a Keith Light, made by the local brewery just down the street, established in 1820.

Later as we do a self-guided walking tour of the town, we note that brewery founder Alexander Keith did quite well in the beer business--his house appears to be larger than the elegant Government House built in 1800 by Governor Sir John Wentworth, “to gratify his own sense of propriety and that of his glamorous wife,” according to the plaque out front. The Government House is the oldest official government residence in Canada, and now home to the Lieutenant Governor.

We also admire St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, which boasts the tallest polished granite spire in North America, and we add a picture of this beautiful church to our collection.

There are many great sights along the way, and one of our favorites is the tranquil Public Gardens. A Victorian Bandstand surrounded by formal garden plots sits in the center of the park, paths twist through green lawns dotted with formal flower beds, and a large pond with ducks is tucked in one corner. This time of year, roses and freshly planted colorful annuals are in bloom. There are plenty of benches in shady spots where we see locals relaxing with good books, people-watching like us, and relaxing with friends.

Speaking of relaxing with friends, our friends Jan and Jim just arrived in Halifax by train last night, and this afternoon they join us at the Delta. We walk to dinner at a restaurant across from The Commons, where the powwow is just getting started.

After a great meal, we wander back across The Commons, admiring First Nation people in their colorful native attire. Buffy Ste. Marie is performing a free concert, and we stop to listen for a while. A Canadian Cree, she peppers her music with commentary, expressing some ambivalence about performing at an event celebrating the Catholic missionaries’ collision with the First Nations. She says that there is a lot of bad history between the Church and the Aboriginal People, but that her father reminded her of the goodness and kindness of the priest who served their reserve community. “At least they have shut down all the boarding schools,” she said, to very loud cheers from the audience.

An explanation, for those not familiar with Canadian history: The Canadian government set up a boarding school system for Canadian First Nation children in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The purpose was to remove children from their homes, families and native culture, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture—a mission concisely summarized as “kill the Indian in the child.” Funded by the government, the schools were administered by churches, 60% of them Roman Catholic. Around the turn of the century, 35-50% of children died within five years of entering Indian Boarding School. The schools went beyond killing the Indian in the child to killing the child entirely. Throughout their history, the schools were plagued by disease, physical abuse and sexual abuse, as well as the psychological abuse of teaching children that they, their families, and their traditions were inferior. The schools were finally closed in the 1960s, yet another significant civil rights victory of the era.

Back to Halifax: Although we see this pretty little light on George’s Island in Halifax Harbor during our waterfront walks, we can learn very little about it. Tomorrow we will visit the most famous light in Nova Scotia, the Peggy’s Cove Light.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Rainy Day on the Acadian Coastal Drive

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bathurst, New Brunswick to Amherst, Nova Scotia

We are taking the scenic route today, following the jagged eastern coastline of New Brunswick. It is called the Acadian Coast, because many of its inhabitants are of Acadian lineage, and proud of it.

A little history: Acadians first came to Canada as French colonists in 1604, and they settled in Nova Scotia. They are concentrated in coastal New Brunswick now, because as Britain and France's long battle over Canada was winding to a close in the mid-1700s, the British demanded that Acadians living in Canada take an oath of allegiance to Britain. The Acadians claimed neutrality, refused to take the oath, and fled north from Nova Scotia to what they thought was a more peaceful area. The British followed them, burned their villages and crops, and deported many of them to other British colonies far away, like Georgia. Finally, France surrendered its mainland territory to the British in 1763, and the Acadians were able to live here in relative peace. As the violence against them abated, Acadians returned to the region, where they celebrate their heritage today.

The Acadian flag flies from front yard flagpoles, many telephone poles and mailboxes are painted with the Acadian red, white and blue stripes, and a favorite yard decoration is a red, white and blue striped wooden lobster trap with a gold star attached. The Acadian flag has a yellow star placed on the blue stripe of what otherwise looks like the flag of France. The yellow star symbolizes "Stella Maris," or Star of the Sea. This is a name for the Virgin Mary in her role as protector of those who travel or work on the seas.

