Lighthouses and Landscapes — Why You’ll Want to Linger in Southwestern Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

Cape Forchu Lighthouse, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Photo: Davey and Sky/Tourism Nova Scotia

Long after I leave Seal Island Lighthouse Museum in Barrington in southwestern Nova Scotia, I think of Mary Crowell, the 17-year-old preacher’s daughter so haunted by shipwreck stories from Seal Island, a critical Bay of Fundy sailing point, she later led a charge to establish its first lighthouse — a beacon of hope and haven synonymous with this Maritime coastline.

I learn her story inside the five-storey, 35-foot-tall replica lighthouse where employees tell how Mary met and married Captain Richard Hichens (who survived sinking off Cape Sable) and moved to this dangerous spit of land to light nightly candles to show shipwreck survivors there was land. Eventually candles weren’t enough, and they petitioned for a lighthouse — its lens first lit in 1831.  

It’s fascinating stories like this I savour on a three-day lighthouse and landscape scoot around the pink and purple lupin-lined, wild-rose scented highways of Nova Scotia’s southwestern tip, where fog rolls in like a living thing; pearly grey and thick one moment, gone the next. Where gentle breezes and wild wind whip a coastline studded with fishing villages and big wharves. 

It’s a lesser-known region, to be sure, where I’ve come to photograph these storied, steadfast sentinels, yet discovery is everywhere. 

I’ve tromped rugged paths to weathered beacons, climbed jagged rocks to gaze at endless sea, photographed a drowned forest and feasted on seafood stew stuffed with massive quahogs plucked from these shores, washed down with a glass of Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia’s own wine appellation.

Like many here, I find unhurried peace. 

“Every day, I look out the window and I’m still in awe,” says David Chute on the area’s appeal when we meet at the Cooper’s Inn in Shelburne, a Loyalist-founded town turned movie set for A Scarlet Letter and The Book of Negroes

 

Nova Scotia
Cooper’s Inn, Shelburne, N.S. Photo: Shelley Cameron-McCarron

 

He and wife Pat recently sold the 1785 inn to Amanda Sutherland, 32, an Ontario transplant. Says Sutherland, “This province just felt like me, the natural geography.”

I understand as we stroll from the inn’s social hour in historic gardens through narrow lanes redolent in wildflowers to an excellent dinner (chaat and vindaloo!) at Charlotte Lane Café in one of dozens of wooden houses stretching up from the harbour. 

We’re in Shelburne to photograph Sandy Point Lighthouse at sunset. Upon approach, the tapered tower appears to float in Shelburne’s harbour, rising from a sandbar, submerged at high tide. At low tide, visitors can walk to the beacon.

 

Nova Scotia
Sandy Point Lighthouse, Shelburne, N.S. Photo: Chef Dany Duguay/Tourism Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
Sandy Point Lighthouse, Shelburne, N.S. Photo: Shelley Cameron-McCarron

 

 

From their edge-of-the-world vantage, each lighthouse inspires.

Take the 101-foot Cape Sable Lighthouse, the province’s tallest, that beach strollers see towering in the distance walking The Hawk on Cape Sable Island, at Nova Scotia’s most southerly tip. Most striking is the beach’s 1,500-year-old drowned forest exposed at low tide — petrified tree stumps still rooted in the original soil. 

 

Nova Scotia
Cape Sable Lighthouse on Cape Sable Island, N.S. Photo: Chris MacFarlane 2019/Tourism Nova Scotia

 

Nearby, in Clark’s Harbour, a must-try is The Salt Banker, opened in August by two lobster processors, the island’s first eat-in restaurant in almost 20 years. 

Next morning, mist encircles Shelburne as we depart 45 minutes toward Baccaro Lighthouse, an important seabird site, to find the wooden 1934 lighthouse shrouded in fog, huge swells pounding shore. An hour later, we reach Cape Forchu Lighthouse at Yarmouth Harbour, one of Nova Scotia’s most iconic towers.

Nova Scotia
Baccaro Lighthouse, Shelbourne, N.S. Photo: Shelley Cameron-McCarron
Nova Scotia
Cape Forchu Lighthouse, just outside Yarmouth, N.S. Photo: Jake Brenner/Tourism Nova Scotia

 

The approach to the rocky headland is dreamy — all boats and buoys, cliffside houses, and wild roses with rosehips so enormous people collect them in fall for rosehip jelly. 

