Atlantic Canada

This week, with the help of photographers from flickr, we will just enjoy looking at some photos of lovely places in Atlantic Canada, which includes Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick.

Signal Hill and the Battery, St.Johns, Newfoundland

Signal Hill, Newfoundland by Scott Grant


Cape Spear, Newfoundland by Max Kipp


L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland by damslfly

Western Brook Pond, NL

Western Brook Pond, Newfoundland by Jerry Curtis

Churchill falls, Labrador.

Churchill Falls, Labrador by Paysan

The Escape

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia by Bob Boudreau

Cape Breton

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia by Mary of Rovarhamn

PEI Beach

Beach on Prince Edward Island by Kevin A. Morton


Hartland Covered Bridge in New Brunswick by Mark Goebel

Hopewell Rock

Hopewell Rock, New Brunswick by Moira Fenner

Activity: Use a good atlas or google maps to find the places referred to in these photos and mark them on your map of Canada.

Photo collage of Eastern Canada: Atlantic Provinces


Sable Island

Sable Island (Chronicle Herald)
Two hundred and ninety kilometres southeast of Halifax lies an island of sand. It is about 42 kilometres in length and only 1.3 kilometres at it’s widest point. Its dunes rise not more than 90 feet above sea level. There are no rocks, no crags, only one small stunted tree. And yet it has been a significant player in history along the eastern Atlantic.

Surprisingly, this little patch of sand is not bare. In fact, the marram grass that grows across it’s length holds it all together as it’s roots form a tangled network. You may also find wild cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, primroses, beach pea, wild roses and many other types of vegetation. At one time cranberries could be had in such abundance that they were exported from Sable Island to those on the mainland.

There are small ponds of fresh water, a few freshwater fish, birds of various descriptions, seals, and wild horses. It is not known exactly how the first horses arrived. Perhaps they were shipwrecked on the island, perhaps they were brought there purposely. However, when the Acadians were deported from Halifax, their farms and animals were taken and some of these horses were shipped to Sable Island and became wild. At various times during the islands history, new horses were contributed as breeding stock and many were taken from the island to be sold at auction.

Scattered around the coast of this island are the sad remnants of ships who ran aground in the miles of sand traps that surround it. The icy northern waters meet up with the Gulf Stream and create strong currents and also thick mist making navigating difficult.

At different times during Sable’s history, people have lived here. Some because they were cast on her shores, some because they were part of an establishment to help save lives when ships ran aground. The first Humane Establishment was set up by Governor Wentworth in 1801 and it continued for 148 years and was the means by which many lives were saved.

Recently Sable Island has been given the designation of a national park reserve. This will give greater protection to it’s flora and fauna, however it will also provide the opportunity for increased tourism…

This is where you can go to see Sable Island horses, without having to go to Sable Island itself: Shubenacadie Wildlife Park

Film: Chasing Wild Horses, by Arcadia TV; Sable Island Horses by Debra Garside

Books: Sable Island — An Imaginative and Exciting Journey to the World’s Northern Galapagos, and an Eloquent Plea for the Preservation of a Unique and Timeless Part of Nova Scotia, by Bruce Armstrong, Formac Publishing Company Ltd., 1981, 2010.
Free as the Wind, Saving the Horses of Sable Island, by Jamie Bastedo (picture book|), Red Deer Press, 2007.

Now on Google Street View: CBC Article

Maud Lewis

Maude Lewis painting

This little lady is a huge inspiration to me.

Born in 1903 in South Ohio, Nova Scotia, she had to learn to cope with many challenges: a birth defect which left her with hunched shoulders, arthritis which gradually cripped her hands, frail health, and losing both her parents in her early thirties.

Not long after the death of her parents, she married Everett Lewis (a fish peddler) and went to live in a tiny house in Marshalltown. This house had only one small room with a loft above and no indoor plumbing or electricity!

