Tag Archives: Chedabucto Bay

Have island, will rusticate

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Born and raised to the age of eight in the largest, noisiest, sharpest-elbowed city in Canada, I gave no thought to the pastoral life of country folk I’d occasionally see on CBC television during the supper hour.

All that began to change in 1971 when my father managed to acquire a 10-acre piece of land that belonged to his family’s ancestral homestead in northeastern Guysborough County, Nova Scotia. It was a peninsula of forest framed on two sides by a pond and on the other by beach frontage. He called it ‘The Island’, possibly because owning an island seemed more impressive than owning a peninsula. I certainly thought so.

As a new cottage rose rapidly near the crest of the property, which offered spectacular views of Chedabucto Bay and still does, I began to imagine myself as some sort of Scottish laird. On summer vacations there, I would spend every day patrolling the borders, searching for poachers and other interlopers. I dreamt of one day building my own cabin in the woods.

None of this will be new to anyone who ever grew up on a patch of land near any sizeable body of water. But unless I’m very much mistaken, recent interest in owning islands is on the rise. The Telegraph-Journal has featured New Brunswick islands for sale not once, but twice in as many weeks. The latest, apparently, will only set you back a cool $3.7 million.

As the story reported, “Sandy Robertson stepped out of his vehicle onto a snow-covered clearing to show off a beloved trait of his private island. The absence of noise, just wind whistling through the trees, complements the serene, panoramic view of where the St. John and Kennebecasis rivers meet.”

Not long ago a website called Notable Life devoted an entire feature to island life, beginning its write up thusly: “Thinking about buying a condo? If you’re in Toronto, the average one of those will run you about $370,000, or in West Vancouver around $590,000. But maybe you’re considering a stand-alone, single-family home in Toronto for an average price of just over $1 million?

“Or perhaps you’d like to land somewhere between a savvy investor, a lover of nature and tranquility, and a Bond villain, and buy yourself your very own island. You’ll probably be shocked to know (we still can’t really believe it) that across Canada, there are currently more than thirty islands on sale for under $500,000. Now, some of them have not been developed, so they’ll require some additional investment to make them ‘liveable’, but when you consider. . . (the) country’s real-estate market. . .it’s pretty amazing to imagine that for such a small price-tag, you could have exclusive access to such considerable beauty.”

Consider, for example, Nova Scotia’s Big Tancook Island, which Notable Life described in 2015 as “An absolutely stunning property Island, these 11.6 acres boast 449 feet on the ocean. Sub-divisible, this parcel might become a roomy family compound, grounds for the only hotel or campground on the island, or a sailing destination just six miles from the world-famous Chester Yacht Club.” At that time, the asking price was about a hundred grand.

I have a theory about all of this. Whenever the world takes an especially bitter turn (Donald Trump, Brexit, the rise of populist political parties in Europe), those with enough coin in their pockets will cast their eyes both wearily and jealously to a place they need a boat to reach – there to rusticate happily like the country folk we secretly and always wanted to be.

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What old Guysborough town teaches

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When the mid-summer sun shines sweetly on the roads of Guysborough town, and a breeze brings news of waves breaking on the far shore of Chedabucto Bay, you know it is high season – that time of the year, after the last black fly and before the first frost, when this village of 400 at the eastern tip of mainland Nova Scotia is at its best.

Up and down the main street – which may be only as long as quick breath on lover’s lane – evidence of revival is everywhere. Bunting flies at pretty cafes and shops festooned with homemade goods and specialty fare.

There, along the boulevard, the Rare Bird Pub & Eatery jostles the Skipping Stone Cafe and Store. Not far away, the Full Steam Coffee Co. shakes hands with the Harbour Belle Bakery. Elsewhere, the Osprey Shores Golf Resort caters to those of a clubbier mindset, and the DesBarres Manor Inn provides a year-round destination for romantic foodies of every inclination.

Here was where Prince Henry Sinclair was rumoured to make landfall in 1398. Here was where peripatetic Acadians settled between 1604 and 1659. Then, in the 18th Century, came the Scots and the Irish, fresh from the Napoleonic wars.

My original forebear, a fellow by the name of James, apparently sailed from Scotland with a land grant of 100 acres, given to him as a reward for his military service in Europe. Of course, in the late 1700’s, there were no roads to speak of, let alone physicians. So, when a tree fell on the poor sap’s head, he did what most transplanted Scots of good, sturdy character did at the time: He died.

Still, the family he sired and the community he helped build persisted which is, all things considered, a minor miracle.

