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10 days Sea-ing the Maritimes

Written by editor

“I am not about to go climbing on the frozen glaciers of Iceland or stand on an ice flow in the Arctic, but an exploration of the Canadian Maritimes looked like a real possibility.”- Elinor Garely

“I am not about to go climbing on the frozen glaciers of Iceland or stand on an ice flow in the Arctic, but an exploration of the Canadian Maritimes looked like a real possibility.”- Elinor Garely

Support the Maritimes. Join the Canadian East Coast Wildlife Expedition

The very smart and savvy Cape Breton entrepreneur, Andrew Prossin, started One Ocean Expeditions as a way to bring attention to the Canadian Maritimes. Through his initiative he is raising the profile of the region and presenting its beauty as well as its challenges to a global audience.

There is no doubt that One Ocean passengers will be delighted with their Maritime experience. Whatever their choice of activities (i.e., kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, biking, birding, shopping) the experience is definitely going to be fun, memorable and safe.

Beyond a Holiday

It should be noted, however, that making a reservation and visiting the region has a far greater impact than just a perfect way to spend a holiday and get terrific pictures of puffins for uploading to your Facebook page.

The Canadian Maritimes have been losing population over the last few years and John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail highlighted the problem in his story of March 20, 2015, “How the Maritimes became Canada’s incredible shrinking region.” He points out that in addition to a declining population, there is a lack of immigrants, a weakening economy, and those remaining do not want to acknowledge that with fewer workers to pay taxes and an aging population in need of government services, the future for local citizens is not optimistic. While the people living in the Maritimes are reluctant to change, the area also, “….lacks the energy, entrepreneurial spirit and the desire for a fresh start that new Canadians bring,” according to Professor Peter McKenna, head of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

As a successful entrepreneur born in the region Prossin has brought his business acumen, ocean savvy and tourism expertise to a part of the world that is desperate for new economic development.

Get Ready to Explore: Ecotourism at its Best

The Canadian East Coast expedition starts in Louisbourg where 96 passengers get into cold weather gear (including waterproof boots), scramble over a rock-covered beach (outside the walls of Fortress Louisbourg) and step into rubber motorized Zodiacs for a short ferry ride to the Russian ship Akademik Ioffe that will be “base camp” for the next 9 nights and 10 days. (Reminded me of WW11 military movies showing beach invasions).

Thanks to a very professional and supportive crew, the journey is made without incident and passengers and luggage cross the Atlantic and climb up the ladder to the ship where water and weather-proof paraphernalia is left in the wet room and guests are escorted to the main reception area where cabin assignments are presented. My cabin is small but sufficient; in reality, very little time is spent inside – so a luxurious suite is a waste of space.

Once settled it is time for an introduction to the lifeboats used should we need to abandon the ship in the case of an emergency. These “dinghies” are very tiny and hard to get in and out. My prayers are that the Russian Captain and the Canadian business executive in charge of us – know exactly what they are doing, so I do not have to exercise my newly learned skills on “how to evacuate a sinking ship.”

The day ends with drinks and dinner and promises of lots of things to see and do and hopes for good weather. The ship leaves Louisbourg, passes a light house and heads through the North Atlantic to the Outer Banks.

• Day 2. Sable Island

This 13 mile sandbar, covered randomly with 17 species of plants and marram grass, is located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean approximately 190 miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It has fascinated scientists and tourists – forever.

The Island is home to less than 6 year-round Parks employees and researchers, 400 feral horses and the largest gray seal colonies in the region. It is also a stop-over for migratory birds who are transiting from/ to the High Artic region. The Island became Canada’s 43rd National Park on June 20, 2013 with the approval of the Mi’kmaq stakeholders.

The Akademik Ioffe drops anchor offshore and we get into our ocean – going gear of pants and jacket, boots and life vests, herded onto the deck where, single file we are ticked off the passenger list and slowly trundle down the ladder to the waiting Zodiacs.