She began to paint and sell Christmas cards to her husbands customers eventually moving on to larger paintings. Considering her circumstances (poverty and ill health) her paintings are wonderfully cheerful and bright.

Toward the end of her life, her paintings began to be in demand. She died in 1970.

The house Maud and Everett had lived in was dismantled and moved to a spot inside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia after being carefully restored. Maud had painted bright flowers and butterflies everywhere bringing beauty to the little house and leaving behind an inspiring symbol of joy despite hardship.

BOOKS: Capturing Joy: The Story of Maud Lewis by Jo Ellen Bogart, Tundra Books, 2002.

FILM: Maud Lewis: A World Without Shadows.

And a new film, Maudie:

OTHER: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; Maud Lewis House Replica; Painting fetches $20,000!

Atlantic Lobster


Giant Lobster on display in the Natural History Museum in Halifax

If you look at Nova Scotia on a map, it looks a bit like a lobster claw. The people who lived here a long time ago considered lobster a common meal because there were lots of them around and they were easy to catch. But now a nice big lobster can cost about three times as much as a chicken!

Did you know that a lobster may live up to 100 years and can grow to be almost as long as you some of you are tall (3 feet)! But a lot of lobsters are caught in the traps and eaten when they are about 5-7 years old.

Lobsters start out as eggs the size of a pin head. When the eggs hatch the little squiggly creatures float up to the top and wiggle around and grow up there for a few weeks, and then those that don.t get eaten by hungry fish, settle back down to the bottom.

As they grow, their hard outside gets too small and they have to keep squeezing out of it. They eat everything they can get their claws on once they get out, sometimes they even eat their old shell. This happens a lot the first few years, then slows down to only once a year.

Did you know that sometimes a lobster can drop a claw or a leg if they are in trouble, and it will grow again!! Another interesting thing about lobsters is that their teeth are in their stomach!! They chop up their food (fish, crabs, clams, mussels, sea urchins and sometimes even other lobsters) into pieces with their claws and put it in their mouths, and then it goes into their stomach which has a surface like your molars and it gets ground up.

I am not a fan of eating lobster, but if you are brave enough to try, here’s how to do it.

When preparing boiled lobster, it is essential that the lobster be alive when it is placed in the pot. The lobster’s natural colours are blue, brown, and green. When cooked, their outer shells will turn bright red.

To prepare boiled lobster, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about 1/2 cup of coarse salt for every 4 L of water. Sea water may also be used.

Drop the live lobster head first into the boiling water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. allowing the lobsters to cook for 15 minutes if they weigh less than 1/2 pound/375 g, or 20 minutes if the lobsters are large. Remove the lobsters from the water and plunge them into cold water for several seconds to separate the meat from the shells. Drain, cool and serve.

Every part of the lobster is fully edible, including the delicate-tasting liver and the bright red eggs found in female lobsters. The one exception is the greenish sac found inside the body at the back of the head.

Coal Mining in Nova Scotia

minersconveyorCape Breton is an Island that sits at the top of Nova Scotia. It is connected to the rest of mainland Nova Scotia by a thin man-made causeway called the Canso Causeway. The causeway took three years to build and was completed in 1955. It was built of granite that was blasted from nearby Cape Porcupine and dumped into the sea. It is a beautiful island a bit like the highlands of Scotland, which is perhaps why so many Scots settled here.

The French military first obtained coal in Cape Breton by prying it out of the cliffs with a pickaxe. The first proper coal mine in Canada was opened in Port Morien in 1720 by the French. This was because Fortress Louisbourg needed a readily available supply of coal. Over the many years since then there have been over a hundred different mine operations in this area.

The earliest tools used were probably crowbars, to help pry the coal from the rock outcrops. Later, when the first shafts were sunk, the miners used picks and wedges. During the 1800’s, they started to use hand augers or hand drills to make holes six feet deep which they filled with a charge of powder. This would break up the coal and make it much easier to get out.

