Back to Your Roots

It may be spring in Nova Scotia but someone forgot to mention this to Mother Nature! One of our first tours of the season began early on a very chilly morning, thankfully the skies remained interesting but no rain or snow came.  The moody clouds and brisk wind set the atmosphere for the day to unfold.

Our first destination was Knoydart, a tiny community in Pictou County and part of our Culloden tour.  Every year, people gather in this spot to honor the soldiers who survived the uprising then ultimately fled Scotland to settle in Nova Scotia.  It is always held as near to April 16 as possible, the date of the Battle of Culloden, which lasted approximately 25 minutes and changed the course of history!

As people began to arrive, the road became lined with men in kilts and the skirl of the pipes could be heard.  On this particular day, the Governor General of Nova Scotia, the honourable J.J. Grant, was there as were descendants of Hugh McDonald, Donald MacPherson, and Angus MacDonald, survivors of Culloden and settlers in this area.

We followed the procession along a gorgeous path, to the memorial on the shores of the Northumberland Strait – what a back-drop!

 

Pipers, speeches and Gaelic graces and poems were presented in front of the cairn. It was wonderful to witness such preservation of Scottish roots, history and culture.  The douse of whisky on the memorial signified the end of the ceremony at the cairn, but more would continue in the local community hall with lunch, singing and socializing.

Following the festivities, we headed to Arisaig to visit St. Margaret of Scotland Parish cemetery in search of ancestral graves.  Although interesting, on this particular visit we didn’t find what we were looking for.

A short drive took us to Arisaig Lighthouse – what a beautiful spot!  We ‘picnicked’ on the rocks and marveled at the spectacular scenery.  The fisherman were in the nearby harbour getting ready for “dumping” day (when traps are dropped in the ocean) and it was quite a little hive of activity.

We meandered along back roads to the village of Thorburn where we met with local councillor Troy MacCulloch.  Troy and one of our guests, also a MacCulloch, were exploring family ties, and in an offer of true, genuine Nova Scotian hospitality, we piled into Troys truck for a backroad adventure into the wilderness to find the family gravesite!

The road to the site was blocked by windfall from winter storms, but a short hike soon found us at a beautiful, remote cemetery, high in the hills of Pictou County.

As he stood on the gravesite of his ancestors, our guest commented, “I feel connected somehow and I wonder what their lives must have been like.  I now feel the urge/pull to learn more”!

It truly was a day of visiting Scottish roots, feeling the draw of the homeland and embracing some of the rugged, historical beauty this area has to offer.

Canada’s 150

2017 is shaping up to be an exciting year for BDT!  We have created some new and unique offerings to our list of tours (which are fully customizable to your interests) and are quickly filling up for the season!  As Canada celebrates its 150th year of confederation, we want to invite you to join us in the festivities.

We have created a 150th Birthday Tour and invite you to party with us and make it your own – see and do what you want to…tailor your own Canadian birthday party!  What better year than this to explore the Maritimes, visit the Birth Place of Confederation and get to know this beautiful part of Canada?

There are so many events happening, kitchen parties, ceilidhs and festivals; all parks under the Parks Canada umbrella have free admittance this year…. Why not make this a year to remember and let us help you design your memorable vacation?

We’re also excited to add exclusive tours of the Bay of Fundy, “Fundy Adventures”.  We will provide you with your very own personal, local, knowledgeable tour guide for hiking, fossils and wildlife…and perhaps the local news – you’ll be a local here in no time!  It’s a fantastic opportunity to really get to know the wonders the Bay of Fundy holds and life in the surrounding communities. We have three fully customizable tours/suggestions available…and if you’re a horse lover, Oh Boy, do we have a treat in store for you?!  Love swimming?  We can also offer a unique experience there too!

