LUNENBURG HISTORIC AND APPEALING
Nova Scotia’s picturesque past lives on in this colonial coastal town.
Fodor’s, the popular travel guide, claims that wandering the streets of Lunenburg, “can feel like the next best thing to time travel.” It’s an ideal metaphor. The historic Nova Scotia town, located on the Atlantic coast just an hour’s drive south of Halifax, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1975 to protect hundreds of colorful 18th- and 19th-century buildings along the waterfront and in the downtown core.
Lunenburg, with its current population of 2300, is also a National Historic Site of Canada. It was founded by the British in 1753, just four years after Halifax, and attracted many Protestant immigrants, especially from Germany and Switzerland. A unique dialect remains with many of its current residents. Lunenburg is the best example of a planned British colonial settlement in Canada. It has kept the original layout based on a rectangular grid pattern drawn up in Britain, much like British plans for Philadelphia and Savannah, Georgia. Seventy percent of those original buildings, many in bright colors to
THE SHIPBUILDERS OF LUNENBURG WERE SO SKILLED THAT MGM CALLED ON THE TOWN TO BUILD A REPLICA OF HMS BOUNTY FOR ITS CLASSIC 1962 MARLON BRANDO FILM, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY.
be easily seen by returning seafarers, remain intact as residents proudly safeguard the town’s unique identity.
EXPERIENCING THE PAST
After its founding, Lunenburg quickly became a major shipbuilding center with local mills providing wood to build a fleet of the most impressive sailing ships in the world. The shipbuilders of Lunenburg were so skilled that MGM called on the town to build a replica of HMS Bounty for its classic 1962 Marlon Brando film, Mutiny on the Bounty. Among the vessels built by the industry in its prime was the fishing schooner Bluenose, built in 1921 and undefeated in 18 years of international racing (American
challengers were very unhappy). It was said that “The Queen of the Atlantic” could dance on top of the ocean and cut through the waves like no other ship.
Now a national icon, Bluenose lives on as the reverse face of each Canadian dime. A replica has been built called Bluenose II, which, when not visiting other ports as a Nova Scotia ambassador, is docked in Lunenburg, where guests can walk along the deck, chat with the crew and imagine what it was like to race the open Atlantic under full sail.
Just a short walk from the Bluenose II berth is the distinctive red building housing the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, honoring Canada’s maritime heritage and Lunenburg’s key contributions. The Bluenose story is on display, of course, and is told with what one visitor described as “Spielberg drama.” Other sections of the museum
are dedicated to the lobster, scallop, ground fish and whale fisheries. There’s a fascinating display about U.S. prohibition in the 1920s and the subsequent growth of the rum-running industry in Canada where many Nova Scotia boats were involved in transporting illicit rum, gin, whisky and Champagne to American ports. Dockside, guests can step aboard a wooden Grand Banks schooner as well as a steel-hulled long liner to learn about modern fishing techniques. This is also the spot where whale-watching tours head for the open Atlantic to search for the fin, pilot, minke and humpback whales that frequent these waters. There are many dolphins, seals, turtles and thousands of sea birds.
Although it has some steep hills, Lunenburg is designed for walking with everything centrally located. Stroll the streets and take in the history and attractions of the town, or even tour the community in a colorful horse-drawn carriage.
SEEING THE SIGHTS
Among its well-preserved, unusual architecture, influenced by German, Swiss, British and Cape Cod designs, two historical gems stand out. St. John’s Anglican Church, nestled in the center of town, is the second-oldest Protestant church in Canada, after St. Paul’s in Halifax. It was started in 1754 in the
New England Meeting House style (the original oak beams were imported from Boston) with additions including a Gothic tower added in 1840. Sadly, a fire destroyed much of the church in 2001 – but the community launched a major funding and rebuilding effort. Now, reconstruction is done, the building has been returned to its former glory and it’s open to visitors once again.
The other key architectural landmark is Lunenburg Academy, a massive, three-story, white, black and red Victorian former schoolhouse built at the top of Gallows Hill and visible from all parts of the community. Now 120 years old and a National Historic Site, it serves as the headquarters for the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance, attracting musicians from around the globe for teaching, performances and outreach programs.
The architecture of the older homes in Lunenburg is fascinating, too. Many include ornamental brackets and a unique “Lunenburg Bump,” a two- or
MANY INCLUDE ORNAMENTAL BRACKETS AND A UNIQUE “LUNENBURG BUMP,” A TWO- OR THREE-STORY DORMER/BAY WINDOW, EITHER FIVE-SIDED OR RECTANGULAR, OVERHANGING THE FRONT ENTRANCE.
three-story dormer/bay window, either five-sided or rectangular, overhanging the front entrance. One theory is that early taxation authorities based their property rates on the size of the base of the house, so residents built extensions that jutted out from the second or third floors. Many of them also have a widow’s watch, a small room facing the harbor on top of the house where wives kept a sharp lookout over the endless grey sea, watching and hoping for fishing vessels to return with their husbands aboard.
Drawn by the picturesque buildings, Lunenburg has become a haven for artists with many gift shops and studios lining the tidy streets. Art and folk music festivals are common during the summer and fall. Walking the historic streets of Lunenburg and breathing the fresh sea air can make one hungry. In addition to artists and writers, the unique character of the town has also attracted some world-class chefs.
Fresh-caught seafood is, of course, the specialty and no restaurant in town does it better than Fleur de Sel. The chef/owner is taking a year’s sabbatical in 2016 (reopening in 2017), but he also owns two other great places to eat that are staying open: Salt Shaker Deli (the scallops linguini and smoked haddock seafood chowder are especially recommended) and the informal South Shore Fish Shack (excellent lobster rolls and fish & chips). For seafood, locals also recommend the Rum Runner Restaurant, the Savvy Sailor, the Grand Banker and the Rime Restaurant and Wine Bar.
Nova Scotia wineries are now producing world-class vintages, especially white wines — look for the Tidal Bay appellation — that are widely available in restaurants across Canada. But a new industry for Lunenburg is fascinating because of its connection to the colorful, dangerous days of rum running and illegal stills. Ironworks Distillery, located in the heart of Old Lunenburg in a former blacksmith shop that once made ironworks for the marine trade, is producing a rum that’s been declared the world’s best. At the World Rum Awards in London in 2014, Ironworks Bluenose Dark Rum won a Gold Medal. The Caribbean molasses is distilled and aged in bourbon barrels made from Kentucky oak. At the British awards, Ironworks also won awards for its pear and apple brandies. A tour of the micro-distillery — with samples, of course — is highly recommended.
From world-class food to quaint, boutique-lined boulevards, this seaside town is more than hospitable — it’s practically affectionate. Frommer’s guidebook calls Lunenburg, “just plain loveable.” It’s a love affair you’re sure to share.
St. John's Anglican Church
Lobster roll Ironworks rum