Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 6, 2009

Media Wise Nova Scotia

In Nova Scotia, what you see is indeed what you get.

At sunset, the harbour of Lunenburg is suffused with a sense of calm and order. And yet beneath the stillness there is a vibrancy that is palpable. This quintessential maritime view of one of the best known Nova Scotian harbours — also a UNESCO World Heritage site — communicates a quiet purposefulness, depth of feeling, and sense well-being. It is the embodiment of the Nova Scotian experience.

With all due respect to media guru Marshall McLuhan and his teachings, let me just say that in Nova Scotia the medium and the message are one and the same.

In this regard, I especially like how the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design expresses McLuhan’s thoughts.

Briefly stated, in this province you learn to think in many directions and on many levels; the Nova Scotian experience is not just a linear “event.”

“I was wrong about the rearview mirror. It is not something you use to look at the past.” — Marshall McLuhan

Many travellers may not be aware of how complex the travel industry is and the diversity of skills that those who work diligently and effectively on behalf of their destinations possess.

It goes without saying that travel is the most experiential form of learning. I also believe that travel media produced by destinations themselves or through their public relations experts is public education in the most comprehensive sense of the term when it is well done.

Enlightened self-awareness

Travel is big business, and destinations large and small depend on the revenue it creates to maintain healthy economies, and to preserve cultural treasures.

As is the case with any other business, travel destinations must advertise and promote themselves. As a travel journalist and editor, I have had the opportunity to examine and assess a great many promotional materials from many destinations. I have also been required, on behalf of the travelling public, to assess the validity and accuracy of that “advertising.”

I will readily admit to being very fond of Nova Scotia — very much a thematic destination — and perhaps therefore a little biased. However, if I think it through this (positive) bias may actually be the appropriate response to the way in which I have been fortunate enough to interact with Nova Scotia.

A “dream” destination

For travellers, Nova Scotia is an organizational dream destination; a fully integrated tourism experience in which all roads lead to satisfaction. It is a Canadian province in which you feel instantly at home. To travel on the periphery here is a contradiction of terms.

This “Doer’s and Dreamer’s” vision of Nova Scotia is actually no fantasy; it is the enduring vision of a people-oriented province where the aspirations of history blend with contemporary social values that in turn emphasize reciprocal relationships.

As the name of the travel guide produced by the province’s tourism department suggests, Nova Scotia is about imagination and action. It is a multilayered travel destination in which you may find yourself rediscovering universal ideals and principles — and acting them out.

Art and truth in advertising

Dreaming and doing is also an authentic, grassroots “methodology” that is embodied in this travel guide of the same name. The “Doer’s and Dreamer’s” guide is a sterling example of truth and integrity in advertising; and I believe it is so because at the core of the Nova Scotian ethos is a genuine desire to communicate openly and honestly.

The people of this province, which historically has a maritime and agricultural base, welcome guests because they are just that (as opposed to sources of revenue) and offer them what has always been a fundamental survival tool for Nova Scotians — a deep awareness of character, common sense, and hospitality. As a result, you will find little artifice in Nova Scotia, and this guide communicates that same honesty and pragmatism.

As a writer, editor, and erstwhile media literacy educator, I recognize the need for an emphasis on quality as opposed to quantity in both travel products and the travel media that promote them. But because travel consumers are faced with many caveat emptor challenges, it is also important that they have the media literacy skills necessary to clearly process the message in the medium. Travellers need to be able to read between the lines, to deconstruct travel advertising, and to clearly understand the social, political, and commercial forces at work in any media, including travel media.

I don’t know whether the “Dreamer’s and Doer’s” travel guide has won any awards for excellence in advertising, but it should. This guide is the epitome of well-written, well-edited, and well-produced media that tells the truth while at the same time respecting the consumer’s intelligence and needs.

In my experience, this is not always the case when destinations advertise their products. I have seen many such promotional materials that are at the high end of the scale in terms of production values (exquisite photography, impressive four-colour glossy print stock, and overall artistic worth); but unfortunately low in content. This is especially unfortunate when a destination has a great deal to offer but has been encouraged to “sell” it to the lowest common denominator. It is understandable why this can occur if a destination hands over “ownership” to third parties who in turn apply “one size fits all” mass marketing strategies and values. The result can be that a real sense of the destination is sacrificed at the expense of the marketing.