Perhaps acquainting yourself with one of our many gorgeous little towns is on your mind?  Why not step out the box and visit Tatamagouche?  It’s a wee gem of a town and certainly worth a day trip…or two!  So much to see and do in the town and lots more in the near vicinity….let us help you explore some truly hidden gems in our back yard.  Check out the “Tata Tour” on our website under the Blue Diamond Collection.

We want you to celebrate Canada’s birthday your way, in your time and see and do all you want to.  If you’re looking to do something out of the box, from Sky diving to hot air ballooning or just want a leisurely sightseeing drive, we will work with you to make your wishes come true.

Let’s celebrate our 150 in style….what do you want to do?

Winter Walk on the Northwest Arm

The winter is our quiet time but that doesn’t stop us from exploring, sometimes the cold winter months can offer a different perspective or view.  My wife, Ann, and I decided to visit the “place where time began” known locally as ‘The Dingle’ but officially as Sir Sandford Fleming Park.

This 95 acre park is located along the stunning Northwest Arm of Halifax and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area.  It was donated to Halifax in 1908 by Sir Sandford Fleming, creator of universal Standard Time Zones.  The park is part of his original estate and it was his wish to have the Dingle Tower erected to commemorate 150yrs of the establishment of a representative government in Nova Scotia.

I used to visit this area as a young boy and have fond memories of people skating and playing hockey on the ice in the Arm.  Despite our cool winters, we seldom see this anymore and certainly didn’t on this trip.  We did see pans of ice playing host to resting gulls, drifting seaward with the tide. Really quite beautiful and relaxing to watch.

A great way to spend a chilly winter afternoon.

Thinking of PEI this year?

2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation so what better place to spend it than in the Birth Place of Confederation itself, Prince Edward Island.

Many of our tours encompass a fleeting visit to Prince Edward Island, the “Gentle Island”, as it is only a couple of hours from Halifax.  It is a superb place for spectacular scenery, sumptuous food and generally a lovely place to relax.  Most visitors will know it as the home of “Anne of Green Gables”, Cavendish Beach and Charlottetown, with its related attractions.  This particular trip, however, avoided all red-haired pigtails and very few “popular” tourism attractions were visited – it was a quick visit for the beauty and taste the Island has to offer.

Our first port of call was Malpeque Bay – Home to what are said to be the “finest oysters in the world”!  I personally, have to agree with this statement.  We dined on fresh oysters and mussels in the Oyster Barn and I have to say, they truly were absolutely divine!  Malpeque Harbour is teeming with fishing boats, lobster traps, crab traps and is absolutely gorgeous to stroll around…especially following such a fantastic feast!

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A short drive from Malpeque took us to Cabot Beach Provincial Park where we enjoyed a gorgeous stroll along an almost deserted beautiful beach! (We still had to work-off the oysters).

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Although all roads in PEI offer spectacular scenery, travelling on back roads can make travelling more interesting, so as we headed to Stanley Bridge we avoided highways, took back roads and occasionally even a ‘red mud’ road. We spotted fishing boats heading out and returning, St. Mary’s Church, wildlife and even hemp fields!

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Our evening meal was in Stanley Bridge at Sutherlands restaurant.  We were the soul occupants of the outside dining deck and thoroughly enjoyed dining “al fresco” as the sun went down.

The following day was somewhat of an early start as we wanted to explore “Up West” PEI before returning for a concert.  We meandered on and off the highway (we had no choice due to time and detours because of construction), passing by some gorgeous scenery and places to explore on another trip, before we arrived in Cape North – the most Northern point of PEI.

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Hold on to your hats!  It’s windy here, no wonder it’s home to North Cape Wind Farm.  Visit the interpretive centre, dine in the restaurant and definitely explore the walking trails!  This coastline is also home to the largest rock reef in Canada – where shore birds congregate and Inuksuks watch over. We also witnessed numerous fishing boats and very large seals in the ocean.  It truly is a fascinating spot to be in.

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The mix of natural beauty combined with the windmills makes this a rather mesmerizing place to visit.

