We decided to visit Newfoundland and Labrador in September 2010. We would be flying into Halifax so it seemed sensible to add a few days on to the end of the holiday to let us see something of Nova Scotia. We had heard great things about the Fortress of Louisbourg and also the Cabot Trail. We decided to take the slower route back along the Eastern Shore on the way back to Halifax so we could visit Sherbrooke Village.
This is the first of three reports and covers the drive from Halifax to Louisbourg and then to Baddeck.
It was a full day’s drive from Halifax to Louisbourg. We headed to Canso Causeway along
102 (fast dual carriageway) and 104. This ran out of the trees into a pretty landscape of open farmland with scattered wooden farmhouses and a few trees. All the settlement was well off the road and nucleated.
After New Glasgow we began to run back into forest of mixed deciduous and coniferous trees. There was a lot of birch which was beginning to change colour - yellows and browns, as well as some other deciduous trees which were turning pink/brown. It needed another 1-2 weeks before the colours would be at their height. There was still plenty of Michaelmas daisies along the verges and some golden rod.
There were few services on 104 although there were a lot of billboards advertising accommodation and restaurants in places many kilometers ahead. By the time you got there you would have forgotten which one... Tim Horton’s at Canso Causeway was doing a roaring trade.
After Canso Crossing we picked up highway 4 which took us through the centre of PORT HASTINGS which had a definite centre with shops and plenty of cafes. (Coming back the road by passes the centre). We stopped on 104 (fast) through woodland to ST PETER’S, a small pretty settlement around a sheltered bay with a lot of old wooden houses.
ST PETER’S CANAL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE and BATTERY PROVINCIAL PARK are on either side of the canal. There were advanced warning signs for both but no sign on the actual junction. Both are tight turns on opposite sides of the bridge. We drove in to the National Historic Site where there is a large park alongside the canal with interpretive boards.
In 1650 a fur trading post was established in the area trading with local members of the Mi'kmaq Nation. A haul road was constructed across the isthmus so small sailing ships and canoes could be transported by oxen or horses between Bras d'Or Lake to the Atlantic Ocean. This was a much a much shorter and safer voyage to Sydney than travelling around the exposed southern coast of Cape Breton Island.
Work began digging the canal in 1854 and took 15 years. Two sets of substantial double lock gates were built at either end of the canal. St. Peters Canal saw relatively heavy use by commercial shipping up to the early 1900s, but became too small for modern ships and is now mainly used by pleasure boats.
The original plan had been to pick up the Fleur de Lys Trail from St Peter’s to Louisbourg but we had been warned this was a narrow lonely road with little settlement and no cell phone coverage. We were also told that the drive was through trees all the way with few views of the coast and would be boring. We decided to take highway 4 which would be faster and went along the side of BRAS D’OR LAKE. There were a lot of road works and it was slow as there were long stretches where we had to wait for a pilot vehicle to take us through. There was quite a bit of traffic including lorries.
Most of the drive was through woodland we got a few nice glimpses of the lake through the trees and an occasional short run along the shore. Although there are a lot of settlements marked on the map most are just a few houses with no shop or other facilities. All in all were weren’t particularly impressed by the run scenically. It was proving to be a long drive, made worse by long stretches of road works.
It became increasingly built up and busy as we got near SYDNEY but we lost the settlement on the 22 to Louisbourg.
After Louisbourg Fortress was destroyed in 1758, the English built a small fishing village across the harbour from the site of the fortress. The harbour stays ice free and grew into a important port for exporting coal from Sydney in the winter months. A railway line was built from Sydney but was poorly constructed and abandoned after a forest fire. The station buildings in Louisbourg, including the station masters house, round house and freight shed have been restored as a railway museum. There is a loco, caboose and freight truck by the platform.
The town grew and wealthy merchants built large wooden houses. After the loss of the railway Louisbourg began to decline. Now the main industry is fishing and increasingly tourism. There are still many fine heritage buildings left in the town. Many of the larger houses are now B&Bs. There was a definite out of season feel by the end of September and many had vacancy signs. The Louisbourg Playhouse is popular with locals and visitors.
It is a pleasant drive to the Lighthouse through the older part of the settlement with wharves onto the beach and good views across to the Fortress. The road runs out of the forest into open landscape around the lighthouse. There is a gravel path to Gun Landing Cove - it looked a nice walk along the cliffs with views and no trees.
There are plenty of eateries but Louisbourg is very poor on food shops. The Grocery was very basic although Pecks (next to Pecks Housekeeping Cottages) had a better selection. Perhaps the locals go to Sydney for their shopping. The Off Licence however had a good selection of NS wines.
We were booked into MIDTOWN COTTAGES (See separate review). We had booked two nights in Louisbourg so we could spend a full day visiting the fortress. I have written a separate review for this which I won’t repeat here except to say that it was the highlight of the holiday and well worth visiting.
Next morning rather than taking the main road from Louisbourg to Sydney, we followed the MARCONI TRAIL to Main a Dieu and Mira Gut and then cut back to highway 22. It was a narrow road with a poor surface but some nice views of the coastline. Main a Dieu was a long settlement around the bay. It had a long sandy beach reached by boardwalks over the vegetation. There was a large well sheltered harbour and big piles of crab and lobster pots. There was continuous scattered settlement along the road back to 22. This is Sydney commuter belt with a lot of money.
We took 223 along St Andrew’s Channel and Bras d’Or Lake. Settlements marked on the map were a concept - the houses just got a bit closer together. There was no gas, no shop, no school and no church. The road ran through lots of trees, mainly deciduous with the railway on the lake side of the road.
We visited the HIGHLAND VILLAGE MUSEUM in Iona, (see separate review) and then continued the scenic drive round the WASHABUCK PENINSULA. Plaster Cove was pretty with white gypsum cliffs and a small island with causeways to the mainland. McCormick Provincial Park is a pretty setting among the trees and has picnic tables with views across the cove.
The rest of the drive was through trees with a few nice bits along the shore and distant views of Cape Breton Highlands. Nova Scotia tourist board describe this as having “some of the most captivating scenery to be found on Bras d’Or Lake drive”. Compared with other drives along the lake this may well be an accurate description but is an over hype. We would have described it as a nice drive but nothing special.
LITTLE NARROWS FERRY is a short ride on a rope ferry. Staff in the Highland Village Museum had asked if we had a ticket for the ferry and sold us one for $1.25. To pay cash on the ferry is $5.
It was a fast drive through more trees to BADDECK which was very touristy with lots of accommodation and gift shops. We ate in the VILLAGE KITCHEN (see review)and were booked to stay the night in AULD FARM INN which is well beyond Baddeck on the 205, nearly where it rejoins 105 (see separate review).
Pictures of our holiday can be seen here: