On Canada Day I was sitting in Your Father’s Moustache, a Halifax bar I haven’t been to in fifteen years, listening to some blues. The lead singer of Joe Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band — Joe Murphy, presumably — interrupted one of his songs to talk about Canada Day, and how this 150th anniversary isn’t so cut-and-dried. He talked about the aboriginal peoples who were here for thousands of years before settlers arrived, before Confederation. It seemed an odd, but apt, place to hear it. I smiled and nodded. Lindsay applauded. Then we drank our drinks and listened to more blues.
Let me back up though. First: we weren’t in NS to listen to live blues. We were there for a planned vacation, not an unplanned whirlwind trip like two weeks ago, mostly to see my nephew graduate high school, but also to visit our families who live there. We’d flown out a week before Canada Day after eating a big, rushed brunch from Bonjour Brioche, and landed in Halifax in time for dinner at Lindsay’s mom’s house. We stayed there that night and rested up for a road trip.
We’d all wanted to visit the Annapolis Valley wineries — me again, them for the first time — for quite a while, and it worked out nicely since a cottage Lindsay’s family likes is down that way. So we took two cars out toward Wolfville, ate at the excellent Port Pub in Port William, bought some Sea Level beer from their store (the cashier, it turned out, is the daughter of my friends M+LK), then hit some wineries.
After driving by Lightfoot & Wolfville and seeing that it wasn’t yet open, we started with Luckett Vineyards, which I hadn’t been to. I knew they had a beautiful setting, but I’d heard less-than-stellar things about their wine, so we were pleasantly surprised that we felt compelled to buy a bottle of white (Ortega) and red (Black Cab, a blend).
Next we drove to L’Acadie, which I’d visited years ago. When we arrived the place was overrun by passengers of the Magic Winery Bus, but we were spirited aside to a barrel where we tasted all five of their sparkling wines. They were hits with the ladies, and we left with some sparkling rosé after enjoying a few quiet moments post-bus-departure.
Next up was Gaspereau Vineyards, but as we approached we saw the bus again, so we sped on to my most coveted visit: Benjamin Bridge. It wasn’t easy to find, and we pulled in just as they were closing up, but they suggested we stop back the next day. We promised we would, and drove back to Gaspereau. Which was a gong show. My memories of this vineyard were of a quaint, scrappy contender, but this place was overrun by hordes of people ordering gimmicky samples (e.g., dessert wine in chocolate shot glasses), shirtless goons, pushy parties, etc. It was pretty awful. I couldn’t even stay in the tasting room. Pretty views though.
Our winery visits ended there, and we drove on to the afore-mentioned cottage. I was more than happy to get out from behind the wheel, play some frisbee and ping pong, eat soem steak, drink some beer (from Sea Level) and wine (the Luckett red and the L’Acadie sparkling, which I sabred open), cook smores at the fire, and boil myself in the hot tub.
After a feed of fluffy pancakes Lindsay and I made good on our promise to return to Benjamin Bridge. This time it was empty when we arrived, and we sat down for a tasting. Their sparkling is just world-class, and to try it in that setting was simply extraordinary.
We weren’t quite done with the Valley yet, so we stopped at Luckett on the way out for lunch. Pete himself sat us at our table, and a nice server soon moved us up to an even more picturesque 2-top before our food arrived.
Before long we were back in Bedford, then into Halifax for a brief visit with my mom & dad, then back to Bedford for a feed of pasta which pretty much knocked me out.
Tuesday got off to a bit of a slow start, just hanging out and eating leftovers and doing a bit of work and sampling beer in the back yard.
Before long, though, we were driving downtown to meet Lindsay’s dad at the Stillwell beer garden just off Spring Garden Road. What a spot. What a lovely spot. I had two pints, and some snacks, and we all had some caramel/activated charcoal + vanilla swirl soft serve ice cream (a mouthful in every way) before heading back to Bedford and taxiing to the local Italian spot: Il Mercato. I’d been to the old one on Spring Garden, but this one exceeded expectations. We drank Taittinger, shared starters (shrimp, mussels), ate beef tenderloin and ravioli and rack of lamb, drank a lovely bottle of Antinori 2012 Chianti, forced in dessert, and all but rolled home and fall asleep whilst watching the latest John Oliver.
Another lazy morning. In what would turn out to be an all-seafood day, we began our meals with bagels + salmon + cream cheese, then left Bedford for my family’s farm. Partway there we stopped at Catch Of The Bay at Masstown Market, where the fish and chips had drawn raves from both my brothers. They were not wrong.
