Graham Travels: The glorious Canadian Maritimes

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

By William Graham (guest opinion)

Ever since taking two hiking trips to Newfoundland (affectionately known as “The Rock” to locals) a few years ago, I vowed to explore more of the Canadian Maritime provinces, which boast stunning scenery, a fascinating brew of cultures and very warm and welcoming people.  

This summer I returned to this wonderful part of the world with my wife Jacqueline and our 11-year-old son Jackson. We made the long car ride across the endless forests of Maine and New Brunswick to spend a memorable sojourn on Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton island.

Like many young girls, Jacqueline became enamored with the novels (and subsequent public television adaptations) of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who created the memorable heroine Anne Shirley of Green Gables.  

Make no mistake, the province of P.E.I. couldn’t have asked for a more eloquent and passionate advocate for this beautiful island, which Montgomery described as a place of “chaste, restful loveliness.”   

I heartily concur with Montgomery. The island floats in the blue sapphire ocean as an oasis of rolling green fields and well-tended farms. As one resident told me, “We here on P.E.I. take great pride in keeping our property neat and tidy.”

In addition to exploring the grand red sand beaches and dunes, we also, of course, had to make a pilgrimage to the Green Gables Heritage Place, which is now a national park. Montgomery lived on a farm in Cavendish, where she was raised by her maternal grandparents the Macneills. (The farm is still owned by the same family to this day.)     

A short walk through the “haunted forest” of Montgomery’s (and Anne Shirley’s) imagination stands the famous Green Gables, which was the home of cousins of Montgomery’s grandfather.  Although Montgomery never lived at Green Gables, it became the inspirational source of her poetry and novels.  

As she wrote in her poem “The Gable Window,” the home “opened to a world of wonder/When summer days were sweet and long/A world of light, a world of splendor/A world of song.”

It is no surprise that such an enchanting place as P.E.I. draws people to live there.  The three sisters who owned the bed and breakfast where we stayed had immigrated there four years ago because they became so enthralled with the beauty of the island.  We also met a couple who recently departed their corporate jobs in Toronto to purchase and operate a restaurant on the island. We, too, had to drag ourselves away from the siren call of the island and continue our journey to Nova Scotia.

Cape Breton sits at the far northern tip of Nova Scotia. The island features thick forests and highlands  that plunge into the roiling sea. We noticed a clear and distinct Celtic influence as soon as we crossed into the island. The road signs were in English and Gaelic.  

After checking into our hotel in the lovely coastal town of Baddeck, we began to explore the island. Our primary purpose for going to Cape Breton was to drive along the found Cabot Trail (which circumnavigates the island) and to hike in the Highlands National Park.

The Cabot Trail is a magnificent road that reminded me of other picturesque highways that we had traversed like the Road to Hana in Maui, the Road to the Sun in Montana and the coastal highway in Big Sur in California.

The weather was cool (in the 60sF), which was perfect for hiking.  Under sunny skies, we went on three hikes during our stay.  

The first was called Middle Head, which began at an elegant resort called the Keltic Lodge and continued through a forest to an overlook on the eastern side of the island. The trail is moderately challenging but you need to be in shape to walk it. Then we hiked around Warren Lake, which was made more difficult by muddy trails and pesky mosquitoes. After completing the hike, we were dirty and itchy.

For our final hike, we drove to the western side of the island, which is the location of the French enclave of Chéticamp. In 1785, the British forced the French populace out of P.E.I., Nova Scotia and Maine (a region known as Acadia) in what became known as the great expulsion, or “The Grand Dérangement.”

This historical event was romanticized in the epic poem “Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But a few Acadians remained and endured, and the existing community is a symbol of French pride and joie de vivre.  

Our destination was the Skyline Trail, which is a two-hour circuit that winds through forests and ends at the top of 1,000 foot cliffs, which offer a fabulous view of the multi-hued ocean below and the highlands behind us. After our hike we headed back to the French village and treated ourselves to a delightful lunch at a boulangerie (bakery).

Our trip would not have been complete without attending one of many musical offerings the island boasts. On our last night in Cape Breton, I ventured to a small pub to hear the offbeat musical styling of the Celtic Cowboys, a weather-beaten duo who sang everything from local sea shanties to “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. After a few glasses of the local ale, the duo began to sound a bit better to me.

My wife, son and I loved our trip to the Canadian Maritimes and we will definitely return to that realm of beauty. And when we do, maybe the Celtic Cowboys will have added a few Hank Williams tunes to their repertoire.

Poet, novelist and travel writer William Graham is a resident of Stowe, Vermont. His most recent novella is “The Red Planet President.” He has also travelled extensively around the world and is author of “Seven Continents: A Travel Memoir.”

Organizations: Celtic Cowboys

Geographic location: California, Prince Edward Island, Canadian Maritimes Cape Breton Green Gables Maine Newfoundland New Brunswick Nova Scotia Cavendish Toronto Nova Scotia.Cape Breton Baddeck Maui Montana Chéticamp Stowe, Vermont

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page