Trans-Canada at 50: Finding Nova Scotia


Overlooking the Northumberland Strait, the Pictou Lodge has hosted luminaries, including Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

The Trans-Canada Highway is celebrating its 50th birthday in 2012 and the centennial anniversary of the first coast-to-coast road trip made in the country — accomplished by Thomas Wilby and Jack Haney, travelling from Halifax to Victoria. Vacay.ca writers have hit the road to come up with great tales to tell along this vital and historic route. Previously, Katie Marti suggested tips on how best to see the British ColumbiaAlbertaSaskatchewanManitobaOntarioQuebec and New Brunswick legs of the route, and Adrian Brijbassi took a trek through Prince Edward Island. In the ninth installment, he visits Nova Scotia.

Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor


The replica of the Hector is the major attraction in Pictou. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

PICTOU, NOVA SCOTIA — When you cross over the Northumberland Strait from Prince Edward Island, the ferry drops you back onto the Trans-Canada Highway outside of Pictou, one of those quiet Canadian cities that should be bragging more about what it’s got.

The Birthplace of New Scotland has a fascinating history, with colonial roots and early-20th-century celebrity prowess. In the mid-1700s, the British granted land to protestants from Pennsylvania, who cleared the area around Pictou and started a settlement. That community turned decidedly Scottish in 1773, when 189 passengers arrived by boat. A replica of the Hector, the 25.9-metre-long (85 foot) ship that carried them, is moored in downtown Pictou and is the focus of annual summer celebrations.

Seven kilometres from downtown and just off the Trans-Canada is the Pictou Lodge, a resort property that dates to 1926 and was once owned by the Canadian National Railway. Its historic accommodations include log-cabin bungalows that have hosted such luminaries as Babe Ruth, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, and King George VI of Britain, the subject of the Academy Award-winning “The King’s Speech.”

Scenic Drives in Nova Scotia

Large suites that are ideal for families have been added to the property, which sits on 165 acres and overlooks the Northumberland Strait. Quiet and relaxed, the lodge offers comfort and a respite for those travellers driving through the Maritimes. It has many activities and an airy restaurant with beautiful water views. Although the food is merely okay, you can’t go wrong with a Double Lobster Roll ($22). With a recent influx of funding, the lodge is able to stay open year round.

The downside of Pictou is the odour coming from a pulp mill. The smell can be atrocious and more pronounced near the water as you’re driving into the town, but improvements are being made. In January 2011, Northern Pulp received $28.1 million in government funding to reduce odour emissions and boost environmental standards at the mill. The odour is a fixable problem that should help boost tourism.

Meanwhile, visitors will continue to do what they’ve done for decades: Head east on the Trans-Canada into Cape Breton. Nova Scotia’s jewel is famous for its routes, the Cabot Trail and the Ceilidh Trail. Cities like Baddeck, home of Alexander Graham Bell, and Mabou, where the Rankin Family’s Red Shoe Pub is located, are among the stopping points on the island.

The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site is a must. It shows the remarkable imagination and genius of the inventor. Graham Bell’s experiments with the telephone, the Silver Dart and a massive hydrofoil that he sailed on the waters of the Bras D’Or Lakes are among the highlights.


Among Alexander Graham Bell’s experiments in Cape Breton was a hydrofoil that he would race across the waters. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

“Graham Bell never had a telephone in any one of his offices. He considered it an intrusion,” Rosalynd Ingraham of the museum says, noting one of the many intriguing facts about the man.

One of the most important Canadians in history, Graham Bell and his brilliance are wonderfully detailed in the museum, which is among the many manmade highlights of a drive through a province known for its natural wonders.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TRANS-CANADA! Have you got a great photo to share or story to tell about the Trans-Canada Highway? Share it with Vacay Nation! Email it to us at editors@vacay.ca and we’ll publish it during this 50th anniversary of the highway, which opened on September 3, 1962 in Rogers Pass, British Columbia. (Photos should be sent as hi-resolution JPEG images.)

Map Showing the Route from the Hector Ship to Pictou Lodge to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.

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