From Cape Breton’s 18th century French fortress of Louisbourg to the German-founded picturesque South Shore community of Lunenburg, nearly all of Nova Scotia’s must-see attractions come with fascinating historic backgrounds.
It took 28 years to construct the star-shaped Citadel Hill fortress which has stood guard over Halifax, Nova Scotia’s provincial capital since 1856. Halifax’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic stands in the middle of the city’s Historic Properties waterfront area along the world’s second biggest natural harbor. However, not all of Nova Scotia’s history lies within Halifax.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Only a third of Cape Breton’s breathtaking Cabot Trail is contained within the first national park established in any of the Atlantic provinces. However, there are no shortage of attractions between the picturesque coastal town of Ingonish and charming Chéticamp, a predominantly French-speaking community. In between reside endless stretches of waterfalls, mountains, forests, and the tundra-like plateau for which the park was named. Even the scenery at Ingonish’s Highland Links golf course is just as big an attraction as its 18 challenging holes. Few other road trips on Earth can rival the splendor of the Cabot Trail’s full 185 miles.
Address: 37639 Cabot Trail, Ingonish Beach, NS B0C 1L0
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
The star-shaped structure standing guard over Halifax is actually the second citadel constructed to protect Nova Scotia’s provincial capital. The fortress formally known as Fort George, is usually just referred to as ‘The Citadel,’ and was constructed over a 28-year period to replace an older fortress established in 1749. Although the Citadel never needed to be used to defend against American invaders, it became an important Canadian army station during both world wars. Today, the Citadel has been painstakingly restored to its original mid-Victorian splendor, complete with daily noon ceremonial gun firing. Visitors can learn more about the Citadel’s history from the army museum within its Cavalier Block and living history program depicting daily 1869 Halifax life.
Address: Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, P.O. Box 9080, Station A, Halifax, NS B3K 5M7
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
A deck chair recovered from the ill-fated 1912 Titanic voyage is among the most famous of the more than 30,000 artifacts displayed at Canada’s biggest and oldest maritime museum. Visitors may also want to bring tissues to the exhibit depicting another tragic event in Halifax history; the 1917 explosion which killed 2,000 people and leveled much of the city after two European ships collided in the harbor. This moving museum also includes Canada’s biggest collection of ship portraits, including the country’s oldest, shipwreck treasures, and original Theodore Tugboat production models.
Address: 1675 Lower Water Street, Halifax, NS B3J 1S3
This ocean liner terminal was the first stop for over a million and a half immigrants who came to Canada between 1928 and 1971. The former ‘gateway to Canada’ is now the National Museum of Immigration, containing more than 700 books, 300 films, 500 oral history interviews, and countless photographs on the subject. The archives have been expanded to include First Nation stories from 1867 to modern times and the nearly 500,000 WWII soldiers who departed for the battlefield from Pier 21.
Address: Pier 21, 1055 Marginal Road, Halifax, NS B3H 4P7
Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site
During the early 18th century in Nova Scotia, the present-day Cape Breton village of Louisbourg ranked second only to Québec City among strategically important New France communities and contained North America’s third-busiest port after Boston and Philadelphia. Louisbourg owed much of its prosperity to its extensive fortress, which took two decades to build and was twice captured by British soldiers. In 1760, British engineers destroyed Louisbourg’s fortress so that no one else could use it. Almost exactly two centuries later, Canada’s government began its painstaking restoration of both Louisbourg and its fortress to their original 1740’s glory. Stones from the original fortress and traditional 18th century French masonry techniques were used whenever possible. Today, the Fortress of Louisbourg has become one of Canada’s most extensive living history museums, complete with hundreds of costumed interpreters, cannon and musket demonstrations, and three period restaurants.
Address: Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, 259 Park Service Road, Louisbourg, NS B1C 2L2
Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse
The most famous of Nova Scotia’s many lighthouses has stood guard over Peggy’s Cove, a tiny village containing no more than a dozen houses situated a half hour’s drive southwest of Halifax since 1914. Summer visitors should come in the early morning or weekdays to enjoy the least crowded views of this iconic red-and-white lighthouse. Other significant landmarks in Peggy’s Cove are a memorial to the victims of the 1998 Swissair Flight 111 crash and the Fisherman’s Monument carved into a 100-foot granite rock face. Visitors should be extra careful when navigating the large and slippery boulders on the shore.
Address: Eastern Nova Scotia
Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site
The telephone was merely the most famous of Alexander Graham Bell’s inventions, many of which were created at Bell’s Baddeck estate in the heart of Cape Breton. Bell’s former home is now a fascinating museum where visitors are recommended to spend at least two hours. Although the museum contains Bell’s entire library, none of its books are larger than the ‘Big Book’ mounted on a wall illustrated and authored entirely by children who visit the site. Kids are also encouraged to participate in scientific experiments and frequently offered kite flying workshops.
Address: Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, P.O. Box 159, Baddeck, NS B0E 1B0
Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site
More than 500 Mi’kmaq petroglyphs are found throughout the only Canadian national park which is also a historical site. Actually two geographically separate regions, the main park is situated within southern Nova Scotia’s isolated interior, while the smaller Kejimkujik Seaside can be found along the South Shore coast between Lunenburg and Shelburne. Kejimkujik Seaside and the interior lake for which the park is named both boast many relaxing beaches. The main park also contains four major rivers, 15 scenic hiking trails teeming with wildlife and several isolated campsites which can only be reached by canoe or foot. As a designated Dark Sky Preserve, the area is also an ideal stargazing spot thanks to its secluded location far from any major communities or artificial lighting.
Address: Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, P.O. Box 236, Maitland Bridge, Annapolis County, NS B0T 1B0