Sunday, 11 October 2015

Stepping Back in Time in Nova Scotia

A picture of the Queen Mary 2 taken from tenders, or small boats to go ashore
This blog entry was written on October 7 but is being published now that I have internet access!

Today we arrived in Sydney, Nova Scotia and we couldn't ask for a more gorgeous day. Our ship, the Queen Mary 2 is very large and there was already a Holland America ship docked at the port, so we had to take tenders, small boats seating 120 people to get to shore. The 15-20 minute ride was fun, as the water was so calm there were hardly any ripples.

Once on shore we wandered around the area near the port, as destinations further away, like the Alexander Graham Bell Museum are several hours' drive by car and we didn't have that much time to explore everything.

One massive fiddle at the terminal!
Sydney was founded in 1785 by Colonel Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres, a Swiss-born Canadian statesman who acted as Lieutenant-Governor of Cape Breton (the regional municipality) from 1784 to 1787.

The town was named after Thomas Townsend, first Baron (later Viscount) Sydney, the British Home Secretary. The first residents were mainly Loyalists who fled after the American Revolution.

In the 19th century there was an influx of Scottish immigrants, which may explain why kilts are popular here as well as bagpipes and fiddles. Speaking of which, at Sydney Marine Terminal to greet marine visitors there's the world's largest bow and fiddle that are 60 feet tall, made of solid steel and weighs 10 tons.

An apothecary set up in the Jost Heritage House
We visited a few historical sites near the terminal, starting with St Patrick's Church Museum. It's the oldest Roman Catholic church on Cape Breton Island, built in 1828 and was a church until 1950 before being turned into a museum 16 years later.

Inside there are interesting artifacts, from antique playing cards, and Chinoiserie porcelain, to various styles of school desks and old maps.

We next visited the Jost Heritage House on Charlotte Street, that from the outside looks very ordinary and at first we weren't quite sure if we wanted to go in. However, once we walked in and paid CAD$3 admission, we weren't disappointed.

The house was originally built in 1786 and then bought by Thomas Jost, a merchant in 1836 and owned by his descendants until 1971. Jost made his money by opening a general store in the ground floor of his home, and today there's one room themed "apothecary" with all kinds of antique medicines, mortar and pestles, bottles from centuries ago and manuals from that time.

An uncomfortable-looking bed!
One room, the parlour, was considered the best room in the house, and this one had a portrait of Queen Victoria on the wall. Upstairs there was even a shawl displayed that was once owned by her too – she had given it to one of the captains of her bodyguards before he immigrated to Canada.

A bedroom revealed how the beds were made – the bottom was strung vertically and horizontally before laying down the mattress made of straw – talk about easily getting a bad back!

By the bed was a wash basin and pitcher, where water was drawn by a well, and a chamber pot on the floor. That was already considered luxurious as it was an even worse predicament to have to go outside to the outhouse in the middle of the night or in freezing temperatures of 25 below Celsius!

The basement had an interesting display of tools, like an iron, egg beater, candle making equipment, and even an ice cream scoop. There was also an old school wooden contraption to wash clothes in. The instructions said to mix a bit of flour into the water, probably to soak up the oil, then to scrub hard before laying things out to dry. As the Josts had 10 children, there must have been a lot of washing to do…

The minimalist but nice parlour in the Cossit House
We visited another house nearby, the Cossit House that is considered Sydney's oldest house built around 1787. It was the home of Reverend Ranna Cossit, the town's first Anglican minister. He and his wife had 13 children, but 10 survived.

He fled from the American Revolution and was given the house and land. The guide explained that most things were original in the home, like the floorboards and chimneys, while most of the furnishings were from that period.

While there was less to see in this home, the place was well preserved and furniture of good quality. At the back of the home they planted lots of herbs, and there would have been an outhouse and a well.

A peek inside St George's Church
Afterwards we visited St George's Church for British engineers who laid out and surveyed the town in 1784. One of the guides explained that the Queen Mother visited this church in 1967, the year of Canada's centenary and sat in the front row on the right side.

We then went in search for Governors Pub & Eatery for some lobster rolls. The place was already bustling when we got there and we managed to get a table. We promptly ordered lobster rolls (CAD$14.99) and were not disappointed at all!

Unlike the McLobster rolls we had two years ago in Halifax, these were choc full of fresh lobster with little mayo and celery in between a soft long bun that was warm. So good.

The seafood chowder was also excellent, again featuring fresh seafood like haddock, salmon, halibut, shrimp and lobster in a broth that wasn't salty. However the dessert of apple crisp was a tad too much on the sweet side, but loved the extra dose of cinnamon in it.

Delicious lobster rolls for lunch with a salad
We made our way back to the terminal via a wooden walkway along the waterfront. It was a pleasant stroll, except that when we got closer, we could see a massive line for the tenders to get back onto the ship!

When we visited the Jost House, one of the volunteers told us that they were now experiencing summer weather, whereas the summer they had just had was cold and not a lot of rain.

On some real estate agent office windows we saw homes for sale, starting at CAD$32,000! While it must be nice and quiet during the summer (and all the lobster you can eat), the winters must be a real drag.

We enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and beautiful weather
We wonder if we'll get back to Sydney again sometime, as the Alexander Graham Bell Museum would have been interesting, as well as the Marconi National Historic Site, where Guglielmo Marconi sent the world's first trans-Atlantic wireless message from Glace Bay in 1902.

The locals are also very friendly – perhaps because the town doesn't get many visitors except for those traveling through by ship. Nevertheless, we are still thinking of those delicious lobster rolls and hope to sample more on our trip!

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