Today we drove across the big peninsula of Nova Scotia, from the Annapolis Valley down to the jewel of the south coast, Lunenburg. The town is famous, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the lovely preserved 1750s architecture and perfect grid of the downtown. The building colors are striking, from salmon to gaudy green, to aquamarine blue, many lining streets that look out onto the harbor.
On the wharf, near scallop boats and other vessels, the Blue Nose II is usually berthed, it’s now undergoing work at a dry-dock in town. This schooner is famous for being pictured on Canada’s 10 cent coin, and is known and beloved throughout the Maritimes.
We met a local guide, Shelah Allen, who grew up here, and she told us about this pretty town’s history. She said that when she was a kid, there were about 3500 people living in Lunenburg. Today just 2300 make this their home and many of these are seasonal visitors who live far away during the colder months.
I asked Shelah what the biggest issues facing the town are. She said it came down to a lack of young people. There are just not enough families moving here, and not nearly enough workers–“We have reverse unemployment,” she explained. Her comments were echoed by Alex Green, who spent forty years as a fishing boat captain and today is one of the guides at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. He said that after the cod fishing was banned in 1992, the local fishermen turned to other species, like lobster, crab and scallops. “Today, the cod are plentiful, there is no longer a shortage. It’s hard to go fishing for legal species because there are so many halibut!”
But here is the rub. “They earn about 50 cents a pound for cod, and there are no longer that many people willing to go out for as long as the old timers once did. I used to fish 280 days a year, today, the scallopers go out for two weeks and stay ashore for two. We used to go for eight and get a few days off.” The workers are not trained to fish for cod, so the fish are staying out in the ocean, and instead the cod are eating female crabs, which hurts the fishermen.
Shelah said the immigration policies of Canada are so tough, it’s very hard for immigrants to come here. She has friends in Cuba who would love to come up here, but they can’t get a visa and don’t have the funds to fly here.
Lunenburg, though, is prospering in the way so many oceanside towns thrive. Tourists come by the busload, there are dozens of great restaurants serving local scallops and Prince Edward Island seafood, and there is still a robust scalloping industry in town. And a video game producer has added jobs here as well.
It’s a great town for strolling narrow streets. I came upon a fellow unloading big bags of shucked clams into a restaurant. Another guy came up and asked him for a card. It turns out he’s a chef and wants to get a line on these succulent clams to cook up at his own restaurant down the street.