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As we drove down the western side, we briefly stopped in Skinner’s Pond – Home of Stompin’ Tom and our last view of Cape North Wind Farm.  We popped into West Point Lighthouse Inn & Museum, walked along a stunning, deserted beach and made a mental note to come back here and stay, before heading to Victoria-by-the Sea for the evening.

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Victoria-by-the-Sea is perhaps one of the quaintest little villages in PEI with so much to offer and such gracious hospitality!  We had a superb meal at the Landmark Café….actually, we couldn’t stop eating so stayed a lot longer than intended!  A wonderful, family run restaurant with absolutely delicious food and warm hospitality….and only a couple of minutes’ walk to the Victoria Playhouse!

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Victoria Playhouse is a beautiful theatre housed in an old school.  It offers an intimate performance without a bad seat in the house.  It offers such a vast array of performances, there will surely be something to please you.  We certainly enjoyed seeing Gordie MacKeeman and meeting him and his band after their performance.

Following a superb breakfast, we followed the Central Coastal Drive along the shoreline, popping into Argyle Shore Provincial Park before stopping at our destination, Fort Amherst National Historic Site.  Stunning views, history, a Mi’kmaq exhibit, and walking trails with interpretive panels…needless to say we spent quite some time here!  We chatted with some locals using the trails, which really added to our visit.  This will certainly be on my itinerary for future trips!

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Upon heading back to Confederation Bridge, we couldn’t help but take a slight detour to visit “Deep Roots Distillery” – so thankful we did!  Owner, Mike Beamish, was on hand to chat about his business and offer samples.  We couldn’t resist his Maple Liqueur – How Canadian 😉

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A whirlwind two days full of beautiful scenery, history, sites and fantastic food!  Why don’t you join us next time?  This is a 48hr enchanting escape that will help you leave all your cares behind….we promise!

What a Year!

Wow, what a year for Blue Diamond Tours!  Not only I have I discovered new places, I’ve made new partnerships and met some wonderful visitors!

I partnered with Van Tours of Nova Scotia who really “took over” the Shore Excursion component of Blue Diamond Tours which has been beneficial to me – it gave me time to create and develop customized, multi-day tours throughout the Maritimes, my specialty and I have to admit, quite my favourite thing to do.

I have travelled along most of the shorelines in Nova Scotia and scenic roads throughout the Province, basked in the glory of PEI and zig-zagged my way through New Brunswick. Each tour has been completely unique and the company I’ve had amazing.  From War Brides to little Max, I have truly enjoyed every excursion and that is thanks to you, my clients.

I feel so privileged to have been able to introduce you to the Maritimes, see things through your eyes and explore your interests.  I do hope you all have fond memories of your time here and I hope to see many of you again.

Thank you for making this such a wonderful year for myself and Blue Diamond Tours.  I’m looking forward to 2017 and where my/your travels will take us.

Swiss Air 111

We create shore excursions based on your interests and how long you have in Nova Scotia.  We have many examples of our tours posted on our website, but generally, they are a basis to build on.  Each one, for each client, is different – that’s what makes BDT different!

Peggy’s Cove is a relatively short drive from Halifax so we often include it in our shore excursions, incorporating other “attractions” along the way.  This may include anything from quaint fishing villages to the Swiss Air 111 Memorial site, located on St. Margaret’s Bay.

As taken from NS Tourism:

On September 2, 1998 Swissair Flight 111 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Halifax Stanfield International Airport at the entrance to St. Margaret’s Bay. All 229 people on board perished. The crash site was 8 km / 5 mi from the shore, not far from Peggy’s Cove in the South Shore region. A short walking trail (30 m) to a monument in memory of the people who lost their lives can be found at the Swissair Memorial Site in Peggy’s Cove in the South Shore region.

