Shuck and Awe ; Nova Scotians Are Mad about Shucking Scallops and Eating Ice Cream. but There's Far More to This Canadian Province. Noah Richler Reveals a Land Rich in History, Wildlife and Beauty
Richler, Noah, The Independent (London, England)
Fresh out of the water, Digby scallops have such a sweet smell that the temptation is to eat them raw - something you can easily do during the Nova Scotian port town's "Digby Scallop Days". Last year, a shucking contest was held on the back of a flatbed truck, parked on the busy town wharf: seasoned fishermen ousting the muscle of the mollusc from its pretty flat shell with a flick of the knife. Stalls offered the scallops gratis, cooked or not at all, nearby.
This competition for old-timers, as well as shuckers newer to the prosperous local fishery, was a highlight of the four days of festivities that take place in a comely but unsung corner of Atlantic Canada each August. A warehouse on the wharf turns into an information centre celebrating the area's lobster and scallop fishing industry. Events last year included a fun run for families, art fairs and - true to Digby's slightly atavistic nature - a "Haunted History Ghost Walk", as well as the anointing of a high- school student as the summer's "Scallop Queen".
Digby is a working, not a flashy town. A few grand houses with turrets and gables and wraparound verandas stand on the hill. Others line the road to the sailing club, hinting at wealthier times. Today, most people who know Digby at all regard it as little more than a ferry port: as tourists arrive across the Bay of Fundy from the mainland province of New Brunswick, trucks laden with the region's prized seafood head in the other direction to reach the rest of mainland Canada and the US.
This is the epicentre of the eponymous - and remunerative - scallop industry. The town's lobster trade is also booming; a lot of "Maine" lobster actually comes from here. There are still some haddock left, but most of the rest of the fishing industry has collapsed, with negligible halibut and no cod. Consequently, many people have left this part of Nova Scotia for the booming oil fields of Western Canada.
But there is some incoming traffic. Several years ago, I accepted an invitation to visit a log cabin belonging to a friend (now my wife), situated in Sandy Cove, on the Digby Neck. It was a part of Canada I did not know at all, and have since come singularly to appreciate.
During later summer holidays in Sandy Cove, I have listened to the children explain to their friends on the telephone, at length, that "there is nothing to do". Not a criticism at all, but a warning to those who cannot cope without a mall, a movie theatre, copious shops or satellite television. On the Neck, "nothing" means everything: swimming, beaches, hikes, the very Atlantic Canadian habit of impromptu kitchen parties or cookouts by the water - and delicious food, of course. Those scallops and lobster are the best in the world.
To the visitor, Digby can seem staid at times, as the place is Presbyterian by nature and has only fitfully come to terms with the idea that the region merits tourist attention. Such easily gained soft money can appear suspicious to those who dream of travel more than they manage to do it. In the local liquor store, proferring my Air Miles card, the cashier broke out into laughter.
"Jeez, if they gave Air Miles for liquor round here, there wouldn't be anybody left on the ground," she said.
Locals know that most visitors to Nova Scotia are drawn by other attractions.
One is Cape Breton, with its spectacular Cabot Trail.
And nearer the capital of Halifax, the Unesco-anointed harbour of Lunenburg, and neighbouring Chester, lure tourists to the province's wealthy, iridescent South Shore - to this part of Canada as the Hamptons are to New York.
The less glamorous port of Digby, on the backside of the southern part of Nova Scotia, is easily bypassed. Yet the town and the surrounding territory offers not only striking landscapes but an equally storied heritage.
The first time I arrived was by car from Halifax. …