This, I am pleased to report, is not the case with Nova Scotia. The primarily “self-catering” dreaming and doing itineraries in the Nova Scotia travel guide have been defined with careful thought, detail, and practical considerations — by people who really care — thus generously fulfilling the needs and preferences of the visitor.

As my Nova Scotian colleague Sandra Phinney is wont to say, “This is God’s country.”

And so, the “Dreamer’s and Doer’s” travel guide is not just promotional material that will end up quickly in the recycling box. I suspect you, like I, will pass it along to friends and relatives. And you will actually find yourself using it, making notes in it, highlighting sections of it, and affixing those little yellow sticky notes to key pages. It will probably be one of the principal souvenirs you bring home with you.

The principal travel itineraries in Nova Scotia

I personally have done four of the following itineraries and — time and providence — permitting, will return to do the others.

  • Halifax Metro;
  • Lighthouse Route;
  • Evangeline Trail;
  • Glooscap Trail;
  • Sunrise Trail;
  • Cape Breton Island (and The Cabot Trail, The Celidh (pronounced KAY-LEE) Trail, The Bras d’Or Lakes Scenic Drive; The Fleur-de-lis Trail, Marine Drive).

The CUE Factor

The prime reason why the above itineraries are very traveller-friendly is because they will lead you to exceptional visual, sensory, and reflective travel experiences, all of which have one thing in common — the people of Nova Scotia.

I credit my English teacher, a certain Miss Louise Wyatt, with instilling in me and others a basic principle of good writing which is, I have discovered, the same principle that can be applied to any medium, print or non-print. She called it the CUE Factor. (Miss Wyatt by the way also inspired another student who preceded me by the name of David Suzuki.)

Nova Scotia is a travel destination that also embodies the CUE Factor. The coherence, unity, and emphasis inherent in this province — the totality of those key elements — is what I believe makes Nova Scotia such an accessible destination on so many levels.

Whether you are in situ in Nova Scotia or are planning a trip there with the help of this guide, you will find that the themes and variations are communicated in such a way it makes sense. Throughout the province you will see, hear, and feel unity in this maritime culture; recurring themes, like threads in a fine tapestry, create a sense of wholeness. And as you travel throughout the province, you will be constantly but gently reminded (in varying degrees of emphasis) of the main themes of this distinct cultural experience.

Traveller-friendly media

The “Dreamer’s and Doer’s” travel guide assures that you are never far from the next spectacular view, the next delectable meal, or the next meaningful moment. Distances, tips on access to outstanding sights and sounds, recommended routes, and time management have all been pre-determined for you, and yet, a high degree of flexibility and choice are inherent in all routes.

Well-organized historical sites harmonize with the surrounding communities, and accommodation, dining, and other amenities suit the budgetary needs and tastes of all sectors of the travelling public. Because Nova Scotia has always been a province of hospitable communities, the best “interpreters” of its sights and sounds are local residents. A common sense approach to an appreciation of its heritage, its cities, towns, seascapes, and rural areas is also fundamental to Nova Scotia.

Heartland of North American History

In recent years, the tourism industry in Nova Scotia has renewed its efforts to welcome visitors. Much of this is the result of “The 400th” celebrations occurring in North America and which began in Nova Scotia. These events commemorate four centuries of history that shaped Canada and the “New World.” (See “Transborder Sensibilities: A Continental Birthday Party”.)

For example, 2004 marked the beginning of a unique festival, Le Congrès mondial acadien . A far-reaching event, the festival celebrates the founding of Acadie (the original name of this area of the New World) and the start of European settlement of the Americas. It is also a symbolic resolution of one of the darker moments of Canadian history, the Deportation of the Acadians in 1755.

The 250,000 Acadians living today in the Maritime provinces — and elsewhere in the world — trace their heritage to French settlers who came to the New World and established thriving communities, in particular in the fertile Annapolis Valley of present-day Nova Scotia.

Noted for their innovative farming methods, industriousness, and abilities to adapt to new environments, tragically they became victims of the struggle between England and France for control of the North American continent east of the Mississippi and the Great Lakes.

Despite their promise of neutrality, they were eventually deemed a threat to the British Crown following that nation’s victory in the struggle for colonial power. As many as 12,000 of them were subsequently sent into forced exile; entire families were permanently torn apart. Although allowed to return many decades later, the Acadians were marginalized and isolated in small coastal communities away from the fertile farmlands they had come to love. Their intrepid and resourceful nature however led them to develop the other great source of riches of the region — the sea.

