East Coast Roadtrip

Well, look at that: September is done. Summer is over. A stack of blog post ideas and not one turned into actual writing. Okay, I suck as a blogger. Can I make it up to you? 

How about a brief travel log about a recent side trip while visiting the East Coast? Yes, of course. You love to look at vacation photos, right? 

Big Tancook Island, Nova Scotia

The night before we planned a ferry ride to Big Tancook Island, it poured rain. I mean rain. High winds and a heavy downpour that caused flooding and power outages in parts of Nova Scotia including Halifax. The next morning dawned quiet & sunny however, and the temperature warmed up so much the jackets we thought would be a necessity out on the water were left in the car. Mad Cy & I and his brother & wife arrived in the village of Chester around 10:00 a.m. for the ferry departure at 10:20 a.m. There was plenty of on-street parking by the dock but you have to watch for the time allowed in the spots: it varies. This particular day it was not busy so we easily parked and boarded the ferry, although there have been reports of people being turned away because of limited ferry capacity.

The ferry ride takes around 50 minutes including a stop at Little Tancook Island, and crosses Mahone Bay which is said to have 365 islands. It was a gorgeous day for being out on the water and we shared the ride with only a handful of people and the cargo boxes used to transport supplies for the islanders. As you can see from the photos, the scenery is beautiful and the time passed quickly: we were docking at Big Tancook Island in no time. 

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We didn’t know what to expect or find on the island so we walked up the road from the dock to Carolyn’s Restaurant: the first establishment we came across and could see from the dock. Since we planned to have lunch here, it seemed a great idea to drop in to check it out and inquire about where the visitors’ centre or other information could be found. The restaurant was empty except for a young woman who advised us the visitors centre was closed; Carolyn herself, came out of the kitchen and confirmed that and said she had no maps. We were astonished when she added a surly caution to stick to the main roads or we’d be shot because we weren’t wearing orange. What the? Briefly a flash of Deerhunter crossed my mind; what kind of place was this? But seriously …

Backing out the door and continuing up the road laughing at the ridiculous warning, it was agreed: Carolyn’s was not going to be our lunch destination! Fortunately that dubious welcome turned out to be an anomaly and all the other residents waved, greeted us with a cheery hello, or helped us with directions and suggestions. Big Tancook Island is big enough for a day trip on a bicycle or walking, and the things to see & do will appeal to history and nature buffs or just enjoying a day out. 

The visitor centre is apparently located in the Recreation Centre but was closed when we were there; nevertheless, exploring on our own we came upon a curious little place (formerly the island General Store) now a Museum/Gallery/Library in the form of Wishing Stones Gallery. We had a wonderful chat with the engaging & delightful proprietor Martha Farrar who is a huge booster of the island and has researched & recorded the genealogy of the families on Tancook, and curated the museum artifacts. On display in the gallery are hand crafted works by local artists including her daughter Hillary Dionne.

Featured are beautiful hooked rugs of polar fleece by Verta Rodenhiser, a textile artisan working in the long tradition of Nova Scotia fibre art; Hillary’s beautiful photography, clever children’s book about the adventures of a mouse, and seaglass creations; and Paul Helgesen’s whimsical wooden fish designs.

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Also not to be missed: the museum, drawing one back in time with vignettes of a working kitchen, bedroom, and work room with myriad antique tools. If you’re a collector of Nova Scotia’s folk artist crafts, add this to your list of stops, or if like me you love to step back in time, the entire island is an experience you’ll enjoy. 

There are other attractions on the island that we didn’t have time for once we decided to have lunch on the mainland and catch the 1:30 p.m. return ferry. The visitors’ centre would likely provide more information, but there is a fossil beach; sea birds and other flora & fauna; galleries including Popplerock Arts, Gifts & Collectibles near the bicycle rental shop that we did not get to; plenty of history in sites such as cemeteries, boatyards, reefs, and an old gold mine as well as swimming. Kidding: as if you want to swim in the North Atlantic: yeah, just thought I’d mention that in case you are hardier than me!


Whimsical carving along road on Big Tancook Island

I’d love to go back and spend time absorbing the history and traditions of Big Tancook Island. Such a little patch of land, filled with so much of what is typical of the hardships of the people of the Maritimes: boatbuilding, farming, putting by & preserving, and creating beauty from simple things like rags, the forest, and salvage from the ocean. Wish I’d had the time to talk to Martha about sauerkraut: after all, I live next door to Kitchener, formerly Berlin, settled by German immigrants and enjoy the fermented cabbage tradition at our local farmers markets.

With the departure of the ferry impending, we hurried back to the wharf and decided on the return trip to have lunch at Seaside Shanty in Chester Basin. This is a short drive from the Village of Chester where the ferry docks: taking Hwy 3 to Chester Basin, you’ll be there in under 10 minutes. There’s plenty of parking and if you’re lucky and have a beautiful day as we did, the patio is a great place to sit and enjoy the beautiful view along with the fantastic seafood menu. I had a salad with seared scallops and everyone else had the Seafood Chowder; everything was delicious, and the service quick and friendly.

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If you go:

  • $7.00 (2019) per person round trip–pay on board ferry after departure
  • Bicycles and pets are allowed on the ferry
  • Bring good walking shoes and a lunch or snacks if you’re staying long; there’s a chip wagon, and a light lunch bistro at the bicycle rental shop and both have limited hours & are open seasonally from May to September; as mentioned I can’t comment on the restaurant offerings; there are no food or pharma stores on the island
  • Check the ferry schedule for times convenient to you–note the last run leaving Chester does not return to the mainland; the ferry crew are residents of the island and it remains docked at Big Tancook Island overnight
  • Seaside Shanty ROCKS! Hwy 3, Chester Basin: Go there!

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About Leslie

Trying a little bit of everything: writing, learning Wordpress & basic coding, cooking, playing with grandkids, travelling, gardening, making soap & body treats, and getting older. Not necessarily in that order.


  1. Serious envy. One of my favourite places in the country.
    I have a huge poster of Chester beside my kitchen doorway and have spent many minutes fantasizing about being there. Thanks for taking me along on your trip. J.

    • Leslie Stallard says

      Our previous visit to Nova Scotia we managed to spend some time in Chester and it definitely should be on the list to go-see. Not only for the location on Mahone Bay and galleries, visiting the Tancook islands is a nice change of pace.

  2. Lived on Tancook every summer for 16 years and your reception from Carolyn at the restaurant is par for the course. She once told a man who ordered three courses that he couldn’t be at all that food, what a sales woman. The rest of the islanders are super, just unfortunate that she is often the introduction!!

    • Leslie Stallard says

      It was completely unexpected and disappointing; on the return ferry we chatted with other people (visiting from Texas) who reported a similar experience. Everywhere we’ve visited in Nova Scotia over the years, we’ve had only the nicest reception from people who obviously love their province. It’s an astonishing attitude from someone in the hospitality industry. Despite that, Tancook is a wonderful place to visit.

  3. Ditto what Pam said. Skip the “restaurant ” and either eat at chip truck, bike shop or bring a picnic.