Beam Me Up

by Ilona Kauremszky

Halifax NOVA SCOTIA - Get on your sea legs and listen as old sea captains spin their yarn like retired Captain Matthew Mitchell, a former crewmember of the Bluenose I, the world’s fastest schooner and Canada’s pride and joy. You’ll catch him on the deck of the Theresa E. Connor, the last of the great salt bankers moored in Lunenburg’s harbor. The 88-year-old salt will fill your ears with tales of phantom fishermen, vanishing crews and haunted ships.

In Halifax’s Fairview Lawn Cemetery, there’s even a famous cemetery plot where it’s been said that after the film release of “Titanic” love struck gals smitten by Leonardo DiCaprio’s romantic American vagabond, Jack Dawson, left garters and other personal belongings by tombstone 227 of “J. Dawson.”

Titanic was real but DiCaprio’s character was fiction. But that doesn’t bother the hundreds of adoring fans who even today visit the plot of James Dawson, an English lad whose job it was to haul coal to the stokers of the ill-fated ship.

It was mariner tales like this that inspired me to travel the Lighthouse Route, a 210-mile scenic coastal drive between Yarmouth and Halifax to view 30 of the 160 lighthouses that once lined the shores.

When captains were mariner kings, white-sailed schooners dotted the southwestern hook of Nova Scotia as far as the eye could see and anchored for shelter in the inlets and harbors. For centuries Nova Scotia’s rugged south shore was the stomping ground of explorers, privateers, and fishermen who plied the treacherous waters known to all who sailed her as “The Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

Today, the fishing villages are luring tourists, boat buffs, birders and B&Bers into a net of maritime hospitality. Avoid the crowds around Peggy’s Cove and drive until you reach Lunenburg. First settled in 1753, Lunenburg is one of Canada’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Known as the home of the Blue Nose schooner whose image adorns the Canadian dime, this former rum running haven now doubles as a location set for movies like Dolores Claiborne. It’s also famous for tall ship construction like the HMS Bounty helmed by Marlon Brando in the film classic, “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

On the prowl for lighthouses I ventured along highway 103 that snakes into Liverpool, home of the Fort Point Lighthouse Park and a former privateer capital. Here, I heard the tale of a 13-year-old boy Bert McLeod, the son of Liverpool’s last lighthouse keeper, who took it upon himself to blow in a ship one foggy day back in 1944. His effort saved the ship and crew.

The third oldest lighthouse from 1855 now stands as an interpretive center where Bert’s exploits and maritime ephemera are displayed. I slithered up the winding stairs to the lamp house and scanned the horizon half expecting to see a sea full of ships but of course the harbor was empty of schooners. The wind galed through the chamber as I cranked the old foghorn polished smooth by use and the haunting horn howled over the turning sea.

We drove past the birder’s paradise of Shelburne, foraged off the beaten path to the rocky outcroppings of Cape Sable. Hidden beneath the sea lies mountain ridges of rock obscured by waves and swells that transform into the largest tides in the world. It’s here the churning whitewater drove many a ship down to her final resting place.


photo: Stephen Smith

Need to Know:

For a free Vacation Planning Kit, contact Nova Scotia tourism at toll free in North America 1-800-565-0000 or visit

The Lighthouse Route is one of 11 scenic routes in Nova Scotia that is easily distinguished with a familiar lighthouse road sign. This self-drive trip is chockablock of historic towns, antique shops, and scenic lookouts and has ample opportunities for birders, boaters and cyclists. The annual “Lights Along the Shore” Lighthouse Festival occurs May 20, 2005 in West Pubnico. For more info, visit the South Shore Tourism Association,

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