Fear of heights or cold rough ocean seas is not an option. The competent crew deals efficiently with the most recalcitrant passengers and within moments the Zodiacs are full and navigated to the sandy beach. One by one we are off loaded from the Zodiacs into the surf and encouraged to quickly scramble onto the beach, get rid of the heavy gear, put on beach walking shoes, heave backpacks into a comfortable position and follow the guides to view the wild ponies. We are also reminded not to collect rocks, shells or any plants and to leave nothing behind – not a tissue, not a crumb and definitely no water bottles.

It is remarkable that all this activity is run so well: 96 people with ages ranging from a few months to over 90 – are – within minutes- hiking over the sand dunes to explore the Island. With greater appreciation for Lawrence of Arabia – there is finally a horse sighting. Cameras are positioned, voices are hushed, and the awesome picture of the ponies standing by a stream – look as if scheduled by Disney.

It is definitely hard to believe that these horses are able to survive without any human intervention. There is ongoing debate on whether Parks should intervene in the life of the animals – providing additional food or perhaps the services of a veterinarian. At this point it is “hands off.”

After a trudge back to the Zodiacs and a return to the “mother ship,” we clean the sand from just about everything and get ready for additional activities or relax with a book and a drink, dinner and conversation.

• Day 3. Bird Island

While best viewed from the water via kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, the charm of the local community can be experienced by biking and walking along the quiet roads.

Make a stop at the Englishtown grave yard and at its center look for the headstone of the Cape Breton Giant, Angus MacAskill (Scottish born, Canadian giant) who died in 1863. At 7’9” tall and weighing approximately 425 pounds this Cape Breton celebrity toured with the PT Barnum circus for many years. Frequently he was featured with Tom Thumb who danced on the palm of the “giants” right hand. Another interesting stop is the Englishtown Ferry (1977). The Torquil MacLean connects cars and trucks with Englishtown and Jersey Cove.

• Day 4. The Magdalen Islands (Les Iles-de-la-Madeleine)

This archipelago forms part of the Canadian province of Quebec and is located in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Originally populated with the Mi’Kmaqs who used the location for hunting walrus, today it is popular with summer tourists interested in sea kayaking, wind and kitesurfing and winter visitors eager to observe new-born and young harp seal pups.

A shopping highlight is the Fumoir d’Antan smokehouse where the smoked herring industry is still cherished. For three generation the Arseneau family prepares and sells plain and marinated herring fillets, smoked mackerel, salmon and scallops.

Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent has been making cheese since 1998. The herd is fed hay and pasture grasses that grow on the Island, without chemicals and pesticides.

Artisans du Sable offers sandcastle workshops and original sand sculptures since 1981. The organization is a member of the Visual Arts and Handicrafts Circuit and the Economuseum network.

Cercle de Fermieres de Havre-Aubert includes a group of Island women who work on home-based handcrafted projects during the winter and sell them in the summer. The organization’s mission includes the development and advancement of women, promoting the interests of women and family, supporting volunteerism, and to protect the cultural heritage and crafts of the locale. Charming scarves, hats, pot holders and placemats.

This locale has become a popular destination and over 52,000 visitors, spending over $45 million (2003) are enriching the local economics. Be sure to visit – sooner rather than later.

• Day 5. Bonaventure Island and the Gaspe Peninsula

Bonaventure Island became a migratory bird sanctuary in 1919. Over 293 bird species have been recorded as visiting, migrating or living on the island. The northern gannet is the most common and this island home to one of their largest colonies in the world. Other birds found here include black-legged kittiwake, common murre, terns, black guillemots, auks, herring gulls, great black-backed gulls, razor bills, and Atlantic puffins.

This is a locale for interesting shopping. Look at Wazo for beautiful original handcrafted jewelry that reflects the nest-design creativity of birds and the randomness of sea-art. Other designers that deserve attention include Melanie Trudel at Ceramique, Lapidaires, Agate et Caillou at Artisan Tailleurs de Pierre and Donald Cahill at Peinture. For everything chocolate visit Chocolat Diane (Choclats [email protected]).

Additional information.

• Day 6. Anticosti Island

Located at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River the area was “discovered” by Jacques Cartier (1534) and gifted to Louis Joillet for discovering the Mississippi River (1673).