Despite the rain, we decided to visit "La Dune de Bouctouche," a sand dune that stretches 7.5 miles across Bouctouche Bay. The Irving Eco-Centre has a 1.2 mile boardwalk that follows the sinuous lines of the sand dune out to the ocean. We donned our raincoats over our cameras and set off on a very enchanting walk in the rain. We could understand why this is the third most popular natural destination in Canada (after Niagara Falls and the Canadian Rockies). We were also glad to be there on a rainy day before tourist season, because part of the charm of the place for us was that we could look down the gentle curves of the boardwalk stretching to the horizon and not see another soul. It made the boardwalk seem like an art installation framing the contours of the dune.

Back in the car, our drive took us past men raking for clams along the sandy shore, and a man packing his black lab and his bucket of clams into an old row boat which he set out to row across a placid bay. The quay was full of fishing boats at what looked like a processing plant. Men were busy loading, unloading, and cleaning their boats. Down the road a fisherman was spreading his nets out on his lawn, in front of a boat on blocks and a back yard full of lobster traps.

We had to stop at Shediac, Home of the World's Largest Lobster—35 feet long and sixteen feet high, and made of cement weighing in at something like 90 tons.

We also couldn't resist a stop at Moncton, where the big attraction is Magnetic Hill. For five dollars you can drive your car down what seems like a pretty big hill, then put your car in neutral at the bottom, and (gasp and giggle) roll back up the hill. It is a very weird feeling, knowing it is an optical illusion, but having no clue how the magic is done. There were only three cars on the hill—us and two cars from South Carolina. The people in the car ahead of us liked it so much that when they rolled back up to the top they wanted to do it again, and since it was so slow, the teenagers staffing the hill said go ahead. We liked it so much that we did it again, too. As we left, the Carolina cars were going back for the third time. Just another fringe benefit of being here in the off season . . .

Needless to say, we had so much fun in the rain that we didn't make it to Halifax today after all.

Our Steeplechase Drive

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Perce, Quebec to Bathurst, New Brunswick

While we were cruising the waters around Quebec back in our life aboard Starsong, we noticed that in each small town we passed there was one ornate church steeple that rose high above any other structure in the town. The sun reflecting off the church steeple was like a lighthouse beacon marking the center of the town. We could imagine sailors returning from a stormy day at sea viewing their church steeple, and giving thanks for their safe passage home.

Along the coastal road today, we are passing through the center of one small town after another, many named for saints. The houses and businesses along our route are modest and undistinguished for the most part, but the Catholic Churches are built on a grand scale, and their steeples are richly ornamented. Several of the churches have silver roofs that shine like mirrors in the sun.

Our drive is a steeple chase—we drive from one church steeple to the next, stopping to admire each one, and there are many.

In addition to a beautiful Catholic Church, each little town also has at least one scenic roadside park with picnic tables and rest rooms. Most of the parks overlook the ocean. We enjoy our picnic lunch at a table beside the entrance to a marsh nature trail. Hundreds of gulls are resting and fishing in the tidal pond nearby.

Today is a beautiful day. Most houses have colorful laundry billowing on the lines in their backyards. The full clotheslines remind us of Narda, our Jonesport Seaview House landlady, who apologized to us in case we noticed that the sheets on our bed were a bit wrinkled. She had laundered them and hung them on the line to dry, but it rained, and she had to put them in the dryer. She was very sorry that she couldn't offer us line dried sheets, which are, apparently, far superior. Not having slept on line dried sheets since childhood, neither one of us can remember what we are missing. But I digress. The point is, we know the laundry is hanging on the lines to dry today, because tomorrow it will rain again, as we continue south to Halifax.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


June 22, 2010

Bonaventure Island--off Perce, Quebec

We added 800 miles to our New Brunswick/Nova Scotia vacation plans just to see the largest gannet breeding colony in the world off the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec Province. That's a long way to drive to see a bunch of birds that are not new to our life list—in fact we can go to Tybee Beach near home and usually see a few gannets diving for fish far off the shore.

Was it worth the trip? Absolutely!

We got on the first boat of the morning at 9 am, and came back on the second to last boat to leave the island, so you know we maximized the experience. Before we even set foot on the island, the boat circumnavigated the high cliffs of its shoreline, where we could see thousands of gannets, as well as other ocean birds, such a black-legged kittiwakes, murres, and guillemots. We saw razorbills in the water, and a couple seals basking on rocks. We knew we were in for spectacular sights once we disembarked.