One of the more urgent conversations in Atlantic Canada concerns the plight of its rural areas, most of which can boast notable provenances. Faced with aging and dwindling populations, inadequate access to educational opportunities, crumbling transportation and communications infrastructure, and winnowing industrial bases, many are on the brink of extinction.

In fact, more than once in both distant and recent memory, Guysborough, itself, has flirted with calamity.

Once, lumbering and shipbuilding dominated the local land and seascapes. Not anymore and for all the reasons familiar to coastal communities across the region (changing technology, a shrinking pool of skilled labour, shifting government policies and priorities).

Commercial fishing, a traditionally vital engine of employment, came to a screeching halt during the 1980s and ‘90s in the wake of the federally imposed cod moratorium. Since then, stabs at long-term economic development have enjoyed only mixed success, though don’t utter such a blasphemy anywhere in Guysborough County, lest you prepare yourself for a long debate.

Still, the deeper truth is, as prominent Maritime writer Harry Bruce (pater familias to me) once noted, “Wave after wave after wave of Maritimers have left their beloved homeland, rolling westward again and again to seek jobs up and down the Atlantic seaboard, in the American midwest and far west, in Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, British Columbia, and the northern territories . . . Maritimers, more than other Canadians, have had to keep their eyes on the horizons, and Leaving Home has long outlasted the golden age of sail as part of their heritage.

Yet, now that Alberta has given up the ghost of its oil and gas promise, we may live long enough to witness a mass return of Maritimers to these shores.

Perhaps this is all that old Guysborough town teaches: faith.

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A summer trip down home

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To reach paradise, you drive from Moncton about four hours through some of the prettiest country the Maritimes offer.

You take the Trans-Canada past the village of Memramcook and the university town where my grandfather, dad and daughter once spent many happy and productive years. If you are peckish, you stop at the elegant and still exquisitely appointed Marshlands Inn in Sackville, New Brunswick, for a quick and supremely satisfying repast.

You rejoin the road at the Tantramar Marshes, where ancient Acadians once diked and dammed the land to eke out an existence from the brackish sea. You pass the glorious windmill farm near Amherst, where Don Quixote – if he were real and a long-haul trucker – might roll up to challenge the mighty blades spinning in the sun.

You move along with speed and alacrity until you reach Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, forge through until you are on Mount Thom, then descend into the vales of New Glasgow, Antigonish and Monastery, where the real deal describes itself this way: “Our Lady of Grace Monastery is home to the Contemplative Augustinian Nuns. Here, these religious sisters live out their lives consecrated to Our Lord where they pray for the Church and the whole world. The Monastery of Saint Lucy, which is the mother house is located in Rome.”

Still, on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in the summertime, Rome seems far away. Paradise, on the other hand, is just around the corner.

You take the paved road through Lincolnville and arrive at the bustling outskirts of Bolyston, a town the Globe and Mail’s Kim Mackrael once described as “The pearl of the East.” In her 2011 piece, she enthused, “The tiny seaside village is perched on the northeast side of Nova Scotia, close to Cape Breton Island. Like many of its neighbours, Boylston suffered deeply following the collapse of the Atlantic fishing industry and the loss of thousands of jobs along the coast. These days, Boylston is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, one driven by people looking for a place to call home after they retire.”

Indeed, she reported, “Some of its residents have discovered the town only recently, while others are finding themselves drawn back home after a long absence. What they have in common is the sense of being instantly welcomed into the community. That’s why Marilyn McLean nominated Boylston as one of Canada’s great communities. She and her husband are. . .settling down after a life in the military.”

Said Marilyn: “Our neighbours are neighbourly; our darling doctor mends bones and brings hot casseroles until you can manage your crutches. You awaken after a monster snowfall to a freshly shovelled walkway. How can there be any better place on earth to live out one’s life?”

Added Ms. Mackrael: “On calm mornings in Boylston, the water by the wharf becomes as smooth as glass. Tourists driving through choose this spot to pull over and take photos of the boats as they bob gently beside the dock, casting colourful reflections across the water.”

That’s about right. I should know. My family settled these parts in the late 18th Century, fresh off the boat from Scotland. Our forbears and us have maintained “The Place” on the banks of Chedabucto Bay ever since. It’s a small, and yet somehow rambling, former farmhouse perched on 80 acres of prime rock-growing territory.

It really isn’t much, but it’s ours. And the view is, well. . .what you might expect from paradise.

As for me, I’m going for a long-missed drive down the road to down home.

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