Canada's got talent - just look at their Diversity

Lucy Daltroff got more than she expected in the rugged maritime province of Nova Scotia


By Lucy Daltroff, May 19, 2011
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Kejimkujik National Park: tranquil, but look out for moose, chipmunks, birds and caribou

Kejimkujik National Park: tranquil, but look out for moose, chipmunks, birds and caribou

It was strange to go to a bar in Nova Scotia and overhear Arcadian spoken by the descendants of the 17th-century French colonists who once settled here. It's not quite French and there are lots of English words, but with an unusual striking accent.

Visiting this rugged Maritime province with 4,700 miles of spectacular coastline is full of surprises.

The weather for instance; the Gulf Stream protects from the severe winters which is why the ice-free port of Halifax is so important. Then there is the strong Gaelic tradition and its many music festivals, that live up to the "New Scotland" name.

Another unexpected experience is the many Japanese girl tourists all with similar dyed red hair and plaits. It turns out that the children's book series, Anne of Green Gables, is popular in Japan - it has been on the school curriculum since 1952. As it is set in both Nova Scotia and nearby Prince Edward Island, devotees come to see the birthplace of their auburn heroine.

Lobster fishing is one of the main industries and a tour round a pound was something I had never experienced. I may not eat them, but it was amazing to see. Apparently they do not die of old age but only through predators or illness and we saw a couple of enormous examples that were over 50 years old. If they lose a claw in combat it takes eight years to grow another.

Tidal bore rafting is another surprise. Think what it would be like to float on a peaceful river one moment, and then be faced with raging rapids the next. This is what happens twice a day when the tide changes and the bore temporarily reverses the flow of the Shubenacadie River as it enters the Bay of Fundy.

Getting there

● Where to stay: Centrally located Cambridge Suites. Suites from www.cambridgesuiteshalifax.com
● Flights with Icelandair fly from Heathrow, London to Halifax. www.icelandair.co.uk.
● The synagogue in Halifax, www.jewishhalifax.com

Some 50 billion tons of water rush in and out of this natural funnel at 50 km an hour, creating incredible roller coaster waves, sometimes as high as a four-story building. Enthusiasts ride on rubber dinghies to absorb this particular adrenaline rush which can only be enjoyed here in Nova Scotia. I plumped for the canoe ride in the 381 square kilometres of Kejimkujik National Park, where the tranquility belies the wide diversity of animals such as moose, chipmunks and various birds.

Family friendly hiking trails, including canoe trips, can be anything from a couple of hours to a few days, with all the basic camping facilities provided.

The park was also once home to the Mi'kma'ki, the Native Americans who lived here hundreds of years ago and used the complex system of rivers and lakes to travel to the Atlantic coast in the spring and to return to the sheltered inland regions during the autumn.

Physical evidence of their presence remain in more than 500 individual petroglyphs - images cut out of the slate rock - which tell stories of their lives, the arrival of the Europeans and of the moose and caribou.

I was on my way to the Maritime Museum of The Atlantic, much of which is dedicated to the Titanic. Many vessels were dispatched from Halifax, the nearest major port, to search for victims. Of the 209 bodies that were recovered, 150 are buried in Halifax cemeteries. My interest, however, was in a temporary exhibition on the boat the MS St Louis.

I learnt of the significance of the chilling phrase "one is too many"; a remark made in 1939 by Fredrick Blair, the architect of Canadian immigration policy at the time.

It immortalised Canada's decision to refuse entry to the 900-plus Jewish refugees on board and the anti-Jewish immigration policy it epitomised. Eventually, the boat was forced to turn around and the passengers returned to face the horrors awaiting them in Europe.

David Libeskind has been selected to design and create a historical monument to educate Canadians, about the St Louis and its impact on Canada's immigration history. It is to be exhibited at the Pier 21 Museum on Canada's Ellis Island, where between 1928 and 1971, more than one million people landed. The building became known informally as the 'Gateway to Canada''.

The museum has interactive exhibits, multimedia presentations and a research centre. I watched a wonderful 3D film, which followed the stories of many who had passed through.

This included a Jewish orphan who came to start a new life after the war when the Canadian policy was no longer antisemitic. Coincidentally, sitting next to me in the film theatre was an Israeli woman whose mother had been one of those children.

Much of the success of the Museum is owed to legendary fundraiser Dr, Ruth Goldbloom, current chair of the Pier 21 Foundation and the driving force behind its inception. She managed to raise $4.5 million (£2.8 million)after which the Canadian government matched the funds to help restore the abandoned building.

Halifax old Town runs down a steep hill to the sea. The streets lined with 18-19th century wooden houses, has a scenic harbour-front that rocks at night to the sound of music in the bars and restaurants. The Jewish history dates from 1750, just 12 months after the founding of the city by the British Government.Two years later 30 Jewish people were listed, but it was not until 1894, that the congregation bought a church to turn into a synagogue and which for the next 15 years was the only Jewish house of worship.

On December 6 1917 the Halifax explosion occurred when the munitions ship Mount Blanc collided with the freighter Imo at the narrows of Halifax Harbour. The building was destroyed but the Sefer Torahs were spared and later placed in a shul which was opened in 1922. The Board of Governors bought some land, and on April 12, 1956, work began on the orthodox, Beth Israel Synagogue building.

Cautiously, I rang the doorbell and was lucky enough to be taken around by a chap called Marty who was working in the office. I saw the main shul, the Daily Chapel, social hall, kosher kitchen, the Sisterhood gift shop and Mikvah. It was the two sets of large stained glass windows that really caught my eye, which were commissioned as part of the community's centennial project. The south window depicts high holy days and ceremonies and the north, events in Jewish History.

There is a membership of around 180 families, with the only daily Minyan east of Montreal. Rabbi Ari Sherbill conducts the classes and services of this growing community and there is an eruv around much of the Halifax Peninsula. Many university students join because of the gym in the basement.

Further along is the Conservative egalitarian congregation, Shaar Shalom, led by Cantor, Ari Isenberg. Founded in 1953, it has 300 members and a kindergarten.

The antisemitism of the war years seems a long way away. As Daniel Libeskind said when selected to create the monument:

"This work of memory will express the importance of eradicating the evils of hatred, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism."

    Last updated: 10:05am, May 19 2011