Food and fear in Nova Scotia

It’s always better to digest a ghost tale on a satisfied stomach and this salacious story begins in the heart of Halifax, at the Five Fishermen Restaurant Bar and Grill. And it is the abundant Atlantic coastline along which this Nova Scotia capital sits, that not only provides the fresh seafood served on the menu here, but the fable which it accompanies.

five fishermen restaurant

I am not only dining out on some of eastern Canada’s finest food, but one hell of a spooky yarn. Constructed in 1817, the building in which this restaurant sits is one of Halifax’s oldest, serving as one of Canada’s first free schools. But it was not until 1883 that it became a mortuary and in 1912 that its incarnation proved to be somewhat prophetic, when the Titanic sank off the coastline nearby.

five fishermen restaurant

Halifax fishermen were among the first to respond to this nautical disaster, bringing 250 bodies onshore and to the morgue. History proved to be again unkind to this east Canadian city just five years later, when two ships collided in the Halifax Harbour and exploded, resulting in the blinding and deaths of around 2000 people, many of whom were also brought to the morgue.

It’s a rich story to digest between courses, as the restaurant’s Assistant Manager Avery Gavel talks about the ghost sightings over the years, including those by the television series The Ghost Hunters. The cast and crew detected 17 spirits in the building, including 13 in the wine cellar, many of whom are believed to be children with missing limbs from the Halifax Explosion. Both restaurant staff and guests have also reported plenty of paranormal activity over the years. Yes, this is an establishment which gives you goose bumps in every sense of the word serving dishes such as the Five Fish 35 – sautéed colossal shrimp and scallop, pan-seared halibut and salmon, served with lobster and asparagus white-wine risotto, vanilla braised fennel and lemon beurre blanc.

lobster and wine

Skeptics may scoff at the folklore, but not at the delicious dishes to be discovered around this fertile province. I’m travelling along Nova Scotia’s Good Cheer Trail, following both the coastline and my nose, stumbling across the likes of Ryers Retail Lobsters where you can pluck a live lobster straight from the tank and eat it freshly boiled on site.

oyster fisherman nova scotia

Image © Christine Retschlag

I wander to Lunenburg, home to The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, which also houses the Old Fish Factory restaurant, in the town’s former smoked cod factory. If pirate tales are more your thing, head to Shelburne Harbour and take a boat tour where you can pull in an authentic lobster trap while listening to stories of these water’s former plunderers. Or drop into Digby, which is not only home to the world’s largest tides, but the best scallops on the planet. At Hall’s Harbour, experience Lobster in the Rough, where you can select a lobster, place an order, and then take a tour of this fishing factory while your crustacean cooks.

shelburne boat tour

Sick of seafood? So too were the prisoners of Nova Scotia who were served Nova Scotia’s abundant lobster three times a week until it was considered a violation of their human rights and taken off the menu. As they say in the classics, let them eat cake.

Top three tips:
Head to the iconic fishing village of Peggy’s Cove with its red-capped light house and check out the timber holiday shacks along secret pathways such as Lobster Lane

peggy's cove

Image © Christine Retschlag

Ironworks Distillery, in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lunenburg, is housed in the original blacksmith building of 1893. In July 2010 it opened as a distillery which produces three different kinds of rum, a vodka, a gin, two brandies, six fruit liqueurs and other seasonal products

lunenburg ironworks distillery

Trace the coastline around to White Point and White Point Beach Resort which is best known for its resident rabbits

white point rabbits

Image © Christine Retschlag

The writer travelled as a guest of Destination Canada 

Canada deals
Atlantic Maritimes Tour 13 Days/12 Nights
Indulgence in Eastern Canada
Canada by Motorhome

Christine Retschlag is an Australian journalist who won the Australian Travel Writer of the Year award and the Jack Butters Memorial Award for Travel Writing Excellence in 2006. In 2007 she won Best Australian Story over 1000 words and in 2014 Best Food Travel Story.

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