Spanning the eastern coastal provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Canada’s Maritimes enjoy rolling sandy beaches, lush craggy clifftops and all the naval heritage you might expect from a region shaped by the sea.
Warm Acadian hospitality awaits those who venture out on the open waters to the East, so embrace the true spirit of coastal living and explore the seafaring ways of Canada’s Maritimes on your next Canadian holiday.
“Canada’s ocean playground”, as this region is affectionately referred to, is miles away from the buzzing built-up metropolis of eastern cities like Montreal and Canada’s capital Ottawa. Yet, what it lacks in urban refinement, it certainly makes up for in tranquillity and natural beauty.
If you want some downtime after discovering all the neighbouring provinces have to offer, the relaxed vibe and waterside activities of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are perfect for a rejuvenating long weekend.
Nicole from Digby Scallop Days, the annual nautical celebration in Nova Scotia, explains:
“Don’t rush through. The pace of life is slower here than most of the rest of the world. That is an experience every person deserves to have in their lifetime. Luckily for those who live in the Maritimes, it is our way of life.
“Go off the beaten track. Take the time to reach out to locals. This region is primarily rural, so the residents are personable, friendly and hospitable. Your trip will be made by the people you meet and the details in your day.”
Jillian at Discover Saint John agrees, adding: “We are known for our welcoming smiles and never-ending hospitality. It’s a laid-back atmosphere but has lots going on – you don’t need to feel rushed but can still feel energized. Ask the locals for their favourite hidden gems and unknown trails, restaurants and parks.”
There are airports in some of the region’s larger centres of Halifax, Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton, but if you plan to visit Quebec or Ontario beforehand, there are a number of flights to Toronto in Canada. Pick up your Canada rental car at the airport and take the scenic route to your adventure in the Maritimes.
Boasting long golden beaches, pretty fishing villages and historical lighthouses, the coastal landscape offers unrivalled seaside nostalgia. Vibrant cities such as Halifax and Saint John, with their many attractions and distinguished seafood restaurants, mean that there’s plenty to see and do if you plan to stay a little longer. Once you experience Acadian Canada first hand, trust us, you may never want to leave!
What to expect in the Maritimes
“Breath-taking seacoast, living history, friendly locals and fresh seafood each hold the promise of experiences you will remember for years to come” says Tourism Nova Scotia.
Peter from Tourism Nova Scotia adds: “What makes our culture unique in Nova Scotia is the diversity of founding cultures and how those cultures are still present and celebrated today.”
Indeed, the region has welcomed communities from all over the country and beyond the seas. In Canada’s Maritimes you’ll discover European, Gaelic and predominantly French Acadian influences across the three provinces. Acadia refers to the colony that travelled to Canada’s ‘New France’ territories, settling in the Maritimes in the 18th century. You’ll get a feel for this continental culture in New Brunswick especially. Diego from the province’s popular marine Écocentre Homarus tells us more:
“The culture and atmosphere here are very celebration-oriented through gatherings and our very welcoming people and their communities. When you come to New Brunswick, you experience the Acadian culture through music, food and art.
“The uniqueness of our region is its landscape and its way of life. Local seafood, like lobster, is very present when it is in season, and can even be purchased straight off the docks when fishermen finish their day.”
In fact, fishing is the leading industry in the region and, naturally, a skill that the locals hold dear. As Nicole continues: “There is no place on Earth like the Maritimes. Like the ocean, the culture of this area is vast, unchanging and humble. Maritimers live close to the earth – making their living from the sea, the woods or the land. This connection infuses the art, the food and the pastimes of the region.”
Top Things to see and do in Canada’s East Coast provinces
Prince Edward Island
The Maritimes’ smallest province, Prince Edward Island offers larger than life fun for families holidaying in the region.
With miles of untouched beaches, contrasting vivid green hills and red sandstone cliffs, it’s also abundant in natural alluring landscapes. You could walk for miles alongside the shoreline on the historic Confederation Trail, getting swept up in the beauty of this island and watching the waves sweep over the sand.
If the wide outdoors is calling to you, the rural community of Cavendish may appeal. Craig from Prince Edward Island Tourism explains: “The acres of beautiful camping areas, dining, attractions and a number of the world’s most magnificent beaches have earned Cavendish the title of the number one family vacation destination.”
Cavendish is also home to one of the greatest literary characters ever penned: Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. You’ll find attractions dedicated to the precocious red-head all over Prince Edward Island, but Cavendish’s Green Gables Heritage Place is arguably the most authentic. Here you can see the local author’s own home, where she brought the stories to the page, and stroll along many of the trails and gardens on site as well as the original Green Gables farmstead. Find out more about Anne of Green Gables and her connection to the island in these quick facts from Prince Edward Island Tourism.
Prince Edward Island’s iconic lighthouses are telling of the region’s naval past, and if you want to explore the seafaring ways of Canada’s Maritimes, it’s well worth taking note of this map from Prince Edward Island’s Lighthouse Society. All 63 lighthouses are mapped out, but if you only visit one or two, make it Cape Tryon Light on Cousins Shore or Wood Islands Lighthouse to the south east. Both these buildings are remarkable and their surroundings are not to be sniffed at either!