A sample of what awaits you in Nova Scotia

Come with me on a brief visit to Nova Scotia along the Lighthouse Route and the Evangeline Trail.

Beginning in Halifax, the Lighthouse Route visits such celebrated communities as Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg. The latter’s Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic is a superb example of the kind of public institution — in essence interpretative archives — that Nova Scotia does so well. A multimedia testimonial to the fishing industry of Nova Scotia, the Fisheries Museum also creates an awareness of the historic and integral relationship of Nova Scotians with the ocean.

A few kilometres further is LaHave, an exquisite piece of land overlooking the Atlantic. This national historical site was the capital of Acadia until 1636, when the fort was abandoned. Today the small lighthousekeeper’s house is a museum dedicated to the heritage of the region.

Of the many treasures on the Lighthouse Route, the town of Shelburne is especially noteworthy for its charm and architectural authenticity. Founded by 3000 United Empire Loyalists — many of them African-Americans who chose a Canadian way of life over revolution — Shelburne is a tangible witness to North American history. “Turning the corner” of the southern end of the province, you enter Acadian country and the French-speaking communities of Pubnico where the tricoloured Acadian flag accented by a yellow-gold Stella Maris (Star of the Sea) is in evidence everywhere. This pastoral countryside reflects the cultural pride and self-determination that is the heartbeat of the Acadian people.

The French and English heritage of Nova Scotia is an even more resonating theme as you set out on the Evangeline Trail at Yarmouth. The route passes through both English- and French-speaking communities that reflect 400 years of European settlement of the area and the eventual harmonizing of cultures for which Nova Scotia is renowned.

The Trail skirts majestic St. Mary’s Bay before arriving in Digby — portal to the mighty Bay of Fundy as well as the haven known today as the Annapolis Basin. At the eastern end of this breathtaking body of water is the town of Annapolis Royal.

The epicentre and crucible of Nova Scotian history, Annapolis Royal is at the heart of one of the most idyllic areas of the province. A peaceful lifestyle embodies the calm that survived the turbulent events of history; conflicts during which Port Royal/Annapolis Royal was alternately captured by English and French forces. This is also a community of exemplary historical integrity; a town committed to preserving its centuries-old sites and to the accurate relating of the events that occurred here. Such forthrightness is an attribute for which all of Nova Scotia is renowned.

Nearby is Port Royal and its Habitation, a faithful reconstruction of the first permanent European settlement in Canada, built by a small team of visionaries led by Pierre du Gua Sieur de Mons and Samuel de Champlain, the “Father of New France.”

Re-created from Champlain’s actual sketches, Port Royal illustrates the prodigious accomplishments of these first settlers. The cohesive wooden structure has the rough elegance, precision, and practicality that adept shipwrights and carpenters create; a land-sea architectural style that is thematic throughout Nova Scotia.

Established in 1604 three years before Quebec, two years before Jamestown, Virginia, and 15 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Port Royal is of particular significance. In addition to its precedent-setting settlement, this fur trading post — and what was essentially an agricultural research station in the New World — was also a microcosm of and template for the new way of life being sought by the many settlers who would follow. Annapolis Royal was founded a year later, and after 150 years of struggle between England and France during which it changed hands seven times, it was finally named for the British Queen Anne.

The 400th anniversary in 2005 of Annapolis Royal and surrounding area was an unparalleled event during which a record-breaking number of visitors explored the complex and dramatic events resulting from the struggle between the two great European powers of the day. Travellers to the area will also appreciate that these events collectively led to a turning point in the history of North America and of the world.

Highway 1 meanders eastward through the sublime and photographic Annapolis Valley to Grand Pré, the site of the first wave of deportations in 1755. This deeply poignant site has a beauty, grace, and tranquillity that belies the events that occurred here. Those same attributes however enhance a deep understanding of the whims of history in Nova Scotia. Embellished by its new multi-media visitor centre, Grand Pré epitomizes the in-depth cultural experience awaiting visitors to Nova Scotia — an experience enriched by maritime hospitality.

Read more

The Spirits of Halifax: Memories That Materialize

The Legacy of Port Royal

Luke the Canine Trail Guide

A copy of the Doers’ and Dreamers’ Guide, as well as other guides, (print or CD) can be obtained from The Nova Scotia Official Website.


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