The miner had to not only be strong, but he must also be courageous. Each day they went down the mines, they lived with the threat of death and frequently they were the victims of tragedy. When tragedies happened, however, the coal miners looked out for one another and were prepared to go down to find their trapped fellow workers.

Some of the dangers inside a mine were explosion due to coal dust igniting, the collapse of the walls and roof of the tunnel called a “bump”, explosion or asphyxiation from bad gas (methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide) that sometimes was trapped in with the coal and would leak out and fill the tunnel, and since most of the mines in Nova Scotia reach out under the sea, drowning from flooding. Coal miners were also often afflicted with lung diseases from breathing in coal dust. In Nova Scotia there have been ten major mining disasters and hundreds of people have died as a result of mining coal.

There are also environmental concerns with mining. Coal is not a renewable resource. Once we have pulled the coal out of the earth, burned it to produce electricity or steel, it is gone. We cannot make more. Although coal is more plentiful than oil and gas, it will eventually run out. Burning coal also produces carbon dioxide which contributes to global warming and acid rain.

PROJECT: Locate Cape Breton Island, Sydney, Glace Bay, Port Morien (first commercial coal mine in Canada), Springhill (site of three major mining disasters on the mainland).

FIELD TRIP: A wonderful museum that provides a remembrance of the early days of coal-mining: Coal Miner’s Museum, Glace Bay, Cape Breton.

BOOKS: Boy of the Deeps, written and illustrated by Ian Wallace, Douglas & McIntyre, c1999 (picture book), Out of the Deeps, written by Anne Laurel Carter and illustrated by Nicolas Debon, Orca Book Publishers, c2008 (picture book).

FILM: There is a CBC film called Pit Pony (1997). If you cannot find the film, you can read the book it is based on Pit Pony, by Joyce Barkhouse. In this story, some of the ponies used in the mines came from Sable Island.

View coal mining while serenaded by coal miners, Men of the Deeps.

The Story of Coal

The story of coal begins a very long time ago with plants. Forests of pine and fir trees and beautiful lacy ferns and moss grew thickly over parts of our world soaking up the sunshine. Some would die and others would grow in their place, and the cycle would repeat, building up layers of dead plants. At some point they were covered by water and sand and dirt were laid down on top of them by the water. Water is heavy and it pressed everything down. The water also kept air from getting to the plants so they didn’t turn back into soil the way plants usually do when they die. Instead the dirt above and the soil beneath were squeezed down until they turned into rock leaving pictures of fern leaves, and tree trunks in the rock above, and fossil roots in the soil below. This is why coal is called a fossil fuel. We all know that rocks don’t burn. Sometimes we put them around a fire outside for that very reason. But you know that plants like trees do burn. And all those plants pressed down by the weight of rock above, and baked by the heat that comes from the centre of the earth, during many, many years turned into something that looks like black hard rock, yet it burns very well and gives off all the heat those plants stored up as sunshine all those many years ago.

There are four stages of coal and they are different depending on the amount of time, pressure and heat they have been subjected to. Peat is the first stage of coal. It only takes a few hundred years to form. It is layers of dead moss and bog plants, and contains a lot of moisture. It must be dried out before it will burn and then it gives off a lot of smoke and leaves a lot of ash. Lignite has a brown, woody texture. It is crumbly and very soft. It gives off little smoke, and is good for making briquettes. Bitumous is the kind of coal that is most often found in Nova Scotia. It is black, streaky and breaks easily. It still contains some of the plant oils and therefore gives off smoke when it is burned. It is the most commonly used coal as it burns well and produces a lot of heat. Anthracite is the most valuable form of coal. It is very hard and black and is an excellent fuel which is smokeless and leaves very little residue. However, it is found deep under the ground and is expensive to mine. Coke is made by taking bitumous coal and baking it until all the oil is removed leaving pure carbon which burns well.