The photogenic “apple core” Yarmouth light is tall and slender, built to be wind-resistant. The community wasn’t thrilled at first when it replaced a more traditional structure, but accepted it after decades, jokes our guide, who leads 77 spiral steps up the Climb the Light experience for 360-degree views. Plan too to wander the Leif Erikson Trail and order a lobster roll from the Keeper’s Kitchen. 

Meandering Yarmouth to Digby, up the French shore, provides multiple stops: Cape Saint Mary Lighthouse overlooking majestic cliffs, where a granite monument poignantly commemorates lives lost at sea; Belliveau Cove Lighthouse, a ’80s replica built at wharf’s end after a storm toppled its predecessor in 1973; and Gilbert’s Cove Lighthouse where the lighthouse lantern sits atop the keeper’s house! 

 

Nova Scotia
Cape Saint Mary Lighthouse Park, Yarmouth and Acadian Shores. Photo: Jake Brenner/Tourism Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
Belliveau Cove Lighthouse, Baie Sainte-Marie, N.S. Photo: Sue Thompson/Tourism Nova Scotia

 

Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa commands its own entrance as we arrive at the 1929 Norman-style château, our overnight stop, where chef Dale Nichols helms the Churchill Dining Room. The menu changes frequently but be assured their famous Digby Scallops are always available. 

 

Nova Scotia
Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa, Digby, N.S. Photo: Courtesy of Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa

 

Our final stop next day is Point Prim Lighthouse, atop rocky cliffs overlooking Digby Gut, where a light has guided mariners for two centuries. The first beacon was a simple bonfire. A musket shot sounded a warning. The current 1964 reinforced-concrete tower may look plain Jane, but its value — along with topography highlighting the world-renowned Bay of Fundy — is immeasurable, says Robert Hersey, Friends of Point Prim chair. “It’s a true sense of place,” he says, as a scalloper plies the bay below. 

 

Nova Scotia
Point Prim Lighthouse, Digby, N.S. Photo: Courtesy of Tourism Nova Scotia

 

 

RECIPES

 

Signature Smoked Haddock and Bacon Chowder 

 

Lighthouses and Landscapes
Photo: martinturzak/Getty Images

 

Fresh Thyme l Onions l Potatoes in Creamy Seafood Broth

Recipe courtesy of Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa, Digby, Nova Scotia. “Chowders are unique to every household and community in Atlantic Canada.  No two are the same, nor should they be. Our smoked haddock is prepared by Fundy Fisheries about 10 km from the Pines as the crow flies, but about 45 minutes to drive.” 

Chowder Base

Ingredients:

¼ lb butter
2 cups white onion – diced
1 cup diced celery
1 lb raw bacon – cooked almost crispy and cut in half inch pieces
1 lb smoked haddock
1 tbsp dried thyme
¾ cup rice flour — dusted over mirepoix to thicken stock
4 cups fish stock (or water if necessary)
4 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes – cut in small chunks — cooked separately and added to finished product    

Finish the chowder with:

35% cream
Salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions:

1. Melt butter in pan. Sauté onions, celery, bacon and thyme in butter until all is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the smoke haddock. Dust with rice flour.*

2. Add the fish stock a little at a time, stirring to incorporate and avoid lumping.

3. In a separate pot or steamer, cook potatoes until tender and add to finished chowder base.

* Thickening with rice flour avoids the gluten free situations.  

 

Baked Stuffed Lobster

 

Lighthouses and Landscapes
Photo: Joakim Carlstrom/Getty Images

 

Recipe courtesy of The Salt Banker, Clark’s Harbour, Nova Scotia.

Ingredients:

2 to 3 1 ¼ lb Live Lobster
2 tbsp butter
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
Pinch of black pepper
½ cup cracker crumb (soda cracker or Ritz for a richer stuffing)
Extra melted butter for final drizzling
Fresh chives for garnish

Instructions:

1. Steam lobster for approx. 15 minutes — they are done when the back separates from the tail.  Cool, then split the lobster in half, cutting down the back and through the tail and shell. 

2. Chop lobster meat into bite-size pieces and sauté with butter, onion, celery and pepper. Sauté over medium to high heat until the lobster starts popping. 

