Southern Newfoundland and Nova Scotia - unlikely art in unlikely places

Eventually, I had to leave behind the ice of Newfoundland’s northern mid-coast and head further south. See Twillingate and Fogo. I could have lingered; I had the extra time built into my schedule. There were some days set aside in case the weather would not cooperate. But I was lucky with the weather overall and so decided it was time to see what southwestern Newfoundland, and eventually Nova Scotia, were like.

There will be more than one dispatch devoted to these areas, but somewhat perversely, I begin here with some observations that skip well past the dramatic cliffs, beautiful beaches, rocky shores, spruce forests and lonely lighthouses, all of which are there in abundance. First, we start with the nitty gritty.

It was at this point in the trip that a hodgepodge landscape of ethnic diversity really took hold. In the part of Newfoundland visited thus far there was a strong Irish/Gaelic presence, in place names and most notably in accents and speech. There were times when someone and I would say a few words to each other, ostensibly in English, and then just stare at one another other in bewilderment. It’s not only the accent, but idioms are wholly different as well. 

However, as I turned south the linguistic and cultural terrain became wholly confused. Looking at both southern Newfoundland and Nova Scotia here combined, adding to the Irish/Gaelic would be strong doses of Scottish names and accents (especially in Cape Breton Island, where even road signs are in Gaelic as well English), French in the case of Labrador and Acadian in Nova Scotia (and any number of places where they steadfastly managed to not be kicked out by forced deportation or they successfully returned), New England planters (that replaced the Acadians), actual English and other commonwealth former residents, former Tory colonialists from our Revolutionary War, and a few settlements of the descendants of former slaves who had fought for the British in that war and had to be resettled when it turned out they had backed the losing side in return for freedom.

And of course, there were numerous towns and villages comprised of and run by indigenous Mi’kmaq. (Also farther north in northern Quebec and Labrador are the Inuit, Innu, and Southern Inuit. There mostly were Innu on the cargo ship traveling from one port to another.)

There evidently also has been some immigration to these areas from Asia as evidenced by the fact that among the few restaurants open in the off season, one could reliably find those which invariably advertised that they served “both Chinese and Canadian cuisine.” Unfortunately I never was to find out what exactly that mixture entailed. Looking back, that’s a pity. Poutine and Dumplings?

I can’t and so won’t try to comment on how all this diversity works for their day to day lives. That is the sort of thing which a brief visit will inevitably get wrong through the random and incomplete impressions afforded only by short term exposure.

But one thing became obvious, this was not just a land, as many in the US might imagine, of English/Canadian tea rooms and quaint cottage gardens. As with most places I have visited with a lot of diversity, it doesn’t always end up being neat and tidy. But it usually ends up being very interesting. As did this. 

These were not just far northern communities which, as I wrote before, have no time or desire to build anything other than utilitarian things. This was north, but not really that much north or a great deal harsher than say northern Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont. There could be time and resources here for a greater degree of the aesthetic.

Yet things that looked like garbage were just left out there, visible and seemingly indicating a lack of energy to deal with it.

I do not wish to equate cultural diversity with refuse and items that have been cast aside. That is not my point here. What struck me however was that there was a willingness to let it all just be, as is, without prettifying the scenery.

And yet, even when discarded, these items seemed to be exhibited with a certain amount of style. Some thought went into this, at least I think so. It seemed deliberate. Time and time again, I found that what might be considered as refuse, had been artfully displayed.

My bet is that the culturally polyglot society made up of so many different nationalities and even multiple languages contributes to this, though admittedly I can’t articulate a precise explanation for why. It’s something along the lines of: diversity encourages self identity, which seeks outlets of expression. Somehow, one way or another, people choose to stand out, to declare themselves, even if their tools to do so were just the items they were prepared to throw away.

And essentially that is Art, with a capital A.

Still, one unifying element here was obvious, the sea and the need for making a living there. This remained the dominant social and economic engine for most communities I visited, regardless of initial national origins. And it was an oft-repeated message delivered in scene after scene just how brutally difficult a task-master that was.


It is hard to say how long seafaring equipment lasted up here, but the evidence for its being severely abused by nature was everywhere.  


But I don’t wish to wholly ignore here the beautiful ocean vistas. Though these will be the focus of a dispatch at a later time, let’s end here with a couple of scenic shots.

After some days in southern Newfoundland, I bought a ticket, passed through security in my car and lined up alongside the large-rig trucks at the ferry terminal just outside Channel-Port aux Basque. We were all waiting for the midnight ferry across the 70 mile wide Cabot Strait. The overnight run to northern Nova Scotia meant sleeping in a reclining chair, which actually was pretty comfortable. They even had showers but I had showered that morning in a YMCA so didn't feel the need to try them. I hadn't opted to secure a bedroom, which they do have. I could manage 7 hours in what amounted to a first class airplane seat with the option to walk about the ship and also sit in a lounge or cafe.

Tip, bring house slippers.


Upon landing and an hour-long disembarkation (on this ferry first autos on are last autos off) I took advantage of a mostly clear sky morning to drive west and north around the tip of Cape Breton, across the Highlands. The sea may be brutal and difficult, but that ruggedness also creates seascapes worthy of a day’s drive to reach.


After a long day I eventually found a beach on mainland Nova Scotia, pretty far away from the normal tourist roads, but with a quiet, level spot well above the high water line. I parked for the night and climbed into the bed in the back of my Jeep. With the touch of a button on the key fob, the back hatch lowered, beeping as it closed.


Before long, the Atlantic storm, which I had tracked in order to time the ferry crossing, blew in. It was around freezing temperatures outside.

I slept very well under a down comforter and soft woolen blankets.



©️ 2019 D Abbott