Bonaventure Island is a mere mile or so offshore from Perce on the mainland, and multiple tour boats travel there every hour on the hour from nine am to five pm, or nine hundred to seventeen hundred, as they say here. So, it is much more accessible than our puffin island journey of two days ago (a maximum of three boats, each limited to less than twenty passengers, are allowed to land at Machias Seal Island each day).

But, the Bonaventure gannet colony is on the opposite side of the island from the boat landing area. So we had to haul all our equipment (three cameras, multiple lenses, a tripod, a backpack with our lunch and water) nearly a mile uphill to get to there.

We knew immediately when we arrived at the colony that all our efforts would be richly rewarded. There are 120,000 gannets on this island—it makes the Machias Seal Island puffin colony look like a tiny village. The gannets make their nests on rocks, only as far apart as they can defend the nest while sitting on it. The racket of their scolding and courting and the sight of so many of them packed so close together was overwhelming.

Dick asked this very good question: How do the gannets who leave their nest to go out to the sea to feed find their nest again when they return? It is imponderable.

We watched birds come in from the ocean bringing seaweed to their mates to enhance their nests. The mate would accept the seaweed, then the two would rub their heads and necks together to express their pleasure. (Males and females look alike and share duties, so we couldn't tell who is getting the gift of seaweed and who is giving it—male or female.) The one time we can tell male from female is in mating, which looks brutal—the male hops on the female's back and grabs her neck in his beak while he seems to jump violently on her.

The female lays just one egg, and the pair share in incubating it—keeping it warm with their big webbed feet. Although most chicks are born in mid-July, we saw some early chicks lying protected beneath their parents. It sometimes seemed as if the parents were stomping on them, because they held them with their feet.

After a couple hours of watching the gannets, we hiked a trail that followed the perimeter of the island. The spring wildflowers are still in bloom here, and the rocky woodland and meadow vistas were beautiful. It was an unexpected bonus pleasure of our trip to the island, although Dick would have enjoyed our five miles of hiking more if he had not been toting his tripod with a camera and long telephoto lens attached the whole way.

Another unexpected pleasure of our time here was the charming town of Perce. The town is built along the ocean shore at the foot of Mont Ste.-Anne. Just offshore is Perce Rock, a tall narrow rectangular slice of rock with a natural bridge carved into it which is one of Canada's most recognized geographic features (if you are Canadian) . Our hotel room has a grand view of the rock and of Bonaventure Island, except today, when the fog is so thick that both are obscured.

The main street of town is lined with brightly colored souvenir shops and restaurants, and a long dock stands in the harbor where the tour boats depart and arrive. In the mornings, we watch the lobstermen tending their traps just offshore.

Our hotel, the Manoir de Perce, is a family business, and the owner spent at least half an hour with us when we checked in. He asked about our interests and made all sorts of suggestions about ways we might best enjoy our time in Perce. The staff are all friendly, and seem, like the owner, genuinely concerned that we are having a good time and that absolutely every aspect of our stay there is perfect.

We love it that everyone we pass says "Bonjour" as we pass on the street or enter a shop. When we say "Bonjour," everyone immediately responds by switching to English.

The restaurants in town all serve a Table d'hôte menu with one price for many courses, and the expectation that you will spend the whole evening dining with them in a leisurely fashion—tres French. Begin with an amusee, then some fish-based appetizer from the chef (they are big on smoked salmon, and pickled or smoked cod or mackerel around here), next soup and/or some other appetizer you choose, on to the main course, then cheese, and finally dessert. Both last night and tonight we dined like the French—we need to leave tomorrow, or we will never fit in our clothes by the time we get home.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Another Day, Another Small Potatoes Museum

June 21, 2010

Fredericton, New Brunswick to Perse, Quebec

Just in case yesterday's main event, the Sardine Museum, was not to your taste, today we offer a food museum we are sure you will enjoy—the Covered Bridge Potato Chip Factory Tour and Museum, in Hartland, home of the world's longest covered bridge (more on that later).

The Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company is owned by two generations of the Albright family, who grow 500 acres of potatoes on their farm nearby. Their factory makes kettle cooked potato chips in sixty pound batches, and we could look through big windows to view the factory floor, seeing every step of making a batch of chips, from trimming the potatoes by hand and feeding them into the slicing machine hopper, to seeing the thin slices dump into the big oil vat and be fried for six minutes, to their trip on an assembly line where inspectors pulled out the bad ones, to the place where they are blown into a bag with nitrogen (to extend shelf life and keep the chips from being crushed in transit) and sealed, then packed into cases to ship out.

