About 60 miles west of Peggy’s Cove, Lunenburg’s maritime tradition runs especially deep. “This was once the fishing capital of Canada,” our guide Ashley Feener told our group as she led us down a steep street flanked by jellybean-hued houses in the seaport’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An eighth-generation Lunenburger, Feener explained that in the 1800s, locally built boats and their crews epitomized toughness. “Those were the days of wooden ships and iron men,” she declared.
I pictured schooners dropping anchor in the harbor, their crews relieved to be back from voyaging through turbulent seas to the Grand Banks southeast of Newfoundland, where they’d spent weeks catching cod. The ships’ holds overflowed with salted fish, but no one complained about the odor: “It was the smell of money,” Feener said.
Yesteryear’s “iron men” landed 5-foot-long fish weighing up to 200 pounds, Feener told us. Yet by the latter part of the 20th century, cod had become perilously overfished, leading to a government-imposed moratorium in 1992. Three decades later, the fishery is beginning a comeback as the cod population slowly recovers and restrictions are eased slightly.
It seemed appropriate that at the Savvy Sailor, I had breakfasted on fish cakes made with old-fashioned salt cod. At lunchtime at the Rum Runner Restaurant, we happily devoured sautéed scallops fresh off a local boat, giving equal time to one of today’s major fisheries.
From Peggy’s Cove, an hour’s drive east took us to Halifax, where a 2-mile-long boardwalk hugs the harbor. Rimmed on one side by fishing and pleasure craft, and on the other by cafés and shops, the boardwalk is the embarkation point for sightseeing boats as well as Harbour Hopper Tours’ gaily painted Vietnam War–era amphibious craft. Aboard one of the open-top, bus-like vehicles, we took an entertaining ride up Citadel Hill, back down alongside the Public Gardens, and then into the harbor. Cruising past the ships at the Royal Naval Dockyard, we enjoyed a grand cityscape.
At the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, also on the boardwalk, we steeled ourselves for an exhibit detailing the recovery of bodies from the 1912 Titanic sinking and their transport to Halifax for burial. Equally sobering was a display about the 1917 Halifax explosion that killed some 2,000 people when two ships collided near the docks.