Birchtown and the East Coast of Nova Scotia

Birchtown. The guide book says that this was a community of Black Loyalist settlers, at one time the largest town of Black free citizens in the New World. The museum is housed in the old school house built in the 1830s, having replaced the original one from the 1700s.

The history of the Black Loyalists began when the British army needed locals to help fill their ranks in the American Revolutionary War. Advertisements went up, especially around New York Colony, asking for volunteers from the Colored community, free or slave. Freedom was promised to anyone fighting for the crown by Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton, the commander in chief of the British forces in America. They were given a certificate of freedom to travel to Nova Scotia or wherever they wished after the war. More than 1,000 black loyalists landed at Shelburne and were deeded land some ten kilometers away at Birchtown. The first years were ones of survival, living in pit huts dug in the ground and covered with logs. Because many were skilled tradesmen and women, having learned their trades while being slaves, they were able to find work in Shelburne. Because they were willing to work for less wages than the white settlers of the town, animosity broke out among some the citizenry and one of the first Canadian race riots occurred in Shelburne around 1800. Nevertheless, Birchtown still prospered. A school organized in 1785 was inspected by the chief magistrate from Shelburne, who was very impressed by the high level of education and management. The operation of the one room school house continued until 1860. Also in Birchtown are the burial grounds, a place according to legend and tradition has remained sacred. No tombstones mark the graves. But a monument erected in 1996 serves as a testimonial to the men and women who settled here. Anyone who wanted to return to Africa was allowed to do so and settled in present Sierra Leone.

Drive the six miles to Shelburne, the white loyalist center founded with Birchtown in 1783 by 3,000 loyalist settlers. The waterfront has been restored to the 1800s and features museums about shipbuilding and dory making, old fire fighting equipment, a cooperage, and many other interesting attractions. The town today caters to the tourist industry with B & Bs restaurants, galleries, and shops.

The next stop is Liverpool on the Mersey River. This town is called the port of the privateers, legalized piracy. This was a very lucrative business until the War of 1812, which ended the legitimacy of privateering.  Those interested in photography can visit the Sherman Hines Museum of Photography and Art Galleries. He is a famous Canadian photographer. Those interested in country music can be entertained at the Hank Snow Country Music Centre, featuring exhibits of Canadian country musicians.

The next stop is The Ovens, a system of four sea caves with a trail connecting. This is the site of a gold rush in 1861. Gold can still be panned on the beach. The ovens are particularly interesting, because steps lead into the interior of two of them.  At Cannon Cave, as the water rushes through the opening, you can hear it crash against the walls, like a cannon shot. The Ovens are a very interesting side trip. Camping is available on the property, which also has a swimming pool, gift and snack shop, and boat tours for the caves and shoreline.

Off to beautiful Lunenburg, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the last stop for the day. The sun is beginning to sink lower in the West. Lunenburg was settled in 1753 by the Germans and Swiss Protestants and has retained much of the 18th Century charm and heritage. The primary streets are narrow and one way, following the original plan of 1754. As fishermen and farmers, the citizens prospered. It is the home of the Bluenose, the undefeated champion of international schooner competitions in the 1920s and 30s. The original ship no longer exists. But Bluenose II resides in the harbor when in port. Most of the time it is in Halifax.  It will never race again, lest it lose.

Drive to Peggy’s Cove, about 40 miles each way. Drive down the coast of St. Margaret’s Bay, A stone’s throw from Peggy’s Cove is the crash site of Swiss Air 111, which happened a few years ago. We talked with one gentleman who saw that the airplane was in trouble and then heard the sirens of the emergency vehicles. He did not see the plane go down into the sea. Over 200 people died in that crash, which remains an unsolved mystery.

Peggy’s cove is one of the most photographed places in Nova Scotia. It is very rocky ground with very sparse vegetation. The town has old, well kept buildings and wharf. Their lighthouse now houses the only Canadian Post Office in a lighthouse in the Country. Peggy Cove does live up to its reputation.

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