It is a lovely memorial and well worth visit. Just down the road is another memorial, a burial ground containing remains of those found at sea after the disaster.  It is a peaceful spot and for me, always reminds me of a tour from a couple of years ago:

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I had the pleasure of accompanying a Swiss couple on a shore excursion.  When creating their itinerary, they said a visit to the Swiss Air memorial was a must.  Not a problem as I often include it on my trip along the St Margaret’s Bay coastline.

As we explored the memorial, the reason for including it in their tour soon became apparent.  The couple had been neighbours with Urs Zimmerman – the pilot of Swiss Air Flight 111.  They spoke fondly of Zimmerman and told me not only was he a pilot, but also an instructor, prior to which he was a fighter pilot with the Swiss Air Force.  He was a wonderful, friendly neighbour and left behind a wife and three children.

Now, when I visit the memorial and burial site, I can’t help but think of the Swiss couple and Urs Zimmerman.  I feel very privileged to have been part of their goodbye to a dear friend and neighbour.

Bay of Fundy Shoreline

Many of our tours take us to Hall’s Harbour, it’s a popular place to witness high/low tides, spectacular scenery and of course, lobster.  However, there is another area in Nova Scotia, which offers spectacular views of the Bay of Fundy, scenic sites/sights and awesome food….and begins within an hour of Halifax!

From Halifax, a 45min drive took us to Shubenacadie – an interesting community with Mi’kmaq origins: “The Mi’kmaq spelling, Sipekne’katik, means the area where the wild turnips or wild potatoes grow.”

With Mi’kmaq and Acadian history subtly around, Shubenacadie also boasts to be the “Milk Capital of Canada”!  We had to stop in the Shubenacadie Tin Smith Shop Museum for a quick look around (and also purchase items from its super ‘craft’ gift shop).

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We followed the road along the Shubenacadie River, passing through dots of communities which were once, larger bustling areas.  A quick stop at the South Maitland Interpretive Centre which allowed for a spectacular view over the Bay of Fundy, by way of their boardwalk.  There was another trail leading along the marshes which is known to have superb ‘birding’, perhaps another time.

Maitland is a small community and home to the oldest general store in Canada (circa 1839) and also the home of W. D. Lawrence, who built the largest wooden ship ever to be built in Canada!  The store is still running and the W.D. Lawrence Museum open – this unassuming, sleepy little village, has a big story to tell and more than willing to share!  It also offers absolutely stunning, unparalleled views of the Bay of Fundy!

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Although we didn’t have time on this tour, this area also offers tidal bore rafting and mudsliding – two unique options for those seeking adventure!

The quiet country road took us along the shoreline of the Bay of Fundy which offered spectacular scenery!  We popped into the East Hants Historical Society Museum (super little place… and for Titanic enthusiasts who think they have “seen it all”, think again! This museum houses an embalming table which is believed to have been used for John Jacob Astor – the richest man aboard the Titanic!).

A short distance away is Anthony Provincial Park.  What a story this park had to tell us!  It’s beautiful, scenic…with a replica Atomic Bomb in it!

“The American Navy had been testing bombs in Florida and were using divers to retrieve them from the ocean. This was found to be cumbersome so the Navy searched North America for an alternative. The alternative was the Bay of Fundy. It was chosen because bombs could be dropped during high tide and then retrieved during low tide by driving onto the mud flats. “

There is so much more to this story, but WOW, in our back yard!

Leaving there, we headed to Burncoat Head – Home of the Worlds Highest Tides.

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Our next stop was Walton, home to “last original lighthouse in Hants County”! What a glorious sight, steeped in so much history and gorgeous scenery.

Following the shoreline along the Bay of Fundy, we ended our trip with a visit to the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery.   This award winning little eatery was a superb way to end our alternative Bay of Fundy Visit!

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So it may not be Hall’s Harbour.  You will not witness high and low tides in a quick excursion.  You will, however, see scenery like no other, learn about little known history, have the opportunity for adventures offered nowhere else in the world and enjoy Hants County Hospitality!