We learned that four pounds of potatoes translates to one pound of potato chips, so we figured out that they make fifteen pounds of potato chips every six minutes, or 150 pounds of chips and hour. For perspective, the McCain Foods plant just up the road in Grand Falls turns out ten tons of fries per hour, so Covered Bridge is clearly small potatoes.

The Museum was full of interesting potato facts, beginning with a little potato history. Potatoes were first cultivated by Incas in Peru. They were introduced in Europe by the Conquistadors in the 1500s, but most Europeans would not eat them because they were not mentioned in the Bible, and there were rumors that they caused disease. Potatoes slowly gained favor in Europe when Marie Antoinette wore potato blossoms in her hair, making them fine for the French; and people in England experiencing food shortages during the Revolutionary War, ate potatoes out of desperation, and decided they liked them after all. Potatoes were not widely accepted in America until Thomas Jefferson served them at the White House. During the Alaska Gold Rush, miners were so desperate for Vitamin C that they traded gold for potatoes. The final important event in the history of the potato (so far) was the invention of Mr. Potato Head—the first toy advertised on television, in 1952.

You may blanch to learn that the average American eats 140 pounds of potatoes per year, making it the second most consumed food (milk is #1). Potato chips are the #1 snack in America (no surprise). They were invented in 1853 in Saratoga Springs, New York, by George Crum, but the first potato chip factory was not built until 1895. Potato chips were unseasoned until the 1950s, when salt was added.

Which brings us to the most fun part of our tour. We were each given a bag full of hot potato chips fresh off the line, and walked out of the factory area to a long table with shakers of 31 different flavorings to sample on our chips. The flavors included lobster, chocolate (yum), vanilla espresso, pizza, pickle, orange, s'more . . . you get the idea. We each tried at least twenty different flavors, and my favorite was spaghetti, Dick's was loaded baked potato. We got to vote for our favorites and suggest any flavor ideas for them to add to the line-up. Call us unimaginative, but we could think of nothing appetizing that they hadn't already tried.

Our next stop was the Hartland Covered Bridge, built in 1901 and covered in 1922. At 1,282 feet it is the longest covered bridge in the world. Local legend has it that if you make a wish, close your eyes, cross your fingers and hold your breath for the full length of the bridge, your wish will come true. We also heard that in the early days of the bridge, the potato farmers trained their carriage horses to stop in the middle of the bridge so they could sneak a kiss in the dark.

Most of our roadside attractions this trip have been larger than life, but in New Carlisle, Quebec, we found their fire hydrants, painted as fanciful cartoon characters, were enchanting. We turned around several times for second looks at the 30 or so hydrants which line Route 132, the scenic coastal highway that passes through this little town of 1,430 people.

We are staying for two nights in the charming Manoir de Perce, in a room with a view of Perce Rock and Bonaventure Island, where we will travel tomorrow to see the world's largest gannet colony. Stay tuned for more about our adventures in this easternmost corner of Quebec.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Onward to Canada

June 20, 2010

Jonesport, ME to Fredericton, New Brunswick

It is time to leave Seaview House, where all the pillowcases are hand embroidered and the coat hangers are crocheted—the women of Maine avoid boredom during the very long winter season with this sort of handwork, no doubt. We have enjoyed owner Narda Davis' flowers blooming abundantly in the rock garden out front of the house and in pots and planters indoors and out. And, yes, Seaview House does have a view of the sea--from our perch high on a hill, we look out the picture window in front of the table where we sit at our computers, and we see a little piece of the sea beyond the roofs of the houses below. But not this morning. It is raining, and a thick fog is rolling up the hill from the water.

We head to the only place in town serving breakfast on/Sunday--a combination gas station, DVD rental place and quick mart. A dozen men are sitting around the one table in the place drinking coffee and engaging in a lively debate. A half-assembled jigsaw puzzle sits in the center of the table. This is clearly a neighborhood hang-out, with no room for us to hang out and eat—so we get our coffee and egg and sausage biscuits to go.

