When Andrew and I tell people in Europe we’re from Eastern Canada, we usually get the confident response “oh, you’re from Quebec!” Of the 3 Canadian cities most Europeans have heard of (Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal) Montreal is the easternmost. However there’s still a lot of Canada hanging out east of Quebec.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island may be small, but what they lack in size, they make up for in personality. We Canadians call it the Maritimes, and we think there are many reasons you should visit us on the east coast. Here are seven of the best:
1. Good Things come in Small Packages
It’s true, the Maritime Provinces are Canada’s three smallest, but that can be a good thing for travellers. You can easily rent a car in Halifax, Nova Scotia and drive to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, all in the same day, if you like, (although we highly recommend taking your time and exploring each province). You can also encounter three distinct cultures and varying landscapes in a short time. Distances are fairly close by Canadian standards, making a trip to the Maritimes very manageable in a week.
2. Great Food
The East Coast is most famous for its lobster. In fact, Atlantic lobster is so well known; it has its own festival in Brussels. But if the best lobster in the world isn’t enough to tempt you, wait until you taste the rest of our fresh seafood – clams, mussels, fish of all shapes and sizes, and all at a fraction of the price you pay in Belgium.
Not a seafood fan? Why not try some of our beautiful produce. The roadsides are awash with blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Nova Scotia has some of the best strawberries anywhere and New Brunswick is famous for its cranberry harvest. In the summer, Andrew and I never miss out on a corn boil – fresh, sweet, corn on the cob smothered in butter. Yum!
Because you’ll need something to wash down all of that good food, Atlantic Canada is home to some great local beers and wines. Avoid the mass produced stuff and ask instead for a Propeller beer or a glass of Jost or Grand Pre wine.
3. Nature and Wildlife
Despite the small size of the Maritime Provinces, we are home to five Canadian National Parks. All are very different but beautiful in their own way.
- The Cape Breton Highlands, NS (949 km2) – The largest park in the Maritimes, the Highlands has stunning mountain landscapes, great opportunities for sighting moose, and is absolutely spectacular in the autumn when the leaves change colour.
- Kejimkujik, NS (404 km2) – Beautiful forest bisected by a river that is perfect for a leisurely canoe trip or hiking one of the many nature trails. This park also includes a seaside section on the Atlantic coast.
- Fundy, NB (206 km2) – Here you can see the highest tides in the world and walk on the ocean floor when they are out. Explore the caves and nature trails and spot wildlife throughout the park.
- Kouchibouguac, NB (239 km2) – This is quite possibly my favourite park anywhere. The endless sandy beaches and warm water make it a great place to relax. There are kilometres of boardwalk and nature trails and loads of birdlife.
- Prince Edward Island, PEI (22 km2) – Beach bunnies need go no further. This 60 km long park protects the unique red sand beaches and cliffs of the island. It has also been designated a Canadian Important Bird Area.
If you’re a lover of all things furry, you’ll find plenty of critters prowling our forests: bears, deer, moose, beavers, raccoons and porcupines are all plentiful here. So much so, in fact, you need to be on the lookout while driving, especially at night.
4. Rich Cultural Heritage
The Maritime Provinces (along with Newfoundland) were the first areas of Canada to be settled by Europeans. As such, we have a rich and varied cultural heritage. Nova Scotia translates to ‘New Scotland’ and Scottish descendents wear their kilts with pride. Cape Breton even has a Gaelic college. Our Irish heritage is alive and kicking in our music and our British roots show through in our architecture and um… often puritanical ideas about things.
We’re not all Anglophones in the Maritimes, however. My home province of New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province in Canada. The north is Acadian French and the south is English. What’s Acadian I hear you asking? It was a distinct colony of New France (different from the French who settled in Quebec) that was conquered and expelled by the British in the 1750s. Many Acadians left and ended up in Louisiana where their name was corrupted to Cajuns. Later, some returned and resettled in the Maritimes, particularly in northern New Brunswick.
As in most of North America, Europeans weren’t the first people to settle in the Maritimes. First Nations people such as the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy were here long before Europeans fought over territory.
One of the things I miss most about living in the Maritimes, is the music. Every bar or pub you walk into is filled with it. Parties don’t really start until someone pulls out a guitar, fiddle or banjo. It’s such an important part of life here, last year I wrote a post about East Coast Music.
By far, the most well known literary Maritimer is Anne of Green Gables. The fictional red-haired creation of Lucy Maude Montgomery is famous around the world and particularly in Japan. Tourists flock to PEI each summer to visit Green Gables and walk the red sand cliffs as Anne did.
But there is more to Maritime literature than Anne. Alden Nowlan was one of Canada’s most famous authors and poets of the 20th century. He hailed from Nova Scotia but lived mostly in Hartland New Brunswick. David Adams Richards, who is a recent Governor-General’s Award-winning author, was born in Northern NB. Alister MacLeod, author of one of my all time favourite books, No Great Mischief, grew up on Cape Breton Island.
7. Welcoming People
Even if it wasn’t for the beautiful scenery, loads of wildlife, music, art, literature, food and loads of activities to fill your day, there’s still one great reason to visit the Maritimes – the people. Canadians are known for being polite and friendly and Maritimers are the friendliest of all.
We’re small-town folks at heart and while these days, many of us work in technology and business, we’re descended from fishermen, farmers, coal-miners and hard-working, everyday kind of people. We smile at strangers we pass on the street, we’re quick to help out with directions, and we’ll buy you a drink in the pub and chat your ear off, when we learn you’re from away.
I’ve been living away from the Maritimes for six years now, but it will always be home to me, as well as an integral part of my identity. I’m proud to be from New Brunswick and to have my adopted home in Nova Scotia. The Maritimes is a special and unique part of Canada I think everyone should visit. We’re the real Eastern Canada. Sorry Quebec.