There is coal in other places in Canada: the western plains and the foothills of the Rocky mountains. The coal in Nova Scotia is mostly under the ocean and is reached by underground tunnels. However, most of the coal mines in Canada are surface mines. Surface mines reach the coal by stripping off the top layers of soil and rock until they reach the coal underneath. In Canada, when the coal has been removed, the mining companies are required to make the land look the same as it did before it was mined.

PROJECT: Remembering that coal comes from dead plants including ferns, find some samples of ferns or moss that grow near you. Notice what the soil was like where you found them. What else was growing nearby?


Come and Visit Nova Scotia

Halifax SkylineThis small and beautiful province is my family’s home at the moment. It is almost an island — connected to the mainland of Canada by a small, low piece of land called the Chignecto Ithsmus.

The biggest city is Halifax, built along one side of a natural harbour with the city of Dartmouth sprawling along the other side. The harbour stays ice-free right through the winter for all those big ocean-going vessels.

The north part of the province is the island of Cape Breton, connected to the rest of Nova Scotia by a man-made causeway. It is called “the highlands” for good reason as it is part of the Apalachian Mountain range — worn down and covered with forest. The highest point is Barren Mountain at 532 metres. It is a breathtaking place to visit in the fall.

Travelling along the coastline of the mainland brings you close to many fishing villages, colourful and haphazard, some big like Lunenberg and some small like Peggy’s Cove. The coastline changes randomly from steep cliffs to rocky beaches, pebbly beaches, sandy beaches, muddy beaches, etc.

The western coast which faces New Brunswick is unique in that it is home to the highest tides in the world — the Bay of Fundy. Depending on the tide, the boats may be floating alongside the dock, or resting on the bottom of the ocean far below the dock. A recent innovation to celebrate this is the “Not Since Moses” Run, where the running takes place on the muddy bottom of the sea.

Maritime Garter Snake

gartersnakeMy 11-year-old reptile-loving boy discovered a snake in our greenhouse last week. After doing a little research, he decided it was a Maritime Garter Snake. Fortunately, all the species of snake found in the Maritimes are harmless. However, Maritime Garter Snakes will bite if a person tries to capture them.

Maritime Garter Snakes are usually a beautifully patterned cinnamon brown. They are the most often seen snakes in the Maritimes mainly because they are larger than other common species and because they like to bask in the sun during the day. They are also excellent swimmers.

They will put on an convincing display of defense if provoked. They inflate their lungs to puff themselves up, flatten their body until their skin shows between their scales, flick their tongues repeatedly and face their threat with an open mouth and will strike with amazing speed.

They prey on small animals such as earthworms, salamanders, small fish, toads, frogs, and rodents. Their forked tongue takes samples of particles in the air to a part on the roof of their mouth called Jacobson’s organ which helps them to find their prey.

During the winter, all snakes hibernate under boulders or against the foundations of buildings, or other protected places. Quite often several snakes will hibernate together, and then after breeding in the spring will disperse.

A few birds such as herons and hawks will eat snakes. As well, racoons, black bears and foxes are know to occasionally include them in their diet. Strangely enough though, it has been said that the domestic cat is one of the most significant predators of snakes.

Other common species seen in the Maritimes are the Northern Redbelly Snake (takes shelter during the day and eats slugs), the Northern Ribbon Snake (lives near water with aquatic vegetation and eats frogs), Northern Ringneck Snakes (inhabits woodland areas, takes shelter during day, and eats salamanders), and the Eastern Smooth Green Snake (lives in grassy, shrubby areas, shores of ponds, lakes, streams, or roadsides, is active during the day, rarely attempts to bite, will climb vegetation, eats moth larvae, spiders, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, millipedes, and small snails).

More information on snakes in the Maritime Provinces.

P.S. Did you know that up until recently there were NO snakes in Newfoundland? There have been some found by wildlife officials in the last few years. However, there are still no porcupines, skunks or racoons.