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Nova Scotia: Canada’s Biggest Little Province

On every cruise to Canada and New England, guests have the opportunity to explore various ports in Nova Scotia.

From Halifax to Sydney, this area offers a treasure-trove of history, culture and cuisine. Nature lovers will appreciate the Cabot Trail, while historians can visit the abundance of maritime museums. Foodies will appreciate the finest seafood, while shutterbugs will marvel at the scenery.

Provincial Taste – Nova Scotia’s Unique Flavor Comes From a Special set of Ingredients

The Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Holland America Line’s Mariner Magazine is ready to hit the mailboxes of our Mariner Society guests. Here’s a sneak peek at the article entitled “Provincial Taste – Nova Scotia’s unique flavor comes from a special set of ingredients” by Tara Donaldson that gives insight into the wonderful region and all that makes it special.

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Durty Nelly's is known for its chowder.

Durty Nelly’s is known for its chowder.

Every location reveals itself through its cuisine. In Nova Scotia, the first affirmation of this traveler’s truism comes from a taste of the seafood chowder at Durty Nelly’s, an Irish pub, where Executive Chef Richard Sanford prepares the dish just the way his grandmother did.

The story of chowder in Nova Scotia goes back a lot further than Sanford’s granny, of course. Culinary historians will tell you that chowder originally came from the coast of France, where fishermen threw parts of their catch into a chaudière, or communal pot. But like so many immigrants, the hearty stew found its true home in New England and on the east coast of Canada — which is why meals in the dining rooms of Nova Scotia begin, more often than not, with chowder.

As many locals do, Chef Sanford has his own recipe. First he sautés vegetables, then adds flour to make a roux. He tosses in potatoes, whipping cream, and Minor’s Fish Base and finishes with scallops, haddock, and fresh dill. Sanford’s creation is the perfect symbol of Nova Scotia because it mixes the amazing abundance of the Atlantic Ocean with produce from the island’s robust farmlands. Also, it tastes very, very good.

Much like chowder, Nova Scotia is the sum of its many and varied parts. Canada’s second-smallest province, it’s been the gathering place for a number of cultures for hundreds of years. The island traces its history to the indigenous Mi’kmaq people, who were the predominant First Nations tribe in the 17th century, when French colonists arrived in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward island (now collectively known as the Maritimes). They were followed by the English, Irish, Scots, Africans, loyalists from the 13 colonies, and others. Each group has shaped the province.

The strongest — or at least the loudest — example of Nova Scotia’s British heritage is found in the island’s largest city, Halifax. Every day at noon at the star-shaped Halifax Citadel, soldiers from the 78th Highlanders ceremonial regiment load a cannon with black powder, inch it forward from its post, and fire it. It’s a reminder of Canada’s colonial history, as well as a chance for Haligonians to see if their watches are running correctly.

Tradition runs deep at the Halifax Citadel. Photos courtesy of Parks Canada.

Tradition runs deep at the Halifax Citadel. Photos courtesy of Parks Canada.

From the Citadel’s walls — in World War II it became a staging area for troops heading to Europe — you can look down on Halifax’s metropolitan area (population 413,000) and see modern structures standing among historic buildings, such as Province House. The structure that author Charles Dickens called a gem of Georgian architecture in 1842 is still the seat of the Nova Scotian government. From Province House it’s a short walk to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, one of more than 200 museums and historic sites in Nova Scotia. The oldest and largest maritime museum in Canada chronicles the history of the province and features a permanent exhibit that shows how its inhabitants have come to define Nova Scotia through their relationship with the sea.

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, courtesy of photographer Gerry Lunn and the museum.

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, courtesy of photographer Gerry Lunn and the museum.

Nova Scotia’s history is also on display at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Canada’s equivalent of Ellis Island, it’s a place where hundreds of thousands of immigrants stepped onto Canadian soil for the first time. Because of its Atlantic coast location, Nova Scotia has always been a destination for immigrants. It’s the relatively few who stayed, however, that have made the province special. Their legacy is everywhere.

Twenty-six miles outside Halifax, the small fishing community of Peggy’s Cove was formally founded in 1811 by six families of German descent who survived on fishing and farming. Anchored by its picturesque lighthouse (built in 1868), the town retains its historic flavor. Literally. At the sou’wester restaurant you’ll find local seafood specialties, including lobster and Solomon Gundy, a marinated-herring-and-onion appetizer.

You’ll also find customers like Mike, a local who’s as comfortable around lobsters as he is around people. He’s an amiable type, eager to demystify the process of eating lobster for the less savvy.

“Eating a lobster for the first time is like being on a first date,” Mike explains. “It’s awkward; but the second time, you know what you’re doing.”

Cabot Trail and the giant fiddle at Cape Breton, courtesy of Doug and Cindy Kizer.

Cabot Trail and the giant fiddle at Cape Breton, courtesy of Doug and Cindy Kizer.

An overnight cruise from Halifax is Cape Breton Island and the port of Sydney, gateway to the breathtaking Cabot Trail. For those unfamiliar with Cape Breton’s Gaelic and Celtic heritage, a giant fiddle at the cruise terminal serves as a reminder that this part of the province takes its ceilidhs seriously. It’s Scottish heritage that gave the entire province its name; Nova Scotia is Latin for “New Scotland.”

Though they may come from other places these days, Nova Scotia still draws special people from around the world looking for a place that suits their rugged personalities. The small Lobster Pound & Moore restaurant, in North Sydney, is a good place to see the social dynamics of modern Nova Scotia in action. The Nova Scotian staples of chowder and lobster are on the menu (naturally), but you can also find a more recent local favorite: lobster wontons, served with salad and skinny frites. It’s a delicious revelation and evidence that Nova Scotia continues to add cultural ingredients.

Have you been to Nova Scotia with Holland America Line? What did you love about it the most? Tell us below!

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