From there we turned down the old shore road along the Minas Basin, rather than the highway, so I could show Lindsay the sights. We admired the view, stopped at That Dutchman for cheese, powered through a downpour, and stopped at Diane’s for clams and ice cream. Yes, we’d just eaten lunch an hour before, what of it?
We arrived at the farm, said hi to the dogs and my parents, and once my brother and his family got home, hung out with them drinking the wine and cheese we’d brought.
We awoke to find some absolutely delicious brown bread and coffee instructions. Bless my family.
We hung around for a bit, then did a little tour of the farm, then drove to Amherst for some groceries, then visited my old high school to see my nephew graduate, then celebrated my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary, and finally had a celebratory beer with brother #2. One down, two to go. (Just kidding.)
On Friday we did a quick run to Truro with my mom, through thick fog and some absolutely pounding rain. While we waited for my mom’s appointment to finish we zipped into town and checked out Novel Tea, a bookstore / coffee shop. There were cool books and lovely curios and nice coffee and tasty snacks and Dylan/CCR on the speakers and I never wanted to leave. But leave we did, and pick up my mom, and drive back through more pounding rain to the farm, where we played crib (Lindsay beat me and skunked my dad) and came to a party for my nephew and had late night drinks involving a pork sword.
Canada Day. I started it in the place where I feel most Canadian — the farm. It keeps calling me back. I couldn’t live there, but I love it more each time I go back. Same with the province as a whole. I find I miss it more each year.
We said our goodbyes and drove back to Halifax, passing through yet another brutal rainstorm, then fog so thick we couldn’t see the harbour from the bridge. With less-than-expected traffic we got to our hotel and checked in just long enough to get cleaned up before heading out. We grabbed a (disappointing) coffee and some books from Trident before meeting up with Lindsay’s dad and brother at Your Father’s Moustache.
Which brings us back to where we started. I’ve had a complicated view of this Canada 150 celebration. Not that I don’t love my country, or believe strongly in it — I absolutely do, and am incredibly thankful that I live here. I cannot think of another country I want to live in, honestly. But we have to confront the things that are problematic about our country, and at the forefront of that is how we European settlers (and all those who followed) treated, and continue to treat, those who lived here first. And as much as we should celebrate the milestones of a mostly successful, mostly peaceful nation, throwing a year-long party for the 150th anniversary of what was, in fact, the drawing of lines by white settlers with no particular right to draw them (other than the right gained through force) just highlighted this particular sickness at our core. Look, I’m incredibly proud to be Canadian, but I want to be even more proud because we take a hard look in the mirror, accept that we can’t absolve ourselves of this particular sin, and look for ways to heal. So all that to say: we didn’t celebrate Canada 150 quite as patriotically as some did (and god bless), but I’m not sure the stumbling-drunk goons in the Sheraton lobby or the people at the Deadmau5 concert in the Commons were nailing it either. There was a range, we were in it (not against it), and I love Canada as much today as I did last week. So.
Anyway. We walked back toward the hotel and stopped along the way for magazines at Atlantic News and a grunter (aka, mini-growler) of beer at Tidehouse before chilling hard at the hotel. We were resting up for dinner at Bicycle Thief, a restaurant we’d tried to go to our last time in town before something came up and derailed us. It was a mixed experience, frankly. The good: great table, nice server, delicious tuna tartare starter, very good seafood pasta second course, and good (if huge) mains. The bad: blah wine recommendation (I really need to trust my own judgment more), and a table of loud, obnoxious yobs next to us.
Much better was the new wine bar next door, Little Oak. We stopped in for a drink after dinner, and loved it. The decor, the laid-back feel, and the outstanding wine selection. Lindsay had a nice California Syrah, and I had a gorgeous Contesse de Cherisey Meursault 1er Cru 2014 pour from the Coravin. This will be a regular stop for me anytime I’m in Halifax from now on.
We had a big ol’ lie-in in that Sheraton bed, trying to sleep off all the food. (It didn’t work.) Our only real plan for the morning was to visit the Seaport Farmer’s Market. And man, did we: coffee from Java Blend, a pretzel, crepes, jerk chicken, a bbq pork bun, noodles, groceries for lunch, and local salt to bring back to Toronto. All while staring out the window at the ginormous aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower anchored off George’s Island, and the Chilean tall ship Esmeralda, whose crew had mustered on deck as they departed.
Stuffed and sufficiently-Halifaxed, we checked out, drove to Bedford for a few last visits (and games of crib), and drove to the airport for our flight home. The flight was unremarkable, except that they were serving Aberlour on the second leg, and we got to see the giant rubber duck as we landed in Toronto.