If you’re visiting between September and October, Prince Edward Island Tourism recommends heading to one of the autumnal culinary extravaganzas to see first-hand why Canada’s Maritimes are celebrated for superb seafood.
Fall Flavours highlights the best gourmet creations and skilled chefs, taking you to venues throughout Prince Edward Island between September and October 2016. Likewise, the PEI International Shellfish Festival is touted as the “biggest kitchen party in Atlantic Canada” and is not to be missed if you’re a fan of live music and a connoisseur of oysters, clams, lobster and the like. In 2016 it is taking place from September 15th until 18th.
Nova Scotia is the Maritimes’ epicentre for discovery, whether you prefer stumbling across a quiet spot to dip your feet in the warm salt waters of Melmerby Beach or want to find new trails in the province’s spectacular national parks.
Peter from Tourism Nova Scotia adds: “In Nova Scotia, cultures combine to form a wonderful tapestry of experiences. That there are three World Heritage Sites (a total of five UNESCO sites) in the province speaks to a vibrant history that’s been wonderfully preserved.”
Cape Breton Highlands National Park is the perfect introduction to the stunning scenery on offer in Nova Scotia and with 26 trails to choose from, you’ll have plenty to explore. One third of the well-known Cabot Trail passes through the parkland and the Cape Breton’s mountains meet the shoreline forming some of the most interesting landscapes in the province.
Digby Scallop Day’s Nicole also suggests a second national park for intrepid explorers. She says: “Kejimkujik National Park is a dark sky preserve in Nova Scotia which makes for excellent stargazing. In August the Perseid meteor shower occurs and taking it in under a vast starry sky is a once in a lifetime experience.”
Away from the wilderness, Nova Scotia’s capital city Halifax is ideal for an evening jaunt with more bars and pubs per capita then nearly any other city in Canada! Take a stroll along the Halifax waterfront boardwalk and down to the harbour, which you may recognise from its starring moment as a backdrop in one of the greatest films of all time. Titanic is just one of the many hit TV shows and movies filmed in Canada.
Soak up Nova Scotia’s history at some of Halifax’s leading attractions. The hilltop Halifax Citadel will demonstrate the enduring strength of this fort built in the 1700s, as well as the 78th Highlanders who protected Nova Scotia’s capital. Besides the city’s British roots, you can learn about Halifax’s French flair at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. This museum brings the 18th century back to life through daily demonstrations of dancing and cooking, as well as military re-enactments.
If it’s Canada’s Maritimes’ reputation for delectable seafood that’s brought you to Nova Scotia, why not travel to the town of Digby on the southwestern coast?
Nicole says: “The seafood in Nova Scotia – especially in Digby – is second to none. While Digby is known for its scallops, haddock is king for fish.”
You can try Digby’s “fruit de mer” for yourself at the area’s longest running celebration. The annual Digby Scallop Days Festival, held August 4th until the 7th, is an opportunity to honour the local scallop fishing industry and of course sample some of these tasty morsels of the sea!
Join in a number of lively festival events and activities including boat races and the seaside scramble. Be sure to check out the pretty quilt and rug show and on Thursday you can see the new Scallop Days Queen crowned in a very nautical parade and coronation. If you want to experience the famed hospitality in the region, then this friendly Maritime community event is perfect.
Home to the largest Acadian population in the Maritimes, New Brunswick offers a slower, more traditional way of life beside the sea.
Learn about the French heritage of the province at the Village Historique Acadian, a living museum where you can explore more than 40 original Acadian buildings and the families that call this village their home. The Acadian influence runs through every part of New Brunswick, including its seafood, and as Diego from Écocentre Homarus says, “It is worth the trip just having a lobster dinner the ‘Acadian’ way, which is boiled in salt water and enjoyed when it has cooled down.”
He continues: “Lobster is very popular here, we even have a Lobster Festival in Shediac (the lobster capital of the world). But visiting New Brunswick is not only about food, it is also about scenery and celebrating with others. The coastal drive all along our coast is absolutely breath taking. I recommend spending at least one week here if you want to see and do a little bit of everything.
“The Écocentre Homarus is definitely a must-see when in the Shediac area because we have developed an educational attraction that highlights our favourite crustacean, the lobster, which is presented in a way that represents the friendliness of Maritimers.”
Elsewhere in the province, the picturesque fishing city of Saint John is sure to offer up some amusement overlooking the coast. Be sure to visit the Saint John City Market, where you’ll find farm fresh produce from New Brunswick as well as an eclectic mix of crafts, clothing, books and more. You could also explore Saint John via its public sculpture trail of 14 artworks carved from New Brunswick granite and placed around the city. The Sculpture Saint John initiative began in 2012 as a way of promoting access to art for everyone.
Of course, New Brunswick is also home to one of Canada’s most notable natural landmarks – the Bay of Fundy. Jillian from Discover Saint John explains how you can experience this favourite attraction from the heart of the city: “Saint John is the only city of the Bay of Fundy that has the unique phenomenon known as the Reversing Rapids.
“The amazing phenomenon of the Reversing Rapids is a sight to behold. If you time it just right, you can watch the Bay of Fundy’s monstrously high tide reverse the flow of the mighty St. John River, even as it pushes through a gorge formed by the collision of continents millions of years ago.