3. Remove from heat and add the lobster to a bowl with cracker crumb; reserving the liquid in the pan.

4. Stuff the lobster halves with the lobster stuffing.

5. Place on parchment lined pan and bake at 375 F for 15 minutes. Remove and drizzle with melted butter and liquid from pan, sprinkle with chives and enjoy.

 

Pan-Seared “World Famous” Digby Scallops and Scrunchions

Nova Scotia
Photo: Courtesy of Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa

 

Yukon Gold Hash Browns l Carrot Tarragon Mash l Buttered Green Beans

Recipes courtesy of Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa, Digby, Nova Scotia.

Serves 8

Ingredients:


3 tbsp canola oil
3 lbs ‘World Famous’ Digby scallops — 10/20 grade
½ lb salt pork back fat, skin removed
1 medium onion, diced small
4 large Yukon gold potatoes, washed and cut in half inch cubes
Carrot Tarragon Mash (recipe below)
2 tbsp butter
1 lb fresh green beans, pre-cooked
Lemon Butter Sauce (recipe below)

Instructions:

1. In a large fry pan, add the canola oil, season the scallops, and sear to a golden brown, about 1 minute on each side. Set aside to keep warm but don’t overcook them.

2. For the hash browns, heat some canola oil in a large non-stick fry pan. On a medium-high heat, fry the onion along with the potatoes to put some good colour on the potatoes. Turn the heat down and continue to fry until the potatoes and onions are cooked and nicely browned. 

3. Warm the carrot tarragon mash and heat the green beans in a bit of butter. Season with salt and pepper.   

Scrunschions

Cut pork fatback into small cubes. Add to skillet, fry at low to medium heat until fat is rendered out and fatback is crispy and golden brown. You can drain the initial liquid periodically given off by the pork fat. (Don’t overheat or the fat will burn..) Remove pork scrunchions; set aside.

Carrot Tarragon Mash

Ingredients:

4 medium carrots, peeled and cut in small pieces
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
2 tsp Honey
2 tbsp. Butter
Salt and pepper

Instructions: 

1. Boil the carrots until soft. Drain the water and mash the carrots with fresh tarragon, honey and butter. Season with salt and pepper.

2. On each plate, spoon a nice amount of potato hash browns. Place a few green beans criss-cross over the potatoes.  Scoop two little piles of the carrot tarragon mash on each plate. Arrange the scallops randomly around the plate and sprinkle with some of the pork scrunchions. Drizzle with a little butter sauce and enjoy! 

Lemon Butter Sauce

Ingredients:

2/3 cup white wine
1 ½ tsp shallots, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2/3 cup cream (35%)
1 cup unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Boil the carrots until soft. Drain the water and mash the carrots with fresh tarragon, honey and butter. Season with salt and pepper.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, add wine, shallots and lemon juice and reduce volume by half. Add the cream and reduce for another five minutes. Cut the butter into cubes and add slowly to the cream mixture over medium heat, whisking until a smooth sauce is obtained. Season to taste.

 

Chaat

 

Lighthouses and Landscapes
Photo: Courtesy of Charlotte Lane Cafe

 

Recipe courtesy of Charlotte Lane Cafe, Shelburne, Nova Scotia.

Serves 4

 

Ingredients:

Chickpea & Potato:

1 large potato
1 cup cooked chickpea
2 tsp of garam masala

Mint Chutney:

1  cup cilantro leaves
½ cup mint leaves
1 tbsp ginger & garlic paste.
1 green chili
Lime juice as per taste
Salt and pepper as per taste.

Sweet Tamarind Chutney:

1 cup brown sugar
½ cup dates
½ cup tamarind
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
½ tsp red chili powder
1 cup water

Chaat:

12 flour crackers
1 cup puffed rice
½ cup fried lentils (found in Indian grocery stores)
½ cup yoghurt
Green chutney as per taste
Tamarind chutney as per taste
1/4 cup sev (chickpea noodles)
Cilantro leaves, few sprigs
Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Instructions:

1. Boil potato and chickpeas until soft. Add garam masala and salt as per taste.

2. For green chutneys add the ingredients in a blender. Blend it until smooth consistency.

3. For tamarind chutney, cook it all in a pot and bring it to boil. Put the mixture in a blender and blend it.

4. To prepare the chaat, put all the ingredients except sev in a bowl. Mix it well. Garnish with sev, cilantro and pomegranate seeds.