Who: Mary Layton of the District (author) and four friends — Alyce Hill of the District, Constance Hill of Brooklyn, Veronica Vincent of Detroit and Marian Langdon of Philadelphia. Our group began planning reunions in 2002 and has continued to do so every other year thereafter. Past trips include cruises, a beach weekend and more.
Where, when, why: In October, we met in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for an eight-day tour of the Canadian Maritimes: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. We were inspired by the prospect of awesome displays of fall foliage, the fact that this tour represented new destinations for all of us and the fun of seeing more of our northern neighbor.
Highlights and high points: Traveling the Canadian Maritimes at the peak of the fall color season is hard to beat for beauty. The fact that fall 2015 was unusually bright and beautiful meant that we experienced many jaw-dropping moments. Our time witnessing the highest tides on Earth at the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick stands out. One can watch the water level rise six to eight feet in one hour, up to an amazing 50 feet. One minute you’re standing on dry land, the next you’re not. Our drive on the Cabot Trail through Cape Breton Highlands National Park was awesome, as was our visit to the impressive Fortress of Louisbourg. Over the next few days, we took a hike, a harbor cruise and ferry rides, and ate the lobster and other shellfish for which the area is known. We enjoyed Celtic music and performances by Nova Scotians Anne Murray and Hank Snow. Finally, on more than one evening we sipped ice wine made from frozen grapes.
Cultural connection or disconnect: Learning more about Canada’s First Nations people was fascinating, with a visit to a Mi’kmaq reservation and another to the home of First Nations descendants who warmly welcomed us, talked about their daily lives, demonstrated hooked rugmaking and sent us off with freshly baked cookies.
Biggest laugh or cry: The most emotional experience of the trip occurred during our visit to the Millbrook Cultural & Heritage Center in Nova Scotia, where descendants of the Mi’kmaq tribe related stories of the struggle to preserve their culture and language, challenges their ancestors faced such as children being separated from their families, and details about the creation of the unique “witness blanket” — a multi-paneled screen that contains more than 800 items gathered during interviews with First Nations descendants — that we were fortunate to see.
How unexpected: The stark beauty of quaint Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, surprised me. It is clean, beautiful and low-key. I now get it when I hear about wonderful summers there.
Fondest memento or memory: I was impressed with the tour leader’s emphasis on educating our group of 46 about the important roles of the First Nations people, the French and the British. The trip was enlightening, as well as a fabulous photo safari. One truly memorable spot is the lovely Peggy’s Cove, just outside Halifax. There, I purchased my favorite memento — a small ceramic “inukshuk,” a statue built of stacked stones that is placed as a landmark or monument. It’s supposed to help one make good decisions and bring good luck, so I have high hopes for the tiny charm that hangs on a silk cord around my neck.
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