It is primarily of interest to hunters (the island is home to approximate 166,000 white-tailed deer), fishermen, hikers, bikers, birders (159 bird species have been spotted; over 100 nests on the island), and photographers. Hiking along the beaches at the eastern end of the island plus Zodiac cruising enable birders to spot shorebirds, seabirds, whales and seals. For additional information:

• Day 7. Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

Definitely world-class hiking, biking available at this UNESCO World Heritage site in western Newfoundland; however, there is excellent shopping opportunities that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.

Molly Made Fibre Art Studio

Molly and her husband specialize in hand-hooked rugs and the needle arts (knitting, crocheting, felting and spinning). Incredibly charming and willing to chat about their art and craft products and projects these entrepreneurs share secrets to designing and executing beautiful small and large size covers that can be tossed on a floor or hung as a tapestry, worn as a compliment to any outfit, or proudly presented as gifts. The quality of the work (i.e., rugs, sweaters, caps, scarves, mittens) is in the OMG league and juried by the Craft Council of Newfoundland.

Aunt Maggie’s Homespun

• Maggie’s Homespun

Traditional Newfoundland patterns are preserved in Margaret King’s hand-knitted sweaters. Her specialty is Thrummed Knitting where sections or pure raw wool (purchased from Atlantic Canadian woolen mills) are woven into the stiches adding contrasting colors to the sweaters, hats, convertible gloves and mittens, vamps (short socks used as slippers), hats and scarves that are one-of-a-kind.

Maggie’s showroom is located in the basement of her modest Woody Point home and a short walk from the town center. King…”would love to be remembered as the knitter who created 1000 other knitters.” A must stop at the destination and/or her website: For additional information.

• Day 8. Francois, Newfoundland

This is a community that time has by-passed. There are no roads to the town; the locale is only accessible by boat or helicopter and snowmobile in the winter. The first settlers arrived at the beginning of the 18th century and were employed primarily in the fishing industry. With a bleak future, the population has been in steep decline. As of 2012 it had a population of 107 with 10 children in the school program. The Canadian government has offered resettlement programs and they have been rejected.

A very hilly destination that offers hiking and cross-country winter skiing – with spectacular views and hospitable residents, it makes a perfect locale for poets, writers, artists and philosophers looking for a secluded spot for thinking creatively. Come for the views and stay for contemplation.

• Day 9. Miquelon, France

Located at the entrance to Fortune Bay, 900 miles northeast of New York and approximately 12 miles from the Newfoundland coast, this self-governing territory is very French and the only piece of the former colonial empire of New France that remains under French control! Access requires a valid passport and purchases are made in Euros. Formerly a prosperous location due to fishing and smuggling (Al Capone slept here during the time he was running bootleg liquor into the US during Prohibition), the economy has declined leaving the community heavily dependent upon tourism.

When first discovered by Joao Alvares Fagundes in the early 16th century it was named the Island of 11,000 Virgins because it was “discovered” on the feast day of St. Ursula (patron saint of Virgins). It became a French possession in 1536 by Jacques Cartier on behalf of the King of France.

The End is Sighted

The last night with One Ocean is highlighted by the requirement to pack, settle-up outstanding charges and gratuities plus an outdoor buffet that displays the culinary skills of the chef and the sincere service of the staff. This is a moment to savor the unique experiences of the journey, exchange addresses and emails with new friends and contemplate all the unanswered emails and telephone calls waiting in cyberspace for our return.

• Day 10. Louisbourg

Passengers and luggage are off-loaded at the Louisbourg Harbor and directed to bus transfers for Sydney and Halifax airports for return flights.

10 Afore You Go

1. Passport required

2. Euros and Canadian cash

3. Seasick happens. Bring powered Gatorade and electrolyte pills

4. Changeable weather requires layers and more layers – think comfort (jeans and chinos); not Gucci and Valentino

5. Bring sneakers, weather-proof walking shoes; forget the stilettoes

6. Cameras

7. Backpack (weather proof); forget the tote

8. Sun/rain hat (with a tie under the chin)

9. Sunscreen and skin creams

10. Pepto and Imodium

• Most Importantly: Do not bypass One Ocean Expeditions. The moments and the memories cannot be duplicated.