Want to join us next time?

Anthem of the Seas

On Thursday 1 September, one of the largest cruise ships in the world and certainly the largest to ever visit Nova Scotia, docked in Halifax Harbour.  The MS Anthem of the Seas, carrying approximately 4,180 passengers (plus crew) towered over the Halifax waterfront, which, speaking in Nova Scotia terms, is “more than three Peggy’s Cove lighthouses stacked on top of one another”!

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Photo of Anthem of the Seas towering above Pier 21!

Anthem of the Seas in Halifax

Photo Credit: Gary Brinton Photography

It was quite a spectacular sight and certainly kept tourism operators in the area very busy!

I had the wonderful pleasure of touring a group travelling on this ship around the greater Halifax and Dartmouth area.

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They were as interested about Nova Scotia as I was about their travelling city!  One comment from the passengers summed it all up:  “Big and Bigger is not always better”.

Doppelganger and Dahlias

During the busy tourist season, my wife, Ann, often wonders where I am and what I’m up to…a bit of “Where’s Bob?” instead of “Where’s Waldo”.  Although I do try to keep my family informed of my whereabouts, a recent email made them question my Maritime touring and if perhaps, I had moved further afield.  A guest of BDT’s recently travelled to Iceland and sent me the following message:

“Not only did the gent I saw remind me of you, he had nearly the same Tilley hat you wore.  He also was very happy. As part of Iceland’s tourism activities, they’re bringing in lots of cruise ships from US, Canada, and Europe. I remember you telling us that was your specialty, so I assumed when I saw your double that was why you were there.”

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Well, yes, my Tilley hat is a telltale sign of me, cruise ship excursions are certainly a big part of my business, but I haven’t taken any trips to Iceland nor am I running excursions in Iceland….I think I had to do a little convincing with my wife that I am not an international jet-setter!

I decided to spend some time with Ann and explore our own back yard.  We began in Halifax Public Gardens which is a glorious sight at this time of year.  Multiple weddings were being photographed, children were darting in and out of the flowers, but what really captured my attention were the Dahlias!  On, August 31st, Halifax is home to an Annual Dahlia Day Celebration, hosted by the Halifax Public Gardens & the Nova Scotia Dahlia Society and judging by the display in the gardens, it will be a spectacular celebration!

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From the city sights to country roads, Ann and I travelled along the Bay of Fundy and spent time exploring Baxters Harbour, Long Beach and Canning.

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I overwhelmed her with my wealth of knowledge about the area, chatted about tours I had brought here, buses that had broken down, Big Stop breakfasts and huge lobsters to be found!  I think she now believes I am not an International jet-setting tour guide…just a down-home Nova Scotian guy who loves his Province.

BUT, if you do happen to see my double anywhere, please send a photo or let me know where…

Seriously…the Big Stop?!

As a tour operator, we visit sites numerous times, but no tours are ever alike and we never get tired of seeing our beautiful Province and showing it off to others.  This particular day trip included a very unexpected “site”!

Many people who visit Nova Scotia want to see the World’s Highest Tides, which is fantastic, we have that to offer.  However, Time and Tide wait for no-one and if it means getting up at the crack of dawn to witness low tide, so be it.

In order to see low-tide in Hall’s Harbour, we had to leave Halifax at 6:15am – not your ideal vacation start time!  It was worth it.  We saw the Bay of Fundy empty, in all its muddy glory….but then what to do?  Certainly no attractions were open that early in the morning.  So breakfast, but where?  Where else than the Big Stop in New Minas.  This was certainly a first for me and thoroughly enjoyed by my guests.

By the time breakfast was finished, the world had come to life and we were able to visit Grande Pre before heading back to Hall’s Harbour to view high-tide.

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I’ve never thought about adding the Big Stop into an itinerary, but judging by how busy it was and how much it was enjoyed, it’s left me with something to think about.

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