As their name suggests, Canada’s Maritime Provinces – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island – are dominated by the sea, with a long, jagged coastline punctured by picturesque bays, sandy beaches, towering cliffs, some of the prettiest towns in Canada and the freshest, tastiest lobster in the world – Nova Scotia’s slogan “Canada’s ocean playground” is no exaggeration. Indeed, the ocean was crucial to the development of the Maritimes, not only in bringing waves of settlers but also accounting for its greatest industries: ship-building and fishing. Forestry became important in the nineteenth century, and even today, the bulk of the region remains intractable wilderness – 84 percent of New Brunswick, for example, is covered by trees. The Maritimes were also at the heart of the epic struggle between England and France for North America in the eighteenth century, and they boast a rich legacy of historic sights, many associated with the French-speaking Acadians, who were usually caught in the middle.
Most travellers focus on Nova Scotia, where the provincial capital of Halifax makes an appealing base from which to explore the picturesque coastline, then head north to Cape Breton Island. Driving from the US or the rest of Canada, you’ll pass through the often overlooked province of New Brunswick, with plenty of world-class diversions of its own: the gritty, revitalized port of Saint John (never “St John”, and not to be confused with St John’s, Newfoundland), the Acadian coast and the Bay of Fundy, whose taper creates tidal variations of up to 12m. Prince Edward Island (PEI) was linked to the mainland by the whopping Confederation Bridge in 1997 and possesses one of the region’s most enticing culinary scenes. Leafy, laidback Charlottetown is well worth at least a couple of days, especially as it’s just a short hop from the magnificent sandy beaches of the Prince Edward Island National Park.