Atlantic Canada’s trails expert walks us through the awe-inspiring settings of some of the region’s newest books
Atlantic Canada’s distinctive natural environment has shaped a unique people— and has unmistakably influenced its literature.
Whether rugged Atlantic coastline, or gentle, pastoral farmland, our landscapes become characters as vivid and alive as the people who inhabit our books. Indeed, it is often Atlantic Canada’s terrain that is the dominant element; human lives are shaped by the rhythm of nature’s caprice.
So what could be more illuminating than travelling throughout the region, visiting the paths and walkways found there, and experiencing firsthand the landscapes that moulded the authors who have made Atlantic Canada their setting?
Whenever people think of Prince Edward Island, Anne of Green Gables soon comes to mind. Although it is more than 100 years since Lucy Maud Montgomery published her first book, her popularity continues. The LM Montgomery Reader, Volume Two: A Critical Heritage (University of Toronto Press, 2014) examines how her work has persisted in print because of the continued interest of readers. Many visitors to PEI travel to Cavendish, where Montgomery was raised, and where the Anne stories were based. At Parks Canada’s Green Gables Heritage Place, there are two short walking paths, the Haunted Wood Trail and the Balsam Hollow Trail. These easy, wooded walks feature interpretive signage highlighting inspirational sources for Montgomery’s writing.
For William Andrews, born and raised in Freetown, PEI, it was life on the farms along the rural roads that he explored in The Grand Change (Acorn Press, 2013). Those wishing to recapture that sense of rural remoteness can walk, just a few kilometres from Freetown, on the Walls Road Scenic Heritage Road. Still surfaced in red clay, it passes agricultural fields, through thick maple forests, and bridges the Dunk River.
Before the Europeans, the first nations lived on PEI, as profiled in Ni’n na L’nu: The Mi’kmaq of Prince Edward Island (Acorn Press, 2013). The people of Lennox Island First Nation have built a 10-km nature trail, which conducts hikers through lush forests, past fields of cultivated blueberries, and along the shoreline of Malpeque Bay.
Perhaps no province is defined more by its terrain than Newfoundland—The Rock. Its famously inhospitable landscape is so marginal to human habitation, so unyielding of the necessities of life, that its very barrenness is a source of fierce pride for residents. Flip through the pages of Facing the Sea: Lightkeepers and Their Families (Flanker Press, 2013) and you will immediately understand how stark the coastal landscape of the province can be. No formal paths are necessary; treeless and scoured by winds, the low, arctic-alpine vegetation can be traversed easily. One of my favourite coastal hikes is at the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, where “Bird Rock”—a 100-metre sandstone stack separated from the main island by a chasm only a few metres wide—is reached by a one-kilometre footpath. Tens of thousands of seabirds nest over the entire stack, easily visible on the cliffs, in the air and covering the ocean.
But most settlements in Newfoundland were found in sheltered coves, as depicted in Random Passage (Breakwater Books, 1992; re-issued 2013). These tiny communities, known as outports and dependent upon the inshore fishery, dotted the bays and small islands. Although the book’s Cape Random was fictional, a replica was created in 2000 for the filming of a television mini-series, and is located on the Bonavista Peninsula. The British Harbour Trail begins in the community of New Bonavista, passes the replica Cape Random, and traces the coastline for six kilometres to the former community of British Harbour, abandoned in 1968.
Nova Scotia also has been defined by its relationship with the ocean. As highlighted in Forever Bluenose: A Future for a Schooner with a Past (Nimbus Publishing, 2013), Canada’s iconic sailing ship is a product of the scenic community of Lunenburg and the seafaring culture of Nova Scotia’s south shore. Those wishing to explore the town might walk or bike along its Front Harbour and Back Harbour Trails. For those who prefer their coastline more untamed, the walk at nearby Gaff Point, starting on the sandy strip of Kingsburg Beach then meandering to the exposed, rocky tip of the headland opposite West Ironbound Island, will be more interesting.
The fishing village at Peggys Cove, closer to Halifax, is as well-known as the Bluenose. And although the scenery is beautiful, it was the ocean’s bounty that gave the village its original purpose. Peggy’s Cove Cooking (Formac, 2013), is full of recipes from St. Margarets Bay, Mahone Bay, and all the historic communities on Nova Scotia’s south shore. The pictures that complement the recipes illustrate the scenic setting of this famous community, where visitors throng on the rocks in summer like harbour seals basking in the sun.
For those wishing to explore this iconic coastal barrens in the company of far fewer people, the nearby Polly Cove walk offers scenic magnificence in near-privacy.
Though New Brunswick is less celebrated for its Atlantic coastline, Islands of New Brunswick (Nimbus Publishing, 2013) provides numerous examples of the rich and diverse natural and human history that may be found on that province’s maritime margins. On the best known of these, Grand Manan in the Bay of Fundy, extensive coastal walks are available around virtually the entire perimeter. Most of New Brunswick’s rocky islets, whether still populated or now deserted, boast rambling possibilities, especially at low tide. Meanwhile, the challenging Fundy Footpath, the most rugged, multi-day trekking experience available in the Maritimes, traces every ravine and headland along the Bay of Fundy shoreline. The Coastal Trail in Fundy National Park provides a similar, but day-long only, experience.
Underground New Brunswick: Stories of Archaeology (Nimbus Publishing, 2013) examines the evidence of our human history, exploring the fifteen archaeological stories throughout the province. Most of these sites have short, informal walking paths associated with them. However, those wishing to explore our history might consider walking or biking along the Trans Canada Trail. From Woodstock to Grand Falls, a distance of 115 km, it follows the St. John River, using an abandoned rail-line that has been repurposed into a pathway. In Fredericton, the Old Train Bridge crossing the St. John River was converted to a trail in 1997, and provides superb views throughout its 600-metre length.
We enjoy an almost endless variety of options for trekking throughout Atlantic Canada. This year, I recommend that you pack your favourite Atlantic Canadian book, hike to a pleasant, outdoor location, and read in the open air. It might provide a new perspective on our distinctive environment.
Michael Haynes is the author of a number of hiking guidebooks, including the upcoming Trails of Prince Edward Island (Goose Lane Editions). He enjoys walking, biking, canoeing and snowshoeing. In fact, if it takes place outdoors, he has probably tried it.