After breakfast, we head to Jonesport's Maine Coast Sardine History Museum, owned and operated by Ronnie and Mary Peabody, who live in the house next door. Mary Peabody opened the museum up early just for us, and she followed us around the exhibits, telling us stories of how she and Ronnie found and rescued all of the artifacts of sardine fishing and canning that are on display. It is really Ronnie's museum, but he just had a heart attack last month and is awaiting back surgery, so she takes over and helps when she can, although it is only on weekends, since she works five days a week doing six part-time jobs.

The first sardine cannery opened in Maine in 1876, and domestic sardines proved to be so popular that there were 40 factories by 1898. The last sardine factory in Maine, and the United States, closed this past April 18, taking the tally of sardine factories that had come and gone in this state to over 420.

Sardines are actually small herring, to be technical about it. Mary explained the catching and canning processes to us, showing us the equipment, machinery and tools used every step of the way. A wall dedicated to all the hard working women of the canning factories is full of scissors with the names of the women who used them beneath each pair. The women spent twelve hours a day standing on the line cutting the heads and tails off cold herring, and most brought their own scissors to work because they felt the "loaners" on the floor were inferior or uncomfortable in the hand.

The Sardine Museum as personally curated by Mary is extremely interesting, and we are fascinated by what a resourceful, hard-working and committed person she seems to be. One of her many part time jobs is for the census. She told us she just finished spending two days out on a boat doing census work on islands—"It was the easiest and most enjoyable two days work of my life—just riding around on a boat, snacking and looking at seasonal camps through binoculars." She did actually get off the boat on one island owned by a wealthy Massachusetts family to conduct the census at the three houses of their caretakers on the island.

When she learned that we had been out to see the puffins, she told us that she went to see them, too, nine years ago when she retired early from her government job. Her co-workers took up a collection and gave her $97, and the trip cost $50 back then, so she used over half her retirement gift to go, and it was worth it.

With the last sardine factory in the country closed now, we are grateful that Mary and Ronnie have turned their hobby into such an outstanding museum preserving history of this region that would otherwise be lost as the old processing plants fall into the sea or are cleared to make way for tourist-drawing waterfront developments. Our appreciation may not be widely shared, though--when Dick signs the visitor register, he notes that we are the first visitors here since the museum closed for the season last October.

We continue north up the coast, making a slight detour to Bucks Harbor, where Jasper Beach is famous for its colorful jasper and rhyolite stones tumbled by the ocean. When we get to the beach, we face a dune of stones thirty feet high. We climb to the top, where we can see the colorful smooth stones stretching far out to the low tide ocean. Short on time, I gather a handful, and watch others on the beach filling five gallon buckets with their treasures.

On to Lubec (population 800), the Easternmost town in the country, where we stop in the Water Street Tavern to order a sandwich to go. Chatting with the owner while we wait, we learn that the place has only been open two weeks, and we have the distinction of being the first people to order take-out from the Easternmost tavern in the US.

No time to rest on our laurels, we are on our way to Campobello to see Franklin D. Roosevelt's 34 room Canadian "cottage." Ten days ago we were at FDR's Hyde Park place, which really belonged to his mother Sara, and here we find his mother is responsible for his fancy digs once again. Sara had a house on Campobello, and her next door neighbor, Mrs. Kuhn, had a provision in her will offering Sara the house, furnished, for the deep discount price of $5,000 if she would buy it for Franklin and Eleanor. Sara bought the house for them in 1909, and they enjoyed summers there until 1921, when Franklin got polio. It is quite a lovely spacious place with bedrooms for the family plus the six servants they needed when in residence. It must have been delightful to sit out on the back porch and enjoy the view of their lawn sweeping down to the beach and Passamaquoddy Bay below.

We explore the rest of the island, and photograph what is reputed to be the most photographed light in Canada—the East Quoddy Light. Visitors can walk to the light at low tide, but we are there too late to walk over—at all times other than low tide, the light, erected in 1829, is on an island in the Bay of Fundy, separated from the mainland by a strait of water with swift currents.

Back on the road again, we stop at a stone marker the townspeople of Perry erected in 1896 to mark the point where surveyors determined that the 45th Parallel passed through their town—making them halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.

Our last roadside attraction of the day is
this big fiddle in front of the Harvey Elementary School. It was placed there in honor of Don Messer, an internationally renowned fiddler and composer from the town of Harvey. He hosted a popular Canadian television show, John Messer's Jubilee, that ran from 1959 until his death in 1973.

Tomorrow, we head further north, to see the world's largest breeding colony of gannets.