As our rental car navigated the narrow, twisting road off the highway, I nervously glanced at the clock. 10:05 AM. My husband and I had been hoping to make it to famous Peggy’s Cove by 9:30 to beat the tour buses that typically roll up around 10 and unleash throngs of camera-wielding tourists. We passed a white steepled church, wiry lobster traps strewn about and homes weathered by salt, wind and sea. It suddenly dawned on me that Peggy’s Cove was more than just a lighthouse: it was a community. And apparently we had that community to ourselves that sunny summer morning, as by some miracle we’d still managed to beat the buses—a welcome discovery as we finally pulled off the dusty road into the empty parking lot.
With no time to waste, we hopped out of the car and made our way to the iconic lighthouse, enjoying an uninterrupted view of Nova Scotia’s most famous landmark. As if on cue, a gentleman in a kilt emerged onto the rocks behind us, and the sounds of his bagpipe floated over us as we soaked in the scene. How’s that for an only-in-Canada moment?
One of the most photographed spots in the whole country, most people associate Peggy’s Cove with its lighthouse, a beacon has guided sailors and fishermen since 1868. But it turns out there’s much more to the sleepy village, which is the kind of place where people still use clotheslines and streets have names like Church Road and Lobster Lane.
Locals have earned a living off the sea since the early 1800s, catching groundfish like cod, pollock and haddock which they would clean, split and salt before shipping overseas. But when fish populations started declining nearly two centuries later, residents were faced with the tough decision to stay and slog it out, or start fresh somewhere new. Several hardy families chose to stay, and continue to fish to this day, reeling in the likes of mackerel, tuna and lobster. Their vocation is made evident by the boats, nets and traps gathered on the docks lining the shallow waters of the cove (known as shoals)—essential tools of the trade.
While very much a place where people live and work, Peggy’s Cove also embraces the visitors who swarm the village—particularly in the summer months—and staff a visitor’s centre along with bed and breakfasts, gift stores and art galleries, a restaurant serving up fresh lobster rolls and even a bar. While some day-trippers might only snap a shot of the lighthouse before jumping back in the car and continuing down Nova Scotia’s Lighthouse Route, it’s well worth taking time to explore the charming village on foot.
For residents of Peggy’s Cove, the coastline around St. Margaret’s Bay not only provides their livelihood, but also some dramatic scenery. The shoals, which have been given monikers like Halibut Rock and Horseshoe Shoal, are an eye-catching deep blue—creating a striking reflection off the water when the brightly-painted fishing boats are docked in the harbour.
Continuing along the coastline, lichens and moss cover what would otherwise be a barren, sandstone landscape. When glaciers receded over 10,000 years ago, they left huge boulders behind called erratics which now serve as a barrier between land and sea. Visitors are welcome to explore, but are warned to stay away from the ledge where the black rocks are as just one rogue wave can result in tragedy.
As I picked my way across the giant rocks and headed back to the car, I looked back for one last view of the lighthouse. In the 30 minutes that had passed, she had since been surrounded by dozens of people clamouring for the best angle of her bright white facade and cardinal-red top. I turned away, instead savouring my memory of her from earlier that day: a magical morning spent admiring a brilliant beacon in the company of a bagpiper and a cup of Tim Horton’s. Because Canada.
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