We have explored most of the Nova Scotia coastline. But not all of it. Sure, we certainly haven’t delved as deeply into many places we’ve seen as we would like, but the reality is there is a finite amount of coastline in Nova Scotia and we’ve seen a lot of it.
However, the spot that topped the list of places we absolutely needed to see was the Tusket Islands. 2020 certainly has been a strange year, but it has offered up great opportunities too. Nova Scotia, as we’ve always said, is a world-class destination. Thanks to its incredible diversity in a relatively small geographical area, we possess so many unique and utterly stunning gems. We’ve been on a mission to showcase just how amazing our home province is and hopefully lead people to parts of the region that they might not have thought of visiting before.
We vowed that this would be the year we finally made it to the Tusket Islands. We built this area up in our minds as being something special. We poured over google maps and frothed over some of the beautiful photography from the area. Could it really be as good as we hoped it would be? The answer: No. It was better. The Tusket Islands sure do deliver.
Imagine going for a hike in a forest where all the trails were conveyor belts. Sometimes they would be gliding you along in the right direction only to suddenly stop or reverse directions entirely. That’s what traversing through the Tusket Islands is like in a boat. Being on the doorstep to the most significant and powerful tides in the world, the Bay of Fundy, the hundreds of islands (they say there is one for every day of the year) that make up the Tusket Islands create constriction points between each island that funnels millions of tons of water that are riding on the ever moving tide. Currents can top over 15km per hour making a calm inlet turn into a torrent in minutes. It’s for this reason that getting a qualified guide is essential. Not only will they keep you safe, but they’ll also regale you with some of the most incredible stories along the way.
On our recent visit, we had the pleasure of riding along with Simon LeBlanc of Tusket Island Tours aboard his boat. His family has lived and fished the waters around the area for generations and he possesses an intimacy of the islands like someone has with a best friend or loving family member. His Acadian twang only helps amplify his astounding, and what he describes as ‘mostly true’, stories. Take for example the island of Outer Baldonia. As legend has it, in 1949 an American businessman named Russell Arundel and a group of men found themselves deep into a session of rum drinking while hunkered down on the island during a tuna fishing trip. Perhaps inspired by the vastness that the view offers from their shanty, they proclaimed the island its own country. While not officially recognized by many other nations, including our own, the news of the birth of this micronation did echo far and wide, even getting the attention of the Soviets at the time. Simon slows the boat to a crawl as we pass by and then, with the precision of a rehearsed musician, recites the declaration of independence:
"Let these facts be submitted to a candid world. That fishermen are a race alone. That fishermen are endowed with the following inalienable rights: The right of freedom from question, nagging, shaving, interruption, women, taxes, politics, wars, monologues, cant and inhibitions ... The right to swear, lie, drink, gamble ... the right to sleep all day and stay up all night ..."Now, therefore, We bond ourselves in to a new nation, forever independent of all other nations, and do establish on the islands and waters of Outer Bald Island a new government which shall be forever respected and recognized as the Principality of Outer Baldonia."
The colourful history of these islands runs as deep as the Atlantic Ocean itself. First inhabited by our First Nations peoples some 10,000 years ago, the ongoing story of these islands is ever evolving and this has motivated many people to see that some of the islands receive conservation status. The unique position of the islands has made the waters around the Tusket Islands some of the richest fishing grounds in the North Atlantic. The islands are a vital stopover and nesting site for dozens of migratory birds. It was with this in mind that the Nova Scotia Nature Trust has led the process to see four of the islands officially protected so that the wild history of the islands can continue to tell their own story.
Perhaps it’s because of the ever changing pace of the tides that time on islands seem to play tricks with you. Moments can both last forever and yet days can slip by in an instant. That’s how we felt as we pulled up for the night to our shanty on Big Tusket Island. The Acadian culture is still alive and well on these islands. Over the many hundreds of years they have built homes and communities on the islands. While most people these days only visit the islands seasonally, there is a long history of residence and the use of the islands as a staging ground for the fishing season. Nowadays, you can rent one of these island homes or as the locals refer to them, a shanty, and live your own Acadian fairytale for a night or two. We highly recommend it for the staggering sunsets and sunrises alone (if you're lucky!).
The Tusket Islands blew our very high expectations out of the water. They offer a glimpse into a true Nova Scotia lifestyle that hasn’t really changed in generations, yet at the same time is rising like the tide to meet the world. If you are looking for an adventure that you will tell people about for years to come, that will grow each time you tell it until it resembles its own legend, then this is the place. So when you visit and have your mind blown please stop to tell Simon we said, “Hello!”.
While we were out with Simon on his boat, Jan couldn't resist the possibilities of surfing. The conditions weren't perfect, but good enough to jump out of the boat and catch a few waves off the tip of Outer Bald Island, potentially being the first person to ever surf off of the island. We should mention to use extreme caution if you plan to hop in your own kayak or SUP. Because of the currents and isolation, this is a dangerous area. Always use a guide!